Monthly Archives: September 2012



As I am trying to study Hinduism Could I ask you another question? It is about ‘Dwarapal’.

I know only that they are security guard in Hindu temples, and every Divinity has his/her own Dwarapal. Vishnu, Shiva, Devi and others have those personal Dwarapals. I have seen them, made of stone, in temples in India. But I cannot find any additional information about Dwarapals in Google

Are there any texts about Dwarapals? What kind of beings they are, who they are by nature, what is their role in Hinduism or in worship of Deity? 

Best regards


Western Malwa -6th century

 1.1. Dear Atma Raga, Thank you. I am glad you asked the question. It is rather an unusual question, but an interesting one. Let me try.

1.2. Dvarapalas are regular features of a major Hindu or Buddhist temple complex. They are the formidable looking ‘gate-keepers’ and guards in service of the presiding deity of the temple. They are the servants and the protectors of their masters. They are typically envisioned as huge and robust warriors. The pairs of Dvarapalas are most usually placed at the entrance to the temple and also at the door way to sanctum (garbha-griha). As you mentioned, each god or goddess has his or her own set of Dvarapalas.

2.1. Dvarapalas are classified as parivara-devathas, meaning that Dvarapalas are semi-divine beings of a minor class who form the entourage of the main deity they serve. The Shilpa Sastra texts that deal with temple architecture (devalaya-vastu) after describing the temple layout, structure and other aspects  with particular reference to the attributes and disposition of the deity to be installed in the temple , do make a  mention of the nature and appearances of the Dvarapalas to be placed at different locations in the temple complex. There are in addition, numerous Dhyana-slokas, or word-pictures in verse that present graphic details of the form, substance and attribute of the deity and his or her attendants. These verses are meant for contemplation and guidance of the Shilpi, the sculptor. I do not know if there are any texts that deal exclusively with the depiction of the Dvarapalas. They form a detail of the larger picture.

2.2. Since Dvarapalas are parivara-devathas, their appearance, attributes etc have to be in accordance with that of their Master, the principal deity that resides in the sanctum. Therefore their costume, weapons, insignia or emblems are indicative of the powers, virtues and magnificence of the presiding deity. Their appearances and stance herald the nature and disposition of the main deity; and also the affiliation of the temple- such as Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi etc.

3.1. Accordingly, the Dvarapalas in a Vishnu temple are rather placid looking; modestly dressed and ornamented.  They are adorned with the signs and emblems of Vishnu such as the tilaka on their fore heads and urdhvapundra (Nama) on their faces, arms, chest etc.. They carry in their upper hands the conch (shankha) and   discus (chakra); and in the lower hands, the mace (gada) and a noose (pasha, coil of rope). They stand erect, cross-legged leaning on their mace as if they are resting. The gestures of their fingers and the look in their eyes caution one to behave properly in the presence of the divinity. The nature and appearance of the Dvarapalas of Vishnu are described in the Agama texts: Isvara Samhita and Pushkara Samhita.


Bhadra                                  Subhadra          

3.2. Similarly, the Dvarapalas in a Shiva temple take after Virabhadra, the ferocious aspect of Shiva. They look fierce with bulging eyes, protruding curved sharp canine teeth, horns (at times); and with their threatening stance and fearsome weapons. They have thick mustaches, bushy eyebrows and  hairy abdomen.  They wear the emblems of Shiva, such as the stripes of ash, animal hides, long flowing unkempt hair etc. They carry a trident, mace, broad-sword and a noose. They look ferocious, gesture ominously and stand planting firmly a foot on the mace. The features of the Dvarapalas of Shiva are described in the latter part (uttarardha) ofKashyapa Shilpa Sastra.


3.3. In the Shaktha tradition where the distinctions between the gross and subtle forms are marked and sharp, the Dvarapalas of the female deities who represent the grosser elements of nature are fearsome looking females, modeled after the ferocious aspect of their Mother deity. They carry cutlasses and tridents; wear garlands of skull; and sport wild unkempt hair. Quite often they are portrayed with flashy eyes, long protruding teeth and tongue spread out of the open mouth. The Dvarapalas of the Devi are pictured in Kalika Puranam.’

In the Dakshina-chara School (the right handed method) of Sri Vidya tradition the guarding deities are the physical (sthula) representations of certain symbolic concepts. For instance, the outermost enclosure (avarana) of Sri Chakra, named Bhupura Chakra – the earth stretch, has four gates (dvara). The Eastern gate is the way of the mantras; the Southern gate is the way of devotion or bhakti; the Western gate is for the performance of rites and rituals, or karma-kanda.; and the Northern gate is the way of wisdom, or Jnana. The Mudra devathas, the standard bearers, the approach to the divinities and carrying seals of authority, guard those entrances. They resemble in appearance the auspicious form of the Mother Goddess and carry weapons such as bow, arrows, goad and noose.

4.1. As regards the general features of all Dvarapalas placed in the temples, they are well built, muscular, broad shouldered, very tall and sporting fearsome moustaches. Each is endowed with four arms.  They are elaborately adorned with Kirita (headgear), Bhuja –kirti (shoulder ornaments), karna-kundala (hanging earrings). They are always soldier-like and larger than life; but they can hardly be called very terrifying. The Dvarapala are not provided with halos or garlands. They always carry weapons; and are always depicted as standing guard. Dvarapalas are always in pair or in even numbers. The Agama texts recommend four pairs of Dvarapalas, each pair to guard a cardinal direction.

The Dvarapala images are usually scaled in  saptha  (seven)  tala  or nava (nine) tala measure.   They are made either with two or four arms.

dvarapala brihadisvara bw

4.2. The Dvarapalas, in each case, are in some way associated with their main deity through a legend detailed in a Purana. The Dvarapalas of major deities such as Vishnu or Shiva have recognizable names and specified positions. In the Agamas they are termed Ganeshvara, the chief of the horde.

For instance the four pairs of Dvarapalas of Vishnu are (i) Chanda and Prachanda ;( ii) Dhatru and Vidhatru; (iii) Jaya and Vijaya; and (iv) Bhardra and Subhadra. The first named in each pair stands to the right of the doorway; and the other to the left.

Similarly, the Dvarapalas of Shiva are (i) Nandi and Mahakala (to the East) ;( ii) Herambha and Bhringi (to the South); (iii) Durmukha and Pandura (to the West) and(iv) Sita and Asita (to the North).

The Brahma too is said have four sets of Dvarapalas facing four directions: Satya-Dharma; Priyodbhava – Yajna; Vijaya – Yajnabhadra; and, Sarvakamada – Vibhava.

The Dvarapalas of Skanda are named as Sudeha and Sumukha. They are said to be Brahmin brothers; but , are depicted with four arms.

The four doors of Ganapathi temple are guarded by four sets of Dvarapalas : Avijna – Vijnaraja (East ) ; Suvakthra – Balavan (South ) ; Gajakarna – Gokarna (West ) ; and , Susoumya (Soumya ) – Shubadayaka (Abhaya ) on the North.  They are titled as Ashta-Prathihari (retinue of eight guards). All of them are short statured having cruel looks and carrying fearsome weapons.

Along with the Dvarapalas their subordinates are depicted in minor relief at on the base of the images.

4.3. The pairs of Dvarapalas guarding the temple and placed in its exterior (at the entrances) are larger in size and more ferocious or threatening in appearance , with a “dare not enter” look to their faces and gestures , perhaps to keep away the evil influences. The Dvarapalas flanking the doorway to the sanctum are comparatively modest.

The Dwarapalas in the Hoysala temples are particularly graceful with ornate jewellery to suit the delicately carved interiors; gently holding lotuses as if inviting the devotee to God’s home.

5.1. The historical development in the depictions of Dvarapalas is quite interesting.  The Dvarapalas in the Pallava temples were made fierce. But, the Dvarapalas of the Chola temples are truly awesome intended to strike terror in the hearts of the wicked. They are massive towering up on the walls, snarling you down with sharp oversized fangs, riding on the Yali (mythical beast) making one feel tiny and submissive.   However ,  by the time of Vijayanagar (15-16th century) the Dvarapalas grew a shade smaller but muscular and more ornate; they didn’t appear to lean on a mace or a lance- like weapon but stood tall or cross-legged.

5.2. But the artistic excellence in depicting the Dvarapalas reached its zenith in the Hoysala architecture. Their intricate patterns, adornments are chiselled like a jewel, with extreme care.  They are magnificent works of art in their own right.

6.1. Most of the Dvarapala images are sculpted according to the Agama prescriptions. But the shilpis do tend to improvise and avail artistic liberties. Sometimes, Shilpis the temple architects employed massive Dwarapalas at the entrances to symbolically emphasize the grandeur, majesty and magnificence of the Lord residing in the temple.

For instance, the Dwarapalas at the Brihadeshwara temple of Thanjavur are massive. But, what is more interesting is theme the sculptures devised to drive home the message. The entire Dvarapala panel is basically related to the image of the elephant, the largest land-animal, depicted within its frame; and you have to work back to gain an estimate of the size and power of the Dvarapala.

At the bottom of the panel is the image of an elephant which is being swallowed by a serpent which in turn is coiled around the mace held in the hands of the Dvarapala. The serpent looks quite tiny in comparison to the mace on which the Dvarapala has planted his foot. The mace looks like a toy in the hands of the Dvarapala. You can work-back the size and power of the Dvarapala, staring from the elephant.

The Dvarapalas in turn look modest in comparison to the temple and its tower. The Lord who has in his service such gigantic gatekeepers and who resides in such a magnificent temple must truly be mighty and powerful, true to his name Brihadishwara.



