23 – The Wise One

23 – The Wise One

The compassion felt by the virtuous for their benefactors does not diminish, no matter what injuries those benefactors might later inflict upon them: Such is the gratitude shown by the virtuous, Such their forbearance.

Once when the Bhagavat was still a Bodhisattva, he took birth as a wandering ascetic known as the Wise One, Mahabodhi. While still a householder, he had acquainted himself thoroughly with most branches of worldly learning, particularly the fine arts. After renouncing the world, however, he directed his mind exclusively to the study of the Dharma, in hopes of bringing benefit to all sentient beings.

Soon he had become a master in that field as well, and this accomplishment, when added to his already great store of merit, his knowledge of the world, and his lively intelligence, brought him great renown. And so it was that wherever Mahabodhi went, in whatever land he found himself, he was highly praised by the learned, by royalty, by brahmans and householders, as well as by those who lived in forest groves. For so it always is: Although virtues are always highly respected, it is their graceful practice that gains the affection of the people. Such grace will win even the praise of one’s enemies, who cannot respond otherwise for fear of their reputations.

With the aim of benefitting others, the Great Being travelled through villages, towns, and markets, countryside’s, kingdoms, and royal estates. After a time he came to the realm of a king who, having heard of the splendor of the Wise One’s many virtues, rejoiced greatly at word of his approach. Indeed, knowing in advance of his arrival, the king had built a special residence for Mahabodhi in the loveliest spot in his pleasure gardens.

Upon the Bodhisattva’s arrival in that realm, the king greeted him in the most honorable fashion. He showed him many tokens of esteem by joyfully attending on the Wise One and listening to his teachings as a pupil listens to his teacher. For to a lover of virtue, the arrival of a virtuous guest is a kind of feast.

For his part, the Bodhisattva was delighted to oblige the king. He discoursed daily on spiritual matters, pleasing to both mind and heart, as he prepared the king for the road to enlightenment. Those devoted to the Dharma will, out of compassion, instruct even beings who have not shown interest; how could they refuse any who are eager for guidance, who open their hearts like the purest vessels?

Although the king highly honored the ministers-of-state and counselors for their learning and also treated them with respect, they could not bear the constantly growing reverence accorded the Bodhisattva, for jealousy had tainted their minds. Such is the way of the world, that when superior virtues attract attention, those honored for mere professional skill burn with envy.

Disturbed by their inability to surpass the ascetic in learned discourse, the ministers became upset by their king’s increasing interest in the Teachings. In order to subvert their sovereign’s feelings about the Bodhisattva, they said to him: “Your Majesty, you should not put so much confidence in the teachings of that wandering monk Bodhi. Anyone can see he must be some kind of spy sent by a neighboring king to use Your Majesty’s love of virtue and attraction to the Dharma to trap and trick you. His clever mind, abetted by his soft, smooth, and lying tongue, will confuse you and lead you into disaster.

“How is he doing this? Pretending to be a devotee of virtue, he urges you to practice compassion and foster feelings of love and modesty. He will encourage you finally to adopt vows incompatible with your royal and military duties, turning you aside from material interests and pleasures, and damaging your policies. It may be out of pure charity he speaks, yet is it not curious how well read he is in manuals of political science; how much he enjoys conversing with the messengers of foreign kings?”

Such language, often repeated to the king by those feigning to have his best interests in mind, did not fail to leave its mark. Gradually the king’s attitude changed, his veneration of the Great Being wavering under the influence of his growing distrust. In such a manner does calumny, roaring thunderbolts of discord, pierce the ears. Does there exist one person in this world who can remain unshaken, trusting, and confident in his own power under such an influence?

The king’s show of affection for the Great Being lessened, and he ceased to pay the Bodhisattva due honor. But the Bodhisattva, because of his pure mind, was untroubled, thinking: “Kings cannot help but be distracted by their infinite duties to their subjects.” Soon, however, the previous respect of the courtiers turned into coolness and disrespect, and Mahabodhi realized he had aroused the king’s displeasure. Therefore, the Great Being collected his three utensils of a wandering ascetic, the staff, the water pot, and the begging bowl, and prepared to depart.

The king, hearing of Mahabodhi’s resolution, and moved partly by a remnant of affection and partly out of duty, pretended to try to detain him. Hurrying to his pleasure garden, he said to the Bodhisattva: “What could make you decide to leave us now, so suddenly and without warning? Could it be some lack of attention on our part that has aroused your displeasure? Let us assure you it is completely unintentional.”

