Ananda Come Home…
I have always been fond of Ananda. Probably fonder of him than I am of the Buddha. I think of the two of them as a kind of Frodo Baggins/ Samwise Gangee buddy team. Frodo may have been the ring bearer, with all of the fame and gravitas that comes with the title, but he couldn’t have done any of it without his trusty Sam. Likewise the Buddha. Gotama may have been the millionth incarnation of greatness but without Ananda, who would know or care.
To put it even more sharply, is it more noble to be awake or to serve awakening? Is it more noble to be liberated or to serve the liberation of all beings? The best part of the Ananda story is the part after the Buddha died. All of his great students got together to figure out how to compile and transmit the teachings. Everybody freaked out because the realized that Ananda couldn’t be part of this, because he wasn’t enlightened. So whaddya know? He goes to sleep, gets the lightening bolt and becomes enlightened. Why bother unless it served the dharma? Because Ananda truly realized that it was never about him.
For decades, Ananda wandered around, watching the Buddha transmit enlightenment to kings, murderers, paupers, princesses and milkmaids. And he never was enlightened? Really? Or maybe it was just never about him and he knew it. If there is no unconditioned self, which self seeks and attains enlightenment anyway?
Which brings me to the deer. I am at retreat, doing retreat as I do it. I was meandering about when I should have been sitting. And I came across a deer and her fawn. As soon as she spied me, she stopped eating and stared at me. Not sure whether I was dangerous, whether to run with her fawn or not, she just froze. I felt badly… mostly that I was a predator and that she and her baby were prey. It wasn’t my intention, but my intention is irrelevant. So in a pathetic effort to control the uncontrollable, I sent her metta. She stared.
Then, for a millisecond, something broke it me. Something that kept the illusion of separation, that human ego container that we hold so dear that keeps our souls from sloshing out into the infinite. It broke and I murmured “I’m sorry” to her. She dropped her eyes and resumed eating.
So just as quickly the ego container reassembled. I was grinning while thinking “how cool is that?” Feeling like Dr Freakin’ Doolittle of the Dharma. Post cool. Completely missing the point. Missing my Ananda moment.
It was never about me. It was about us. All of us were in the joy and humility I felt for that precious infinite millisecond. But it was not about me. It can’t be about me. Sam Gamgee knew it when he stuck with Frodo until the Ring was dispatched. Ananda knew it when he waited until the time was right to join the ranks of the enlightened. WWAD? He would have gone to the kitchen to bring the deer carrots.