© Rafe Martin 2013

A brief comment on a jataka tale and the politics of the moment.

Through the testing of his resolve and the fires of life experience, the Bodhisattva rises to another level. The great gift he gives is non-violence. Having saved many lives and established justice and harmony, he brings peace to two realms, actually, to three. The non-human, goblin realm is saved from conflict as well. This is more than material giving. This is transcendent Prajna giving, a giving of the gift of reality. It is fulfillment of prajna paramita, as well as of pranidhana paramita or resolve, bala paramita, which is strength, and virya paramita—vigor. It is also dana paramita—complete generosity.
A door has been opened. One senses that it is a landmark lifetime for the Buddha-to-Be, one that will become a pivotal moment in his Bodhisattva career of working towards, not just fuller enlightenment, but complete Buddhahood. He has been tested and fully, successfully meets the challenge. Maybe its encouraging words will help us find an important moment as well. For who is not tested in this life? Who has not, holding to their integrity, found themselves, no matter how ethical, good, or hard-working, in a dark night, buried up to the neck, unable to be free? Who has not wondered whether they’d ever be released, or if maybe they should have taken a right turn instead of a left, or simply chosen an easier Path? Who, indeed?

Some politicians these days seem to think that only the unvirtuous, lazy, shiftless and uncaring suffer. My gosh! What planet do they live on? What community do they go home to? Any reasonably intelligent six-grader knows better. Goblins know better. Pop culture knows better. Bad things happen to good people. And though miracles can happen on this ancient Path that leads through difficulty and darkness, goblins turn into allies and enemies become friends, we do ourselves, and the Way an injustice if we expect such miraculous things to occur as proof of our virtue. For then we put a self-centered plan back into place—and are sure to be disillusioned by our own literalism.

In Zen, chopping firewood and carrying water are the miracles. Or we might say, driving the car and going shopping. How do we move our arms and legs? How do we carry our loads, and do our work to make a life of decency and meaningful action? How do we see and hear, get hungry and eat, get tired and sleep? These ordinary things are, at bottom, inexplicably wondrous! The Bodhisattva in this tale never looks back, never second-guesses, never wonder why bad things should be happening to him of all people, the Great King Goodness. He may be an idealist to start, but he’s a realist when the chips start flying. We can all take heart from the great non-violent gift of integrity that is offered to us by the Buddha in his past life difficulties as Mahasilava, the Great King Goodness.