Friday, August 29, 2014

this path of discipline OR "don't burn the mustard seed!"

Exhortation to prayer rankles.  Order me, in reference to most anything, and you'll likely be treated to me, rankled.

So let's take a deep breath, shall we, and enjoy the origins of the verb "to rankle":
Middle English: from Old French rancler, from rancledraoncle ‘festering sore,’ from an alteration of medieval Latin dracunculus, diminutive of draco ‘serpent.’
And just to make sure that my snarky state is established beyond the realms of smarmy retort and sanctimonious dadaism, contemplate this very short list of synonyms for the good and faithful rankle, as used with a direct object: 
cause resentment to, annoy, upset, anger, irritate, offend, affront, displease, provoke, irk, vex, pique, nettle, gall; informalrile, miff, peeve, aggravate, tick off
There!  Now we're ready for the reproduction of what has thus far not rankled me this evening -- between bouts of interrupted reading, frequent "Yes, dear"s, and one Marmy Fluffy Butt permanently attached to my left pelvis (thereby adding immense heat and a one-half inch layer of long, white hairs).

It all began in a search for my lost mindfulness -- which is the closest I'll get to being your comedic straight-man... ever.  Well, at least, knowingly.  Ha!  See there!  An inadvertent mindfulness joke!

courtesy of The Mindfulness Method

It all began in a search for my lost mindfulness and ended, somehow, right where this catastrophic thinker needed to be.  Reading can be like that, even rudely interrupted reading bouts.  And "right where... needed" was here:

Kisagotami Theri
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

TRANSLATOR'S INTRODUCTION:  Kisa Gotami has two of the most heart-rending stories in the Buddhist tradition associated with her name. The Commentary to this verse tells that when her young child had died, she refused to believe it was dead. After asking many people — in vain — for medicine that would revive the child, she was finally directed to the Buddha. When she told him her story, he offered to provide medicine for the child, but he would need some mustard seed — the cheapest Indian spice — obtained from a family in which no one had died. She went from house to house asking for mustard seed, and no one refused to give it to her. But when she asked if anyone had died in the family, the universal response was always, "Oh, yes, of course." After a while, the message sunk in: Death is universal. On abandoning the child's body to a charnel ground, she returned to the Buddha and asked to be ordained as a nun, and afterwards became an arahant.

The canonical verses associated with Kisa Gotami's name, however, tell a different story, which is identical to the story that the Commentary attributes to Patacara: Pregnant with her second child, she was returning to her parents' home, along with her husband and small firstborn child, to give birth. Along the way, a great storm blew up, and she asked her husband to provide shelter for the family. As he was cutting grass and sticks to build a shelter, a snake bit him and he died of the poison. Unsheltered, and wondering at her husband's long absence, Patacara gave birth and had to spend the night sheltering both her children against the rain and wind with nothing more than her body. The next morning, she found her husband dead. Distraught, she decided to return to her parents' home. However, a river — swollen from the rain of the previous night — ran across her way. Unable to carry both children across the river, she left her first-born on the near bank and waded through the raging current carrying her baby. Placing the baby on the far bank, she turned back to fetch her first-born. A hawk, seeing the baby, took it for a piece of flesh, and swooped down on it. Seeing this, Patacara raised her hands and tried to chase it away, but to no avail: The hawk picked up the baby and carried it off. Meanwhile, her first-born — seeing his mother raising her hands — took it for a signal to cross the river. As he jumped into the raging current, he was carried off to his death. Overwhelmed with grief, Patacara returned to her parents' home, only to learn that it had burned down from a lightning strike in the previous night's storm. Her parents and brother were at that moment being cremated on a single pyre. At this point, she went mad and began wandering around half-naked. Only on coming into the Buddha's presence did she recover her senses. He taught her the Dhamma, and eventually she ordained and became an arahant.

