Archives for posts with tag: Buddhism

buddha1

Buddhist teachings and sermons were presented by Gautam Sakyamuni more as a therapy to heal the human condition than as a creed to explain and disseminate eternal metaphysical truths. Buddha the enlightened one, held that suffering was the ailment afflicting the human condition and the prime purpose of his teachings was to find a method and a way to alleviate and heal that condition. Anything that did not directly address this goal was not relevant to his concerns. The Buddha was not therefore interested in Metaphysical issues and refrained from commenting on them. Concepts such as God, Universal Spirit, Supersoul, an eternal universe, divinity and the nature of the Soul were therefore not commented upon. The Buddha implied to his disciples that discussion of such metaphysical questions ( aplenty at the time) did not in any way help in meeting his primary concern that of relieving mankind of its suffering and was therefore beyond the scope of his teachings. His only practical intent was to help people overcome their suffering rather than to propagate a grand creed or proselytize fundamental metaphysical truths. His teachings were also not intended for the disinterested masses but meant to help the few who genuinely desired to benefit from his methods to alleviate suffering. His sermons were therefore like a therapy only for the interested and he acted more like a physician than an apostle, concerned only with removing pain.

Thus emerge the Four Noble Truths: (1) All life is sorrowful and full of suffering. (2) The cause of suffering are ignorance (avidya) and desire (trishna) that follow from the fact that human existence is transitory and ephemeral. (3) the assertion that suffering can be removed. (4) The method of removing suffering and cessation of pain was the path to liberation – the Eight Fold Path : right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, endeavour, mindfulness, and contemplation or meditation. The method was pragmatic and psychological with no philosophical explanation being provided about man and the universe. This method was also called the middle path, avoiding extremes of sensual indulgence and asceticism, also the path which avoided both skepticism and dogmatic metaphysical assertions. The Eight Fold Path led to liberation from suffering and pain, helping in attaining Nirvana. Nirvana is understood as a transcendental state where suffering, desire and the ego have been overcome and there is release from the effects of Karma and the cycles of death and rebirth. In essence this path entails adoption of the right attitude where egoistic feelings are eradicated, the resultant renunciation arouse in man love for all creatures. This altruism and compassion make for a righteous life. Non violence in action speech and thought are also enjoined with emotional equilibrium, friendliness, compassion, cheerfulness and impartiality.

The Buddha denied the authority of the Vedas and rejected the ubiquitous caste system. His teachings found favour with the highest in the land and a succession of great emperors, Ashoka and Kanishka converted to Buddhism and sought to propagate his teachings at home and in distant lands. Ashoka arranged great Buddhist councils for discussion of Buddhist tenets. In succeeding centuries great emissaries would come from China and carry back the message and teachings of the master, spawning indigenous sects in China, Central Asia, Mongolia, Tibet, Japan, Indo- China and the Far East. Nalanda near Patna became a great centre of Buddhist learning under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the 5th century A.D. and continued to attract scholars and pilgrims right to the 12th century.

Buddhism was influenced by the Upanishadic concepts of Karma and rebirth and assimilated into its theology. Yet the concept of the Soul was at variance with the Atman of Brahmanism. The entity which suffered rebirth time and again was no divine essence as in the case of the Atman concept, nor was it a pure crystalline life-monad called Jiva polluted by the effects of Karma as with the Jains, nor again did it approximate to the concept of pure consciousness, Purush as in Sankhya philosophy. The Buddha himself had asserted that ” all things are without a self (an-atta)”, denying any permanent reality as of a Soul force to the entity that gets reborn. What then in Buddhist thought is that which gets reborn from life time to life time experiencing suffering? It is explained as a kind of continuum of transient events that arise and dissolve following one another in a continuous chain of cause and effect of recurring ephemeral moments. No permanent entity exists. What appears as a unit is an aggregate of brief realities. There is no substance as individual or Soul, only a continuum of  ephemeral entities following one another, that give the impression of a unit. The process is phenomenal rather than substantial. Nirvana results in the recognition of this truth about oneself, the termination of the delusion that one is an ego entity.Unlike Brahmanism therefore there was no preoccupation with the concept of a Soul as a spark of divinity arising from the Universal Essence embedded in matter and being, for neither was there any discussion of such a divine essence nor of its corollary, the soul as a spiritual presence in the heart of man. This implied atheism arose from a pragmatic approach of being concerned only with man’s plight, here and now, and the method of finding a way to heal his condition of suffering.