[A note about Kshetrapalas:

While the Dvarapalas guard the doors of their deities, the Kshetrapala, on the other hand, guards the entire temple –complex. The Kshetrapalas have broader functions; and , in hierarchy placed higher than Dvarapalas.

The Kshetrapala are the protectors of a settlement, a village, a field or a temple. Kshetra literally means a field or specifically a field of activity (In a broader sense the body is the Kshetra the field; and the one who resides in it as the Antaryamin is kshetrajna).

 Kshetrapalas are basically the folk guardian deities who are very popular in village cults.  They are entrusted with the task of safe guarding a Kshetra (a village, a field or a temple) against dangers coming from all the eight spatial directions. In the villages of South India Kshetrapalas are placed in small temples or in open spaces outside of the village..Sometimes in the village open- courtyards blocks of stone are designated and worshipped as Kshetrapala. They are offered worship on occasions of important community celebrations.

In a major temple complex, particularly of Shiva, the Kshetrapala is provided a small shrine on the North-East side within the temple courtyard for safeguarding the temple. Worship is offered to Kshetrapala prior to important rituals, praying for efficient and safe conclusion of that ritual. The Kshetrapala on the other hand have broader functions.

Kshetrapalas are installed and worshipped in Jain and Buddhist traditions also

Buddhist Kshetrapala

The Kshetrapalas are identified with Bhairava the terrible aspect of Shiva; as also with the ferocious looking Veerabhadra the son of Shiva. . According to one legend Siva created Kshetrapala along with others to organize the army of Kali when she went to fight the demon Daruka.

In the Sri Vishvanatha temple at Kasi, the Kshetrapala there also performs the function of Dvarapala, to guard the Lord against impure elements.

When Kshetrapala attends to Mahakala, the Lord of death who resides in the burning Ghats, it is said, Kshetrapala wearing a skull cup, holding a chopper, rides a black bear.

When the Kshetrapala are depicted in images, they are generally:  awe inspiring, terrifying, huge, three eyed, untidy, wielding a number of weapons and usually accompanied by dogs .]

Sources and references

I gratefully acknowledge the line drawings and notes from Brahmiya Chitra Karma Sastram by Dr.G.Gnanananda

The other pictures are courtesy of Internet.

 Gangaikondacholapuram by Dr .R. Nagaswamy

Indian Temples and Iconography


Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Temple Architecture


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An-Atta, The Buddha Way: Maha-Rahulovada Sutta

I mentioned in   An-atta: On Self and Non-self that because all things are conditioned, ever in flux and transient (anicca) they have no stable, no ‘real’ independent identity (an-atta). And that the an-atta doctrine   is extremely difficult to comprehend; And, Yet, it is the Buddha’s strategy to free oneself from identities and attachments. The Buddha guided his son Rahula to understanding of impermanence, and of how one has no stable independent identity (anatta). Let’s see how.

Discourses imparted to Rahula

1.1. The discourses delivered by the Buddha are classified in any number of ways. One such way of classifying his discourses is to treat them as those delivered as explanations or replies  in response to questions posed by bhikkus, ascetics, kings, laymen etc; and , as those imparted by the Buddha voluntarily on his own accord. The better known among the discourses of the latter class are two discourses that the Buddha imparted to his son Rahula.

1.2. The first of the two (ambalatthika-rahulo-vada) was administered to Rahula when he was a boy of seven years. This one teaches Rahula about importance of speaking truth and the courage it takes to speak truth. The Buddha also asks his little boy to exercise diligence in thought, word and deed; and to assess in his mind the consequences that might befall him as well as others.

1.3. The second discourse (Maha- rahulo-vada) was imparted by the Buddha when Rahula was about eighteen years of age, on the threshold of blossoming into a fine young man. This Sutta teaches the ways to develop the perception of impermanence, abandoning the conceit of “I” notion (an –atta); and developing Mindfulness of the skandas (the aggregates that form the body) and Mindfulness of breathing.

The following is a brief account of the Sutta in a summarized form.

Maha-Rahulovada Sutta


2.1. The Buddha addressed in this Sutra as Sugata (one who speaks only what is true and beneficial) states that all matter in the world, whether be it in past, present or future; far or near; gross or subtle; or whatever should be perceived with the right understanding,”This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta (self)”. He clarifies that sensations, perceptions, mental formations (sanskara) or consciousness or whatever are also matter. They too should be viewed with the right understanding,”This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta (self)”.

2.2. He then goes on to explain that the body is composed of five elements (dhatu):

  • of earth (pathavi dhatu– the property  of solidity in body : solids ,semi-solids, fibers etc );
  • of water  (apo dhatu –fluids and the property of fluidity in the body);
  • of fire (tejo dhatu – heat and properties of heat in the body);
  • of air (vayo dhatu – air and properties of air and gases in the body);
  • and , of space (akasa dhatu– element of space and of void between the particles of matter and which separates them as also those in the property of space; and  that which takes in what is consumed by the body).

2.3. Each of these elements (dhatu) in the body is one with the corresponding element in the outside world.

3.1. The Buddha asks Rahula to cultivate the practice of meditation in succession, on each of these elements, to become in mind like unto each element.

“Like unto earth not distressed, shamed or disgusted when unclean things are cast upon it”.

“Like unto water, not attached; not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it comes in contact with clean or unclean things”.

“Like unto fire not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it burns up a clean thing or an unclean thing.”

“Like unto air not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it blows upon a clean thing or an unclean thing”.

“Like unto the sky that does not stand upon anything and yet covers all agreeable and disagreeable things”.

He instructs Rahula to appreciate the nature, the agreeable and disagreeable attributes of each element but to reject identity with each of those elements, dhatus, so that “all agreeable and disagreeable contacts with those elements that arise will not overwhelm your mind”.

3.2. At the end of each cycle of meditation, the element that is meditated upon should be seen as it really is, with right-understanding, thus: “This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta, self”. Having thus rightly understood each element as it really is, one’s mind becomes free from attachment to each of the elements.


4.1. The Buddha then asks Rahula to cultivate the  practice of meditation on other forms of matter too :  on goodness (metta) to be rid of ill will; on compassion (karuna) to be rid of desire to injure; on sympathetic joy (ananda) to be rid of aversion; on equanimity (samata) to be rid of malice; on foulness (dvesa) to be rid of attachment (raga); and to cultivate the practice of meditation on the concept of impermanence (kshanika) to be rid of the conceit of atta ‘self’.

4.2. The nature and attributes of these sensations, perceptions, and mental formations too should be viewed with the right understanding: “This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta, self”.

4.3. He thereafter teaches the practice of mindfulness of the in-coming and out-going breath; and says ‘if you practice mindfulness again and again it should be immensely fruitful and greatly advantageous”.

Practice of Mindfulness

5.1. Rahula then practices mindfulness as he sits in a secluded place under a tree, cross-legged and keeping his body erect. He gently breaths in and breaths out with complete mindfulness.

“ When he makes a long inhalation, he knows:’I am making a long inhalation’. When he makes a short inhalation, he knows: ‘I am making a short inhalation’. He trains himself to be clearly conscious of the whole stretch of the in-coming breath (at its beginning, at its middle and at its end).He trains himself to be clearly conscious of the whole stretch of the out-going breath (at its beginning, at its middle and at its end).

He trains himself to calm down the strong inhalation as he breaths in. He trains himself to calm down the strong exhalation as he breaths out.”

“Each time he inhales and exhales, he trains himself to be clearly conscious of sensations of piti (joyful satisfaction), of sukha (bliss), and of vedana (sensations and perceptions). As he inhales and exhales, he is clearly conscious of volitions (will or the ability to decide); and, He trains himself to calm down volitional activities as he inhales and exhales each time’.

“He trains himself to inhale and exhale with settled mind (on object of contemplation) liberated from defilements”.

“He trains himself to inhale and to exhale with repeated contemplation of each of these aspects of Dhamma (phenomena):  impermanence of self (an-atta); of destruction of attachment or craving or passion (raga); cessation of conditioned existence; and the discarding of defilements”

5.2. The Buddha concludes the teaching to his son,” Rahula, mindfulness of inhalation and exhalation when thus cultivated and practiced repeatedly is immensely fruitful and greatly advantageous. Rahula, when mindfulness of inhalation is cultivated and practiced repeatedly the final inhalation of breath (moment of death) comes to cessation consciously”.

5.3. It is said; venerable Rahula delighted and rejoiced at the words of the Bhagava.


 For more on Mindfulness please check here.

Please also check the links provided under.

Sources and references:

Twenty-five Suttas from Majjima pannasa;   Satguru publications; Delhi; 1991.

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy


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An-atta: On Self and Non-self

Dear Sreenivasa Rao Sb,

 Form your various blogs I noted that Buddha thought [1] everything in the universe is changing except the change; [2] consciousness is nebulous and cannot be defined. Probably Buddha did not discuss the existence or non existence of God or he had a clear opinion?

Recently I read a book in Telugu authored by one Buddha Ghosha which said that Buddha believed that there is nothing like “self”? Is it correct?

Saying that there is nothing called soul which is constant is different from saying soul is self but also changes [evolves], splits [as water drop lets in a river] and recombines [as genes do] is different. What is the correct position of Buddha?

May I expect a small blog or knol on this?


DMR Sekhar.


Dear Shri Sekhar, That is a tough one; and is a much debated one too. I am neither qualified nor I claim to have the right answers. Let me try.

