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A Buddhist Perspective on Entertainment An Enigma Named Thalaputa

5 March 2015 03:46 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Cuisine, followed by entertainment are two of the most irresistible sensory allurements of all mundane beings in the world. Accordingly they have also been hugely successful commercial ventures throughout history. The one who rode to the pinnacle of fame in the entertainment arena in India during the time of Gauthama Buddha was dancing icon Gamini known by his stage name Thalaputa because his complexion resembled the hue of a ripe palm fruit. He was a remarkable dancer of boundless energy accompanied by an immense troupe of a thousand gaily decked female performers. His acts were said to be enormously costly with an exorbitant amount to be paid in advance.

In a strange twist of circumstances, with all his pomp and flourish he also had the rare fortune of bearing the last life of aworldling – a “pashchima bhavika”. It is said even a fall from the highest mountain-top (mahamera) would not kill such a person until he reaches the final realization of deliverance.
Exceptional beings in requirement of guidance to realize their noble goals are caught up within a net of supernormal vision spread across the three world-systems early every morning by all Samma Sambhuddas having risen from the sublime abode of abundant compassion (Maha Karuna Samapaththi).

In portraying the immeasurable magnanimity of a Buddha which is beyond the reach of the human intellect, the erudite commentators of Maha Samaya Sutta in Deega Nikaya strikingly note that He would unhesitatingly reach a gathering at the furthest end of the Universe if there was just a single individual there with merit able to comprehend His teaching. On the other hand, there were occasions when the Enlightened One maintained total silence in response to questions that would benefit none.

The inexorable relinking phenomenon of life dependent upon the departing consciousness at the moment of death (cuti-citta) is wholly unpredictable. Scripture compares this scenario to a ball flung into the air with none able to predict where it will finally come to rest. Unravelling the great mystery of impending birth is exclusively within the domain of a Samma Sambhuddha, possessed of “āsayāsuyagnāna”, one of six unfathomable mental faculties unique to Him.

Buddhist literature abounds in descriptions of this supernormal ability of a Samma Sambuddha. An outstanding example of the stupefying faculty is narrated in relation to the sensational life story of Maha Moggallana Thero who stood in the forefront of all Arahaths weilding enormous miracle-creating powers among Gauthama Buddha’s disciples

Buddhist literature abounds in descriptions of this supernormal ability of a Samma Sambuddha. An outstanding example of the stupefying faculty is narrated in relation to the sensational life story of Maha Moggallana Thero who stood in the forefront of all Arahaths weilding enormous miracle-creating powers among Gauthama Buddha’s disciples. An exceedingly long number of aeons earlier, Anomadassi, the tenth in the Great Pantheon of Buddhas pronounces dramatically in the midst of a congregation of bhihkhus that he will become the king of gods of the Thavthisa heaven seventy-seven times and monarch of the entire human world (Chakkravarthi) on fifty-five occasions.

Finally, He pronounced, when a great sage by the name of Gauthama from the Okkaka clan appears on earth he will exit the abysmal hell he fell into almost an eternity before on account of an unpardonable sin to gain birth among humans as kin to Brahma known by the name of Kolitha. Driven by a root of merit lying buried deep within him, Anomadassi Buddha pronounced, he will rise to become Gauthama Buddha’s Second Disciple. The cause of his unimaginably prolonged stay in purgatorial world is too well known to all Buddhists.  

Theragathatta depicts this scenario evocatively – Whispering a prayer at the feet of Anomadassi Buddha, thenceforth gathering enormous wisdom along the thorny path, standing tall amongst Gauthama Buddha’s disciples the noble monk passed into parinirvana with his body rendered asunder through countless beatings of robbers abetted by heretics in a mocking reminder for one last time, of a horrendous crime committed in the extremely hazy past. Arguably it is the ultimate example in adverse causative effect of wrongful conduct, in human history.

Our own Gauthama Buddha, in a stunning demonstration of the omniscience of an Enlightened One once made a pronouncement that religious leader Korakkaththiya, a chronic upholder of dangerously wrong views (miccha ditthi) would expire in a week’s time due to the sudden onset of an obdominal ailment known as “alasaka” and his body will be dragged to be thrown onto the charnel ground Kiranaththambaka. Buddha further declared that he would be born in the Pretha world called Kalakanni after death. The first three prophecies became all too visible to the naked eye. The fourth not so was made so by a spellbinding feat of Iddhi power manifested by the Great Being.

