14 – Suparaga
When one dwells in the Dharma, the truth is enough to dispel destruction. What more could one say of the good that comes from observing the Dharma? Thus, one should follow the Teachings.
During one of his many lifetimes, the Bodhisattva was a very wise ship captain. Great Beings, because of their innate acuity and clarity of mind, invariably surpass any other great men in the world in whatever art or science they undertake. Thus it was that during his life as a helmsman, the Bodhisattva possessed all the extraordinary qualities one could imagine.
Knowing the course of celestial bodies, he always knew his exact location and was therefore never lost; knowing all the different types of prognostication, he was always in tune with the shifting pattern of events and therefore knew whatever was timely or untimely; by observing the color of the water, the composition of the shore, the shape of the rocks, the species of birds, fish, and other creatures, he could easily place himself in any sea. In addition, he was always vigilant and never dull-witted, and was able to endure great cold, heat, rain, and fatigue. Being always careful and observant, and so skilled he never deviated from course, he was in great demand among sea merchants to guide them to their destinations, since his navigation was so very successful, he came to be known as Suparaga, ‘Good Passage’, after the seaport where he lived. – …
Even when he had reached old age, he was known to be a lucky and fortunate being, and sea traders anxious for safe passage would beseech him in the most respectful terms to captain their ships. Thus, one day, merchants from Bharukachehna, who traded with Gold Land, intent on a safe and prosperous voyage, stopped at the port of Suparaga to ask the Great Being to embark with them. Suparaga replied to them: “I am an old man. How much assistance do you think I can be? My mind wanders, my body is weak, and my eyesight is almost gone.”
But the merchants persisted: “We do not care about your physical condition. Be assured we have no plans to ask you to work, nor will we put any task into your charge. We do not want you for your strength; we want you for your presence alone. The dust touched by your lotus-like feet will bring us luck and ensure our ship a safe course no matter what the danger.”
And so, out of compassion, the Great Being, though old and ailing, boarded the vessel; and they set off, with all the merchants rejoicing, convinced that the voyage was bound to be successful.
Soon the ship lost sight of shore and found itself in the Realm of the Sea Serpents, that part of the Great Ocean haunted by strange fish ― a sea which churned with surging waves buffeted by the whims of the screaming and crying wind. Precious stones lay in the hidden depths where nagas lived. On the surface, garlands of white foam glistened against a billowing sea of the most brilliant blue, shining with metallic luster as if it were the sky melted by the glowing heat of the sun’s beams. The shore had long since disappeared; they had entered the open sea.
Near dusk, as the sun’s rays began to lose their strength, without warning a fearful omen manifested. A great gale arose, lashing the waters forcefully, covering the surface with white foam from the billowing waves and disturbing the sea to its very depths. Shaken by the hurricane wind, the water rolled higher and higher as the winds rose until the ocean assumed the dreadful appearance of mountains trembling before the apocalypse. Like many-headed hissing serpents obscuring the sun, bluish-black clouds swirled, their tongues of lightning crackling with a terrible thunder. As the sun set, the darkness took command, growing solid and dense, enveloping everything.
Attacked by sharp darts of pouring rain, the sea arose in a fury, and the poor ship trembled as if in fear, frightening its occupants to their very core. Each behaved according to his inherent qualities: Some, overcome, stood speechless with terror; some acted with courage, busily attempting to avert the danger; and some were deep in prayer.
For days the wind and sea ran high, and the vessel moved Mth the current. No land came in sight and no favorable sign came from the sea. The signs they did see were strange to them, and the merchants grew increasingly distraught, bedevilled by fear and despair. But Suparaga, the Bodhisattva, comforted them, saying: “For those who would cross the Great Ocean, such portentous turmoil is the rule. Why wonder at it and fall prey to fear and emotionality? Afflictions are never conquered by low spirits and dejection. Those clever enough to do what must be done can easily overcome all difficulties. Take courage!
“Come, shake off this gloom and dejection, and do what needs to be done, by whatever means. The wise, spurred on by firmness of mind, grasp success in all its glory.”
The merchants, their spirits revived by the Great Being, looked down into the sea and saw beings like men arrayed in silver armor, diving up and down in the sea. Amazed by this phenomenon, they ran to Suparaga. “We have never before seen anything like this in the ocean!” they cried. “Demon warriors wearing silver armor, with fierce looks and ugly, hoof-like noses, sport in the ocean, diving up and down!”
Suparaga replied: “There is no need to fear. These are no men, these are no demons, but fish. Still, they are a sign that we have been driven far from shore. This is the Sea of Hoof-Garlands. You must try to turn back.”
But the high-running sea and the gusting wind continued to push them farther in the wrong direction, and they could not alter their course. Before long, they found themselves approaching another sea, one shining with silver luster, bright with a mass of white froth. The merchants said to Suparaga: “What great sea is this, its waters veiled in foam like fine white linen? It seems covered with liquid moonbeams; it seems to show a laughing face.”
Suparaga said: “This is difficult. We are driven too far. This is the sea called the Milk Ocean. We should go no further. Turn back if you can!”
But the merchants replied: “The ship goes too quickly; the winds are too strong. It is impossible even to slow down, much less change course. The current drives us too swiftly and the wind blows contrary.”
Then, having crossed that sea, they came to another, its rolling waves tinted with a golden splendor the color of dames. Filled with amazement, the merchants said to Suparaga: “Now the water appears like a huge, blazing fire! The waves are not blue, but seem tinged by the rising sun. What sea is this? Why is it this color?”