buddha-nirvana-mediatationNirvana, enlightenment, is the realization that all phenomenality which appear as real are in fact a chain of fleeting momentary episodes. With such realization end desire, hopes and anxieties which are based on the erroneous thought of their substantial reality. Those gaining enlightenment are freed of the delusion of name and form. According to the Hinyana school’s version these brief episodes are real and substantial though ephemeral and instantly perishing, extending over several births but terminating with the dawning of the realization and ending with Nirvana. Nirvana itself was not substantial or a state of being. It consisted merely in the negation of the illusion. Enlightenment was not a state of being.

Without the presence of a surviving ego, the question arises how could the suffering be experienced. This is explained as arising not from an external source but a series of thoughts about suffering arising on their own  out of ignorance of the fleeting nature of reality. There was no thinker, only thought, no feeler only feelings, no actor only actions, no individual only minute consecutive units which created the illusion of an ongoing reality. There was no suffering ego, only the thought of suffering. Another school of Hinyana Buddhism attributed the suffering to actually arising from the external world despite the absence of an enduring individual. While the Hinyana schools held that the experience was ephemeral but real, the Mahayana school of Buddhism held that the phenomenality was not real but like a mirage or the waves of the sea. Like the sea there was a reality beyond the waves. The universe was both phenomenal and enduring. What was enduring alone contained the essence of existence, while the phenomenal was merely relative. Mahayana theology thus began veering towards the non-duality of Vedantic thought.

buddha-mindHere we become acquainted with the Buddhist concept of Void (Sunyata). The only truth, the essence of existence was the Void, a state of ‘suchness’ (tathata). Sunyata was the innermost essence of all things as contrasted with the ephemeral ever-changing illusion of being. The concept of the Void as innermost essence , though couched in negative terms was not nihilistic and appears to have a remarkable resemblance to what the Upanishads had termed as Brahman. We therefore see that despite the Buddha’s reluctance to engage in metaphysical discourse, later Buddhists eventually got involved in intense debate on metaphysics. The greatest proponent of the concept of Sunyata was the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. philosopher and metaphysician Nagarjuna to whom is attributed the laying of the foundations of Mahayana Buddhism. The concept of the void was the ineffable truth.   Nagarjuna describes this highest goal of enlightenment in negative terms thus:

nagar jun

Chinese painting of Nagarjuna

”It cannot be called void or not void, or both or neither, but in order to indicate it, it is termed void” 

Sunyata has no cause, is beyond thought and conception, unborn and immeasurable. This absolute is neither existent nor non-existent, nor both existent and non-existent, nor different from both non-existence and existence. It is neither being nor non-being. Sunyata is identified with pure consciousness, pure thought and true wisdom.

Whatever appears to exist arises from imagination. All thoughts arise from an eternal source which is a kind of repository of all images and ideas. This is called the Abode of Consciousness (Alaya-Vijnana), the ‘suchness’ (tathata), the Void. This Alay Vijnana repository is beyond conception and imagination holding the potentiality of all thought. We can liken it to the nuclear physicist Bohm’s Implicate Order, the bio-chemist Sheldrake’s Morphogenetic field and Quantum Physics’ Zero Point field. All apparent phenomena arise like waves from this ocean and disperse again immediately into its infinite vortex. Upon contact with it through enlightenment the individual ceases to exist, the mental state of the self-aware ego dissolves in it. The concept of Alay Vijnana, Sunyata and Nirvana are interchangable. It is evidently the Buddhist equivalent of  Brahman.

