Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
Comment: I can’t say I have ever heard of Akon. But if he’s touring Sri Lanka (a beautiful country but let’s face it, top of the list or rock music backwaters) he must be very desperate. And as for his video, I think the indignant monks can go back to their meditation in peace. After the video and Akon himself are forgotten (in 5 years?) the Buddha will still be around and attracting an audience. The Buddha has survived worse.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
“Lord, I do have some regret and sorrow.”
“Have you anything concerning virtue to reproach yourself about?”
“No, Lord, I have nothing to reproach myself about.”
“Then why are you troubled by regret and sorrow?”
“Because Lord, for a long time I have been wanting to see you but I have not had the strength to do so.”
Thursday, March 25, 2010
When Sanskrit and Avestan studies began in Europe in the late 18th century the word arya was noticed and came to be used for the family of languages we now call Indo-Iranian, i.e. most Indian, Iranian and European languages, and by extension, the people who spoke those languages. Europeans, particularly blue-eyed, blond-haired ‘Nordic’ peoples came to be seen as the ancestors of the ancient Aryans who had conquered India in ancient times, just as the British had conquered India (and half the rest of the world) in the 19th century. Thus the word took on a distinctly racist and imperialist coloring. By the late 19th century such an association was being discarded in scientific circles but among ill-informed people and especially among the more loony right-wing groups, particularly in Germany, it lingered. Hitler picked it up and the rest is history, very ugly history. As Nazism perverted everything it touched, it likewise gave the word arya/ariya something of a bad reputation. But of course, no informed person could find any similarity between how the word was (and sometimes still is) used by racists and how it is used in Buddhism. For all the uses of ariya in the Tipitaka have a look at the PTS’s Pali-English Dictionary and their new A Dictionary of Pali. The article ‘Arya’ in the Encyclopedia of Buddhism examines the use of the word within the wider Buddhist context and the article ‘Aryan’ on Wikipedia gives a pretty good account of the words use in philology and politics.
The Aryan race myth was never more effectively discredited than by those who loudly proclaimed it, not just in their behavior but even in their looks - Hitler with his sickly yellow skin and black hair, the grotesquely obese Goring, Dr. Gobbles with his club foot, cadaverous features and beak-like nose, the offish bald-headed Julius Streicher with his paunch, and the weakly, shortsighted Himmler. It’s hard to decide which of this bunch of Aryan supermen was the worst but if I was forced to choose I’d probably pick Julius Streicher. Even the other Nazis found him repulsive (although characteristically Hitler always liked him) and in 1940 he was quietly sacked and told not to attend any more Party functions. God! How unsavory would you have to be to be blackballed by the Nazis!
Related to this, the swastika, so often associated with the Nazis, has been used in Buddhism (and in nearly all cultures and religions) for centuries. Here is carvings incorporating swastikas on the Dharmik Stupa at Sarnath where the Buddha taught his first proclaimed the Dhamma.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
In 1952, the third feature film representing the life of Buddha, Dedication of the Great Buddha, had its premiere. Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896-1982) directed the picture for the Japanese film company Daiei Eiga and it was nominated for the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. The fourth film about Buddha was the documentary entitled Gotama the Buddha. This black and white film was released by the government of India in 1957 as part of the Buddha's 2500th birthday celebration. Rajbans Khanna was the director and Bimal Roy as producer. It got an honorable mention at Cannes in 1957 because of its stunning beauty. Since then another ten films including two animated films on the life of the Buddha, none of then box office successes.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
For Buddhists, Saint Francis is the most attractive of all the Christian saints. In many ways his life was similar to the Buddha’s. His behaviour and teachings manifested the best of Jesus’ gospel of love; gentleness, forgiveness, simplicity and renunciation, but without the dogmatism and harshness. He was also particularly kind to animals, something that had no place in Christianity up till then. If Francis had been one of his disciples, the Buddha would have praised him as an exemplary monk. However, the two men were also different in some ways. Francis was inept in practical matters while the Buddha showed sound judgement and common sense in most things he did. Francis’ simplicity extended to intellectual matters; he was innocent, trusting and guileless in the best possible way. The Buddha by contrast, was thoughtful, knowledgeable and intellectually rigorous. Francis had all the endearing qualities of a child; the Buddha, all the finest attributes of an adult.