1.1. The subject you mentioned refers to the Buddhist concept of Anatta (an-atman or an-atmavada) meaning the doctrine of no-permanent soul. The Buddhist tradition believes that the root of all  suffering is in regarding the “self” as a permanent or a static entity or as an unchanging essence; and clinging to it.

The Buddha a few days after his first discourse at Saranath on the outskirts of Varanasi, speaks about his concept of Anatta in his second discourse ‘Anatta-lakkhana –sutta’. The teaching instructs one not to identify self with ‘”Any kind of feeling whatever…Any kind of perception whatever…Any kind of determination whatever… Any kind of consciousness whatever…”

Rupam (material form) is an-atta (not the self); vedana (sensation) is an-atta; sanna (perception) is an-atta; samkhara (pre-dispositions) is an-atta; vinnanam (consciousness ) is an-atta (not the self) “ …” whether past, future, or present; whether gross or subtle; whether in oneself or in others; whether inferior or superior: whether far or near; must, with right understanding of things as they really are, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine. This is not I. This is not my self …”

Please recall the five aggregates or the skandas that I mentioned in my post Consciousness- a Buddhist view. None of the skandas or all of it is construed as one’s self.

1.2. The Buddha did not deny existence of feelings, thoughts, sensations or whatever; but, he did not also talk about a permanent conscious substance that experiences all these. According to him, the streams of consciousness ever changing, arise and perish leaving behind no permanent “thinker”.In other words, it seems to suggest that there is no “self” apart from the process.

2.1. However, it must be mentioned that Buddhism does not deny a soul altogether. The Buddhist view is that the belief in a changeless “I-entity” (soul) is the result of incorrect interpretation of one’s experiences. It seems to me that in the Buddhist view, self/soul is not perceived as a permanent  entity, or a static substance, or as an essence, but it is understood as a dynamic process which one experiences as perceptions, ideas or desires. It says; self is wrongly taken as a fixed, enduring entity. Because, according to Buddhism, there is not anything which is enduring, fixed, and eternal. Everything is interdependent and changing. Everything is in constant flux and has no astitva or existence outside of shifting contexts. As Abhidhamma kosa explains that there is no soul apart from feeling, ideas, volitions, etc “There is no self separate from a non-self”.

2.2. The Buddha favored a middle path avoiding the extremes of an entity called soul that survives birth after birth; and that of a soul which perishes as the body withers away. The Buddha explained a human as the dynamic inter-relation of five skandas. “Truly, if one holds the view that self is identical with the body, in that case there can be no holy life. Again, if one holds the view that self is one thing and the body another, in that case, too, there can be no holy life. Avoiding both extremes the Perfect One teaches the doctrine that lies in the middle.” (Sauyutta Nikaya: 2, 61).

2.3. Thus, it appears to me, translating the Buddhist concept of an-atma or anatta as ‘no soul’ or ‘self does not exist at all ‘is rather misleading. An-atta, I reckon, means ‘self is not an enduring entity or eternal essence’.

The Buddha did not deny a soul; but maintained that it was not the ultimate reality (dharmataa). He seemed to imply that an-atta, whatever that term meant, was not The Truth (dharma). An-atta, I reckon, (just as a-dvaita), is a negative expression pointing to the un-definable positive ultimate reality (dharmataa).

3.1. The Buddha is often blamed for maintaining silence on the key question of a permanent self. But, in fact, the Buddha did explain  why he chose not to give out a partial answer of either  ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The Sutta Nipaata (6.400) elaborately narrates the context and the reason for the Buddha’s silence. I am mentioning its substance in a brief and a summarized form:

Vacchagotta the wanderer questions the Master “what have you to say about the existence of self (atta)?”

The Exalted One was silent.

Vacchagotta   again questioned “Is there no such thing as the self?” .

The Exalted One was silent.

At which Vacchagotta just walked out.

Soon thereafter, venerable Ananda the disciple enquires the Master why he chose to be silent.

The Master explains:

“Ananda, if when asked   ‘Does the self exists?’ had I replied to him ‘yes, the self exists’ I would then be siding with all those Samanas and Brahmanas who regard soul as eternal and unchanging (eternalists).And, that reply  would have also been not consistent with my knowledge that all things are impermanent….”

“Had I replied; ‘no, the self does not exist ‘I would then be siding all those Samanas and Brahmanas who are annihilationist (those who view death as the annihilation of consciousness).And, that reply would have added to the bewilderment of Vacchagotta who was already bewildered. He would have exclaimed in disgruntle ‘Formerly I had a self; but now I have one no more’ …”

3.2. In case the Buddha sided with the annihilationist that would have led to denying his own concepts of kamma, rebirth, and dependent origination etc.

3.3. Thus, the Buddha rejected the two extremes concepts of ‘Permanent Self’, and ‘Annihilation’.

3.4. The an-atta doctrine, undoubtedly, is extremely difficult to comprehend. Yet, it is the Buddha’s strategy to free oneself from identities and attachments.

4.1. The Buddhism believes that the self is a changing phenomenon. It is like a raindrop. When it is in the ocean it is a part of the ocean ; when it evaporates it becomes a part of the cloud; and, when it rains it becomes a part of stream or a lake or a well. It is its functions and relationship which give form to its character.

4.2. The Buddha was reluctant to define the indefinable which is the true self. The Upanishads too chose to describe the Truth as that which cannot be apprehended by mind. They also said (in almost the same words) the correct view is to assert ‘This is not mine; this am I not; this is not my self’.  Both the Buddha and the Upanishads refused to be attached to an identity.

To put it in another way, The Vedanta’s call of realizing ones true identity -is a philosophical view. The Buddhist interpretation of letting go all identities is an  objective prescription.

4.3. By negating identity with the conditioned skandas (in his second discourse: Anatta-lakkhana-sutta) the Buddha was pointing to the unconditioned impersonal nature of true self. That was also the view of the Upanishads.

5.1. Both accept that attaining liberation is the aim; rather than merely understanding what liberation is all about. Both accept that conceptual thinking is part of the problem; and therefore philosophy too must eventually be transcended or let go. Because, ultimately it is one’s experience that truly matters. Experience is the key.

Therefore, both the Buddha and Sri Shankara asserted that the truest test of all is one’s own experience.

5.2. The difference between the two, as I mentioned elsewhere, was that Sri Shankara described the reality from outside, as it were, because that is the only perspective from which it can be understood as One. Sri Shankara was basically a philosopher; and as all philosophers do, he looks upon the whole of reality objectively and attempts to comprehend its structure. It is as if the philosophizing intellect takes a look at the whole of existence from outside of it.

5.3. But the Buddha, the yogi, was describing his experience. He realized (just as Sri Ramana)  that one cannot get outside of reality and describe it as an object; because one is inseparable from that reality. He also believed too much philosophizing and clinging to ideas is an obstruction to enlightenment. He advocated: let go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts.




Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy


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The Buddha Iconography in Hindu Texts

The Buddha in scriptures

1.1. There are many references to the Buddha in the Puranas. All those references might not pertain to one and the same person or mythical figure. The term Buddha , in most cases , denotes a wise person , a sage-like person possessing Buddhi ( derived from the root budh -to know with the suffix  kta the agent).

The Buddha , here , is not the name of a person. It merely refers to an exalted one who has realized the Truth. There had been many Buddhas prior to Siddhartha Gautama, the Sakya muni, who achieved the status of the Buddha. For instance; Sage Kashyapa , one among the famed seven Rishis, was revered as a Buddha. It is now a practice to mention Buddha prefixed by the definite article The .

[The Buddhavamsa , a Theravada text  describes the life of Gautama Buddha and the 27 Buddhas who preceded him. And, there is also a mention of Maitreya , who will succeed  Gautama.]

Some of the Hindu scriptures notably Srimad Bhagavata Purana accept the Buddha as one of the avatars of Vishnu There are of course numerous dissenting scriptures. Srimad Bhagavatha mentions that in the age (Yuga) of Kali, the Buddha is born as the son of Anjana of the Kikata tribe in the mid Gaya Region (Madhya Gaya pradeshe). There is no mention of the Buddha’s wife in the Puranas; and there is also no references to his son.


The purpose his avatar is to vanquish enemies of the Devas and to establish the Dharma. He is also praised as purassara or purogamin , the forerunner ; and as the destroyer of Madhu or Mara the  distractor.  Just as Sri Rama and Sri Krishna were the guarding divinities and representations of Vishnu in the  Treta and Dwapara yugas, it is said, the Buddha is the Vishnu of the Kali Yuga. We all now live in the dispensation of the avatar of the Buddha (Bhauddavathare); and will do so till the advent of the next avatar, the Kalki.

Four -faced Buddha in a Bangkok temple

1.2. The Buddha is addressed in the scriptures with titles asserting his divinity: as Buddha-deva (Padma purana); Buddha-rupa (Brahma purana); and Siddhartha (Matsya purana) ; and , as Bhagavata (supreme person),  Lokavid (knower of all worlds), Anuttara (the unsurpassable), Shasta Deva Manushyanam  (Lord of men and demigods) and Buddhir Buddhimatam  (the enlightenment of the enlightened ones), which are similar to the titles addressed to Vishnu.

In a few passages (in Matsya, Skanda and Devi Puranas ) he is described as a yogin , yoga-charya as one whose ideas are pure, as one  having a pacified mind free from attachments and hatred .  The Vishnudharmottara pictures the Buddha as a sanyasin (monk) adorned in brown or ochre robes , full of compassion towards all beings.

