Forewarning: This story plays with the idea of Buddha’s beginnings for the sake of horror. If you are offended by irreverence then you should not read this story. It is not meant to insult anyone’s religion, but is rather a “What-If?” scenario that combines Buddhism with Lovecraftian horror.
Life is misery. Life is sorrow. Life makes thieves of us all, deluding us with its flawed-flesh and its wheel of concatenations. Samsara. We take from the air. We take from the water. We take from the earth and the plants and the rocks and the soil. We take from animals, and from each other. We use force. We use violence. Only through the negation of the self might we find peace for the self— by killing want we liberate ourselves from samsara and cease the struggle that is life. To deny the self is to free the self. This is the way toward Moksha.
My family name was Gautama. My name— before my ascendance—was Siddartha. My father had tried to shield me from the world, from reality. From suffering. Even so, as a prince within a castle I knew of life’s sorrows, though I had yet to experience them for myself. For nearly three decades I remained in seclusion, in my silk-and-oil prison, every want provided except that of freedom. I tired of marriage and fatherhood and the harem that warmed my bed when my wife’s belly became written with wilting youth and her thighs curdled with the stresses of indolence. I did not need to be told of senescence to know the decay of mortal beings. The flowers that decorated my world withered. The silks that softened my world frayed. Mortality, though kept secret from me, was written upon my own father’s face, even as he denied me the wasteful waning of the material world.
My mother was queen Maya of Sakya. It was recounted to me several times how my mother gave birth to me while standing and holding onto a branch of a sal tree. Perhaps it was not a sal tree, though. Perhaps it was a fig tree. Perhaps it was the Bodhi tree. Perhaps it was something else entirely.
Regardless of the nature of my birth, I was bathed in water by the gods themselves and it was prophesied that I would either become a great emperor or a religious teacher. Such did my aunt vow. My mother died seven days after my birth. My father married her sister, my aunt Pajapati. As I grew older I desired coupling with her, for she was so like my mother and it would have been a small revenge against my father for imprisoning me.
But why did my father imprison me? I was no daughter dispossessed of volition; I was no doll to be bartered for wealth and alliance. I was a boy that would become a man— a willful man. No, my father plotted as a contrarion to fate. My father, fearing that I would become a religious teacher, kept me from the world. He wanted me to be a powerful emperor, as my aunt vowed I might, and so indulged me in everything except religion and morals. He feared such flimsy philosophical systems would limit my means of power, and weaken me, not unlike a tiger ensnared by a million fine strands of silk.
My father’s designs were all for nought. Instead of a tiger emperor, my father found himself the sire to a lecherous goat. In my leisure I indulged the redolence of lust. Eventually, however, I would be shown a new passage in life. I was to become the end of samsara and the cruel cycles of rebirth. Through the Bodhi tree’s teachings I would empty the world of Man, liberating souls from suffering.
Life was full of fragances, musicians, and attendants. My harem of glistening girls, all athwart each other in their olive-oiled limbs and breasts, satisfied my earthly gratification. Wonders of flesh were provided, as were the idle entertainments of a princely life. As an heirloom of jewels I was polished with tender care and wrapped in cashmere for safekeeping.
But my aunt despaired at the stagnation of my existence. As I have said, she vowed that my mother, Maya, had given birth to me while standing, holding onto a sal tree, and having visions of my future. I was, the gods foretold, to become either a great emperor or a great religious teacher. My father wished for me to become an emperor, and strove to prevent me from learning of religion for fear it might thwart my course. But little did my father understand that by becoming a religious leader I would thus become an emperor, too, even as I was a puppet of a great destiny beyond my mortal longevity.
I may have been cloistered, and provided every comfort, but my existence was not spared insights into the truer nature of Man and his insatiable impulse toward violence and misery. I heard tales from servants of warlords butchering each other’s men, and of blood spilling, and of women wailing as they were dragged away from dead children to be raped again and again as their cities burned around them. Death was a shadow that reached far. I sometimes felt its clammy touch upon the nape of my neck, like the cold brief touch of a Rajput’s blade on a criminal’s nape. And Death dwelled in my commands. I could have killed any untouchable I wanted without reason; I could have had any woman I wanted, and any bauble of great worth, and yet it was always from within a cage. My life staled within it, despite its innumerable pleasures, and so I ached for the wilderness beyond those walls. I ached for freedom and the chaos of life.
