22 November 2007

The Green Rite

Some time ago I was in the British Museum where they have a number of stone carvings from the stupa at Amaravati. The carvings are old and worn but you can still see the exquisite skill with which they were created and get a sense of the wonder that the stupa must have been. What an extraordinary focus for feelings of devotion that stupa must have been. The friend I was with, and I, could occasionally make out details from stories which the carving depicted. At one point as I walked along I saw a very worn carving but which stood out very clearly as being a story from the Pali Canon about the Buddha. It showed the Buddha, barely visible through the wear, standing in front of an elephant that was clearly kneeling before him in supplication.

In the story the Buddha’s cousin Devadatta, who wishes to succeed the Buddha as leader of the monks, arranges for a large bull elephant in rut to be let loose in the market place as the Buddha is walking through it. The elephant is enraged and charges about causing havoc and everyone runs for their lives. However the Buddha stands his ground. The elephant sees the Buddha, a slight figure, standing there and charges towards him. The Buddha simply stands his ground and as the elephants gets closer he lifts his hand and holds it palm outwards. Radiating loving kindness towards the elephants he is totally unafraid of death, or being hurt. As the elephant approaches it is overcome by the outpouring of love and fearlessness in his direction , he slows, and then comes to a standstill. And then he bends down and places his head on the ground at the feet of the Buddha.

This is the archetype of the Green Rite, the Rite of Fearlessness. The Green rite is associated with the Buddha Amoghasiddhi whose names means infallible success. His mudra is the mudra of fearlessness. Notice that the hand is not extended like a policeman stopping traffic. The hand is held palm outwards at the heart - it is not a command, or a demand. It is an offering.

The Green Rite is not one of the original Tantric Rites. For instance the Mahāvairocana Abhisambodhi Uttara Tantra has pacifying (white), enriching (yellow), subduing (red), and fierce (black) rites. The Four Rites correspond to an old Vedic classification the varṇas. They correspond to the four basic castes as outlined in the Puriṣa Sūkta of the Rig Veda for instance: Brahmin, Kṣatriya, Vaisya, and Śudra. However when Ratnasambhava and Amoghasiddhi joined Amitābha and Akṣobhya on the mandala two more rites were added - for instance the Tara Tantra has six.

In the Rogue Elephant story the Buddha pacifies the Elephant by radiating maitri or love - which could be seen as an example of the Red Rite. This demonstrates the way the Dharma transcends any particular teaching. However underlying the Love of the Buddha is his transcendental Insight - his knowledge and vision of how things are. It is from this direct knowledge that his fearlessness arises, and that makes all his actions successful. The Buddha knows that he has nothing to lose, that even death itself does not terrify him the way it does the rest of us. He sees everything as it is and therefore does not cling to any experience, nor push any away. Any action undertaken from this point of view is bound to succeed, because success is judged in terms of results, and acting from insight guarantees a positive result.

For ordinary mortals the Buddha left guidelines for acting until direct insight guides our actions. These are the various ethical or moral teachings. These vary from the "ordinary common sense" approach which is typified in the early verses of the Metta Sutta, to the the long lists of precepts in the Bhikṣu Pratimokṣa, and find a sublime expression in the Ten Skilful actions (dasa-kusala-karma) which form the Ten Precepts of the Shingon School and the Western Buddhist Order. Once again there are cross-overs with the other rites, but the special quality of the Green Rite is that it is active. Whereas in the White Rite for instance we may say that it focuses on purity and refraining from evil actions; in the Green Rite we must actively express love and kindness. If Gratitude and Generosity are the key aspects of the Yellow Rite, then we may say that acts of kindness and selfless love are the marks of the Green Rite.

Meeting fear is a key part of the spiritual life. As we practice we are very likely to find fear arising. The Green Rite tells us the way to deal with fear. It is to dwell in love, to radiate love, and to act out of love. Acting from love guarantees success, because in Buddhist terms success is acting with love.
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