Buddha as Avatara

1.3. Sri Jayadeva’s sublime poetry Gita-Govinda which articulates the Vaishnava philosophy of Love sings the glory of the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu and personification of compassion (karunya) towards all beings.

 buddha avtar2

1.4. Srimad Bhagavatha explains the teaching of the Buddha as: ” The Buddha taught that material existence is dukha; and   that there is samudaya, a cause of material existence; and because there is a cause, there is also nirodha, a way to remove material existence.  That way is marga, the path of righteousness”.

Matsya Purana mentions that the Buddha preached ahimsa, discouraged sacrifices, and supported nivrtti (non-attachment) and jnana-marga (the path of knowledge) of the Vedas.

Naradiya Samhita (1, 60) describes the Buddha as a great sage with limitless compassion and self restraint (muni varo vasi); and as emanation of Pradyumna the Vrishni hero and son of Vasudeva-krishna. Some of the later texts depict the Buddha as the naked one (digambara).

The Vishnu purana mentions that when sage Maitreya queried sage Parasara “who are the naked ones?”, the latter replied “those who have discarded the three sheaths (coverings) or limitations  of the three Vedas – Rik, Yagus and Sama – are the naked ones (digambara) ”

Depictions of the Buddha

2.1.  As is well known, the earlier phase of Buddhism was free from a pantheon and representations of any gods and goddesses. The early representations of the Buddha were through symbols such as: the Bodhi-tree; the wheel of Dharma; the throne of exposition; sacred foot-prints; and so on. His representation as a perfect human being came about much later, perhaps through the influence of the Greek.

The first image of the Buddha was fashioned in the Gandhara School, replicating the Greek Art.

Buddha in conversationbuddha with disciples

[ As a result of trade relations throughout the first millennium CE. Images of Buddha with the Greek lettering ΒΟΔΔΟ (‘Boddo’ for Buddha) were found on gold coins from the Kushan empire dating back to the second century CE. Buddha was mentioned in a Greek source, ‘Stromateis’, by Clement of Alexandria as early as around 200 CE, and another reference to Buddha is found in St Jerome’s ‘Adversus Jovinianum’ written in 393 CE. A religious legend inspired by the narrative of the ‘Life of Buddha’ was well known in the Judaeo-Persian tradition and early versions in Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian and Georgian have been discovered. The story became commonly known as ‘Barlaam and Josaphat’ in medieval Europe. The name Josaphat, in Persian and Arabic spelled variously Budasf, Budasaf, Yudasaf or Iosaph, is a corruption of the title Bodhisattva which stands for ‘Buddha-to-be’, referring to Prince Siddhartha who became Gotama Buddha with his enlightenment.

Buddha head Gandhara

: Please click here for the source  ]

The Buddha  images were meant not merely to please the eyes but also spark pious and noble thoughts in the hearts of the onlookers. The Buddha image personified compassion, wisdom, enlightenment and tranquillity. The artists, generations after generation spread over the centuries and across the continents have strived to give expression the beauty and virtue of the Buddha and his message.

2.2. The raise and popularity of Mahayana Buddhism and the Bhakthi cult brought forth highly idealized Buddha icons meant for worship; and they virtually pushed the historical Buddha to background. The evolution of the Adi-Buddhas, the Dhyani-Buddhas (five types), the Bodhisattvas and other forms gave great impetus to Buddha iconography.

2.3. I need to mention here briefly about a few special features of the Indian figurative art and Iconography. It succeeded in making a coherent use of images to represent abstraction; and gracefully uniting forms and ideas in a loving marriage. An image (prathima) in the Indian traditions is , therefore, an all-inclusive representation of the aspects and attributes of a deity. It is more than a mere portraiture; it is an embodiment of the dominant abstracted impersonalized state of a deity in a given stance or posture, evoking stillness and dynamic movements together.

The image of the Buddha is not merely a semblance of the historical prince Siddhartha Gautama and Sakyamuni; but is more than that. The Buddha is the comprehensive representation of intellect, wisdom and non-attachment; and above all of pathos, grace and boundless compassion, in absolute. His image is the universal principle of compassion (karuna) and wisdom solidified into a visible form. It is not the ‘historical figure’ , but is the idealized form encircled sometimes with many transient states, represented as vegetation , flora, fauna , yakshis , dryads, gandharvas, and apsaras each playing a specific role in building a totality of his eminence,  an incarnation of the still centre of peace and enlightenment.

Gabdhara Buddha

2.4. There are countless forms of the Buddha depictions in Buddhist lore. The purpose of this blog is merely to mention some depictions of the Buddha form in the Hindu tradition. The forms discussed under are those as described in Hindu and Shilpa texts, as also in the Dhyana-slokas. They are meant for worship with the prayer they lead to tranquillity and salvation. They are not decorative pieces of mere aesthetic appeal.

Forms of the Buddha icons

3.1. The icons of the Buddha are made either in sitting or standing (Sama bhanga) positions; but never in abhanga (bent) or dancing position. He is depicted lying-down position only to represent the posture he assumed while about to give up his mortal coils (pari nibbana).

3.2. The Buddha icons seated in lotus position (padma-asana) are depicted in three forms: as turning the wheel of dharma (chakra pravartana); or as in meditation (Dhyani Buddha) or as calling the earth as witness for his own integrity (bhoomi sparsha). The last is also called as pushparisa mudra. The positions of the hands and fingers (mudras), in each case, give expression to the posture.

3.3. The Buddha in the Dharma chakra parivarthana mudra is seated in lotus position on a thousand petaled- lotus under Bodhi tree. His eyes are half-closed in contemplation (dhyana). This represents the Buddha delivering his first discourse soon after attaining enlightenment.

3.4. The Dhyani Buddha is depicted in a meditation posture with the upturned palms of both hands placed on his lap. He is seated under a decorated canopy (chattra) placed beneath  the kalpa vrikshatree; and is flanked by two attendants who with great reverence wave the chamara flywhisks .A bright aura of wisdom and enlightenment adorn the head of the Buddha in meditation.

3.5. The Buddha seated in lotus position has his upturned- left palm placed on his lap while his right fore-arm  is lightly placed on the right knee; and the long and delicate fingers of his right hand gently touching the ground on which he seated(bhoomi sparsha). This represents the Buddha soon after enlightenment calling the earth as witness for his own integrity.

3.6. There also depictions of the Buddha in vyakhyana posture, as if teaching and imparting a sermon.

3.7. While standing the Buddha is represented either as preaching (vyakhyana) or going around begging. His right palm should bestow protection (abhaya) and his left clutching the side of his long garment should bestow assurance. His countenance should emanate peace, love and compassion.

3.8. The depictions of the Parinibbana scenes where the Buddha is shown giving up his mortal coils resemble Vishnu in Yoga shayana posture where he is surrounded by gods, goddesses, angles,  sages, devotees and other beings, all worshipping with folded hands , devotion and reverence.


The Buddha iconography in Hindu and Shilpa texts

4.1. The Panchratra Agama texts such as Hayastrasa Samhita (23-26) and Naradiya Samhita (1, 60) provide the iconographic details of the Buddha icons. He is described as sitting in lotus-position (padma-asana), covered in ascetic garments (chira- alankara).As regards his features: His face must be radiant like lotus and his eyes too should be wide and full like lotus (padmasyam – padma lochanam).His ears must be long (lamba karnam) .His navel should be adorned with a gem. His body must be lustrous like molten gold (taptha hema prabha). He must be shown having two arms .He must be shown deeply absorbed in meditation or bestowing protection and assurance (varada- abhaya – hasta) or his hands close to his heart indicating movement of dharma-chakra (the wheel of dharma). The Buddha image should be scaled in uttama dasha tala measure

4.2. The other Hindu texts which accept the Buddha as an avatar, such as – Brihat SamhitaAgni puranaVishnudharmaottara purana and Rupamandana- specify the features of the Buddha image in Dhyana mudra – in meditation posture. Matsya Purana describes the Buddha as Deva-sundara-rupa , handsome like a god, pale-red or fair in complexion. The foot soles and palms of the Buddha should be graced with auspicious signs of the lotus (padma). His body should be healthy and well developed; and glowing mellow and bright like moon light.He should have adorable thick curly hair (kundala kesha).The eyebrows should mold into a ring called urna, an insignia of the emperors. His long suspended earlobes should have holes. He should be adorned in kashaya (saffron) garments. He should wear across his right shoulder a piece of cloth (valmala) as upper garment. He should be sitting in lotus position (padma asana).His hands should gesture protection and assurance (varada abhaya mudra). The countenance on his broad, smiling face should radiate peace. The love and compassion emanating from his face should kindle a feeling in the viewers’   heart that they   are looking at the father of all existence.

4.3. Another text Manasara (ch.56) offers a graphic description of the Buddha images which are depicted either as standing or seated. He should always be two armed and two-eyed, with long arms and wide chest; his body muscular (mamsala) and well developed. He must be shown wearing yellow garments (pitambara-dhara) and adorned with a brilliant head dress (ushnisha-ujwala-maulikam). His body must lustrous like moon and his face large (vishala anana).His ears should be long and hanging (lamba karna), his eyes long or elongated (ayataksha) and his nose aquiline (tunga ghona).The smile on his face should be like a lamp that has just been lit – bright and pure. He As regards the seated Buddha:  The Buddha must be placed upon a throne or under the Ashwattha (peepal) tree or in the vicinity of the wish-fulfilling (kalpa vriksha). The Buddha image should be scaled in uttama dasha tala measure.

