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Western civilization has been developing according to a set of coordinates that are entirely separated from the ones of its Eastern counterpart. The focus of this paper is to propose subjective psychologically-minded interpretations to a series of Asian stories and poems extracted from the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism.
The storyline of Searching for Buddha begins with the account of a monk's lengthy and arduous journey towards finding Buddha. When he finally locates Buddha's whereabouts, he finds that he needs to cross a river in order to reach the region of destination. Therefore, he solicits the help of a boatman. On waiting to get across, the monk notices something floating on the river, right towards the boat. As it gets closer, the floating object is revealed to be the monk's very own dead body, and the shock of the realization sends the traveler into a fit of distress. The story ends with the cryptic statement that the moment of recognition marked the debut of the monk's liberation.
The short story is an interesting read because it's enigmatic and allows the readers to extract their own interpretations. In essence, the story is rooted in metaphors, as Buddha is not given a literal connotation. What the monk is actually looking for is not a place, or a person, but the whole story symbolizes the journey of a human being towards achieving enlightenment. The element that triggers this transformation has a destabilizing effect on the balanced consciousness of the seasoned monk. All appearances seem to indicate that the impact of seeing his own corpse floating by causes much suffering, yet it seems that the monk needs to withstand this shocking episode in order to move forward on his spiritual path. Therefore, the appearance of his lifeless reflection comes as some sort of final test.
The dead body might be a symbol of the human ego, bodily desires, and wants, which were standing in the way of advancement. Seen from this perspective, the corpse represents a necessary defeat of self-centeredness in the process of transcending the existential cycles marked by suffering for the purpose of living a life which is enlightened and therefore fundamentally governed by equity and truth. What is more, the monk may have come to the realization that the life he had lead until that point was not wholesome, which might explain why he sees an instance of himself as not alive.
Another conclusion that can be reached after reading the story is that the monk is wrongfully engaged in a quest to find Buddha, when he actually needs to focus on finding his self. From this angle, looking upon his own corpse helps him become aware that he needs to search inward, and not outward. Thus, liberation is the equivalent of severing external ties with the world, of renouncing all previous attachments and preconceptions that come with external conditioning.
On a personal level, I can relate to Searching for Buddha in the sense that many times I have invested a lot of energy in the endeavor of attaining various goals, only to realize on the brink of fulfillment that actually achieving success was not as rewarding as I had initially deemed it to be. Rather, it was the journey of getting there that provided me with lessons of immeasurable value. Similarly, the monk from this story attains enlightenment just before reaching the final stage of a long enterprise, and having been attached to its final stage for a long period of time, it comes as a shock when he realizes that it has become obsolete.
Escape from Hell is the account of a bad man's opportunity to reach Heaven after he dies and is sent to Hell. Immediately upon arriving in Hell, he tries to convince its ruler, King Yama, of the fact that he is a good person. In response, the King offers that he will be allowed to go to Heaven if he can present a single good deed that he was responsible for in his lifetime. The sinner answers that he did save a spider from a bird once, and King Yama sends his Officers to find the spider and inquire if this is true. The officers find the spider in Heaven and fulfilling the role of Goddess of Silk, who confirms the man's story and offers to help him get out of Hell from sheer gratitude. Her only warning is that the man has to keep his faith as she spins a piece of silk from Heaven to Hell, and that he ought not to doubt its strength for even one second.
After she receives permission from both parties to enact her plan, the Goddess of Silk starts to weave a long thin piece of silk and drop it downwards. The man takes hold of it and starts to ascend, but on looking back, he discovers that hundreds of other souls clung to the seemingly fragile chord. He takes out a knife with the intention to cut the silk line bearing all the other intruding souls, but falls back to Hell before translating that thought into action. Seeing what has transpired, the Goddess of Silk expresses her regret that she can do nothing more to help the man who had helped her in the past, because he lacks faith and appears to not wish for his peers to reach Heaven as well.
On the one hand, this story raises the question of self-centeredness as principal reason for failure in making progress on the way to enlightenment, together with emphasizing the importance of holding fast to one's faith when in a predicament. In this sense, a blatant disregard for the plight of one's peers is depicted as having tremendous implications for the welfare of the purposefully insensitive person. Specifically, the goal is unattainable if the person who set it functions within the confines of an egotistical mindset. Thus, when the man makes the call to let all the other fellows fall back to Hell as a precaution because he fears that their combined weight might jeopardize his own chances of being saved, it proves that he has no regard for the lives of other individuals.
On the other hand, Escape from Hell appears to suggest that the very nature of the protagonist is wicked and does not alter, in any instance. The wicked man proves, again and again, that he is incapable of overthrowing his established patterns. To my mind, this implacability in the face of change is depicted as much too extreme. The message conveyed here is that it is possible for the essence of a human being to be fundamentally and unfalteringly flawed, which I simply cannot accept as being true.
Krishna and Arjuna is a short story that has the magnitude of myth. It begins by introducing the reader into a far-off reality of zealous practice of the ritual of yagna, which makes Agni become sick because he is the one who accepts the sacrifices made in the fire and sends them forward to the gods. Thus, the heavy inflow of ghee into the ritual fires has a negative impact on his well-being. Agni decides to ask for help from Lord Brahma, who prescribes that he should burn up a certain forest, in order to regain his vigor. However, as he does so, his twin brother Indra - believing that the forest is home to one of his close friends, the king of snakes - quenches down the fire with heavy rainfall from the sky.
At the indication of Lord Brahma, Agni seeks out and enlists the help of Arjuna and Krishna to protect him, and gifts Arjuna with a magical quiver. Using the quiver stops Indra's downpour, but this causes the outbreak of a war between Indra's troops and Arjuna on the one hand, and a battle between asuras and Krishna, on the other hand. Eventually, Lord Brahma makes an appearance to inform Indra that his friend is not located in that forest anymore, which has the effect of ending all hostilities. The final revelation that the king of snakes was actually safe and sound right from the start gives me the distinct impression that the motive is false, and therefore all of the events were unnecessary. In truth, I can't help but a feel a rush of frustration at Lord Brahma's belated informative note, because if only it had been provided earlier, the outbreak of a ful-scale battle may have been altogether avoided.
The story is suffused with symbols of duality. First of all, the incipit part of the account reveals an antagonistic juxtaposition of two kindred deities, Agni the god of fire, and Indra the god of rain and thunderstorms. Their very natures make them antithetical and mutually exclusive characters, a situation that serves to set a motive for the ensuing plot. However, the latter part of the story introduces Krishna and Arjuna, two exponents of polarity - dark and bright - who coexist in harmony. The two companions choose…[continue]
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