(Maundy Thursday) The Corpse (IX/?)

It is 547 years before the common era that Siddhartha sees his first corpse.

He is in the city, among the people, seeking to understand those whom he must save. He is with Devadatta, his cousin, a man conservatively estimated as a match for two hundred and seventy soldiers in battle. He wears a keepsake of his wife Yasodhara around his wrist. It is Thursday.

What is this, Devadatta? asks Siddhartha:

This man, so still;
They carry him on their backs.
He lays flat upon a board,
And does not blink.
What is a man who does not blink, Devadatta?

Devadatta blinks.

Siddhartha continues:

This man, so still;
They lay him in a pyre.
They light the flames.
It is bad to lay amidst the flames,
It makes your father worry.
What is a man whom they would burn, Devadatta?

“A kindling man,” says Devadatta.

Siddhartha says:

This man, so still,
He smells of cooking meat,
His flesh is bubbling and baking,
Yet he does not move.
He feels no pain.
What is a man who feels no pain, Devadatta?

Devadatta barks laughter. He says:

A man who has transcended pain
We call a Buddha.
Burn him, he does not flinch.
Beat him, he does not cry out.
Such is the exercise of his endless compassion!
Sickness does not touch him,
Age does not touch him,
Death does not touch him—
Kill him, and he will only look at you
With injured eyes
And say, “Why did you do that, Devadatta?”

There is a long pause.

Or such my nightmares allege. Devadatta mumbles.

Siddhartha, who is not currently omniscient, is forced to stare blankly at Devadatta. Then his eyes wander, inevitably, to the corpse.

This man, so crispy,
He is turning to ash.
He does not move.
He does not smile.
He does not cry.
He does not breathe.
What is a man who does not breathe, Devadatta?

Devadatta says:

A man who is gone, Siddhartha.
This is death.
This is a man that you will never see again.
He is gone.
He has left the stage of your life,
Not to the wings,
Not to the pit,
But into the darkness from which no man returns.

This is not a man, Siddhartha,
This is a memory of a man,
This is the shell of a man,
This is what is left when the man is gone.
So shall you be when you are dead.
So shall I be if I am dead.
Such is the natural fate of every man.

Siddhartha looks blank. “But how can I be gone, Devadatta? I am right here.”

Devadatta shrugs.

“The concept of personal ending is difficult,” says Devadatta. “I have not mastered it myself. I believe it is like sleep, but quieter, and with no waking.”

“Ah,” says Siddhartha. Then he says:

Here is an absence.
Here is a hole in my world.
Here is something
I do not understand
Yet it is wrapped in the contingencies and accidents
Of the things I do.

Maya, the illusion of material existence, becomes a localized phenomenon. She says:

These are the words that bring forth Maya:
The desire to project
Into the space of the unknown;
The incomprehensible;
The impossible;
And the wrong
The accidents and contingencies
Of the things you know.
Thus does karma become experience
Experience becomes life
Life becomes a world
Worlds become Maya.
Why have you summoned me, Siddhartha?
You do not seek the Maya-Dharma.

“I am nothing without you, mother.”

Maya’s eyes sting. She does not speak.

“Please,” says Siddhartha. “Teach me the Maya-Dharma of death.”

So Maya inclines her head. Softly, she speaks.

Love while you can.
Accept that things pass.
This is the law, the new law,
That I would have you bring
When you turn the wheel
And rout your enemies
And end the suffering in the world.

“So this is the Maya-Dharma?” asks Siddhartha. “‘Cling without clinging?'”

It is a challenge, but it is not mockery.

His voice holds nothing but respect.

And Maya says:

I have loved you
Since I have known you, Siddhartha;
Knowing you will die.
And no matter how great the law
You set upon the world
I know that it will pass
And bitter days shall come again,
And pain.

And never have I loved you more than these last years
When I have thought that we would come to blows
And you unmake me
And I rain fire on you
To save the things I love.

I would not surrender it.
I would not let go of you, my child,
I would not set aside that love for you,
For all the treasures of the Earth.

I know you will pass.
And yet I cling.
That is the Maya-Dharma.

Siddhartha says, “I know this Dharma.”

“Do you?” she asks, softly.

Siddhartha says:

I have seen,
At the edge of my world,
A cloud,
Roiling and thunderous,
A terror that I should not like to face
Yet I am attached to it, mother.

It would be best,
If I could turn aside,
And live out my life
Without facing that storm.
Yet I am attached to it, mother.

And I must ask you, mother,
To forgive me.
If I fall
If I falter
If I leave the path
And become something other
Than a wheel-turning king.

Maya looks at him. It is a long look. Then she bows her head, and there are tears.

Do not summon me again, or I will surely take your life. she says.

There is a pause.

You are forgiven, and forever loved. she says, and ceases to be a localized phenomenon.

Siddhartha goes home to Yasodhara, and they sleep together; and that night, the wing of Maya brushes past them, and quickens Siddhartha’s child in Yasodhara’s womb.

2 thoughts on “(Maundy Thursday) The Corpse (IX/?)

  1. Here is an absence.
    Here is a hole in my world.

    And Devadatta impassively rotates clockwise.

    The Buddha series is excellent.

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