Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
‘When Buddha was travelling and living in this world, there was an old Brahman priest who wore white robes who asked the Buddha, “How will all men and all Brahmins continue in their merit-making so as to escape the results of sin?” The Buddha answered, “Even though all of you give alms according to the 5 precepts, the 8 precepts, the 10 precepts, or the 227 precepts for 9 trillion years and you raise your hands and offer yourselves as a burnt offering, or you pray 5 times a day, you will still not escape the results of your sins. If you do this every day, your merit gained will only be equal to the smallest strand of hair of an unborn infant which is extremely small. You shall not enter heaven’s doors.” The old Brahman priest asked further, “What are we all to do to be saved?” The Buddha answered the old Brahman priest, “The results of sin and karma are very great, heavier than the sky, thicker than the earth, and so high that it would be like an angel dusting the corner-posts of the temple compound with a cloth post that are 18 inches high - dusting them one time per year - until the posts were worn down to the ground. When the posts are worn down, that’s how long it would take to end your sins.”
The Buddha said further, “I have given up my high position and entered the priesthood. I considered that even though I am good, I would have only a very small amount of merit at the end of the year. If I was given this same amount of merit for 100,000 epochs and live 10 more lifetimes, I would not be saved from sin’s results even once.
The old Brahman priest asked further, “So what should we all do?” The Buddha answered, “Keep on making merit and look for another Holy One who will come and help the world and all of you in the future.”
Then the old Brahman priest asked, “What will the characteristics of the Holy One be like?” The Buddha answered him, “The Holy One who will keep ??? the world in the future will be like this: in the palms of his hands and in the flat of his feet will be the design of a disc, in the side will be a stab wound; and his forehead will have many marks like scars. This Holy One will be the golden boat who will carry you over the cycle of rebirths all the way to the highest heaven (Nirvana). Do not look for salvation the old way; there is no salvation in it for sure. Quit the old way. And there will be a new spirit like the light of a lightning bug in all of your hearts and you will be victorious over all your enemies. Nobody will be able to destroy you. If you die, you will not come back to be born in this world again. You will go to the highest heaven (Nirvana).” ’
What are we to make of the claim that the Buddha spoke these words and that they are recorded as such in the Buddhist scriptures? The first thing one notices about this passage is that its style, structure, language, the similes used, etc. are markedly different from those found in the Buddhist scriptures. For example, the Buddha is rarely referred to in the Tipitaka as ‘the Buddha’; he is almost always called and/or addressed as ‘Tathagata’ or ‘Bhagava’ (Lord). Anyone familiar with that particular labored and repetitious style characteristic of the Buddhist scriptures will notice that it is absent in this passage. The term ‘burnt offering’ has no Pali equivalent (Pali being the language of the Tipitaka) because making burnt offerings was not a practice done in ancient India. Making burnt offerings is of course mentioned in the Bible. The word sin does not really have an equivalent in Pali, although it is a well-known Christian term. The practice of praying five times a day was not a Brahmin or a Buddhist ritual either. Nowhere in the Buddhist scriptures in Nirvana thought of as a kind of heaven, although those with little or no knowledge of Buddhism often mistakenly think they are the same. But perhaps the strangest thing about this passage is that it has the Buddha implying that one is saved (again more a Christian concept than a Buddhist one, Buddhists usually speak of being ‘liberated’) by making and accumulating merit, and that it is impossible to ever accumulate enough merit to be ‘saved’. Anyone familiar with even basic Buddhism will know that this is the antithesis of what the Buddha taught. In the Sutta Nipata (Chapter 3, Discourse 2), to give but one example, Mara, the Evil One, approaches the Buddha and tempts him to stop meditating and ‘accumulate merit’ instead. The Buddha rejects this suggestion saying ‘I have not the slightest need of merit’. In Buddhism, enlightenment is not attained by accumulating merit but by developing wisdom and understanding. In another discourse, the Buddha says that making merit for the next life is ‘not worth even a sixteenth part of having a heart of love.’ (Numerical Sayings, The Eights, Discourse 1). Here and in many other places in the Tipitaka, merit is considered of very little importance in the religious life. In short, the claim that this passage comes from the Tipitaka does not seem credible.
So does it come from the Buddhist scriptures and if so from where? Just as the Bible is divided into books, chapters and verses, the Buddhist scriptures are divided into books, chapters, discourses and sometimes into verses too. Not one of the websites or publications which reproduce this supposed prophesy ever give a reference to where it comes from in the Tipitaka - not the name of the book it is supposed to be in, not the chapter, not the discourse or the verse numbers. This should make one even more suspicious about the authenticity of this passage.
