Sunday, January 31, 2010
Saturday, January 30, 2010
It is for these reasons I often quote the Buddha’s words and as much as possible give their reference from the Tipitaka. Occasionally readers of my blog ask me what the references I give mean and I have answered these questions before. Alessandro asked this question in a comment on the post for 28th January so I will take this opportunity to answer him fully for his and future readers benefit.
I always use the Pali Text Society’s editions of the Pali Tipitaka as it the most easily available of all the editions of the Tipitaka, it is the only one in Roman script and it is (I think) as accurate as the other editions. These are the PTS abbreviations for the main Pali texts.
A = Anguttara Nikaya
D = Digha Nikaya
Dhp = Dhammapada
Ja = Jataka
It = Itivuttaka
M = Mijjhima Nikaya
Mil = Milindapanha
S = Samyutta Nikaya
Sn = Sutta Nipata
Th = Theragatha
Thi = Therigatha
Ud = Udana
Vibh = Vibhanga
Vin = Vinaya
Vism = Visuddhimagga
Often after an initial will be a Roman numeral which refers to the volume number of the PTS edition of the book. Of course, Dhp, It, Sn, Th, Thi, Ud and Vism will not have a Roman numeral because they are in one volume. These initials will have a number after them which will represents the verse number in the case of Dhp, Sn, Th and Thi, and the page number in the case of It, Ud and Vism. If I use the Apadana (Ap), Buddhavamsa (Bv), Kathavatthu (Kv), Petavatthu (Pv), Vimanavatthu (Vv) or other more obscure works, I will try to remember to give the full reference, i.e. no initials.
Hears an interesting bit of sociological information for you. After finishing this post I put ‘sutra’ in my image search hoping to get a picture of a Buddhist sutra. All I got were sexual images related to the Kama Sutra, hundreds of them. So then I put in the Pali equivalent ‘sutta’ and all I got was pictures of an actress named Jessica Sutta. In the end I settled on this picture of Huien Tsiang carrying copied of the suttas back from India.
Friday, January 29, 2010
There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There's a little marble cross below the town;
There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.
He was known as "Mad Carew"
by the subs at Khatmandu,
He was hotter than they felt inclined to tell;
But for all his foolish pranks,
he was worshipped in the ranks,
And the Colonel's daughter smiled on him as well.
He had loved her all along,
with a passion of the strong,
The fact that she loved him was plain to all.
She was nearly twenty-one
and arrangements had begun
To celebrate her birthday with a ball.
He wrote to ask what present she would like from Mad Carew;
They met next day as he dismissed a squad;
And jestingly she told him then that nothing else would do
But the green eye of the little Yellow God.
On the night before the dance,
Mad Carew seemed in a trance,
And they chaffed him as they puffed at their cigars:
But for once he failed to smile,
and he sat alone awhile,
Then went out into the night beneath the stars.
He returned before the dawn,
with his shirt and tunic torn,
And a gash across his temple dripping red;
He was patched up right away,
and he slept through all the day,
And the Colonel's daughter watched beside his bed.
He woke at last and asked if they could send his tunic through;
She brought it, and he thanked her with a nod;
He bade her search the pocket saying "That's from Mad Carew,"
And she found the little green eye of the god.
She upbraided poor Carew in the way that women do,
Though both her eyes were strangely hot and wet;
But she wouldn't take the stone and Mad Carew was left alone
With the jewel that he'd chanced his life to get.
When the ball was at its height,
on that still and tropic night,
She thought of him and hurried to his room;
As she crossed the barrack square
she could hear the dreamy air
Of a waltz tune softly stealing thro' the gloom.
His door was open wide, with silver moonlight shining through;
The place was wet and slipp'ry where she trod;
An ugly knife lay buried in the heart of Mad Carew,
'Twas the "Vengeance of the Little Yellow God."
