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Monthly Archives: September 2012

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 .

Interestingly, one among the 101 names of Ahura Mazda is ‘Buddha’.  He declares ‘I am Dharma; I am Buddha’- Ahum cha daenam cha Baodhas cha – (Khordeh Avesta). Here, the ‘ Buddha‘ is meant as the perfect one. And, at times, Ahura Mazda is addressed as Buddha Mazda.

[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.

Buddha_avatar_of_Vishnu

The purpose of 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 Maha yogin , yoga-charya as one whose ideas are pure, as one  having a pacified mind free from attachments and hatred . He is also portrayed as Yoga-murti, the Bhaisaja-guru, the great healer, holding Myrobalan (Arura) plant in a vase.

Buddha yoga murti

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

Buddha imagery

Buddha feet buddha bharhut stupa clipped

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, of the Kushana  period,  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 other significant stream of development of the Buddha images was centered around Mathura, in the present-day U P.  Here, the artists developed a style that can be characterized as more indigenous, which was endowed with symbolism,  suggesting the spiritual aura of the Buddha, as also the grace, tenderness and compassion which characterize the sublime idea of the Buddha. Such imagery was influenced by the iconography (prathima-lakshana) of the Hindu and the Jain religious figures; and, was meant for worship. 

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

    Buddha gandhara 3 to 5 bce

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 unison. 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. 

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.

buddha hindu iconography

Further Chalukya and Hoysala temples (10-11thcenturies) in their depictions of Vishnu’s ten-avatars do include the Buddha. 

Buddha as Vishnu at Chennakesava Temple (Somanathapura) Buddha as an avatar at Dwaraka Tirumala temple

Ushnisha

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 of 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

*

Salagramas

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 (aa-janu-bahu); 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 , happiness and liberation.

“Apādakehi me mettaṃ, mettaṃ Dipādakehi me. / Catuppadehi me mettaṃ, mettaṃ Bahuppadehi me. /  Sabbe sattā sabbe pāṇā, sabbe bhūtā ca kevalā./ Sabbe bhadrāni passantu, mā kañci pāpamāgamā. / –  Culla Vagga V 6 (page 152)

dharma chakra

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

Resources

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

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ENG/baner.htm

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

Jitendra Nath Banerjea; The Indian Historical Quarterly-1931.09

http://www.salagram.net/Buddha-dev.html

http://www.salagram.net/sstp-Newsletter007.html
Gautama Buddha in Hinduism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha_as_an_Avatara_of_Vishnu

http://ramiswar5.blogspot.com/

All Images are from Internet

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Iconography

 

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On reading DMRSekhar’s ‘Genopsych’

on reading genopsyhe

 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

http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/sadananda/vasanas2_sadananda.htm

http://www.mentalstates.net/add_h.html#f200 ]

 

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”.

rose-SG.2 jpg

 
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Consciousness

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. The  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 skandhas continue on, powered by past karma, propelling births and rebirths. Here, Karma, in essence, is not action per se; but , is 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 – 250 CE), 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 Samkhya 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.

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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 , 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.

No-mind

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 reality is 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.

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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 empiricism. 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.

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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. H.H. the Dalai Lama in his book The Universe in a Single Atom admitted 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. H.H . 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.”

 

PLEASE ALSO READ THE COMMENTS AND RESPONSES . SOME OF THOSE ARE TRULY INTERESTING

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  : http://www.alanwallace.org/spr08wallace_comp.pdf

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

http://www.alanwallace.org/Pacific%20World%20Essay.pdf

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

http://www.alanwallace.org/PDF%20NEW/Buddhism%20and%20Science%20Paper.pdf

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

http://www.purifymind.com/AttentionTibetBudd.htm

What is Consciousness vs. Awareness?

http://www.meditationexpert.com/consciousness-studies/cs_what_is_consciousness.html

Mixing Buddhism and neuroscience to understand human consciousness

http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/what_buddhism_offers_science/

Consciousness – Indian Thought – Buddhist Systems

http://science.jrank.org/pages/8802/Consciousness-Indian-Thought-Buddhist-Systems.html

Daniel Dennett  on Consciousness – And a Buddhist Response

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/2008/01/daniel-dennett-on-consciousness-and.html

Vijñāna: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vij%C3%B1%C4%81na

ALL IMAGES ARE FROM INTERNET

 
18 Comments

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:

meditation

Breath

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.

Mindfulness

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.

Watching

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.

Meditation2

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.

Consciousness

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  : http://www.alanwallace.org/spr08wallace_comp.pdf

 

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism

 

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Meditation and Entropy

Just the other day, I was reading an interesting blog Meditation and medication -2 strands of a DNA helix of LIFE  posted by  Shri Santhemant. He said, among other things, when the mind is palliated , the body gets its benefit too. Meditation is also the medication of the mind.

I was wondering if the state of meditation could also be interpreted in terms of entropy- one of the favorite subjects of my friend Shri DMR Sekhar.

Entropy in physics is a measure of disorder. I believe we all have mental entropy.

Before we get to meditation, let’s get familiar with entropy.

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When we boil water, the temperature of its molecules increases. As the water molecules get energized, they tend to be excited ; the system gets more chaotic; and, with that, their disorder too increases.

On the other hand,  if the entropy of a system decreases, the system becomes more ordered or structured. For example ; when we cool water to its freezing point, it becomes ice. The normal ice has tetrahedral structure.

Now coming to the human situation, the human brain, it is said, is an overcrowded network of billions of neurons, each of which is perpetually trying to assert its presence, in one manner or other. There is , therefore , a ceaseless chaos running in our waking state , side by side with our structured thinking process [programmed psychological behavior]. The activities of these neurons (thoughts) influence various biological changes through complex mechanisms. The impulses and interactions spread to the human organism through its intricate network of nervous system.

The level of psychological chaos in certain individuals might be higher (that is, higher entropy levels). They are “distracted” easily; are restless ; and,   find it hard to concentrate. They , therefore, need to control and reduce the inputs that tend to excite the system. Perhaps, closing the eyes might help them to concentrate better (reduce entropy levels by cutting down inputs). A good-sleep also helps greatly in minimizing excitation impulses. Otherwise, lack of adequate sleep leads to fatigue the nervous system – that is, it exacerbates disorder or pushes up the entropy levels.

Therefore, when you put away or ignore distractions, there is less disorder within. The tendency to waver and scatter also decreases. In other words, in an ordered mind , free from distractions, the entropy level is very low.

In the waking-state, when the entropy of the mind is consciously brought down, there is less disorder; the mind becomes calm and clear.

If you extend the logic further, you might say that 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, a state of calm and quiet envelops you

lotus 888

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

 

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The Early Buddhist women- Stories – Five – Visakha

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post-The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

The story of Visakha is the most delightful one among all the stories of the early Buddhist women.

Visakha was a person of great charm and independent spirit. She had certain poise and calm authority around her. She had a mind of her own and believed in her convictions. Though her family, on either side, was wealthy she ran a business of her own independently. She was known as an able manager and an effective communicator.

Visakha was the first female lay disciple of the Buddha and also the chief female lay benefactor of the Sangha. The Pubbarama monastery which she dedicated with love and reverence to the Sangha was one of the favorite places of stay of the Buddha in the later 25 years of his life.

She was well respected in the Sangha for her wisdom, generosity and for her managerial skills. She took charge of the Bhikkhuni Sangha (Order of the Nuns) and managed it efficiently. She was authorized to arbitrate the issues and disputes that arose among the nuns; and between nuns and monks.

The Pali Canon enumerates a number of discourses imparted to her by the Buddha, on a variety of subjects.

Visakha lived a long life. It is said she retained her poise, youthful charm; and sharp inquisitive mind even in her later years. Visakha is truly one of the most remarkable persons of the early Buddhist era.

1. Savatthi

1.1. It is said; the beautiful garden city of Savatthi (Snkt.Shravasthi) on the banks of the River Aciravati was the capital of the Kosala kingdom ruled by the king Pasenadi (Snkt.Prasenajit), an ardent disciple of the Buddha. The city of Savatthi occupied a significant position in the history of the early Buddhism.

1.2. The garden city of Savatthi, on its outskirts, had two major Buddhist monasteries: one was the Jetavana built in the Buddha’s service (thirty-one years after his Enlightenment) by the divot wealthy merchant Anathapindaka; and the other was the Pubbarama (Snkt. purva_rama, the eastern monastery), located to the east of Jetavana, and dedicated to the Sangha lovingly by Visakha the leading lay female disciple of the Buddha. In addition, Savatthi had another monastery, Rajakarama, built by king Pasenadi opposite the Jetavana.

1.3. The Master spent a greater part of his later years (25 vassas – rainy seasons or rains retreats) in Savatthi, dividing his time between Jetavana and Pubbarama, spending the day in one and the night in the other; or in whichever way it was convenient to him.It was in Savatthi; the Buddha dispensed a large number of his discourses and instructions; guided and helped large number of persons who came to him seeking remedy for their sorrows. (SNA.i.336)

2.  Pubbarama

2.1. As regards Pubbarama, the Canon records several important discourses (suttas or sutras) preached by Our Teacher while he was staying there. The better known among those suttas are:

The Aggañña-suttaṃ:  It was imparted to two Brahmins Bharadvaja and Vasettha who desired to enter the Sangha as monks, when the Buddha was staying at the Pubbarama (Ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā sāvatthiyaṃ viharati pubbārāme migāramātupāsāde) . The sutta elucidated that caste and lineage cannot be equated with moral (shila) and chaste conduct (Dhamma); and righteousness was beyond such artificial limitations. Dhamma is universal and anyone from four castes can become a monk and attain enlightenment. (D N. 27)

On one occasion at Pubbarama  the Buddha said ,”Him I call a Brahmana , who , in this world has transcended both ties-good and evil; who is sorrow-less and , being free from the taints of moral defilement, is pure”(Dhammapada- Verse  412)

yo ‘dha puññañ ca pāpañ ca ubho saṅgaṃ upaccagā / asokaṃ virajaṃ suddhaṃ tam ahaṃ brūmi brāhmaṇaṃ. // Dhp_412 /

The Utthana Sutta: It was imparted to practicing monks stressing the imperative need to be vigilant. The Teacher instructs “Rouse yourself..! Sit up..!Resolutely train to attain freedom and peace. Do not be careless; do not let weakness lead you astray. Go beyond any clinging. Do not waste your opportunity. (Sn.vv.331-4; SnA.i.336f)

On another occasion the Master declared that a Bhikkhu who though young devotes himself to Dhamma lights up the world as does the moon freed from the clouds. (Dhammapada Verse 382- 25 Bhikkhuvagga 107)

yo have daharo bhikkhu yuñjate Buddhasāsane / so ‘maṃ lokaṃ pabhāseti abbhā mutto va candimā.4 // Dhp_382 /

The Ariyapariyesana Sutta: It is rather a rare sort of sutta. For, it contains fleeting autobiographical glimpses   of Our  Teacher before he attained his goal. He mentions, in passing, how he too in his quest approached many teachers; how they could not lead to what he was searching for; and how he then went to the forests of the Uruvela country and practiced until he attained enlightenment. The Awakened-one also mentions how he was initially reluctant to go forth into the world preaching what he had found. The sutta then leads to the Buddha’s first sermon (pathama desana) addressed to five ascetics at the deer park of Isipattana on the outskirts of the ancient city of Varanasi. (M.i.160-75 and is repeated in the Vinaya and the Digha Nikāya).

2.2. The Vighasa Jataka was also narrated at the Pubbarama. This  Jataka tells the story of Bodhisattva in one of his past lives as Sakka (Shukra), when he  assumed the form of a parrot in order to  reform the ascetics who were about to go astray.(J No. 393)

2.3. It was here at the Pubbarama, the Buddha accorded permission for recitation of Patimokkha in his absence. It contained a set of 227 rules to be observed by the members of the Sangha. The rules pertained mainly to regulating the conduct of the Bhikkus towards one another and in regard to matters concerning the clothing, dwelling, furniture, and utilities etc that were held in common by the community.(Sp.i.187)

2.3. On one occasion while he was staying at the Pubbarama, the Buddha expressed his satisfaction with the way the   Bhikkus there were progressing. The Buddha therefore announced that he would remain at the Pubbarama until the following full-moon of the fourth month when Kaumudi the White-Lilly would bloom (sometime in Oct-Nov, perhaps corresponding to Sharad Purnima). As its news spread, the monks in the surrounding regions moved to Pubbarama. On the night of the Kaumudi full-moon the Buddha seated in open amongst a vast congregation of enrapt monks and divot lay, addressed the Sangha. He praised those Bhikkhus for their good conduct (shila), their adherence to Dhamma practice and their attainments. The Teacher then spoke about Anapanasati– Mindfulness of Breathing- and his experiences with it. He imparted instructions on using breath (apana) as a focus for practicing mindfulness (sati) meditation. The Buddha stated that mindfulness of the breath, “developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, great benefit.” (Anapanasati Sutta-MN 118) 

Pubbarama monastery, therefore, is frequently mentioned in the Buddhist texts.