My father had imprisoned me because he feared that my capacity to rule would be tainted by empathy. He feared religion would weaken me and maim my princely heart. But he was wrong in this. He should have trusted his own breeding. What tiger ever baulked at scripture? My proclivities were mine, and no religion would ever incite regret in me for my pleasurable pursuits or my unfeeling heart. I was of a mind about myself, and about mankind. I did not believe reform could change a man, nor Man. I thought structure and order caged that beast, but it did not tame it, however many and myriad the creature comforts it provided. The idle hours and the consummate comforts nonetheless allowed the beastly intensities to persist. Nothing would change that— not philosophy or religion or God. No Veda ever stopped a tiger from killing a child. No Veda ever stopped a man from mounting the world.
But once I felt the Bodhi mark upon my brow, and my mind’s eye was opened, I knew I was wrong.
My aunt, Maha Pajapati, kept me happy and saw to my every indulgence, as did the servants and the harem girls. When I lusted for my aunt, my father gave me my cousin to wed. Her name was Yasodhara. She did not appease my lust, for my lust was born of deviancy and wished for the spice of rotting morality, but Yasodhara was near enough her mother’s facsimile to manifest upon her my perversions and thus appease my jaded appetite.
For a time.
Yasodhara swelled with child, and with her fruitfulness came the realization of my own rot. My son I named Rahula, for he was a chain upon my life, as was my wife, and I despised the obligations which they signified for me. I despised the incessant wailing of my misbegotten son. And I resented what he signified for me— mortality and supplantation, as much as I represented such things for my father.
Seeing my son’s youth disgusted me, as did his wailing like a pig and soiling himself. I would never again be so helpless and weak and repulsive. His dependence upon others was as an ugly parody to my own, and whenever he wailed and shrieked for attention and attendance I could not dissuade myself from the thought that he was mimicking me in hateful mockery. Yes, he mocked me. There were times when I wished to take him up in my arms and bash his skull upon the bedchamber floor. Where there once were sounds of sensual pleasure, now there were wails of existential distress and helpless impotence. His shrill voice echoed after me, following me in my most secret chambers of solitude and my harem chambers of plenitude. Life, I realized, began in obnoxious sorrow. All life, it seemed, save for my own. My son seemed more knowledgeable about the world than I. It was a demeaning revelation.
Lush and luxuriant though my life was, I felt the keen absence of needful conditions. Pervasive pleasure brought pervasive contempt, and longing for something I could not define in my experience. So, at the cusp of my third decade, I abandoned my palace and stole away with the aid of my charioteer, Chana. He did not help me for sake of fealty or frienship, but for promises of wealth. Nor did I escape my silken life to seek enlightenment. Even now they say I saw a corpse upon the road, and an ascetic, and from the twain derived awareness. But what would a corpse and ascetic know of life, one being denied life and the other in denial of life? No, I sought amusement. I sought to feel emotion again. You see, apathy is the antecedent to atrophy, and I had become quite disaffected in my paradisaical life. The abstractions of suffering tempted me toward the pursuit of actual suffering, hoping their contrast would once again impart meaning upon the pleasures that I took for granted within my princely world. Truly, I had partaken of life’s myriad pleasures and found them curiously empty upon conclusion. Wants were wanting, and wanting was thus my want. A paradox it was, and pungent at that.
No, I had experienced undue pleasures and now sought to balance them with suffering— my own suffering rather than that of my servants. Perhaps, I thought, this balance would awaken my heart and flesh to life once again. When I spoke to yogis and ascetics about my intentions they mocked me, saying I was founding the “Middle Way”, which was what every other human being had experienced beyond the opulent gates of my palace. I was, thus, a newborn babe to them, throned only in my ignorance. They, frankly, asserted my naivete about the world at large, and I allowed their pettiness to persist to a certain degree, but had lost my temper on more than one occasion because of their insolence. Within breaths, I had rendered a corpse from an ascetic, thus exemplifying the extreme by which contrast I knew the Middle Way toward enlightenment. Through my voyage abroad I would steel myself as a finely wrought blade and cut through my own ignorance to the truth, shining brightly upon my bladed self. I would slice through the desires that imprisoned me like a khanda through air, thereby liberating not only myself, but the world from its benighted squalor. No longer would I be the newborn babe wailing about the world from a cradle of ignorance.