There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There's a little marble cross below the town;
There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
And the weirdest thing about traditional Buddhism’s divorce from reality is that it is highly likely that real fragments of the Buddha’s material body actually do exist. The bone fragments found in the Piprahwa stupa in 1898 look like burnt human bone, they have not been touched since they were placed there in perhaps the 5th/4th century BCE and an inscription found with them mentions that they were placed there by the Sakyans, the tribe of people the Buddha belonged to. Of course, none of this has attracted much attention or excitement from traditional Buddhists. They are too busy worshipping any one of the 240 Buddha’s teeth in circulation, the ‘flesh’ relics that look like brightly-colored glass balls as big as a gobstopper and the white, meter long, thick as your wrist, Buddha’s finger relic that can multiply.
Charles Allen’s new book, The Buddha and Dr. Fuhrer, is the full story about the Piprahwa relics and the events surrounding their discovery. Allen has spent the last 30 years chronicling the history of the British in India but as I discovered when I met his in 2003, he has more than a passing interest in the Buddha’s Dhamma. He has written probably the best book on Mt. Kailash (A Mountain in Tibet, 1982), on the enduring appeal of Tibetan culture and religion (The Search of for Shangri-La, 1999) and the beginnings of Buddhist archeology in India (The Buddha and the Sahibs, 2002). His new book is in a sense a continuation of this last one. It tells of the search for Kapilavatthu, the discovery of the Asokan pillar marking the Buddha’s birth place, and the discovery of what are very likely to be the only genuine relics of the Buddha. It’s a complicated story, including as it does, high adventure, idealism, professional jealousy, nationalism and even fraud, but Allen unravels its many tangled strands and makes it clear. He also tells, I think for the first time, the full story of the notorious Dr. Fuhrer who committed a series of blatant frauds in his desire to win recognition as an eminent archeologist and glory for discovering the lost city of Kapilavatthu. It’s a great story and I sat up all night until I’d finished reading it.
If you want to know more about the Buddha Relic Museum have a look at
And if your planning to visit you’ll be pleased to know that there is ample free parking.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
After attaining enlightenment there is no record of the Buddha fasting himself or recommending fasting. Monks and nuns are expected to abstain from food from noon to sunrise the next day, a too short to be considered fasting. Also, during that time they are allowed to take fruit juices and other liquids. Milk is included in the prohibition against food at night but for some unaccountable reason Thai monks ignore the fact that cheese is made out of milk and eat it in the evenings. The Vinaya also stipulates that monks and nuns can eat honey, sugar, oil and ghee in the evening if they are ill (Vin.III,51). Sri Lankan monks participating in all-night chanting will consume a mixture of these four substances. This mixture is called catumadhura. Lay people keeping the uposatha will also abstain from food from noon to sunrise the next day. The Buddha’s recommendation to monks and nuns to abstain from food at night seems to have been entirely for reasons of health. He said, ‘I do not eat in the evening and thus am free from illness and affliction and enjoy health, strength and ease’ (M.I473). Long fasts such as are recommended by certain ‘health’ practitoners are not good for health and would contravene the Buddha’s concept of talking a middle way (majjhima patipada) and avoiding extremes. Ashvaghosa in his Saundaranandakavya gives this sensible advice about eating, ‘For the sake of your meditation and your good health, be measured in your eating. Too much food restricts the breathing, causes sloth and sleepiness and destroys one’s energy. Too little food drains the body of its solidity, its healthy color, its usefulness and its strength’.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
I was amazed to see the pictures of Gurpa. I can honestly say that it was I who brought this place to public notice after re-discovering it in 1992 and publishing an article about in the Middle Way in 1998 (February). During my second trip there Ven. Ananda from Bodh Gaya accompanied me, later he informed some Taiwanese pilgrims about the place, and now it has changed from a quite hill in the jungle to an essential tourist stop – all in just 15 years. I was also delighted to see that the Bihar State Government has finally got around to ‘improving’ Vikramasila. Do have a look at Mr. Bhatia’s website, it is really worth a visit. It’s called The Buddhist Heritage and it’s at http://bhpromo.org/
If you would like to read about my recent visit to Kuvadol (Kawadol) have a look at
