28 – The teacher of restraint

28 – THE TEACHER OF RESTRAINT

The immense forbearance of those who practice patience makes nothing too great to bear.

In a previous lifetime, the Bodhisattva once became a certain ascetic. He had seen that the life of a householder was full of suffering, and he knew that such a life was not conducive to spiritual pursuits. Beset with temptations, the householder’s life was exposed to the inroads of material and sensual pleasures which entailed the loss of modesty and spiritual goals. Such a life, in emphasizing the passions, was sure to lead to desire, hatred, impatience, anger, arrogance, pride, and greed. But for one who renounced the world, there were the joys of the homeless state with its peace and freedom from the evils of a householder’s life. With this in mind, the Great Being became an ascetic well-known for his strength of character, self-restraint and tranquility, his learning and moral conduct.

Because he always preached restraint, living in strict conformity to his vows and teaching the Dharma from that perspective, he came to be known as Kshantivadin, ‘Teacher of Restraint’. Often those who demonstrate excellence in the arts or who have some distinguishing physical strength or peculiarity are given a new name. And so it was with this ascetic ― in no time at all only a few could even remember his true name. Soon his original name was forgotten altogether, and he was known to everyone simply as Kshantivadin. With his wish to ornament mankind, as well as himself, with that virtue, his very nature became imbued with forbearance, making him incapable of harming others. And so he became renowned as a Muni. His unshakable calm, his goodness and great endurance even in the face of injury by others, together with his excellent sermons, served to spread his fame widely.

Kshantivadin lived in a forest glade encircled by a lake of purest water adorned with white and blue lotuses. Lovely in its solitude, the glade was beautiful as a garden, and bore flowers and fruit all year round. By his very presence, the Great Being gave the place the sanctity of a hermitage, for wherever they make their home, the qualities of a holy being make that place auspicious, both lovely and sacred.

The Great Being was revered by the gods of the forest, as well as by all those who loved virtue and desired liberation. Such beings would visit him often, taking pleasure in his qualities and receiving the benefit of his holy company. He would preach to this multitude on forbearance, pleasing both their minds and hearts.

One summer during a great heat wave, the king of the land decided to amuse himself in the waters of that clear forest lake. Accompanied by his harem, he travelled to that cool and charming garden spot in the forest, increasing its splendor with the graceful sport of his wanton wives.

In the arbors, under the bowers, between the flowering trees and in the water with its blossoming lotuses, the king delighted in unrestrained dalliance with his wives. Laughing, he watched them flee from the buzz of bees attracted by their perfume, their garlands, and the odor of sweet liquors. As he watched, the women, never seeming to tire of picking the flowers, adorned their ears with the most exquisite blossoms and covered their hair with lacy vines.

Nor could the king have enough of watching their erotic playfulness. Smiling, the king followed every move of the women as they ran in twos and threes here and there, hovering around the lotuses and the flowering trees. The cuckoo’s lascivious cry, the peacock’s proud strut, the humming of insects in the heat ― all were outdone by the murmur, the dance, the song of the women. At the thunderous rolling of the royal drums, the peacocks uttered their piercing cries and opened the widespread circle of their tails as if they were actors making offerings to the monarch by virtue of their art.

Having savored all the pleasures of the forest garden with his harem, having sported to his heart’s content, the king, overcome with drowsiness and drink, lay down upon his jeweled couch and fell asleep in the forest shade.

Seeing that the king was asleep, the queens, growing bored with that part of the forest, ran to and fro, the sweet murmur of their voices accented by the tinkling sound of their ornaments. Unable to get their fill of the loveliness of the forest, they wandered on and on, indulging their wanton natures.

Ignoring the remonstrance’s of their servants who followed them bearing the royal umbrella, the royal fans, and the royal throne decorated with golden ornaments, the women greedily plucked all the flowers and pretty leaves from every plant within reach. Although the queens were covered with garlands of flowers, no shrub was left unshorn, no tree unclipped, no flower was left along their path. Gradually, their course through the forest led them near the hermitage of Kshantivadin.

Those in charge of the wives knew well the power and high-mindedness of ascetics, but dared not dissuade the women from proceeding for fear that the king might resent any intervention. The royal wives approached the hermitage, attracted by the splendor and beauty of the glade, a splendor heightened by the supernatural power of the ascetic. Full of mindless merriment, the women flocked within. At once they saw the holy man sitting cross-legged under a tree, his glory almost too bright to behold, his face shining with tranquility and the greatness of his mind. Through the practice of profound meditations, the holy man’s senses were subdued and well-controlled, even when objects of attachment drew near. Endowed with such great merit and virtue, he was like the embodied Dharma itself.