2.4. How the Pubbarama monastery came into being, is a very interesting story. It is narrated in the Dhammapada Commentary (Vol. I, 384-420).

***

3. The early years

3.1. Visakha, bright and beautiful, was the daughter of Dhananjaya_Settthi and Sumana Devi who resided in the city of Bhaddiya in Anga, a province of the Magadha kingdom. Dhanajaya was the son of Chandapaduma and Mendaka_setthi a wealthy merchant and one of the five financiers or treasurers to the king of Magadha Bimbisara.  The family lived a life of comfort and luxury.

[ Visakha’s younger sister was Sujata who later married   Kala (?), son of Anathapindaka one of the leading benefactors of the Sangha and who constructed and dedicated in service to the Buddha the Jetavana monastery at Savatthi. Sujata was described as haughty, obstinate and harsh in speech; but, later reformed   on listening to Buddha’s discourse (Sujata Jataka).]

3.1. When Visakha was about seven years old, the Buddha visited Bhaddiya with a large company of monks. Mendaka offered several gifts to the Sangha; and invited the Buddha and his monks to his mansion and offered hospitality for a fortnight. Visakha an active, inquisitive and a lively child played around the monks and the Buddha. She was always questioning about the things that the monks did and said; and about Dhamma. The Buddha was fond of the little girl.

3.2. It is said when the Buddha departed from Bhaddiya for Anguttarapa (another city in Anga province), Mendaka instructed his servants to follow the Buddha with abundant provisions, food and fresh milk; as also ghee and butter until the party reached its destination. (DhA.i.384)(Viii.i.243ff)

3.3. Later, at the request of Pasenadi of Kosala, Bimbisara the king of Magadha asked Dhananjaya to move over to Kosala and function as a financier – treasurer (Bhandari) to king of Kosala. Accordingly, Dhananjaya with his wife Sumana and daughter Visakha, shifted to Saketa in Kosala, located about seven leagues (yojanas) away from its capital city Savatthi.

(Some accounts mention that Dhananjaya founded Saketa)

4. Marriage

4.1. Meanwhile in the city of Savatthi, a wealthy and a miserly merchant Migara was in search of a suitable bride for his son Punnavaddhana. The boy Punnavaddhana was, however, averse to marriage. It was not easy to convince him either. After much persuasion, Punnavaddhana agreed to the marriage but stipulated some tough conditions. He insisted the bride should be “an exquisite beauty who possessed the five maidenly attributes: beauty of hair, teeth, skin, youth and form. Her hair had to be glossy and thick, reaching down to her ankles. Her teeth had to be white and even like a row of pearls. Her skin had to be of golden hue, soft and flawless. She had to be in the peak of youth, about sixteen. She had to have a beautiful, feminine figure, not too fat and not too thin”.

4.2. Soon thereafter, the relieved Migara dispatched a pair of well-fed Brahmins with instructions to scout for a girl who answered the specifications stipulated by his son Punnavaddhana. The Brahmin pair roamed the Magadha and Kosala countries in search of a suitable girl who would make Punnavaddhana happy. They, however, could not spot the precious one.

4.3. Having given up their search and loitering in Kosala rather aimless, the Brahmins got busy cooking up a ruse to appease the “angry-old- bull “, the miserly and grumpy old Migara.

While they were so engaged, a sudden burst of storm caught them unaware. As they were running for shelter, they noticed, to their amazement, a young and a beautiful girl walking calmly, unhurriedly and gracefully through the storm towards a nearby shelter, just as her friends ran in all directions. The Brahmins quite impressed by the pretty girl’s poise and composure, went up to her and questioned why she did not run to the shelter, as her friends did, to avoid getting wet.

The fair maiden replied in her unhurried and measured voice, “It is not appropriate for a maiden in her fine clothes to run, just as it is not appropriate for a king in royal attire, a royal elephant dressed for the procession, or a serene monk in robes, to run.” Pleased with her reply, her calm bearing and her exquisite beauty, the Brahmins realized in a flash that their prayers were answered. They post-haste returned to Savatthi and reported to their master Migara about the amazing discovery they made of the most suitable bride for Punnavaddhana.

4.4. Migara then sent his messengers to Dhananjaya with a bouquet of flowers (malangulam) as a token of proposal seeking the hand of Visakha in marriage to his son Punnavaddhana. The proposal and its acceptance were later formalized by exchange of letters. It is said; since the wedding involved two wealthy and powerful financiers, Pasenadi the king of Kosala accompanied the wedding party as a mark of signal favor. At Saketa, the wedding was celebrated with great pomp and splendor.

4.5. Visakha entered Migara’s house with cart loads of dowry consisting money, gold, silver, various silks, ghee, as also rice- husked and winnowed. She brought with her suitable furniture, sets of vessels, retinue of personal attendants, milk- cows, bulls, oxen and a variety of farm equipments such as ploughs ploughshares etc. (DhA.i.397).

5…And after

5.1. Visakha and Punnavaddhana lived happily in Migara’s house at Savasthi. Migara though wealthy was not a generous person. One afternoon, while Migara was taking his lunch in a golden bowl, a Buddhist monk came to his doorsteps seeking alms. Migara noticed the monk, but ignored him and continued with his lunch. Visakha who was watching the proceedings went up to the monk and requested him to leave by saying, “Pass on, Venerable Sir, my father-in-law eats stale food.”

Visaka

Migara who overheard the remark was furious and demanded an explanation. Visakha, in her usual calm and measured voice, explained that he was eating the benefits of his past good deeds and he did nothing to ensure his continued prosperity. She told him, “you are eating stale fare”.

5.2. Migara was enraged and threatened to send her back to her parents. Visakha unruffled promptly ordered her servants to pack all her money, gold, jewelry etc and prepare for leaving to Saketa. Migara duly chastened, requested her to stay back. She agreed to that on condition that Migara changed his ways, invited the Buddha and his monks for their meal.

5.3. Migara invited the Buddha with his monks and arranged for rich food. But, he asked Visakha to entertain the guests and supervise the hospitality. Migara, from behind a curtain, listened to the Buddha’s sermon imparted at the end of the meal.

5.4. Visakha then prayed to the Buddha to grant her boons. She requested, as long as she lived, she be allowed to give robes for the rainy season to the bhikkhus; rice gruel to the bhikkhus daily; food to the monks entering Savatthi and to those leaving the city; diet and medicine to the sick bhikkhus; food for those attending the sick; and clothes to the bhikkhunis (nuns) to wear taking bath.(Vinaya 290-292)

As from a collection of flowers many a garland can be made by an expert florist, so also, much good can be done (kattabbam kusalam bahum) with wealth, out of faith and generosity”.

yathāpi puppa-harāsimhā kayirā mālāguṇe bahū /evaṃ jātena maccena kattabbaṃ kusalaṃ bahuṃ. // Dhp_53 //

(Dhp .Verse 53)

 

6. How the Pubbarama came into being

 

Visakha supervising construction of Pubbarama

6.1. After that event, Visakha continued her acts of generosity to the Buddhist monks and to the Sangha. One day, while on a visit to Jetavana monastery where the Buddha then resided, she forgot to bring back home her priceless jeweled headdress and other jewels. She did not notice their absence for a couple of days and later gave them up as lost.

6.2. Then, one fine morning a couple of clean shaven Buddhist monks presented themselves at her doorsteps carrying basketful of jewels and enquired whether they belonged to her. Visakha recognized the jewels as hers and was happy to see them. She, however, refused to accept them; remarking it was not proper to take back an item that was left behind in the monastery. She asked the monks to retain the jewels with them. The monks, bemused, said the jewels were of no value to them and walked back to the monetary, empty handed, singing songs praising virtues of renunciation.

6.3. Thereafter, Visakha offered the jewels for sale, with the intention of donating the sale proceeds to the Sangha or using it for building a new monastery. But, she did not succeed in finding a buyer; because none could afford to buy the exquisite jewelled headdress. There was none in Savatthi rich enough to buy it.

6.4. That ornament of extraordinary beauty and immense value was named Mahalata; and it reached all the way down her long hair to her ankles. It was a wedding gift to Visakha from her parents. It appears, going by its description, one had to be strong to wear the ornament with comfort and to walk about freely.

In its construction were used four pint pots (nāli) of diamonds, eleven of pearls, twenty two of coral, thirty three of rubies, one thousand nikkhas of ruddy gold, and sufficient silver. The thread work was entirely of silver; the parure was fastened to the head and extended to the feet. In various places, seals of gold and dies of silver were attached to hold it in position. In the fabric itself was a peacock with five hundred feathers of gold in wing, a coral beak, and jewels for the eyes, the neck feathers and the tail. As the wearer walked the feathers moved, producing the sound of sweet music. (DbA.i.393ff. MA.i.471)

6.5. Having failed to find a buyer to her expensive ornament Visakha decided to buy it herself. She thereafter spent the money on building a new monastery to house the Buddha; and his retinue of monks and nuns. It was a magnificent two-storied structure built of wood and stone. Besides the prayer and conference halls, it had a number of rooms. The mansion like monastery was richly furnished and tastefully decorated. The work was completed in nine months. That monastery came to be known as Pubbarama (Purva_rama) or the Eastern monastery because it was located to the East of Jetavana.

6.6. On the day Visakha dedicated the monastery to the Buddha, she was overjoyed. She sang and danced with immense delight.”Today is the day of fulfillment; my prayers are granted and I am truly blessed”. She ran like child in ecstasy, with her children and grandchildren around the monastery, many times. Her joy was infectious; even the Buddha was touched.(DhA.i.416f)

The ex-miser Migara too was touched. He requested his daughter-in-law to accept him as her son. He called her Migara_ mata (Mother of Migara).From that day the Pubbarama monastery also came to be known as Migara_matu_pasada (the mansion of Migara’s mother).

That was how the Pubbarama came into being.

7. Discourses imparted to Visakha

The Canon recounts number of discourses imparted to Visakha. They cover a range of interesting subjects.

7.1. Sometime after the completion of Pubbarama, Visakha took charge of managing the nuns’ section of the Sangha; and a number of nuns were housed in Pubbarama. One evening she faced a problem which she found it difficult to handle. While on her rounds, she was horrified to find some nuns fully drunk; dancing and singing crazy songs. When she asked the nuns to stop whatever they were doing, they did not listen to her. Instead, they asked her to join the party, get drunk and raise a toast to the Buddha.

The next day Visakha sought the Buddha’s counsel. Visakha bowed to him and asked, “Venerable sir, what is the origin of this custom of drinking an intoxicant, which destroys a person’s modesty and sense of shame?” The Buddha in response to her request dispensed the Kumbha Jataka, where a man found fermented fruit and water in the crevice of a tree and started to consume the fermented liquid to obtain a false feeling of well-being.

7.2. On one hot afternoon, Visakha visited Pubbarama where the Buddha was then staying. She was looking tired and distressed .The Master asked her “well now, Visakha, where are you coming from in the middle of this hot day?’ Visakha moaned that she was tired, annoyed and angry with the tax collectors, who were arbitrarily over charging duty on her goods; and her costs were going up unduly. The king Pasenadi too was not heeding to her plea. It was not fair, she said.  She needed to confine her pain in someone who could comfort and offer her solace. That is the reason she came despite the burning hot sun. The Buddha then calmed her mind by singing – (Sabbaṃ paramasaṃ dukkhaṃ sabbaṃ issariyaṃ sukhaṃ, 
Sādhāraṇe vihaññanti yogā hi duratikkamā)

Painful is all subjection,
Blissful is complete control.
People are troubled by common concerns,
Hard to escape are the bonds .  

 (Ud.2.9)

It is written, those words of the Buddha comforted Visakha.

7.3. On another occasion, Visakha asked the Buddha, what qualities in a woman would enable her to conquer this world and the next. The Buddha replied:

“She conquers this world by industry, care for her servants, love for her husband and by guarding his property. She conquers the other world by confidence, virtue, generosity and wisdom.”

7.4. On the sudden death of her granddaughter Sudatta, who was very dear to her, Visakha broken-hearted approached the Buddha in the middle of the day, in wet clothes and wet hair. Visakha was much afflicted with grief. The Buddha consoled her by imparting a sermon.

The Buddha asked her “Visakha, would you like to have as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi?”

“Yes, lord, I would like to have as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi.”

“But how many people in Savatthi die in the course of a day?”

