The Samyutta Nikaya teaches:
A brahmin named Sangavara bathed in the river each morning and evening to become purified of whatever sins he had committed during the day. When the Buddha saw this, he said, “If bathing could purify sins, all the frogs and turtles and crocodiles would be free of it. The real river is goodness, and grace is the shore where we bathe. Clear and pure, it soothes all who immerse themselves. Plunge into its waters and learn to swim.”
The Samyutta Nikaya is a very early Buddhist scripture. Some argue that it dates from the pre-sectarian period.
The banks of the Ganges River are referred to in the Rig Veda as “your ancient home.” The custom of purifying oneself in its waters was probably already long-established when that ancient Hindu text was written.
Ritual bathing for purposes of purification is a part of many religious traditions, including Judaism and Islam. In Christianity it remains in the baptism ritual and the placement of a “font” at the front of many churches. It remains in Buddhism as well, but more often than not as an ascetic ritual—as, for instance, in the practice of meditating under a waterfall.
Sangavara meditates for 30 minutes in the morning, and again for 30 minutes at night, staying far enough ahead of his demons to justify that practice, but not so far ahead that he can relax like a hippo with his eyes just above the water.
Where does Shakyamuni get off saying that frogs and turtles aren’t free? It must have been hard to hold their peace while he blabbered on with the brahmin. All this talk of “rivers of goodness” and “banks of grace”—one of them should have snuck up behind him and given a good shove!
Try taking a bath
In goodness, or drinking grace.
Frog got the jump
And Crocodile stole his smile!
Green Koans Case 1: Shakyamuni Touches the Earth
Green Koans Case 2: Shantideva’s Sword
Green Koans Case 3: The Great Compassionate One’s True Eye
Green Koans Case 4: One-Page Dharma
Green Koans Case 5: The Person of the Way
Green Koans Case 6: The Green Yogi
Green Koans Case 7: Rain of the Law
Green Koans Case 8: Bashō’s Last Words
Green Koans Case 9: General Stone Tiger
Green Koans Case 10: Joshu’s Oak Tree
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters