Message to Som Gollakota

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Woodinville, WA
Monkey and the Buffalo
September 12, 2009
janta Caves, in India, offer some spectacular Buddhist paintings with many legends behind those paintings. The one shown here is titled "Monkey and the Buddha as a Buffalo". The legend behind the picture goes something like this. The Buddha, in a previous birth, is said to have been a very peace-loving and righteous buffalo, who wandered to a forest every day grazing grass around it. A very wicked monkey in the surrounding area would trouble the buffalo Buddha by climbing on his horns and playing irritable games.  The gentle buffalo bore all the monkey-tricks to practice the virtue of forbearance, saying “Inflicting grief on others to overcome one’s own discomfort is no virtue; As the results of such acts shall not bear the fruits of true happiness. The monkey would have his lesson some day. And he (the buffalo) would be saved from the guilt of inflicting pain on others”. A few days later, a savage buffalo wanders around the trees grazing grass. The monkey, mistaking the savage buffalo for the Enlightened One, tries his tricks, only to be thrown on the ground and killed by the sharp horns of the savage buffalo. The monkey got his lesson for the bad deeds in the end, and the virtuous buffalo is also saved from the guilt.
Excellent story, excellent lesson to be learnt. Be kind even to those who are unkind to you, for they will receive the fruits of their actions in the end.
  • Buffalo traditionally signifies ignorance and laziness – as ignorant as an Ox (or lazy like a buffalo)
  • Monkey signifies mischief, irresponsibility, playfulness, carefree life
We all have laziness and ignorance in us, and our mind keeps wandering in every possible direction (usually, not in the right direction). It took a buffalo to be reborn as a Sidhartha, with enormous will power and penance, to find the truth about this world and become Bodhi Satva (or Buddha). More often than not, the buffalo in us makes us complacent and does not let us move forward. When we do try to get on the move, the wicked monkey in us gets on our shoulders and head (mind), shuts our eyes to the truth and leads us in the wrong direction. It may take a savage beast in us to slaughter the monkey – but then, from a lazy buffalo, we have just turned into a savage beast – a few steps backwards than a step forward.
For the buffalo in our above story, it took patience and calm to move forward to Sidharth, and for Sidhartha, it took will power and penance to become Bodhi Satva (or Buddha). For our miniature existences, it takes patience to acquire the light of knowledge and wisdom to beat the monkey and get the lazy/complacent buffalo in us moving in the right direction. Quite often, we use very creative excuses to remain complacent – I don’t have time, I am very busy with work, my husband/wife/ kids need me, and when everything else fails, we conclude saying – I am not at that level of spiritual maturity yet; it will take a lot of time.
This is a vicious circle of worldly life, if you ask me! “I am not spiritually mature” à “I am not that wise” à “I don’t have a lot of knowledge” à“I have a family to take care of, so I don’t have time for anything else” à “I am not spiritually mature enough to give up the world yet”. We go around in circles like this. But fortunately, we don’t have to. It is our “ajñāna andhakāraṁ” (or the darkness of ignorance) that is causing us to go around in circles like this. With knowledge and implementation of knowledge, one gains wisdom. With wisdom, one realizes that we don’t have to “give up the world” to serve and reach the lord.
In my previous article, I wrote about practicing detachment towards Karma (actions) and how Gita articulated it. In another verse (“bramhanya adhāya karmāṇi”), the Gita says “The one who performs his duties and actions without any attachments towards the actions or the results, surrendering both unto the God, he would not be touched by the sins of this world – “padma patramivāmbhasa” – like a lotus leaf in water (yet dry and untouched by water). More about this verse at a later time.
In conclusion, I offer the following for your consideration. So long as we have that lazy buffalo in us, and the wicked monkey inside our heads, we remain where we are, without any advancement – either in this mortal world or in the spiritual world. With the stick called Knowledge of the Supreme Self, we chase the wicked monkey out of our heads and shoulders, and make the buffalo get up, shake off the dirt and run toward those green pastures. That will be our run towards spiritual wisdom, salvation, eternal peace and happiness.
Please do share your thoughts and inputs. I greatly appreciate, value and look for your perspectives.

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