Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 20, 2015

Buddha Earth

Sitting straightbacked and composed, eyes partially closed, under
the imposing fig tree in Bodhgaya, Siddhartha Gautama is menaced
by Mara, lord of strife and covetousness, who attempts through
deceptions to unseat Siddhartha.

That Siddhartha is sitting steadfastly on Mother Earth rather than
gazing heavenward poses a special threat to Mara.
After attempting without success to seduce Siddhartha with riches,
intoxicants, infinite sensuality, Mara invokes his army of demons
who roar in unison:

You are a common man, yet you presume.
Lord Mara is God.
We, his army, testify to Him.
Who is your witness?

In response Siddhartha, with his left hand, palm up, on his lap,
touches the earth with the fingers of his right hand and the
vegetable earth with its billions of inhabitants testifies silently to him.

Earth’s inhabitants are not just human but animal, vegetable,
petrified wood, the integrated organic pulse that maintains breath
against seductions of greed and power.

Siddhartha’s gesture comes to be called The Earth Witness Mudra.
Lord Mara is dispersed.
Siddhartha Gautama is enlightened.

Buddhism emerges, gains adherents, makes converts of the poor
and despised, fosters the earth, integrates the abstract noun
“compassion,” but then, admonished for its probity, is exiled from the
place of its birth, dispersed round the globe, taking on various
guises according to context, and now, on a globe turning crazily, is
perishing along with parent earth and the collective pulse that
nourished it.

The village of Sarnath, 12-and-a-half kilometers northeast of
Varanasi, is, according to legend, the site of the deer park where
Buddha taught the dharma to five disciples after becoming
enlightened in Bodhgaya. Sarnath is considered one of four sacred
Buddhist sites, each in India. The others are Lumbini, birth;
Bodhgaya, enlightenment; Kushinagar, death.

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