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Buddhadharma : Winter 2015
winter 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 37 unpleasant aspects of the innards of the body, he goes off to contemplate on his own. Upon his return, he finds that many of the monks have (wrongly) developed disgust at their body from doing this contemplation and have either killed themselves or gotten others to kill them. And so the Buddha makes a new monastic rule, that aiding a suicide has the same penalty for a monk as mur- der: expulsion from the sangha. He also has the monks change their contemplation to mindfulness of breathing (Vin.III.68–71, SN.V.320–22). It is intriguing that the early texts preserved a record of such a disastrous mistake, which could easily have been edited out. There are also well-known examples of the Buddha hesitating: for example, when he debated whether it was worth teaching the Dhamma, as he initially thought no one would understand it (MN.I.168), and on the matter of whether or not to ordain women (Vin.II.253–55, AN.IV.274–80). An Ordinary and Extraordinary Being We see the Buddha’s human frailties and physical limits on several occasions. After he had been teach- ing a group of laypeople “till far into the night,” he asks Sariputta to teach the monks, saying, “My back aches, I want to stretch it”; he then retires to sleep (DN.III.209). Some very human aspects of the eighty-year- old Buddha are described in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. We find him expressing “weariness” at the prospect of being asked about the rebirth destiny of each and every person who has died in a particular location (DN.II.93). Another time he says, “I am old, worn out... Just as an old cart is made to go by being held together with straps, so the Tathagata’s body is kept going by being strapped up. It is only when the Tathagata ... enters into the signless con- centration that his body knows comfort” (DN. II.100). In his final illness, he is extremely thirsty and insists that there be no delay in his being given water to drink (DN.II.128–29). Yet elsewhere in the same text, the stream he asks for water from is found to be clear, even though it had recently been churned up by many passing carts. He crosses the Ganges by his psy- chic power (DN.II.89). He says that if he had been asked, he would have had the power to live on “for a kappa, or the remainder of one” (DN.II.103), with kappa (Skt., kalpa) generally meaning aeon, but here possibly meaning the maximum human lifespan at that time, around one hundred years. Key events in the Buddha’s life are said to have contributed to earthquakes, including his concep- tion, birth, enlightenment, first sermon, letting go of a full life-span during his final illness, and passing into final nirvana at death (DN.II.108–09). His skin, very clear and bright, is said to have made gold-colored robes look dull by comparison on the night of his enlightenment and final nirvana (DN. II.133–34). When he lies down between two sal trees, where he will die, they burst into unseasonal blossom in homage to him, and divine music is heard in the sky (DN.II.137–38). extraordinary aspects of the Buddha are even said to have existed at his birth, at which he is said to have walked and talked (MN.III.123). Clearly there was an intent to show two sides of the nature of the Buddha. He was an enlight- ened being who had experienced the transcendent and had developed supernormal powers through spiritual practices over many lifetimes, yet he also shared many human frailties with those he taught. The supernormal facet of the Buddha is also seen in the Lakkhana Sutta (DN.30), which describes his body as having the “thirty-two marks of a Great Man” (DN.III.142–79). Whether interpreted as straightforward physical features or as marks vis- ible only to the spiritually sensitive, these showed that Gotama was destined by the power of his Trying to dig back to the “bare facts” of the Buddha’s life can be like stripping the patina off a fine antique. However, doing so may reveal the various decorations that have been added over the centuries.