I have studies Pali for 20 years and can read the Tipitaka in that language. Despite my wide knowledge of the Tipitaka I know of nowhere where this passage or anything like it occurs. In order to double check, I sent copies of the passage to eight Buddhist academic institutions in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand asking if they could identify it as being from the Buddhist scriptures or even from any post-canonical writings. I received replies from seven of these institutions which confirmed my findings. All of them said that the passage is spurious. So the conclusion is clear. The claim that the Buddha prophesized the coming of Jesus Christ and that this prophesy is in the Buddhist scriptures is fraudulent and false.
But who would commit such a fraud? Who would knowingly and deliberately lie and for what purpose? As noted above, the passage in question contains several Christian terms and biblical notions. It’s content claims that the Buddha was asking people to await the advent of someone greater than him, i.e. Jesus Christ. Further, having surfed the net I have found that this supposed prophesy only appears on Christian websites. Considering all this, the conclusion seems inescapable. Either a Christian or a group of Christians have perpetrated this fraud. But why would disciples of Christ, a teacher who insisted on the highest ethical standards, be involved in lies, deception, chicanery and fraud? Only the person or persons involved can answer that question. But as a Buddhist, I find it strange that some people are so determined to spread what they believe to be the truth, that they are even prepared to tell lies.
About a year after this hoax began circulating, two scholar monks, one in Sri Lanka and another in Cambodia, wrote refutations of it and exposed it as fraudulent. Since the publication of these refutations, more details about the supposed prophesy have appeared. One of these additions goes like this. Just before the Sixth Buddhist Council in 1956, a Thai monk received permission to copy out the whole of the Tipitaka and while doing this he discovered the prophecy. After he had finished, the authenticity and accuracy of his copy was certified by his local village headman. Later, when the Sixth Council Edition of the Tipitaka was published, the monk discovered that the Buddha’s prophecy had been deleted, and he converted to Christianity. To give this tale an air of authenticity, names, dates and places are included in it, none of which can be authenticated or refuted, which is, of course, probably their purpose. When you can’t prove a fabrication, it’s hard to disprove it also. But once again, this story does not ring true.
A monk would not need ‘permission’ to copy out the Tipitaka any more than you or I would need it to copy out the Bible. If the monk was learned - and he would have to be to copy out the whole of the Tipitaka – why had he not read or at least heard about this prophesy before? The Buddhist clergy have been studying their scriptures for 2000 years. Surely at some point in this monk’s education someone must have mentioned this prophecy if it had really been in the Tipitaka! That a village headman in northern Thailand in the 1950’s would know Pali, let alone known it well enough to vouch for the accuracy of a copy of the Tipitaka, stretches credibility to breaking point. Further, the Tipitaka is a huge book, 45 large volumes in the Royal Thai Edition. It would take one person several decades to accurately copy it out, check it and re-check it. Then it would take the village headman just long to check and compare, word by word, one copy with the other. And another point! Why would a monk in the 1950’s want to or need to make a copy of the Tipitaka? The Royal Thai Edition was published in the 1920s, and has been widely available ever since!
The purpose of this addition to the hoax is obvious. After it was demonstrated that the fake prophecy was not and never has been in the Tipitaka, the fraudsters, or others with the same agenda, began claiming that the prophecy was there but that it was quietly removed during the Sixth Council. It is very easy to disprove this preposterous claim. The whole of the Fifth Council Edition (1871) was engraved on marble slabs and is still available for anyone to check – and the prophecy is not there! Besides that, there are numerous ancient copies of the Tipitaka, dating from hundreds of years before the Sixth Council Edition, and none of them have the supposed prophecy in them. Not one of the many ancient manuscripts of the Tipitaka in the libraries of the Pali Text Society in the UK, and the University of Copenhagen, all of them deposited in those libraries in the 19th century, have the prophecy in them either. And one last point. In the 19th century the famous Christian missionary Reverend Spence Hardy (1813-1900) learned Pali, studied the Tipitaka in detail and wrote numerous books trying to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity over Buddhism. If this prophecy had really been in the Tipitaka before the 1956 Council, Hardy would have surely found it and highlighted it in his numerous writings and sermons. But he never mentioned it or even alluded to it. This is evidence from a Christian source that this prophecy is not and never has been in the Buddhist scriptures. So like the prophecy itself, the claim that it was removed from the Tipitaka is an impudent lie.