The lives, teachings and examples of the Buddha and Saint Francis are important today in that they can serve as bridges of understanding between Buddhists and Christians.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
The coiffeur’s art was very sophisticated by the Buddha’s time and both men and women paid a great deal of attention to their hair. Women favored parting their hair in the middle (dvedhasira vibhatta), wearing plats (veni, Ja.II,185) and applying sandal oil to it both to perfume it and make it glisten (Ja.V,156). The courtesan Ambapali used to wear her glossy-black hair curled at the ends, with flowers in it, well-parted with a comb, decorated with gold ornaments and adorned with plats (Thi.252-5). When Nanda left to become a monk, he looked back and saw his girlfriend with her ‘hair half combed’ (upaddhullikhitehi kesehi), an image that later he couldn’t get out of his mind (Ud.22). For men, sikhabandha consisted of twisting long hair and a long cloth together and then tying it around the head into a turban (D.I,7). Boys would wear five topknots or bums called culaka (Ja.V,250) and women would sometimes have a jeweled diadem attached to theirs (Ja.I,65). Buns on the back, top or the side of the head were also popular. Bees’ wax and sometimes banyan tree sap was applied to slick the hair down (Vin.II,207) Men trimmed their beards, wore them long, grew goatees (golomikam karapenti), and shaped them into four points. They would also pluck out grey hairs to disguise the fact that they were getting old (Vin.II,134). Some ascetics wore dreadlocks (jatila), i.e. the hair matted into long braids and allowed to either hang down or be tied together into various shapes. When the braids were tied into a bun on the top of the head it was called jatanduva (S.I,117). Some ascetics wore topknots (sikhabandha) while others shaved their heads or pulled their hair out (D.I,167). Brahmans probably shaved their heads except for a small part at the back which was left to keep growing, as they still do today.
The Buddha asked his monks to keep their heads and faces shaved and nuns to keep their heads shaved, probably for hygienic reasons and to lessen vanity (Vin.II,207). Nuns were expected to shave their under-arm and pubic hair which was a sign of respectability in women (Vin.III,260). Monks were also asked to cut the hair in their noses if it got too long so as to avoid having a curious or unpleasant appearance(Vin.II,134) .
Thursday, March 11, 2010
I read this verse a few days ago and it reminded me of my own physical decline. But then it occurred to me that I’ve never been much to look at so there is not much to moan about there. So I thought I might look up some of the great ‘icons’ of my youth to see what ageing has done to their ‘alluring’ beauty. Two I thought of were Liza Minnelli and Joe Dallesandro. A few moments on Google Image gave me these images. Just look at what miserable old age’ (and probably a lot of booze, drugs, late nights and serial marriages and divorces) have done to them!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The view propagated by the (Protestant) Reformers was that miracles were concocted by a conspiracy of clergymen in order to induce simple men, who knew no better, to part with their money…On the eve of the Reformation there was considerable evidence to support such a view, and the Church’s critics made full use of it. In his diatribe against the pilgrimage to Wilsnack, John Hus alleged that the clergy paid handsome sums to beggars to wander from town to town announcing that they had been cured or exorcized at Wilsnack. Hus had himself sat on a tribunal convened by the archbishop of Prague to examine those citizens of Prague who asserted that they had been cured there. These included a boy whose deformed foot was found to be worse than ever, and two women who were said to have recovered their sight ‘but who, on clear investigation, were found never to have been blind.’ One witness testified that after three days and nights of fruitless vigils at Wilsnack he was suddenly seized by a priest who cried out ‘A miracle! A miracle! Come and see this citizens of Prague whose withered hand has been healed.’ ‘O priest, why do you lie thus’, the man exclaimed with unusual presence of mind, ‘see hand is as withered as ever.’
