Mutiny on the Bounty: A Spiritual Remix
Posted by A Single Thread on May 31, 2016
Mutiny on the Bounty: A Spiritual Remix
by Rev. Yao Xiang Shakya
Ignorance gives birth to Mara.
Mara gives rise to armies.
Buddha speaks to Mara.
“Your first squadron is Sense Desires,
Your second is called Boredom, then
Hunger and Thirst compose the third,
And Craving is the fourth in rank,
The fifth is Sloth and Torpor
While Cowardice lines up as sixth,
Uncertainty is seventh, the eighth
Is Malice paired with Obstinacy;
Gain, Honor and Renown, besides,
And ill-won Notoriety,
Self-praise and Denigrating Others:
These are your squadrons Namuci.”
Access to Insight
If we are not in union with our Buddha nature, we are up against the squadrons of Mara. If we are unable to withstand these attacks, we are the pitiable in spirit and open to mutiny.
Most assuredly, the “me” struts about with words, acts of all sorts and mental mulling. We mull over our lot with stories that sink us more and more into a bog, whether it be a heavenly bog or hellish one. We go over and over the accumulations of mental composting, thinking we can turn the scraps of thought into gold. This propensity of the swaggering, blustery me is the way of suffering. It’s guaranteed. Every realm, from the hungry ghost to the deva realm is marked by this guarantee.
Any one of the armies mentioned above can lay us low and sink us into the swamp of selfishness, self-cherishing, self-ambitions, self-pride, self-hate and all the taints and traps of the self. We are poor in spiritual wealth and are very much like the mutineers on the notorious ship, the Bounty. We, like the mutineers, are spiritually pitiable.
Our inability to remain disciplined, which requires that we are trained enough to remain focused on our Buddha nature, leads to endless suffering for ourselves and others. We weaken with the attacks of boredom, craving, uncertainty, and self-praise. We fail to remain loyal to our spiritual authority within.
In the historical story of Lieutenant William Bligh, the commander of the legendary British ship, the Bounty, and his iniquitous Master’s Mate, Fletcher Christian, we may recognize our own ill-fated and dismal ruin in the sea battles of Mara’s troops. The sensual desirous mind is the lead battalion which can rock us to such a point we lose faith. We may find ourselves falling into rebellion when our sensual nature overwhelms our trained and skilled navigator; it is where we give way to the lusts of the world despite the presence of a seasoned commander. It requires an onslaught of the squadrons to dislodge our superior nature. We buckle much like Fletcher Christian. We mutiny. We refuse to obey the wisdom of discipline and mistake discipline and correction for the enemy.
The Bounty, the mutiny on the Bounty, misread as a romantic drama of swaggering love against a cruel commander, is a strong reminder of the heartaches that follow when we do not heed the way of disciplined wisdom. Bligh, a brilliant seaman, able and expert in sailing the unchartered waters of the late 1700’s, is portrayed and remembered as an evil and malevolent commander. No one wants to be compared to Bligh. Surely this portrayal is the fabrication of a romantic public. Bligh was a virtuoso of the sea. It is Fletcher Christian who, in the midst of unbridled lust, swamps not only him, but many of the crew and the ship itself. It is Fletcher Christian who is guilty of attempted murder by the very fact he forces 19 men into a small boat without provisions and navigational instruments some 3000 miles from land. Who is the bad guy here?
It’s those times when we rebel against the blockades of what we want. We may experience a correction, by life’s circumstances or another person who reproaches us, as an adversary rather than a caution or warning that we are getting close to an inner uprising by the strikes of Mara.
Spiritual insurgence may not happen to every spiritual aspirant but it does occur. If we are fortunate, we wash up on the shores of another chance to set sail for the true destination of a spiritual life. Whether we rebel or remain a disciple, whether we imagine the spiritual voyage as a cruise ship or the Bounty, the armies of Mara board with us. We can be sure of it. We must take notice and protect our spiritual treasures against the onslaught of sensual desire, boredom, craving, laziness, insolence, indolence, cowardice, malice, self-importance, and self-promotion.