“Sometimes ten people die in Savatthi in the course of a day, sometimes nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Sometimes one person dies in Savatthi in the course of a day. Savatthi is never free from people dying.”

“So what do you think, Visakha: Would you ever be free from wet clothes and wet hair?”

“No, lord. Enough of my having as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi.”

“Visakha, those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred sufferings. Those who have ninety dear ones have ninety sufferings. Those who have eighty… seventy… sixty… fifty… forty… thirty… twenty… ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Those who have one dear one have one suffering.

For those with no dear ones, there are no sufferings. They are free from sorrow, free from stain, free from lamentation, I tell you.”

The Buddha told her, “Just think whether you would be free from wet clothes and wet hair”.

Visakha said that she did not want so many children  and grandchildren, because acquisition of more children  and grandchildren  would bring greater suffering.

Endearment begets sorrow, endearment begets fear. For him who is free from endearment there is no sorrow; how can there be fear for him? (Udana, 91-92).

Pemato jāyatī soko, pemato jāyatī bhayaṃ  Pemato vippamuttassa, natthi soko kuto bhayaṃ?

All sorrows, griefs and sufferings which appear
In great variety here in this world
They all originate from what is dear
And, if there is nothing dear, do not arise.
 
Hence, those are happy and free from grief
Who in the world hold nothing dear at all,
If you aspire to be sorrowless
Do not hold anything dear in this world.

 

8. 1. In appreciation of her wisdom, her ability and generosity to the Sangha, the Buddha declared that Visakha be his chief female lay benefactor. In addition to serving the Buddha and the Sangha, Visakha was authorized to arbitrate issues and disputes that arose among the nuns; and between nuns and monks. She was a well-respected person in the Sangha.

8.2. Visakha was a person of great charm and independent spirit.She had certain poise and calm authority around her. She led a long and healthy life;  and lived for over a hundred years.

Visakha, it is written, retained her youthful charm and her sharp and inquisitive mind even in her later years.

I have always had great admiration and affection for the girl in Visakha. A great girl she was.

The Issues:

1.  As mentioned at the end of the earlier stories, the society at the time of early Buddhism, despite its flaws, did provide space to women to participate in its social and commercial spheres.

They were respected for their wisdom and ability, as in the case of Visakha.

2. The girls were married after they came of age. Their consent was essential. Interestingly, in the Visakha story, the proposal from the groom’s side and its acceptance by the bride’s side was formalized by exchange of letters of agreements, as if the parties to the transaction were negotiating a business contract.

3. The women, at least the wealthy among them, were free to do pretty much what they liked. Some just walked out of their homes, roamed about the countryside without a care or fear, with a sort of bravado that bordered on recklessness. They were even free to walk out their marriage and take another husband.

Most of such women had their say in family matters; and, they decided on all internal matters. In that respect, I reckon, very little has changed in the Indian households.

Again, the parents were always very supportive of their daughters.

4 . In the case of Visakha, she was free to manage her resources; run her own business independently. Her business was apart from the family business managed by her husband and father-in-law. She was free to donate or gift away her money as she pleased.

She even had the nerve to browbeat her grumpy father-in-law when he threatened to dispatch her back to her parents. She could afford doing that .

Ruins of Pubbarama  _ Asoka period 

Notes:

1. Anga:  One of the sixteen Powers or Great Countries. It was to the east of Magadha, from which it was separated by the River Champa, and had as its capital city Champa, near the modern Bhagalpur. In the Buddha’s time it was a province of Magadha, whose king Bimbisara. The people of Anga and Magadha are generally mentioned together, so we may gather that by the Buddha’s time they had become one people.

2. Bhaddiya: A city in the Anga kingdom. The Buddha visited there several times and stayed sometimes at the Jatiyavana and with Mendaka who lived there.

4. Anguttarapa: A part of Anga on the other side of the river Mahi. The town was probably rich because as many as 1,250 monks accompanied the Buddha to this region.

3. Kosala: A country to the north-west of Magadha and next to Kasi. It is mentioned second in the list of sixteen Mahajanapadas. The river Sarayu divided Kosala into two parts, Uttara Kosala and Dakkhina Kosala. In the Buddha’s time it was a powerful kingdom ruled by Pasenadi. During his time Kasi was under the subjection of Kosala. At the time of the BuddhaSavatthi was the capital of Kosala. Next in importance was Saketa.

4. Savatthi: or Sravasti was one of the  six large cities of ancient India. The city located in the fertile Ganga valley was the capital of the Kosala kingdom. The ruins of Savatthi are in the Gonda district of UP state.

5.Saketa: A town in Kosala. It was regarded in the Buddha’s time as one of the six great cities of India, the others being Champa, Rajagaha, SavatthiKosambī and Varanasi. The distance from Saketa to Savatthi was seven leagues (yojanas).

AshtavakraGitaCh-4Of20Slideshow

Abbreviations:

A… Anguttara Nikaya; D… Digha Nikaya; Dhp.. Dhammapada; M.. Majjhima Nikaya; S… Samyutta Nikaya; Sn .. Sutta Nipata; Thag… Theragatha; Thig.. Therigatha; Pac… Pacittiya (Vinaya); J. Jataka; Ud. . Udana; Mil. .. Milindapañha; Jtm.. Jatakamala; Bu… BuddhavamsaDivy..  Divyavadana;   Ap… Apadana.

 

References and Sources

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/visaakhaa.htm

www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/visaakhaa.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/vighaasa_jat_393.htm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/me_mu/migaramatupasada.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anapanasati_Sutta

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/vighaasa_jat_393.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/am/agganna_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/u/utthaana_s.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/ay/ariyapariyesanaa_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/ay/ariyapariyesanaa_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/pa/pasadakampana.htm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.8.08.than.html

http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Jataka_Tales_of_the_Buddha,_Part_III

Pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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The Early Buddhist Women – Four – Queen Mallika

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post – The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

Besides those who embraced homelessness and became Bhikkhunis, there were large numbers of women who took to Buddha Dhamma in their lay-life. Perhaps because the women were allowed to support and participate actively in the secular and spiritual matters, the early Buddhism gained immense appeal; and spread fast and wide.

Those women supported the Sangha in various ways; and more importantly, they tried putting into practice the teachings of the Buddha in their day-to-day lives. In a manner of speaking, their contribution to Dhamma was more significant. Because, even while the Buddhist monasteries virtually disappeared from India, the teachings of the Buddha and his values of peace, non-violence and amity melted down into the Indian society exerting a long-lasting influence,  thanks mainly to his lay-female disciples.

The extraordinary story of Mallika rising from the daughter of a gardener to become the principal queen of the kingdoms of Kasi and Kosala is truly fascinating. She held a position of honor and authority; and she was well respected. But more significant was her sound common sense, the generosity of her heart and the genuine desire to help the poor and the weak; and to bring into practice the teachings of her Master, the Buddha in whom she had enormous faith and reverence. She tried to bring love, understanding, kindness and amity into her domestic as well as public life. She exerted considerable influence in moulding the king’s attitude and his policies. And, she was fairly successful in bringing about some sensible changes.

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1. The Marriage

1.1. The chief garland-maker to the king of Kosala, living in the capital city Savatthi (Snkt.Sravasthi) had a beautiful daughter. The garland maker named his fair, slender and lovely daughter as Mallika, the Jasmine. The little girl was clever, well behaved and graceful.

1.2. When she was about sixteen, on a beautiful clear day, Mallika was enjoying a playful time with her friends at the public flower garden. As she was chirpily running in and out of the garden, she noticed a group of monks pass by the garden gate. She was attracted by the regal gait and the dignity of    carriage of one of the monks; and was transfixed by the beatific smile on his serene face. She walked up to him, impulsively  poured three portions of the puffed rice she carried in her basket as her lunch, into the alms bowl of that monk. She was at once filled with a deep sense of fulfillment and joy. Suffused with happiness she bent and touched the feet of the monk in reverence. As if infected by her joy, the monk too smiled gently in benediction. Little did she know that the monk radiating sublime peace and joy was none other than Bhagava the enlightened one, the Buddha.

1.3. That afternoon a sense of happiness and of dancing on a cloud of joy filled the little girl’s heart. She sang and danced with great delight round and round the garden. By then, a tired warrior just beaten in a battle, riding back his home pensive and rather dejected was passing by the garden. He was drawn, as if by magic, to the melody and the infectious joy of the girl’s song. A balm like cool peace descended on his aching heart. He involuntarily rode up to the girl singing and dancing delightfully unmindful of the world around her. He was at once struck by the innocent countenance of the cheerful bright girl; and by the joy she radiated.

1.4. As the tired looking stranger approached her, Mallika was not scared; instead, she took the reins of the horse and looked straight into his eyes. She noticed the weariness in his eyes and helped the horseman dismount and lie down near a bower. Mallika rubbed his feet with a piece of wet cloth and gently fanned him. As she did so, the youth fell asleep. When he woke up after a while, he looked deep into her face and enquired who she was, and whether she was already married. Mallika coyly replied, no she was not. Thereafter, he thanked her; and let her mount his horse behind him and rode to her house.

1.5. The young horseman was Pasenadi (Snkt. Prasenajit) the king of Kosala. He had just lost a battle with his neighbor Ajatasattu the mighty king of Magadha. Defeated in the battle and forced to retreat, Pasenadi was riding back to his palace in Savatthi, distressed and downcast. It was then that Pasenadi chanced upon Mallika and her enchanting melody; and was captivated by her innocent and cheerful demeanor.

1.6. In the evening, king Pasenadi sent an entourage with much pomp to fetch Mallika; and he made her his wife and principal Queen. It is said; Mallika was the beloved of the king who came to appreciate her wisdom and her approach to life and its problems. He consulted and accepted her advice on important matters.

Her subjects too loved their beautiful queen. Wherever she was seen in public, people would joyously tell each other: “That is Queen Mallika, who gave alms to the Buddha.”(J 415E)

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2….And After

2.1. The Canon contains a number of discourses addressed to Mallika as also to Pasenadi by the Master. These are included in Samyukta Nikaya and collated under Kosala Samyutta. The discourses delivered to Mallika and Pasenadi cover wide range of subjects such as the position of girl-child and women; the right ways of conduct; loss of dear ones; the futility of wars; treatment of vanquished enemies; and their subjects etc.  These discourses are of much interest as they shed light on the early Buddhist position on a number of issues.

2.2. Soon after she became the Queen, Mallika called upon the Master to pay her respects. During the course of the conversation she hesitantly asked the Master, why is it   that one woman could be beautiful, wealthy and of great ability; another be beautiful but poor and not very able; yet another although ugly, be rich and very able; and finally another be ugly, poor and possess no skills at all. Why do such differences occur? Is there a rationale in this world?

Why is it that some women are beautiful, wealthy and powerful,
While some are beautiful but without wealth and power,
And yet others ugly but wealthy and powerful,
And some ugly, poor and without power?

The Buddha explained to her that all attributes and living conditions of people everywhere are dependent on their moral purity (shila). The beauty comes forth from the gentle and forgiving nature of a person; the prosperity arises due to the generosity of the heart; and, the skill and power have their roots in never envying others but rejoicing in others’ success and always lending support to their virtues.

Very rarely do the entire three virtues manifest in a person; and when it does, that person would be beautiful, wealthy and powerful. Otherwise, whichever of these three virtues a person had cultivated would manifest, usually in varying degrees of combination with other virtues.

“The uprising of a being is from what has come to be; by what he has done, by that he upraises” (M i 390; MN 57).

2.3. On listening to this discourse of the Buddha, Mallika resolved that she would henceforth practice generosity, compassion and patience, and be happy at the success of others. She promised herself, in her heart, to be always gentle towards her subjects; to give alms to all monks, Brahmans and the poor; and never to envy anyone’s happiness. She then took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and remained a faithful disciple for the rest of her life.(A IV, 197)

2.4. Queen Mallika practiced generosity by helping the poor, by offering alms and by building a large ebony-lined hall in her private garden Mallikaarama among the tinduka (diospyros) evergreen trees, for conducting Dhamma discussions. She practiced gentleness in her management of the royal household, in serving her husband; and in caring for the retinue of her staff and her subjects. And when her husband Pasenadi took Vasabha Khattiya (a cousin of the Buddha) as his second wife, Mallika welcomed her and treated her as a younger sister, without envy or jealousy. It is said; both women lived in peace and harmony at the court.(M 78, D 9)(A VI, 52)

2.5. In due course, Vasabha Khattiya, her co-wife, gave birth to a son, the crown prince- to- be; and Mallika delivered to a daughter. Yet Mallika was not envious of Vasabha but rejoiced in Vasabha’s good fortune. Pasenadi was, however, disappointed that her principal queen did not present him with a son.