nagarjuna-qpAn important metaphysical question arises when pondering the concept of Alay Vijnana. If it is the pure repository consciousness, pure thought abiding in itself, peaceful and tranquil and quiescent how or why does its essence get stirred to produce a phenomenal world full of the imperfections of Karma, producing every kind of pain and suffering. Do the attributes of ignorance and desire pre-exist in that repository like seeds and therefore produce the phenomenal world as it is? In such a case rather than non-dual, the Void would have the quality of duality, with an active principle (avidya) and a passive principle (Alay). this troubling enigma was sought to be explained in the 5th century by the masters Asanga and Vasubandhu when they asserted that the repository contained both good and bad. This was strikingly similar to the Hindu view that the Universal Essence through the Godhead Vishnu and Shiva produced both demons and gods, malevolent and benign beings having their origins in the Essence. The pairs of opposites proceeded from the same source while indeed surpassing them. Thus the Alay, the repository, germinates both good and evil while transcending them. The seeker after enlightenment  clears away the gross and views the perfection of the jewel. The gross was in any case a result of ignorance and when that was dispelled the jewel shone. This however appears as an irreconcilable paradox. Karma then becomes the seed in the Alay and the source of creation of the phenomenal world. But this is relative to the level of ignorance of the unreal individual. Both the individual and his Karma having their source in Alay, including the hells he experiences, are unreal; Karma is an imaginary seed embedded in Alay producing an imaginary world – the one attaining enlightenment realizes this and the paradox is resolved.

padmapani

Bodhisattva Padampani Ajanta caves

The Bodhisattva is an important concept in Buddhism. A compassionate being like Jesus and Krishna. The Bodhisattva is one who on the verge of gaining enlightenment renounces Nirvana until such time that all beings are able to gain it before him. This is an expression of supreme compassion for all beings and the ultimate sacrifice for the salvation of the world. The quality of compassion (Karuna) is epitomized in the Boddhisattva and reflects his understanding of the Void. Compassion is indeed a fundamental reflex of Sunyata. In fact it is on account of a Bodhisattva’s compassion that a Buddha comes into this world. Compassion is indeed present in all creatures as an indication of their potential to be Bodhisattvas. It is through compassion that things become manifest. The universe is compassion and this is also known as Sunyata, the Void. the primary attributes of the Bodhisattva are compassion, generosity, total absence of ego, absolute wisdom and omnipotence. the bodhisattva is a reflection of the Void.                                                                   

 yab yum 2The compassion of the void is best represented in Mahayana Buddhism in the Tibetan icon of Yab-Yum. The male and female form in intimate embrace highlight metaphysical non-duality and the sexual act brings the individual to experience that non-duality of the Void. Contemplation of  the Icon helps the seeker to a realization of the essence of the Void. This is the Mahayana doctrine of Mahasukh or Great Delight.

Buddhism is not a faith in the sense that following the Buddha’s precepts one becomes a ‘Buddhist’. For the Buddha there was no such category. In his Majjhima Nikaya the Medium Length dialogues he asserts that the doctrine becomes meaningless and is to be cast away much like a ferry-boat that has helped you reach the ‘other shore’ is allowed to drift downstream without a backward glance. It is only relevant for the passengers who are still journeying to the other shore. Having reached the ‘other shore’ there is neither a ferry-boat nor a river, nor the far shore of worldly existence that has been left behind. Indeed there is not even a ferryman, the Buddha either. The dualistic perception of two shores must end with enlightenment. The streams of rebirth along the way, the worldly life of Samsara and even the attainment of enlightenment, Nirvana are no longer there. The dream vanishes with the awakening, the rainbow of effort, striving, journey and realization all disappears. All submerge in the void. The long journey of causation, Karma has no longer any reality. Nirvana itself on attainment becomes meaningless. the concept is only relevant so long as the journey is not complete as an aid to understanding. Thereafter there is only the silence of the Void. The Buddha refused to discuss nirvana except as the goal to be attained. Nirvana means extinction and was an aid to ending delusion and could not be said to be a state of being. The boat of Buddhism did not exist after reaching the ‘other shore’, neither did a boatman, the Buddha. The question of worshiping such a boatman simply did not arise. The doctrine was not to become a foundation on which a great and elaborate creed could be erected. The paradox of Buddhism is that on reaching the other shore there was nothing, neither shores nor river nor passengers not ferryboat nor boatman. There was no longer anyone seeking enlightenment or attaining enlightenment – indeed there was no longer Nirvana – there was only the Void.