Buddha sadhanamala

4.4The Buddha images are depicted in Hindu temples either  in niches or on Vimanas (temple-towers ). And, in the Hoysala temples the Prabhavali, the intricately carved ornamental sculpture which serves   as background to Vishnu’s head includes the Dhyani Buddha image. Further Chalukya and Hoysala temples (10-11thcenturies) in their depictions of Vishnu’s ten-avatars do include the Buddha. 

buddha hindu iconography


5.1. The reference to the brilliant ushnisha of the Buddha icon is truly interesting. Ushnisha in its etymological sense means “protection from sun or a sun-shade”; but, it is generally taken to mean a turban, a royal turban –one of the royal insignia.

5.2. The Buddha is at times referred to in the Pali Nikayas as mundaka-samana, a shaven-headed monk (e.g. Subha-sutta – 99 – Majjhima Nikaya) . In the older tradition, the Buddha is represented as  mundaka, a shaven headed monk. The images of the Buddha found at Mathura, Mankur and Saranath represent this older tradition.

Buddha Mundaka

[Mathura was the second capital of the Kushans , who ruled much of North-Western India (c. 50 B.C.–A.D. 320); and, was a major center of art production, which developed , rooted in the indigenous Indian traditions, making use of the local mottled- red sandstone.

Here the Sakyamuni is depicted in the early Mathura mode.  The Buddha, as the Great teacher, is portrayed as a yogi, seated on a throne, and dressed as a monk, with his right hand gesturing reassurance (Abhayamudra). As prescribed by the traditional texts, the palms of the hands and soles of the Buddha’s feet are marked with the lotus and the wheel symbols , proclaiming his divine status.

And, here, the Buddha, the yogi, is depicted as  Mundaka samana; having no hair on his head, the one who is not a Kapardin.  The Ushnisha , either as a turban or as a cranial bump  is missing.

Credit: Kimbell Art Museum, Acoustiguide Inc. Piano Pavilion, West Gallery]

5.3. The later Pali Nikayas and Sanskrit texts like Lalitavistara preferred to treat the Buddha as a royal personage endowed with all the auspicious signs of a maha-purusha. Two of such signs were having a head like “royal-turban” (usnisa –sirasa) or having hair “arranged in ringlets turning to the right” (pradakshina-vrata-kesha). This tradition gained popularity in the later depictions of the Buddha images.

5.4. Though some scholars interpret usnisa as denoting fullness of the forehead or the head, it is quite likely the Buddha wore, at times; a brilliant colored turban (ushnisha-ujwala-maulikam). Perhaps, as a testimony to that, one of the panels in the Sanchi stupa depicts devotees paying respects to the Buddha’s turban.

5.6. The tradition of depicting the Buddha with a turban or a crown gained popularity in the Far East and South East Asia. Here, a majority  the images of Sakyamuni , the Buddha, is depicted as Usnisa-Cakravartin, with thick, spiral curls; and, with a protruding crest or crown, the Usnisa, ending with a flame-like tip, flame niche or a lotus bud.

buddha-usnisaBuddha japan Nepal etc



6. In the Hindu tradition the Buddha is depicted as Saligrama too. The Salagrama sastra mentions that the salagramas with a wide crevice like a cave .The Buddha-murti salagramas are also described as “having two apertures, and two chakras in the interior. The chakras are upward-inclined at the head, or they are at the sides; and the stone may be multi-colored”. The worship of the Buddha Salagrama, it is believed, leads to sharper intellect, wisdom and non-attachment.

lotus is the attribute of Avalokitesvara

7. Generally, all Hindu iconographic representations of the Buddha are the worship-worthy idealized representation of a god incarnated as a Raja-rishi (king-seer).He is a Chakravarthin  (Emperor ) endowed with thirty-two auspicious signs (lakshanas) of a maha-purusha, a noble and a gracious person . Accordingly the Buddha  is depicted as a  young , handsome, healthy, well formed   god-like person  (Deva – sundara – rupa )  with long arms reaching up to his knees; having lustrous body; thick glossy hair; long earlobes; happy , peaceful countenance with wide eyes full of love , compassion and wisdom; and seated or standing  on a lotus pedestal. The devout have a faith the worship of such auspicious icon bestows peace and liberation.

“Creatures without feet have my love.

And like wise those who have two feet; and those, too, who have many feet. 

 Let creatures all, all things that live, all beings of whatever kind,

 See nothing that will bode them ill.

May no evil come to them.”

—The Buddha

Buddha avtar


I gratefully acknowledge the Iconographic drawings and details from Dr.G Gnanananda’s monumental work Brahmiya-Chitra karma sastram

The other picture are from internet

Devata Rupamala And Vishnu Suktha By Prof.SKR Rao

Usnisa-siraskata (a mahapurusa-laksana) in the early Buddha images of India

Jitendra Nath Banerjea; The Indian Historical Quarterly-1931.09
Gautama Buddha in Hinduism

All Images are from Internet


Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Iconography


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On reading DMRSekhar’s ‘Genopsych’

 My friend Dr. DMR Sekhar, sometime back, wrote a learned paper on genopsych. It was a term coined by him (I presume). Genopsych, as I understand, is a hypothetical property that causes disturbance, propels evolution and directs variations in the genome. It has its roots in second law of thermodynamics, which deals with the relations between heat and other forms of energy . And,  Dr.Sekhar’s Genopsych  is a rather an unusual interpretation as it involves physics, genetics and philosophy. It is a very daring exploration. Let me admit, I don’t pretend to understand all that has been said in his paper. My academic background is, to say the least, is wafer-thin. Yet I admired it.

What I have written under is neither a comment nor a direct response to the concept of genopsych. It is just a short note of my thoughts on reading Dr.  Sekhar’s article. It is based in my understanding of the concept, as I read the paper. I could be wrong in my understanding.

I am not sure if my note serves any purpose. Yet, I hope it might spur Shri Sekhar to look at the other dimensions of the issue.

A. I read with great interest the article crowded with ideas and concepts. I tried to be focused on Genopsych.

Genopsych, as I understand from Shri Sekhar’s article is that:

  • Genopsych is not physical
  • Genopsych may directly control/operate our behaviour.
  • Our behaviour and many things we do may be attributed to genopsych.
  • Genopsych of all individuals is similar.
  • All living things at genetic level are same.
  • Genopsych undergoes updating and development due to evolutionary reasons.
  • Soul is described to exist without physical body whereas genopsych may not exist unattached to genes.
  • Meditation, it appears , is the advertent way of communication of mind with genopsych.

As he says, genopsych is not the soul, in the sense it is not the absolute, immutable pure consciousness; nor is it the individual soul jiva either, because the concept of genopsych probably may not allow reincarnation. Yet Genopsych is not dying. There is no death to genopsych along with the body because Genopsych is not physical .And, it continues to survive along the gene flow firmly attached to it; and it controls/operates our behavioural patterns in the next phase of existence too.

Genopsych is not mind, either. What is called as mind is a bunch of thoughts; and has no independent existence. The mind always exists in relation to something gross; it cannot stay alone. When the mind becomes quiet, the world disappears. Sri Ramana says when one persistently inquires into the nature of the mind; the mind will end leaving the Self (as the residue).


B. That reminds me of a much discussed concept in Indian thought – both Hindu and Buddhist.

Vasanas are subconscious inclinations, likes and dislikes, which drive habit-patterns or direct ones attitudes. It emanates from every thought, every feeling or every deed that one has done or does. The Vasanas are ego-centric in the sense they are centred on “I”.

In a way of speaking, Vasanas are ‘fragrance’ of past experiences, lingering memories. (It is just as a waft of air that  flows over a flower-bed carries along it  the delicate fragrances).  They are the subtle impressions; and their effects are long lasting. When Vasanas manifest as desires, they cause agitations in the mind, and the mind becomes restless until those desires are fulfilled. It is thus the other-side of entropy; it causes disturbance and propels evolution.

It is explained that when the individual jiva departs it takes with it the casual body that is the accumulated Vasanas, and gravitate towards a field that is conducive to ones experiences and inclinations (Vasanas).

The Buddhist texts say that Vasanas are stored in a latent form in “Alaya”, a sort of storehouse, ready to be set in motion. Alaya, impressions stored as a kind of seed, is sometimes known as Bija (memory/sowing seeds). Lankavatara sutra, a renowned Buddhist text, says the world starts from seed-memory retained in the Alaya universal mind. The text asks one to be rid of false memories that impede true perception.

ālayāt-sarva-cittāni pravartanti taraṃgavat / vāsanā-hetukāḥ sarve yathā pratyaya saṃbhavāḥ // Lank_10.871 //

It appears Vasanas are not merely individual memories; they are also collective, experienced by all conscious beings. (I am not quite clear on this)

C. Sri Sankara in his most erudite introduction to Brahma- sutra–bhashya also talks about memories that impede the understanding of the true nature of things. He examines the nature of error that prevents us from experiencing things as they really are; and explains it through the concept of Adhyasa, which means superimposing ones memory previously gained in another place and another time. We tend to recognize or interpret our experiences, sometimes incorrectly, by superimposing our past memories.

At another level, it is said; those memories or impressions, formed are the subtle traces or vasanas of events- not only of the present life but also of events of multiple past lives. They condition our sense and experiences.

Another explanation is that Vasanas are born out of samskaras, the accumulated experiential impressions formed out of our actions. The Vasanas (tendencies) in turn, give rise to thought patterns which again lead to attitudes and mental dispositions. These inherent inclinations of the mind are called vritti. The vrittis in their turn influence our actions.