When Pasenadi confided in the Buddha his disappointment, the Teacher counseled him saying: a well brought-up girl was superior to a man if she was clever, virtuous, well-behaved and faithful. Then she could uplift the family and train her children  and the generations to follow, to be virtuous persons. She could even become the wife of a great King or give birth to a mighty Ruler. A Mother’s contribution in bringing up and molding the character of the succeeding the generations is, indeed, immense. The Master advised Pasenadi to bring up his daughter with love and devotion, without undue attachment or prejudice.

A girl-child, O Lord of men, may prove

Even a better offspring than a male.
For she may grow up wise and virtuous,
Her husband’s mother reverencing, true wife.
The child she bears may do great deeds,
And rule great realms, yes such a son
Of noble wife becomes his country’s guide.
(S.i.86)

 

2.6. The King Pasenadi once asked a wise and well-learned layman whether he could give Dhamma lessons to his two Queens. The lay- scholar replied that the teaching originated from the Enlightened One and only an immediate disciple of his could pass it on to others. The Buddha, at the request of the king, appointed his close disciple and cousin Ananda to impart teachings to the two queens. It is said; Queen Mallika understood and learnt easily, while Queen Vasabha Khattiya, cousin of the Buddha and mother of the crown-prince could not concentrate and learned with difficulty.(DhA.i.382f)

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3. Married Life

3.1. It was not milk and honey all the while. There were occasional little quarrels and misunderstandings, just as in any marriage. Pasenadi would often complain that Mallika didn’t love him enough. He would scowl “becoming a queen had gone into her head. What does she think of her? She has gone mad because of her fame and fortune “. Pasenadi, as if in retaliation, would take no notice of Mallika and pretend “as if she had vanished into thin air”. When the matter came up to the Buddha, he counseled both to put away their little differences and live in love and understanding. He also narrated the events and their love in their past lives; and how they suffered after being separated. The Buddha praised the blessing of friendship and harmony in marriage. (J 519)

The little differences were then sunk and forgotten, as if they never happened. Mallika in grateful joy thanked the Buddha:

With joy I heard your varied words,
Which spoken were for our well-being;
With your words you dispelled my sorrow.
Verily, you are the joy-bringer amongst the ascetics
May you live long, my Ascetic Bringer of Joy..!

(J504)
 

3.2. Yet, for some reason, Pasenadi was not fully convinced that Mallika loved him entirely. One evening while Mallika was in the palace balcony looking across the river, Pasenadi asked her quietly whether there was anyone in the whole world she loved more than herself. Pasenadi fondly hoped to get the response that he loved to hear – that Mallika would say she loved him more than her very life.(S.i.75; Ud.v.1).

Mallika pondered over the question for a short while; and then spoke calmly, in an even tone. She said that she knew of no one dearer to herself than herself. Pasenadi felt slightly let down. Then Mallika questioned Pasenadi whether he loved anyone more than himself. Pasenadi haltingly conceded that self-love was upper-most in every creature.

Pasenadi still had some doubts about the correctness of Mallika’s reply. He hoped that the Buddha would differ from Mallika and say something that would make him happy. He then recounted to the Buddha the conversation he had with Mallika and sought the Master’s opinion. The Buddha then confirmed his and Mallika’s statements.

I visited all quarters with my mind
Nor found I any dearer than myself;
Self is likewise to every other dear;
Who loves himself may never harm another.

 (Ud 47)
*

3.3. One day, Pasenadi learnt that the Buddha counseled a person who just had lost a child “Those who are dear bring sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair”. Pasenadi thought that the Buddha’s words were rather inappropriate. He expressed his unhappiness to Mallika who then calmly replied “if the Master has said so, O king then it surely must be so”. That irritated Pasenadi; and he growled that she does not exercise her mind but just hangs on the words of her teacher. Piyajātika Sutta M.ii.106ff )

Mallika, to be on the safer side, then sent her messenger Nalijangha to the Buddha to ascertain the exact position. After obtaining the details, Mallika questioned Pasenadi whether he loved his daughterPrincess Vajiri, his second wife Queen Vasabha, the crown-prince Vidudabha, herself and his kingdoms of kasi and Kosala. He promptly replied, yes I do love all the five you mentioned. Mallika then continued, whether he would not feel sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair if something untoward happened to all or any of the five he loved dearly.

Pasenadi understood the purport of the Buddha’s counsel and why Mallika revered him. (Piyajatika Sutta   – A. 49)

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4. Discourses addressed to Pasenadi

4.1. On one occasion while counseling on the right conduct of a king, the Buddha said to Pasenadi that a king should not disregard or overlook four elements: a warrior prince, a snake, a spark of fire and a Bhikkhu. The Buddha explained that a warrior prince though young if not properly handled could ruthlessly cause harm to others, just as a small poisonous snake would. A spark of fire if enraged could rapidly grow into a ball of blaze engulfing everything around it and burning it down into ashes. A young and a diligent monk is a potential Arhant and therefore should be treated with respect. The alms to monks should be offered with devotion and fervor; that would bring happiness to the giver and the receiver.

A dish may be insipid or savory,
The food may be meager or abundant,
Yet if it is given by a friendly hand,
Then it becomes a delicious meal.”

— (Jataka 346)

 

4.2. Once Pasenadi enquired how one could ascertain whether or not a person looking like an ascetic was an Arhant, the one who has realized the goal of nirvana. The Buddha explained that it was difficult for an ordinary person to reach a correct conclusion in that regard. He said, it was only by close association and that too after a long period of association, one could know a person’s conduct. Only an attentive and intelligent person of discretion (viveka) can fairly and dispassionately judge another:

Not by his outward guise is man well-known,
In fleeting glance let none place confidence.

In garb of refined, well-conducted folk
The unrestrained live in the world at large.
As a clay earring made to counterfeit,
Or a bronze coin  coated with gold,
Some fare at large, hidden beneath disguise,
On the surface comely and fair; within impure.”
 — (Kindred Sayings 104-106 )

 

4.3. On another occasion, Pasenadi overpowered and defeated his nephew and foe of many years, Ajatasattu the king of Magadha. And, Pasenadi confiscated the vanquished king’s wealth, horses, chariots, elephants and his soldiers. He also held Ajatasattu captive, as a prized trophy of his victory. When the Buddha heard of the running feud and the hatred between the two, he remarked that neither the victor not the vanquished would be at peace:

“Victory breeds hatred.
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.”

 — (Dhammapada 121)

 

4.4. The Buddha did not particularly like the plunder and the arresting of Ajatasattu. He remarked that it would have been wiser for Pasenadi not to have retained anything for himself as spoils of victory.”A man may plunder, as he will. When others plunder in return, he who is plundered will plunder in return. The Wheel of Deeds turns round and makes the ones who are plundered plunderers.”

“A man may spoil another,
Just so far as it may serve his ends,
But when he’s spoiled by others,
He, despoiled, spoils yet again.

*

So long as evil’s fruit is not matured,
The fool does fancy, now’s the hour, the chance!
But when the deed eventually bears fruit,
He fares ill.
*
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn,
The conquered gets one who conquers him.
The abuser wins abuse,
The annoyer frets.
*
Thus by the evolution of the deed,
A man who spoils is spoiled again.”
***
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***

4.5. One night, the King had a succession of sixteen perturbing dreams.  When the King woke up from these nightmares, great fear seized him; and sitting upright and trembling, he awaited the sunrise. When his Brahman priests asked him whether he had slept well, he related the terror of the night and sought their advice on what one could do to counteract such a menace. The priests promptly declared that one would have to offer great sacrifices in order to pacify the evil spirits. In his mortal fear the King agreed to that.

When Queen Mallika came to know of the bad dreams and the suggested remedy, she was deeply perturbed; and decided to dissuade her husband, King Pasenadi, from holding a great animal sacrifice. She was horrified, and exclaimed: “Where did you ever hear of  saving the life of one by the death of another? Just because a stupid Brahman told you so, why must you plunge the whole populace into suffering?” (Dh A ii 8; cf. Ja I 335). Slaying animals for a whim is against Dhamma and Shila (moral injunction). It also badly affects common folks who depend on those animals for earning a livelihood. Such grievous sin would prolong the sacrificer’s bondage to the wheel of Samsara.”Long is the Samsara for fools who do not know true Dhamma” (Dh 60).

At the instance of Mallika, Pasenadi related his bad-dreams to the Buddha; and apprehensively asked what would happen to him. “Nothing” replied the Master who then explained the significance of those bad dreams. The sixteen dreams, he said, were prophesies, warning the king that the living conditions on earth would deteriorate rapidly due to the moral misconduct of the kings. Pasenadi had somehow just caught a glimpse of the coming events.

The Master advised the king to be kind and moral too; and to do good deeds abundantly for the well-being of his subjects. That alone, he said, was the proper remedy and not needless killing of animals in large numbers.

Pasenadi discarded all plans for the sacrifice; and, it is said, became a devoted lay disciple of the Buddha. (J 77 & 314)

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5. Death of Queen Mallika

5.1. It appears Mallika died rather suddenly. The news of her death reached Pasenadi when he was listening to a discourse by the Buddha. He was deeply shaken and inconsolable in grief. The Buddha tried consoling him, saying:

***

All beings are mortal, they end with death;
They have death in prospect.
All vessels wrought by the potter,
Whether they are baked or unbaked,
Are breakable – they end broken;
They have breakage in prospect.”
(A V, 49)
 
Misfortunes do not shake the wise —
that one who knows well how to seek the good.
 
Do not grieve, nor should you lament.
Here, what good is gained? — None at all indeed,
 
By sorrowing, by lamenting,
Is any aim accomplished here?
Not even a bit.
What good is gained?
 None at all indeed.
 
But if you know “The good can be got
Neither by me nor any other too”
*
Then ungrieveing you should bear it all and think
“Now , how to use my strength for present work?”
(A-Fives, 49)
***
 

5.2. Nothing that the Buddha said to him about the inevitability of old age and death; and the impermanence of all that comes into existence could assuage his grief. (A V, 49)

Pasenadi’s attachment to Mallika was so strong that he pestered the Buddha to ascertain the happiness and well-being of his departed beloved in her next state of existence. He went to the Buddha day after day for seven days; at the end of which the Master consoled him saying that Mallika was happily reborn in the haven of the blissful devas.

Pasenadi the king of Kosala thus consoled and strengthened in mind left in peace.

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The Issues:

The story of Queen Mallika throws up a number of interesting issues.

1. It appears that even during the Buddha’s time the male progeny was preferred and valued, though there had been no consistent ill-treatment of little girls or injustice shown to them for the very reason that they were not boys.

King Pasenadi did not conceal his disappointment that his principal queen did not present him with a male heir to the throne.  The counseling offered by the Buddha sounds like a diplomatic response in order to allay the king’s disappointment; and to forestall the possibility of his neglecting Mallika and her daughter. The Buddha’s treatment of women was equitable. His words to Pasenadi have to be placed in the context of his times and the rest of his teachings.

2 . In the early Buddhism, the attitude towards a woman was not ideal, as it is commonly made out. But it did provide the woman more opportunities for her growth, spiritual or otherwise. It is perhaps because the woman was allowed to participate and to support the Sangha, the Buddhism in its early stages, could spread fast and wide.

3. You find the Buddha offering his counsel and guidance on matters relating to married life and its problems. The Buddha, often, supported the woman, reconciled the differences and preached about the virtues of amity and harmony in a marriage.

4. The Buddha’s views on occupation and confiscation of enemy property are truly an enlightened one. The history and even the terrifying events in the present day world have proved validity of the Master’s wisdom.

A man may spoil another,
Just so far as it may serve his ends,
But when he’s spoiled by others,
He, despoiled, spoils yet again.
 
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn,
The conquered gets one who conquers him.
The abuser wins abuse,
The annoyer frets.
*
Thus by the evolution of the deed,
A man who spoils is spoiled again.

 

5. Similarly, his guidance on handling one’s grief is also very sound.

 

Do not grieve, nor should you lament.
Here, what good is gained? — None at all indeed,
Ungrieveing you should bear it all and think
“Now, how to use my strength for present work?
***
 AshtavakraGeetaQuotes5[1]
 Next : Visakha
Abbreviations:
A… Anguttara Nikaya; D… Digha Nikaya; Dhp.. Dhammapada; M.. Majjhima Nikaya; S… Samyutta Nikaya; Sn .. Sutta Nipata; Thag… Theragatha; Thig.. Therigatha; Pac… Pacittiya (Vinaya); J. Jataka; Ud. . Udana; Mil. .. Milindapañha; Jtm.. Jatakamala; Bu… Buddhavamsa; Divy.. Divyavadana;   Ap… Apadana.
 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

Tags: , ,

The Early Buddhist Women – stories -Three – Bhadda Kundalakesa , the debater

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post – The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

A. The Early Years

1.1. She was born Bhadda in Rajagaha the capital city of the kingdom of Magadha ruled by the King Bimbisara.Her father was a wealthy banker who also  acted as one of the financiers and  treasurers (Bhandari) to the King. She was a lovely looking little girl and her father’s fortune took an upswing since the day she was born. He therefore aptly named her Bhadda (Snkt. Bhadra), the auspicious one .The little girl had a mop of thick, glossy curly hair; and her parents fondly called her kundala-kesa (the one with curly hair).Later in her life, that pet name became a part of her formal name, perhaps to distinguish her from another Bhadda, also a nun. The latter was Bhadda Kapilani, the former wife of Maha Kassapa, the leading disciple of the Master.

