Thoughts on the Life of the Buddha

I had a thought on the traditional narrative of the life of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama.

Perhaps the vision that Siddhartha’s mother had was a vision of her son’s former life: that of a venerated animal, a white elephant descending from heaven.

Perhaps young Siddhartha, the prince who knew no suffering, was not in the same body as the austere Yogi, or the enlightened teacher.

Perhaps the horse on which the prince left in the night was death, to be born again elsewhere and become a Yogi.

Perhaps the Yogi died there beneath the Bodhi tree, and his bones were forgotten.

Perhaps he was reborn then, and many years later found his bones or a grave beneath the Bodhi tree, and by the sight of the bones before him achieved anamnesis, the first step to enlightenment.  He remembered the life of the Yogi who died beneath that tree, and thereafter recalled every life before.

A story like this, from so long ago, can be read so many ways; Siddhartha as he once was is gone now, no matter how you slice it, and we cannot ask him which way is the correct one but perhaps the correct reading is less important than the useful meaning.

This idea came to me when I started thinking about John’s grave beneath that willow tree in France.  I do not think I am enlightened because I am still too angry and fearful to be enlightened; but then, I don’t know what enlightenment actually is.

I think whatever it is, it takes more than one lifetime, perhaps many to reach enlightenment in the sort of incidental way described in the stories of Buddha’s life.  It is said in many Buddhist texts- among them the Wild Fox Koan which bore similarities to some of my memories- that the enlightened soul can fall from enlightenment.  This further complicates the issue of how long it might take to reach enlightenment by incidental means.

Still, I cannot take the word of Buddhist texts as my only source if I wish to understand Buddhism.  If a serious understanding of Buddhist teachings were possible simply by reading a great deal, you would have a lot of autodidactic Boddhisatvas running around; I don’t see many of those.  Rather, I’ve come to understand that the teachings of the Buddha can be understood in one sentence: “Let me tell you how the universe works… but don’t take my word for it.”  Don’t take mine either; I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.

Anyhow, I thought I’d get these rambling, semi-coherent thoughts down so I can remember them.  I don’t know how seriously this can be taken.  At this point I’m just rolling with it and putting these insights down even if they go nowhere.

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