The Bodhisattva replied: “I would not leave for such a reason, nor would I ever become angry for lack of respect. But because of your deceit you have ceased to be a vessel for virtuous teachings, and so I must leave.”

At that moment the king’s favorite dog rushed forward in a hostile manner, barking loudly at the Bodhisattva and baring his teeth. “This animal proves my point. Not too long ago he was fond of staying by my side, following your example. Now his barking betrays your true feelings, for he does not know how to dissemble. Surely he has heard you speak harsh words of me as happens when affection has been destroyed, and now he acts upon your words in order to please you. Such is the behavior of servants who eat the bread of their master.”

The king was filled with shame at this reproof His heart was struck by the acuteness of the Bodhisattva’s perceptions, and he could only lower his eyes. Thinking it unfitting to pretend further, he replied: “It is true you have been the subject of such conversations. People have indeed used harsh language when speaking about you in my council, and I, absorbed in matters of state, let it pass. Please forgive me, and stay here. Pray do not leave.”

But the Wise One replied: “As I have said, I am not leaving because of ill treatment, Your Majesty, nor am I leaving because of resentment. It is simply time to go. Consider: If, out of attachment or apathy, I did not leave now, surely in time, as all hospitality faded, I would find myself expelled.

“Therefore, it is time to go. I do not leave you with bad feelings; but I must follow the proper course. One affront could never erase your former kindnesses; yet withered affection is no more helpful than a dried up pond to a man who is thirsty. The benefit from such a relationship is meager and troublesome at best. The one who wishes happiness, who does not wish to fall prey to conflicting emotions, will rely only on those with minds like clear lakes in autumn. The conduct of the wise is well known to be like this. To be timid in taking the part of one who is devoted, to attend on those filled with disaffection, or to be slow in remembering former kindnesses ― these are not the actions of a true man.

“Love is destroyed not only by lack of attention, but also by too great dependence and frequent requests. It is to protect the remnant of our friendship from such dangers that I now take my leave.”

The king replied: “If you are determined to go, I think you should return one day to favor us once again with your great vision. Did you not just say that friendship ought to be kept safe from lack of attention?”

“Your Majesty, living in the world one is subjected to all sorts of obstacles, detours, and adversaries. I cannot promise that I will come this way again. I can only express my wish that I might be able to meet with you once more when there is good reason for such a visit.”

These sweet words satisfied the king, and he bade farewell to Mahabodhi in a most honorable fashion. The Bodhisattva then resumed his journey. Troubled by contact with worldly folk, he retired to the forest, where he directed his attention to the practice of meditation. Before long he attained the four meditations and the five transcendent wisdoms.

Sometime later, while he was enjoying this exquisite tranquility, a memory of the king, accompanied by a feeling of compassion, came to his mind. Concerned about the present state of the king’s virtue, he focused on that monarch, and with his mind’s eye discerned that the king was caught up in the intrigues of his many counselors, each of whom was urging the king to adopt the precepts of various false doctrines.

One was trying to persuade the king against the teachings of causality, using examples in which the causality is difficult to follow. “What,” said he, “is the cause of the shape, the color, the arrangement, the softness, and so on of the stalk, the petals, and the filaments of a lotus? What causes the gorgeous variety in the plumage of birds? You cannot say, for these things exist by their very nature. The entire universe exists for no other reason than itself: Everything has its own essential and inherent nature.”

Another believed in a Supreme Being who created all things: “It is absurd to say that the universe could exist without a cause. There is a Being who is master of the universe, a Being who is Eternal and One. And it is in consequence of this Being’s transcendental volition that the world is cyclically created and destroyed.”

Another counselor attempted to persuade the king of his own doctrine: “The universe is as it is because of karma, former actions, which bring us happiness or unhappiness. Personal initiative has no power to alter this. Nor is there such a thing as a Supreme Being, for how, indeed, could one being at one time create all the boundless variety of the elements found in this existence? This universe is clearly the product of former actions. Why else would even those skilled in doing what should ensure happiness suffer so much misfortune? Clearly all these things come from previous karma.”

Yet another was enticing the king to care for nothing but sensual pleasure, following the theory of annihilation: “Look closely at the various constituent parts and colors of a tree. Can these be traced to past actions that have been taken? Yet they exist, and, once destroyed, will never exist again. So it is with everything. And for this reason we should consider pleasure the main goal of life.”