1.2. Her parents doted on their beautiful daughter; pampered her and strived to fulfill her every wish. She was very intelligent, articulate and argumentative. She had a frivolous and a passionate nature; she would love a thing intensely but for a very short while and discard it quickly to pick up another favorite. She was rather snappish; and would go into frenzy if her wish was not met promptly.

1.3. Bhadda was headstrong and unhappy. She argued with everyone, even speaking back to her father, which somehow made him love and indulge her more. He wasn’t sure what to make of Bhadda’s difficult behavior. Her mind and wit were sharp. She was never satisfied; she questioned every household decision, and seemed unwilling to enjoy her many pleasures.

When she came of age, in order to protect her from herself, her parents placed her on the seventh floor of their mansion, attended by servants.

2.1. One day while pacing up and down her balcony, she noticed a young and a handsome person led along the city street by the King’s guards. She at once fell in love with him; and demanded of her father to get her that youth. Her father promptly enquired about the boy’s background; and was shocked to learn that he was Satthuka the son of the purohith (priest), notorious as a habitual offender and a robber. He was also horrified because Satthuka was due to be executed shortly. He therefore tried hard to drill some sense into Bhadda’s curly skull and dissuade her from getting involved with a criminal facing execution. He pleaded with Bhadda to forget that despicable one and choose a suitable boy.

2.2. Bhadda would not listen to her father, would not eat or drink; and insisted on marrying that robber awaiting his death. She screamed; she would commit suicide right then and there, if her desire was not met. The hapless father, left with no option, bribed the prison warden to let the condemned criminal Satthuka stage a jail-break. He brought Satthuka home, had him bathed in perfumed water, dressed in finest silks and suitably bejeweled. The pleased Bhadda decked in jewels and dressed in her fineries, waited on her new-found love; and promptly married him. The helpless parents hoped and prayed that Bhaddha’s love and his good fortune would influence Suttuka to mend his ways.

3.1. Sadly, their prayers were not answered. Satthuka was a criminal at heart and would never change. He started scheming and plotting ways, with alacrity, to decamp with money and jewels on which he could quickly lay hands. He coveted his wife’s elaborate set of wedding jewelry; and came up with a plan to steal it from her. He told Bhadda that he vowed to make an offering to a certain mountain deity if he escaped execution. It was time, he said, to keep that vow. He asked Bhadda to dress in all her finery, wear all her jewels and get ready for a trip to the mountain top. Wishing to please him and adorning herself with all her jewels, she mounted a chariot with Satthuka and drove to the cliff. By this ploy, Satthuka managed to take Bhadda away from her home.

3.2. After a long journey, Satthuka led Bhadda to the foot of a steep cliff with a sheer face. It was the robbers’ cliff from where the criminals condemned for execution were put to death by pushing them over the cliff. At the foot of the cliff, Satthuka asked the attendants to stay back and went up the cliff with Bhadda carrying the offerings to the mountain deity. Once atop the cliff, Satthuka brusquely asked Bhadda to hand him over all her jewelry; and informed her of her impending death as he planned to push her over the cliff and go to another city where a luxurious life awaited him. ‘You fool, do you fancy I have come here to make offering? I have come to get your ornaments.’

3.3. Bhadda pleaded that she loved him with all her life; he could take all her jewelry and more; and begged him to take her with him. Satthuka would have none of that; he told her bluntly he was never interested in her or her love. He reminded her it was after all she who came after him, in lust. He asked her to part with her jewelry without much fuss; and taunted her to get ready for a quick trip down the cliff by the shortest route.

3.4. The quick witted Bhadda said to herself “Bhadda, you bad girl; it is the end of the road for you. It is now or never; do something fast and get rid of this miserable pest before he does it to you”. Then with doleful eyes she said meekly,” you are my lord and master; you are my love. If my death brings you happiness, I willingly give up my life for you with a smile; what more can I ask? Just let me pay my final obeisance to you and pray that you be my husband in my next birth too”. Satthuka graciously granted her wish. Then, Bhadda with all her jewels on solemnly went round him three times, falling on her knees, saluting him from each direction. In the final round when she was directly behind him she mustered all her strength and pushed Suttuka to his death, quickly, over theprecipice(cf. Dhammapada. vol. II, pp.217 f).

Another version of the story says that Bhadda asked,” grant me this one wish: let me, while wearing my jewels, embrace you.” He consented, saying: ‘Very well.’ She thereupon embraced him in front, and then, as if embracing him from the back, pushed him over the precipice. (Psalms of the sisters)

In any case, Suttuka the criminal condemned to death by a push over the precipice met the very end that the judge ordered. In fact Suttuka drove himself to his execution, his ordained end; you could even say it was his karma.

 
A version of the story mentions that the mountain deity who was witness to this drama smiled, praising Bhadda for her presence of mind; and chuckled “Men are not in all cases wiser than women”.
Not in every case is Man though wiser ever; 
Woman, too, when swift to see, may prove as clever. 
Not in every case is Man the wiser reckoned; 
Woman, too, is clever, than she think but a second.
(Psalms of the sisters: Psalms of five verses; Canto five-46)
***
 

B. The Jain ascetic

4.1. After her escapade, something within Bhadda seemed to snap. The words like love, husband, the jewels and riches sounded hollow to her; seemed bereft of meaning and no longer worth pursuing. She pondered; there must be more to life than these things. She had also lost the desire to return home and carryon living as if nothing had happened to her and to her beliefs. She then decided to set forth into the world; and to discover for herself the meaning of life and of all existence.

4.2. She wandered aimless and adrift. Later she became a Jain ascetic and entered the Order of the Niganthas. She practiced extreme austerities; had her hair pulled out, at the roots, with a Palmyra comb. Her hair grew again in thick close curls (kundala kesa); and she had them pulled out again and again as a form of penance. She studied diligently and soon became proficient in Jain lore; and gained reputation as an excellent and a passionate debater in Jain philosophy and scriptural matters.  None could equal her in debate.

4.3. It was not long before Bhadda grew a bit tired and dissatisfied with Jainism; and said to herself , “They know so far as they go and nothing beyond that”. She walked out of the Nigantha Order, roamed about the country alone as a wandering ascetic. She wandered over hills and dales; she went from city to city, village to village wherever there were learned persons. And, she challenged all to debate with her. Debating almost became her passion. Thus she wandered over ancient India for nearly fifty years.

Hairless, dirt-laden and half-clad–so fared 
With plucked hair, covered with mud,
Imagining flaws in the flawless
And seeing no flaws in what is flawed.”
– (Therigatha 107)
 
4.4. As she entered a town or a city, she would make a sand pile at the city – gate and stick a branch of Jambu (rose apple) tree on top of the sand- heap. She would ask the village urchins to keep a watch on the sand-heap with a message:”whoever dares join issue with me in debate let him trample on the Jambu bough”. She would then retreat to her dwelling; and return after about a week. If the bough still stood in its place she would depart and proceed on her way to another city, to another challenge.
*****
C. Debate with Sariputta’
*

5.1. During the course of her ceaseless wandering, Bhadda came to the city of Savatthi (Snkt.Shravasthi) on the banks of the River Aciravati (now the Rapti River in Gonda district, UP). Savatti was the capital city of Kosala; and its king Pasenadi was an ardent disciple of the Buddha. The beautiful garden city of Savatthi had two major Buddhist monasteries: the Jethavana built in the Buddha’s service by the wealthy merchant Anathapindaka, and the Pubbarama dedicated lovingly by Visakha the leading lay female disciple of the Buddha. In addition, Savatthi had another monastery, Rajakarama, built by king Pasenadi opposite the Jethavana. The Master spent a greater part of his later years (25 rainy seasons) in these monasteries of Savatthi. It was in Savatthi, the Buddha dispensed a large number of his discourses and instructions. The city of Savatthi occupies a significant position in the history of the early Buddhism.

5.2. On the day Bhadda arrived at the gates of Savatthi and erected her challenge insignia, the Jambu branch, atop a sand pile, Sariputta the leading disciple of the Buddha was staying at the Jethavana monastery. When Sariputta heard of the arrival of Bhadda and of her planting the challenge, he sent a bunch of children to trample on the sand pile and throw out the Jambu (rose apple) branch stuck in its middle. That was Sariputta’s reponse, accepting the challenge thrown by Bhadda.

5.3. Following the acceptance of her challenge Bhadda marched confidently into Jethavana accompanied by a large number of her admirers and onlookers. She asked Sariputta a number of questions, all of which he answered until she fell silent. Then Sariputta questioned her. And, his first question was “What is the One?” She remained silent, unable to discern the Buddhist’s intent. She pondered, surely he did not mean “God” or “Brahman” or “the Infinite”; But then what else could it be? She debated within herself whether the answer could be “nutriment” because all beings are sustained by food;   or whether it could be “the one thing that is true for everyone”? But Bhadda, however, chose to remain silent and not answer the question. Technically, she had lost the contest.

But, Bhadda realized in a flash, she had stumbled upon what she had been searching in last fifty years of her wandering life.Here was someone who had found what she had been looking. She asked Sariputta to be her teacher.

D. Her ordination

6.1. Sariputta  led Bhadda  to the Master who quickly discerned the maturity of her attainments. The Buddha expounded the Dhamma at the Mount Gridhrakuta (Vulture Peak); and , preached her a short discourse saying that it was better to know one single stanza that brings calm and peace than knowing thousand verses of no merit.

 
Though a thousand verses are made of meaningless lines, better the single meaningful line by hearing which one is at peace. (Dhammapada 101)
 *

It is said; at the end of this sermon Bhadda attained the state of the Arhant instantly, perhaps because her intellect and emotions had been trained for long years.

6.2. The Buddha himself ordained her with the words: “Come, Bhadda,” and that was her ordination. She entered the Order of Nuns as one who was already an arahant; this was unusual. She was also the only nun to be ordained by Shakyamuni calling her by nameAgreat importance is, therefore, attached to Bhadda and her attainments.

6.3. Bhadda speaks of her experience: “Going out from my daytime resting-place on Mt. Grjhakuta, I saw the stainless Buddha, attended by the order of bhikkhus. Having bent the knee, having paid homage to him, I stood with cupped hands face to face with him. ‘Come, Bhadda,’ he said to me; that was my ordination.”

6.4. The Buddha declared that Bhadda Kundalakesa was foremost among the nuns in understanding the Dhamma quickly. Bhadda was assigned a chief position among the Bhikkhunis as one possessing great wit and wisdom. She   travelled far and wide preaching the Dhamma, using her debating skills.

6.5. In the Theri- gatha (Thig.vss.107-11), Bhadda speaks of her experiences wandering in Anga, Magadha, Kasi and Kosala; and living on alms. She also speaks   of her enlightenment

 

  • I traveled before in a single cloth; With shaven head, covered in dust; Thinking of faults in the faultless; While in the faulty seeing no faults 
  • When done was the day’s abiding; I went to Mount Vulture Peak; And saw the stainless Buddha; By the Order of  Bhikkhus   revered.
  •  
  • He then taught me the Dhamma; The aggregates, sense bases, and elements. The Leader told me about foulness;  Impermanence, suffering and non self.
  • Having heard the Dhamma from Him,; I purified the vision of the Dhamma. When I had understood true Dhamma ; (I asked for) the going forth and ordination
  • Then before Him my hands in anjali; Humbly, I bowed down on my knees. “Come, O Bhadda,” He said to me: And thus was I ordained.
  • Then, having been fully ordained;  I observed a little streamlet of water. Through that stream of foot-washing water; I knew the process of rise and fall.
 
Then I reflected that all formations; Are exactly the same in nature.
 
  • Right on the spot my mind was released;  Totally freed by the end of clinging. The Victor then appointed me the chief; Of those with quick understanding.” – (Apadana 38-46)
  • “Free from defilements, for fifty years; I travelled in Anga and Magadha. Among the Vajjis in Kasi and Kosala ; I ate the alms food of the land.
 
