An illustration of the wheel

An illustration of the wheel

Long ago in China lived the poet Sotoba, who speaks of his own experience in the poem:

In two years transferred through three provinces,
I grow old without regret:
Round and round like an ox
Step by step treading the old footmarks.

In a bare two years to be transferred three times is not pleasant, but it happens even to a man of rank so high. He was probably transferred as prefect. Gradually he grows older, but though not especially regretting that, he sees in his life the image of the ox, going round and round endlessly like that ox working at the grain mortar. In ancient times the farmer used an ox to work the Pulling at the it would pace round and round times without number, going round ceaselessly, never knowing any end. It is just like us—yesterday too we were happy and sad, laughing and crying, and the day before just the same. Ten years ago it was the same, twenty years ago the same. Step by step treading the old footmarks—our present actions are no more than retreading those old footsteps where we trod before.

But Sotoba’s point is not simply this being dragged along and nothing else. He is not the man just to be dragged helplessly along. What is this dragging? It was explained before how by the force of the past karma one becomes angry though resolved against it, how one’s cravings arise against one’s All are dragged by their past karma. Just to be dragged along means to be sorrowful when it is sorrow, to laugh when it is laughter, to be angry when it is anger, to clutch when it is craving. But there is noting in that sort of life, and it is not Sotoba’s point. He is hinting at a training which reveals a real meaning at each step. We ourselves, however we try not to be pulled, cannot help it. Still, I who yesterday was just pulled helplessly along, today come to hear of the Buddhist teaching, and now in each step as I am pulled I find a world of true illumination. In this is the glory of Mahayana Buddhism.


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