A continuation of thought following are two prior posts on Sinxay and parami. Towards the end of our retelling of Sinxay, Phanya Kousarat finally meets his son, Sinxay, but fails to convince him to return to Muang Pengchan to become king. This is when his sister Soumountha seizes the moment and makes a moving plea to Sinxay.
While Soumountha provides Sinxay with numerous reasons to return to Pengchan and become king, she emphasizes that most importantly Sinxay needs to open his heart to the dhamma.
“You need to come back to the palace in Pengchan to inherit the kingdom. Pengchan is a Buddhist kingdom where you will be able to continue to earn parami for the long future.”
Sinxay, listening carefully to his aunt, happily agrees to her reasoning, gratefully relenting to his father’s request. As we wrote at the beginning of this chapter, Pangkham is masterful in weaving symbolic evidence that Sinxay is a bodhisatta into the story. Nowhere is this communicated more clearly than when Soumountha tells Sinxay that Pengchan is a Buddhist kingdom where he will be able to continue to earn parami for the long future.
This is Sinxay’s primary work as a bodhisatta. In Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, Edward Conze writes:
“But why do the Bodhisattvas, once they have taken the vow to obtain the supreme enlightenment, take such a long time to obtain it? Because the supreme enlightenment is very difficult to obtain: one needs a vast accumulation of knowledge and merit (by earning parami), innumerable heroic deeds in the course of three immeasurable kalpas.”
This culminated, as we discussed in our Buddhism chapter, in Siddhartha being able to summon Nang Talinee as his witness while battling Mara, and it’s here that we see one of the major differences between Theravāda Buddhism as practiced by the Thai and Lao, and Mahāyāna and Tantrayāna Buddhism, as practiced in northern Asiatic countries such as Nepal, Tibet, China, and Japan.
Theravādan Buddhists believe that when the Buddha recounted his previous lives, he referred to himself as a bodhisatta, a life where he was working on his own enlightenment, inferring that he was unenlightened as a bodhisatta and his goal in mastering the parami was to gain enlightenment.
Mahāyāna Buddhists, unlike the Theravādans, believe anyone can become a bodhisatta, as is recounted in The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Three,
“The bodhisattva—the renowned ideal of Mahāyāna Buddhism—is not a god or deity but a way of being we can all aspire to . . . Those who take the bodhisattva vow make one simple commitment: to put others first, holding nothing back for themselves . . . It is a statement of willingness to give up one’s own well-being, even one’s own enlightenment, for the sake of others. And a bodhisattva is simply a person who lives in the spirit of that vow, perfecting the qualities known as the six paramitas (perfections)—generosity, discipline, patience, exertion,meditation, and transcendental knowledge—in his effort to liberate beings.”
Needless to say Sinxay as a bodhisatta is honorable, and as the son of Phanya Kousarat, honors his duty to his father, despite his having been banished from the palace when he was only several days old. He, unlike his six younger brothers, is willing to make the necessary sacrifices and heroic gestures in pursuit of fulfilling his father’s request. This is in stark contrast to his six younger brothers who covet the fame, glory, and power that would be Sinxay’s if he was successful in rescuing his aunt. The six brothers, although yearning to be acclaimed as heroes, cowered at the thought of actually doing anything heroic. They were unable to comprehend, as Joseph Campbell writes, that the hero can only be heroic when “we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self preservation,” because that’s when “we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”
And it’s definitely worth repeating and worth thinking about, as Campbell writes above,
“The hero can only be heroic when “we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self preservation,” because that’s when “we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”