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
One other thing. In the comments, some of my readers said that ‘killing for any reason must have a kammic consequence.’ While I agree completely, this sort of comment implies that the whole purpose of Buddhism is not to make any negative kamma no matter what, to go through life ultra-careful not to do anything that might ‘make bad kamma.’ Clearly the less negative kamma we have to deal with the better. However, we should keep in mind that the purpose of Dhamma is to develop that wisdom and understanding that can free us from the rounds of samsara. There may be times or situations in life where we genuinely feel that we can manage a bit of negative kamma, or that the consequences of doing some action are less negative than abstaining from doing it.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Friday, March 5, 2010
(C) Although the mind is a subtle and complex phenomena and its workings are difficult to plumb, the doctrine of kamma is all too often presented in the most naive and simplistic terms. For example, one often hears people say ‘If you kill you will...(fill in the gap – be killed in your next life, be reborn as a worm, go to hell, etc.).Interestingly, although not surprisingly, the Buddha criticized such generalizations.
(D) ‘If anyone were to say that just as a person does a deed, so is his experience is determined by it, and if this were true, then living the holy life would not be possible, there would be no opportunity for the overcoming of suffering. But if anyone were to say that a person does a deed that is to be experienced, so does he experience it, then living the holy life would be possible, there would be an opportunity for the ending of suffering. For instance, a small evil deed done by one person may be experienced here in this life or perhaps not at all. Now, what sort of person commits a small evil that takes him to hell? Take a person who is careless in the development of body, speech and mind. He has not developed wisdom, he is insignificant, he has not developed himself, his life is restricted, and he is miserable. Even a small evil deed may bring such a person to hell. Now, take the person who is careful in development of body, speech and mind, He has developed wisdom, he is not insignificant, he has developed himself, his life is unrestricted and he is immeasurable. For such a person, a small evil deed may be experienced here or perhaps not at all. Suppose someone throws a grain of salt into a little cup of water. That water would be undrinkable. And why? Because the amount of water is small. Now, suppose throws a grain salt in River Ganges. That water would not be undrinkable. And why? Because the amount of water is great’ (A.I,249).
(E) So let’s say, Mr. X kills a friend during an argument that gets out of hand, and you say ‘He will have a negative rebirth.’ Such a statement assumes several things. (1) That what Mr. X did during the (let’s say) 19 minutes of the violent and ultimately lethal argument, will completely overwhelm and cancel out everything else he did during the other (let’s say) 68 years of his life; and (2) that his murderous act will have absolutely no effect on him in this life, only in his next life. Both these assumptions are highly doubtful. Mr. X may have been a caring and compassionate social worker, he may have been a thug and a bully. Surely what he was like and how he behaved during his whole life would have some impact on the intensity of the vipaka he will experience as a result of his murder! If he was a caring and compassionate person the vipaka from that may well dilute the vipaka from his murder. And when we speak of vipaka, why do we always insist that this must manifest only in the next life? Perhaps Mr. X feels a deep and painful remorse for his behaviour and that he spends 15 years in prison because of it. If so, this would be the vipaka for the murder he committed. In fact, it may well be that by the time Mr. X passes away his subsequent remorse and contrition and the good deeds he does after the murder, exhausts the negative vipaka he had generated.
(F) So I maintain that the usual mechanistic and simplistic understanding of kamma does not take into account the complex and multi-faceted phenomena that is human intentions, human behaviour and human consciousness. Perhaps this is the reason why the Buddha mildly rebuked those who confidently and glibly proclaimed which good or bad act would have which vipaka. When the Buddha heard that Migasala was proclaiming that a certain deceased person had been reborn in a certain place because of their kamma he said, ‘Who is this Migasala...to know the complexity of the human character?’ (A.III,351). Purisapuggalaparopariyanana is a difficult compound but the translation ‘the complexity of the human character’ does, I think, capture its general meaning.
