A nun who was searching for enlightenment made a statue of Buddha and covered it with gold leaf. Wherever she went she carried this golden Buddha with her.
Years passed and, still carrying her Buddha, the nun came to live in a small temple in a country where there were many Buddhas, each one with its own particular shrine.
The nun wished to burn incense before her golden Buddha. Not liking the idea of the perfume straying to others, she devised a funnel through which the smoke would ascend only to her statue. This blackened the nose of the golden Buddha, making it especially ugly.
(A Zen story)
I don't know what category to put this story into. Is it about greed, or selfishness, or possessiveness? Perhaps it could be envy. How can it be envy, you might ask. After all, the nun had the incense and wanted to deny it to others. If anything, others should envy her. That is the point. Very likely she envied the emptiness she assumed and found arrogant solace in what she had but did not really need.
In the more material world you will find many such instances where those who apparently have everything will assume others want what they have, and then they proceed to deny others what they have no use for but which helps while away their time by fattening their sense of superficial self-worth.
This is called Monopoly which brings competition and in my view competition is for losers.
And you will find many losers who will justify it as healthy competition!Delete
Like the nun, I think you've been altogether too selfish with your Sunday ka Funda treats. It's been weeks! :)
Seriously, the moral or lesson to this story is fraught with possibility, as you note, but then that could be attributed to the apparent sparseness of detail as compared to past Zen stories you've feted.
Certainly Circle's observation about the competition might be germane.
But let's have another look at what's given:
1) The nun "made a statue of Buddha and covered it with gold leaf."
That she made it herself rather than purchase it ready-made may be significant in a devotional sense. That she then covered it with pricey gold leaf further underscores her devotion.
2) We're told "she carried this golden Buddha with her" everywhere.
Again, I don't know how else to read this except as testament to the extent of her devotion.
3) Years later, she is "still carrying her Buddha," and comes to settle "in a small temple in a country where there were many Buddhas, each one with its own particular shrine."
Again, to still be carrying her Buddha after years and years and that she eventually comes to settle among a people similarly committed to their buddhas yet further illustrates the extent of her devotion.
4) And, likewise, we're told she wanted to "burn incense before her golden Buddha," but was apparently put off by the prospect of other Buddhas enjoying the perfume of her incense, going so far as to devise a means to channel the smoke of her scent to her Buddha only.
Truly, has there ever been a nun more devoted?
For what it's worth (and while I will consider the possibility she may have withheld her incense from the other devotees), my impression is that her primary concern was that the smoke -- or scent -- that *she* sent up remained exclusive to her Buddha. Of course, as indicated, her remedy for maintaining that exclusivity resulted in the blackening of her Buddha's nose. And certainly, figuratively, the blackening of another's visage through one's actions suggests a deed or deeds that somehow embarrasses or dishonors the other. In this instance, however, the nun's actions were nothing if not a further expression of her devotion -- much as she had, years prior, covered her Buddha in gold leaf.
I think the story may be more about how we see beauty.
I reckoned that like Zen wayfarers we might need some breathing space :-)
And I do notice that you are quite taken up with the nun...may I add in your words, fraught with possibility?!
Meanwhile, you will have to excuse me for not being as enamoured...
- she seems to be competing (to take Circle's conjecture) with godliness itself by adding sheen to halo. A nun and gold leaf seem like an anachronism.
- she was in a place where there were other Buddhas, "each with its particular shine". So she was not doing something unusual.
- carrying it everywhere could be devotion; it could also be a need to cling to something.
- the incense scent would not have been completely controlled, for fragrance does spread even if she tried to stall the smoke.
- had the nun been devoted, she might have wanted to share not just the incense scent but also her Buddha. Her devotion would have been realised in the subsuming, not the carrying around. She was more concerned that her gold leaf would be eyed by others.
I agree with your conclusion that it could be a story about how we view beauty, but then right now I think it would be the beauty of the soul and the purity of belief.
>>I reckoned that like Zen wayfarers we might need some breathing space :-)<<Delete
Good thinking, likely my monitor would not have soon survived another spray of coffee, lol.
