Buddhism’s path to enlightenment focuses on four stages that are built on the falling away of ten fetters. The first stage translates as Stream Enterer, 入流 (rùliú), or 须陀洹 (xū tuó huán). The seeker enters going upstream and safety is the shore on the other side. Of the three fetters in the first stage of enlightenment (self-view, ritual, and skepticism), this illustration and parable focus on the falling away of ritual and the harm, delusion, and reliance caused by attachment to it. Ritual doesn’t just encompass religious ceremony, but superstition and repetitive fear as well, in which we protect ourselves with the motions of our day.
In Chinese Manichaeism, Buddha-fields, also called pure land, are divine spaces in which the enlightened reside. These spaces are reached through teachings and meditations designed to induce awakening, “fo” (佛). Here in these spaces, time flows relatively and inconsistently.
In Xuan Xue (Mystic Learning), these spaces are seen as a less divine, more consolidated and encompassing space called Wú (absent existence, formlessness, nothingness). Rather than reaching it through underground meditation teachings like in Chinese Manichaeism, students of Mystic Learning use investigation and structured study of the darkness and mystery surrounding Wú.
Lastly, the Zhuangzi text (莊子), a humanist collection of irreverent fables from ancient China, promotes carefree wandering in its Daoist stories. From the motifs in the chapters, readers are given the impression of an ideal sage who distances himself from the artificial confines of human knowledge, language, politics, and the rational world. The Zhuangzi's first parable, for example, opens on two divine creatures who are later described to have freed themselves from trivial distraction and petty need:
“In the darkness of the Northern Ocean, there is a fish named K’un. The K’un is so big that no one knows how many thousands of tricents its body extends… In the southern part of the state of Chu, there is a tortoise called Dark Spirit for whom spring and autumn each last five hundred years…”
In this illustrated parable, the fisherman leaves his village after serving his people through peripheral roles for thirty years. He is in search of either of these creatures or the places they reside, taking the ending of the story of K'un as his compass:
“Do up, down, and the four directions have a limit?”
“Beyond their limitlessness there is another limitlessness,” said Chi.
Supposing there was someone who could ride upon the truth of heaven and earth,
who could chariot upon the transformations of the six vital breaths and thereby go wandering in infinity,
what would he have to rely on?
For excerpts from the illustrated parables, visit my Patreon blog at patreon.com/LiannShannon .
Full parables will be available in the published book to be released in 2022!
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