21 – The Story of Kuddhabodhi

21 – The Story of Kuddhabodhi

Those who can master their anger are able to pacify their enemies; those who cannot, inflame them.

Once the great Bodhisattva was born in this world to a certain noble family of brahmans renowned for their practice of virtue. Favored by the gods and honored by the king, they owned a large and flourishing estate. From early youth, the Great Being devoted his energies to cultivating the virtue of learning, so that by the time he was fully grown, his fame had already spread widely. As swiftly as a hero becomes known on the battlefield, as rapidly as a beautiful jewel gains note among collectors of gems, so quickly did his reputation grow among the learned.

Because of the Bodhisattva’s constant practice of the Dharma in previous existences, he soon reached the stage of wisdom where the idea of renunciation was so familiar that home life no longer gave him pleasure. He understood that worldly pleasures can never give true satisfaction ― that they are attended by the suffering of greed, quarrels, wars, and a host of other evils; that worldly pleasures are forever threatened by the fear of loss from acts of kings or thieves, from water, fire, one’s enemies, and so forth. Therefore, avoiding worldly pleasures like poison and longing for the Truth, he cut off his fair hair and beard, and exchanged the brilliant dress of a householder for the saffron robes of an ascetic. He embraced the ascetic life, its disciplines, and its vows.

His wife, who loved him deeply, followed his example by cutting off her hair, and giving up her beautiful clothes and jeweled ornaments. Adorning herself solely with the natural beauty of her form and her virtues, she dressed herself in saffron robes and followed her husband.

The Great Being knew that the delicate constitution of women was unsuited for the ascetic life. So when he saw his wife’s determination to join him in the forest, he said to her: “My dear, you have already proven your love and affection. Let that be sufficient. Please do not persist in your determination to join me ― it is better for you to live among other women who have forsaken the world.

“Ascetics sleep wherever they find themselves at sunset in cemeteries, deserts, mountains, even in wild forests where ferocious beasts roam. Besides, ascetics avoid even the sight of women; they prefer to walk alone, intent on their meditation. Please change your mind. What good would come from your attempting such a life?”

But his wife’s eyes grew dim with tears as she answered: “If I thought my going with you would cause you weariness rather than joy, do you think I would desire what would bring suffering to myself and displeasure to you? But I cannot bear to live without you, and so I beg you to pardon my disobedience.”

Again and again he repeated his entreaties, but she would not change her mind. Finally, the Bodhisattva relented, and in The Story of Kuddhabodhi

[text missing] silence allowed his wife to join him. And so she accompanied the Bodhisattva in his wanderings ― like the wild goose who accompanies her mate through villages, towns, and markets.

After a time they found themselves in an isolated part of a forest. It was a splendid spot: Sunlight filtered through the groves of trees with the softness of moonlight shining on masses of flowers; everywhere, pollen lay strewn upon the ground. After eating, the Bodhisattva performed his usual meditations; in the afternoon he rose and began to sew a few rags together for clothes.

Not far away, his companion meditated according to her husband’s direction, the splendor of her beauty embellishing the tree in whose shade she was seated. It was spring, when gardens and groves are at their loveliest. On all sides young and tender shoots peeped through the earth; drunken bees hummed softly and lascivious cuckoos called out in joy. Lotuses adorned sunlit lakes and glistening ponds, while soft winds blew, scented with the perfumes of innumerable blossoms.

What wonderful joy arises when the forest glades are like the playgrounds of the god of love, when the drunken bees murmur, and the sweet soft grass covers the earth, when water lilies cover the lakes in profusion and the cuckoos and peacocks sound their calls!

That very day, the king, enjoying the freshness of spring in all its glory, chanced to be exploring the forest and came to that very spot. On seeing the Bodhisattva, the king approached respectfully, and, after the usual ceremonial greetings, sat down a little ways apart. A few moments passed before his eyes lighted on the female ascetic. Struck at once by her great loveliness, the king, his passion aroused, began to contrive a plan to carry her off knowing full well that she must be the ascetic’s companion.

Having heard of the power of ascetics ― that their wrath burns like fire ― the king refrained from doing anything rash, despite the force of his desire. He thought: “If I can discover the extent of his power, I will know how to proceed. If his mind is ruled by passionate affection for her, it will be clear that he has gained no power from his practices. But if he proves dispassionate, I must beware.”

To ascertain the Bodhisattva’s state of mind, the king spoke to him as if he wished him well: “Your Reverence, it is clearly not suitable to travel with such an attractive companion in a forest like this. The world abounds in rogues and adventurers. If she came to harm, I would be censured as well.

“Suppose some rogue, disregarding both you and what is right, were to carry her off by force. What could you do but grieve? To indulge your anger would stir up your mind and destroy the glory of your religious life. It would be best for her to live in a city. What use, after all, is a woman to an ascetic?”

The Bodhisattva answered: “Your Majesty has spoken the truth. Yet listen to what I would do in such a circumstance:

“Whoever were to act in such a way against me, though pride or thoughtless rashness moved him, I would, in truth, while living, not release him, as the rain cloud binds the dust within.”