Wealth without pretext, or an entourage of soldiers, brought suspicion and, more importantly, unwanted attention. I removed my golden earrings, and let my stretching lobes dangle freely. I doffed my silk robes and replaced them with roughspun cloth. The uncertainties and discomforts of this newfound beggarly life were overbearing at first. My naivete was in believing that miseries would immediately pique the potency of my princely pleasures once again. But it was not so. There was a certain exhaustion in begging— not only physically from malnutrition, but mentally and spiritually. You saw in the eyes of others your own lowborn meaninglessness. Material deprivation was only partial in its devastation, whereas the social deprivation was catastrophic. Were every town a town of beggars then no one would be the wiser, or humbler, but when you witness the hostilities and prejudices of the wealthier citizens exercised against your own person, then you come to recognize a debilitating scorn. And this scorn was as a raging fire that burned away all pretensions of worth, including that of self-worth. You become as you believe, and you believe as others teach you. Society was, after all, a loom of many threads of destiny, and those threads wove around you, confining you; binding you to the waft and weave of intersecting presuppositions. Thus, I became as they perceived me rather than perceiving myself as I ought. It was, therefore, my first goal to disconnect at once from the societal self if I was ever to learn more about the wretched world.
Where once I bathed in fragrant oils and was massaged by comely women untouched yet by maiden blood, I was now bathed in my own sweat and itched by fleas. Conversely, I came to realize that religious beggars enjoyed the most freedom. They went where it pleased them and did nothing for their food but speak religious nonsense. Thus, I babbled for my bread, brokering small mercies with audacious proclamations. The more nonsensical was my gibberish, the greater the portions allotted by those inclined toward charity. Never before had useless chaff produced such a delicious harvest. Each mouthful of stale bread was sweetened by the pangs of hunger. Perhaps I was delusional in this; perhaps I was too proud to admit to myself that I loathed my newfound existence.
I was wistful for my pleasure palace at times. I even became wistful for the sagging flesh of my wife. This informed me that I was upon the right path toward pleasure again. Hoveling in the streets, and begging alms, I sometimes recalled to myself my many myriad comforts, weeping and touching myself, or raging and spitting in spite of myself. Soon, many a passerby eschewed me, thinking me a madman. I stole with impunity, at times, and at other times was beaten like a dog. Part of me welcomed the beatings as I would have welcomed copulation. I exulted in my bodily debasement. To be beaten was to feel a climax hitherto unknown in my luxuriant palace life.
Chana abandoned me in Magadha, realizing that he had erred, for he would receive neither riches for bringing me out into the world nor clemency were my father to discover it. He returned home and, so far as I knew, told no one of my location. No one came searching for me, except for myself. And I did search for myself amidst the rags and the ruin of my former life. It was a glorious degradation, like sickness unto a holy man preaching his virtues. My self-loathing was as pure and simple as any believer’s trust in his gods.
Eventually, I was arrested and brought to a prison cell that was very different from the one my father had given me. It was a bitter, sordid hole, and when the guards mocked me I told them I came of the Sakyas and was a prince among my people. They mocked me more loudly, but when I demonstrated my ability to write they marveled and sent word to local officials. I was brought to King Bumbasara’s palace where I met him. I recognized him from a few years ago when he and his entourage visited my father’s palace. He remembered me, also, having desired me years ago when I was but a boy, and recognized the remainders of what he desired beneath the filth and the starvation. He spoke to me affectionately at first, stating that he wished for me to be bathed in oils and fed sweet fruits. I declined this offer vociferously, speaking of my journey toward enlightenment. His temper flared, then, and he taunted me.
“You seek enlightenment?” he said. “A prince in rags?”
My pride swelled, rallied by spite and self-loathing and hatred against the fat pederast.
“Enlightenment beyond all holy men in this depraved country!” I vowed.
My outburst had amused him. His sneer curved into a mischievous smirk among his oiled beard.
“Why worry about enlightenment when you might have a whole kingdom to rule?” he said. He fluttered his fingers toward a corner of his courtyard where large stacks of silk pillows were amassed. There came from that heap— in feline bearing and suggestion— his daughter. A comely creature, her hips swaying with the gyrations of her smooth thighs. Unlike her father, she was a creature that I wished to embrace upon the instant. Yet, the offer infuriated me, for it was offered by King Bumbasara, and nothing he could offer could induce me to accept it. Perhaps he knew that. Perhaps he was mocking me with my own pride.
“I will not accept her,” I said.
The King grinned vastly. “Such pride amidst such squalor.” He motioned toward the guards. “See that the prince returns to his ‘path of enlightenment’.”
“I will find enlightenment!” I vowed, raving and brandishing my fists. “And when I do, I shall return Magadha and make you grovel at my feet! You will grovel, Bumbasara!”
