The Beauty Queen

During the YBAT weekend retreat one of the stories told was the Beauty Queen. Like all parables, it uses images that the audience would have been able to relate to. Parhaps they had recently held a beauty queen competition… The analogy is one of ‘Mindfulness Immersed in Body’ which is the staple practise in Vipassana Meditation. It is particularly a good image for Bhikkhus to reflect on as they enter town, since you have to keep your mindfulness alert (not just alert for potholes and edges to stumble on). The analogy comes from the Samyutta Nikaya, and is fairly typical of the illustrations that the Buddha used frequently to explain his teaching.

Suppose, monks, that a large crowd of people comes thronging together, saying, ‘The beauty queen! The beauty queen!’ And suppose that the beauty queen is highly accomplished at singing & dancing, so that an even greater crowd comes thronging, saying, ‘The beauty queen is singing! The beauty queen is dancing!’ Then a man comes along, desiring life & shrinking from death, desiring pleasure & abhorring pain. They say to him, ‘Now look here, friend. You must take this bowl filled to the brim with oil and carry it on your head in between the great crowd & the beauty queen. A man with a raised sword will follow right behind you, and wherever you spill even a drop of oil, right there will he cut off your head.’

Now what do you think, monks: Will that man, not paying attention to the bowl of oil, let himself get distracted outside?”

“No, lord.”
“I have given you this parable to convey a meaning. The meaning is this: The bowl filled to the brim with oil stands for mindfulness immersed in the body. Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it a grounding, steady it, consolidate it, and undertake it well.’ That is how you should train yourselves.” S 47.20

The term ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ in Buddhism does not relate to the outside world. ‘Outside’ is when you have lost self awareness (aka mindfulness) through one of the senses. Thus if you are absorped in thinking, you are ‘outside’. Contrarily the term ‘inside’, or more usually ‘in the inside’ means that you are mindful and aware of yourself. The consciousness is said to flow out to the world through the six senses, but only one sense at a time.

This way of looking at ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ takes some adjustment, especially for Westerners who are accostomed to considering being lost in thought as ‘inside’. Luang Phor Dune, a famous Thai monk used to describe the Noble Truths as :

The mind going outside is the arising of suffering. The mind remaining inside is the cessation of suffering.