Sunday, September 02, 2012

ARTICLE ~ Drdha ~ Part Six

Earth as Witness

The Bodhisattva sheltering beneath the arched branches of the tree, held his body and mind serene in deep meditative absorption. He remained immovable and confident, whilst raging internal demons attempted to tear away his composure, each fell away unable to gain a foothold. The most persistent, Mara, repeatedly tempted the Bodhisattva to stray from his chosen path and ruin everything achieved over countless lifetimes. Mara, stepped out from a veil of darkness, and ready with a new tactic, spoke loudly and with great derision :

' Who do you think you are? This spot is the Vajrasana, the Diamond Throne, the central turning point of the universe. A place where all the great Buddhas of the past have been enthroned. What right do you have, an ordinary and most undistinguished person, to sit here where many magnificent Buddhas have once triumphantly sat?'
The Buddha, unperturbed by this criticism, said;

' I am indeed an ordinary person, yet over many lives I have diligently practised all the Six Perfections. Each has now reached its purest form. Dana has been perfected, Sila has been perfected, Ksanti has been perfected, Virya has been perfected, Dhyana has been perfected, and Prajna has been perfected. Having perfected them all, I am worthy to sit here, like all the previous Buddhas who have gained Enlightenment'

Mara responded;

'Well, anyone could say that. Anyone could say they've practised all these perfections over previous lives. How do I know you’re not just making it all up? Who is there alive now who can vouch for that? What proof do you have for your assertion? If this were a court of law you'd have to produce witnesses in order to win your case. I doubt you could bring even one person forward to corroborate what you say?'

The Buddha said nothing in reply, but leaving his left hand resting on his lap, leant  forward slightly and with his right hand touched the earth. The point where his fingers gently tapped upon the ground, a large hole in the earth opened up and out of it came the Earth Goddess Drdha in her arms she carried a vase. This was one of many vases containing all that the earth remembered from the past and the present. The Earth Goddess spoke;

' I have been here for all time and all eternity.  I have seen all men and women come, and I have seen all men and women go. The earth has been their mother, and the earth is always their grave. Before life and after death, it is only the earth that remains. From my many vases I will show you what the earth remembers. From my many vases I will pour out ancient tales, the best remembered songs of the earth. Only I have been the true witness to the past lives of this Bodhisattva.  I have seen all his previous faces, the thousands of lives where he practised the Six Perfections. I bear proudly the truth of my perceptions and uphold that he has attained what he says. He is more than worthy of sitting here on the Vajrasana, on the seat of diamond wisdom, on the seat of the Buddhas. I will now provide you with the proof'

Mara, and all beings throughout the whole Universe the truth of what she has witnessed. The Earth Goddess bowed towards the Bodhisattva in reverence, and returned from whence she came. The earth closed up,returning to how it was before. Mara recognised his defeat by telling a story of his own;

'There was once a pond in which a crab lived. Cruel children would pull it out from the water, and whenever it extended a claw they would cut, break or smash it with sticks and stones, before throwing it back in the water. I feel I am like that crab, for every manoeuvre, strategy or trick I have made, has been similarly cut off, broken, or smashed by the mind of this Bodhisattva, before it achieved its aim. So now, like the crab, I am once again thrown back from whence I came, more humiliated and damaged than before'

With this, Mara sank back behind the veil of darkness. Leaving the Buddha alone, calm and serene in the depths of his contemplations once more. It was now beyond all doubt that this Bodhisattva would now attain complete and perfect Enlightenment. He would now be seated on the Vajrasena and become a Buddha.3

This story has no literal historical truth in it at all. Yet it would be far too easy to discount it as just Buddhist hagiography, and therefore of no enduring spiritual value. But the subject matter of this story is steeped in spiritual value;  honesty, integrity, simple humility, staying grounded when on the brink of exalted states, and dealing equanimously with the arising of one’s baser doubts and motives. Difficulties most spiritual practitioners will find themselves dealing with on some level, at some point in their lives as practitioners. They are the gritty sand that we find somehow gets into our ice cream.  

The story of the Buddha’s enlightenment is more archetypal than historical, it possess a spiritual, psychological and poetic truth easy to overlook in the rush for literal veracity. As a myth it’s rich and highly significant. The Earth Goddess appears at this crucial tipping point on the Buddha’s journey to Enlightenment. He’s very near to attaining his goal, yet it is now that he’s besieged by his most deep-seated questions and doubts, personified by this figure Mara. When Mara accuses him of being an imposter, the Buddha calls the Earth Goddess to be his witness. This is an interesting choice of defendant. One might have thought he’d have summoned other Buddha’s or Bodhisattva’s to verify he was the real deal, call up a higher spiritual authority to speak for him. Instead he calls upon a relatively lowly Earth Goddess, Drdha.

Traditionally in Buddhist versions of the story, Drdha is described as being green from head to toe with long flowing wild hair. When summoned, she only half emerges from out of the ground. Her head ,arms, breasts and torso are above ground, whilst her hips legs feet and vagina remain underground. In her arms she’s carrying a vase. There is figuratively and conceptually something about Drdha that is forever unknowable, hidden or half concealed. Yet here she is being summoned to be a reliable witness, but a witness to what?  Well, to all the past lives where the Buddha perfected all the necessary virtues and perfections required of an Awakened One. It’s a bit like pulling out all your O & A level certificates, to justify your applying for a degree course. You need to provide evidence of applied earthly effort and initiative over time. It’s a spiritual CV that only an Earth Goddess could supply, because the earth is always with you whenever and wherever you are.

Earth as an element, is very receptive, it readily becomes the conduit for anything to grow in it or pass through it. Water soaks into it, collects underground,  re-emerging as streams and rivers lower down in the valley, that wends its way onwards to the sea. Earth without water, becomes a desert, barren and infertile wasteland. Earth and Water are lovers that can only bring forth life when bound together in intercourse. Water, is the Water of Life.

Drdha’s reproductive capacity, her vagina, is buried in the ground, whilst her nurturing capacity,  her breasts, are there for all to see and be suckled by. This is Mother Earth with all her fertile significance fully embraced. That vase in her hands, receives and contains memories and histories. That vase holds the water of lives that have passed through the earth, in this case the Buddha’s past lives, which she is about to pour forth as evidence.    

Drdha herself has a history, a checkered past of mixed origin. She’s not a purely Buddhist deity. In India the Earth Goddess bears many names and manifestations. She’s also known as Prithvi, which in Sanskrit means earth, or Bumi, which means soil, both of which point to her primeval origins  These are just two out of twenty one epithets. Prithvi Mata the Earth Mother mates with Dyas Pita the Sky Father, an inverse version of the Geb & Nut relationship which spawned Osiris in Egyptian mythology. The Earth Goddess in Hinduism has three levels on which she manifests -  as a provider, a sustainer and an enricher. The Provider manifestations are :~ the soil, the nursing mother,the nurturer, the birthplace, the mother of plants, the womb of forest trees and herbs,all nourishing, the world’s womb, the producer of everything, and the source of everything. The Enricher manifestations are described as:~ the repository of gems, abounding in jewels and bearer of treasure.

Drdha is part of the Sustainer manifestations, her name meaning ‘the steady one’. Descriptions of other sustaining aspects are: ~ the upholder,the patient one, the stable one, all preserving, all supporting, all bearing. With this roster of qualities it’s clearer why it is Drdha that the Buddha calls to be his witness. She has preserved the truth of what the Buddha claims he has attained. She has supported him over numerous lives and upholds the records of his legacy. Her perspective is broad and long, time is born with patiently, she waits for the right time to be called to arise, to bear witness. She’s confident in her own integrity, and that of others. She is stable and dependable because her loyalty is unwavering. What better witness could there be?

In times of doubt or loss of sraddha (faith), we could ‘Touch the Earth’ of our experience, to call forth the Earth Goddess to be our witness.  We all have an Earth Goddess aspect, to remind us what we have achieved so far in the spiritual life. History can always brings a longer, larger sense of perspective to a momentary mood of despair that can feel vastly out of proportion and hence overwhelming. An Earth Goddess reminds us it hasn’t always been so.These peaks and troughs in our experience come with an inflated sense of their own importance, which the grounding quality of the Earth Goddess can prick and burst. When we’ve lost touch with our sraddha, we often believe we just need to be more devotional. re-tune ourselves into the transcendental dimension of our spiritual goals. Get back in touch with the divine, pronto. But that might not be the thing we can do. First we may need to become reacquainted with our experience within this larger perspective of the Earth Goddess ~to ground ourselves in memory, remind ourselves how many times we’ve been here before, that this never lasts long, what it was that brought us out of it last time, recognise how far we’ve come already. In the relief that follows, then be more devotional. ‘Touching the Earth’ calls up a less emotionally based, objective version of our experience, to make this more conscious. Only afterwards will we be able to notice just how dependent on specific conditions our connection with sraddha has been.  

3 - A retelling of the traditional story written by Vidyavajra

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