October 9, 2020•1819 words
So I have heard. At one time the Lord Buddha, the ascetic Gotama, was sitting in the shade of a bodhi tree in Jeta's Grove. The Buddha was relaxing with a pleasant, serene look on his face while contemplating the highest dharmas.
Suddenly a tremor moved the earth and a magnificent deva appeared in front of him. He introduced himself as Sakha, the king of all devas.
Sakha stood to one side and began speaking.
"Lord Gotama," said the king of devas, "I have come to tell you that you have impressed us by setting the Wheel of Dhamma in motion. We being: the devas of the earthly realms, the devas of the hellish realms, the devas of the celestial realms, the devas who delight in their creations, and I, the king of all devas."
He bowed. "I have come to ask, out of gratitude, how the devas might serve the dhamma."
"Deva Sakha, there is only one thing for the devas to do, whether they be earthly, hellbound, celestial, or otherwise. They must ensure that the Wheel of Dhamma continues to turn."
"Once the Wheel of Dhamma has been set in motion, Lord Gotama," the deva said, "there is no way to stop it."
The Buddha reflected. "Then tell me, deva Sakha, king of all devas, if the Wheel of Dhamma cannot be stopped, then does that mean that my teachings and discourses will one day spread far and wide?"
"It is certain that they will, Lord Gotama, for I have seen the future," said the deva to the Lord Buddha. "Over the decades your teachings and discourses will continue to spread, from Nagaratha to Bengal, and from Tathamurthi to Delhi. Over the centuries they will spread to China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. And over the millennia they will spread further yet, to distant lands not yet discovered."
The deva bowed his head again. "This I tell you with honesty and sincerity. But as an act of gratitude for setting the Wheel of Dhamma in motion, I will show you personally, so that you may behold your teachings, and see for yourself that what I say is true."
"You will take me with you, then," said the Buddha.
In an instant, a flash, the Lord Buddha and the deva Sakha had vanished, leaving only a tremor which quickly faded away.
"Behold your teachings, Lord Gotama," whispered the deva.
The Buddha saw that on the floor of the temple were dozens of black robes wrapped around still, pale figures. The figures sat cross-legged, facing a blank wall, eyes half-closed. There was no decoration in the hall besides an and an electric waterfall and a statue of a fat, smiling man.
"They are sitting in meditation," said the deva Sakha. "These are your teachings. They sit and face the wall. Those are the only instructions they are given. They spend, ten, twenty, thirty years like this sometimes."
"Are they awakened?" asked the Buddha.
"Some of them, I assume, but they do not discuss it openly. They communicate only in riddles. Observe," and the deva approached the roshi, the senior monk.
"Dear monastic, I am the deva Sakha, come from another realm," he said, kneeling beside the roshi, "Tell me, are you awakened?"
The roshi opened his eyes, picked up a wooden shoe, and threw it squarely at the head of a junior monk.
"Ah! Ow!" the junior monk cried, holding his head, his face wrinkled in pain.
The roshi cried at him, "If you think this shoe is made of wood, you will never witness the Buddha!"
As the junior monk wailed, the Buddha stepped forward. "Actually, I am who you call the Buddha, monastic. I am the ascetic Gotam... oh!"
The roshi had thrown his other shoe at the Buddha.
"Behold your teachings, Lord Gotama!" said the deva.
In the middle of the field was a tall man standing on one leg. There was nothing but grass around him, not even a stump, not even a sapling. He had his hands raised as if holding an invisible ball above his head. He was like a tree. His body was perfectly still. His long, white beard lay at an angle in the evening breeze.
The king of devas assumed the same posture as the man and faced the Lord Buddha.
"They stand like this for hours. Or sometimes, like this," and the deva dropped low, as if he were riding a tiny horse. "They are unshakable, unmovable, standing between heaven and earth."
The Lord Buddha walked past the squatting deva and approached the man-on-one-foot. He was as still as a statue, as still as a mountain. "What are you doing?" asked the Buddha.
The man-on-one-foot said nothing.
"Are you awakened?" asked the Buddha.
The man-on-one-foot said nothing.
The Buddha had an idea. He stood beside the man. He carefully began to copy the positions of his legs, his torso, and his arms, until the Buddha was mirroring precisely the man's position.
He stood there like that for some time, until his muscles began to quiver and shake. This time, the man-on-one-foot did speak.
"Shaking body, shaking mind," said the man.
"I think I'm just out of shape," winced the Lord Buddha, "I am not as young as I used to be."
"You are think of yourself as standing. Not as being stood. That is your problem," said the man.