Why this story is attributed to Patacara in the Commentary when it is obviously Kisa Gotami's in the Canon, is hard to tell. Some scholars have suggested that the tales in the Pali commentaries were imported from other Buddhist traditions, such as the Mulasarvastivadin. Thus, the differences between the canonical verses and the commentarial tales stem from the fact that the different traditions attributed particular stories to different elder monks and nuns. For instance, the Pali Canon attributed the story of the woman whose family was destroyed in a single day to Kisa Gotami, while the tradition from which the Commentary drew attributed it to Patacara. If that's the case, it's interesting to note how the commentators who adopted these tales nevertheless remained faithful to their Canon. Instead of trying to change the Pali to fit with the commentarial source on which they drew, they allowed the discrepancies between the two sources to stand: one of many instances in which the discrepancies between the Canon and the commentaries suggest that the monks who handed down the Pali Canon tried to keep it intact even when they didn't agree with it.

Later Theravadin texts have tried to cover over the discrepancies between Kisa Gotami's verses and the Commentary to those verses by insisting that the passage in the verses beginning, "Going along, about to give birth," and ending, "my husband dead, I reached the Deathless," is actually Patacara speaking, but this seems unlikely: Why would one arahant butt in on another one's tale?

At any rate, regardless of which story is Patacara's, and which Kisa Gotami's, both speak to the universality of death, and the power of the path of practice: that in the midst of this human world with all its sorrows, there is still a way to find that which is free from grieving, aging, and illness: the Deathless.

Having admirable friends
has been praised by the Sage
with reference to the world.
Associating with an admirable friend
even a fool
becomes wise.
People of integrity
should be associated with.
In that way discernment grows.
Associating with people of integrity
one would be released from all suffering & stress,
would know stress,
the origination of stress,
cessation & the eightfold path:
the four noble truths.

Stressful, painful, is the woman's state:
so says the tamer of tamable people.
Being a co-wife is painful.
Some, on giving birth once,
slit their throats.
Others, of delicate constitution,
take poison.
In the midst of a breech-birth
both [mother & child] suffer destruction.

Going along, about to give birth,
I saw my husband dead.
Giving birth in the road,
I hadn't reached my own home.
Two children deceased,
my husband dead in the road
— miserable me!
My mother, father, & brother
were burning on a single pyre.

"Your family all gone, miserable,
you've suffered pain without measure.
Your tears have flowed
for many thousands of lives."[1] 

Then I saw,
In the midst of the charnel ground,
the muscles of sons being chewed.
With family killed,
despised by all,
my husband dead,
I reached the Deathless.
I've developed this path,
noble, eightfold,
going to the Deathless.
Having realized Unbinding,
I've gazed in the mirror of Dhamma.
I've cut out the arrow,
put down the burden,
done the task.
I, Kisa Gotami Theri,
my heart well-released,
have said this.


According to the Commentary, this was the Buddha's message to Kisa Gotami.
-- "Kisagotami Theri" (Thig 10), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013.

If that does not go down well, rest yourself in the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  The mustard seed is an exalted vehicle in almost all "inspired" books of the major religions.  And I know my evening's roundabout journey has come to a good pausing point, because I am COMPELLED by the universe, or my own love of spicy life, to allow the mustard seed expansion beyond Parable Fodder, courtesy of Serious Eats:

Unless they're added to a pickle brine, mustard seeds need to fry and pop in hot oil to release their full potential. In quick stir fries, toss them in oil with finely minced aromatics like ginger and garlic. Just make sure your oil is hot when the seeds go in—if they heat up with the oil, they're likely to overcook and burn without popping. When the seeds start popping, I put on a lid till they down, then add more ingredients to cool down the pan. Don't keep the lid on too long though, as mustard seeds can burn quickly. If this happens to you, don't sweat it, but you may want to clean out your pan and start again. Burnt mustard seeds taste a little like motor oil.
With Indian curry-style dishes, I enjoy mustard seeds in concert with cumin, asafoetida, coriander, fennel, and curry leaf (though not all necessarily at once). You can fry these spices together before adding wet ingredients. Or, if making a lentil dish like daal, you can use mustard seeds as the foundation for a quick tarka. When the soup is just done, fry mustard seeds and some other spices in some hot oil, then spoon the mixture over the soup in bowls. It's like a finishing drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a fresh pat of soft butter, but pungent and spicy. Don't limit this technique to Indian dishes, though: it's the best soup trick I know, hands-down.