That lay supporter – wise man indeed –Who gave a robe to Bhadda,Has generated abundant merit,For she is one free of all ties.”– (Therigatha 110-111)
 
[Translated from the Pali by Hellmuth Hecker & Sister Khema]
***
Bahdra Kundalakesa
Lotus0Flower (1)

E. The Issues

1. Again, the girl child was loved and pampered. The strong willed girls had their way.

2. I am amazed at the bravado bordering on recklessness of the women of that era. The spirited ones walked out the house and wandered freely in the world for long periods without a care or fear.

3. In matters of intellectual debates and doctrinal matters the women were respected for their wisdom and attainments. There appeared to be no discrimination.  None could equal Bhadda in the debating skills and knowledge of scriptures.

4. It appears the monastic Orders of the Jains and Bhuddhists were yet to stabilize. The seekers switched from one sect to the other, according to their inclinations.

5.  Unlike in other religions, The Buddhist Order of Nuns did not place a premium on the state of virginity of the women entering the Sangha. A vast number of its inmates had been mothers and wives; and, a few had been courtesans. The Master himself was once a husband and father. This again was an assertion of the Buddha-faith that the road to enlightenment is not blocked by the state of the body and its condition.

Notes:

Savatthi or Sravasti was one of the cities of six large cities of ancient India. The city located in the fertile Ganga valley was the capital of the Kosala kingdom. The ruins of Savatthi are in the Gonda district of UP state.

Rajagaha or Rajagriha was the first capital of the Kingdom of Magadha which a couple of centuries later evolved into the Maurya Empire. It is identified with the present Rajgir in Patna district of Bihar, located near the ancient ruins of Nalanda.

Vulture’s Peak or Gridhrakuta Hill is a few kilometers to south of the town of Rajgir.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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The Early Buddhist Women – stories-Two – The much married Isidasi

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post –The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

1. Isidasi was the daughter of a wealthy merchant of high repute who lived in the regal city of Ujjain. She was his only daughter; and, was deeply loved and  much pampered. She was lovely to look at; and, was intelligent, as also graceful. She was the darling of all at her home. When she came of age , a wealthy merchant residing in the city of Saketha sought her hand in marriage to his son. Isidasi’s parents were overjoyed at the proposal coming  from the merchant of Saketha , who was regarded very highly in the community.

2. At her new home, Isidasi’s parents-in-law doted on her. Isidasi too loved them all; and in particular her handsome and gentle husband. Though there were plenty of servants at home, Isidasi took upon herself the household chores; and , attended to every need of her husband with love and devotion.

 

*****

Though Isidasi was diligent and humble; meticulous and virtuous in serving her husband, he was not happy with her. For some reason, he just could not stand her sight.

“By myself I cooked the rice, By myself I washed the dishes. As a mother looks after her only son, So did I serve my husband.

 I showed him devotion unsurpassed, I served him with a humble mind, I arose early, I was diligent, virtuous, And yet my husband hated me”. – (Therigatha 412-413)

He , somehow, grew tired of Isidasi;  and, asked his parents to send her back. Isidasi’s parents-in-law were devastated. They loved their daughter-in-law; and,  did not want to lose her. Suspecting that there was a problem, which their son was hesitant to disclose to them, they questioned Isidasi. She answered truthfully:

“I have done nothing wrong, I have done him no harm, I have not spoken rudely to him. What have I done that my husband hates me? – (Therigatha 41)

When the old couple confronted their son, he admitted that Isidasi was blameless; and yet insisted that he just couldn’t bring himself to live with her. He, however, would not come forth with any reason for his unhappiness. He begged his parents.

 “She does me no harm, But I will not stay in the house with Isidasi. I detest her..!Enough..!

Give me leave I must go away. Give me your leave, I must go away. I will not stay In this house with Isidasi.”

The parents-in-law were thrown into a dilemma; they did not want to lose a good daughter-in-law ; and, yet were more scared of losing their only son. They finally decided to send Isidasi back to her parents: ’ To keep our precious son , we sacrifice this goddess.’ They were certain that with her beauty and gentle manners, Isidasi would soon , easily , find another suitable husband.

“Rejected, overcome by suffering, They led me back to my father’s house. While appeasing our son, they exclaimed, We have lost the beautiful goddess of fortune”. – (Therigatha 419)

*

3. When Isidasi was returned, like a bad-coin, her parents were naturally aghast and perplexed too. Isidasi’s parents grieved over their daughter’s failed marriage for a while ; and,  then accepting the inevitable began looking for another suitable boy. Before long,  they found a wealthy young man who was so impressed by Isidasi’s beauty and conduct that he offered to marry her for half the usual bride- price. Isidasi lived with second husband for barely a month, serving him like a slave until he too sent her back. And, He too would not give a reason for his extreme dislike of his model and devoted wife.

Isidasi was devastated. This second rejection pierced her heart like a poisoned dart;  and, hurt her grievously. She locked herself up in her room and wept silently over her fate. Yet, her father would not give up; he was determined to see his daughter happily married again. He was so desperate that he caught hold of an ascetic who came to his door steps begging for alms . He goaded the mendicant, “Be my daughter’s husband..! Throw away your robe and pot..!”

That poor wretch was tired of begging and sleeping under the open sky. The prospect of a beautiful wife and a life of luxury in a splendid mansion greatly appealed to him; and, he thanked all the gods he knew , for the mercy conferred upon him. He readily handed over his begging bowl and robes to Isidasi’s father; and , took Isidasi as his wife.

He hardly stayed for two weeks before he asked his father-in-law “Give me back my robe, the pot and the cup. I will be happy to beg for alms again”.

The beleaguered parents beseeched the ex-mendicant, “What wrong have we done? What have we neglected? Please tell us why you are punishing us. Quickly, name your every want..! ”

He just said “I only want to feed myself; I can do that anywhere. Come what may I will not stay in this house with Isidasi. Please give me back my bowl and the robe.”

He too would not say why he disliked Isidasi. The helpless and distressed parents threw at him his bowl and robes; and, promptly kicked him out of the house.

  *

5. After the third marriage too ended in a disaster, for no fault of her, Isidasi decided there was no point in continuing to live this sort of life, unloved and unwanted. The shame and sorrow of three rejections were too hard for her to bear; and drove her to near suicide.

As she was planning for her death , a  nun named Jinadatta came to their door-steps seeking alms. Isidasi was impressed by her serene  and calm countenance; and pondered why she too could not become a nun. She invited the nun into the house, offered her seat and bowed at her feet. She served the nun fresh-cooked food and spiced pickles . After the nun was done with it, Isidasi queried, “Lady, I want to be a nun. Can you please help me?”

Her father shocked again, pleaded with Isidasi,” My child, if you wish, you may follow the Buddha way by giving food and drinks to holy men and Brahman priests. Please stay at home. We have no strength left to see you suffer more.”

6. Isidasi begged and pleaded in tears for her father’s permission to enter the Order of Nuns. He was speechless and he hesitated. Isidasi burst out saying “I am going to die unless you let me become a mendicant nun.”

Then she revealed something totally unexpected, “I must destroy the evil I did when I was sixteen. Giridasa, the son of a wealthy merchant charmed by my maiden fresh youth took me as his wife. He then already had another wife who was moral and virtuous, in love with her husband. I sowed discord in their marriage. That sin and the sins of my seven former lives made three husbands scorn me, though I served them like a slave. I have to end all this now. Please let me go.”

Another wife he had, A virtuous dame of parts and repute, Enamored of her mate, And thus I brought Discard and enmity within that house .– (Thig.446)

The unfortunate father could not bear to see the suffering in his beloved daughter’s eyes. He agreed to her request ; and,  let her join the Order. He blessed her to attain her peace and Nibbana.

 “Then my father said to me , Attain enlightenment and the supreme state, Gain Nibbana which the Best of Men , Has Himself already realized”– (Therigatha 432)

*

7. After she entered the Order, Isidasi worked diligently and was exemplary as a nun. Very soon she attained higher knowledge, understood the cycles of karma and got rid of the causes for her sorrow and suffering.

Deepavamsa, the ancient chronicle; and a source of history and legends of the early Buddhism, mentions Isidasi (Isidasika) as being an eminent Theri and a leader of the Order of the Bhikkhunis. (Deepavasa: 18.9)

navamallika

The story of Isidasi is narrated in about forty-seven verses in the Theri-gatha (vv 400-447). It covers her present life as also her past seven lives.

In the Theri-gatha, Isidasi narrates her story when she was staying in the Bhikkhuni Sangha at Pataliputra, in company of another nun, Bodhi. Both the nuns were described as “possessed of virtue, delighting in meditation and study, having great learning, with defilements shaken off “.

One evening, seated happily on the sand -bed along the Ganga, Bodhi asked, “You are lovely, noble Isidasi; your youth has not yet faded. What was the flaw that you had seen that led you to pursue renunciation.”(Therigatha 40.3).

In response to that query Isidasi narrates her story in her present birth as also in her seven previous births.

There are a few unusual features in the story.

Ujjain and Pataliputra, where Isidasi lived are not the places that commonly appear in the Canon. Further, Isidasi’s first acquaintance with a nun was Jinadatta, who probably was a Jain nun. Some scholars therefore surmise Isidasi , initially , might have had a stint with Jainism, before she entered the Buddhist Order of Nuns. Such crossovers from one sect to the other were perhaps not unusual

maze

 

The Issues

1. I cannot help wondering whether something is missing or is left unsaid in the Isidasi story. None of her husbands gives out why he was totally unhappy with Isidasi and was desperate to be rid of her . I suspect there was more to the story but was edited out, for whatever reason.

2. Isidasi attributes all her miseries to the sins she committed in her past seven births; it is the Kamma, she exclaimed. According to Buddhist belief, kamma is that inexorable impersonal force by which beings are bound to the ever-rolling wheel of samsaraKamma would prolong ones bondage to the wheel of samsara : “Long is samsara for fools who do not know true Dhamma” (Dhp 60).

Kamma was not a new concept introduced by Buddhism. It was an age-old faith, but Buddhism made it very central to its doctrine and elucidated it particularly in relation to the eradication of “ignorance,” the root cause of all suffering and anguish. It said, each is responsible for his own samsara — not his mother or his father or brother or sister, or his friends and acquaintances. So it is he himself who will experience the ripening of the deed he himself did.

The Kamma concept provided a basis for rationalizing ones misfortunes and successes in life. It brought into one’s life sense accountability and a will to take responsibility to ones actions, instead of self-pity and blaming others for all the wrong things in life. The present life was also viewed as an opportunity to correct oneself and to wriggle out of the snares of misfortunes. It held out a hope, a promise of a better future in this or in the next birth.

In the case of Isidasi too, the Kamma concept worked as a cleansing agent. In the sense, her understanding of the kamma as an on-going process prevented her sorrows, disappointments, betrayals and sheer helplessness turning into bitterness, disgust or hatred. Instead, it helped her focus inwards and find the root of her sorrows and eradicate it. More importantly, in her present life, it preserved her sanity. Else, I fear, she might have ended her days as a lonely, bitter-old-lunatic woman.

3. It appears, separation of married couple was accepted in that society as a fact of life. The husband and wife parted ways for a variety of reasons; and all which might not have been quite rational. Needless to say, the woman always suffered more.

There was perhaps no formal process put in place for decreeing a divorce. The separated couples just parted their ways, each seeking his/her happiness elsewhere.

The separated woman was free to marry again; and no stigma attached to her.In the case of Isidasi too, her parents-in-law (through her marriage to the youth at Saketha) sympathized with Isidasi’s lot and reluctantly sent her back with the hope that she might find another suitable boy and lead a happy married life. The parents also took initiative in finding a new husband for such a daughter.

Since monogamy was not mandatory, the remarriage brought in its wake a fresh set of problems; the annoying presence of other wife/wives, all competing for love and attention of their common husband. The women thrust into such overcrowded marriages were often left gasping for a little more space, peace and freedom.

4. The girl-child was not discriminated against. The parents doted on and pampered their little daughters; and tried to fulfill their every wish. Even in their old age, the parents did their best to protect the interests and happiness of their daughters.

 

GreenBodhiTree
 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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The Early Buddhist Women – stories – An Introduction

early Buddhist wpmen 1

1. Theri – gatha

1.1. The role of women in the early Buddhism has been a fascinating subject for study. There are several dimensions to the issue , such as the position accorded to women in the religious and secular life of ancient India before and after the advent of the Buddha; the influence exerted by the personality of the Buddha and his teachings on the lives of individual women and their families; the role and the significance of the Bhikkhuni sanghas (the order of the Buddhist nuns) in the lives of the women  and of  the society at large; and , the phasing out and eventual disappearance of the Bhikkhuni order.