Monday, September 21, 2009
The Natyasastra says there are three forms of this greeting; with the hands put to the head, in front of the face or in front of the chest and they are given to the gods, to teachers and to friends respectively. To express more respect one might bow the head, put the hands in a praying gesture and get down on one knee or even on both knees (Thi.109). Not necessarily more respectful but certainly more elaborate, was to get down on both knees and put one’s head at the person’s feet (A.I,146). The most elaborate greeting was to lie prostrate while stroking and kissing the person’s feet (M.II,120; S.I,178). This was called ‘lying prone like a stick’ (dandapanama).
When people went to meet the Buddha they always found him welcoming (ehisagatavadi), friendly (sakhila), polite (sammodaka), genial (abbhakutika), engaging (uttanamukha) and the first to speak (pubbabhasi, D.I,116), and while he accepted greetings and gestures of respect from others, he was not overly concerned about whether or not this was done or how it was done. After a man named Sonadanda took the Three Refuges, he confided to the Buddha that he had a particular problem. He was a brahman and his income depended on the respect other brahmans held him in. If they saw him bowing to the Buddha he would lose the respect of his peers and his income would suffer. ‘So if on entering the assembly hall I put my hands together in greeting, consider it the same as if I had stood up for you. If on entering the assembly I remove my turban consider it the same as if I had bowed at your feet. If when riding in my chariot, I were to get down to salute you others would criticize me. So if I pass you in my chariot and I just lower my head, consider it the same as if I had got down and bowed at your feet.’ (D.I,126). The Buddha had no problems with Sonadanda’s way of paying respect, presumably because he had sympathy with his predicament and because how social formalities were done was of little importance to him.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
The picture shows caning Malaysian-style.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
By Shelly Simonds. From the internet.
The top picture shows Luang Phor Khoon with his ‘iconic’ cigar, spittoon and in his ungainly squatting position. The second picture shows one of the fake bank notes with his picture on it. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry, sometimes I just feel utterly disgusted.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
There is one person whose presence is hard to encounter in the world, whose teachings is seldom heard, whose face is rarely gazed upon and whose compassion is infrequently felt. And who is that person? It is the Tathagata, the Arahat, the fully Enlightened Buddha.
There is one person whose appearance in the world is unique, unequal, incomparable, unparalleled, without counterpart, matchless, unrivaled, and who lifts up the hearts of gods and humans. And who is that person? It is the Tathagata, the Arahat, the fully Enlightened Buddha.
The passing of one person from the world is regretted by the many and causes sorrow. Even though he admonished, ‘After I has passed away, let the Dhamma be your teacher’ still his passing is regretted. Who is that person? It is the Tathagata, the Arahat, the fully Enlightened Buddha.
Adapted from the Anguttara Nikaya I,20
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Turning his back on great wealth and royal glory, and all the security they provide, the Lord renounced his palace to live in the lonely forest. He exchanged a golden palace for the roots of the trees. He did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.
Assailed by Mara and his army, attacked by fearful shapes and sounds, enduring menace and doubt, the Lord remained calm and resolute, never being diverted from his noble quest. He overcame Mara for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.
When the Lord attained enlightenment and achieved his high purpose, he decided to teach what he had realized to others, rather than enjoy the happiness of liberation alone. The Lord did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.
When he heard that Angulimala was waylaying travelers and murdering them, the Lord disregarded the dangers of the lonely roads and went to teach him the Dhamma of peace. He did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.
When the Lord could have partaken in royal banquets, he was content to eat scraps and simple fare. He could have worn cloth of gold gowns but he was satisfied with a robe of rags. The Lord did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.
Disregarding the heat and dust of Summer and the icy winds of the Winter, the Lord traversed long roads and paths, byways and jungle tracks, to teach the Dhamma to one and all. He undertook such journeys for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.
Although abused by Asurinda, denied alms by the people of Pancasala, and mocked by the ascetic Nigrodha, the Lord never turned his back on the hostile, but remained open and friendly. He acted thus for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Mediums are notorious for ‘receiving’ information that turns out to be wrong – or perhaps it’s the message-sender who gets it wrong! The famous American televangelist Pat Robertson regularly gets communications from God. His divine predictions are interesting because he usually announces them on TV so it's possible to later prove whether they were accurate or not. So far, they have all been wrong. For example, two years ago he prophesized that a huge terrorist attack on the US was imminent. In 2006 he predicted that a tsunami would strike the US that year. In 1976 God told him that the world was going to end in 1982. Incidentally, I’m have been told that there is a very exclusive society in the US only open to those who have confidently predicted the end of the world. They have a membership of 123,000 and a past membership of three and half a million.
