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    Blessed are the birth-givers: Buddhist views on birth and rebirth
     
    [ 作者: Miranda Shaw   来自:期刊原文   已阅:2442   时间:2006-12-4   录入:douyuebo
    49tjf49edf:Article:ArticleID

     

    ·期刊原文


    Blessed are the birth-givers: Buddhist views on birth and rebirth

    Miranda Shaw

    Parabola

    Vol.23 No.4

    Nov 1998

    pp.48-53
             
    COPYRIGHT 1998 Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition

     

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH TAUGHT by Shakyamuni Buddha is that life is
                suffering. The Buddha also imparted that the four primary forms of
                suffering are birth, illness, old age, and death. Taken alone, these
                pronouncements set the stage for a life-denying tradition in which
                birth is viewed as a descent into the vale of misery. However, these
                negative assessments are more than counterbalanced by the Buddha's
                central teaching that human life offers a unique opportunity to
                discover the truth. The same potential for spiritual awakening is
                not presented by birth as an animal, as a supernatural being, or
                even as a privileged dweller in one of the heavenly realms. The
                Buddha himself embodied the fruition of human potential: the
                attainment of infinite knowledge, wisdom, and compassion. Therefore,
                the belief that prevailed in Buddhism is that birth in human form is
                a rare and precious event. In place of the lamentation that one
                might expect, one finds that birth has been celebrated in numerous
                ways in Buddhist art, myth, and philosophy.

                The Buddhist celebration of birth first found expression in
                exaltations of Queen Maya, the Buddha's mother. Some accounts
                suggest that Queen Maya was on her way to her parents' home when she
                unexpectedly had to stop and give birth in a forest. Other sources,
                however, reveal that the queen sought out a sacred grove where all
                the women of her lineage gave birth under the watchful care of the
                grove goddess. The goddess created a suitable environment by hanging
                jewels and flower garlands from the trees and making lotuses bloom
                in all the ponds. She summoned the females of all species to bring
                offerings to the foot of the tree where Buddha would be born. Queen
                Maya bathed in a lotus pond and then grasped the branch of a fig
                tree, which served as her midwife for the auspicious birth.

                The Buddha was born from Queen Maya's right side. Scholars have
                interpreted this as a negative motif, a sign that the womb is too
                impure and defiling for a Buddha to inhabit. However, Buddhist texts
                explain that a Buddha by nature causes no suffering and that this
                was true from the very moment of his conception. Queen Maya
                experienced no discomfort during her pregnancy, and her son
                considerately emerged from her side so that the delivery would be
                painless.

                When the Buddha's mother died during the first year of his life, she
                merged into the goddess of the sacred grove, It is Maya's image that
                is enshrined in the temple at the site of the Buddha's birth in
                Lumbini, Nepal. Women from surrounding villages have come here over
                the centuries not to worship the Buddha, but to pray to the holy
                mother for protection in childbirth and healthy children. They honor
                her image with seasonal flowers and with red powder and vermilion
                paste signifying the life-blood with which mothers animate their
                children. Drinking water that has been poured over the statue is
                believed to cure infertility. An archaeological record reaching back
                thousands of years preserves the worshippers' handmade offerings of
                terracotta beads, bracelets, miniature horses, and human figurines.
                Despite the fact that one of the world's greatest religious leaders
                was born here, worship at the site glorifies the mother who gave
                birth, not the son who was born.

                THE Flower Ornament Sutra (first-second century (C. E.), an early
                Mahayana scripture, further exalts the Buddha's mother in passages
                voiced by the goddess of the sacred grove, who witnessed the
                nativity. In a poetic stream of visionary ecstasy, tine goddess
                eulogizes the miracles that took place in Queen Maya's body,
                beginning with an outpouring of brilliant healing light:
                As Lady, Maya leaned against the holy fig tree, all the world
                rulers, gods and goddesses... and all the offer beings... were
                bathed in the glorious radiance of Maya's body .... All the lights
                in the billion-world universe were eclipsed by Maya's light. The
                lights emanating from all her pores... pervaded everywhere,
                extinguishing all suffering... illuminating the universe.(1)
                Queen Maya's womb attained cosmic proportions. Universes streamed
                forth from her body, while everything in this universe was in turn
                visible in her womb. All the worlds, lands, and Buddhas were visible
                in each of her pores.

                No stigma attaches here to the process of birth or to the womb. In
                dualistic philosophies that separate mind and body, pure spirit and
                impure matter, the female body and especially the womb are often
                negativized as the gateway into the prison of matter. However,
                according to the nondualistic Mahayana philosophy of emptiness,
                birth and indeed all phenomenal arising is miraculous and illusory.
                All things are born out of emptiness, shimmer momentarily in empty
                space, and then dissolve back into the cosmic source. Emptiness is
                the fertile womb of reality, and the human womb possesses the same
                wondrous power of manifestation.

