Sunday 3 November 2013

Book Critique: Buddha's Wife by Gabriel Constans

The dedication says: “In honor of Yasodhara... and all women throughout history who have been minimized, ignored or solely remembered as an appendage to their family or spouse...” Has Gabriel Constans by writing this book “Buddha's Wife” actually honoured the women that he mentions here or have they been reduced , transformed to a state of “reductio ad absurdum”? It was the title “Buddha's Wife” that made me notice this book when I picked it up from the shelf. Did Buddha have a wife? Who is the Buddha? Why is he known as the Buddha?

According to the 'Dhamma', a Buddha is someone who has extirpated all worldly defilements and achieved a purity beyond an ordinary human being. To accuse such a person of not comprehending “the shame their teaching and way of life had brought upon the thousands of women who have been left alone to fend for themselves... left us for some elusive concept of happiness...” (page 4 Buddha's Wife) is calumny. The questions put into Ven. Ananda's mouth “Great Teacher, are animals and all living things capable of becoming fully awake?” Siddhartha said “Yes, Ananda they are.” (page 6 B.W.) Gabriel Constans shuttles from 'Buddha' to 'Siddhartha', mixing up names as and when he wishes. It is expressly said in the 'Dhamma' that animals are not capable of “becoming fully awake” as Constans says; but he takes liberties even about the “Dhamma”. All the characters in this work of fiction are out of context. Even if it is fiction, when the chosen characters are historical figures, one should not distort their stories in order to fulfil ones own baser intentions. All the men and women mentioned, such as Yasodhara, Kisa, Gotami, Ananda, Rahula, Devadatta etc. who stayed and died in robes (ordained) have been disrobed and used to dishonour and condemn the Tathagata. Thoughts and words and deeds that were not even dreamt of in any flight of imagination by the characters are found in this book. Ananda who was Siddharthas cousin, and later the attendant monk of the Buddha, is made to fall in love with an imagined (by Constans) Yasodhara who is supposed to be living in “a hut on the outskirts of Rajagaha... Ananda entered the doorway with his old arms straining to hold a few pieces of scrawny fire wood.”(page 1 B.W.) What a degradation in stature for an arahant, or a person who has attained the highest state in life as a human being.
Constans ridicules the main concepts of the religion. “Remember, Kisa, desire is a trap... I winked, as she finished the sentence...and desirelessness is liberation... we laughed again... Just think, I said... How many years I believed in that rubbish, only to realize I had done it all out of desire anyway...”(page 13 B. W. ) Look at this paragraph. “Kisa learned about the meeting from Pajapati, who became a stream enterer (follower)... The King... Some say he attained the peace beyond all peace, known as samadhi.” (page 15 B.W.) Without understanding who a 'stream enterer' is and what 'samadhi' means, Constans uses them to distort facts and embellish his story which is entirely concocted. To make a villain of the Buddha, Constans has sent Rahula to Sri Lanka, where he is supposed to have married. Rahula, who was the only son of Siddhartha and Yasodhara, became a monk at age seven and loved the monastic life, but Constans says is “living with such hatred and darkness in his heart.” (page 17 B.W.) The words of hate that Constans puts in Yasodhara's mouth “That idiot... what a liar... a thoughtless selfish liar... how could he leave us... he is a demon... he's destroyed every dream... adoration for a coward... a man who talks about peace, but leaves his family in torment.” (page 32 B.W.) with reference to the Buddha are so lowly and ignoble. Ananda is made to do the lowliest meanest of jobs for the sake of an unrequited love he has for Yasodhara. He carries her pot of excreta, feeds her and fetches water. (page 39 B.W.) The obscene gestures like “grabbed my breasts and shook them...reached down between my legs...” (page 40 B.W.) are the imaginings of a sick mind. It's so impossible to think of the Princess Yasodhara who is refined, brought up in the luxury of a royal household behaving like a slut or a whore. To further reduce the importance of the Buddha and his achievement, Ambapali the courtesan is called “a Buddha” by Constans' Yasodhara. Not content with the minimizing of the Buddha he has done so far, Constans talks of a liaison between the Buddha and Ambapali. Ven. Ananda is supposed to have seen them together thus “he had found Siddhartha and Ambapali late one night behind a grove of Banyan trees. She was kissing his lips and staring into his eyes with accomplished satisfaction.” (page 42 B.W.)
I like to compare another work of fiction on a similar theme by Sunity Bevee- “Yasodhara”. Her forward says “my one aim... to form a vivid picture of a Princess born in the purple of royalty and wedded to the heir of a great kingdom who became a saint... the Princess Yasodhara.... accepted the Prince Siddhartha as her hearts love and Lord.... the new cult demanded self-abnegation, suffering and penance... yet princess Yasodhara... foreseeing it's inner meaning accepted the Lord Buddha as her saviour... Her great love as wife became purified and perfected by the teachings and practice... and Yasodhara shines through the ages as a perfect wife, mother, queen and saint...” After the enlightenment when Prince Siddhartha returned to the palace as the Buddha to see his relatives, Yasodhara refused to meet him in the general assembly. Instead “Buddha entered the room, and Yasodhara fell on his feet and sobbed like a little child. Oh! My Lord...why dids't thou leave me...” (page 40 Yaso Sunity Bevee) When King Suddhodhana tried to explain how simply she lived, sacrificing all her luxuries of food, clothing etc. the Buddha answered “Maharaj, I know what Yasodhara was to me, I understand her grief... we had met in a former birth... I loved her much...” (page 41 S.B.) She begged to become a Bhikkhuni but the Buddha said “Rahul is too small, you must do your duty to your child first” (page 1 S.B.) “It was during the second visit of Buddha Gautama that the Holy One heard that his disciples suspected Yasodharas virtue. They said little Rahul was not the Buddha's son. On hearing this... Buddha told.... Yasodhara was a perfect and virtuous woman and he would prove it... On the appointed morning Buddha sat with his disciples, and Yasodhara was summoned.....” (page 41 S.B.) “Yasodhara gave a precious stone ring to her little son Rahul, saying “Rahul my son, take this ring and put it on your fathers finger. The ring was one Prince Siddhartha had always worn. The little seven year old boy walked straight up to the Buddha and placed the ring on his finger. All... who had doubted Yasodhara.... with clasped hands asked pardon...” (page 42 S.B.) Again Yasodhara wanted to be a Bhikkhuni. But Buddha said “Not yet. Rahul is too young... Some days after...Yasodhara sent Rahul to the Buddha “My child go to him and say: My father... every father gives his treasure to his son. I wish to inherit thine.” So he became a Bhikkhu as the Buddha felt that the spiritual inheritance was better than the worldly one. “Looking towards the palace Buddha Deva saw Yasodhara standing at the window and he divined that the childs' desire had been engendered by her...” (page 42 S.B.) “After little Rahul became a Bhikkhu, Yasodhara asked the Lord Buddha if the time had come when she too might enter the order and this time her wish was granted... for Yasodhara life now held a higher meaning... again their souls were reunited, but not in earthly love... her love was pure and she was able to enter into a greater love and happiness... with her husband.... Here was a true spiritual union.” (page 43 S.B.) At the age of 78 years she says: “All contaminations of the heart have I been purified of. Repeated births are not mine... I have now won purity. All karma of the past have I annihilated. Present and future karma have been consumed, I therefore now worship Thy blessed feet.” (page 47 S.B.) Though this too is a book of fiction, Sunity Bevee does not deviate from the truth in order to prove a point or to subscribe to her own imaginative rendering of the story. Her choice of words and the emotion expressed in elegant, refined language brings a refreshing novelty to a two thousand year old romance.