1.2. Perhaps the best way to begin is to read the life-events and stories of women who joined the Bhikkhuni sanghas; and also of the lay-women- disciples of the Buddha. The portions of the Pali Canon known as the Vinaya-pitaka (comprising the rules of conduct for monastic discipline) and the Sutta-pitaka (mainly a collection of discourses delivered by the Buddha and his disciples) contain a wealth of interesting information. The ardor and the liveliness of those early nuns have come down to us mainly through a set of verses grouped under the title Theri -gatha (the songs of the elder nuns), unique in any literature, composed by seventy-three elderly nuns towards the end of their lives.

Then there is the Bhikkhuni-samyutta, a part of the Samyutta-nikaya, which contains another collection of thirty-seven verses, mixed with prose, ascribed to ten of these Women-Elders (Theris).

And, there are short biographies, in verses (the Apadana)  of forty-three nuns who were also the contemporaries of the Buddha. These are included in  the Khuddaka Nikāya  of the Sutta Piṭaka  (Basket of Discourse) of the Pāli canon.

1.3. The Therigatha, the ninth book of the Khuddaka Nikaya (minor texts), consists of 73 poems- 522 stanzas in all – in which the early nuns (bhikkhunis) recount their struggles and accomplishments along the road to salvation. 

These stories in verses are truly remarkable for their candor, eloquence and sensitivity. They reveal the deeply human side of those extraordinary women,  who were not scarred by bitterness, disgust or hatred. Their  stories, on the other hand ,  are marked by their compassion and an honest attempt to understand life , even while placed in its very cauldron. Apart from narrating their individual experiences, they throw light on the condition of the women in the Buddha–period. They are also of great interest because they depict the family and social life; practices and values of those times.

1.4. The Theri-gatha consists some of the best known names in early Buddhism. They include Prajapati Gotami, the foster mother of the Buddha and who was also the first Bhikkhuni; then there was Uppalavanna and Khema, regarded as “foremost of the Bhikkhunis”. Kisagotami and Patacara, too figure in the best known stories of early Buddhism.

Then taking a lamp, I entered the hut, checked the bedding, sat down on the bed. And taking a pin, I pulled out the wick: Like the flame’s unbinding was the liberation of awareness –Patachara (Thig 112-116)

Pulling out- completely out – the arrow so hard to see, embedded in my heart, he expelled from me – overcome with grief – the grief over my sonToday- with arrow removed, without hunger, entirely Unbound- to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha I go, for refuge to the Sage. Patachara (Thig 127-132 )

1.5. The members of the order came from all walks of life attracted by the simple beauty of the Buddha’s teaching and the freedom which the new Order offered. Some were former courtesans like Ambapali and Vimala; and there were those that came from royal lineage like Sumeda and Sela. A large number came from wealthy merchant families like Bhadda Kundalkesa, Sujata,  Uppalavanna and Anopama. And, there was Patisambhidapattacira , the daughter of another wealthy man ; she , in her grief, had lost her composure  after the loss of  her family.

There were also some distinguished exponents of the Dhamma like Dhammadinna  .

Many others were of humbler origins like Punnika the slave girl, or Chanda the daughter of a poor Brahmin.

Apart from these Theris and Arahants, there were many women who cherished the Buddha’s teaching. They were the upasikas and savikas, students and attendants of the Buddha and the Sangha. Their names too are recorded in Buddhist legends; and, their piety is well known.  The actual numbers of Theris and other women of the Sangha are not clearly known. But, their numbers must have been quite considerable.  It is said ; Theri Patacara alone had as many as 500 followers.

*

Among these,  the story of Uppalavaṇṇā is truly remarkable.

Uppalavaṇṇā (Skt: Utpalavarā or Utpala) was born into the family of a wealthy merchant of Sāvatthi (Skt: Srāvasti.). She was extraordinarily beautiful like the dark blue uppala (Utpala) lily, after which she was named. Her skin was said to be blue or golden like the outer parts of the blue lotus, associated with divine beauty.

Uppalavaṇṇā Therī  Uppalavanna

It is said; her beauty was so extraordinary and captivating, as many kings and the wealthy desperately longed to marry the most enchanting  Uppalavaṇṇā . Her father, unnerved by such zealous competition among her suitors ; and, fearful of retaliation by the failed and disappointed suitors ; thought it might be safer for Uppalavaṇṇā to enter into a monastery.

Uppalavaṇṇā readily agreed to her father’s suggestion. On entering the monastery as a Bhikkhunī ; and, on absorbing the Buddha’s teachings, it is said, she achieved awakening; realized the path ; and, attained the Arahant status within a fortnight of her going forth into monastic life.

I have put down the heavy burden; everything that leads to renewed existence has been rooted out.

The aim for which one goes forth from the home to the homeless state, that aim has been attained by me – all bonds are destroyed.

My defilements are burnt out; all future births are completely destroyed. Having severed my bonds like a she-elephant, I live without taints.

Welcome indeed was the presence of the Awakened One to me.  I have attained the three knowledges.

 I have done the Buddha’s teaching.

Kilesā jhāpitā mayha, bhavā sabbe samūhatā; nāgīva bandhana chetvā, viharāmi anāsavā. Svāgata vata me āsi, mama buddhassa *buddhaseṭṭhassa (sī. syā. ka.)+ santike; tisso vijjā anuppattā, kata buddhassa sāsana. Paisambhidā catasso, vimokkhāpi ca aṭṭhime; chaabhiññā sacchikatā, kata buddhassa sāsana (Kuddhaka Nikāya Therī Apadāna Vv 465-467 (CST-Pāḷi))

The Sayutta Nikāya and Aguttara Nikāya speak of Uppalavaṇṇā Therī’s iddhi (Siddhi-spiritual powers); her leadership qualities; and, articulate teaching prowess . She and her contemporary, the Arahant Bhikkhunī Khemā Therī, were exemplified  by the Buddha as the ideals for all other  Bhikkhunīs to follow on their spiritual path.

In the Therīgāthā and Bhikkhunī Sayutta, Uppalavaṇṇā is described as Buddhist Bhikkhunī, living in a simple forest-dwelling; sitting in the quiet seclusion of the Dark Wood or Andhavana, beneath a tree . She was fully awakened; and, a completely liberated woman, an Arahant.

Uppalavanna 2

Enlightenment of Phra Mae,  Uppalavaṇṇā Therī, Thailand

(I acknowledge with thanks, the source :The Amazing Transformations of Arahant Theri Uppalavanna ]

**

1.6. These nuns and the lay-devotees, as Ms. Isaline Horner remarks :

“by their response to the majesty of the Buddha’s Teaching, made an imponderable contribution to the strength, vitality, expansion, and longevity of the Buddhism. It is as well to survey again from time to time the lives of these ardent contemporaries of the Buddha. Indeed the Buddhist world owes them a large debt of gratitude”.

1.7. In the subsequent posts, I propose to narrate some stories that not merely make an interesting reading but also throw up a few lively issues for debate. Before we go the first story in the series, let’s, briefly, talk about some of the general issues relating to treatment of women; their position in the Sangha and in the then society.

hamsa 5

2. Women in the pre-Buddha period

2.1. While discussing the position of women during the pre-Buddha period there appears to be a tendency among some to over-estimate the amount of ignominy, of obedience and subservience to men; and their exclusion from certain worldly occupations or religious education or observances. Much of those accusations are unfounded. For instance, I came across writing  which said: ” It (Buddhism) put an end to child marriage, dowry and sati. Women were free from bondage and an era of equality was created”.

But the fact is that the practices such as sati and child-marriage cropped up, like weeds, in the Indian society about 1,500 years after the Buddha;  and the women were never in bondage during the pre-Buddha period.

As regards the equality or the equal status accorded to women, sadly, that ideal state was not fully realized either during or after the life of the Buddha. And, it still remains a distant , unrealized dream. 

2.2. We have to be on our guard against such statements. Women have always been central to life in the Indian society. Even during the pre-Buddha period, the women were never debarred from education or from taking part in philosophical debates. In fact, women’s participation in academia was one of the positive features of those times.

2.3. Stephanie Jamison in her book Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India (1996), while outlining the position of women in ancient India, writes:

“she plays a crucial role in knitting together her community. By producing sons, she insures the linkage of generations and the continued veneration of the ancestors. By dispensing food and hospitality, she forges harmonious links between different segments of secular Aryan society. By her role in the srauta ritual (and by making such ritual possible), she links gods and men and allows the religious life of the community to proceed” (p. 254).

2.4. That might read a bit too rosy; but the point is that the woman functioned as a central figure in the rituals, hospitality and family life. She was respected and had a place of honor in the home. The Vedic rituals were centered on the home; and the lady of the house was in charge. The difficulties the women of that era had to face and overcome were no more than normal for women in any time or country. As regards religion, women have always been the main stay or upholders and supporters of a religion or faith or movement. That certainly was the case with Buddhism too when it was at its beginnings.

3. The Sangha

3.1. The Sangha commonly meant the society of ordained monks or nuns who formally undertook to follow the rules of conduct prescribed by the Vinaya*; but in its larger sense it encompassed all those who “entered the stream”, be they monk or lay. The Sangha which came into being a few months after Samana Gotama emerged as the Enlightened One, the Buddha, was not a religious organization in its initial stages; but; it was a movement that brought together those who keenly sought freedom from all ills, present and future. It was a unique establishment, in a number of ways.

Until then, the ascetics were individual wanderers not belonging to an organized group; and, the Sangha was the first instance of a body of men, not discharging a priestly function, accepting a common code of conduct and discipline for seeking a way of release. Yet, the Sangha was not a social group the objectives of which could be achieved by team effort .The teaching of the Buddha was essentially for the individual; and each seeker had to be guided by his own experience , and , work out his own salvation.

[* Unlike in other religions, where a Prophet or a leader handed-down a set of commandments, in Buddhism the code of conduct (Vinaya) was evolved over a period of time as a response to needs and challenges faced by the monks/nuns and the lay of those times. How the rules of conduct were evolved have been chronicled. Because of that, the origin and the rationale of the Buddhist practices could be explained to learners.]

3.2. The Buddha’s offer to mankind was the possibility of leading a more sensible life. And, that life was characterized by essential freedom; freedom implied the rejection of all barriers; and, affection; and, the attachments verily are the strongest barriers. The aim was to surpass all limitations.

For the Buddha, life was more important than intellect. Freedom from attachments was superior to all dogmas and discussions. His approach to life was practical; and, it emphasized on the quality of life. And, above all he preached, as only he could, by precept as also by example.

3.3. With the advent of the Buddha and his message, the traditional structure and functions of the society underwent some modifications. The relations between the individual and the family; the individual and the society were re-aligned. As the new-teaching spread to distant areas; it rapidly gained increased number of followers, it brought in its wake perceptible social changes. The men, women and the society were each, in some way or other, touched by that change.

4. The Women

4.1. The extension of the monastic Order to women was truly revolutionary; it had no precedent.  The Buddha acceded to its formation, rather reluctantly . His foster mother Prajapathi Gothami pressed for it persistently; and, made it difficult for the Buddha to refuse her demand.

Prajapathi Gothami was the first to be ordained as a Bikkhuni of the Sangha. She was followed by many other women who shared her aspiration and who too opted for spiritual endeavor as a positive vocation. They perhaps found in the Bhikkhuni order a freedom that they could not find in the secular life.

I‘ve been mother and son before; And father, brother- grandmother too. Not understanding what was real, I flowed-on without finding peace.

But now I’ve seen the Blessed One! This is my last compounded form. The on-flowing of birth has expired. There’s no more re-becoming now.

Surely for the good of so many Did Maya give birth to Gotama, Who bursts asunder the mass of pain Of those stricken by sickness and death – Prajapathi Gothami (Thig 157-162)

4.2. The Buddha’s message emphasized freedom from sorrow: “As this great ocean has but one taste, that of salt, so has this Dhamma , has but one taste, that of freedom”.  That  and the secure ambiance the Sangha provided for the Bikkhunis, brought about astounding changes in the attitudes of a large number of women. It also modified their perceptions of life and their position within that.

4.3. Life under the Vinaya was one of both active and contemplative discipline. The emancipation won implied ‘space’– aksha or avakasha – opportunity for developing, regulating, and concentrating both thought and deed. Under its regime a Bhikkhuni came under the tutelage of some Theri. She led a simple life; and discharged the ministering duties of a novice. And by following the prescribed exercises and daily lessons, she worked out for herself her own salvation;  qualifying to become a teacher and leader in her turn.

She need not had to forget what she had left behind and what she escaped from. She need not had to turn and mark those past struggles. But, as her insight grew, she learnt to put the past experiences in a context; and to understand the working of the law of Kamma (karma), the conservation of the effect of action. The vision might have had its terrors;  but it was all part of her process towards an end — an end which meant: peace whose names are also Rapture,  Power,  Clear sight and Love:   for these are parts of Peace.