The royal wives were struck by the austere luster of the one seated beneath the tree, and their minds became subdued. The very sight of the Great Being was sufficient to cause them to cast off their frivolity and pride. In silence they sat humbly in front of the ascetic who welcomed his guests in his usual kind and courteous manner, responding to their questions with a gift of religious discourse and preaching to them in terms the women could readily understand, using many examples.

“Once we obtain the human condition, once we are born with sound mind and body free of defects, if we then neglect to perform good actions every day of our lives, we are much deceived. Are we not all subject to death? No matter how fine our birth, face, age, power, or wealth, we can never enjoy happiness in the next life unless we first purify ourselves through giving, good conduct, and the other virtues.

“Even if one lacks noble birth and fortune, by merely abhorring wickedness and practicing virtue, one will be visited by every kind of bliss, as surely as the sea receives water from the rivers.

“For one of noble birth and face, of proper age, endowed with power and wealth, virtue is the best ornament. As blossoms decorate trees, and as lightning ornaments rain clouds, as lakes are adorned by lotuses and water lilies by drunken bees, so are living beings brought to perfection by the ornaments of virtue. By contrast, golden garlands are only the outward sign of wealth.

“The differences in human fortune, in health and length of life, in beauty, wealth, and birth may be divided into three classes: low, middle, and high. These differences are not caused by external influences, nor are they natural properties. Such differences are purely the result of one’s actions, of karma. Knowing this to be the law of human existence, and remembering the fickleness and frailty of life, one must direct one’s heart to right behavior and avoid wickedness. This way leads to both happiness and a good reputation.

“A mind full of hatred is like a fire, burning away the good of oneself as well as that of one’s neighbor. Avoid all wrongdoing, and cultivate actions that can serve as an antidote to what is wrong. No matter how fiercely a fire burns, when it meets a great river filled with calming waters, it must die out. The fire which blazes within will lose its power when met by self-restraint.

“Restraint is of enormous benefit. Whoever practices patience will naturally avoid wickedness and enmity, for their causes have been vanquished. Such a person will encourage friendliness everywhere and become a person honored and loved. In the end, being so attached to virtue, he will attain heaven as easily as walking through his own front door.

“Moreover, ladies, this virtue of restraint is considered the highest development attainable by merit, the highest degree of a virtuous nature. It is purification brought about without using water; it yields the greatest possible wealth of goodness. Restraint is the lovely firmness of the virtuous mind, always indifferent to injuries inflicted by others. With its many properties restraint is also known as forbearance; allied with mercy, it benefits the world. It is the ornament of the powerful, the strength of ascetics, the extinguisher of the fire of harmfulness in this world and the next.

“Restraint is a coat of mail for the virtuous, for it blunts the arrows shot by wicked tongues and transforms those weapons into flowers of praise, garlands of glory. Restraint is a conqueror of delusion (the adversary of the Dharma), and an easy way to win salvation. Who, then, would not do his utmost to practice self-restraint, the virtue which inevitably leads to happiness?” Such was the sermon the Great Being employed to entertain his guests.

Meanwhile, the king had awakened from his slumber. His lassitude gone, but his eyes still clouded by the dullness of drink, he angrily demanded of the female servants who were watching over his couch where his wives had gone, for he wished to continue his amorous sport. “Your Majesty,” they answered, “their Highnesses have moved on to another part of the forest to drink in its splendor.”

Eager to behold his women laughing and jesting, dancing free and unrestrained, the king arose from his couch. Accompanied by his servants carrying his parasol, his outer garments and his sword, followed by the eunuchs of his harem carrying staves, he marched through the forest after his wives. They were easy to follow, for their path was strewn with a multitude of blossoms, flowers, twigs, and the red sap of the betel nut they had been chewing. In no time at all the king arrived at the hermitage of Kshantivadin.

The moment the king saw the ascetic surrounded by his royal wives, he was seized with a fit of rage. Partly because of animosity carried over from previous lives, partly due to his drunkenness, desire, and jealousy, he lost all semblance of decorum and surrendered to unbridled wrath. As he lost all vestiges of self-restraint, whatever loveliness or grace his figure once possessed now disappeared.

Drops of sweat formed on his face, his limbs trembled, his brow wrinkled, his eyes reddened, squinted, rolled, and stared in fury. Pressing his hands together, squeezing his finger rings, shaking his golden bracelets, he hurled invectives at the saintly ascetic:

“Who is this knave who insults our majesty, casting lustful eyes upon our wives? This hypocrite acts like a common poacher under the guise of a holy man!”

Disturbed by these words, the eunuchs broke in: “Your Majesty, do not say such things. This is a hermit who through a long life of restraint and spiritual practice has purified his very Self: Kshantivadin is his name.”

