Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Divine Messengers


In the Anguttara Nikaya, Buddha tells of the three Divine Messengers. A person of bad conduct in body, speech, and mind, when leaving the world, is reborn in a plane of misery, and appears before Lord Yama, the Lord of Death. Lord Yama asks the man if he saw the three divine messengers and the man says that he did not.
He asks, "Didn't You ever see a woman or a man, eighty, ninety, or a hundred, years old, frail, bent like a roof bracket, crooked, leaning on a stick?"
The man says, "Yes, Lord, I have seen this."
"Then King Yama says to Him: 'But, my good man, didn't it ever occur to you, an intelligent and mature person, "I too am subject to old age and cannot escape it. Let me now do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind"?'
"No, Lord, I could not do it. I was negligent.'
"Through negligence, my good man, you have failed to do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind. Well, you will be treated as befits your negligence... You alone have done that evil deed, and you will have to experience the fruit.'
Lord Yama continues with the other two divine messengers, sickness and death.
(Anguttattara Nikaya 3:35; I 138-40)1


As a child, I looked at my life and realized that I lacked the discipline needed to make a great change in my life, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. I read stories of great warriors and their sensei, who honed their skills through brutal training or the wise monk who endured hours and hours of chores, sometimes in extreme heat, sometimes in extreme cold, waiting for the chance to learn the Dharma. I wondered when I would get my chance to have a teacher who would get my life in order and make me into what I wanted to be.
I was always getting upset. I upset way too easily. It has been so long now I can hardly remember, but only feel the shame in the way I acted.
When I didn't have to go to school, I could go on marathon runs of sleep. This usually followed the longest possible marathon of late night fun, or reading, or exploits within my imagination until 6 in the morning.
I read the works of many disciplines but lacked structure, organization, and order.
I wanted to train my body knowing that the sharp mind rests firmly on the solid frame, but there was always something to do.
School subjects were just easy enough that I could get by without studying.
I ate what I wanted, when I wanted.
I loved to drink soft drinks and they just didn't seem to make a cup big enough to satisfy my thirst.
And then my lifelong battle with migraines went from an annoyance to a full-time job. I began waking up every day with a migraine and by the time it went away, it was time for bed. When I woke up, the migraine was back. My health fell rapidly.
For a period of about 5-6 months I couldn't work at all, and could barely leave the house. I never really rid myself of a migraine at that point. The only variance was the degree of the pain and the amount of hope. Things had to change.
My first big change was to get my sleep pattern in order, which made me feel a little better.
The second, and a hard change, was to stop eating red meat. This brought about a surprising result. For my entire life, I had woken up each morning with a swollen face, hot, and with the start of a migraine. For the first time, the swelling and heat was gone! The migraine wasn't.
My sporadic studies and practice of Eastern healing like Qi gong and Taijiqong got a boost when I realized that I felt better. Yoga came into my life after it helped as well.
The initial change in migraine condition started when a dentist dislocated my jaw while trying to remove a wisdom tooth. At that point, another condition, TMJ and bruxism (or nighttime grinding of the teeth) became much worse. None of these changes, including 100 others that space doesn't allow, rid me of the migraines or the tension in my jaw. The only temporary relief came from meditation. It is sad that motivation of a spiritual nature was not enough in the beginning, but in a way, the migraine made it hard to do anything. In the end, they forced me to do the things I had always wanted to. Now I cannot live without yoga, Qigong, meditation, and the study of the Dharma, which alleviates my mind of worry.
While speaking with Westerners trying to grasp the concept of Buddhist suffering, I see that people tend to understand the concept, but don't seem to integrate it into their lives. Their own individual problems they see as independent, temporary, and short-term. Something will be along shortly to rid them of all of this and all will be better. When I suffered from one long migraine for 6 months, I had no such illusions. Suffering was present in my mind at every moment while I was awake and asleep. This, for me, was a gateway to understanding more hidden forms of suffering based on wrong views and actions.
From where I stand now, ankle deep in the water, I look out at the vast ocean and know that I have far to go. That journey is not so hard to bare any longer. That teacher that I wished for has always been with me in a form I didn't realize. The divine messengers in our lives take many forms. Some may be physical gurus in ochre robes, but others may be the trials and tribulations of life, such as migraines or things far greater than my problem, such as cancer. What is clear is that these are divine messengers and that the lessons are there for the taking. The vast ocean is there waiting for us to cleanse ourselves of our confused existence and rediscover the ocean of wisdom that is the root of our being.
Blessed be the divine messengers in our lives

1. Bodhi, Bhikkhu In The Buddha's Words Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2005

1 Comments:

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful and inspiring - meditation is transforming, no matter what the reasons are that bring you to it!

 

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