Chapter Fourteen: Under the Tree
He conquered the hosts of Mara with his calm determination and then the Great
Meditation Master, longing to know the ultimate objective, applied himself to
During the first watch, he achieved the highest mastery
of all forms of meditation, and he remembered all his former births in a
continuous series: "In that place I was called such and so, and then I left
and arrived at the next," was the way he remembered thousands of his
births, experiencing each one all over again.
By remembering each birth and death in all those various transmigrations, the
Compassionate One felt empathy for all living beings who had, in stubbornly
rejecting good advice and by doing all sorts of actions in their various lives,
contributed to this world of living beings rolling helplessly along like
Due to his strong self-control even as he remembered like that, he was still
able to arrive at the conviction that, "All existence is as insubstantial
as the fruit of a plantain."
When the second watch came, this highest of all sight-gifted beings possessed of
unequalled power achieved supreme divine sight and saw the whole world as in a
Watching all the different transmigrations and rebirths of the various beings
according to their merit and karma, the compassion within him increased even
"Due to their evil actions, these beings pass into wretched worlds
while those by virtue of their good actions, advance to heaven.
"Born into a dreadful hell full of terror,
some undergo all kinds of suffering as they are being miserably tortured,
"Some are made to drink red-hot molten iron and others are impaled
screaming on a red-hot iron pillar. Still others are baked like flour, or
thrown head-down into iron jars or miserably roasted over heaps of glowing
charcoal. Some are devoured by ferocious dreadful dogs with iron fangs,
and others by gloating crows with iron beaks.
"Some, wearied of being burned, long for cold shade, so they are bound
captive and sent into a midnight forest where the leaves are swords.
Others are split as if they were timber by many arms wielding axes, but since
they are resistant in consequence of their former behaviour, even in that agony
they do not die.
For whatever they did just to avoid pain in hopes of getting pleasure,
the result for these helpless victims is that now it's all experienced as just
ordinary pain. And those who did something evil for the sake of
pleasure, they are now grievously pained. Does that old taste produce even
an atom of pleasure now?
"And a wicked deed which was done gleefully by those who are cruel
-- the consequences are that they suffer terribly for such a very long time that
they cry out. If only evil doers could see the fruits of their actions,
they would vomit hot blood as if they had been struck in a vital organ.
"And it seems to me that when an intelligent man associates with
evil-doers, that is even worse than all those physical tortures in
hell. As a result of the various actions arising from the periodic
violence of their minds, others are born miserably from the wombs
of various animals.
"There the poor wretches are killed right before the eyes of their families
just for the sake of their meat, their pelts, their fur, or their teeth, or
through hatred or just for the fun of it. Powerless and helpless, oppressed by
hunger, thirst, and fatigue they are driven along as oxen and horses, their
bodies wounded with goads.
"When born as elephants, despite their strength they are driven along by
weaker creatures, with their heads tormented by the hook and their bodies kicked
by foot and heel. And with all these other miseries there is the particular
misery that comes from from mutual enmity, and from submission to a master.
"Air-dwellers are oppressed by air-dwellers; denizens of water by denizens
of water, and land-dwellers are made to suffer by the dwellers on dry land --
all in mutual hostility.
"And there are others with minds full of envy, who when reborn, reap the
miserable fruit of their actions with the Pitris (ancestors) in the
underworld entirely devoid of light. With mouths as small as the eye of a needle
and bellies as big as a mountain, these miserable wretches are tortured with
pains of hunger and thirst.
"If a man only knew the consequence of selfishness, he would always give to
others -- even pieces of his own body like King
Shibi (protector of a pigeon, who gave his own flesh to feed a pursuing
"Rushing up filled with hope but held back by their former deeds, they try
in vain to catch any sort of nourishment no matter how impure. So they
find hell in that impure lake called the womb, and are born amongst people only
to suffer anguish.
"Some ascetics who performed meritorious actions go to heaven, while those
who attained expanses of empire wander about on the earth. Others are nagas
living in subterranean regions and become the guardians of treasure but they
[still] wander the ocean of existence reaping the fruits of their deeds."
In the last watch, having pondered all this, he then reflected, "Alas for
this whole world of living beings doomed to misery, wandering astray, all alike
"They don't know that this whole universe is devoid of any real refuge;
that it is born and decays through existence -- the site of the
skandhas and of pain. It dies, passes into a new state and then is
("The Twelve Links of Causality")
Then he reflected, "So what is required for [transitions: the decline
into] old age and death?"
He had seen that whenever there is birth, there is old age and death, and so he
pondered, "What is the necessary condition for a new birth ?"
He perceived that wherever there was attachment to existence, there arises a
[subsequent] existence, and then he pondered, "What is the necessary
condition for that attachment to existence?"
He ascertained it to be desire. Again he meditated, and pondered,
"What is the necessary condition for desire?"
He saw that desire arises wherever there is sensation, and ... ,"What is
that necessary condition for sensation?"
He saw that sensation arises wherever there is contact, and ... , "What
is the necessary condition for contact?"
... contact arises through the six organs of sense; ... , "Where do the six
organs of sense appear?"