http://sdhammika.blogspot.com/2008/06/parayanavagga.html And if you would like to read more about little visited ancient Buddhist sites in Bihar read my Middle Land Middle Way, details in the side bar.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
All the attention given to the women’s ordination-Achan Brahm-Wat Nong Pa Pong fracas, but especially the tenor of the attention, is getting a bit irritating. At the very least, the spectacle of rank new-comers to a 25 hundred year old tradition, or if you prefer, 13 hundred or so in Thailand, bashing its caretakers and transmitters, without whom there would be no tradition for us to be newcomers to, because they fail to conform to our own very modern, very Western, ideals, leaves a bad taste. Don’t get me wrong. I am very much in favor of full ordination for women—on an equal basis with men (which, of course, will require some creative reinterpretation of the garukadhamma), and I am excited about the ordination at the center of the controversy. The burning issue, however, should not be the injustice of severing Achan Brahm’s official ties to Wat Nong Pa etc., but how to proceed with building a Western Sangha in a way that remains true to the tradition even as adapting, even radically altering it for the West. From that perspective, indeed, the “excommunication” of Achan Brahm and his monasery is a gift. He, at least, and those who are with him, need no longer worry themselves over the approval or disapproval of the Thai Sangha. But that is what all this is about. There has been no excommunication. No one has been forced to disrobe or barred from the pursuit of nibbana. What has happened, rather, is that the Thai hierarchy has distanced itself decisively from an act that it is not ready to condone. Don’t be fooled. Whether or not the monks at Wat Nong Pa genuinely want to take the punitive actions they have been taking, the hierarchy is leaning on them, to the extent necessary forcing them, to do so. Take proprietary control of “Thai” monasteries abroad run by Western monks? That’s the hierarchy speaking, even if it is presented as a request by Wat Nong Pa. And if the monks refused to comply (I’m not saying that they would refuse, I don’t know that, only supposing if), they would risk their monastery losing its legal status, its lands appropriated, the monks expelled.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Sometimes you can hardly believe your ears! This morning I read the news item about the arms contractor who puts a coded message from the Bible (John 8,12) in all the weapons parts it makes for US forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems that the founder of this company, Mr. Glyn Bindon, was a devote evangelical Christian. Apart from playing into the hands of Muslim extremists who claim that the so-called war against terror is really a Christian crusade against Islam, one can only wonder how Mr. Bindon understood his religion. After reading this news item I took out my Bible, stood it on edge so that it fell open randomly. Then I perused the page it opened at and I found this passage. ‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like Him…If someone says, “I love God” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, who he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must love his brother’ (I John 4, 16-21). How Mr. Bindon was able to square this with making gun sights to efficiently kill his brothers is anyone’s guess.
At times like these, as the world watches a horrible tragedy such as the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath play out, one of the questions people inevitably ask is ‘Why does God allow things like this to happen?’ The BBC has thought it appropriate to ask a professional philosopher to give his thoughts on this question. Have a look at
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
By Anthony Boadle, editing by Pascal Fletcher
One of the many groups who are not taking advantage of the misery in Haiti to make converts is The Tzu Chi Foundation. Have a look at http://www.us.tzuchi.org/usa/home.nsf/photonews/k12950
Monday, January 18, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
`Did any of the teachers of the brahmans or even their teachers going back through seven generations ever say that'?
`Then what of ancient brahman sages who composed the Vedic hymns, who chanted, uttered and compiled them and which the brahmans of today still chant and recite, just repeating what has been repeated and chanting what has been chanted? Did they ever say "We know.We see. This alone is true, all else is false"?'
`No Gotama. They did not.'
`Imagine a string of blind men each touching each other. The first one does not see, the middle one does not see and neither does the last. The claim of the brahmans is like this. The first one does not see, the middle one does not see and neither does the last. So it seems that the faith of the brahmans turns out to be groundless.'(M.II,169-70).
