Swimming to the other side

I woke up this morning thinking about one of my favorite Jataka tales.  These tales are like Aesop’s Fables for South Asia.  In the Buddhist versions, they are tales of the lives of the Buddha before he became the Buddha.

The story that came to mind because of recent events in my life is that of Prince Mahajanaka, who became the Buddha in a later life.  It is one of the longer Jataka tales and takes the Prince through many adventures.  The incident that I was thinking about occurs early on in his adult life as he was traveling back to reclaim the throne from which his father had been driven by his uncle.

The ship on which the Prince was traveling sank in a storm, but the Prince jumped overboard and started swimming. He swam for seven days before Manimekhala, protector of the oceans, saw him and asked,

“Who are you, struggling, out of sight of the shore in the middle of the ocean?”

The Prince said,

“I am swimming because I have made a vow to keep struggling, even out of the sight of shore, in the middle of the ocean.”

Manimekhala asked,

“What is the point of the effort if the deed cannot be achieved, is fruitless and exhausting, and has death as the result?”

To which the Prince replied,

“Whoever considers the deed ever unattainable will not protect his own life; he will know this if he gives up. Do you not see the results of my deeds? for others have sunk; I am crossing and I can see you near me. So I will struggle according to my ability and strength and go towards the shore of the ocean; I will do what is to be done.”

I included this story in the CaringBridge blog that I kept during Laura’s illness.  It was towards the end of her first round of radiation treatment, when they were upping the doses each day and she was getting sicker and sicker.  But we kept going.

Today, Monday, Labor Day, I feel like Prince Mahajanaka, confirmed in just carrying on.  I’ve been able to return to my apartment from which I was flooded out last Thursday.  The apartment is ok because it’s on the 14th floor.  Electricity, water, elevators, and Wifi are all working. The refrigerator is on but mostly empty, because the landlord had vendors empty out all food that might spoil.  Luckily I had been able to buy some food when Gale let me use her car yesterday.  (She’s off on a two week trip to Alaska so she’s missing all this fun.)  While I still cannot get down to the garage to check on my car, I was told by staff that it was flooded halfway up the door.  So it’s probably totaled.

Compared to all the other people, like those up the river in Manayunk, whose homes and possessions have been ruined in the flood, I have little to complain about.  Like Prince Mahajanaka, “I will do what is to be done.”

The title of this entry comes from one of my favorite songs, written by Pat Humphries, whom I heard sing with her duo Emmas’s Revolution at the Poor People’s Campaign rally on the mall in D.C.  “Swimming to the other side,” and the song they sang at the rally, “Keep on moving forward,” express not only the determination of Prince Mahajanaka, but also celebrate helping each other the way that Manimekhala did by picking up the Prince and carrying him to his destination, and as family and friends have supported me these last few days.


One Comment

  1. I am so sorry you were so affected by the storm and hope things improve very soon. Thank you for mentioning this tale as it is especially meaningful to me at this point in my life. Take good care and be well.

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