                Perfection of Wisdom philosophy elevates the concepts of birth and
                motherhood above even that of Buddhahood itself. This philosophy
                introduces a cosmic female who embodies the radiant wisdom that
                gives birth to Buddhas. The goddess, known as Prajnaparamita, or
                Perfect Wisdom, shares the name of the literature in which she
                appears and the knowledge that she personifies. One of her fides is
                Mother of All Buddhas, for she is the maternal source of saving
                knowledge. As the mother, she endures, while her offspring, the
                Buddhas, come into existence and pass away:

                She is the Perfect Wisdom that never comes into being and therefore
                never goes out of being .... She can never be defeated in any way,
                on any level .... She is the Perfect Wisdom who gives birthless
                birth to all Buddhas. And through these sublimely Awakened Ones, it
                is Mother Prajnaparamita alone who turns the wheel of true
                teaching.(2)

                The Buddhas recede in importance as their birth-giver,
                Prajnaparamita, emerges as the supreme teacher, the source of all
                religious truths. Seekers of wisdom must sit at her feet and drink
                from the endless stream of teachings that flow from her presence.
                Without her, the Buddhas would have nothing to teach. She is the
                source and content of their teachings, the eternal font of
                revelation; the Buddhas are her messengers.

                Mother Wisdom is put forth as the highest object of worship, more
                worthy of reverence than a Buddha or Buddharelics, for only those
                who prize wisdom above all else may attain it. Buddhas and their
                relics are indeed holy; however, the Buddhas are sacred because she
                brought them into being, while the relics are venerable because they
                are saturated with her energy. Therefore, Buddhas and bodhisattvas,
                too, revere her. Recognizing their dependence upon her, they
                devotedly contemplate the spontaneously revealing Goddess
                Prajnaparamita with deep consecration and respect--revering,
                worshiping, and ecstatically adoring her .... The omniscience...
                which alone constitutes Buddhahood springs from Mother
                Prajnaparamita, and therefore all Buddhas and bodhisattvas are
                intensely grateful and thankful to her and only to her.(3)
                The entire edifice of Prajnaparamita philosophy is built upon the
                principle that the birth-giver is greater than the one who is born.
                As long as there is a mother of Buddhas, there will be more Buddhas,
                and she will continue to exist long after they have passed away.

                TANTRIC BUDDHISM, which arose in about the seventh century, added
                its own distinctive valuation of birth. As a tradition that
                treasures the human body as the abode of bliss and vehicle of
                enlightenment, it is natural that Tantra proclaims that women, the
                givers of birth, are to be honored. The Candamaharoshana Tantra has
                harsh words for those who disparage the source of life, pleasure,
                and kindness:
                Woman alone is the birth giver, the giver of true pleasure to the
                Three Worlds, the kind one. Those chattering fools engaged in evil
                action, who now disparage her out of hostility, will, by their
                action, remain constantly tortured for three eons in the fathomless
                Raudra Hell, wailing as their bodies burn in many fires.(4)

                The text pronounces that those who tail to honor women can not
                attain liberation, but those who render to women their due homage
                will be rewarded with supreme enlightenment. Toward this end, a man
                should seek a woman upon whom he can focus his devotion. When he
                finds a spiritual consort, he should approach sexual union with her
                as a sacred act. Envisioning her as a living goddess, or female
                Buddha, he should bow at her feet, beg her to grace him with a
                loving glance, and worship at the altar of her thighs. He should
                lovingly kiss her stomach, thinking, "This is where I formerly
                dwelt; from here I was born," and grant her any form of pleasure
                that she desires.

                Although the honor accorded to women in Tantric Buddhism goes beyond
                their role as mothers, the high value placed upon the human body and
                upon birth is the cornerstone of this--and any--female-affirming
                philosophy.

                The theme of rebirth, like that of birth, was elaborated and assumed
                grand proportions in the Buddhist imagination. Early Buddhism
                envisioned six forms in which one could be reborn: that is, as a
                denizen of hell, animal, human being, hungry ghost, demigod, or god.
                The six realms of rebirth correspond to mental drives and
                psychological temperaments. For example, a preponderance of hatred
                and aggression will lead to rebirth in hell among violent beings.
                Greed and perpetual dissatisfaction lead to rebirth as a hungry
                ghost, while excessive envy results in birth among the demigods. A
                person's thoughts, motivations, and behavior plant the seeds of
                karma that will ripen in future lives. Enlightenment offers the hope
                of escape from the round of rebirth.

                As Buddhism evolved, rebirth came to be seen a process that can be
                mastered and engaged in consciously. In Mahayana Buddhism, a
                bodhisattva aspires to become free from karmic impurities and to
                renounce the selfish desire for personal existence. Once freed from
                this desire, however, the bodhisattva does not simply dissolve into
                the blissful expanse of' ultimate reality. The paradox inherent in
                this process is that, having transcended the thirst for personal
                selfhood, one attains the Buddhist equivalent of immortality. No
                longer subject to the laws of karma and rebirth, bodhisattvas are
                free to recreate themselves eternally, in innumerable times, places,
                and bodily forms, to lead others to the same state of liberation.
                Such beings will fearlessly descend to the hell-realms to bestow
                cooling water and the nectar of compassion upon their tortured
                inhabitants, or visit places frequented by alcoholics, derelicts,
                and compulsive pleasure-seekers of every description, for it is
                necessary to appear among those who will most benefit from even the
                slightest glimmer of wisdom.

                These bodhisattvas, too, fashion divine bodies of unspeakable beauty
                and infinite glory to enchant the senses and awaken spiritual
                aspiration. Bodhisattvas do not even necessarily take rebirth in
                human form. They may choose to be reborn as crops to feed the
                hungry, rain to end drought, medicine to cure the sick, roads and
                bridges to aid travelers, trees to provide shade, and houses to
                provide shelter. They can manifest in many forms and places at one
                time and travel into the past, present, and future. Having mastered
                illusion, illusion becomes their plaything, reality their
                playground, and conscious rebirth their entertaining and liberating
                pastime.

                TANTRIC BUDDHISM adds yet another dimension to the concept of
                rebirth. In Tantra, death and rebirth are regarded as experiences
                that one may undergo in one's present lifetime through yogic
                practices that simultaneously purify the mind and body. The subtle
                psychic energies that carry a person's thought and emotions are
                normally dispersed throughout the body. A practitioner of Tantric
                yoga learns to draw these energies into the central, spinal channel,
                where they no longer support dualistic thought. Egoic selfhood,
                which is predicated upon dualistic thought, is thereby deprived of
                its foundation and spontaneously dissolves. Further concentrating
                the energies into a single point, or drop, at the heart, the seat of
                consciousness, brings about a psychic death. The illusory self, the
                false ego, dies, and the clear light of universal awareness dawns in
                its wake.

                This process of psychic death and rebirth is depicted in Tantric
                iconography in various ways. One is the motif of a Buddha trampling
                upon a corpse. The corpse does not represent external beings or
                forces that must be defeated but rather the unenlightened self that
                is left behind on the journey to liberation. The Buddha pins down
                its chest, the seat of the mind and emotions, showing that egoic
                tendencies have been conquered. Above the gray, prostrate corpse,
                the lifeless shell of the former self, the Buddha dances in a
                magnificent, divine body. Tantric Buddhas are customarily adorned
                with skull-crowns, necklaces of skulls, and ornaments made of human
                bone, demonstrating that they have overcome the dualism of life anti
                death and know the secrets of the art of rebirth.

                The Flame-Dancing Dakini epitomizes the Tantric understanding of
                spiritual rebirth. Her golden body shines with the radiance of
                perfect wisdom and the life-force in its purest essence. Flames
                burst from her body, for the fire of spiritual transformation blazes
                within her. She wears none of the usual adornments of deity, for
                only the barest naked awareness, stripped of all conceptual overlay,
                can accomplish this transition. Her face is drawn into an expression
                of supernatural intensity, for she experiences all the passions as
                pure energy-waves that she may ride, enjoy, and use at will. The
                flame-dancer emerges from a cloak of human skin with a bloody
                lining. She leaps free of her former self, leaving it behind like an
                afterbirth; she sheds it just as a snake sheds its skin, glowing
                with the ecstasy of rebirth. She waves aloft a ball of string, a
                Tantric symbol of continuity, expressing that death, or what the
                unenlightened regard as death, has become child's play to her--an
                illusory threshold that she has crossed many times.

                This Tantric goddess occupies the vantage point from which life,
                death, and rebirth are one grand process, a never-ending process of
                transformation. She knows that, in the face of death, there is no
                cause for sorrow, for there is no permanent loss or separation.
                Thus, she dances exultantly, victoriously, rejoicing, filling the
                universe with her cosmic laughter.

                NOTES

                (1.) Flower Ornament Scripture, translated by Thomas Cleary (Boston:
                Shambhala, 1987), vol. 3, pp. 26(3-67.
                (2.) Mother of the Buddhas: Meditations on the Prajnaparamita Sutra,
                translated by Lex Hixon (Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1993), pp.
                95-96.
                (3.) Ibid, p. 123.
                (4.) The Candamaharosana Tantra, Chapters 1-8, translated by
                Christopher George (New Haven, Conn.: American Oriental Society,
                1974), p. 70.

     

     

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