The Buddha dismissed the worship of the sacred fire (aggihotta), the central sacrament of Brahmanism, as `an outlet to failure' (apayamukhani, D.I,102). The practice of animal sacrifice, the efficacy of rituals, the caste system, the belief in an eternal soul and indeed nearly all practices legitimized by the Vedas, were similarly rejected by him. Those who say that the Buddha was a Hindu or that Buddhism is a reformed version of Hinduism are seriously misinformed.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Another important aspect of the Vedas that influenced Buddhism was how they were preserved and passed on. The old canard that critics of Buddhism always raise is that in being orally preserved for several centuries the records we have of the Buddha’s teachings must be very reliable, worthless even. In reality, long before Buddha, the brahmins had evolved ways of remembering and passing on the Vedic hymns with an extraordinary degree of accuracy. Many of the Buddha’s disciples were brahmins and they bought to their new faith the skills they had been schooled in as part of their education, and used them to preserve the Buddha’s words. There is an excellent article on Wikipedia called ‘Vedic Chant’ which explains how this was done. The article ‘Vedas’ is very informative too.
Quite apart from all this, at least some familiarity with the Vedas is a good anyway. They are amongst the most beautiful religious literature ever written. If you want to do this I would recommend Wendy Doniger’s (she of the new Kama Sutra translation, and numerous other excellent works) The Rig Veda published in Penguin Classics and available in most bookshops. Doniger’s translations are readable, clear and not overloaded with notes. Her selection and arrangement (108 hymns altogether) also offers a good introduction to this wonderful literature. All the old favorites are here – The Hymn to the Water, the Gambler’s Lament, the Hymn to Creation (Nasadiya), In Praise of Generosity, and my favorite, The Croaking of the Frogs. Some of this must have been familiar to the Buddha and he must have sometimes heard the melodious and hypnotic sound of the Vedas being chanted.
If you’ve never heard Vedic chanting have a listen to these two examples of it. This first one is a slightly modernized rendition of Vedic chanting
This second example is the real thing, done as it was done at the time of the Buddha. Brahmins can do this for hours at a stretch – with perfect intonation and without error.
Friday, January 15, 2010
My experience tells me that radiating metta towards others, those I love, those I usually don’t think too much about, those I don’t like (Yes, there are one or two of those!) effects me. It gradually s makes me more appreciative of those I love, it make me notice a bit more those I usually don’t bother too much about, and it gradually sooths any resentments I have towards others. When I radiate metta to the sick, the distressed, the dying, etc. it may or may not benefit them directly. But it certainly makes me more sensitive to the distress of others, it prevents me from suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’ and therefore I am more likely to do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
If you would like to read my understanding of natural disasters and kama from a Buddhist perspective please go to
then read this commentary on different religious reactions to the earthquake from the New York Times
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
This is a typical example of the profundity of so many of the Buddha’s discourses. He starts by pointing out the obvious – that some people think of no one but themselves – and then he calls into question a commonly held assumption – that to help others and not yourself, being totally self-sacrificing, is the most noble thing you can do. This point can give rise to some very interesting thoughts and considerations. As can the words ‘for the good’. And with his usual skill the Buddha rounds it all up with a most appealing analogy, the extracting of the essence of lovely, creamy, warm, nourishing milk. Just one point. What is the skimming of ghee (sappimanda)? When you make ghee you will notice little bits of butter milk, water and maybe one or two cows’ hairs or dirt in the bottom. When you skim off the golden-colored ghee leaving this residue behind, that is the skimming of ghee.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Saturday, January 9, 2010
‘I’m struck, again and again, at the vast gap that exists between how the Sangha is seen and the reality of what it is.’ I was too, about 30 years back. But I eventually recognized this problem and pointed it out. But the only response I got was to be accused of being unfair, biased and of ‘letting the team down, including by Western monks. ‘As a monk, I am all too aware of how I offer a field for projection. Wrapped in our ochre robes, with shaven heads, we monastics deliberately strip ourselves of personal identity… We are removed, separated, distant, surrounded by layers of formalities, rituals, and taboos. For the Buddhist lay community we are the ‘other’, forever inaccessible. The things we surround ourselves with – robes, bowl, and the rest – retain little of their original functionality, and serve primarily as symbols that associate us with the lineage of the Buddha. We don’t just offer ourselves for projection, we positively invite, almost demand it.’ No Sujato, you and most of the other monks, but especially those in the Thai forest tradition ‘demand’ special attention – I don’t and a few other modern monks I know don’t either. You deliberately ‘offer a field of projection’ to the lay community, you choose too, indeed you insist on surrounding yourselves with ‘formalities, rituals and taboos’. As I have pointed out many times before, the first thing one is instructed in when one goes to a Thai temple on in the West and especially one in the Thai forest tradition, is all the ‘formalities, rituals and taboos’.
