The historical Buddha is regularly portrayed as primarily full of love and light in popular culture. While this is just one aspect, another angle this post intends to explore is the Buddha’s decisiveness, diligence, determination, and immense courage in the face of pretty much anything and everything without shying away from squeamishness. It’s also kind of an exercise in using the suttas (and sutras) to back a certain viewpoint — perhaps similar to how some can interpret various parts of the bible to support a vast array of agendas. Obviously doing something like this can range from wise and skillful to the complete opposite.
The Upayakausalya sutra ‘describes a past life of the Buddha as a ship captain, put in an impossible situation of letting a murderer kill passengers, or letting the passengers kill the murderer. In every scenario he foresaw with his psychic power, someone would be killed and people would be reborn in hell. He decided to kill the murderer himself…’:
Then the Lord [Buddha] again addressed the Bodhisattva Jnanottara: “Son of the family: Once a upon a time, long before the Thus-come-one, the Worthy, the fully perfected Buddha Dipamkara, there were five hundred merchants who set sail on the high seas in search of wealth. Among the company was a doer of dark deeds, a doer of evil deeds, a robber well-trained in the art of weaponry, who had come on board that very ship to attack them. He thought, “I will kill all these merchants when they have achieved their aims and done what they set out to do, take all possessions and go to Jambu Continent.”
“Son of the family: then the merchants achieved their aims and set about to depart. No sooner had they done so, than that deceitful person thought: “Now I will kill all these merchants, take all their possessions and go to Jambu Continent. The time has come.” At the same time, among the company on board was a captain named Great Compassionate. While Captain Great Compassionate slept on one occasion, the deities who dwelt in that ocean showed him in a dream: ‘’’Among this ship’s company is a person named so and so, of such and such sort of physique, of such and such, garb, complex, and shape—a robber mischievous, a thief of others’ property. He is thinking,” I will kill all these merchants, take all their possessions and go to Jambu Continent.”
To kill these merchants would create formidable evil karma for that person. Why so? These five hundred merchants are all progressing toward supreme, right and full awakening; they are each irreversible from awakening. If he should kill these Bodhisattvas, the fault—the obstacle caused by the deed—would cause him to burn in the great hells for as long as it take each one of these Bodhisattva to achieve supreme, right and full awakening, consecutively. Therefore, Captain, think of some skill in means to prevent this person from killing the five hundred merchants and going to the great hells because of the deed.’
“Son of the family: Then the captain Great Compassionate awoke. He considered what means there might be to prevent that person from killing the five hundred merchants and going to the great hells. Seven days passed with a wind averse to sailing to Jambu Continent. Without wind during those seven days he plunged deep into thought, not speaking to anyone. “He thought, ‘There is no means to prevent this from slaying the merchants and going to the great hells but to kill him.’ “And he thought, ‘if I were to report this to the merchants, they would kill and slay him with angry thoughts and all go to the great hells themselves.’ “And he thought, ‘if I were to kill this person, I would likewise burn in the great hells for one hundred-thousand eons because of it. Yet I can bear to experience the pain of the great hells, that this person not slay these five hundred merchants and develop so much evil karma. I will kill this person myself.
“Son of the family: Accordingly, the captain Great Compassionate protected those five hundred merchants and protected that person from going to the great hells, by deliberately stabbing and slaying that person who was a robber with a spear, with great compassion and skill in means. And all among the company achieved their aims and each went to his own city. Son of the family. At that time, in that life I was none other than the Captain Great Compassionate. Have no second thought or doubt on this point. The five hundred merchants on board the five hundred Bodhisattvas who are to niranize to supreme, right and full awakening in this auspicious eon.
“Son of the family: For me, Samsara was curtailed for one hundred-thousand eons because of that skill in means and great compassion. And the robber died to be reborn in a world of paradise. The five hundred merchants on board are the hundred future Buddhas of the auspicious eon. Son of the family, what do you think of this? Can curtailing birth and death for one hundred-thousand eons with that skill in means and that great compassion with gnosis of skill in means be regarded as the Bodhisattva’s obstacle caused by past deeds? Do not view it in that way. That should be regarded as his very skill in means.”
It is said the historical Buddha never spoke a falsehood throughout all his previous lives. This appears quite a feat given current daily life contains so many lies, “white lies,” falsehoods, half-truths, deceptions, omissions, inaccuracies, misleadings, misgivings and the massive infrastructures and systems built around classifying “official state secrets.” And the truth holds extreme power. For example, truth has potential to destroy the world you used to live in.
He is also of a warrior pedigree. ‘Siddhartha Gautama (the historical Buddha’s birth name) was born into the kshatriya varna, or caste, of ancient India/Nepal. This was the caste of the warriors, the rulers and aristocrats of ancient India.’
