Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Timeless Tale

On the eve of his enlightenment, Siddartha Gautama, the man who would come to be known as the Buddha, sat in meditation beneath the now famous bodhi tree. Yet, before unearthing the secret to peace, happiness, and salvation from suffering, the Buddha would have to conquer the three most daunting obstacles that an evil demon named Mara could muster.

First, Mara tries to tempt the Buddha out of his meditation. He conjures up a bevy of the most achingly beautiful women imaginable. In addition to being gorgeous, these sirens are highly skilled in the art of seduction. We're talking Angelina Jolie multiplied and on a mission. (Good luck, pal!). Mara directs the group of dames to distract the former prince, Siddartha. They swarm around him, beneath the tree, long black hair flowing past their sun-kissed shoulders, fragrant skin and flowered garlands around their necks emitting a sweet, intoxicating scent, discernible by the Buddha’s keen senses. However, the maidens’ allure is lost on him. Siddartha remains in meditation, immune to their wiles. His eyes scarcely flicker; his breathe stays steady and sonorous.

Next, Mara resorts to violence. Surely, that will derail the Buddha! He sends an army to attack Siddartha. The troops arrive in droves, soldiers armed and insistent upon harming the skinny man meditating beneath the knobby tree. Siddartha senses their presence, but instead of being flustered or scared, he becomes increasingly more still and peaceful. At Mara’s command, from their bows, the hostile soldiers launch hundreds of arrows into the air, aiming for the soon-to-be enlightened one. The arrows travel an upward trajectory, and then, in mid air, they transform into flowers. The Buddha is unaffected and unharmed as the petals rain down all around him. His peace has protected him, even against physical violence.

Finally, Mara invokes the most daunting and demoralizing obstacle of all. He’s a talented demon, this Mara, highly skilled at foiling the intentions of even the most genuine souls. So for his final masterpiece, he aims to arouse self-doubt within the Buddha. Oft-depicted in art and film, this moment in ancient spiritual lore typically consists of the Buddha staring at an image of himself. The Buddha reflected back at the Buddha, a man forced to see and account for his worst fears and flaws. More powerful than temptation and more damaging than violence, what separates Siddartha from complete peace is, quite simply, himself. Yet, he remains imperturbable. Meditation is an act of witness, and in meditation, the mind will inevitably offer its worst.

It was in this moment that one person saw his worst, very clearly, and chose to match it with his best. Seeing beyond self-doubt, the Buddha awoke in a state of blissful, unalterable freedom.

You are your own greatest obstacle and ally. What doubt hinders you from transformation and happiness?

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