But the king was not inclined to take their words to heart. “Oh, it is wonderful what you say! This hypocrite has been at it a long time, deceiving everyone, setting himself up as a holy man and teacher. It is for us to reveal the true nature of this fake who practices the art of delusion and false holiness while cleverly hiding beneath the veil of his ascetic’s dress and fancy speech.” And seizing a sword from the hand of a female guard, he rushed at the ascetic, determined to kill him as he would his worst enemy.

The royal wives, upon noticing the king’s arrival, had arisen from their seats upon the ground. Disturbed and anxious at seeing the king’s fine features transformed with anger, they bowed to the great rishi with joined palms and then went to greet the king. Standing before him, they were like a glowing mass of lotuses in autumn, the brightness of their flowers beginning to open.

Yet such graceful demeanor, such modesty, such honest beauty and humility could do nothing to appease a mind so incensed by the fires of rage. Perceiving that the king in his anger was continuing toward the ascetic with eyes full of hate and with weapon raised, the queens bravely and without fear surrounded the king in order to placate him, saying: “Your Majesty, pray, do not commit this reckless act. This man is the reverend Kshantivadin.”

But the king’s mind was full of poison, so their words only further enraged him. Thinking, “He has already won their hearts,” he shot furious looks at his wives, looks as fierce as the jealousy that overwhelmed his mind. Not listening to the brave and sweet words of his wives, his head shaking so hard that his earrings and diadem trembled, the king turned in anger to his eunuchs and said with a glance at his harem: “This man preaches self-restraint, but see how he practices it! See for yourselves how easily he succumbed to the temptation of contact with women. His tongue does not agree with his actions, still less with his wicked mind. By what right does this satyr stray in our forest, feigning religious vows and pretending to be a saint?”

The king in his wrath showed a hard-heartedness inaccessible to persuasion, and the queens, knowing the stubbornness of his ferocious nature, knowing his pure savagery, were filled with sorrow and distress. The eunuchs, who were likewise alarmed, gestured for the women to withdraw. Heads lowered in shame, they dispersed, lamenting for that best of ascetics.

“We are the cause of the king’s wrath against this selfless holy man who is widely renowned for his virtues. How will this end? Our monarch, in directing his anger toward the virtuous one, will perform some unspeakable act. In one horrible moment our king will not only destroy this holy man but also his royal lineage, his hard won glory, and our guiltless minds.”

As soon as the lamenting and grieving women were gone, the king fiercely approached the holy man, threatening him with sword raised. Seeing the Great Being unperturbed, his calmness quietly constant, the king grew even more incensed: “How skilled he is in playing the holy one! See how he looks at us as if he were a Muni, persisting in that guileful arrogance!”

Still the Bodhisattva, due to his constant practice of forbearance, remained undisturbed, even under such harsh abuse. He at once understood that the quickness of anger had moved the king to act this way, leading him to renounce all restraint and decorum, and even to lose the ability to distinguish between his own benefit and harm. With compassion in his heart, the ascetic attempted to remind the king of his position and to appease the king’s anger with sweet words:

“Meeting with disrespect is nothing new in this world. As it is one’s own fortune, how could one mind it? But it does concern me that I cannot offer you ― even by my words ― the welcome due one who comes my way. However, consider, Oh Sovereign: You are duty ― bound to right the wrong of evildoers and to act on behalf of all sentient beings. Pray do not act rashly! Reflect well upon your actions.

“Think first. Something good may appear to be evil; something evil may appear to be good. The truth about what to do at any particular moment often cannot be discerned at once. One must explore all possibilities. The ruler who, through reflection, gains true insight into his conduct and then carries out his plan with right action will never fail to benefit the Dharma, benefit his people, and bring joy to himself.

“Rid your mind of rashness; turn your mind to actions that will gain you good repute. Transgressions committed in arrogance by persons of high rank are subject to great criticism. In a forest protected by your mighty arm, in the dwelling of an ascetic, you would never allow anyone to harm the pious. How then can you act in this way yourself.

“If your harem came to my hermitage by chance, what fault of mine could cause you to be so consumed with rage? Even were there such a fault, restraint would become you all the more. Restraint is indeed the chief ornament of the powerful, for it shows cleverness at guarding a treasury of virtues. Nothing adorns a king so much as self-restraint, neither dark blue earrings resplendent in their luster, nor the brilliant jewels of kingly crowns.

“Cast aside impatience which can never be relied upon, and turn to forbearance which can only benefit you; maintain self-restraint as carefully as you would your kingdom. Esteem shown to ascetics will gain a prince a life rich in joy.”

