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Nature Man and Enlightenment

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by Sangharakshita

... figure whom the goddess promises to protect. So tonight I shall have quite a lot to say about Drdha, the earth goddess, but I also intend to say something about the monk who preaches the sutra, the monk who is the medium for the transmission of the Golden Light. Not only that, I intend to say something about the Golden Light itself - just at least a few words.

So tonight we shall really be concerned with three themes or three topics. We'll be concerned in the first place with Drdha, the earth goddess; secondly, with the monk who preaches the sutra; and thirdly, with the Golden Light - or, in the terms of the title of tonight's lecture, we'll be concerned with, first of all nature, secondly man, thirdly Enlightenment. However, just to make things a little more difficult, not to say a little more Lecture 128: Nature, Man and Enlightenment - Page 3 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________ __ complicated, we'll not be concerned with them in that order. We're going to deal first with Drdha, the earth goddess or Mother Nature, then with the Golden Light or Enlightenment, and finally with the monk who preaches the sutra, that is to say with man.

But first we have to look at the sutra itself, have to look at chapter 10, the chapter on Drdha. We must see what the sutra has to say about her, what it has to say about her promise. The chapter begins, chapter 10 begins, rather abruptly: Then indeed the earth-goddess Drdha spoke thus to the Lord: - that is to say, to the Buddha.

Now at once we notice something. Chapter 8, the chapter on Sri, begins in exactly the same way: Then indeed the great goddess Sri spoke thus to the Lord. But chapter 7, the chapter on Sarasvati, does not begin like this.

So how does it begin? I wonder if anybody remembers from last week. How does it begin? Well, in case you've forgotten, it begins: Then indeed Sarasvati, the great goddess, covered one shoulder with her robe, placed her right knee on the ground, made the gesture of reverence in the direction of the Lord and spoke thus to the Lord.

So what's the difference? Sri, the goddess of wealth, and Drdha the earth-goddess, do not salute the Buddha before speaking, but Sarasvati does, as do the Four Great Kings, as does Samjnaya, the great general of the yaksas, in chapter 11. So what does the difference signify? Perhaps it signifies that Sri and Drdha are naturally less amenable to the influence of the Golden Light than is Sarasvati: in other words, that it is more difficult to transform the world of economics and the world of nature than it is to transform the world of culture. I hope this doesn't sound too far-fetched or too fanciful, but there surely is a meaning to be discovered in many of the minor details of the sutra.

However, let us proceed. Though she dispenses with the salutation, Drdha nonetheless makes her promise, and it's a long and beautiful promise. So what does she say? She says quite a number of things. I'll mention only some of the more important. First of all, she promises to come wherever the sutra is expounded. She promises to be present wherever is the sutra is expounded. She says she will be there. Not only that, she says she will go up to the Dharma seat - that is to say, the seat on which the monk who is preaching the sutra is sitting - she will go up, she says, with her invisible body, her subtle, invisible body, and she will lean with her head upon the soles of the feet of the monk who is preaching the Dharma, that is to say preaching the Sutra of Golden Light. So the monk - we are not told this, but the monk is presumably seated cross-legged, seated on one of these rather high, raised Dharma seats, on one of these rather high throne-like seats, very nearly the height of a man, such as are still used even today, or at least until yesterday, in Tibet. So the goddess goes up to this throne, we are to imagine, this Dharma seat, she bows her head slightly, and she places it against the soles of the monk's feet. It could be, of course, that the monk is to be imagined sitting in European fashion as though in a chair, and in this case the goddess would stand placing her head directly beneath his feet. We mustn't forget that she's not present in her gross physical body, so she doesn't have to stand on the surface of the earth.

In either case, we are reminded of a well-known episode from the life of the Buddha, an episode that occurs shortly before he gained full Enlightenment. You may remember that the Buddha had seated himself on the vajrasana, that is to say the diamond seat or the diamond throne, and that vajrasana, that diamond seat or diamond throne, is regarded in Buddhist tradition as the symbolic centre of the universe. It's the seat on which all Buddhas sit, the spot on which all Buddhas sit when they gain Enlightenment, it's the spot on which all the previous Buddhas sat when they gained Enlightenment; so there the Buddha seated himself. He knew that his time had come. He knew that his hour had come, that he was going to attain Enlightenment that very night.