Exceptional beings in requirement of guidance to realize their noble goals are caught up within a net of supernormal vision spread across the three world-systems early every morning by all Samma Sambhuddas having risen from the sublime abode of abundant compassion

All Maha Arahaths in contrast, possess only the ability to recollect past births (poorvānivasānusmathi gnāna). Drawing on this supernormal power Maha Arahath Kumara Kassapa, one of the eighty great disciples once declared poignantly “I abandoned the human body and found birth in the Thāvathimsa heaven. Like an actor on stage playing different roles, rotating in the great expanse from one abode to another, I was then conceived in the womb of a female deer as son to Shākhā the leader of the herd. Again I ascended therefrom to the dazzling world of theThusitha gods like a man going to his own home”

It is only at attainment of the first stage of deliverance (Sowanhood) that one is finally freed of the “eternal” fear of ever finding oneself descending upon dreaded hell. The Elders in their psalms (Theragatha) oft articulate in moving terms the absolute bliss of permanent escape from the tormenting worlds of woe as being an experience outside the range of the mundane mind. Thalaputa, in proof of the above enigma, despite all the insight development acquired through a timeless span of existences, with merit radiating within him like a bright light shining within a dark enclosure, was of all things born as an entertainer of people for a fee.  
At a time when Buddha was residing at Weluwanārāmaya,Thalaputa staged one of his mega performances in the nearby populous city of Rajagaha. Being of mature intellect he decided to pay a visit to the Buddha with his entire entourage desirous of clarifying a matter that had been gnawing at him for a long time.

 Having paid his obeisance to the Buddha he posed the question “Lord, I have heard my teachers proclaim, if an actor could make his audience happy by whatever means whether truthful or false such an actor upon death would be born among the celestial beings knows as Pahasa. What Lord, would you say to this?”

Buddha addressing him by his real name exclaimed “Gamini, it is alright, let that question be, do not ask that from me” obviously to his total bewilderment. Thalaputa though, would not let that question pass, it weighed heavily upon him. He repeated the question; again the Master politely refused it.

Thalaputa was persistent and when questioned a third time, the Fully Enlightened One, the Knower of the Worlds, the Teacher of all Men and Gods, spoke thus. : “Really Gamini you would not allow me my request that the question not be asked. Then let me tell you Gamini, there are beings who have not banished lust and continue to be ensnared in lust, and the actor on stage presents performances that amplify those feelings of lust (by display of indecent costumes, provocative movements etc as percommentary); there are beings who have not banished anger and continue to be enraged with anger and the actor stages performances which enhance such feelings of anger (by presentation of violent scenes as murder, decapitating of limbsetc, as per commentary); there are beings who have not banished delusion (avijja) and continue to be blinded by delusion, and the actor presents performances which propagate such delusion (by acts depicting deception, trickery etc. as per commentary); such actors and performers being deluded and lax themselves, cause others too to be deluded and lax.

Upon disintegration of body they are born in the netherworld known as Pahasa. Likewise, anyone who entertains a belief (ditthi) that whoever who humours people and induces unwholesome sensual desires to arise within is born amongst the Pahasa gods is harbouring a wrong view (miccha-ditthi). Gamini, I say that to whosoever who holds such a wrong view, one of the two destinations of the foursome lower worlds, purgatorial or animal, is a certainty.
What was thus conveyed to the dancer in obverse form is the essence of the benign force of an eternal truth revealed to humankind with infinite compassion by every Buddha – alōbha(greedlessness), adōsha (hatelessness), amōha (non-delusion) – the very fountains of wisdom.

Thalaputa on hearing the stirring discourse of the Master began to weep openly. Buddha then addressed the dancer, “Gamini, I never received from you my request that it was alright, let it be, let that questioned not be asked.” What takes place thereafter isperhaps the most remarkable instance of misconceived misgiving found in the annals of Buddhist literature. Gamini exclaims in all innocence, “Lord, I did not cry because of what you said, but because I realized I have been certainly deceived and duped by my teachers for ever so long that if an actor indulges people in merriment and sensuality, he then would be born in the Pahāsa deva world.” Thalaputa the worldling implied, Buddha had mistakenly attributed his breakdown to the remark made by the Buddha. Buddhas never make mistakes. How is Thalaputa to know a mind of a Samma Sammbuddha.

The Buddha with “sarwagnathāgnana” peculiar to a Samma Sammbuddha alone had foreseen in detail events that were to unfold before Him, and how Thalaputa will articulate in his own words the cognitive perception of reality that would dawn upon him overwhelmingly at the conclusion of His homily, instantly shattering the abominable world of darkness that had engulfed him all his life. Thalaputa’s statement became its irrefutable testimony.

Finally Thalaputa declares in elation, “Lord excellent, Lord excellent, that what was downturned was upturned, a lamp was lit to expel darkness. The Supremely Enlightened One expounded the dhamma in manifold ways. I pay homage to the Blessed One, the Dhamma and Sangha. Lord, I plead ordination and higher ordination under you. Thalaputa did receive ordination and higher ordination and as destined succeeded in the dousing of all flames to reach that point of non-return that had eluded him for so long. He knew there was nothing further for him to be done. Venerable Thalaputa became one among many Arahaths in the world (Ariyapuggala).

The moving message conveyed to Thalaputa on that eventful evening at JethawanaāAramaya 26 centuries ago applies with equal vigour in the present day, as in the quaint words of Prof Rhys-Davies, the Master’s sermon on morals, parabhava, did apply to the people of the delta on the Ganges then, as it would today in all its force to the men and women living on the banks of the river Thames.  



 
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