The Lion’s Roar

August 22, 2015

In recent days a spokesman for the Shiv Sena, either an Indian political party or a hindutva pressure group, or both, remarked that the true Hindus in his country should give a awe and fear inspiring “lion’s roar” in order to reclaim their rightful position as dominant (and domineering) religion.

Buddhists are aware of the saying “lion’s roar” and interpret this as the words uttered by someone, expecially Sakyamuni Buddha, who attained enlightenment.

Considering the Puránas, a collection of (pre-Hindu) Vedic scriptures of which the oldest go back to approx. 3000 BC, and the youngest, it is said, date back to Buddha’s era, being approx. 600 BC, we read descriptions of man-made and natural noises as being “lion’s roars”. And at the same time we realise how Buddha adopted this concept of “lion’s roar” and placed it in an entirely different context, no longer an environment of absolute violence and terror, but that of individual realisation of enlightenment within a framework of “ahimsa“, non-violence.

One of the Vedic, i.e. pre-Hindu Puránas describing the “exploits” of Hindu god Shiva deals with the sack of Tripura, the “three cities” east of Bengal and south of Assam.
Carl Olson’s translation (Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader, p 414) says, “At Táraka’s death, a ghastly lion’s roar rose up from the gana lord(1) along with the awful screech of conches. When Maya (litteraly ‘illusion’), standing nearby, heard the delighted shouts of the Pramáthas and the sound of their instruments, he said to Vidyumálin who stood at his side, “What is this great noise I hear coming from many mouths, sounding like the ocean roar? Tell me, Vidyumálin, what is the reason for these drums? The gana lords attack, and the bulls of elephants flee!” Snared by the hook of Maya’s words, that foe-conqueror Vidyumálin, blazing like the sun, went to the front of the battle with the gods and reported excitedly, “A hero as great as Yama, Varuna, Mahendra and Rudra, the brave Táraka who was the storehouse of your glory, the chief mainstay of every battle, has fallen to the ganas in the fight!”. When the Pramáthas saw Táraka crushed, his terrified eyes wide open and blazing with fire like the sun, their hair bristled with delight, and they began to roar like the clouds ….”

(1): gana = flock, troop, multitude, number, tribe.

I.e. a “lion’s roar” in the original Vedic sense of the word was a “ghastly sound”, comparable to the victorious screams of a great many soldiers, the roar of the ocean, the sounding of the (war)drums, the thunder among the clouds.

Of course the southern branch of Buddhism has the Cula-sihanáda Sutta (MN 11 – The Shorter Discourse on the Lion’s Roar) and the Mahá– ditto. In these teachings Buddha tells his monks how they should cultivate towards the moment in which they are rightly allowed to give a “lion’s roar”, a sihanáda in Pali, siiha meaning “lion”. There is however no mention of which words would indicate this “lion’s roar”, i.e. how by-standers could judge whether enlightenment had been achieved or not.
We have to turn our attention to the Dhamma-cakka-ppaváttana Sutta, the Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma/Dharma to find out a little more. At the end of this short teaching — short, but packed with every aspect of Buddha’s teachings — we read his own words:

(athāham bhikkhave, sadevake loke samārake sabrahmake sassamanabrāhmaniyā pajāya sadevamanussāya anuttaram sammāsambodhim abhisambuddho paccaññāsim.)

Monks, at that moment I could rightly claim that in this world with its deva(2), mārā brahma, sāmana and brahmin, with its princes, gods and men, that I had reached ultimate Buddhahood, that I had become a Buddha among Buddhas.

(Yāvañca pana me dassanam udapādi akuppā me cetovimutti,)

At that point I knew, I saw, the liberation of my heart/being (ceto) is undeniable,

(ayamantimā jāti natthidāni punabbhavoti.)

This is my last existence, after this there is no more coming-to-be.

(2) plural s ought to be omitted.

In this Buddhist understanding of the words “lion’s roar” there is not even a shadow of violence, not even a slight comparing yourself with others, but mainly a very personal, calm and lucid recognising of having obtained the highest fruit of cultivation in the Buddhist sense of the world.

Early Western translators of Vedic texts slighted the Buddhist canon by saying that it is unmanly, softish and not prepared to consider “the real world” of which war is considered to be an integral part.
But really, is ahimsa unmanly, unworldly, unrealistic, softish? Look at the so-called ISIS and judge for yourself. Will their himsa prevail and live on into a next century? Think not.