Getting predictions about the future is one thing, receiving guidance on what to do is another. About two years ago a man came to see me, introduced himself and then airily announced, ‘God has told me to come and talk with you’. Without missing a beat I replied, ‘Pity he didn’t tell me, because I have an appointment in 20 minutes and have to get ready’, I walked passed him and went up to my room leaving him standing there. Apparently some of these divine instructions are very precise and specific, like this one. In this case as with most others, acting on the divine message only caused minor inconvenience to the receiver. But I know of many others where it led people to take dangerous substances, refuse medical treatment, stop taking medication, bring a mentally disturbed child to church instead of a social worker or psychiatrist, fork out large amounts of money, sell their house and move somewhere else, turn against a spouse, etc. Occasionally it leads to people losing their lives.
To know something about Shenist (Taoist) mediumship and mediums have a look at
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Not many know that the encounters and relationship between the two religions commenced almost at the very beginning of Islamic history. The first panellist, Xinru Liu, opened the conference with her research on Tukharistan (northern Afghanistan), Sogdiana (southern Uzbekistan) from 6th to 8th century, which was the junction on the Silk Route for routes going east and west and north and south. This region was Buddhist and Zoroastrian before the Muslims came in as invaders and traders. There was not a sudden conversion because of the fear of the Muslim armies as is generally believed, but close collaboration and cooperation in the region. The people there greatly appreciated the opportunities that came with joining the Islamic culture and civilization. For some, it was also convenient to be Muslim under the Muslim regime and pay no taxes, since in Umayyad times Muslims did not need to pay taxes. However, once Muslim, they continued to be so and the region produced many philosophers, scientists and mathematicians who took Islamic civilization to new heights, while as Liu argues, also preserving their pre-Islamic local cultural traditions.
Equally interesting in this panel was Alexandre Papas’ paper in which he discussed the writings of two Ottoman travellers to China in the early twentieth century. The dialogue between the Muslim authors and Buddhist monks was discussed. It was interesting to see that they discussed the similarities and dissimilarities between the two religions as well as political issues with both their countries facing Western domination. However, the highlight of the day was Georgios Halkias’ paper on Muslim Queens of Buddhist Kingdoms, which was about the practice of bride exchange in Ladakh and Baltistan. According to Halkias, “the Muslim Queens of the Himalayas stand witness to a rich cultural fusion, an old blend of Arab, Persian, Mongol, Indian and Tibetan elements. Ever since the conversion of the Baltis to Islam in the 14th century, the Muslim princess-brides stood as promises of unity and peace and as a means of alleviating conflict between the warring houses of Baltistan and the Buddhist kingdoms of Ladakh.” Interestingly, these Muslim queens ruled the Buddhist kingdoms as well, longest rule having been of 13 years, and were patrons of both Buddhist monasteries and mosques. Muslim and Buddhist interactions in Tibet discussed by José Ignacio Cabezón, was also quite absorbing. According to him, “Muslims—both Muslims of Kashmiri origin and ethnic Chinese Muslims—have lived among Tibetans for centuries.” However, he argues that the “Chinese annexation of the Tibetan plateau has exacerbated the tensions between these two groups.”
The two papers presented on Buddhism in Muslim Indonesia by Karel Steenbrink and Hudaya Kandahjaya were complementary and explained a unique situation really well. Buddhism and Islam have lived together in the region since the arrival of Islam in 1200, Buddhism these days being mainly represented by the Chinese community. Indonesia, in spite of having the largest Muslim population in the world, does not call itself an Islamic state. Six religions are recognized by the state of Indonesia. However, people of all religious communities have to accept the Pancasila ideology, one of its principles being, “belief in the one and high divinity.” This leads to the development of a unique situation for the Buddhists, since in their belief, the presence or absence of God is left undefined. Some Buddhists in compliance with Pancashila and also because of Muslim influence are using the concept of Adi Buddha, a form of divinity. This is seen as problematic by others who perceive it as forming a new kind of theistic Buddhism.
