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Lions Roar : September 2018
People may imagine that after his awakening the Buddha lived a healthy, happy, trouble-free life. But the Buddha’s life after his awakening was not trou- ble-free. There were moments of frustration with fractious members of his community. There was the sorrow of trying and failing to stop impending wars. There were physical problems too. Later in his life the Buddha complained of bellyaches, backaches, and general weariness. So, the Buddha was not always healthy and happy in the conventional sense. But this did not obviate the strength and thoroughness of his awakening. For even in the midst of problems, the Buddha remained ultimately healed. He didn’t expect to transcend the limitations of his body and mind. In wisely accept- ing and fully understanding the vulnerability of his physical existence, he was whole. His fundamental and unshakeable well-being went beyond the condi- tion of his body and mind. This more profound sense of health is implied in the four noble truths. Notice their traditional order: suffering, cause, cure, path. This is counterintuitive. The natural order ought to be suffering, cause, path, cure. This is what we expect from the doctor—that once she figures out what we’ve got and prescribes medication, which we carefully take, we will be cured. But the end point of the Buddha’s analysis isn’t the cure, stopping. It’s the treatment, the path. So, curing is not the goal; it’s an aspiration, a hope, a faith. The path goes on and on; it has no endpoint. The Buddha’s biography bears this out: he doesn’t stop treading the path after he awakens. He doesn’t just enjoy himself and go on to other things. Instead he continues to practice the Way for and with others for the rest of his life. He doesn’t defeat Mara. Their dance goes on. If there is a cure, this is it: delight in the ongoing dance. Let’s return for a moment to the scene of Bud- dha’s awakening. In response to Mara’s physical attacks, the Buddha is said to have touched the earth. In doing this, the Buddha was not only call- ing on the Earth Goddess to be his protector. He was also saying, “The earth is my body. My body expresses earth; it’s produced and supported by her. So, as long as earth exists, nothing, even what looks like complete destruction, can threaten my body. Even if pierced and broken by your arrows and flames, even when succumbing to illness and death, my body continues to circulate and flow, returning home to its source and mother, the great earth, which has always embraced it.” With this earth-touching gesture, Mara and his forces were dispelled. At the end of his life, old, ill, and weary, the Bud- dha was visited one last time by Mara, who tempted him this time with peace and rest. “Now is the The Buddha realized that beings are stuck in unhealthy patterns fueled by ignorance, or avidya (see “The 12 Nidanas,” p. 26). To offer us relief from this suffering, he taught the four noble truths, presented in the classical medical model of diagnosis, treatment, and cure. ILLUSTRATIONSFROM“THELIFEOFTHEBUDDHAINPICTURES”:COURTESYOFDHAMMATALKS.NET LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2018 53