Early Buddhist sculpture do not depict the Buddha and only show an empty space under the Bo-tree emphasizing his state of ’emptiness’. In Mahayana metaphysics it is sometimes asserted that no Buddha ever came to enlighten a world which in any case only existed in the imagination.

buddha amravati

The Mahayana text Prajnaparamita carries a dialogue between the Buddha and his disciple which revealingly epitomizes the paradox;

The disciple Subhuti said: ”Profound O venerable One is the perfect Transcendental Wisdom.”

Said the Venerable One; ”Abysmally profound, like the space of the universe, O Subhuti, is the Transcendental Wisdom.”

The disciple Subhuti said again:” Difficult to be obtained through awakening is the perfect Transcendental Wisdom, O Venerable One”.

Said the Venerable One; ” that is the reason ,O Subhuti, why no one ever attains it through awakening”.

 

 

 

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Credit: exoticindia.com

A poem by the late Rick Fields occupies a place at the top of my anthology collection of poems I treasure. Though it is an imaginary Buddhist Sutra it conveys a cardinal truth about the essential unity of spirit and matter in our being, quite inseparable – two facets of the same coin as doubtless our maker is too. Rick fields was a journalist, poet and leading authority on Buddhism’s history and development in the United States. The beauty of his poem and its inner depth takes my breath away whenever I read it again. So I thought I should share it here for friends and readers.

 

THE  VERY  SHORT  SUTRA  ON  THE  MEETING  OF  THE  BUDDHA  AND  THE  GODDESS

 

Thus have I made up

                                      Once the Buddha was walking along the

forest path in the Oak Grove at Ojai, walking without

arriving anywhere

or having any thought of arriving or not arriving

 

and lotuses shining with the morning dew

miaculously appeared under every step

soft as silk beneath the toes of the Buddha

 

When suddenly, out of the turquoise sky,

dancing in front of his half-shut inward-looking

eyes, shimmering like a rainbow

or a spider’s web

transparent as the dew on a lotus flower,

 

—the Goddess appeared quivering

like a hummingbird in the air before him

 

She, for she was surely a she

as the Buddha could clearly see

with the eye of discriminating awareness wisdom,

 

was mostly red in color

though when the light shifted

she flashed like a rainbow.

 

She was naked except

for the usual flower ornaments

Goddesses wear

 

Her long hair

was deep blue, her two eyes fathomless pits of space

and her third eye a bloodshot

ring of fire.

 

The Buddha folded his hands together

and greeted the Goddess thus:

 

‘O Goddess, why are you blocking my path.

Before I saw you I was happily going nowhere.

Now I am not sure where to go.’

 

‘You can go around me’,

said the Goddess twirling on her heels like a bird

darting away,

but just a little way away,

‘or you can come after me.

This is my forest too,

you can’t pretend I’m not here.’

 

With that the Buddha sat

supple as a snake

solid as a rock

beneath a Bo tree

that sprang full-leaved

to shade him.

 

‘Perhaps we should have a chat’

he said.

‘After years of arduous practice

at the time of the morning star

I penetrated reality, and now..’

 

‘Not so fast, Buddha,

I am reality.’

 

The earth stood still,

the oceans paused,

 

the wind itself listened

—a thousand arhats, bodhisatvas, and dakinis

magically appeared to hear

what would happen in the conversation.

 

‘I know I take my life in my hands,’

said the Buddha.