The Bounty, was commissioned in 1787 by Britain’s Royal Navy to travel to Tahiti to acquire and transport breadfruit plants for commercial profit to the West Indies. Lt. William Bligh, the commanding officer, offered his former friend, Fletcher Christian, the position of Master’s mate, a post Christian eagerly accepted. With a crew of officers and able seamen, totaling 46, his Majesty’s ship, the Bounty set sail on 23 December, 1787 from Spithead, England to Tahiti.
Bligh, a young commander at age 32, was nevertheless a skilled and competent seaman. His prior experience included an impressive position with the then celebrated Captain Cook, the English explorer noted as discovering the Hawaiian Islands. Bligh was, as some accounts suggest, an ambitious man, who wanted to sail the Bounty around the most dangerous waters around Cape Horn. Historical records indicate Bligh on the outward bound trip did attempt the Horn and kept the ship in stormy, rampant seas in a 31 day attempt to clear it. Many historians propose Bligh’s insistent attempts to clear the Horn and his rumored vulgar language were the catalyst for the eventual mutiny. But the mutiny took place not on the outward bound trip to Tahiti, but on the return voyage back to England. It is also rumored that the men mutinied out of fear of a return trip around the Horn. This rumor is also quite unlikely. A capable and loyal Naval Officer such as Bligh would be unlikely to risk losing his cargo “the breadfruit plants,” on the return trip through the cold and stormy waters of the Horn where both crew and cargo were in grave danger of not surviving. Before leaving England, Bligh promised the very influential Joseph Banks that he could be assured of safe passage of hundreds of breadfruit plants.
Bligh, it seems, felt the long stay on Tahiti where men, long at sea, found a sailor’s paradise. Bligh’s crew “…learned that the stories that had filled their ears throughout the long, hard outward voyage—about the island’s beauty, its sexually uninhibited women, its welcoming people—were not tall tales, or sailor’s fantasy.” C. Alexander
It is on Tahiti, this island haven, where discipline, although upheld by Bligh, was undone during the crew’s 23 week stay. It is next to impossible to reconstruct with certainty the specific reasons why 19 men took control of the ship under the leadership of Fletcher Christian. No one can say for certain, but what we can say is that mutiny lends itself to those who suffer from the onslaught of Mara. The story lends itself to many spiritual explorations and reflects the powerful tug of desire that leads to mutiny, needless affliction and impulsive acts of the ego. This historical event reflects the truth of the Dharma. We must be single-minded and one-pointed in order to be buoyed up by whatever occurs in life as Dharma, otherwise rather than sustained by it, we will take it personally and sink into our own fabrications. The spiritual aspirant relies on single-minded training and discipline, because the material world is far too potent, as the mutineer, Fletcher Christian, finds out.
Historical records are not definitive, but what is definitive is, that the Bounty left on a mercantile voyage from England for Tahiti and did not return. The crew mutinied on the return trip to England. The mutiny took place after a long stay on Tahiti where the seamen lived among the Tahitians. On the journey home, Fletcher Christian led the mutiny.
In the Pacific far from land, Fletcher Christian forced some of the loyalists to remain on board while the mutineers compelled the remaining 18 of the loyal crew into a 23′ open launch with Bligh. Without charts of any kind, a quadrant, a pocket watch and meager provisions, Bligh navigated 3,618 nautical miles to the safe harbor of Timor. William Bligh landed in the Dutch colony of Timor 47 days later. He lost all but one crew member who was murdered by natives on an island where they attempted to obtain needed supplies. Bligh was trained, he knew the sea, navigation and how to plot a course and get this loyal band of sailors to dry land.
We, too, need certain basic skills to plot a course out of the clutches of internal squadrons of suffering. We need to know how to deal with mistakes, authority and the myriad encounters which challenge us. And we need to know how to distinguish what leads to more ignorance and suffering and what leads to liberation. But some of us get carried away and we mutiny. We begin to get too interested in the swamp, in lust and defiance. We resist authority. We promote our self-interest. We even gather others to join us. But like Fletcher Christian, who by all accounts was swept up in self-indulgence and dissipating discipline, we squander our life effort on pitiable, worldly fruits.