That is, we act as directed by our mind (chitta vritti) to satisfy our desires or inclinations (vasanas) which arose out of the impressions (samskaras) gained out of previous experiences or acts (karma). It is a cycle.

Karma (action) — samskara (impressions)— vasana (tendencies)— chitta vritti (thought patterns) — karma (action)

D. The concept of vasana is also of importance in Yoga psychology. In Patanjali’s text, the term appears to have the meaning ‘Specific subconscious sensations.’ Mircea Eliade in his book Yoga: immortality and freedom interprets the term as ‘states of consciousnesses.

Yoga is the restriction or control of the ‘citta vrittis’, Yogah chittavritti nirodhaha. The chitta vritti perhaps refers to the various modifications or thought-forms. The methods prescribed for evading the grip of the Vasanas and to be thought-free, is complex.

E. As I understand, genopsych is a property (vastu-vishesha) ; and, its attributes can be auspicious or otherwise; while Soul is said to be beyond all attributes.  It, therefore, seems to me, the concept of genopsych is closer to that of the casual body (karana-sarira) the carrier of Vasanas the accumulated subconscious inclinations, tendencies, rather than to the immutable Soul.

[Please read: Yoga, Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade; Translated by Willard R. Trask; published by Princeton University Press. And, please also check ]


F. Dr. Sekhar also talked about meditation and control of mind; and said meditation appears to be an advertent way of communication of mind with genopsych.

The texts believe that breath is the gross form of mind. And, the exercise of breath-control is regarded an aid to render the mind quiet (mano-nigraha).The practice of breath control or watching over the breath therefore somehow became a part of meditation.

When the breath is controlled the mind becomes quiet; and when the mind becomes quiet the breath is controlled. But mind will be quiet only so long as the breath remains controlled; otherwise, the mind will wander as impelled by residual impressions (vasanas).

That is because the mind is influenced by residual impressions (Vasanas).Mind could , therefore, be better directed or controlled by moving away from Vasanas – attachments, eschewing  desire and hatred. The real freedom is being free from Vasanas the self-centered desires; and, when that happens one could be free from thoughts. That is reversing the trend of Vasanas towards low entropy.

One has to move away from Vasanas – attachments; and realize ones true nature.

Sri Ramana said, Self is the residue when there is no ego, no attachments (Vasanas) and no mind. That is when there is no “I” thought. That is “Silence”.


Posted by on September 28, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation


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Consciousness – a Buddhist view

The question of consciousness

1.1. Consciousness is a very elusive subject. It is rather difficult to define consciousness, mainly because it is internal and is a subjective experience. Any experience is always from a given point of view; and it is hard to be objective about our internal experiences. This is particularly true in the case of consciousness where we cannot remove ourselves from the process. The very notion of observing the mind with the mind appears enigmatic, for it does not allow for separation of subject and object. It is a legitimate concern.

1.2. The other problem involved with describing subjective experiences is the use of proper language; these are quite considerable. The language we employ to articulate our subjective experiences have their roots in our unique cultural, historic and linguistic backgrounds. The terms employed by any school, be it oriental or western, have their own broader range of connotations covering not merely the realm of thought but also of emotions and beyond. For instance, in the western languages one speaks in terms of consciousness, mind, mental phenomenon or awareness etc. In the Indian context one speaks in terms of buddhi, manas, jnana, vijnana vidya etc all of which can roughly be translated as awareness or intelligence or mental states. But these terms have a wider range of connotation than their English equivalents. For instance the terms manas or chitta cover not merely the realm of thought but also of emotions and much more. It is therefore, not easy to transport the meaning of a term from one system to the other with accuracy. The terms employed are ever subject to varied interpretations.

1.3. The question of consciousness has attracted a great deal of attention in the Indian philosophical systems. Buddhism developed rigorous methods for refining the attention, and applying that attention to exploring the origins, nature, and role of consciousness in the natural world .The earliest Buddhist texts viewed consciousness as an important factor in determining the course of human happiness and suffering; liberation and bondage. Yet, Buddhism did not “define” consciousness; perhaps, because it is nebulous; and difficult to pinpoint. But in principle, Buddhism asserts it is possible to recognize experientially what consciousness is and identify it.

1.4. The Buddhist texts talk of consciousness in metaphors such as clear light- prabhasvara (implying clarity- all defilements being sort of infection), knowing, and cognizance flowing like a river. They repeatedly talk about consciousness as an ever changing stream.

In order to understand the Buddhist theory of consciousness we have to get to know certain basic Buddhist concepts.

Central reality of all existence is change

2.1. The Buddha pointed out that the central reality of all existence is change. All phenomena come into being as a result of causes and conditions, they change every moment, and eventually they pass away. A belief in a permanent or a changeless-self is regarded a false concept leading to mistaken notions about reality. This belief is in sharp contrast to the Vedanta view of a changeless, attribute-less and immutable Brahman. The Buddhists assert that one of the basic misconceptions is the notion of a self – atman; and, only those who free themselves of such false notions can attain liberation. They argue that if there were some disembodied, unchanging entity, it would have no relation to any individual. And, because it lies beyond the world of the senses it could never be perceived.

Five aggregates

3.1. According to the Buddhist view the individuals are not seamless continuum of an enduring essence such as Brahman or atman (soul) ; but, are actually composites of ever changing configuration of five factors or five aggregates – (Pali: khandha; Skt.: skandha).These relate to the physical form (rupa) – the body and all material objects including sense organs ; the sensations or the feelings (vedana) – one’s emotional response to the phenomena by way of desires and aversions in which the five senses and mind are involved; the third is the perception or recognition (sanna or sanjnya) of physical and mental objects;  and , the fourth factor – sankhara or samskara – is variously  called impulses or mental formulations or fabrications – these include volition and attention , the faculty of will , the force of habits etc. And, lastly there is the faculty of vinnana or vijnana the awareness or consciousness, which encompasses mental events and what is generally called sub-conscious in the West.

3.2. All the five aggregates are regarded “empty of self nature” in the sense they are dependent on causes (hetu) and conditions (patica); and are inter-related. In this scheme of things, consciousness too is conditioned and arises out of interaction with the other factors (physical or mental) .The consciousness in turn influences one or more mental factors. Thus consciousness and the mind-body (nama-rupa) are interdependent; there is no arising of consciousness without conditions. These form the chain of cause and effect (karmic).Yet, though consciousness and matter do contribute towards the origination of each other, one cannot become the substantial cause of the other.

3.3.In the Buddhist view, the difference between the plant, animal and the humans is in the level of intelligence; and all possess subtle consciousness. Any sentient being that can experience pain and pleasure is thought to possess consciousness. Therefore, the subtle consciousness is not uniquely human.


4.1. An individual, according to Buddhist thought, is ever changing or rather a fleeting, changing assortment or a procession of various unstable interacting factors. Consciousness too is highly varied made up of myriad mental states. Those mental states are dependent on the five senses.

4.2. Buddhist teachers suggest that through careful observation, it is possible to see consciousness as being a sequence of conscious moments rather as a continuum of awareness. Each moment is an experience of an individual mind-state: a thought, a memory, a feeling, a perception. A mind-state arises, exists and, being impermanent, ceases following which the next mind-state arises. Thus the consciousness of a sentient being can be seen as a continuous series of birth and death of these mind-states. In this context rebirth is simply the persistence of this process.

4.3. Consciousness is said to act like a life force which runs through the process and through life after life. But, consciousness, unlike atman, is subject to change every movement and influenced by the vicissitudes of one’s life. It is explained that one’s vocational actions produce karmas which influence the consciousness in a certain manner and determine ones rebirth. It is said, the five skandhascontinue on, powered by past karma, propelling births and rebirths. Here, Karma in essence is not action per se, but rather the state of mind of the person performing the action. The problem with such bad Karma is that it molds our personality, creates ruts or habitual patterns of thinking and feeling. These patterns in turn influence our present and future lives.

A major aim of Buddhism is to become aware of this process, and then to eliminate it by eradicating its causes.

Understanding is the key

5.1. The core problem of human existence, according to Buddhist belief, is duhkkha – the suffering .It is caused by the ignorance of the reality of things as they are. Such suffering leads to delusions, attachments and stress; and, results in continuing cycle of rebirths. Due to ignorance of the true nature of reality, human beings make choices that drive them to suffering. Since the problem originates from lack of right understanding, the solution to the malady should be sought in gaining the right understanding. Therefore, the Buddha said, one desirous of seeking liberation must discard mistaken ideas and acquire correct understanding.

5.2. In short, a person’s bondage is caused by ignorance or incorrect understanding. Liberation too is, in effect, caused by understanding- but it is the proper understanding; and nothing more. Bondage is the wrong understanding that binds; while liberation is the right understanding that frees. In either case, it is a matter of understanding. All that is from an individual’s point of view; But, in absolute sense there is neither bondage nor liberation.

Emancipation….And after..?

6.1. The dhukkha of bondage is thus a matter of mental process; modifications of the consciousness, projecting the world outside and conditioning our reactions to it. Emancipation is the knowledge of things as they really are; and is the freedom from constraints imposed by phenomenal involvements.Emancipation, it appears, is the reverse or the other side of involvement in the phenomena.

6.2. A right understanding when it arises frees instantaneously; and is not delayed until the exhaustion of the karmas that have brought the current life into existence. In other words, liberation need not wait until one’s death. Such an enlightened one is termed an Arhant in the Buddhist lore. [Its equivalent term in Vedanta is Jivan-muktha – the emancipated one even while alive in this body].