Another counselor, pretending to instruct the king in his royal duties, recommended that he follow the tortuous path of political expediency, a path marked by lack of compassion, by cruelty, and by all things contrary to the Dharma. “Use your supporters as you would use your shade trees,” he said, “for as long as they prove useful to you. Extend your glory by showing them gratitude only so long as it is to your advantage; when someone is no longer of use, cut him off, as you might an object intended for sacrifice. This is the way to renown and security.”

In this manner did the ministers try to lead the king astray on paths of false doctrine. And, owing to his association with wicked people and his eagerness to be guided by those he trusted, the monarch was about to fall into the chasm of wrong views. Seeing this, the Bodhisattva was filled with compassion and concentrated on a means to reverse this process. So it is that the virtuous always keep in mind the good done to them, whereas the wrongs they experience slip from their thoughts like water from a lotus petal.

Having decided on his course of action, the Bodhisattva conjured up a large monkey. As soon as the monkey appeared in his hermitage, he caused all but its hide to disappear, and this he used as a cloak. Clothed in this cloak he had magically created, he presented himself at the entrance to the king’s palace.

He was announced by the gatekeepers, and ushered past the guards, past the waiting officers, brahmans, soldiers, messengers, and notables, through the doors to the audience chamber which was guarded by doorkeepers holding swords and staves.

The king was seated on his throne, surrounded by his council of learned and wise men, all magnificently attired and seated by rank. The ruler welcomed the Bodhisattva, and showed Mahabodhi every honor due a revered guest. Only after the ascetic had taken the seat offered him did the king express his intense curiosity about the monkey skin. “Who offered this extraordinary monkey skin to your reverence, thereby winning enormous merit?” asked the king.

The Bodhisattva replied: “Your Majesty, nobody gave it to me. I won it for myself. Sitting and sleeping on the hard ground ― strewn only with thin straw ― is very painful for the flesh, and makes it very difficult to perform religious duties with ease. One day a large monkey appeared in my hermitage, and I thought: “Aha! Here is just the thing to ease my pain and help my religious practice! If only I had that monkey skin, then sitting or sleeping would be as comfortable as upon any royal couch spread with the softest of silks. And so, after subduing the beast, I skinned it.”

Hearing this story, the king was filled with dismay, but being polite and well-bred, he said nothing to the Bodhisattva, but merely cast down his eyes in shame. The ministers, however, still bearing a grudge against the Great Being, seized the opportunity to sneer at the Bodhisattva, and with laughing faces directed at the king, said:

“Look at him! How devoted he is to his religion, his only delight! How constant to his precepts! How adept at achieving his aims! How wonderful that, alone and emaciated by ascetic life as he surely must have been, he was able to kill so large a monkey! May his practice now be doubly successful!”

The Bodhisattva turned to the ministers with utmost calm and said: “In blaming me so harshly, take care lest you disregard the fair tenets of your own doctrines. Such is not a very skillful way to advance your own theories. May your reverences please consider! He who uses words contradicting his own doctrine to attack the doctrine of his adversary, undermines his own position, and invites rebukes from others.” Having countered the ministers collectively, the Bodhisattva then countered them individually. He said to the minister who denied causality:

“You hold that the universe exists by reason of its inherent nature. But if this were so, then why blame me for anything? Surely if this ape died in consequence of nothing but his own inherent nature, then I have rightly killed him. If, however, as you imply, I committed a sin in killing him, his death must have been produced by a cause. Therefore you must either renounce your doctrine of non-causality or cling to a reasoning that does not befit you.

“You say that the color, shape, and so on of a lotus are not the result of some cause. Yet is it not true that a lotus is produced only by lotus seeds in water? Where this condition appears, a lotus may grow; where not, not.

“Finally, consider this: Why do those who deny causality attempt to use logic if logic is causeless? They defy their own beliefs! On the other hand, if they prefer not to use logic, how can they support their stand? Their words are empty. And further, those who say causality does not exist when they cannot perceive the cause of some particular event ― do they not become angry when they learn what does cause something, and contradict themselves most heatedly? Simply because you cannot see a cause is no reason to say with such conviction that it does not exist. At sunset you can no longer see the blazing white of the sun, but you do not need to point out a cause to prove the sun’s continual existence.

“Furthermore, for the cause of happiness, you pursue objects of pleasure, and for the same cause you avoid whatever blocks your way. Indeed, for these very reasons, you support or contradict the king. In the face of all this, do you still deny causality?

“To return to the case of my monkey: Should you persist in your doctrine, if you truly do not see the existence of causes, it would follow that the death of that monkey had no cause. Then why blame me?”

