Long, long ago, in India, the Bodhisattva was a famous sea captain called Suparaga. Sailing the seas was extremely dangerous in the ancient world, but Captain Suparaga, the Champion of the Sea, had mastered all the maritime arts and sciences of his time, and thus seafarers from far and wide sought his assistance on their voyages. Bodhisattvas are known to excel in all they do, and he had never once lost his way in his extensive travels, for he could tell where he was by the appearance, sounds and feel of the environment around him. His knowledge of astronomy guided him through the nights. His endurance was legendary, as he could withstand all types of extreme conditions and temperatures, and stay awake for great lengths of time. But most of all, he was honest, courageous, determined, and reliable.
Captain Suparaga finally retired after several decades, but his fame persisted. One day, an inexperienced crew of gem merchants, who were sailing for the Malay Peninsula in search of jewels and precious stones, asked him to accompany them on their voyage. At first he told the sailors that he was too old to navigate again; but they said they were merely requesting his presence on board, and didn’t expect any advice. Although he had a lifetime of expertise to offer them, they only saw him as a mascot, thus wasting an opportunity not only to benefit from his excellent guidance, but also to learn from his extensive maritime knowledge. In any case, he finally agreed, being compassionate and always willing to help.
After setting sail, they headed for the open sea, where storms and rough waves battered them for days. The frightened crew reacted in various ways: some were paralyzed by fear, some prayed to deities, others were so sure of Captain Suparaga’s auspiciousness that they just sat by, waiting for the weather to improve.
But the Captain told them, “The ocean contains both jewels and monsters, so don’t be surprised to find storms and harsh conditions here. Don’t despair; but don’t stand by and wait. Just take control of the ship. Each one of you has a job to do, to keep our vessel on an even keel. Sensible people take positive action.”
However, while outwardly reverential towards him, the sailors’ attitudes were not truly diligent or respectful. Some were naïve enough to think that HIS superior merit and virtue would ensure THEIR success, and others didn’t want to do their share, foolishly expecting him to use his superior abilities to carry them through.
After several days, the current pulled them into a beautiful purple-blue sea, with sapphires rolling in the waves. Suparaga could identify all the places that they passed through, along with their characteristic features, and he informed the crew that this was the Sea of Serpents. Now the ship was rocking dangerously, but, having survived the storms, the men were no longer worried. The beauty of the seascape distracted them from their tasks. Sights and sounds both terrifying and exhilarating aroused their hopes and fears, their greed for wealth, and delusions about their security. Dreaming of jewels, they were not working hard enough to stay on course, though they knew that in order to reach their destination, they had to do their jobs correctly.
So the ship strayed into another sea, where warrior-demon fish playing in the waves alarmed the men. This was the Kshuramali Ocean, which means “crests like razors.” The Captain said: “Things that you have never imagined will manifest when you sail the great oceans. Don’t let these strange events upset you! You must steady your minds, and take control of the vessel!”
But the crew’s curiosity and complacency proved more powerful than their obligations, and the ship continued to veer off course. Of what use is a guide, if you don’t follow him? The captain could only SHOW them the way; he couldn’t actually TAKE them there.
Days later, the gales swept them into a beautiful silver sea, which the Captain told them was the Milk Ocean, a very dangerous place. “Turn the ship back now!” he insisted, but they still didn’t cooperate fully, fascinated by the wonderful and strange phenomena amid the sparkling waves. Lacking wisdom and concentration, they were using up all their blessings by taking unnecessary risks and not making the efforts required in time of need.
Then the currents dragged them irresistibly into the golden-red waters of the Sea of Fire Garlands, which ominously reflected the underground fires at the edge of the known world. Suparaga didn’t want to panic the crew with this terrifying news, fearing that they were not mature enough to handle it. So he merely repeated his urgent instructions to take control of the ship, with little result.
As the days passed, the ship strayed further, into a strangely calm, glowing sea, the color of topaz and amber: this was the Sea of Grass. The eery silence made the crew uneasy, so now they tried harder, but they couldn’t turn the ship around. “The further you drift off course, the harder it is to turn back,” said the Captain. Your mind is the same way….
The next waters they drifted into were the Sea of Reeds, which was the color of emeralds, reflecting its gem-studded ocean floor. Here, a horrific roaring sound almost deafened them. Suparaga warned them, “This is the edge of the world. We are now being dragged straight into the huge waterfall that flows into the Mare’s Mouth, a deadly abyss which sucks down everything around it.” Thus, people who aren’t in control of themselves inevitably drift towards doom. In fear of death, and now that it was really too late, the men begged for help. At this point, only supernatural powers could save them.
Suparaga possessed such powers, which can only be used as a last resort, since to change the inevitable course of events requires one’s entire reserves of merit. His karma was so pure and his heart was so good that he could actually redirect his own and other people’s destinies. So he called to the spirits and told them that he had never hurt a living being in his whole life, and based on this truth, he prayed that they would help him turn the ship around.
His honest claim that in all of his actions he had always strictly followed the precepts, was enough to save the whole ship from disaster. Traditionally, in India, the truth is believed to bestow inconceivable powers. The waters suddenly quieted down, and the winds turned the ship back towards India and their port of departure. The grateful crew hoisted the sails to catch the breeze, and the vessel glided swiftly back over the seas they had previously crossed.
Then Captain Suparaga advised the sailors to haul aboard as much sand and rock as possible from each sea they crossed, for ballast. He didn’t tell them the real reason for this, fearing that they would greedily mishandle the load and cause a shipwreck. Sea and sky spirits who greatly admired Suparaga showed the men where to dredge. Several weeks later, they arrived back at the port from which they had set sail. The sailors were deeply thankful to the Captain for saving their lives, even though they hadn’t reached their destination. The crew’s karma had only been good enough to get Suparaga to accompany them, but for them not to save themselves; and they hadn’t made the efforts required to reach the Malay Peninsula.
Nevertheless, when the sailors went to unload the ship, they found that the sand and rocks from the floors of the oceans they had crossed were actually the sapphires, emeralds, amber and other gems which gave those seas their colors. This was their reward for finally taking his advice! In spite of their failed voyage, the kind and generous Bodhisattva hadn’t wanted them to return home empty-handed.
The crew sang the praises of Captain Suparaga, and the youngest sailor admitted, “We were truly fortunate to have you on board. It was so foolish of us to rely on good karma and luck to carry us along, instead of right action. If we hadn’t indulged in greed, indolence and delusions, but had firmly taken control of the ship, we would never have reached the brink of disaster.”
“Yes,” replied the Captain. “The secret to success is that right action brings about good results. Success requires learning from your superiors, improving your skills, concentrating on your tasks, and becoming good sailors and captains yourselves. Otherwise, how will you manage, once your captain is gone? Furthermore, if you follow the precepts and proceed with wisdom, compassion and courage, you will always be successful.”