Okay, all you sweet'ums out there, back to parable time for these precious little bits -- the traditional story of Gotami and the Blessèd Mustard Seed, unfettered by commentary (but still... a translation, and a reworking into verse):

Skinny Gotami & the Mustard Seed
Andrew Olendzki

After flowing-on for a hundred thousand ages,
she evolved in this Buddha-era among gods and men
in a poor family in Savatthi.
Her name was Gotami-tissa,
but because her body was very skinny
she was called 'Skinny Gotami.'
When she went to her husband's family,
she was scorned [and called] 'daughter of a poor family.'

Then she gave birth to a son,
and with the arrival of the son she was treated with respect.
But that son, running back and forth
and running all around, while playing met his end.
Because of this, sorrow-to-the-point-of-madness arose in her.
She thought: "Before I was one who received only scorn,
but starting from the time of the birth of my son I gained honor.
These [relatives] will now try to take my son,
in order to expose him outside [in the charnel ground]."

Under the influence of her sorrow-to-the-point-of-madness,
she took the dead corpse on her hip and
wandered in the city from the door of one house to another
[pleading]: "Give medicine to me for my son!"
People reviled her, [saying] "What good is medicine?"
She did not grasp what they were saying.

And then a certain wise man, thinking
"This woman has had her mind deranged by sorrow for her son;
the ten-powered [Buddha] will know the medicine for her,"
said: "Mother, having approached the fully awakened one,
ask about medicine for your son."

She went to the vihara
at the time of the teaching of dhamma and said,
"Blessed One, give medicine to me for my son!"
The master, seeing her situation, said,
"Go, having entered the city,
into whatever house has never before experienced any death,
and take from them a mustard seed."

"Very well, Sir." [she replied],
and glad of mind she entered the city and came to the first house:
"The master has called for a mustard seed
in order to make medicine for my son.
If this house has never before experienced any death,
give me a mustard seed."
"Who is able to count how many have died here?"
"Then keep it. What use is that mustard seed to me?"
And going to a second and a third house,
her madness left her and her right mind was established
 — thanks to the power of the Buddha.

She thought, "This is the way it will be in the entire city.
By means of the Blessed One's compassion for my welfare,
this will be what is seen."
And having gained a sense of spiritual urgency from that,
she went out and covered her son in the charnel ground.

She uttered this verse:
It's not just a truth for one village or town,
Nor is it a truth for a single family.
But for every world settled by gods [and men]
This indeed is what is true — impermanence.

And so saying, she went into the presence of the master.
Then the master said to her,
"Have you obtained, Gotami, the mustard seed?"
"Finished, sir, is the matter of the mustard seed" she said.
"You have indeed restored me."

And the master then uttered this verse:
A person with a mind that clings,
Deranged, to sons or possessions,
Is swept away by death that comes
 — Like mighty flood to sleeping town.

At the conclusion of this verse, confirmed in the fruit of stream-entry,
she asked the master [for permission] to go forth [into the homeless life].
The master allowed her to go forth.
She gave homage to the master by bowing three times,
went to join the community of nuns,
and having gone forth, received her ordination.

It was not long before, through the doing of deeds with careful attention,
she caused her insight to grow... and she became an arahant.

-- "Skinny Gotami & the Mustard Seed" (ThigA 10.1), by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. .

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Haddock Corporation's newest dictate: Anonymous comments are no longer allowed. It is easy enough to register and just takes a moment. We look forward to hearing from you non-bots and non-spammers!