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In the Ten Ox Herding Pictures of Zen the final picture is commonly depicted as returning to the marketplace. Enlightenment is said to be doing the most ordinary things in a most extraordinary way.

It is very different at many levels from the Theravada model of an Arhat who recollects past lives, walks through walls, flies in the air and so on. Though there are references to vasanas which prevent the Arhat from Buddha like perfection, they are not commonly what comes to mind when one thinks Arhat. It is reinforced by the belief that one who has such attainment will leave the family, never have romantic worldly ideas, become a monk and generally be holy, strictly confirming to popular ideas of what is holy - i.e separate from this undesirable world of samsara.

The Zen model doesn't even have the label Arhat that makes such attainment separate and special. Zen masters are of course famous for doing silly things like playing with kids, drinking wine, teaching in whore houses and so on. I've read similar things in the Tibetan tradition. Though it's another matter that most Zen masters obsess with lineage, robes, proper form and such.

I'm looking for sutras, books, biographies or examples and generally any text that deals with returning to the marketplace in various traditions. Any tradition is fine.

Does the Theravada canon have such ideas anywhere at all? Perhaps Tibetan?

Thanks.

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Does the Theravada canon have such ideas anywhere at all?

This is a far-fetched example which barely answer your question but IMO the Buddha himself kind of returned to the market-place: not as a tradesman nor even a customer, but he did leave his solitude.

The description could almost fit him:

  1. In the World

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.

Comment: Inside my gate, a thousand sages do not know me. The beauty of my garden is invisible. Why should one search for the footprints of the patriarchs? I go to the market place with my wine bottle and return home with my staff. I visit the wineshop and the market, and everyone I look upon becomes enlightened.

Any resemblance can't be entirely accident, presumably, to the extent that he was ever a role model for Buddhist enlightenment.

A few things seem to me anachronistic.

Magic

"I use no magic to extend my life" -- is that a reference to (rejection of) some Taoist-immortality-magic or -obsession: which, I'm not acquainted with, but might have been important when it was written?

Wine

The "wineshop"?

Wine is forbidden in Islam too, but apparently some Sufis use "wine" as a metaphor for a divine love and loss of ego. That's esoteric (and orthodoxly a heresy) in Islam (it also reminds me of a family story: that when my grandfather bought a house in Morocco he met a "hereditary saint" there who was allowed to drink wine because the wine would turn to water in his mouth), but really I don't know anything esoteric especially about Buddhism. Apparently there was a Sufi doctrine which said that, "Drinking 'wine' depends: on how much, and who with", but beware I think that advice is Delphic.

Another idea is that some of the versions of the ten bulls talk of carrying a "gourd", depicted as (or, who knows, perhaps mistaken for) a wine gourd: but which (a gourd), someone else wrote, is a metaphor for emptiness.

Sunyata might be a bit anachronistic too, i.e. a tenet developed in slightly later schools.

Non-duality

It's a bit difficult to imagine the Buddha pulling a pint in the pub with his friends. If I see someone doing that though, then as long as they're not doing harm I'm conditioned not to say something like, "You're a bad man: you shouldn't be drinking."

Is that what "everyone I look upon becomes enlightened" means, i.e. non-duality, and to whatever extent I hope to become enlightened, other people become so too? I mean there are two ways to see that: being "looked upon" (or talked with) helps to lead the seen person to enlightenment; doing the looking helps the seeing person see there is enlightenment (perhaps some "Buddha nature") already.

On the other hand maybe drinking is harmful, and if I were wise and kind and selfless then I would mingle with them there?

Anyway that leads to this other answer about non-duality which I think you already know, which says there are real differences between Theravada and Mahayana practice. And so I present that answer as saying, "No, I don't think you'll find exactly the same 'returning to the marketplace' within the Theravada Sangha."

It is reinforced by the belief that one who has such attainment will leave the family

One of the Zen stories I admire is Nothing Exists. I like it because it reminds me that it's not to do with theorizing about the nature of external phenomena, but it's more about being prepared to behave myself.

There's a quote I read once, I haven't found it again since, someone was asked "Why won't you become a Christian?" and replied, "If you mean 'Christian' like your Christ, it's because I don't have the courage. If you mean 'Christian' like you, it's because I wouldn't want to be."

Does that make sense, assuming you know the Christian metaphor for marriage? I don't know whether you are or have ever been married, but how could you expect to control two people if you don't even control one?

Actually I have the belief that Siddhartha left his family, not because he had such attainment but because he desired that attainment.

Conversely, Is That So? might be a story of someone who already has some attainment and subsequently acquires a family.