The Buddha considered this, and after a few moments the shaking calmed. Then a little later it ceased entirely.
"That is impressive, countryman," said the Lord Buddha. "And for what purpose do you stand for so long?"
The man-on-one-foot was silent.
"I'm fond of this fellow," said the Buddha to himself.
"Behold your teachings, Lord Gotama!" said the deva, flinging open the doors to the synagogue.
The Buddha witnessed pews full of men and women. The men were wearing shawls and strange little hats on the crowns of their heads. The hats were as small as dhosas. The men and women were singing in a strange language, songs in a melody unknown to the Buddha.
"What are they doing?" asked the Lord Buddha to the deva, "What language is this?"
"It is hebrew, Lord Gotama," said the deva. "Your followers recite it here. But I must confess that I do not understand the language. Temples such as this are elite training grounds for the awakened ones of this country, evidenced by the fact that all of this land's great teachers were trained in centers such as this one."
An assistant rabbi approached the Buddha and the deva. "Good shabbos," said the assistant rabbi, his arm extending a couple of prayer books and yarmulkes, "will you be joining us for services?"
"You are the senior monastic?" asked the Buddha.
"I'm, uh, well you yes, you could say that," said the assistant rabbi.
"Are you awakened?" asked the Buddha.
"Awake?" said the assistant rabbi, "You should ask if I ever get any sleep."
The Lord Buddha and the deva were staring at a writhing, contorting, shadowy mass illuminated only by the light of lanterns. Incense smoke filled the air and formed little whirlpools as the shadows on the floor grew, shrank, and grew again in a rhythmic pattern.
"Behold your teachings, Lord Gotama!" whispered the deva.
The shadows suddenly stopped their rhythmic motion. They looked vaguely like a couple of people who had arranged themselves in such a way as to leave as little space as possible between them.
"Huh? Who said that? Who's there?" erupted a deep, nervous voice.
The Buddha took a step forward towards the mass of shadows, trying not to trip in the dark. "It is I, the ascetic Gotama, having come to witness my teachings.” The Buddha squinted, then gave the deva a look.
“Wow,” agreed the deva.
“Wow!” cried a female voice, “It worked! Oh god yes!" Her shadowy figure sat upright, her curves evident from the lantern light. She was looking at the Buddha. The Buddha was about to speak to her, but the woman spoke first.
"I swear, all this time, I was doubting, foolishly doubting! False thoughts indeed, believing all this to be some kind of trick! Oh, after all these years, the Lord has finally come, just as you said he would! Oh! Oh! Oh!"
"Um," the man said.
"So, consort, shall we continue?" whispered the woman. The shadow shrank to one unit again. "I shall do whatever you say! I trust you... now kiss me," and there was the sound of the womanly shadow kissing the other one.
The kiss answered all the Buddha's questions.
"Um," the man said. The shadow reformed and began moving rhythmically again.
“Thoughts?” asked the deva to the Buddha. The Buddha briefly turned around.
“Not as soon as I spoke the words, 'refraining from sense pleasures,' I knew that someone, somewhere, would take it to mean this.”
"Nevertheless," the Buddha continued, turning back towards the scene, "knowing nothing of this method, all I can say is: maybe there is really something to it."
The deva considered this in silence, while the Lord Buddha squinted again, considering something else.
"In any case I am impressed at how they have twisted it all up."
"Twisted up all of your teachings, you mean, Lord Gotama?" asked the deva.
"No," replied the Lord Buddha.
With a tremor, the Lord Buddha and the deva Sakha had returned to the shade of the bodhi tree in Jeta's Grove. With a warm heart Sakha turned to the Blessed One to ask him what he thought of his teachings and discourses, and how they had spread far and wide.
"I am pleased, Sakha, king of devas," said the Buddha.
"And you are not bothered at all, Lord Gotama, by how some might have interpreted your teachings?"
"No," said the Buddha, "I do not teach the only way, Sakha — I only teach The Way. The Wheel of Dhamma turns, but as the wheel of a large boat, it may steer one in either this direction or that one. It does not matter which way one goes, but only that one makes it to the other shore."
"You are truly the Blessed One, pure and holy," said the deva Sakha, who knew it to be true, "and now I have done what I can to ensure and prove to you that the Wheel of Dhamma will continue to turn." The deva turned away. "Knowing this, I will take my leave now."
"Where will you go?" asked the Buddha.
The king of devas stood silently with his back turned to the Blessed One. The Buddha sighed.
"I knew it," said the Buddha.
"You said it yourself, Lord Gotama," said the deva Sakha, the king of all devas, "maybe there is really something to it."
With a flash and a tremor, the deva vanished.