... these arise in the organism, ... , "[From] where does the
... the organism arises where there is incipient consciousness; then,
"Where does incipient consciousness arise?"
... incipient consciousness arises where there are latent impressions (samskaras)
left by former actions; and ... , "Where do latent impressions arise?"
He reflected exhaustively that they arise in ignorance. That
is how the great seer, the Bodhisattva, Lord of Saints [reached his
Finally, after reflecting, pondering, and meditating, he concluded,
"Latent impressions become active once they are developed from
ignorance. Produced from the activity of the latent impressions, incipient
consciousness goes into action which gives rise to the activation of the
organism. It then has an experience inducing incipient consciousness. The
six organs of sense become active when produced in the organism, and sensation
results from the apperception (contact) of the six organs.
"Desire is initiated when produced from sensation. Attachment to existence
springs from desire, and from that attachment arises a (continued) existence.
"Birth is produced where there has been a (continued) existence, and so
from birth proceed old age, disease, and so on. Scorched by the flame of
old age and disease, the world is consumed in death. Scorched as it is by
the fire of death's anguish, great suffering arises and that truly is the origin
of this great trunk of pain."
Having reasoned all this out, the great Being was Perfectly Illuminated, and
again he meditated, pondered, and thus reflected:
"When old age and disease are stopped, death also is stopped. And
when birth is stopped, [subsequent] old age and disease are stopped, [too.]
"When the action of existence is stopped, [any subsequent] birth is also
stopped; when attachment to existence is stopped, the action of existence is
"So too when desire is stopped, the attachment to existence is stopped; and
with the stopping of sensation desire is no longer produced.
"And when the apperception (contact) by the six organs is stopped,
sensation is no longer produced; and with the stopping of the six organs their
contact (with any objects) is stopped;
"And with cessation of the organism the six organs are stopped; and with
the stopping of incipient consciousness, the organism is stopped;
"And with the stopping of latent impressions, incipient consciousness is
stopped; with the stopping of ignorance, the latent impressions no longer exert
"Therefore, ignorance is declared to be the root of this great trunk of
suffering no matter how we look at it [ by all the wise] therefore it must be
stopped by anyone seeking liberation. By eradicating [ stopping]
ignorance, all the pains of all existing beings are also immediately stopped and
cease to have effect."
The All-knowing Bodhisattva, the Illuminated One, after again pondering and
meditating, determined and thus came to his conclusion:
"This is suffering, this also is the origin of suffering in the world of
living beings. This is also the way of stopping that suffering; this is
that course which leads to its stopping." So having determined that,
he knew all as it really was.
That is how the Holy One, sitting there on his seat of grass at the root of the
tree and pondering by his own efforts, attained Perfect Knowledge at last.
For by bursting the shell of ignorance, and discerning all the various kinds of
perfect wisdom, he comprehended all the steps along the way [ partial knowledge
of alternatives] that are included in that Perfect Wisdom.
He became the Perfectly Wise, the Lord, the Arhat, the Dharma-Rajah, the
Tathagata, He who has Attained the Knowledge of all Forms, the Lord of all
Having watched all that, the devas in heaven said to each other, "Strew
flowers on this All-wise Monarch of Saints.'
But other immortals (ashuras?) exclaimed, who doubted the karmic attainments of
the greatest among the former saints, 'Do not strew flowers now -- no reason for
it has been shown.'
Then the Buddha, mounted on a throne, rose up in the air to the height of seven
palm-trees, and addressed all the Peerless Bodhisattvas, illumining their
minds, "Ho! ho! Listen to the words of One who has just
attained Perfect Wisdom: everything is achieved by meritorious works, therefore
as long as there is existence, acquire merit. For it is because I
always acted as generous, pure-hearted, patient, skilful being who is dedicated
to meditation and to the pursuit of wisdom that I became a Bodhisattva.
"It was by accomplishing in due order the entire round of the preliminaries
of perfect wisdom, that I have now attained that Highest Wisdom becoming the
All-wise Arhat and Victorious One (Jina.)
My aspiration is thus fulfilled; this birth of mine has borne its fruit and the
blessed and immortal knowledge which was attained by former Buddhas, is now
Like they who by following the principles of Dharma achieved the welfare of all
beings, so I have too. All my sins are abolished; I am the Destroyer of
Now I possess a soul of perfect purity, and I urge all living beings to
seek the abolition of worldly existence through the lamps of Dharma."
After worshipping him while he so addressed them, those " sons of Jinas"
(the Bodhisattvas) disappeared. Then the gods in exultation
worshipped him with divine flowers; and now that the Great Saint had become
all-wise, the world was full of brightness.
Then the Holy One came back to earth (descended,) remaining on his throne there
under the tree, and spent the next seven days absorbed in the thought,
"Here I have attained Perfect Wisdom."
("Titles, Families and Pure Lands")
Now when the Bodhisattva attained Perfect Knowledge, all beings were filled
with great joy, and all the various universes were illumined by a great light.
The happy earth trembled in six different ways like a woman in ecstasy, and the
Bodhisattvas came from their individual special abodes to gather and praise him:
"The greatest of all beings, the Omniscient All-wise Lotus Arhat has sprung
from the lake of knowledge, unsoiled by the dust of passion.
