The true nature of Human Existence (Part 3)

Continued from yesterday, read previous part HERE.

The Tiger

What Sakyamuni likened to a fierce tiger is impermanence-one's own death. The tiger's pursuit of the traveler signifies the way impermanence wreaks havoc in our lives. That a ravenous tiger is hot on the heels of each one of us is an undeniable fact.

A cancer patient once wrote this in his diary.

“Death always comes suddenly. No matter when it appears, the one visited by Death looks on its arrival as a sudden intrusion. For the mind filled with a sense of security is totally unprepared for death… Death comes when by rights it has no business coming. It goes coolly where by rights it has no business going, like a desperado striding with dirty boots into a freshly cleaned parlor. Death's behavior is outrageous. You may ask it to wait awhile, but in vain. Death is a monster beyond human power to budge or to hold in check.”

The Vine and the Mice

The traveler hangs suspended from a cliff, clinging to a vine. The vine represents the human life span, and the white mouse and the black mouse stand respectively for day and night. Just as the two mice go round and round, each gnawing in turn at the vine, so our lives are gradually worn away by the recurring cycle of day and night. There is never any pause in this cycle, never a winter or summer break. In the end, one or the other of the mice is certain to gnaw its way through.

The Sea and the Dragons

When the vine snaps, the traveler will plunge into a bottomless sea. This is what Buddhism calls “the crucial matter of the afterlife.” The afterlife means what happens after you take your last breath in this life. No matter how much modern lifetimes have been extended, people still go right on dying. Everyone will, beyond a shadow of a doubt, come up against the afterlife in due course. No one is unconnected to it. Sakyamuni taught that for everyone, what happens after death is irreparable, and a matter of the greatest importance.

The bottomless sea is hell, and the three fearsome dragons are the blind passions of desire, anger, and ignorance. The blue dragon is the The unfathomable desolation of the lonely traveler: What does the story mean? What is a human being? Humanity’s true plight, which Sakyamuni made clear in this story from the Parable Sutra, dramatically shows why people need to listen to Buddhism. Unless this is understood, Buddhist truth can make no headway. That’s how important this teaching is.mind of unfathomable desire. The red dragon is the mind of anger that is aroused when desire is thwarted. Ignorance consists of jealousy, envy, and resentment, and it is represented by the black dragon.

In the Larger Sutra of Infinite Life Sakyamuni taught the true state of human beings who continue creating evil through these blind passions: “The mind continually thinks evil, The mouth continually speaks evil, The body continually performs evil. Never has there been a single good deed.” He made it clear that the hell we fall into is a world of our own making, a world we plunge into alone.

The Honey

The honey in the story represents five human desires: the desire for food and drink, the desire for money and possessions, the desire for sex, the desire for praise from anyone at all, and the desire to sleep. These five desires are limitless.

Who is that hangs precariously from a slender vine and, forgetting his mortal danger, thinks of nothing but his longing to obtain honey? The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said of the parable, “No other story offers such an unvarnished portrayal of the human condition. This is no mere fiction, but universally convincing fact.” Tolstoy surely saw himself in this Buddhist parable of humanity's true plight.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #02 | 2011, The true nature of Human Existence (Part 3)

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