This week in the religion, gender, and sexuality class I’m helping teach, we read an account of the Buddhist creation myth. One of the fun things about teaching is having a chance to learn about stuff that is completely new to me. At least in the humanities and social sciences, I think this is virtually always true, even if you’re teaching in your own research field. But it’s even truer when half the course is really outside your area of expertise. So this Buddhist origin story, the Agganna Sutta, was all new to me.
And since I’m so not an expert on it, I mostly just want to offer a modest appreciation of its beauty.
There comes a time . . . when sooner or later this world begins to re-evolve. When this happens, beings who had deceased from the World of Radiance, usually come to life as humans. And they become made of mind, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, traversing the air, continuing in glory, and remain thus for a long, long period of time.
(This is from the version I read for class. Here’s the whole Agganna Sutta but in a slightly less beautiful translation.)
Such gorgeous language. Feeding on rapture! Self-luminous! Imagine such an existence.
The catch is that if you’ve got self-luminance, you don’t get to have a body. Later on, as the earth solidifies from liquid to a sweet milky substance to plants (a nifty evolution story), the formerly radiant beings grow more solid. As they solidify, they come to know cravings. And so, although there’s no Eve to take the fall for the Fall in this story, sex becomes a polluting force. (Buddhism has its own issues with women and the flesh, as it turns out.)
But even so. I would like to be self-luminous and traverse the air for just an hour, as long as I didn’t have to stay in the World of Radiance. The funny thing is, I feel like I have my share of radiance in my own little earth-bound life with all its cravings, desires, and beauty.