When we embark, and we do embark, on board a spiritual ship we drag along all kinds of things which we believe will help us make it to our destination. We pack our intellect, our physical strengths, wit, and toys of every sort and of course, let us not forget our sense of who we think we are. Often we pack our dreams. Foremost, but often carelessly, we jam somewhere in the bottom of the knapsack or stuffed and crammed in at the last minute what we are going to need in order to reach our destination.
We need our will, a will to train, to stay the course, to continue, to trust and to get up when we fall. It is this one thing, our will to find the truth that sustains, when every temptation under the blazing sun will challenge our decision to stay the course. We will want to give up if we have not unpacked our will and surrendered it to a greater source. Dreams, wishes, fantasies and desires collapse and surrender to the obstacles of such a journey when the will remains separated.
We may not be too savvy in recognizing what’s in the baggage until we run into storms. The storm itself may be our first encounter with the journey not going as we had planned. We may have walked the gangway thinking the journey will be nothing but blue sky and warm breezes sitting on deck chairs being served by solicitous wait staff. It’s reported that those who joined the crew of the Bounty enlisted in order to experience the sensual ecstasy of Tahiti. They did not consider the arduous voyage, the skills and will that would contain the fiery legions of Mara. We do not realize we have enlisted in a disciplined, demanding and a high venture. Many Zen temples use iconic warnings at the front gate alerting the newcomers of the “life and death” matter of Zen. Shadow guardians are stationed to ward off and show strength against any malevolent spirits. It is very important to pay attention to what type of venture we have signed on to and protect the mind from self-serving glories.
Those of us who have ridden the ocean waves for a time can spot the remarkable, earnestness of those joining the voyage on any one of the numerous ports-of-call who mistakenly believe this Zen ocean vessel is a cruise ship.
Even some of us who have been through many a storm can begin to hope for a cruise ship experience where luxury and comfort are the hallmarks. If we are able to stay aboard, we soon discover this ocean liner is more like an aircraft carrier where one is a crew member and not a touring passenger. When we are fortunate enough to recognize our rank as a crew member all sorts of possibilities open. But it may take some strong sea gales before we realize our place on this exquisite and working vessel. We may for a long time be a reluctant, recalcitrant and indolent passenger who hides out amid our mercenary ideas. In other words, we remain motivated by personal gain. But it is not to worry the ocean voyage itself finds those who are hiding selfishly in desires of personal profit. These passengers often make the same mistakes and secretly plot schemes of mutiny against the hardworking often exhausted and seasoned crewmates, jump ship at the next port or are thrown off by a commander with savoir-faire. Their schemes are endless from dalliances to seditions; they rarely go unnoticed.
It is, of course, true that the commander of such a large seagoing vessel can also be incompetent or be viewed by the crew as harsh, intolerant and merciless. Bligh may have seemed a harsh taskmaster leaving Tahiti, but he had just leniently corrected 3 deserters with the lash and he knew how loose the discipline had become. He needed his crew taut, skilled and ready for the 12,000 mile return voyage. He attempted to help the crew regain discipline and skill for the long journey ahead hoping to end the indolence and disorderly conduct. We must hope and pray that the discipline meted out is enough to strengthen the moral fibers of the crew to reach the hoped for destination.
We might know the taste of the rigors of such a voyage and the exquisite contentment that comes from the commitment of a commander such as Bligh. And we are reassured by our love, our disciplined love for such a commander, for ourselves and for others. Disciplined love which comes from a trained and selfless master of the way is beyond explanation and words. The commander helps the crew stay the course, but only if the crew unpacks their will. Disciplined love results when the will is surrendered to the greater Source on a spiritual voyage. It’s an adventure beyond the adventures of time and space.
The most we can say with any certainty is that the mutineers of the Bounty were captives of selfish dreams of the kind from the likes of Mara’s squadrons. It does not mean they are hopeless. It may mean a confession, followed by an ability to bring to an end their foolish belief that freedom is found in an insurgence against disciplined love. If they are unable to stop, they remain shackled by their own self-centeredness.
Reference and Recommended Reading:
The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty