CASE #1: Shakyamuni Touches the Earth

As Shakyamuni meditated beneath the bodhi tree, Mara pointed to the place where he sat and demanded, “Who witnesses your right to the seat of enlightenment?”

Shakyamuni reached a finger down to touch the ground. “I call the Earth as my witness,” he replied.

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View from Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, where archaeologists recently recovered mitochondrial DNA from the finger-bone of an early hominid 

BACKGROUND:
Mara’s name means “death” or “destruction.” In Buddhism, he is identified with delusion.

Because of its broad, stable trunk and ample shade, the bodhi tree (ficus religiosa) has long been used as a site for meditation.

In ancient times, as now, the deed to a piece of property must be attested to by at least one witness.

COMMENTARY:
The hour between dark and dawn is sometimes referred to as “The Hour of the Wolf,” evoking the eerie, predatory fatalism that tends to come calling about that time. This is the moment when Mara appears to Shakyamuni with his panoply of threats, temptations, and insinuations. The last of these is the suggestion that Shakyamuni has no right to occupy the “seat” of enlightenment.

According to a traditional story, at Shakyamuni’s request “the earth quaked, and myriad thousand-fold blossoms rained down from the heavens.” Another account has the Earth goddess herself emerging to confirm the Buddha’s enlightenment, her body half out of the ground.

But there is an older, much deeper story buried just under the surface of this one. Dust around it ever so gently and you will find the finger-bone of a Buddha still bearing witness to the Earth, in spite of all the tales. In this older version, the fingertip itself cries out: “You are my mother and father. You are my liberation. From the beginningless past to the endless future, you and I are one.” That Buddha’s fingertip isn’t a hook fishing for a compliment. Nor is it a request to have his enlightenment confirmed from without. It is an equals sign.

VERSE:

Sentient beings
Have two choices, up or down,
Buddhas only one.
Try as you like you’ll never
Toss a stone out of this world.

 

Read all the Green Koans.

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