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Friday, 9 February 2018

400 – Angulimala

            One day, while the Buddha was returning from his round of begging, he was accosted by an infamous murderer named Angulimala.  This man’s name was derived from a gruesome necklace he wore which was made of the fingers cut from people he had murdered.  He had so terrorized the region that King Pasenadi himself had taken command of the party of soldiers which was seeking him.
            Most people were afraid to travel the roads while Angulimala was about, but the Buddha refused to alter his daily habits.  So it was that one day the murderer came upon the Buddha walking calmly back toward the Jetavana Grove.  “Stop where you are, monk!” Angulimala shouted.
            “I stopped long ago, Angulimala,” the Buddha replied.  “It is you who have not stopped.”
            Angulimala, confused by this reply, placed himself in front of the Buddha, preventing him from proceeding any further.  “Do you know who I am, monk?”
            “I know who you are, Angulimala,” the Buddha said.
            “Well then, monk, what did you mean by that?  What did you mean when you said you had stopped long ago, and that it was I who had not stopped?”
            “Long ago, O Angulimala, I stopped committing such acts as would cause suffering in others.  Long ago, I cultivated the habit of compassion for all living things.”
            “Then you are a fool, monk.  People are cruel and selfish.  They deserve no less than they receive from me.”
            It is said that the Buddha’s compassion was so great he could see and understand all the sufferings Angulimala had experienced, the events in his life which had turned him into the man he was now.  “You have suffered much, Angulimala,” the Buddha told him, gently.  “You are correct in saying that people can, at times, be cruel and selfish.  But cruelty is the result of ignorance.  If people overcome ignorance, they can become understanding and compassionate.  You know, Angulimala, about suffering.  Now you must learn about the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path which leads to the cessation of suffering.  You, too, can follow that path, Angulimala.”
            It is said that Angulimala had never encountered one who spoke to him without fear or aversion.  He was deeply moved, but he told the Buddha: “It is unfortunate, monk, that I did not meet you long ago, before I entered on this life of destruction.  But I am gone too far along my path to change now.”
            “Not so, Angulimala.  It is never too late to enter onto the path that leads to liberation.”
            “You are not as wise as you appear, O monk!” Angulimala laughed.  “Even if I were to give up my life of destruction, others would not forget my deeds.  Still King Pasenadi and his soldiers would seek to take my life.”
            “I will put you under my protection,” the Buddha told him, “if you vow to forgo your current path of hatred and undertake the religious life.”
            Angulimala felt a deep sorrow and repentance for all the violence of his past life, and he prostrated himself at the feet of the Buddha, asking to be led on the path of liberation.  He returned to the Jetavana Grove with the Buddha, where his head was shaved.  He professed the three refuges and was received into the order.
            Angulimala practiced the religious life with such devotion that a profound transformation came over him in a matter of weeks.  He attained arhatta and developed a peaceful and serene manner which impressed all who encountered him.  So he was given the name Ahimsaka—the “gentle one.”
            One day, not long after, King Pasenadi and a battalion of his most seasoned soldiers dressed in full battle array rode by on war horses.  When he neared the Buddha, who was accompanied by several bhikkus including the Arhat Ahimsaka, the king dismounted and paid him reverence.
            “Where is it that you go, O King,” the Buddha asked, “arrayed thus as for war.  Has the Kingdom of Kosala been invaded by warriors of some other land?”
            “No, Lord, the land has not been invaded,” the king told him.  “But a notorious murderer called Angulimala is reported to be in this area.  We are searching for him and intend to slay him before he can bring grief to any others by his violent deeds.”
            “Is this Angulimala then so dangerous that the king himself must hunt him down?” the Buddha asked.
            “There is no doubt, Lord, that he is a most dangerous and vicious criminal.  No one in my kingdom is safe while he is about, and so it is my duty to lead the search for him.”
            “And what if, O King, this Angulimala were to repent of his former misdeeds and take on the robes of a bhikku, vowing to respect all living things.  Would you still need to hunt him like an animal to slay?”
            “Lord, if this murderer were to take the robes of a bhikku and vow to respect all living things, I would myself pay him the reverence due to a man of religion.  But such a thing is not likely to occur.”
            “Not so, O King,” the Buddha said, indicating the Arhat Ahimsaka.  “Behold this monk, O King, who was once the murderer Angulimala and is now known as the ‘Gentle One.’”
            And King Pasenadi was filled with awe at the power of the Buddha’s teaching which could effect such a transformation in a man like Angulimala.

Friday, 26 January 2018

399 – Deshan Xuanjian

                Deshan Xuanjian  would become one of the great masters of the classic period of Chinese Zen, but as a young student he was given to intellectualism. His teacher was Lungtan Chongzin. Lungtan recognized the younger man’s potential and was patient with him.
                One evening, Deshan visited his teacher and posed various questions about Buddhism. Finally, Lungtan said, “It is getting late. You should retire for the night.”
                Understanding that he had been dismissed, Deshan bowed and opened the screen to leave the master’s quarters. Looking outside, he remarked, “It is very dark.”
                “Take this candle to light way,” Lungtan said, offering a lit taper.
                Deshan put out his hand to take the candle, but, just as his fingers touched it, Lungtan blew it out. At that moment, Deshan’s mind was opened.
                The next morning, Deshan built a fire in the courtyard before the meditation hall and burned all his books. “However profound the commentaries are,” he said, “in comparison with enlightenment they are like a single drop of water to the great ocean.”

Friday, 12 January 2018

398 – Bingting Comes for Fire

                After completing his training with Luohan Chichen, Fayan Wenyi became a teacher in his own right.
                A student named Hsuanze came to the temple and took part in the daily life of the monastery but never made use of the opportunity for private interviews with the teacher which is a standard tool used to hone the understanding of Zen students. One day, Fayan asked Hsuanze why he had not sought to take part in these interviews.
                “When studying with my previous teacher,” Hsuanze explained, “it was my good fortune to have my mind’s eye opened somewhat, and I believe I’ve acquired some insight into this matter of Zen.”
                “Is that so,” Fayan said. “So, tell me about this insight.”
                “When I asked my Master who the Buddha was, he told me, ‘Bingting comes for fire.’”
                “That’s a fine reply,” Fayan said with admiration. “However, I’m afraid that you might have misunderstood what your master was saying. Tell me, in your own words, what do you think he meant?”
                “Well,” the student replied, “Bingting is the god of fire, and so, of course, his nature is fire. It’s clearly ridiculous to suggest that one whose nature is fire should have to come for fire. In the same way, the nature of human beings is Buddha-nature; so it’s just as ridiculous for one whose nature is already Buddha-awareness to ask another who the Buddha was.”
                “Uh-huh!” said Fayan, nodding his head. “It’s as I expected. You didn’t understand.”
                “I didn’t?” the student said with surprise. “In that case, please instruct me. What would you say?”
                “Very well, ask me your question.”
                “All right: Who is the Buddha?”
                “Bingting comes for fire,” Fayan replied.