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 Buddha boldly critized the indignities and invaildity of the Caste System, or the established social and ruling heirarchy he lived in and amongst, thereby both upseting the rich and powerful but also winning support amongst some of them. He even bucked the religious and spiritual idealogies of his day by redefining certain words and terms.
As far as raw reality goes, 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
And amongst the less intense unfriendliness found throughout living in the everyday world, the script is also flipped:
How very happily we live, free from hostility among those who are hostile. Among hostile people, free from hostility we dwell.
How very happily we live, free from misery among those who are miserable. Among miserable people, free from misery we dwell.Excerpt from Sukhavagga: Happy — Dhp XV
As far as to what one should slay:
As she was standing to one side, a devatā recited this verse to the Blessed One:
“Having killed what
do you sleep in ease?
Having killed what
do you not grieve?
Of the slaying
of what one thing
does Gotama approve?”
The Buddha:Having Killed
“Having killed anger
you sleep in ease.
Having killed anger
you do not grieve.
The noble ones praise
the slaying of anger
—with its honeyed crest
& poison root—
for having killed it
you do not grieve.”
Chetvā Sutta (SN 1:71)
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)
Along with other non-occult practices, the 32 parts of body are also included in the Buddha’s teaching on how to develop and pursue the four bases of power thus allowing experience of manifold supranormal powers.
The Buddha used fire to consume the fire of a fierce nāga king, and without harming it, then presented it as a small snake in his bowl.
And before realizing it was not the way, the Buddha was very deep into self-mortification — vividly elucidated in “The Longer Discourse on the Lion’s Roar” where it also says he “roars his lion’s roar in the assemblies”:
And this is what my self-mortification was like. I went naked, ignoring conventions. I licked my hands, and didn’t come or stop when asked. I didn’t consent to food brought to me, or food prepared specially for me, or an invitation for a meal.
I didn’t receive anything from a pot or bowl; or from someone who keeps sheep, or who has a weapon or a shovel in their home; or where a couple is eating; or where there is a woman who is pregnant, breastfeeding, or who has a man in her home; or where food for distribution is advertised; or where there’s a dog waiting or flies buzzing. I accepted no fish or meat or liquor or wine, and drank no beer.
I went to just one house for alms, taking just one mouthful, or two houses and two mouthfuls, up to seven houses and seven mouthfuls.
I fed on one saucer a day, two saucers a day, up to seven saucers a day.
I ate once a day, once every second day, up to once a week, and so on, even up to once a fortnight. I lived committed to the practice of eating food at set intervals.
I ate herbs, millet, wild rice, poor rice, water lettuce, rice bran, scum from boiling rice, sesame flour, grass, or cow dung. I survived on forest roots and fruits, or eating fallen fruit.
I wore robes of sunn hemp, mixed hemp, corpse-wrapping cloth, rags, lodh tree bark, antelope hide (whole or in strips), kusa grass, bark, wood-chips, human hair, horse-tail hair, or owls’ wings.
I tore out hair and beard, committed to this practice.
I constantly stood, refusing seats.
I squatted, committed to the endeavor of squatting.
I lay on a mat of thorns, making a mat of thorns my bed.
I was committed to the practice of immersion in water three times a day, including the evening.
And so I lived committed to practicing these various ways of mortifying and tormenting the body.
Such was my practice of self-mortification.
And this is what my rough living was like.
The dust and dirt built up on my body over many years until it started flaking off.
It’s like the trunk of a pale-moon ebony tree, which builds up bark over many years until it starts flaking off.
But it didn’t occur to me:
‘Oh, this dust and dirt must be rubbed off by my hand or another’s.’
That didn’t occur to me.
Such was my rough living.
And this is what my living in disgust of sin was like.
I’d step forward or back ever so mindfully. I was full of pity even regarding a drop of water, thinking:
‘May I not accidentally injure any little creatures that happen to be in the wrong place.’
Such was my living in disgust of sin.
And this is what my seclusion was like.
I would plunge deep into a wilderness region and stay there.
When I saw a cowherd or a shepherd, or someone gathering grass or sticks, or a lumberjack, I’d flee from forest to forest, from thicket to thicket, from valley to valley, from uplands to uplands.
Why is that?
So that I wouldn’t see them, nor they me.
I fled like a wild deer seeing a human being.
Such was my practice of seclusion.
I would go on all fours into the cow-pens after the cattle had left and eat the dung of the young suckling calves.
As long as my own urine and excrement lasted, I would even eat that.
Such was my eating of most unnatural things.
I would plunge deep into an awe-inspiring forest grove and stay there.
It was so awe-inspiring that
normally it would make your hair stand on end if you weren’t free of greed.
And on days such as the cold spell when the snow falls in the dead of winter, I stayed in the open by night and in the forest by day.
But in the last month of summer I’d stay in the open by day and in the forest by night.
And then these verses, which were neither supernaturally inspired, nor learned before in the past, occurred to me:
‘Scorched and frozen,
alone in the awe-inspiring forest.
Naked, no fire to sit beside,
the sage still pursues his quest.’
I would make my bed in a charnel ground, with the bones of the dead for a pillow.
Then the cowboys would come up to me. They’d spit and piss on me, throw mud on me, even poke sticks in my ears.
But I don’t recall ever having a bad thought about them.