6.3. The Buddha was rather reluctant to be drawn into a discussion on the state of consciousness of an Arhant after he discarded his mortal coils.  Asked what happens to an Arhant upon his death, the Buddha was said to have replied: “What happens to footprints of birds in mid air?” Perhaps the Buddha likened the death of an Arhant to the extinction of a flame when the fuel (karma) runs out.

6.4. He evidently felt that such questions arose out of a false attachment to self, and that they distracted one from the main aim of eliminating suffering. Those who seek liberation, according to him, must discard the belief in self. And that requires meditative training, which removes defilements like aversions, attachments, cravings and stress.

Mind and consciousness

7.1. The Vedanta and the Buddhist text treat the mind and consciousness as being distinct. Vedanta believes consciousness is so called because the power of deliberation is hidden in it (like the fire in a log of wood that is not burning); and, it is called mind when deliberation is on (like log on fire).Mind is a deliberation of consciousness. Mind is that which discriminates the characteristics of objects.Mind is a pattern or a manipulation of consciousness which in turn is a function of our original nature. According to Tantra, Shiva is consciousness (chith) while Shakthi as its deliberation (vimarsha) is mind (dhih).The union of Shiva and Shakthi too is yoga.

7.2. The Buddhist interpretation appears to be slightly different. It says; consciousness (vinnana) is separate and arises from mind (mana). Nagarjuna(c. 150 – 250CE), the celebrated Buddhist philosopher and founder of Madhyamaika school, expands on it by putting forth a series of vivid images. Nagarjuna compares the natural purity of mind to the butter lying un-extracted in un-churned milk; to an oil lamp concealed inside a vase; to a pristine deposit of lapis lazuli buried in a rock and to a seed covered by its husk. When the milk is churned, the butter is revealed; when holes are made in the vase, the lamp’s light pours out; when the gem is dug out, the brilliance of the lapis lazuli shines forth; and when the husk is removed the seed can germinate. Nagarjuna’s explanation is akin to that of the Sankhya belief which denotes that the effect is in reality a transformation of the cause. The cause is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects.

Nagarjuna then argues that the essential nature of the mind is pure and its defilements are removable through meditative purification. When our afflictions are removed or cleaned through the sustained cultivation of insight, the innate purity of mind becomes manifest.

Practice of meditation

8.1. As per the Vajrayana Buddhism, Bhodhi-Chitta “that which is conscious” resides in all of us as a hidden pool of compassion, tranquility, unaffected, “ever washed bright” and beyond the phenomenal involvements. It can be experienced when our afflictions are removed or cleaned through sustained cultivation of insight. One way of experiencing pure consciousness, according to Buddhism, is to practice meditation.

8.2. The Buddha believed that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions that give rise to them.The effect lies latent in the cause; and that effect in turn seeds the next effect. He said, removal of a basic condition will remove its effect. Therefore, if one changes the conditions of one’s state of mind, one can change the trait of one’s consciousness and the resulting attitudes and emotions.

It is in this context that the Buddha taught practice of mindfulness anapana –sati; anapana meaning breath and sati (snkt.smruthi) is non-forgetfulness, being aware of it. The Buddha spoke of mind as being essentially pure, clear and peaceful. The distractions, dispersions, confusions and agitations are all apparent. But the appearances could be troublesome and stressful. They need to be cleared. The method he recommended for removing the disturbances is the mindfulness. He asked one to be aware of one’s own breathing; in other words, to be mindful of breathing and of the body, feelings, thoughts, and other phenomena. Accordingly, in order to get rid of dhukkha, suffering one should neither identify with nor attach to vinnana, consciousness; but just watch. That Mindfulness leads to understanding of the impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of consciousness and then on to eliminate it by eradicating its causes. [Please click here for more on Mindfulness]

8.2.Dharmakirti (c. 600 AD), a seventh century Buddhist philosopher, too stated that through disciplined meditative training, natural constraints on consciousness are removable and  substantive changes can be effected in human consciousness. Dharmakirti argued that, in principle, it is possible for a mental activity like compassion to be developed to a limitless degree. He, in fact, remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.


9.1. After having said that, the Buddhist texts caution against treating consciousness as the ultimate reality. It should not be; because consciousness is only a projection of the original nature. And, consciousness is inconsistent and depends on other factors for its existence.The Buddha Manjushree explained the ultimate state of realityis not something that can be known by consciousness, nor is it an object of the mind..He said,   you cannot find This Ultimate One with the mind of thoughts … so how do you find it? … by no-mind, no-thought, by not attaching to thoughts but letting them just be there, but never attaching to them while maintaining presence.

Scientific investigations and Buddhist meditation practices

10.1. As discussed above, Buddhist texts hold the view that human consciousness emerges not from the brain or from matter; but from a deeper level. And, as the brain ceases the consciousness will dissolve back into the substrate and carries on from lifetime to lifetime. The continuum of consciousness will carry on; and it is a beginning- less continuum. They argue, the being that is reborn is different from the previous one that died; but its identity remains as before because of the continuity in the flow of consciousness.

10.2. The classical western theory (among other theories) appears to be that consciousness is an emergent property of a complex organization or of the matter called brain. The science thinks of consciousness as arising out of matter because no other explanation seems plausible. It rightly argues that the human emotions, visual perceptions or psyche cannot arise in the absence of the brain or the appropriate faculty.  They all arise because of a certain level of brain and nerve-cell complexity. In other words, the nerve cell complexity of the brain is the seat of consciousness. Thus consciousness is a kind of physical process that arises through the structure and dynamics of the brain. And, when the brain is dead, when it decomposes or when it is no longer capable of functioning as brain, the properties of the brain-based consciousness also vanish. That is the end.

10.3. B. Alan Wallace the noted scholar teacher in his essay “A Science of Consciousness: Buddhism (1), the Modern West (0)” observes the West presently has no pure science of consciousness and it also lacks an applied science of consciousness that reveals means for refining and enhancing consciousness.

Francisco Valera, the renowned Biologist who dedicated his life to the studies of ‘biology of consciousnesses’ , opined that if the scientific study of consciousness is to grow to a full maturity-given that subjectivity is a primary element of consciousness – it will have to incorporate a fully developed and rigorous methodology of first-person emphericism. He felt, there was a tremendous potential in this area for contemplative traditions like Buddhism to make a substantive contribution to science and its methods.

There are signs that the scientific community is trying to understand the Buddhist theories of the nature, origins and potentials of consciousness.

10.4. But, the path is not easy. Unlike that of modern science, Buddhism’s approach has been primarily from first-person experience. The contemplative method, as developed by Buddhism, is an empirical use of introspection. The scientific approach is not comfortable with an empirical investigation of subjective events from a first-person perspective. That is because; meditative experiences are not amenable to verification – both through repetition by the same practitioner; and through other individuals of same caliber and adopting same practices. One therefore wonders, given the highly subjective nature of consciousness, whether it is ever possible to gain a third person –objective and scientific-understanding.

The other problem is that it is very hard for the scientists to refuse the possibility that consciousness may not merely be a phenomenon of the brain.

10.5. HH the Dalai Lama in his book The Universe in a Single Atomadmitted that such disquiet is entirely understandable given the dominance of the third-person scientific method as a paradigm for scientific investigation .And, yet  trying to bridge the two systems , he  explained that the Buddhist approach to the study of consciousness is based on the understanding of functions and modalities of the mind and their casual dynamics – and this is precisely the area that the Buddhist understanding can most readily intersect with scientific approach because , like that of science, much of the Buddhist investigation of consciousness is empirically based.

10.6. B. Alan Wallace who in his essay “Training the Attention and Exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism “ examines the methods of attention training and exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism, joined the issue by stating that without the subjective evidence provided by introspection, there would be no discipline of consciousness studies. He argued that these (Hindu and Buddhist) attention-enhancing methods present a challenge to modern researchers in the consciousness studies “to broaden the scope of legitimate methods of scientific inquiry so that the introspective exploration of consciousness may begin to rise to the levels of sophistication of objective means of studying brain correlates of conscious states.”

10.7. HH the Dalai Lama explained, Buddhist psychology does not catalogue the mind’s make up or even describes how the mind functions. But the primary aim of the Buddhist contemplative practice, he said, is to alleviate suffering especially the psychological and emotional afflictions and to clear those afflictions. And, Science too has contributed enormously to the lessening of suffering, especially the physical suffering. It is therefore appropriate, he said, science and spirituality make common cause.

10.8. And, he concluded on a hopeful note saying “ I believe that it is possible for Buddhism and modern science to engage in collaborative research in the understanding of consciousness while leaving aside the philosophical question. By bringing together these two modes of inquiry, both disciplines may be enriched. Such collaborative study will contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics of the human mind and its relation to suffering. ”

10.9. B. Alan Wallace considers that such collaboration would mutually benefit scientists and Buddhists. According to him, “one of the greatest potentials of the interface between Buddhism and science is that Buddhists may encourage scientists to question their materialistic assumptions and incorporate sophisticated systems of contemplative inquiry within the scientific community. …. Likewise, scientists may encourage Buddhists to question their own assumptions, to revitalize their own traditions of contemplative inquiry, and to integrate them with the empirical methods of modern science. In short, Buddhists and scientists may help each other in overcoming their tendencies to dogmatism and replace this with a fresh and open-minded spirit of empiricism.”



Sources and References

Let’s hope such collaboration takes off the ground and some good comes of it.