‘But I am known as the Fearless One

—so here goes.’

 

And he and the Goddess

without further words

exchanged glances.

 

Light rays like sunbeams

shot forth

so bright that even

Sariputra, the All-Seeing One,

had to turn away.

 

And then they exchanged thoughts

and the illumination was as bright as a diamond candle.

 

And then they exchanged mind

And there was a great silence as vast as the universe

that contains everything

 

And then they exchanged bodies

 

And clothes

 

And the Buddha arose 

as the Goddess

and the Goddess

arose as the Buddha

 

and so back and forth

for a hundred thousand hundred thousand kalpas.

 

If you meet the Buddha

you meet the Goddess,

If you meet the Goddess

you meet the Buddha.

 

Not only that. This:

The Buddha is emptiness

the Goddess is bliss,

the Goddess is emptiness

the Buddha is bliss.

 

And that is what

and what-not you are

It’s true.

 

So here comes the mantra of the Goddess and the Buddha, the 

unsurpassed non-dual mantra. Just to say this mantra, just

to hear this mantra once, just to hear one word of this mantra

once makes everything the way it truly is: OK.

 

So here it is:

                Earth-walker/sky-walker

                                     Hey, silent one, Hey, great talker

                Not two/Not one

                                    Not separate/ Not apart

                This is the heart

                                  Bliss is emptiness

                                  Emptiness is bliss

                Be your breath, Ah

                Smile, Hey

                And relax, Ho

And remember this : You cannot miss.

 

 R I C K     F I E L D S

 

 

 

 

 

credit: what-buddha-said.net

credit: what-buddha-said.net

In all cultures, different faiths enjoin on us to do the same thing – excercise restraint, avoid extremes, abstain, fast, overcome passions, be frugal and thrifty, avoid greed, gluttony and licentiousness, share, give away and be generous rather than become acquisitive, egotistical and centred in serving the body’s demands  for pleasure and unlimited plenty. In a word a balanced life. They hold out the example of those who have gone further. Monks and nuns, Swamis, Gurus and sages, apostles and saints are demonstrated as examples of people who have indeed denied themselves all manner of pleasures and passions even overcoming basic needs through celibacy, abstemiousness and detachment both physical and emotional.

Is this then an exercise to prepare the soul for the time when it will leave the body at death, returning to its pristine state in an environment where physical need of food, sex and ego and egotistical attachments will become redundant, where fame and fortune, need and its satiation become meaningless? The Gita ( Hindu scripture) speaks of  renouncing ‘Kama, Krodh, Madh, Moh, Lobh’ – lust, anger, addictions and emotional attachment to ones family leading to excesses of greed – all attributes of a physical condition and irrelevant for an ethereal entity like the soul.

As we advance in age and the body loses its vitality, in any case many of these attributes get subsumed. Sex is no longer the driving force it used to be, the palate cannot be indulged in as before (burp), relationships get sublimated, progeny no longer arouse the same protective passion as they become self-reliant. The aging body which the soul inhabits has become less demanding and it becomes easier for the soul to realize its true ethereal essence without the ceaseless clamour for demands of the physical self.

Most cultures then enjoin on the individual to prepare for departure. In Hindu thought, there are four stages of life. Childhood, youth and family life, maturity and disengagement (Vanprasth). The last involves ending societal and familial obligations and attachments and proceeding (Prastha) to the forest (Van) for contemplation and meditation on the eternal verities.