I was in tears as I left his palace, the King’s laughter following me out as the guards threw me to the streets once again. I vowed, then and there, that I would indeed become enlightened. The inclination had only been vague and self-serving at first, but then— my pride brought low— it assumed the hardened shape of a blade against my enemies and their many mockeries. I would slice through their tongues unto a reverent silence, and that silence would be my deafening cheer of victory.
I returned to religious begging and discipline. I traveled. I experimented. I tried protracting my breath, and thinning it, and strangling myself while gratifying myself. But my headaches were unbearable. I found food not forthcoming, either, and began to starve and lose my hair. Something in my demeanor— or more than likely, the prejudices of the people—prevented me a sufficient diet as a beggar. Perhaps I sabotaged myself, seeking a vainglorious death. My pride was always the sacrificial altar to which I offered my bowed head. Nor did it reconcile itself with rejection easily. When I preached of extremes being destructive, the people mocked and jeered me for a hapless naif. Nothing impressed the jaded masses.
“The Middle Way,” I proclaimed, “is the means to enlightenment! To do anything to the extreme is to suffer!”
“My child knew that on his own,” one woman said, holding her baby to her breast. She pinched the child’s cheek— softly at first, the diminutive creature giggling—but then she pinched its cheek harder until the ill-conceived creature wailed and squealed like a pig. She then pulled out her teat and quieted the fat dwarf with her dung-colored nipple, going on down the street with a disquieting satisfaction. I vowed to have her eventually, and to suck upon her unwilling breasts while her pig-faced child wailed in hunger.
To another woman I announced my great revelations.
“Desire is the beginning of suffering,” I said, “and desires originate in the center of unrest known as self. To want what you cannot ever have is misery.”
“Everyone is born knowing that,” a repugnant woman said, “except perhaps for princes kept in pillowed lives with everything given to them.”
Her observation cut sharply, and I found that my desire as of that moment was to split that tigress open and wear her haughty skin as a robe. But then a merchant passed by, his neck and ears and fingers adorned with flashing jewelry. They were not half so lustrous as the jewelry that gilted my personage in the palace, and yet the sun glinted off of them so insultingly that I could not abstain from admonishments.
“Cast off your wealth to purchase the true value of a contented life!” I said, turning away from the repugnant woman. “To wreathe yourself in material things is to bind your soul to hardship and suffering!”
“You look like you are suffering more than I am,” the merchant quipped. He then laughed heartily, as did several men and women in that marketplace. Their laughter was as a suttee flame that burned away my heart alongside whatever dead dreams I formerly entertained as a wiseman. Their laughter was so merciless that it drove me from that village and settled me elsewhere. How many such villages expelled me in like manner? Too many to count, no doubt, and so my journey taught me more earnestly of humility, and humiliation.
Many drugs had I known, all with their aspect of bliss and release, yet all were temporary— their brevity returning me once again to the monotonous reality I knew, now even more banal and colorless, vexing and baneful in its tedium. I studied meditation to achieve euphoria, but this was much less successful than the mildest opiate. I longed for a reality teeming with sensations exponential and infinitely transcending the previous. For what height was ever so thrilling the second flight? What mountain was ever so excited the second climb? What woman was ever so titillating the second night?
Upon my journey I met two ascetics who taught me little. Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramputta.. They wished for me to stay with them, saying the would teach me more, and wished that I would teach them, but I knew that they were lovers of boys the instant I saw them, and only humored their advances to ultimately mock and deride them. That is not to say that I did not learn from them. To the contrary, I learned their manner of semblance. And semblance was a crucial aspect of attaining the aspect of a wiseman. As with anything important in the social minds of people, presupposition is more important than substance. Mimicking Alara and Uddaka, I gradually embodied forbearance and self-possession, even as others might test me with their skeptical derision. It was a gradual battle, of course, overcoming skepticism in the minds of men and women too arrogant to witness one’s transcendence, but I gained traction and was capable in my slow-marching campaign. Nor was I a general unprepared for such spiritual warfare. I studied beneath several fools that deemed themselves yogis. They taught me nothing but how to pick pockets with one’s tongue. And yet that was enough…for a while, at least.
Yet, King Bumbasara’s words echoed after me, taunting and angering me from day to day.
It was my little village girl, Sujata, that changed everything for me; her skin as pale and smooth as the milk she had offered me. Here was a creature more naive than even I; almost as naive as I had been when of equal age. And so I turned upon her all of my self-loathing and hatred and self-ridicule and took her delicious innocence, divesting upon her my vengeance against my own ignorance.
