Please enjoy the next installment of my essays written during Jon Carrol's writing workshop eight years back. This exercise was called: "Historical Witness. Pick a time and place and write as if you were there."
So of course I chose:
At the Buddha’s Side Beneath the Bodhi Tree
At the Buddha’s Side Beneath the Bodhi Tree
When the Prince Siddhartha first left the palace to cultivate the path to Buddhahood, his father the King sent five clansmen to accompany him and keep him safe.
After six years of austerities, three of the five left him because the Buddha was too intensely ascetic. They couldn’t keep up with his rigorous practices and they went off to cultivate in the Deer Wilds Park, outside Benares.
After starving himself nearly to death, the Prince realized that mortifying the body was not going to bring him the enlightenment that he sought. He accepted an offering of rice and milk and regained his strength.
At this point the two remaining clansmen left him, calling him a cheater and a phony who had lost his ascetic resolve. They also headed towards the Deer Wilds Park to continue their cultivation.
The Buddha vowed that he was going to sit down beneath the Bodhi Tree and meditate. He swore that he would not leave his seat until he got enlightened - - Bodhi or bust.
Forty-nine days passed and in a state of deep concentration he saw a bright star and realized his potential for wisdom and compassion. He was now the Buddha, “the Awakened One.”
He set off for the Deer Wilds Park to teach his five friends the insight that he had acquired.
Ajnatakaundinya was the first to wake up, followed by the other four. They became the Buddha’s first five disciples and the Sangha order came into being.
There you are. So you made it across the river! Bhadrika?
My brother’s coming behind me. He’s sick; it’s the figs. He wouldn’t stop. How about the others? Kasyapa, and Kulika?
We’ve been here three weeks. The caves are full of ascetics. We’re sitting together in the grove, there’s a level bluff above the bend of the river. The fire keeps away the predators but the snakes will teach you patience. I woke up last week with a cobra asleep in the tree above my head.
Mahanama’s temper still the same?
He’s actually gotten good at the standing practice but you can’t talk with him. You’d think after six years in the forest.... How about Bhadrika?
He’s shaky. He’d go back in a minute. Dreams of Anjali and his parents all the time. He won’t discuss it. I know he’s suffering.
The same, I miss my horses, miss my kids. But most of all I worry about...him.
We agreed not to talk about him. Assume the Prince is already dead. Or else we can’t go back and hold up our heads.
We don’t know that. Yesterday in meditation I saw how much I care about him. I’ve known him all my life, so have you; he’s the Prince, he’s our hope. I thought of him sitting under that tree, giving it his best.
And after six years of following him through the forest, doing the meditation, I’m different. Part of me wants him to find it, part of me wants to wake up myself. I don’t have to tell you that. We both watched him. His determination... I couldn’t match him. He wore me out. Lord I’ve never seen a more beautiful man.
Invite them over here. Kulika! Kasyapa! Look who’s here. Little brother’s back. Bhadrika, I’ve got some wild figs over here.
Piss off. I’m had it. I want to go back.
Without knowing about the Prince? What will you say?
I’ll say the truth. I saw him take porridge and milk from the milkmaid. He sold out; he disappointed us. That was that. What’s to explain?
Right and look at you. You can judge? You’re as dark as a cloud. What can you teach me? How to be universally angry? How to turn into a tiger?
If you and I and Bhadrika aren’t cut out for the Holy Life in the forest then run home. Your wife and kids are waiting.
And if Father hadn’t ordered you out here to protect him would have followed?
Father’s hands were tied. He didn’t approve. Auntie forced him. He would have lost face.
Who ever heard of a compulsory ascetic? We’re just no good at it. You’re too tough and we’re too lax.
I’ve decided to give it another week. But we can’t go back until we know what happened to the Prince.
Speaking of whom, don’t look now but here he comes.
I thought you wouldn’t be far away. I’ll wash my feet and meditate and then let’s talk.
Kulika, help the Prince, go.
He hasn’t earned it. He can wash my feet.
You’re poisoned with pride.
Look at him meditating.
Even from the back.
When did you last see him under his tree by the river?
Seven weeks ago.
What did he say?
He said he wouldn’t leave that spot until he was enlightened, until he was awake.
That’s what I heard, too. Look at him! What do you think happened?