Green Koans Case 20: Indra's Grass Stalk

Clark Strand

Green Koans with Clark Strand


CASE #20: Indra’s Grass Stalk
When the World-Honored One was walking with his assembly, he pointed to the ground with his hand and said, “This place is good for building a temple.” Hearing this, the god Indra took a stalk of grass and stuck it in the ground and said, “The temple has been built.” At this, the World-Honored One smiled.

World-Honored One: A traditional epithet for Shakyamuni Buddha. The term is inclusive, meaning that the Buddha is honored not only by human beings, but by all beings, including the planet itself.

A good place for building a temple
In former times the site for a new temple was always selected by the head of the community. Many considerations were involved in such a decision, including how close (or how far) the site lay to a major population center or source of political power. However, from the beginning, establishing a new temple in harmony with Nature was of paramount importance. In some traditions the soil was sifted to remove worms and insects so that these would not be killed in laying the foundation. In others, locations were selected for their natural beauty, or in accordance with one or more theories of geomancy, seeking one of the “power spots” thought to exist in various places across the planet.

The King of the Gods in Indian myth and religion, Indra became known as Sakra in Buddhism, where his role is usually to represent supra-human power or knowledge. In the sutras, he often confirms some aspect of the Buddha’s understanding or authority.

The most wide-spread plant type on Earth, grasses are the bedrock of our planetary ecosystem, existing in myriads forms in all but the driest or coldest climates. They grow on land and underwater, and—in the form of rice or other cereals—provide staple foods for most human cultures and the primary feed source for livestock.

What kind of temple is Shakyamuni talking about building if Indra is on the planning committee? It must be very, very big.

That’s why Indra designates the spot with a grass stalk. It’s the kind of joke that can only be shared between Big Minds. Ananda wouldn’t get it. Even Kashyapa would scratch his head. What kind of temple would be worthy of the World-Honored One’s dharma, if not the World itself?

What part of the world
Do you want to make holy
By calling it so?
Be careful what you ask for
With your capital campaigns!


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Dominic Gomez's picture

Mother Earth, Gaia, the Ground of Being. Nothing more real and solid than that upon which we stand and supports our weight. It frames our existence from beginning to end...from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It becomes us. We become it.
On the verge of his grand awakening, the gods of the earth warn the World-Honored One that he will be attacked by demons. But Shakyamuni assures them, saying that he will suppress these evil-doing gods with the power of his bodhi knowledge. At this point the demon king Mara appears and challenges Shakyamuni to put his words into action. Shakyamuni points to the ground with his fingers and calls upon the gods of the earth, who rise up and vanquish all demons (adapted from E. Dale Saunders). This simple gesture ("bhumisparsa mudra"), illustrated in many statues of Shakyamuni, also represents a buddha’s hard work and dedication in his or her role as a bodhisattva to assist all living beings in developing their own life condition of buddhahood.