So he seated himself on that spot, seated himself at the centre of the universe on the diamond seat, the diamond throne. So then what happened? What happened was that Mara appeared, Mara the evil one who had been dogging him, who had been following him from the very moment that he left home, from the very moment that he had left the group. Mara had been following him, in his own words, trying to find a way into the Buddha's mind. So there he was on that occasion. And he asked the Buddha what right he had to sit on that spot, what right he had to take his seat on the diamond throne; as if to say `How do you know you are going to gain Enlightenment?' So the Buddha said that he had the right to sit there because he had practised the paramitas, he had practised the Perfections, for innumerable lives. He had practised generosity, ethics, patience, energy, meditation, wisdom - he had practised them all, not once but many, many times; not even in hundreds but in thousands, in tens of thousands of lives. So he was ready to gain Enlightenment, he had the Lecture 128: Nature, Man and Enlightenment - Page 4 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________ __ right to take his seat on the diamond throne. So Mara said, `It's all very well to talk like that, it's all very well for you to make these claims that you've practised the paramitas, but after all who saw you? Who saw you doing all these wonderful things? Who saw you practising the paramitas?' So not only that, Mara said, `Who is your witness?' He demanded a witness. So the Buddha said, `The earth is my witness. All these actions of mine, all these deeds of mine, have been performed on the face of the earth, so the earth has seen, the earth goddess has seen.' So the Buddha just touched, or rather tapped, the earth with the tips of the fingers of his right hand, and at once the earth goddess, we are told, rose up out of the depths of the earth, and she bore witness. She said, `Yes, I have seen it all. I have seen him' - not yet the Buddha, the Bodhisattva - `practising all these paramitas. Therefore he is worthy to take his seat on the diamond throne.' So the earth goddess, as she rises up, is usually depicted, in Buddhist art, as a beautiful woman of mature appearance, not particularly young without being actually old. And she is golden brown or dark green in colour, and she is usually represented with only the upper half of her body emerged from the earth, just like Mother Erda in Wagner's The Ring. And her hands are clasped in salutation. Occasionally, just occasionally, she is depicted or described as standing beside or beneath the vajrasana with her head placed against the soles of the Buddha's feet, just as the earth goddess is described in the sutra, the Sutra of Golden Light, in relation to the monk who preaches the sutra. But in whichever way she is depicted, in whichever way she is described, the significance is clear: the earth goddess is subordinated to the Buddha, subordinated to the monk who preaches the sutra. And this point is emphasised further by the symbolism of head and feet. The earth goddess places her head against the soles of the monk's feet. According to the ancient Indians, including the ancient Indian Buddhists, the head is the noblest, most worthy part of the whole body. The head is called, in Pali and Sanskrit, uttama anga, which means the superior limb or superior member. The feet, on the other hand, are the most ignoble and unworthy part, because after all, in ancient India, people went barefoot, their feet were often very dirty. So if you wanted to show respect for someone, you placed your head in contact with their feet; in other words, you subordinated what was highest in you to what is lowest in them, because if they were truly superior to you this would be the only way in which real contact between you could be established, the only way in which you could make yourself truly receptive to whatever they had to give.

We find the same kind of symbolism when we visualise Vajrasattva, the Bodhisattva or Buddha Vajrasattva, seated above our heads; or again when we visualise the line of gurus seated one on top of another, again above our heads. We make ourselves receptive to their spiritual influence by aligning ourselves with them vertically.

As many of you know, it's still the custom in India to touch the feet of holy men, or first to touch their feet with one's fingers and then with the same fingers touch one's own head. The idea is that you take dust from their feet and you place it on your head. And many Indians show respect, not only to holy men but to parents, elders and even secular teachers, in the same way. And in the Buddhist countries ...

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