>>And I do notice that you are quite taken up with the nun...may I add in your words, fraught with possibility?!<<
Well, I've always been fascinated by single-minded devotion, whatever the object; but, yes, such designations ("nun," "priest," "monk," "scholar," "master," "warden," etc.) more often than not involve some sort of costume or regalia . . . :)
>>Meanwhile, you will have to excuse me for not being as enamoured...<<
Oh? Three words, Farzana: Open-toed shoes. :D
>> - she seems to be competing (to take Circle's conjecture) with godliness itself by adding sheen to halo. A nun and gold leaf seem like an anachronism.<<
Nice turn of phrase, "sheen to halo." While I agree nun and gold leaf seem incongruous, gold leaf nevertheless does stand out not only as a staple of embellishment but also a sign of peculiar favor. I have some recollection of certain edibles -- sweets mostly -- being wrapped in gold leaf. Excessive to be sure, though definitely honoring, as you observe, of both receiver *and* giver.
>> - she was in a place where there were other Buddhas, "each with its particular shine". So she was not doing something unusual.<<
I get it. I get the aspect of competition *and* the inevitable escalation of one-upmanship. But I don't get it from the beginning. Though we're not explicitly told either way, my impression is that her devotions early-on were (or were meant to be) private. Searching for enlightenment, she made a statue of Buddha, covered it with gold leaf and carried it with her everywhere she went. It could be devotion; it could be something to which to cling, but -- especially with the gold leaf, and for reasons to which you allude -- I don't see her taking it out from the folds of her clothes for anyone. Furthermore, why settle in a country where there were so many Buddhas, their shrines, devotees, save it be there for her a certain kind of anonymity -- the anonymity one finds, say, in a crowd?
>> - the incense scent would not have been completely controlled, for fragrance does spread even if she tried to stall the smoke.<<
Indeed (and clearly shrine-building spreads as well too, lol). But she did try. In your "And" essay (superb, btw), you wrote: "All doors can be prised open by those with unsatisfactory lives prying into yours, not by chance but design. Scavengers foraging for tinsel to cover the soot they collect." I don't think you were therefore arguing for unlocked or even no doors, just that where there's a will there's a way. Therefore, I want to say there is merit (if not beauty) in her effort, with perhaps her Buddha's blackened nose as testament to its futility nevertheless. :)
>> - had the nun been devoted, she might have wanted to share not just the incense scent but also her Buddha. Her devotion would have been realised in the subsuming, not the carrying around. She was more concerned that her gold leaf would be eyed by others.<<
Sure, but early-on. It seems a safe bet that, later on, "in a country where there were many Buddhas, each one with its own particular shrine," her Buddha was one among a thousand so guilded.
What *is* the significance of incense burning, anyway? Is it surrogate for prayer -- does the smoke somehow better express the ineffable? Is the Buddha inordinately fond of the aroma of burning sandalwood? Is it meant to mask the reek of sin clinging to the petitioner? Or, given the press of sweaty supplicants, was it first used as an air conditioner by olfactorily offended priests and/or priestesses? Can we really know why and by whom the practice was started?
Ps. Re: Jay's contribution. I'd go with bait. :)
I seem to have a problem copy-pasting extracts, so quick responses to the first three points would be...tea?...regalia as opposed to mask is good...ouch...Delete
Now: where does it say that she shielded her Buddha in the folds of her clothes? I get the bit about seeking anonymity, though. It might then follow that she had to hide her Buddha. How would it qualify as devotion? Gold leaf in edibles traditionally conveys richness. It is supposed to have curative properties as well, but I doubt anybody buys it for a cure. ergo, the nun could use the curative argument for such indulgence!
Incense burning could be for any of the reasons you state. All places of worship reek of it.
It works as air-freshener too. In fact, I am told my grandma would place a wicker basket over it and dry her hair on that :)
PS: I knew it's a bait, but as usual I was not jumping the gun!
PPS: If 'And' was so good, I assume it deserved silent approbation...
Any posts on the Bangladeshi journalist's murder?ReplyDelete
Jay, as you can see, not yet. Are you specifically looking forward to my take or is your query a bait?ReplyDelete
Whatever be it, there might be something soon and I hope you find the time to read it.
Great looking forward to it. Think there were now 3 murders in Bangladesh and 1 (Sabeen) in Pakistan. I hope India does not go that way with RSS and so on.ReplyDelete