Facing the Destroyer of Worlds

Facing the Destroyer of Worlds

by Jeffrey Brooks

Buddha sat with his legs folded up on a circle of grass, shielded by the branches of a tree. After 17 years or three countless eons of search and preparation he decided not to move from that spot until he was completely free of suffering and misunderstanding.

There he sat. And before the morning star appeared he was confronted by three vicious enemies. These enemies were sent by dark forces to destroy his good, and the blessings he could bring to all beings forever. He knew the stakes when he sat down. He knew the enemies he would face before he faced them. He had faced these same enemies countless times before but never in the ultimate battle, never before in the most extreme form in which he would face them now.

He faced seduction. This might not sound like a big problem. It might sound very good. But to understand the danger of pleasure we only need to look around and see the effect that an addiction to pleasure has on the addict and the way in which people lose their opportunity for complete and lasting happiness by exchanging their lives for things that fade and leave only yearning and pain when they have gone.

He faced war. Vast armies appeared. He was surrounded. They launched spears and razor tipped arrows in his direction. The lure of war is the danger here, not the threat of death in battle. Sometimes people describe the difficulty he faced in this extreme of adversity as a letting go of his attachment to life. But there is also the attraction to battle that tempted him. The excitement of annihilating an enemy is nearly irresistible. All we need to do is look around and see infinite examples of people irresistibly drawn into conflict, seduced by the prospect of smashing their enemy and intoxicated by the results.

In all the great books people are fighting their neighbors. The Old Testament and New, the Koran and the Mahabharata, the chronicles of Gilgamesh and the Iliad, and in everything else ever written, people are setting each other’s teeth on edge and eventually it comes to blows.

We hear in the stories that people suffered injustice and exploitation. They overcame it. They want the generations to come to remember what happened to them and what they did about it. People want the world to know what they did to restore justice to the world. There is nothing wrong with that of course.

In the way the stories are told we can tell that some think they restored things to the state of primordial harmony that existed before their enemies disturbed it. Some speak as if they brought justice into the world for the first time, redeeming the world from perpetual chaos and bringing about a golden age.

But to us, after all this time, after all those stories, and all those wonderful lives expended and terrible lives extinguished, it looks like their victories did not stick. Their great battle was followed by another; another battle between brothers; another war between neighbors; and another and another; each taking precedence in the minds of the people who fought them over the dimming battles of the past, each new story told with fresh urgency, to the generations who followed.

If we feel comfort we might wonder why people keep fighting.

If we feel miserable and humiliated we might wonder why people would tolerate their misery like mice, without fighting back.

The Buddha remained seated, in equanimity. He did not get up. He did not drift away in his imagination. His blazing laser focus did not waver or fade.

This was not because he did not care about winning or losing. He did it because he had a broader perspective than an ordinary combatant or an ordinary lover or an ordinary person has.

It was as if he was sitting on top of the highest mountain in the Himalayas or on top of Mount Meru itself and could see the way in which everything, from his eyes to the horizon, from the highest heaven to the pit of hell, was in touch and connected to everything else.

He could see them move and transform. He could see without distortion that the boundary between life and death, the boundary between blessings and suffering, the boundary between past and present, the boundary between near and far were constructed by the movement of the mind.

That is how the razor tipped arrows turned into a torrent of flower petals. That is how the demons were banished and the search for salvation through physical experience was exposed for what it was in the light of that dawn.

Because his perspective was not limited by the idea that death was the end, or that you are your body, or that personal gain and loss are the measure of a life, he could see infinitely.

He could see how wonderful your family is, your tribe is, your band of brothers is, your race is, your religion is. He could see that building connections to the rest of the beings of universe is even more so. And that the only way that this connection can be made is by training your heart and mind to understand what you share with all these beings, and how they depend for their happiness on you.

He did not recommend tolerating their wrong deeds. He did not overlook the faults or shortcomings of the people he encountered. On the contrary. He saw clearly what was going on and did everything he could do to restrain harm, to protect whoever he could, and to further justice and kindness with skill and courage.

When we hear that “the greatest warrior is the one who conquers himself”: it is this battle, waged perfectly by the Buddha, we are hearing about. It is up to each of us to take on this challenge if we are serious about our cause.

When we say “he who knows himself and who knows his enemy will win every battle” it is precisely this knowledge, the insight achieved perfectly by the Buddha, which we are encouraged to seek. This does not mean to overlook tactical skill or practical battlefield knowledge. It means that may be necessary but it will not be sufficient.

We may never know what an oracle might mean by “Know Thyself.” But we can be sure of the possibility that is open to whoever among us achieves it.

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