Another writer- Radhika Abeysekera- writing on Yasodhara in her book “Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha” says: “the relationship between Yasodhara and Prince Siddhartha was long and deep-rooted... she aspired to be his consort and help mate and support him actively in his quest for Buddha-hood.” (chapter 4 Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha). Excerpts from Ranjini Obeysekera's “Yasodhara” are especially meaningful today for they clearly demonstrate Buddha's compassionate and non-discriminatory attitude towards women in general and Yasodhara in particular. “The Theri Yasodhara.... went to see the Buddha and said... Great Hero I apprise you- when I was travelling through Samsara if I have done you any wrong, forgive me.” The Lord said “There is no woman comparable to Yasodhara in this entire Buddha era. This revered person is one who has the knowledge to see uncountable eons of past lives. She has acquired the Divine Eye and Divine Ears and has the unique and special powers of sight and hearing. She has extinguished all defilements. She has arrived at the summit of the Three Kinds of knowledge. She has super-normal powers not second to the Buddha.... She went to the nunnery and that night attained Nirvana they said... Later the Buddha with a host... performed the funeral rights... the Buddha... had a Stupa constructed... offered flowers and lights...” (page 79 Yaso Ranjini Obeysekera). Buddha himself declares the greatness of Yasodhara Theri and also says that her powers are similar to his, which is a great compliment, appreciation and admiration of all her sacrifices and love and shows the high degree of eminence in which he held her. In Obeysekera's “Yasodhara” we see the actual final realization of a glorious life. Yasodhara, whose life has inspired many women throughout the world, stimulating many poetic and artistic creations, is sainted by the Buddha himself.
The Buddhist world would condemn this book of Gabriel Constans for it's resonance of evil and unscrupulousness. The message it conveys to the non-Buddhist's would be detrimental, for they may not be able to trust or have confidence in the Buddha or his Teachings. Perhaps, the sole purpose in writing a book of this nature may be to achieve such an outcome. One thing is clear, and that is Gabriel Constans has committed much “bad kamma” for himself and all those who may gain or benefit from the proceeds of selling this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment