“Twelve long years of austere practice in solitary retreat had brought the noble Asaṅga to an extraordinary level of spiritual maturity. In turning to Maitreya, Regent of the Buddha Śākyamuni and embodiment of perfect love, his heart and mind had become profoundly receptive, moistened and nourished by the waters of love. Yet while his spiritual awakening was soon to set in motion a liberating wave of events that would reach millions, Asaṅga was not aware of the deep changes that had been taking place within himself. In fact, he saw himself as a failure. His heart was as cold as ever, he thought, and the vision of the profound reality that the Buddha had discovered remained a distant and elusive dream. During his many years in retreat he had been at the verge of complete despair before, but each time some incident had occurred that would remind him both of the futility of mundane pursuits and the power of perseverance. This time, however, all hope for accomplishment had left him. Distressed by what he felt was a complete lack of progress, Asaṅga sadly decided to leave his hermitage for good. As the dejected yogi walked the painful path back to the world of men—a world he had thought only to return to once he would be able to share with it the liberating elixir of the divine Dharma—he came across a sick and howling dog, lying by the wayside. Asaṅga stopped, and as he looked closer he saw that the dog suffered from a large open wound, infested with maggots. This pitiful sight moved Asaṅga deeply. Forgetting his depression, he knelt down by the dog and tried to think of a way that he could save it from the invading parasites without hurting the maggots or depriving them of their necessary sustenance. A solution came to his mind. Having obtained a sharp knife from a nearby village, Asaṅga resolutely cut a piece of flesh from his own thigh and placed it on the ground next to the howling and snapping dog. Intending to carefully lick off the maggots with his tongue, and then transport them safely to this fresh lump of food, he now drew his face close to the dog’s oozing wound. Revolted by the sight of the maggots feasting on the rotting flesh, Asaṅga closed his eyes. But his tongue never reached the wound. Puzzled, Asaṅga opened his eyes, and at that very moment, suddenly and miraculously, he experienced the overwhelming presence of the master of infinite love. Finally, he had come face to face with radiant beauty and profound brilliance; Maitreya stood before him. “Why,” Asaṅga found himself exclaiming, “have you waited so long? How could you not respond to my calls?” “I was always with you,” answered the great Bodhisattva, “but it is only now that your compassion has become strong enough to sweep away the veils in your mind, which have kept my presence unknown to you.”
From the Introduction to Middle Beyond Extremes translated by Dharmachakra Translation Committee. (c) 2006 Snow Lion