This sweet admonition by the holy Muni had no effect on the king, whose mind had run wild. The king persisted in his accusations: “If you are no hypocrite,” he said, “if you are truly preoccupied with maintaining your vow of restraint, why then do you beg safety under the pretext of this sermon?”

The Bodhisattva replied: “Hear, Oh Prince, the reason for my plea. I speak so that it might never be said of you: `That king killed an innocent ascetic, a brahman.’ Such an act would bring you endless blame and utterly destroy your reputation.

“All creatures must die. That is the way things are; it is a certainty. When I consider my behavior, I know it is just, and I have nothing to fear. It is for your sake alone that I praise restraint, so that you should not suffer by injuring right action, the source of all happiness. Forbearance is a mine of virtues, an armor against vice. I gladly praise it and offer it to you as an instrument for attaining salvation.”

But even these gentle words of truth were disregarded by the king. The Muni’s words, although they were like flowers, left the monarch untouched. “Let us now see your attachment to restraint!” the king shouted. And lifting his sword, in one stroke he cut off Kshantivadin’s right hand which had been lifted toward the king, the five fingers pointed upward in a gesture of restraint. In one stroke the king severed the hand from its arm, like a lotus from its stalk.

At that moment the Bodhisattva saw the future of the swordsman, so terrible and irredeemable that he felt more sorrow than pain. “Alas,” he thought, “his transgression is irredeemable. He has passed beyond my power to help him, and has ceased to be a person worthy of my words.” Feeling pity as toward a patient given up by doctors, he kept silent. And still the king continued to hurl his threats:

“Unless you desist from your hypocrisy and renounce your villainous deceit, I will cut your body to pieces until you die!”

The Bodhisattva made no answer, for he understood the king to be deaf to all good sense, to all admonition. One by one the king cut off the limbs of the Great Being. First he cut off the other hand, then both arms, then the ears, the nose, and the ascetic’s feet. Still neither sorrow nor anger touched the ascetic as the sharp sword fell upon his body. The certain knowledge that the machinery of his body must one day come to an end, together with his ingrained practice of self restraint combined to keep the Muni strong and unperturbed. Even while watching his limbs fall away, he remained unshaken, though sore with grief at the sight of a king so fallen from right action.

In such a manner do the compassionate find it hard to bear not their own pain, but the sufferings of others.

The king, as soon as his cruel deed was done, fell prey to a fire-like fever. A fearsome noise shook the forest, and he ran blindly from the garden. Beneath his feet the earth opened, flames burst forth, and the king was gone.

The king’s attendants, confused and alarmed, called out in distress, assuming that the ascetic’s power had caused this catastrophe to happen; they were afraid that the ascetic would burn down the entire country in angry revenge. Fearfully approaching the ascetic, they bowed to him with joined palms and cried: “May the foolish king alone be fuel for the fire of your curses. His tortured mind alone has done this to you. Pray do not burn down his city! Do not destroy innocent people, women and children, the old and the sick, the holy and the poor! Being a lover of virtues, preserve both the realm of the king and your own righteousness!”

The Bodhisattva comforted them. “Good sirs, do not fear. Although the king saw fit to maim an innocent ascetic of the forest ― and so cut off my hands, feet, ears, and nose ― how could someone of my sort wish him harm, or even conceive of such a thought? May his life be long, and may no evil befall him.

“Subject to sorrow, death, and sickness, overcomes by desire and hatred, consumed by evil actions ― your king is to be pitied. Who would wish him to suffer? Who could be angry with him? Rather, let his sinful actions ripen on me! For one used to pleasure, meeting with misfortune is unbearable, even if it is not for long. Nonetheless, I am powerless to protect him. He has destroyed his own happiness. So why should I feel hatred toward him?

“Everyone born must deal with the suffering which arises from death and the like. It is birth alone which one must strive to avoid. For without existence, from what does suffering arise? Kalpa after kalpa I have lost my worthless body in innumerable ways. For what reason should I give up self-restraint on account of yet another poor frame? It would be like giving up a jewel for a straw. Dwelling in the forest, bound to my vow of renunciation, a preacher of forbearance, the prey of death, how could I feel desire for revenge? Do not fear me; depart in peace.”

And so, his constancy unshaken owing to his reliance on forbearance, this foremost of Munis accepted his audience as disciples. He then left his earthly dwelling and ascended to the heavenly realms.

Using this story, with the Muni as example, one can express the qualities of forbearance. With the king as example, one can express the harm which comes from impatience and rashness. This story is also to be told to explain the miserable consequences of sensual pleasures, saying: “In this manner sensual pleasures lead a man to become addicted to wicked behavior which will bring him to ruin.” This account also may be told with the object of showing the inconsistency of material prosperity.

 

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