So the king reflected: “He is infatuated with her; therefore he has no power.” His contempt for the Great Being led him to lose all fear ― he listened to the dictates of his passion, and ordered his attendants to take the woman to his harem.

As soon as the ascetic’s wife heard the order, she trembled like a deer stalked by a ferocious animal. In fear, alarm, and dismay, her eyes filling with tears, her voice trembling, she cried out: “The king is supposed to be the best refuge ― a father to those overcome by suffering. Whose help can be called upon when the king himself is acting like the worst thief? Alas! The guardians of the world are derelict in duty! They have gone off or are dead. The Dharma itself is a mere sound.

“But why reproach the gods when my lord himself keeps silent? My husband, how can you be so undisturbed by my fate? Are you not bound to protect even strangers in distress? By the thunderbolt of your curses, you can change a mountain into dust ― but you do not speak! Must I live to see this? Am I such a wicked person that I am scarcely deserving of pity? Is it not the duty of ascetics to give refuge to the pitiful?

“Is it that you still remember my refusal to leave you? Alas! Is this catastrophe the happiness I yearned for? The fulfillment of my wish which was contrary to yours? Alas! Where are you taking me!”

Oblivious to her pitiful and heartrending cries, and before the very eyes of the Great Being, the royal attendants placed her in the chariot, to carry her off to the harem. Still calm, still serene, the Bodhisattva remained seated, sewing his rags, his powerful anger bound up by the thread of his tranquility.

“Where are your threats now?” asked the king. “Come, show us your wrath as you promised. You have seen your woman ravished before your very eyes. Could it be that you are powerless? Is that why you keep so silent? Have you gained nothing from all your practices? He who, not knowing his true capacities, makes promises he cannot keep, loses all the dignity he ever had.”

The Bodhisattva replied: “Oh, but I did keep my promise, Your Majesty. The one who tried to taunt me into action struggled mightily ― and I did not release him. By firmness of mind I forced him to keep quiet. So you must admit I have kept my promise.”

The Bodhisattva’s tranquility and confidence affected the king deeply. He was beginning to understand the extent of the ascetic’s virtue, and he pondered: “This brahman must have been hinting at something else when he spoke; I misunderstood him, and therefore acted most foolishly.” And so he asked the Bodhisattva: “Who was it that acted against you? Who was it you did not release ― but held in the same way the raincloud holds dust? Who was it that you quieted, despite his great struggle?”

The Bodhisattva replied: “Listen, and listen well, Great Prince. He who robs insight and prevents clear vision rose within me. But I did not release him. Anger is his name: anger, who would have made my enemies rejoice. When bursting forth he fosters nothing good. He is the one I subdued, Oh King: Anger is his name.

“Yes, I have transformed that hideous monster rising from within ― anger, who causes his victims to give up their virtue and even to lose any positive gains they have made in this life. As fire rising from a stick of wood will destroy that very log, anger born of wrong thinking will lead to ruin.

“Those who are not able to calm the burning fever of anger when it flares up with fierceness will find that they are little esteemed. Their reputations fade as moonlight fades in the blush of dawn.

“But those who can ignore insults, harm, and the taunts of others, those who consider anger their real enemy, will have reputations that shine like the luster streaming from the moon. Anger is attended by many other evils ― no matter how many jewels bedeck your form, the fire of anger will burn away your radiance. Who can find ease when his heart is wounded by anger’s arrows, though he lie on a jeweled couch?

“Anger creates pain and misery. It causes you to forget what is truly in your own interest, and directs you to wrong paths and into darkness. Happiness is forgotten, just as the moon loses its splendor in the dark part of its monthly journey.

“In the end, though your friends may try to restrain you, anger will cast you headlong into the abyss of ruin, for rage impairs the power of the mind, and leaves one unable to distinguish between the beneficial and the harmful. Carried away by anger, one commits actions that may take centuries of misfortune to atone for. Can one’s enemies, themselves provoked by anger, do anything worse?

“This I know: Anger is the enemy within us. Who can withstand its unbridled power? And so I carefully kept in check the anger struggling within me. Who indeed can safely ignore an enemy capable of so much mischief?”

Such moving words revealed the wonderful patience of the Bodhisattva and softened the heart of the king. “Your words are proof indeed of your tranquility!” he said. “But what can I say? I did not understand you, and so was deceived.”

Then, praising the Bodhisattva, the king bowed to his feet and confessed his wrongdoing. After obtaining pardon, he released the Bodhisattva’s wife and offered himself to the Great Being as his attendant.

From this story it can be seen that by controlling one’s anger, one can appease one’s enemies ― while doing otherwise will inflame them. This story also demonstrates how important it is to strive to suppress anger. This account is also to be told in connection with sayings that praise the precept of forbearance, for it shows how unfriendly feelings are soothed by forbearance, and how, by self-restraint, hatred is not allowed to grow. This story shows how he who banishes anger benefits both himself and others. Likewise, this account can be used when explaining the perniciousness of anger, and when expressing the greatness of the Tathagata.