Case #2: Shantideva’s Sword

Once Shantideva became a bodyguard to King Arivishana. But unlike the other bodyguards, he managed to defeat the king’s enemies using only a wooden sword. “This man is an imposter!” the other bodyguards told the king. “How could he defend Your Highness using only a wooden sword?”

Upon discovering that his chief bodyguard was so poorly armed, King Arivishana demanded that Shantideva show him the weapon.

“That could prove dangerous,” cautioned Shantideva. “The power of this sword is such that it might injure Your Highness even to gaze upon it.”

“Even if it injures me,” replied the king, “I demand that you show it to me now.”

“In that case, you should at least cover one eye with your hand and look with the other,” Shantideva advised.

Indeed, when the sword was drawn, it shone with such brightness that the king’s eye shot out of its socket onto the ground.

The king was so terrified at this that he immediately asked to take refuge, whereupon Shantideva placed the eyeball back in its socket and the king’s sight was restored.

 


BACKGROUND
The Buddhist saint Shantideva lived about 1,200 years ago in India. He is most famous for writing the Bodhicharyavatara (“The Way of the Bodhisattva”), which is one of the most important Mahayana Buddhist texts. Shantideva was a devotee of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. That bodhisattva is typically depicted brandishing a flaming sword.

COMMENTARY
Moses confronted Pharaoh with only a shepherd’s staff. Gandhi brought down the Raj with nothing but a stick to lean on and a little salt from the sea. The king ought to feel grateful, for once, to have such a shaman on his side. But there he goes asking to see Shantideva’s sword. Doesn’t he know that metal is weaker than wood?

The Prajnaparamita—that “wisdom beyond the self” through which all of Nature is ordered in one balanced system—always blinds you before it makes you whole.

VERSE:
Whether the sword cuts
Or doesn’t, isn’t something
He’d even notice.
It’s just for popping out eyes
So he can plonk them back in.

 

Find all the Green Koans here.

Temple
Dharma to your inbox

Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters