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Lions Roar : January 2015
Opposite: Garuda, Nepal 1200–1299 © Collection of Rubin Museum of Art Right: The young prince Siddhartha rescues the wounded swan. The Golden Goose The Buddha often told his followers stories about his previous lives to teach them ethical lessons. According to one story, he was a man who died and was reborn as a golden goose. He still remembered his old family and felt a pang thinking of how, since his death, they were just barely scraping by. So he went to them and at their feet he released one of his valuable feathers. “I’ll always provide for you,” the goose promised. Then each day after that he gave the family another feather until they had enough gold to buy soft beds and rich foods. But his former wife grew greedy, and one day she lured the goose close to her with sweet words. Then she grabbed him, pinned his beating wings between her chest and the crook of her arm, and plucked all of his resplendent feathers. Now, the goose couldn’t fly away, so his wife threw him into a barrel, fed him skinny scraps of food, and waited for his feathers to grow back. But when they did, she was disappointed: instead of the golden glint she was hoping for, the new feathers were as white as icy silence. The Rooster of Attachment Buddhist teachings place a bird at the very center of the wheel of life, the bhavacakra. At root, Buddhism is about how we can find true liberation from the suffering of samsara, the wheel of cyclic existence. The bhavacakra, which some say the Buddha himself created as a teaching tool, is both a diagram to help us see why we’re stuck in samsara and a map to help us find freedom from it. At the hub of the wheel of life there are three animals: a bird, a pig, and a snake. In English we refer to this bird as a rooster or cock, but Tibetan teacher Ringu Tulku says that it’s actually an Asian species, one that is obses- sively attached to its mate. The bird, therefore, represents desire, clinging, or attachment, while the snake symbolizes aggression or aversion and the pig symbol- izes ignorance or indifference. Together, these three animals represent the three poisons—pas- sion, aggression, and ignorance—that drive the wheel of samsara. If you look around, you may notice that the whole well of our world is poisoned. From the spider crawling on your shin to the climate crisis to a box of chocolates with creamy cen- ters—everything in our unenlightened lives always comes down to “I want it,” “I don’t want it,” or “I don’t care about it.” It’s through this attachment, aversion, or indifference that karma or action arises, which in turn gives rise to suffering. In short, the three poisons are the venomous fuel that drives samsara. Look again at the animals in the center of the wheel. Fre- quently, the bird and snake are depicted coming out of the pig’s mouth, while at the same time they are clenching his tail. This hints at how the poisons bleed into each other: desire and aver- sion not only stem from ignorance, they also feed it. As Roshi Bernie Glassman puts it, “The basic poison is igno- rance, which means being totally in the dark, not seeing life as it is because of egocentric ideas.” But, he continues, “If we are rid of the self, the three poisons become transmuted into the three virtues of the bodhisattva. Ignorance becomes the state of total nondiscrimination, so we no longer discriminate between good and bad; instead we deal with what is in the appropriate way. Similarly, anger becomes determination and greed becomes the selfless, compassionate desire of the bodhisattva to help all beings realize the enlightened way.” PAINTINGBYGOPAL/ARTOFLEGENDINDIA.COM SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2015 69