(G) One other point relevant to the ‘killing bed bugs’ issue. I know of no place where the Buddha makes a distinction between killing, i.e. between species (human and animal), between the size of the victim (cow and ant) or between intention in killing (self-defence and hunting for pleasure). However, the Vinaya makes one such distinction, considering murder an offence so serious as to require permanent expulsion from the Sangha (Parajika 3), while killing an animal is a far less serious offence (Pacittiya 62), on a par with insulting someone, idle chatter and having a non-regulation size sitting mat. This distinction is probably based on the idea that the intentions behind killing a fellow human would be markedly stronger and more intense than those behind killing an animal. Each of us has probably noticed that we differently about the death of a person, the death of a warm blooded animal and that of an insect. Likewise we probably notice a difference in how we felt if we were to kill a chicken and an ant. These feeling must be partly socially conditioned but whatever their cause they do affect our minds differently and therefore have different vipaka. I am not stating this as a fact but only as a possible explanation for the Vinaya’s (and most peoples’) distinction between killing a human and an animal.
(H) I will continue this examination tomorrow. If you have any comments which include some of the theoretical and complex ideas about the different types of kamma, please distinguish between (1) the Buddha’s words from the Tipitaka, (2) concepts from the Abhidhamma Pitaka and (3) concepts from later medieval abhidhamma literature.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
In the meantime, here are a few real scenarios which have made me think more deeply about the first Precept.
(1) A species of goose native to Europe but very similar to a Canadian species was introduced into Canada. Being more aggressive, the European goose is interbreeding with the native one it so that it is now threatened with extinction. The wildlife authorities are considering culling the European geese in the hope that it might save the native bird. Catching the European geese and confining them has been ruled out as being prohibitively expensive. What should they do?
(3) A few decades ago Thailand’s Malaria Eradication Authority embarked on a comprehensive spraying program in a district which had been plagued by malaria for as long as anyone could remember. The abbot of a temple in a village near a swamp known to the locals as the Buzzing Swamp, protested that killing the mosquitoes would be breaking the first Precept and urged the villagers not to co-operate with the program. Apparently no one took much notice of him. However, did he do the right thing?
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
From one perspective Cimex lectularius is a fascinating little creature. They are mentioned in the Tipitaka (e.g. Ja.1,10; III,423) where they are called mankuna. They can live for up to a year without feeding. Although slow-moving, their repulsive taste protects them from predators and even we humans are reluctant to squash them because of the offensive smell they give off. They even have a political dimension. By the early 60s they’d been almost eliminated in the UK. Then Mrs. Thatcher got elected and within three or four years they had returned with a vengeance. If bed bugs could vote they would always support the candidates advocating ‘trickle-down economics’ and promising to cut welfare payments and ‘streamline’ the health services. The other thing you have to admire them for is their tenacity. Once you get bed bugs they are extremely difficult to get rid of.
Well, a fortnight ago I found a bed bug in my bed. I was not a happy monk. The next morning I thoroughly checked the mattress, sheets, pillows, the bed itself but found none of the tell-tale signs of their presence. A week later another bug crawled out of a book I was reading. Then a day later I found another one. I realized it was time to take action. I took all the furniture outside and tipped boiling water over it – not just to kill the little blighters but also any of their eggs that might be there. Then I went out and bought some insect spray and sprayed every nook and cranny in the room. I soaked all my bed sheets, pillowslips and robes in boiling water and then put them through the washing machine twice. Then I put all my books in large plastic bags, sprinkled them with moth balls (naphthalene) and sealed the bags for a week. Now I’m waiting. I’ll keep you updated.
But while waiting I am also thinking. I know I deliberately and with full consciousness killed three living beings and probably killed at least a few more with my boiling water and insect spray. I’m a Buddhist monk, supposedly a model for how the devote Buddhist should live. But are their circumstances when killing, at least killing insects, is justifiable, or perhaps understandable, or perhaps excusable?