Thus with clear arguments did the Great Being confound the advocate of non-causality. Then, turning to the believer in a Supreme Being, he said: “You, too, who are so religious, ought not to blame me. According to you, your Lord is the cause of everything.

“Look here. If a Supreme Being does everything, then he alone is the murderer of that ape, is he not? How can you blame me on account of another’s actions? If, however, you would say that he would never do such a thing because of his compassion, why do you loudly proclaim that he is the cause of all things?

“Moreover, why do you bow down before him with hope and prayer since that Lord of All, your ‘self-created being’, must have already created every action, both good and evil? Even your worship of him was his action. You cannot deny he is the author of all you do. Where is free will, then, my friend? If there is none, how can you blame me for anything?

“Indeed, if a Supreme Being is the creator and performer of all sinful acts, why should those who fear sin bother to foster devotion to him at all, after seeing this quality of his? And if he is not the one who commits evil ― since you say he abhors evil ― then you err in saying that he is the creator of all things.

“Further, your Supreme Being, in existing, must have come forth from something ― from either the Dharma (the lawful order of things) or from something else. If he came forth from the Dharma, then he could not have existed before that order existed. If he came forth from something else, then he himself is in bondage, and is not sovereign, being infinitely dependent.

“You may say that he exists without a cause ― if this is so, then you are attached and devoted to one who is outside the natural order of things and therefore amoral. If you accept your Supreme Being as the sole cause of all things, should you blame me for the murder of that chief of monkeys since his fate was already decided by the Supreme Being?”

So crystal clear were the Bodhisattva’s arguments concerning causation by a Sovereign God that the minister was struck dumb. Then, turning to the partisan of the doctrine of former actions, the Bodhisattva continued: “No more does it become you, sir, to censure me. According to you, everything is the result of immediately preceding actions. If this is true, I say to you that I am proud to have done this, I rightly killed this monkey. If everything is due to preceding karma, why should you blame me for killing this monkey? If, because of karma, a temple should burn to the ground, why blame me? On the other hand, if you say I committed a bad action in killing the monkey, then I must be the cause of his death, not the monkey’s immediately preceding action. And if, as you assert, karma always produces more karma, there can never be final emancipation.

“If, however, misery could change into happiness ― and if established happiness could change into the state of suffering ― then we could infer that good and evil fortune depend exclusively on immediately preceding karma. But if misery and happiness cannot become each other, preceding actions cannot be the only cause of events. If one can never generate new, fresh karma, then how could one ever have had the ‘old’ karma ― that which came before? If, nonetheless, you persist in this way of thinking, how can you judge that I killed the monkey?”

In the face of this powerful logic, the minister was so still that he seemed to have taken a vow of silence. Then the Great Being turned to the adherent of nihilism and smiled. “How eager your honor is to blame me,” he said, “but if there is really nothing after death, if each moment is totally annihilated after it exists, why should we bother to be concerned with good or evil? Why care at all about doing good? The wise would do whatever gives them most pleasure, and therefore it was not at all wrong for me to kill the monkey.

“If, however, fear of public opinion should lead someone to abandon sin and follow a path of virtue, he will not escape criticism, due to the contradiction between his words and actions ― nor can happiness be easily obtained by relying on public opinion. And is this not a silly and meaningless doctrine? Are not those who follow it the most childish of fools?

“As for your statement regarding the various constituent parts and colors of a tree as not being caused by karma, but as existing by their own nature ― once such a tree is gone, how can you explain how another like it arises? In your view anything could be the cause of something like that arising. Yet if, not withstanding this, you persist in your attachment to this doctrine, how can you censure the killing of a monkey, or even of a man?”

By means of this elegant refutation, the Bodhisattva silenced another of the ministers. Then to the one so skilled in the science of politics, he said: “For what reason do you censure me, you who believe so firmly in political expediency? According to that doctrine, good or evil deeds are to be performed according to their expediency. Moreover, you feel that only after having reached the pinnacle of power should one bestow anything on others ― and even then only for one’s own benefit.

“If, for the sake of personal gain, you can forswear honesty even with your closest relations, how can you blame me for killing an ape when I wanted his skin? Is this not a textbook example of your philosophy?

“On the other hand, if you should blame me for cruelty and point out that misery is the fruit of such action, how can you reconcile that with your logic? How can you decide what is a correct judgment and what is not? Alas for those shameless ones who, in the name of expediency, oppress humanity and extend amorality. I do not see that such actions have gained you either pleasure or joy.