The Great Being did not think it advisable to reveal the reason for the ocean’s hue, but said only: “The Sea of Fire-Garlands is its name. It would be wise indeed for us to turn back now.”
But on and on they went, crossing that sea until the color of the water changed again. Like a field of ripe kusha grass, its waters were glowing with the radiance of topaz. Marveling, again the merchants asked Suparaga: “What sea is this? Its waves are the color of ripe wheat, and when the waves break, the foam crowns the sea like a mantle of flowers.”
Suparaga replied: “Alas! Make all effort, merchants, to turn back. It is not wise to go farther. This is the Sea of Grass. Its currents ― like an elephant not heeding the goad ― are difficult to master, and nothing good will come of it.”
But they were unable to turn the ship, no matter how hard they struggled. And soon they were crossing into another sea, as green as the most brilliant emerald. The merchants said to Suparaga: “Now the sea has yet another appearance. Its waters are the color of emerald or aquamarine, and they shine like a beautiful meadow; the foam is as lovely as water lilies. What sea is this?”
Hearing this, the Great Being heaved a long and deep sigh, his heart aching with knowledge of the calamity that was imminent. In a low voice he spoke: “We have gone too far. From here it will be hard to return. This is the Sea of Reeds at the end of the world.”
When they heard these words, the poor merchants were plunged into despair. Minds lethargic, limbs without power, they sat in dull apathy and did nothing but sigh.
After crossing that sea, in the afternoon near twilight. when the sun seemed to be setting into the ocean, a fearsome and tremendous noise arose. The ear-splitting sound struck fear into their hearts. It sounded like the sea rising in anger, like bamboo groves crackling with fire, like thunderclaps, jumping from their seats, they all stared in horror as they saw before them the immense mass of water falling down, as if into some enormous chasm. In utter terror, they ran to Suparaga, saying: “We hear a distant noise which is so loud it pierces our ears and strikes terror into our hearts it is as if the lord of the sea were angry, as if the entire ocean were falling into an awful abyss. What sea is this? What can be done?”
The Great Being, alarmed, cried out: “Alas! Alas! You have come to the dreadful place from which no one returns, the Mare’s Mouth, the mouth of the lord of death!”
At this, the poor merchants were stunned by the fear of death. Realizing that all hope of life was lost, some wept: others moaned and cried aloud; some were unable to move: still others seemed out of their minds with fear. Some were humbly praying to the gods, some were praying to the Adityas or to the Rudras, others to Sagara, lord of the ocean. Others were muttering mantras, and still others were bowing down to Devi. Some again went to Suparaga and said: “You, who have the ability to help all beings, who have so often relieved those in distress, now is the time to use your power for action.
“We take refuge in you, for we are sorely distressed and without any protection. The wrathful waters are about to swallow us like a morsel of food. You cannot abandon this poor crew, letting us perish in the rolling waters! The Great Ocean itself will obey your command. Please put a stop to its terrible rage!”
The Great Being, his heart almost bursting with compassion, comforted the poor merchants, saying: “I think I see a way to rescue us, but you must harness all your courage.” The possibility that there was still some hope revived the merchants’ confidence, and they became silent, fixing their attention on Suparaga.
The Bodhisattva threw his robe over one shoulder, knelt on the deck of the ship, and bowing down, paid heartfelt homage to the Tathagata. Then he said to the merchants: “You, honorable sea-traders, and you, sky and ocean dwelling gods, listen and be my witness. Since my first conscious deed, I cannot recall even one instance of ever having injured any living being. By the power of this act of truth, by the strength of my store of virtuous actions, may this ship turn safely around without falling into the Mare’s Mouth of death.”
And so great was the power of his truth, so great the splendor of his merit, that the current and the wind changed to the opposite direction, causing the vessel to return the way a came. Seeing the ship turn, the merchants were exultant with admiration and joy. They bowed to Suparaga with reverence and awe and told him that the ship was turning back. “Be calm,” he said, “and hoist the sails quickly.” And having regained their energy, the crew set to work at once.
And the ship, filled with the sound of her merry, laughing crew, her lovely white sails spread like wings, flew over the sea, a white swan in a pure and cloudless sky.
Now the ship was returning with great ease, favored by both the current and the wind, moving like a crystal chariot of the sky gods. As the dim glow of twilight turned to darkness, the constellations began to appear like ornaments in the heavens. Just then, at the moment when the reign of the night begins, Suparaga spoke to the merchants: “Now, traders, while crossing the Sea of Reeds and each succeeding sea, you must dredge up sand and stones from the bottom, storing as much as your ship can hold, so that in the future her sides will be firm against any storm … not to mention the profit such auspicious gravel will bring.”
The gods, out of affection and veneration for Suparaga, showed the merchants where to cast their nets, and the merchants loaded their ship with what they thought was sand and stones. But when they reached their port at daybreak, they found their ship filled with treasure ― silver, gold, sapphires, and beryl. And having at last arrived in their own country, they were filled with joy and praised their savior.
This story demonstrates how when one dwells in the Dharma, even speaking the truth is sufficient to dispel calamity. What better demonstration of the good results of practicing the Dharma? Considering this, strive to practice! This story also shows the great advantage of having virtuous friends. As the saying goes: “Those who depend on virtuous friends attain happiness.”