"(He is) the Cloud bearing the water of patience that rains the ambrosia of
Dharma to stir the seeds of merit, and cause shoots of healing to grow."
"(He is) armed only with the weapon of patience he is the Hundred-edged Thunderbolt
that vanquishes Mara; The Wish- fulfilling Gem; The Tree of Paradise; The Jar of
True Good Fortune; The Cow of Plenty."
"(He is) a Sun that destroys the darkness of delusion, a Moon that takes
away the scorching heat of the inherent sins of existence: Glory, glory, glory
to thee, O Tathagata.
"Glory (Jaya,) Lord of the whole world; glory to the One who has achieved
the tenth level of power. Glory, true hero amongst men, Lord of
righteousness, glory to thee!"
After cheering, honouring and adoring him in this way, they each returned to
their various homes, but not before repeatedly making reverential
circumambulations, and singing his praises.
Then all the beings of the many and various worlds ( Kamavakara worlds,
inhabitants of the Pure Abodes, the Brahmakayika gods, sons of Mara on the side
of truth, Paranirmitavasavarti beings, Nirmanaratayah and Tushita beings) the
Yamas, Trayastrimsad Devas, and the other rulers of worlds, and
The deities who roam the sky, the earth or its forests, each in the retinue of
their own king, came to the pavilion of the Bodhi tree and worshipped the Jina
using the forms of homage suitable to their respective positions; they sang his
praises using the hymns (mantras?) according to their respective degrees of
knowledge, and then they all went home.
NEXT: Chapter 15 The Jina's
The Watches of the Night
Traditional Indian timekeeping: One Nazhigai
is equal to 24 minutes; 2 ½ Nazhigais make one of our hours. A watch is a
Yamam and is equal to 7 ½ Nazhigais or 3
Before time-keeping devices, for purposes of ritual and also
of guard duty, the dark part of the day (ie, the night) was divided into
sections of about three hours each. A person standing guard could
reasonably be expected to stay alert for one of these time periods, and so he or
she would watch over the settlement, ie. "keep watch." In
India, night falls quickly at around 7:30 pm in spring and fall.
Here it is a kind of tree and not the common North American ground weed.
This is a traditional analogy in which the traces of thoughts
or deeds (the samskara s) are likened to a coreless plaintain
tree. Sometimes shoots grow from old, deteriorating corms, but though they
may produce broad leaves, they are called "water" suckers; they have
little substance or vigor, and are useless for propagation.
Cowell version has "divine Law," "highest Law" or True
Law" and so on. Dharma, as I use it here, means the law as it is used
in physics -- it is the orthodox Indian word for the principles by which
existence is maintained, "Divine Law."
[Buddha] remained under the tree for forty-nine days, neither
eating nor drinking. On the last night, as the Pali legend tells it,
victory was achieved while the sun was still above the horizon. The Bodhisattva
sank into states of ever deeper meditation. In the first watch of the night he
reached the Knowledge of Former States of being; in the middle watch he obtained
the heavenly eye of Omniscient Vision; and in the third watch he grasped the
perfect understanding of the Chain of Causation which is the Origin of Evil; and
thus at break of day he attained to Perfect Enlightenment. (A. K. Coomaraswamy, Buddha
and the Gospel of Buddhism, Harper, 1964.)
Many versions add the detail that the first glimpse of the
morning star brought a state of perfect clarity and understanding. After another
forty-nine days of wandering in a blissful state, he went back to his former
disciples and tried to make sense of his experience for them. His
explanations consisted of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path --
the Sermon at Benares.
"What the Buddha understood was that his quest up to
that point had been misguided, because he had been attempting to escape the
world of suffering through his asceticism and mortification; he had been
attempting to subdue the anger, greed and ignorance that poisoned his mind. As
one writer put it, he was attempting to deny the reality into which all human
beings are born. What he came to realize was that such an escape was not
possible—the only hope was to accept things as they are. Zen masters usually
distill the Buddha’s realization in two statements:
1) All beings, as they are, have the Buddha-nature.
2) Below the heavens and above the earth, I alone am.
But what did all this mean? First of all, the enlightenment that the Buddha
experienced was not a singular, ecstatic experience, but an unavoidable fact
of all human existence, of existence in general. Secondly, this enlightenment
has its root in the dissolution of personal boundaries. It is in the
particularized self that suffering congeals. The realm of thought, memory, the
physical body and the whole spectrum of psychological conditioning are all a
dream that dissolves when one wakes up, when one is enlightened to the true
nature of existence. Thirdly, the Buddha’s understanding of the true nature
of existence is that it is transitory, that there is nothing to cling to, and
most especially not any notion of "self." His awakening was that
reality itself is groundless and impermanent, and so the best thing to do is
wake up to the fact that any idea of continuity is illusion, pure delusion.
Laurence Shainberg says it this way: In effect, the basic equation of Buddhism
is tautological — self equals ignorance; ignorance equals suffering;
suffering equals self. So the great realization, available to all human beings
no less than to the Buddha himself, is the dissolution of what has never
actually existed at all, this idea of "self."
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