Sujato points out that the accusations of mismanagement in Brahmavamso’s monastery is not just untrue but also hypocritical, given the widespread corruption in Thai monasteries. One can only wonder why senior Thai monks are so concerned about supposed mismanagement in the Perth when they do nothing about the pervasive corruption closer to home. ‘In the forest monasteries you will constantly hear stories of how corrupt the city/village monks are: the monks who set up a still to brew the leftover sticky rice from alms-round – and then tried to sell the liquor back to the villagers; the monastery that was running a brothel out the back; the use of temple boys to pleasure the monks; the monk who had an affair with a novice, and then when he got jealous, murdered his unfaithful lover; the tudong monk who stayed overnight in a village monastery, only to wake up with a naked monk in his bed; the village who got so sick of their monks’ behavior they took their Buddha image to Bangkok, dumped it and declared they would no longer be Buddhists; the monastery that was so jealous when a nearby monastery actually started teaching meditation that they accused the meditation teacher of being a communist spy; the monks who salt away all the temple money for years, then disrobe and retire rich; selling drugs from monasteries; or the claim by the Thai Religious Affairs department that 10% of Thai monks were addicted to methamphetamine. And on it goes.’ Only 10%! I always assumed it was much higher than that. Oh no, wait a minuet, I was thinking of alcoholism.
‘The notion that there are a set of ‘uniform rules’ that ‘effectively govern’ monasteries in Thailand is utter nonsense. Mainstream Thai Buddhism is rotten to its core. You don’t have to take my word for it, look at the actions of Phra Mongkut, or Ajahn Mun, or Ajahn Chah. They all operated under the quite reasonable knowledge that mainstream Thai Buddhism was bereft of any genuine Dhamma, and that only by reforming or living on the margins of the system could one live with integrity. Things have not improved since their times. On the contrary, it has got much worse. The past generation has seen unprecedented wealth pour into the coffers of the Thai Sangha. There is precious little oversight and no proper policies on how to deal with this. Everyone agrees that the existing system is inadequate at best and needs overhauling, yet no-one has been able to do it. So it just lurches along from scandal to scandal.’
For more of Sujato’s comments go to www.sujato.wordpress.com and have a look at ‘Sooner of Later We’ll have Female Monks Everywhere’, Dec. 28, 2009; ‘Reform – A Challenge’, Dec. 17 2009.
All this has prompted me to consider republishing on this blog my Broken Buddha, something I wrote 10 years ago about my assessment of the problems of traditional Theravada, the cause of these problems, and the need for Western Buddhists to distance themselves from Asian Buddhism and evolve a Buddhism for the 21st century West. Look out for it.
Friday, January 8, 2010
I don’t know to what extent Woods is a Buddhist. In an interview in 1996 he said, “I believe in Buddhism. Not every aspect, but most of it. So I take bits and pieces.” This could point to careful consideration of the Buddha’s teachings and an inquiring that is ongoing but not yet complete, and this would be quite in keeping with the spirit of the Dhamma. Or it could point to that disgusting and dishonest old copout “I practices those parts of my religion I like and ignore those parts that don’t suit me.” Woods’ other comments about Dhamma does not suggest a deep faith in the Dhamma. “I don't believe that human beings can achieve ultimate enlightenment, because humans have flaws.” If you do not accept the possibility of human enlightenment then that pretty much reduces Buddhism to little more than a system of self-improvement. However, to what extent Woods understands the Dhamma and takes it seriously I cannot say. I hope his knowledge of it is deep and his commitment to it is strong, despite his recent failings. If it is, it will certainly help him recover his balance after his recent problems and to learn from them. I wish him well.
On the recent comments of Woods and his religion have a look at
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Monday, January 4, 2010
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Saturday, January 2, 2010
I will start the New Year tomorrow with something really different.