The theme of renunciation (Sanyas) is a common one in religions emerging from India. Among Hindus the call to renunciation is advocated for the lay person, after all duties have been discharged and life lived to the full through the stages of childhood, family life and maturity. Among the Buddhists a family member so inclined may renounce the world and join a monastic order from childhood itself.

mid-day.com

mid-day.com

Among the Jains ( according to some scholars the oldest indigenous faith in India), the phenomenon of renunciation assumes extraordinary proportions. One is occasionally invited to an investiture ceremony when an individual, be he or she  a bureaucrat, trader or politician, irrespective of age, suddenly feeling the call to renounce, decides to do so. At the well attended public ceremony, which resembles a marriage in its pomp and ostentation, the one who renounces , ascends a dias with a throne dressed like a groom or bride. Then one by one he places aside his glittering turban, or coronet as the case may be, casts off his brocade costume, gives away his jewels, allows his progeny or some charitable organization to take away all his wealth and severs all connections with society, family and friends. His last act is to be relieved of his very identity through a change in name ( assuming a spiritual name ). Having thus shed all aspects of ego he dons the white. simple robes of a monk and joins a monastic order with which he departs, never to return. This is equally true for women who dress as brides, relinquishing all finery on the dias and cutting off all links with family and society.

Jain monks then are required to sleep on mats on the hard floor, eating frugally and sweeping the floor as they tread the ground lest they inadvertently step on an ant or other living thing. They also are required to tie a band of cloth over their nose and mouth (like medical practitioners do in hospitals) lest by breathing out they inadvertently kill some micro organism! This is the most extreme form of the practice of non violence which influenced Gandhi in his non-violent movement. Another order of Jain Monks seek to rid themselves of every vestige of ego by discarding all apparel and moving around stark naked (Digamber). Their lay followers crowd around them when moving in public lest they invite ridicule by non Jain onlookers.

Occasionally a Jain nun or monk will take the extreme step of terminating life by gradually giving up food and water altogether (Santhara). While some argue that this is a form of ‘holy’ suicide and have approached the courts to stop the practice, orthodox Jains have asserted that it is their constitutional right to practice their religion unhampered. The issue has yet to be settled in court.

credit: huffingtonpost.com

credit: huffingtonpost.com

Buddhist monks seek to sever all connections with the material world by refraining from engaging in any economic activity to sustain themselves. They beg humbly from door to door and survive on alms. The begging is also intended to exterminate their ego.  The lay faithful householder generously bring food grain, vegetables and fruit and cooked meals for the monks at their door, considering their presence as a blessing for the household.

credit: Flickr Hive Mind.com

Among the muslims the Fakir or holy wanderer, generally from the Sufi order of mystics, move homeless from place to place singing praise for the Almighty. The great Indian poet Kabir was one such and his poetry and songs extolling man to cast away his ego and merge with God find echoes in every corner of India to this day.

 

priest being ordainedThe ordinary catholic priest is another case in point. He gives up much with a smile to serve the community selflessly. A nun when ordained is also dressed like a bride (of Christ), much like  the Jain renouncer. Of course, in all ecclesiastical orders, East or West there is bound to be corruption. The lavish life styles of medieval and even present day clergy is well-known. No wonder the present Pope has sought to urge and enforce frugality and simplicity among his clergy. Some Indian monastic orders were equally known to have been more concerned with amassing wealth and political power than spiritual salvation.

All said and done, renunciation is big in India and poets and saints who wandered away from home and hearth, palace and pomp are hugely revered – to name a few we have Meera the princess, Sur the blind singer, Tulsi the author of scriptural poetry on Lord Rama, Nanak the founder of Sikhism, Raidas the mystic saint, Shanker the inspiration of Non Dualism, and Ramkrishna the mystic saint of the 20th century.

With such thoughts in my mind I composed a poem on disengagement which I wish to share with our readers:

 

     D I S E N G A M E N T

 

Time for disengagement,

As the essence of ruddy contours

Blurs

And attractions abate.

 

The self same stamp

From driven insect

To warm bodies,

As the floor show circulates

Like a fallen cliche.

 

Not urging any more,

Not stirring,

As the instant realization:

This could not be for pleasure

Nor even to procreate

But a premise immaculate

For forging difficult mergers

Of souls incarnate;

 

Lest consciousness  constricts

When infected sunspots

Scar the spirit’s sun

And through incarnation –

Experience of ego’s annhilation,

We learn that we are one.

 

Then we may allow attractions to abate

As lessons done

And time for disengagement

Has begun.

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