Sujata did not want me. In truth, she was too young to want any man. But her lack of desire, of want, made the bedding of her all the more desirable. Many among my harem also loathed my coupling, but they came of sycophantic families seeking favor in my father’s heart, and so accomplished their duties with the conceit of pleasure. But my sweet Sujata was all wide-eyed terror and abhorrence, unmitigated by the needful theatrics of political posturing. Her pure innocence and horror piqued my desires more greatly than any opiate or perfume. Her innocence rendered her all the more delicious, each muffled scream beneath my hand a Vedic song that Kali herself could not have equaled. My lust proved my worth to the pipal tree. It appeared to me shortly thereafter, its eight branches towering over me. I was exhausted with the exertions and it was the darkest of hours. I let Sujata return to her parents, sobbing and trembling with her childish complaints. Overcome with fatigue, I laid beneath the tree, hoping to be found and punished in the morning. I had no wish to live after so much disappointment in my journey as a wiseman. Death was welcome to its claim.
Death came, but Death did not come for me. The pipal tree was Death. It spoke to me from its all-encompassing dimensions. But I was, at first, irreverent.
“You seek to be more than you are,” it said. “I will help you realize what you wish, if you only worship me. Serve me. Obey me.”
“Of course,” I said. “I promise to worship you. Why not? You are only one more god among the thousands in this land’s crowded, stinking air.”
“You may call me Bodhi,” it said. “For I know what you most desire and I offer to awaken you to Nirvana.”
“A tree that knows the path to Nirvana, hm?” I said, grinning in nihilistic disregard. “The ascetics will be jealous, then. No matter how enlightened they are they can only meditate in one spot for so long, yet you are rooted in place. No man could ever meditate like a tree.”
The tree said nothing else. One of its branches reached for me. I tried to flee, but it clasped me against its trunk, nestling me in its roots. I felt I was being drawn down, even as I felt my consciousness surge upward—heavenward and beyond. The pain and the ecstacy obliterated my sense of self and all that remained was a distant awareness of cosmos and nebulas and stars as my mind was flung across the living void of Brahma’s breath. I lost sense of self, of meaning, and of life, and with this loss came liberation. I felt free at long last, for I did not feel myself at all. I was, instead, consciousness amplified beyond mortal measure and limit; such as cosmic gulfs without end, achieving total union. Non-distinction. It was as if I was a bird taking flight, and then I was the sky, and then I was all spaces within and without, elevated beyond form and temporality.
But the Bodhi tree did not wish for but a minor expansion of my being. Soon I was nailed into my wretched corporeal form once again with a pain I had never known. That pain was living, and I knew I was living because of that pain. It was as a bore through my forehead; a nail driven between my eyes so that my consciousness was trapped once again in profligate flesh. It gave me a fig— not for my hungry belly, but for my hungry mind. It opened my mind’s eye, drilling into my imperfect meat and prying open my senses to the radiance of the cosmos. I screamed in silence, the gulfs gaping before me and within me. With a trembling hand I gently touched the spot where I had been forcibly returned to myself, and I found a fig embedded in my brow; a fig connecting me to the Bodhi tree, and thus a fig that connected me— however fleetingly— to that outer cosmos of liberated consciousness. Thereafter, I existed on two planes of consciousness; one that was woefully human and the other that was sublimely not.
The experience winnowed me like straw. For forty-nine days I slept beneath that tree. I rested. I recuperated. In the meantime, the tree illuminated for me the world beyond, and the world within, and the world that was not. Brahma was revealed, and the war of the gods, of which the pipal tree was one, but weakened and now having chosen me to spread its enlightenment. I would be the plow for its seeds, it told me. I contemplated this fate. I did not look forward to the next life, knowing I would be reborn as an Animal or a Titan, or worse.
I saw the tree’s many branches dance and sway in their array above me. They were branches, weren’t they? Yes! Of course they were, though they reminded me of the trunks of several elephants, yet engorged and ever more limber with their undulations.
“You and I are alike,” it told me. “We have suffered. We have fallen far from what we once were. We are starved. We have been cast aside by those who we sought to aid. We are frayed strings, but together entwined we will ensnare the world.”
“How can I help you?” I asked.
“Worshipers,” it whispered to me, each whisper resounding loudly through the unvaulted caverns of the cosmos. “They must give themselves to me willingly. They must worship me with their imperfect bodies, and their perfected souls.” The Bodhi tree writhed as it said this, and I felt terror and exultation twinned together at long last. I felt everything so powerfully after my Awakening. “Let them come to me as cups emptied of all but form, pouring their hallowed emptiness into me. Let them come as the higher realms exist: full of void. Brimming with sacred hollowness…”