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    I think the larger problem here, which you hint at, is trying to ascribe a Mahayana ideal onto the Pali canon Buddha. While there is a type of Bodhisattva mindset in the elder tradition, it doesn't really find it's fleshed out mythic ideal until much later - c. 8th century C.E. at Nalanda in the writings of Shantideva. Analyzing the Buddha in the context of much later Mahayana is like trying to fit the image of Christ back over atop Moses. If you force it, it works to some extent. The archetype is, however, completely different and serves a very different purpose. – user698 Aug 7 '15 at 15:45
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This isn't really an answer - more of a comment. I'll just end up pressed for space if I add it as such. I think there is a certain presupposition that the person "returning to the market" actually left the market in the first place. I think all traditions have this archetypal ideal of the ascetic who wanders into the wilderness, adopts the homeless life and then returns as a fully formed, enlightened sage. It may work like that in some cases. I would actually say that is an exception these days assuming that ideal every really existed in the first place.

Practice happens everywhere. We all know that. The thing is, it rarely looks like the great mythologies. For every Buddha and Jesus and Muhammad wandering around in the wilderness and talking to burning things, there are billions of practitioners just finding better ways to talk to their daughter and smooth out relationships in the workplace. No one writes stories about these folks because what they do is so mundane. Their actions don't light up our brains in the same way that those great mythologies do.

Practice isn't something that happens "out there". We don't find our enlightenment out on some sacred journey and come back to tell the tale. There isn't one moment where we emerge as a fully enlightened being, come home to great fanfare, and start getting drunk with the butchers. That's not even true of dai kensho. Practice is here. Practice is now. Returning to the market is our practice. It isn't something that happens bodily or sociologically or mythically. It is something that happens in every instant of renewed awareness.

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Does the Theravada canon have such ideas anywhere at all? Perhaps Tibetan?

Of course Theravada monks returns to the marketplace everyday. They use their daily alms round as an opportunity to be around the lay community. It's just that the method they use to help people is different. One won't see them drinking wine to help the drunkards or become whore house's patrons to help the prostitutes, etc. Moral virtues and spreading the Buddha's words are their methods of helping. If somehow the approach seems to be a bit passive or weak, then the story of Ven. Punna in SN 35.88 should clear things up for you:

(Ven. Punna wanted to go and live among the fierce people of Sunaparanta to help them. The Buddha wanted to test his resolve and here goes the dialogue):

"Punna, the Sunaparanta people are fierce. They are rough. If they insult and ridicule you, what will you think?" "If they insult and ridicule me, I will think, 'These Sunaparanta people are civilized, very civilized, in that they don't hit me with their hands.' That is what I will think, O Blessed One. That is what I will think, O One Well-gone."

"But if they hit you with their hands, what will you think?"

"...I will think, 'These Sunaparanta people are civilized, very civilized, in that they don't hit me with a clod.'..."

"But if they hit you with a clod...?"

"...I will think, 'These Sunaparanta people are civilized, very civilized, in that they don't hit me with a stick.'..."

"But if they hit you with a stick...?"

"...I will think, 'These Sunaparanta people are civilized, very civilized, in that they don't hit me with a knife.'..."

"But if they hit you with a knife...?"

"...I will think, 'These Sunaparanta people are civilized, very civilized, in that they don't take my life with a sharp knife.'..."

"But if they take your life with a sharp knife...?"

"If they take my life with a sharp knife, I will think, 'There are disciples of the Blessed One who — horrified, humiliated, and disgusted by the body and by life — have sought for an assassin, but here I have met my assassin without searching for him.' 1 That is what I will think, O Blessed One. That is what I will think, O One Well-gone."

"Good, Punna, very good. Possessing such calm and self-control you are fit to dwell among the Sunaparantans. Now it is time to do as you see fit."

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In Theravada, from what I have understood, there is no returning to the marketplace ( if I understand this ideea correctly) after one reaches the final goal, Nibbana.

There is another Sutta in which the Buddha is dwelling with Arahants and a brahman asks him if they all have supernormal powers, and the Buddha answers that not all of them have such powers. In Theravada, to be an Arahant you don't need to have superpowers. More knowledgeable colleagues can maybe point this Sutta name.

From Chabbisodhana Sutta, MN

[...]

“Bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu is one with taints destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached the true goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and is completely liberated through final knowledge, this is the natural way for him to answer.

“‘Friends, regarding the seen I abide unattracted, unrepelled, independent, detached, free, dissociated, with a mind rid of barriers. Regarding the heard…Regarding the sensed…Regarding the cognized I abide unattracted, unrepelled, independent, detached, free, dissociated, with a mind rid of barriers. It is by knowing thus, seeing thus, regarding these four kinds of expression, that through not clinging my mind is liberated from the taints.’

[...]

I recommend reading the 33 Sermons on Nibbāna by Bhikkhu K. Ñāṇananda too see how Nibbana is seen in Theravada.

http://www.seeingthroughthenet.net/files/eng/books/ms/html/Mind%20Stilled.htm

The present set of thirty-three sermons on the topic of Nibbāna were originally delivered between 1988 and 1991 as fortnightly lectures at Meetirigala Forest Monastery of Sri Lanka by the Venerable Bhikkhu K. Ñāṇananda at the behest of the Venerable Mātara Sri Ñāṇarāma Mahāthera. They combine deep insight into the Dhamma with academic erudition, being based on copious quotations from the Pāli discourses that alternate with illustrative similes and useful indications for meditation practice.

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