“Nevertheless, if you insist on maintaining your philosophy, do not blame me for killing the monkey, but blame your own system!”

And so, one by one, the king’s counselors were conquered by the Bodhisattva, in spite of their influence over the assembly, and in spite in their usual boldness. Confident of his success with the entire assembly, the Bodhisattva continued: “In truth, Your Majesty, I have never killed even a single living creature. This skin I wear comes from a monkey I created solely for the purpose of this conversation. So do not judge me falsely.” And so speaking, he dissolved the illusion of the monkey skin.

Then, seeing the king and his company in a receptive state of mind, he continued: “He who perceives that all things emanate from causes yet believes in free will, who looks to a future life beyond this, who maintains virtuous action, who cherishes compassion ― how could such a person kill any living being?

“Indeed, Great Prince, do but consider: How could one who believes in the Truth commit a deed which would not be performed by the denier of causality, or the believer, in an absolute being, or the materialist, or the politician, not even for the sake of a little glory?

“A person’s creed, be it true or false, prompts action in accord with it. Through what a person says and does you can learn much of what a person is. For this reason it is important to rely on right views and doctrine both in words and deeds. From bad views corruptions come forth; therefore one should keep company with the virtuous and avoid the wicked.

“Yet there are monks, better called demons, who wear the garb of the self-restrained, but who are unconstrained. They lead simple folk astray with their false views, as surely as serpents inject harm with the poison of their venom.

“As jackals are betrayed by their howling, so do adherents of false doctrines betray themselves by their harsh ways of speaking. Therefore the wise do not depend on such persons, but rather work for their good if they are able to do so. No one, no matter how illustrious, should make friends with such people, even if they are famous and you have need of them. For even the moon is overshadowed by the gloom of a winter’s day.

“Therefore, avoid the company of those who avoid virtue, and stand instead by those skilled ones who foster virtue. Make your glory shine by arousing in your subjects a love of virtuous qualities that will lead them to be unattached to wrongdoing. By so doing your fame and good reputation will shine and extend widely.

“When you act in accord with the Dharma, you can lead your people for the greater part to be intent on virtuous action and take the path to higher states of being. When you exert yourself to protect your people by relying on the Dharma, you will find that its rules and disciplines make it the loveliest path of all. Purify your conduct, learn to embrace charity, open your heart to strangers as if they were your closest kin, and rule your land with virtue and responsibility. May you govern your land with righteousness, never ceasing the observances of your duties. In this way you will gain renowned and high states of being.

“But if a king fails to protect his realm, his peasants, his farmers and herders ― those who, like the wish-granting tree, bear flowers and fruit ― if he does not protect the people who are the source of his revenue, he will have difficulties with his crops. If he fails to protect the merchants, traders, towns-people, and palace retinue who pay their share of customs, he will lose his support and have difficulty with the treasury. If he fails to honor his stalwart army and ignores the soldiers valiant in battle, he will lose the helmet of victory. And if a king disdains the virtuous, those blessed by morality or learning or supernatural power, he will forfeit the joys of the higher realms.

“As one who plucks an unripe fruit kills the seed without gaining the benefit of the juice of the fruit, so a king who does not act in accord with the Dharma will bring ruin to his land without gaining any benefit. On the other hand, as a tree abounding in fruit yields a great crop when the fruit is left to ripen, so can a country well protected by its ruler provide him with spiritual and material prosperity and enjoyment.

“Surround yourself with faithful ministers, clever and wise, as well as with honest friends and family. Secure their affection with giving, agreeable words, and respect. Focus your mind on the good of all your subjects, and let the Dharma guide your actions. While protecting your people from attachment and hatred, and purifying their ways, may you secure all worlds.”

Thus did the Great Being lead the king and his attendants from the wrong road of false doctrines to the Excellent Path. And, as the assembly bowed with palms joined, he ascended directly into the sky to return to his hermitage in the forest.

In this way, the compassion the virtuous feel for those who were once their benefactors is not diminished even by wrongs later done to them. Such is their gratitude, and such is their practice of forbearance. Considering this, one must not forget a former benefit because of such a trifle as a personal injury. This account is also relevant when discoursing on how the Buddha, even before he reached supreme Wisdom, defeated the doctrines of other teachers and taught the Truth. This account is also useful when censuring erroneous doctrines or inversely when praising righteous views, for it shows how a false doctrine cannot bear up under strong arguments because it has no firm foundation and is thus to be avoided.