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The Moral Order and its Upholders

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by Sangharakshita

... of spiritual energy, represent that energy which stands, or if you like flows, midway between the higher spiritual energies on the one hand and the purely earthly energies on the other. The great goddess Sarasvati represents culture, especially ethnic culture. The great goddess Sri represents wealth and riches. And so on. And each of them, each of the gods and goddesses, promises to protect the Sutra; in other words, each places the energy of the department of human activity which he or she represents at the service of the Golden Light.

Now in the course of these lectures I have not been able to deal exhaustively with the Sutra of Golden Light. I haven't even been able to deal exhaustively with the theme of transformation of life and transformation of world in the Sutra of Golden Light. All that I have been able to give is a rough sketch, not a finished picture, and even the rough sketch is not really complete. There are quite a few departments Lecture 130: The Mo ral Order and its Upholders - Page 3 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ of human life, of human activity, still untransformed, and it is with one of these that we are concerned tonight.

Tonight, however, no god comes forward and promises to protect the Sutra. No goddess comes forward, even, though we do meet, briefly, the Four Great Kings again. Tonight, in this last lecture of the series, we are concerned with chapter 12 of the Sutra of Golden Light. It is the chapter entitled `Chapter on Instruction concerning Divine Kings'. Which department of human activity it seeks to transform will be obvious, I hope, as we go along.

The chapter opens with a salutation, a salutation to a Buddha with a very long name, so long I am not going to attempt to repeat it; a Buddha, however, that we have already met before in a previous chapter, the chapter on Sri. The Buddha Sakyamuni is also saluted, as well as the goddesses Sri and Sarasvati. We are then introduced to two kings, King Balendraketu and his son King Ruciraketu. Now we are not told if this Ruciraketu is the same as the Bodhisattva Ruciraketu whom we encountered in chapters 2 and 3. That is the Bodhisattva, you may remember, who had the problem, that is to say the problem about the Buddha's length of life. It is also the Bodhisattva who had the marvellous dream, the dream of the Drum of Golden Light, the drum from which came forth the confessional verses which make up the nucleus of the whole Sutra.

Now in this chapter 12, at the beginning of this chapter 12, King Ruciraketu has just been consecrated or, as we would say, crowned. He has just been installed as king, presumably by his father. This apparently was the custom in ancient India: each king consecrated his successor and then retired. More often than not, he went off into the woods and mountains and became a hermit, became an ascetic, passing the rest of his days in contemplation. So, before leaving, the old king naturally gave the new king, the young king, very often his own son, some good advice. So this is what we find King Balendraketu doing. He tells his son King Ruciraketu that there is a textbook, a textbook for kings called `Instruction concerning Divine Kings'.

He further says that his father, King Varendraketu, explained it to him when he was consecrated, and he adds that for 20,000 years he has exercised sovereignty according to its teaching (in those days, they lived much longer, apparently), and he is now going to explain that textbook to Ruciraketu.

But first he relates how the textbook originated. He says once upon a time the divine kings held a meeting.

They met on a great mountain, a mountain called Vajrakara, and Brahma, the teacher of the goods, was also present, as well as the four world-protectors, that is to say the Four Great Kings. And on that occasion the Four Great Kings question Brahma. They ask him to solve their problems, to remove their doubts, and they put jointly, collectively, a question; and their question is this: `Why is a king, though born among men, called "divine"? And for what reason is a king called a "divine son"? If he is born here in the world of men, he should become king, but how will a god exercise kingship among men?' This is their question put to Brahma, the teacher of the gods. Now clearly a word of explanation is needed here. Apparently it was the ancient Indian custom to address kings as `deva', much as we say `Your Majesty'. Deva, of course, means god with a small g, means a divine being, a divine one. We find this usage, for instance, in the Pali Buddhist texts. The Buddha himself, for instance, addresses King Bimbisara as `deva'. Translators usually render this as `Your Majesty', which rather obscures the point; it's rather misleading. So the Four Great Kings are asking why the king is addressed in this fashion, as `deva'; after all, he is to all appearances a man, so why is he addressed as a god, why is he addressed as `deva', god, divine being? So the remainder of the chapter consists of Brahma's reply to this question, and the reply is very interesting, not only for what he says but for the way in which he says it, for the terms in which he says it.

He uses, in fact, two kinds of terms. If you like, he speaks in the course of his reply two languages, and we can call these two languages the mythic and the conceptual, or if you like the mythic and the rational.

We mustn't, by the way, forget the general situation in the midst of which Buddhism arose, or in the midst of which the transcendental truth of the Dharma was originally proclaimed, originally communicated.

Broadly speaking, very broadly speaking, the age in which the Buddha lived was an age of transition. It was an age of transition from the old to the new, from old values to new values, from the ethnic to the universal, from the group to the individual. Now the group spoke as it were the language of myth. The individual spoke the language of concepts, the language of reason. The Buddha himself spoke, as far as the existing records show, the language of reason. Later, the individual, the Buddhist individual, learned to speak the language of myth, learned to adapt it to his own individual higher spiritual purposes, but that Lecture 130: The Mo ral Order and its Upholders - Page 4 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ is another story. As a literary document, Brahma's speech, or the chapter in which Brahma's speech is embedded, of course belongs to a period 1,000 years later than the Buddha himself, but it reflects very clearly the process of transition from the old to the new, from Vedic Hinduism to Buddhism. Brahma therefore gives, in effect, two replies to the Four Great Kings, or he gives the same reply twice in two different kinds of terms, two different languages, the language of myth and the language of concepts, even the language of doctrine.

Now we are going to deal with each of these in turn. Brahma first says that, having been interrogated, he will speak for the good and the welfare of all beings. He will speak of the origin of kings born in the abode of men. He will explain how they become kings in their regions. So first comes the more mythic explanation. Brahma says: Under the blessing of the divine kings, he will enter the womb of his mother. Having first been blessed by the gods, he afterwards enters her womb. Although as king he is born and dies in the world of men, yet since he comes from the gods he is called a divine son. The Thirty-three divine kings have given a portion to the king. Hence his sonship to all the gods, for the lord of men has been magically created.

So here Brahma makes four statements, and they are not all logically consistent - not that this really matters; after all, we are concerned here with myth. The first statement is that the king comes to this earth from the world of the gods. He is, as it were, a god incarnate. That is the first statement. Second statement: before entering the womb of his future mother, he is blessed by the divine kings, blessed by the gods. Third statement: the Thirty-three divine kings have each given a portion of themselves to the king; in other words, the king is fashioned as it were from their substance. And fourth statement: the king has been magically created. Presumably this means that the king possesses what is called an illusory body, a body which is perceived by others but does not really exist, that has no real empirical existence; it is just like a mirage seen in the desert or like the illusory elephant conjured up at the crossroads by the magician.

Now, though somewhat inconsistent, these four statements all clearly convey one thing, which is that the king is not an ordinary man; that there is something divine about him, that he is indeed a divinity. Now this belief, strange as it may sound to us, was widespread in a certain period of ancient history, the period which I have called in another lecture, in another series, the Age of Divine Kingship. Traces of it are found even in modern times, however, including here in England. The belief, that is to say, that the king was a sort of divine being was particularly strong in ancient Egypt and Sumeria and, in a somewhat different form, in China, and it was certainly strong at one time in India; but by the Buddha's day it had already begun to decline, and a more rational justification of the nature and function of kingship was needed, and it's this that Brahma now proceeds to give.

The mythology of ancient Indian kingship is a very interesting subject, and I wish we were able to go into it in greater detail, in greater depth, but we have no time. So, continuing his speech, Brahma says: For the sake of suppressing ...

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