Such was my abiding in equanimity.
There are some ascetics and brahmins who have this doctrine and view:
‘Purity comes from food.’
‘Let’s live on jujubes.’
So they eat jujubes and jujube powder, and drink jujube juice.
And they enjoy many jujube concoctions.
I recall eating just a single jujube.
You might think that
at that time the jujubes must have been very big.
But you should not see it like this.
The jujubes then were at most the same size as today.
Eating so very little, my body became extremely emaciated.
Due to eating so little, my limbs became like the joints of an eighty-year-old or a corpse,
my bottom became like a camel’s hoof,
my vertebrae stuck out like beads on a string,
and my ribs were as gaunt as the broken-down rafters on an old barn.
Due to eating so little, the gleam of my eyes sank deep in their sockets, like the gleam of water sunk deep down a well.
Due to eating so little, my scalp shriveled and withered like a green bitter-gourd in the wind and sun.
Due to eating so little, the skin of my belly stuck to my backbone, so that when I tried to rub the skin of my belly I grabbed my backbone, and when I tried to rub my backbone I rubbed the skin of my belly.
Due to eating so little, when I tried to urinate or defecate I fell face down right there.
Due to eating so little, when I tried to relieve my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair, rotted at its roots, fell out.
There are some ascetics and brahmins who have this doctrine and view:
‘Purity comes from food.’
‘Let’s live on mung beans.’ …
‘Let’s live on sesame.’ …
‘Let’s live on ordinary rice.’ …
Due to eating so little, when I tried to relieve my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair, rotted at its roots, fell out.The Longer Discourse on the Lion’s Roar — Middle Discourses 12
How taking up arms, weapons? The Attadanda Sutta: Arming Oneself clues us in on a counter-intuitive, masterful, heartfelt, and unexpected way to address that which so many seem to battle so vainly and pointlessly:
Fear is born from arming oneself. Just see how many people fight! I’ll tell you about the dreadful fear that caused me to shake all over:
Seeing creatures flopping around, Like fish in water too shallow, So hostile to one another! — Seeing this, I became afraid.
This world completely lacks essence; It trembles in all directions. I longed to find myself a place Unscathed — but I could not see it.
Seeing people locked in conflict, I became completely distraught. But then I discerned here a thorn — Hard to see — lodged deep in the heart.
It’s only when pierced by this thorn That one runs in all directions. So if that thorn is taken out — one does not run, and settles down.
Who here has crossed over desires, the world’s bond, so hard to get past, he does not grieve, she does not mourn. His stream is cut, she’s all unbound.
What went before — let go of that! All that’s to come — have none of it! Don’t hold on to what’s in between, And you’ll wander fully at peace.
For whom there is no “I-making” All throughout the body and mind, And who grieves not for what is not Is undefeated in the world.
For whom there is no “this is mine” Nor anything like “that is theirs” Not even finding “self-ness,” he Does not grieve at “I have nothing.”
Demons? In the instance with Ālavaka, to deter the eating of children, the Buddha arrived at his lair while away, sat on his throne, and proceeded to teach Dhamma to the women folk while waiting for Ālavaka’s return. Upon returning he finally asked the Buddha to leave after his attacks failed. The Buddha left, but after calling the Buddha back and dismissing several more times the Buddha stayed. Ālavaka then proposed a set of 13 questions to the Buddha, claiming that if he was unable to answer, he would possess his mind, rip out his heart, or hurl him by the feet across the Ganges river. After answering, Ālavaka gained stream-entry, the first stage of enlightenment!
1) What is a person’s highest wealth?
Conviction is a person’s highest wealth.
2) What when well-practiced, brings bliss?
Dharma, when well-practiced, brings bliss.
3) What is the highest of savors?
Truth is the highest of savors.
4) Living in what way is one’s life called the best?
Living with discernment, one’s life is called best.
5) How does one cross over the flood?
Through conviction one crosses over the flood.
6) How does one cross over the sea?
Through heedfulness, one crosses over the sea.
7) How does one overcome suffering & stress?
Through persistence one overcomes suffering & stress.
8) How is a person purified?
Through discernment a person is purified.
9) How does one gain discernment?
10) How does one find wealth?
Doing what’s fitting, enduring burdens, one with initiative finds wealth.
11) How does one attain honor?
Through truth one attains honor.
12) How does one bind friends to oneself?
Giving binds friends to oneself.
13) Passing from this world to the next world, how does one not grieve?The questions from To the Āḷavaka Yakkha
Āḷavaka Sutta (SN 10:12)
He even attempted to stop wars:
The Buddha, surveying the world with his supernormal powers, saw his relatives on both sides of the river coming out to meet in battle and he decided to stop them. All alone, he went to them by going through the sky, and stopped immediately above the middle of the river. His relatives seeing him, powerfully and yet peacefully sitting above them in the sky, hid aside all their weapons and paid obeisance to the Buddha. Then, the Buddha said to them, “For the sake of some water, which is of little value, you should not destroy your lives which are of so much value and priceless. Why have you taken this stupid action? If I had not stopped you today, your blood would have been flowing like a river by now. You live hating your enemies, but I have none to hate; you are ailing with moral defilements, but I am free from them; you are striving to have sensual pleasures, but I do not strive for them.“Excerpt from from the traditional commentary to Dhammapada 197 – 199
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.