Zen and Dhyâna By Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao; Kalpataru publications, Bangalore

B Allan Wallace  :

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; Harper Perennial; 1990

A Science of Consciousness: Buddhism (1), the Modern West (0)

B. Alan Wallace- Published in The Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies

Third Series, No. 4, Fall 2002, pp. 15-32

Buddhism and Science: Confrontation and Collaboration by B. Alan Wallace

Training the Attention and Exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism – B. Alan Wallace

What is Consciousness vs. Awareness?

Mixing Buddhism and neuroscience to understand human consciousness

Consciousness – Indian Thought – Buddhist Systems

Daniel Dennett  on Consciousness – And a Buddhist Response



Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism, Indian Philosophy


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The Mindfulness

1.1. This relates to the issues that emanated from my post Meditation and Entropy. Each culture or a religious persuasion has its own understanding of the term meditation; and prescribes its own set of practices to attain what it considers is its goal. And, whatever is the process and whatever is the procedure prescribed by various sects, they all aim to transform a disturbed, stressful and incoherent state of mind into calm, clear and wakeful state beyond contradictions. Just as in the illustration of entropy I provided, you have at one end a system that is excited, chaotic and disorderly; while at the other end you have a calm, ordered system free from distractions.

1.2. In terms of entropy, when the entropy approaches near-zero level the mind tends to be thought-free. A thought- free mind is free from distractions and conflicts; and when that happens a state of calm and quiet envelops you. The two states of order and disorder are common to both entropy and meditation. That’s it.

Let’s look at the traditional explanations.

Magga the path

2.1. One of the commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga-sutra offers an allegory. It says our foot-soles have become soft and sore; vulnerable to injury and pain. The way we have to tread in the world is thorny. We have to either withdraw from the world or resort to a device that protects us from the hurt and pain. We might perhaps retreat from the world occasionally for brief spells; but can never run away from it. Even in case we stay away from it physically, our minds are ever full of the world; because, the hold of the world on human mind is subtle, strong and pervasive. The commentary further explains that meditation is one such device, which is protective and preventive. It protects one from the pricks of life and helps to manage stress and integrate the individual. Meditation can thus be positive and constructive.

2.2. Our Teacher, the Master, the Buddha took a more comprehensive and a purposeful view of meditation. He called it magga (Snkt. marga) the path, the strategy for attaining freedom (esa dhammo vimuttiya). He taught this path to whoever that approached him in earnestness, saying “dhammam desessami – I shall teach you Dhamma”.

Anapana –sati

3.1 The Buddha in his first discourse delivered at Saranath laid down the broad outline. It said, if you find the principles, you should also be able to find the method; because, the two are intimately associated (Satipatthana sutta). Here, the term principle refers to the reality that underlies all appearances. And, the method – the magga is the most expedient one within the reach of all people, irrespective of their learning, vocation, caste, gender, country or age.

3.2. The Buddha called the method anapana –sati; anapana meaning breath and sati (snkt.smruthi) is non-forgetfulness, being aware of it. The method he prescribed asked one to be aware of one’s breathing; in other words, to be mindfulness of breathing — of the body, feelings, thoughts, and other phenomena .But in the larger context, mindfulness is about paying attention so you don’t go about life absentmindedly. Mindfulness is all about conscious living.Mindfulness is embedded in ethics and compassion.

3.3. The principles that the Buddha spoke refer to mind as being essentially pure, clear and peaceful. The distractions, dispersions, confusions and agitations are all apparent. But the appearances could be troublesome and stressful. They need to be cleared. The method employed for removing the disturbances is the mindfulness.

3.4. In our normal state, our mind remains unfocused for most of the time and our thoughts move from one object to another in random dissipated manner; and at timesslipping into a stupor. By cultivating mindfulness we first learn to be aware of the fleeting nature of the mind; and later learn to gently fine-tune the mind directing it towards the objects we wish to focus.

3.5. As a Buddhist scholar explained ”The point of mindfulness meditation is not to zone out but to tune in’’. The Mindfulness becomes a gatekeeper guarding the doors of perception or a gateway to tranquility, pacification of the mind (samatha) and purification of thoughts and feelings (visuddhi)leading to insight into the nature of reality (vipassana).

The aim of these contemplative practices is to alleviate the suffering, especially the psychological and emotional afflictions; and to clear those afflictions.

As regards its practice:



4.1. Traditionally breath is seen as the ideal instrument for practice of mindfulness. Breathing is the bridge that connects the body and mind; between the gross physical form; and the subtle and formless thoughts. Breathing affects both.

4.2. Breathing is natural to every being. It is instinctive, effortless and essential. To be alive is to breathe; we all do breathe so long as we are alive. The breathing can be observed, watched and to an extent controlled. Breathing and mind are closely related like the charger and its rider. When mind is disturbed the breathing too is disturbed. And, if breathing is uneven, the mind is agitated. Therefore, take hold of the breath when the mind is agitated.

4.3. It is not hard to be mindful of breathing; and to watch the breath as it enters and exits the nostrils, be it long or short, deep or shallow. When the breathing becomes even and calm, the disturbances in the mind too recede.


5.1. The texts mention that before one begins to meditate one need to make a silent resolve not to allow the mind to be distracted either by the recollections of past experiences or the hopes, anticipations, fantasies or the fears of the future events.

5.2. The challenge comes when the mind drifts.As one sits in meditation all sorts of thoughts arise in the mind , like ever bubbling spring of internal chatter. Allow the thoughts to play out, without getting involved, without judging the contents and the quality of thoughts and emotions as good or bad. Altogether ignore appearance and disappearance of the thoughts.  Return to the attentive observation, deliberate watching of the breath.

5.3. The purpose of this meditation is not to prevent thoughts and feelings entering into the mind. Mindfulness is only being mindful of whatever is happening; and nothing more. Mindfulness is not rational appraisal of thoughts and events. One is just watching without getting involved.  It is mere observation, just watching. The only object of mindfulness is the breathe, which is basic to body and mind.


6.1. While watching the breath, no effort is to be made. Just turn attention on the breathing process; settle your mind on the breath. Watch where the breath originates and where it ends, running your mind along the course of the breath. This practice is called “following the length of the breath”.

Watching the flow of breathe arising from the navel region and rising up to the nostrils (exhalation) and the flow back of the breath into the body (inhalation) is what the Buddha called ana-apana-sati .It involves both the body and mind.

6.2. When the inhalation (in-breathing) and exhalation (out-breathing) are even in duration (in length) it is restful and relaxing. In the normal course of the day, they are not even. When the duration of inhalation and exhalations are even it is called saamya or samatva, the breath would be quieter, lighter and smoother. The mind too would tend to be calm and silent. One can watch the breaths even while lying down or while walking or sitting quietly.

6.3. As one goes along the path, one watches the breathe that comes in and spread throughout the body. At this stage, as one becomes aware of the flow of breathe, following the  breathe deliberately, becomes rather unnecessary.


No mind

7.1. Initially Anapana meditation is focusing on the breath and then focusing on complete equanimity.

Gradually in the midst of the internal chatter one begins to notice its absence, a silence of no contents. At the beginning such states may only be fleeting, but as one continues the practice, one would be able to prolong the intervals grasping the basic experience of consciousness.

7.2. In the next stage, attention is taken off from the breathe that comes in and goes out. Now, the attention is on the nose tip, the point where the air enters the body and becomes the breathe; and, where the breathe exits the body and becomes air. This is a     stage of meditation where the mind is tranquil and light. There is a glimpse of void or silence.

7.3. Awareness of an inner silence is not something easy to achieve.  It can be confused with a state of dullness or being soporific, which is not the purpose of meditation.

With practice the mind attuned to being subtle and devoid of distractions would no longer cling to objects. It observes the inner workings of the body and the sense organs beyond attachments and reasoning.

But the practice does not stop here.

Ethics and compassion

8.1. It is not adequate to merely have a focused mind; but one must acquire the skill of probing the nature of the object The Buddha’s analysis of worldly existence in terms of dissatisfaction, misery and anxiety (dukkha), impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of ego-self (anatma) is contemplated upon.

8.2. B Allan Wallace, a Buddhist scholar and teacher, remarks it would be wrong to equate mindfulness with bare attention. Though by itself it could be helpful, bare attention is very limiting and it would not be a complete practice. Mindfulness is essentially rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state.The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity are all practiced with mindfulness.


9.1. Buddhist meditation teachers suggest that through careful observation of the mind, it is possible to see consciousness as being a sequence of conscious moments rather a continuum of awareness. Each moment is an experience of an individual mind-state: a thought, a memory, a feeling and a perception. A mind-state arises, exists and , being impermanent, ceases following which the next mind-state arises. Thus the consciousness of an alert person can be seen as a continuous series of birth and death of these mind-states.

9.2. Mindfulness aims to become aware of the impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of ego-self (anatma) and then to eliminate it by eradicating its causes.

9.3. Dharmakirti (c. 600 AD), a seventh century Buddhist philosopher, stated that through disciplined meditative training, substantive changes can be effected in human consciousness, including emotions. A key premise underlying his argument is the law of cause and effect, which suggests that conditions affecting the cause have an inevitable effect on the result.

9.4. Dharmakirti’s statement emanates from the position taken by the Buddha that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions that give rise to them. Therefore, if one changes the conditions of one’s state of mind, one can change the trait of one’s consciousness and the resulting attitudes and emotions.

Let’s talk more about consciousness especially the Buddhist perspective in the next segment.

Sources and References:

The universe in a single atom by HH The Dalai Lama; Morgan Road books; New York; 2005

Zen and Dhyâna  by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru publications, Bangalore

B Allan Wallace -A Mindful Balance  :



Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism


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