The two papers on Thailand brought about two contrasting pictures of the region. Charles Keyes of University of Washington gave more of a historical perspective telling us that by the beginning of twentieth century, Muslims were a distinct minority in Thailand, they came from South Asia, China, Malaysia and some were also ethnic Thais. However, with the restructuring of the state in the late 19th century and growth of nationalist feelings, promotion of Buddhism became fundamental to Thailand. The result of this being that the Muslims then became the “others” or what is called khaek in Thailand. This rhetoric of difference has led to “some Muslims, especially Malay-speaking Muslims, have embraced fundamentalist versions of Islam and some Thai politicians and Buddhist leaders have accentuated Buddhist nationalism.” On the other hand, Alexander Horstmann’s paper focused on the small village of Ban Tamot in Southern Thailand, where the Muslims are mainly concentrated. He talked about an ancestor-worshipping ritual held in the cemetery, in which local Imams as well as Buddhist monks participate. Very interestingly, “the basis of this ritual is the mutual bond of kinship relations that criss-cross through the religious communities and the local elites. Thus, the Imam of Ban Klong Nui is related to the old Buddhist abbot of Wat Tamot. Second, the village spirit is believed to be of Malay-Muslim origin ... Thus, while not explicitly announced, the participation of Muslims is crucial to the ritual.”
An interesting project on Islam in Tibet has just been finished by the Warburg Institute of the University of London. Two of the papers presented on Rashid al-Din’s (1247-1318) Life of the Buddha were part of the project. Rashid al-Din’s book is considered the oldest World History book, in which he dedicates a separate section on the life of the Buddha. Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim highlighted the aspects from Tibetan Buddhism that are present in the work and also attempted to give evidence of the presence of Buddhists in the Ilkhanid court. Commenting on the same text, Anna Akasoy brought out the use of Islamic terminology by Muslims in trying to understand Buddhist concepts. This is what the two scholars called a 'cultural translation', where Buddhists concepts were Islamicized in order to be understood.
The conference ended with another interesting panel on Religion and Local/Global Identities, where an effort was made to understand how one community perceives another in various places, Japan, India, Thailand and Malaysia. And how contemporary scenarios like the 9/11 affect relations, although needless to say, do not alter them completely. This conference gave a much needed comparative religious perspective. More such efforts are needed to bring out the fact that most religious people when left to themselves are able to live together in a collaborative and cooperative way, enriching all the cultures and religions involved. This “cultural translation” is an ongoing process, in spite of the hoopla surrounding fundamentalisms of all sorts today. (The picture shows the mosque in Lhasa).
By Juhi Shahin from Rethinking Islam
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Thursday, September 3, 2009
To an outsider or someone not well-informed about Buddhism, its numerous school, sects and traditions may appear to be so diverse as to have little or nothing in common. While it is true that some sects and cults identifying themselves as Buddhist are not really (Soka Gakki, True Mantra Buddhism?), all genuinely Buddhists traditions share certain common features. In 1967, First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, representing Buddhists from 25 countries and made up of all the main Buddhist traditions, drew up an ecumenical document called ‘The Basic Points Unifying the Theravada and the Mahayana’. This document is a concise formula for the unifying principles that all Buddhists adhered too and was unanimously approved by all the participants of the Council. The statement reads -
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Deputy Public Health Minister told a press conference that the Ministry was determined to implement various measures to minimize the impacts of alcohol consumption. He did not say whether Bangkok’s annual Beer Festival held every October will be affected. On 8 July 2008, the Cabinet decided to designate Rains Retreat each year “No Alcohol Day.” Refraining from drinking alcohol is considered a worthy act, not only for keeping people in good health, but also in compliance with Buddhist principles, which include a call for abstaining from intoxicating drinks.
Statistics show that 60 percent of road accidents in Thailand are caused by drunk driving and that alcohol consumption led to an indirect economic loss of 156 billion baht during the past two years. Medical costs alone were as high as 5.5 billion baht. The country has the 45th highest alcohol consumption rate in the world, far above that of any other Buddhist country. In 2007, the sales volume of alcoholic drinks in Thailand amounted to 2,300 million litres, and it dropped to 2,000 million litres in 2008.
As for legal measures, the Ministry of Public Health was successful in pushing for the passage of Thailand’s Alcohol Control Act, which came into force on February 14th, 2008. Apart from banning liquor advertising, the act also seeks to restrict the sale of alcohol in or near temples, public parks, government offices, and schools. Other related laws will be enforced to impose stricter controls on alcohol sales. According to the Department of Disease Control, a survey conducted in 2007 on alcohol consumption indicated that out of 51.2 million Thais aged 15 and over, 14.9 million, or 29.3 percent, were alcohol drinkers. Among this group, 34.4 percent were in the working age group, followed by 21.9 percent for the group, comprising young people aged between 15 and 24, most of whom are students.