He explored the extremes of pleasure and pain ranging from a plush palace life with copiously available sensual pleasures to the opposite extreme of asceticism engaging in such practices as holding the breath until passing out, eating only one grain of rice a day where could eventually feel his stomach touching his backbone and his hair started falling out. He later said though these types of extremes were unnecessary to realize awakening and for the cessation of suffering.
The Kakacupama Sutta: The Simile of the Saw is pretty much the most badass gangster shit nothing could even remotely hold a candle to. (This language is to (re)invert the use of the term “gangster” inverted to mean something cool.) Here’s part of the ending:
“Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.
“Monks, if you attend constantly to this admonition on the simile of the saw, do you see any aspects of speech, slight or gross, that you could not endure?”From The Kakacupama Sutta: The Simile of the Saw
Upon reaching enlightenment the Buddha uttered a poem with destructively liberating imagery:
Through the round of many births I roamed
seeking the house-builder.
Painful is birth
again & again.
House-builder, you’re seen!
You will not build a house again.
All your rafters broken,
the ridge pole destroyed,
gone to the Unformed, the mind
has come to the end of craving.
How about guts and gore? He graphically detailed stages of corpse decomposition in the Cemetery Contemplations in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (used to become keenly aware of the impermanence of the body and to break the illusion of immortality.):
Furthermore, suppose a mendicant were to see a corpse discarded in a charnel ground. And it had been dead for one, two, or three days, bloated, livid, and festering. They’d compare it with their own body: ‘This body is also of that same nature, that same kind, and cannot go beyond that.’ And so they meditate observing an aspect of the body internally …
That too is how a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body.
Furthermore, suppose they were to see a corpse discarded in a charnel ground being devoured by crows, hawks, vultures, herons, dogs, tigers, leopards, jackals, and many kinds of little creatures. They’d compare it with their own body: ‘This body is also of that same nature, that same kind, and cannot go beyond that.’ And so they meditate observing an aspect of the body internally …
That too is how a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body.
Furthermore, suppose they were to see a corpse discarded in a charnel ground, a skeleton with flesh and blood, held together by sinews …
A skeleton without flesh but smeared with blood, and held together by sinews …
A skeleton rid of flesh and blood, held together by sinews …
Bones without sinews, scattered in every direction. Here a hand-bone, there a foot-bone, here a shin-bone, there a thigh-bone, here a hip-bone, there a rib-bone, here a back-bone, there an arm-bone, here a neck-bone, there a jaw-bone, here a tooth, there the skull …
White bones, the color of shells …
Decrepit bones, heaped in a pile …
Bones rotted and crumbled to powder. They’d compare it with their own body: ‘This body is also of that same nature, that same kind, and cannot go beyond that.’ And so they meditate observing an aspect of the body internally, externally, and both internally and externally. They meditate observing the body as liable to originate, as liable to vanish, and as liable to both originate and vanish. Or mindfulness is established that the body exists, to the extent necessary for knowledge and mindfulness. They meditate independent, not grasping at anything in the world.
That too is how a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body.Cemetery Contemplations in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness
He also uses imagery of a butcher at a crossroads with different cuts of meat:
The Section about Applying the Mind to the Elements
Moreover, monks, a monk, in regard to this very body, however placed, however disposed, reflects by way of the elements:
“There are in this body, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the wind element.”
Just as though, monks, a clever butcher, or a butcher’s apprentice, after slaughtering a cow, were sitting down at a crossroads after dividing it into portions; even so, monks, a monk in regard to this very body, however placed, however disposed, reflects by way of the elements:
“There are in this body, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the wind element.”The Section about Applying the Mind to the Elements in The Long Discourse about the Ways of Attending to Mindfulness
There’s also the graphic detail of the body laid out in 32 parts including bile, pus, phlegm and feces:
Head hair, Body hair, Nails, Teeth, Skin
Flesh, Sinews, Bones, Bone Marrow, Kidneys
Heart, Liver, Diaphragm, Spleen, Lungs
Large Intestines, Small Intestines, Stomach, Feces, Brain
Bile, Phlegm, Pus, Blood, Sweat, Fat
Tears, Grease, Saliva, Mucus, Oil of the Joints, Urine32 parts of the body (practice)
Again, this is all just some stuff a very advanced fellow a long time ago is said to have shared and said to check it out for yourself. It is ultimately not to be clung to (as in putting down the raft of the dharma after reaching the farther shore.) I feel though what is related in the suttas is an extensive, widely encompassing deconstruction and penetration of reality on many levels still containing much relevance today.