Thus, her perception of life too changed. The life jivita was not viewed as an interval between two extremities; but, as a continuum propelled by causes and effects (karma) spread over several jivitas. The misery can be put to an end when that cycle ceases forever. Thus, one could always look forward with hope.

4.4. What the Sangha did, in effect, was that it provided the women an opportunity, a vision, and the freedom to pursue a way of life that promised to lead them away from the angst and sorrows of their existence; and even direct them towards the peace and bliss of nibbana, the ultimate freedom.

There were many Theris who rejoiced their transformation  and attaining freedom. See, Theri Sakula’s poem:

I saw my experiences as if they were not my own/  Born from a cause, destined to disappear/  I got rid of all that fouls the heart, I am free.

Even in case one discounts its spiritual objectives and aspirations, the Sangha did act as a useful and an effective safety-net in the society.  

Apart from that, the Theris in the Bhikkuni Sangha did learn to value their relationships. The community of women depicted in the Therigatha is a collocation of smaller groups of women bound together by shared experiences and relationships of care and understanding with each other, as is expressed in Rohini’s poem:

Those who have gone forth are from various families and from various regions; and, still they are friendly with each other— that is the reason why ascetics are so dear to me

 I wish the institution of Sangha continued to this day, in one form or other.

Unmarried women

4.5. That vision soon became the aspiration of even the unmarried women who might otherwise have continued living an unabused, contented and adequately busy life caring for their parents, younger brothers and sisters. The Sangha showed such women an escape from crushing sorrows, disappointments or ceaseless round of menial tasks. Subha the unwed daughter of the goldsmith said it all, as she entered the Order of Buddhist nuns “All worldly pleasures irk me sore; silver and gold lead neither to peace nor to enlightenment”.

Married women

4.6. A number of married women too discovered that they could go to the Order of Nuns if they found the nagging worries, the disappointments, the betrayals and the pain of domestic life were mounting on them relentlessly; and the life in those conditions was becoming unbearable. Suffering in lonely silence and enduring pain without a hope, they found, was no longer their inevitable lot in life.

4.7. In the stories narrated by the Theris , you will come across many who   left behind a home and husband and went into the world searching for freedom and a meaning to life. There are also cases where the woman was turned out of her house by her husband who took on another wife.

It is said; a woman endowed with five virtues: beauty, wealth, relations (from her parents’ side), a son, and chaste conduct (shila) could dwell with confidence as the lady of the house, get the better of her husband and keep him under her thumb (S iv 246). But, if she lacked those virtues, she ran the risk of being driven out of her house (S iv 248).

The instances where the husband deserted his wife or threw her out of the house were not rare. On the expulsion of the wife, the husband then usually took another wife

[There was perhaps no formal process put in place for decreeing a divorce. The separated couples just parted their ways, each seeking his/her happiness elsewhere. Yet, the matters like inheritance of property, etc. were regulated by social processes; and the individuals were free to sort out the arrangements; and the wives were usually allowed considerable liberty.]

4.8. The woman too could likewise leave her husband and remarry; and no stigma was attached to her. In most cases parents took initiative to find a new husband for such a daughter . There is the strange case of Isidasi who married four husbands one after another; and for some reason not one of her husbands   could live with her happily, though she was endowed with all the virtues; and she did everything she could to keep each of them happy.

4.9. However, the woman who remarried had to contend with another irksome problem: the co-wife, one who might already be installed in her new husband’s house. The hapless Isidasi had such an unenviable experience in her fourth marriage. Both the wives suffered.

…Another wife he had,
A virtuous dame of parts and repute,
Enamored of her mate,
And thus I brought
Discard and enmity within that house. (Thig.446 )
*

Kisagotami too had to endure such sorrow:

Woeful is woman’s lot, hath he declared,
Woeful when sharing home with hostile wives,
Woeful when giving birth in bitter pain,
Some seeking death or a breach – birth they suffer twice,
Piercing the throat, the delicate poison take (Thig.216-7)

 

The rejection and disparagement of wives; the domestic drudgery finds a pithy expression in the verse of the nun Mutta:

O free indeed, O gloriously free
Am I in freedom from three crooked things..!
From quern, from mortar and my crooked lord.

 

Then she rejoiced, saying

Free am I from birth and dying.
Becomings’s cord removed.
That which leads to renewed existence
Has been rooted out. (Thig.11)

 

4.10. But the risk of marriage had to be run by almost all the girls; and it was still the most normal career or life-path open to a young woman. It was said: “A woman’s goal is a man; her ambition is for adornment; her resolve is for a child; her desire is to be without a rival; and, her fulfillment is authority over all” (A iii 363).

4.11. There were, of course, many women who longed to be free , but repressed their longing to ‘go forth,’ for many years, until the duties that kept them tied at home were resolved. To these women, the late-won liberty came as retreat of peace. A poem is attributed to the Master himself welcoming a tired old woman:

Happily rest, thou venerable dame..!
Rest thee, wrapt in the robe thyself hast made.
Stilled are the passions that have raged within.
Cool art thou now, knowing Nibbana’s peace. (Saŋyutta Nikaya, i. 68-70)

4.12. A certain Theri , commonly known as Sumangala’s mother, entered the Sangha, late in her life. One day while she was reflecting on her past, she was overwhelmed by the sufferings she endured in life; and was much affected. It is said; that insight quickened her understanding of the form and the meaning of Dhamma.

O woman well set free..! How free am I,
How thoroughly free from kitchen drudgery!
I stained and squalid among my cooking-pots
My brutal husband ranked as even less
Than the sunshades he sits and weaves always.

Purged now of all my former lust and hate,
I dwell, musing at ease beneath the shade
Of spreading boughs–O, but it is well with me..! (Thgi 23 , 24 )

*

Similarly Chanda, who once was a very poor woman, pours out her heart: and, narrates the suffering she went through; and, how she was rescued by entering the Bhikkuni Sangha. 

In the past, I was poor, a widow without children, without friends or relatives. I did not get food or clothing. Taking a bowl and stick, I went begging from family to family, I wandered for seven years, tormented by cold and heat.

Then I saw a nun as she was receiving food and drink. Approaching her, I said, “Make me go forth to homelessness.” And she was sympathetic to me and Patachara made me go forth, she gave me advice and pointed me toward the highest goal.

I listened to her words and I put into action her advice. That excellent woman’s advice was not empty, I know the three things that most don’t know; and nothing fouls by heart.

*

4.13. Not all couples figuring in the Theri-gatha had a miserable married life. The Pali canon mentions a number of devoted couples, such as Queen Mallika and King Pasenadi; Nakulamata and Nakulapita; and, Dhammadinna and Visakha. The wife here is described as the “comrade supreme” (S i 37).

Nakulamata and Nakulapita were considered by the Buddha to be the most eminent among his lay-disciples for their close companionship and mutual regard (A i 26).

There is a poignant verse of how Nakulamata comforted her husband when he was dangerously ill and was worrying about the future of his wife and children should he die.

“Do not fret,” She said, “I am deft at spinning cotton and carding wool and so would be able, were you to die, to support the children and run the household. Nor would I go to another man.

Even greater than when you were alive would be my desire to see the Bhagavan and the Order of monks. As long as the Bhagavan has female disciples, clad in white, I shall be one of them, fulfilling the precepts of ethical behavior, and gaining inward tranquility  of mind. I shall live confident, without doubt or questioning, following the Teacher’s instruction. So do not die, householder, while you are fretting, for so to die is anguish” (A iii 295ff).

4.14. The Buddha too dealt with worldly aspects of living and happy married life. In the Sigalovada Sutta , he talked about the duties of husband and wife towards one another. A lot of what he said is eminently sensible.

Husbands should respect their wives; and comply as far as possible with their requests. They should not commit adultery. They should give their wives full charge of the home; and supply them with fine clothes and jewelry as far as their means permit.

Wives should be thorough in their duties, gentle and kind to the whole household, chaste, and careful in housekeeping, and should carry out their work with skill and enthusiasm.

He asked one to consider the other as the best friend. He emphasized the principle of reciprocity; just as the wife had to perform her duties towards the husband, so should the husband perform his duties. He asked man and wife not to compete with one another , but to pull together just as a pair of horses pulls a chariot. The Sigalovada Sutta presupposes a monogamous system, but the Buddha preferred not to be assertive on it.

4.15. One of the verses in Theri-gatha describes how an understanding couple could bring prosperity to their family:

“All families that have attained great possessions have done so, for one or other of the following reasons: they search for what is lost; repair what is dilapidated; eat and drink in moderation; and place in authority, a virtuous woman or man” (A ii 249; AN 4.255).

4.16. There were a few instances where the couple in a happy marriage, both decided to go forth into homelessness. Theri-gatha (Thag 1051ff ) lovingly describes how Bhadda Kapalini and her husband Kassapa helped one another to put on the yellow robes of a recluse, to shave off the hair and sling the begging-bowl from their shoulders.Then they set out together, but only to part quite soon, lest people should say that even in their new state they could not do without one another.

4.17. Another was the case of Dhammadinna though happily married to Visakha, a rich merchant of Rajagaha; she sought his consent to go forth into homelessness , because she felt her spiritual hunger was stronger than the earthly ties.

Visakha at once sent her to the Bhikkuni Sangha in a golden palanquin ; although he had no desire to enter the Sangha and become a monk. In due course, Dhammadinna gained fame as an eminent preacher; and the Buddha considered her as the foremost among the nuns who could preach.

Interestingly, years later, Visakha, as a lay devotee, sat at the feet of Theri Dhammadinna to receive a discourse from her   [Culavedalla Sutta (MN 44)].

*

It is not that all Theris were emotionally numb. They were indeed alive to the world and the nature that surrounded them. They had learnt to respond with detachment and grace. When a man asks her ‘what is desire?’;  Theri Subha replies:

Come! Enjoy the flowering woods. Sweetness falls from the tall trees. Flower pollen whirls all around. The beginning of spring is a time of joy. Come! Enjoy the flowering woods. The treetops are in blossom and they call out when the wind shakes them.

Courtesans

4.18. There were a few former courtesans like Ambapali and Vimala, among the order of Bhikkhunis. They too found peace and fulfillment.

Dressed to kill at the whorehouse door, I was a hunter. And spread my snare for fools. And when I stripped for them I was the woman of their dreams; I laughed as I teased them.

Today, wrapped in a double cloak, my head shaven, having wandered for alms, I, my same self, sit at the foot of a tree and attain the state of no-thought. All ties – human and divine – have been cut. I have cut men and gods out of my life. Having cast off all effluents, cooled am I, unbound.- Said Vimala (Thig 76 )

*

The Buddha’s attitude towards the courtesans was rather interesting. He never rebuked or looked down upon them. Instead, he tried to help them by reminding them of the impermanence of all conditioned things, including their physical beauty and attraction. The Order of Nuns was as open to them as it was to any other women who qualified for the ordination.

4.19. Daughters born to courtesans or former courtesans do not appear to have been regarded as a disaster. There is a mention of two such daughters who followed the same calling as their mothers for some time, and later became nuns (Thig 39; SnA 244).

4.20 . The courtesan Ambapali who gained fame as one of the most loyal and generous supporters of Buddhist monks and another lady known as Abhaya’s mother each had a son who became a monk. When this latter lady heard her son preach, she left the world and entered the Buddhist Order of nuns.

Hamsa

5. The Men

5.1. The establishment of the Sangha impacted the lives of men too. In those days , it was not unusual for the elderly to retreat into the forest after fulfilling their duties(Vana-prasta), leaving the household under the care of the wife. The women of that era must have ordinarily been prepared for such an eventuality.

But, with the coming of Buddhism and the Sangha, the men were no longer under obligation to wait till the age of “retirement”. A boy   of fifteen could leave his home and go into monastic homelessness as a novice; and he could be fully ordained while he was in his twenties. The boy was required to obtain the consent of his parents before he was ordained. In most cases the consent was extracted from reluctant parents.

5.2. In a way of speaking, the establishment of the Order of monks might be regarded as a new threat to the happiness of women. For now, there was nothing to stop their sons and husbands from taking up the “religious life” while they were still quite young.

5.3. Capa, the daughter of a trapper, was about to lose her husband Upaka to the Sangha. She hoped that her new born son would save her from desertion by her husband . But; neither Cupa’s five-virtues nor her pleading could stop Upaka from leaving his home. She cried out in anguish:

And this child blossom, O my husband, see
Thy gift to me—now surely thou wilt not
Forsake her who hath borne a son to thee? (Thig.300)
**

Some of the women placed in similar circumstances sought consolation ,saying:

So great a mystery is the little life, both as to its coming and its going, that it never was yours–your property–to have or to mourn over. The great laws of the universe are not worked by you. Be quiet...”.

No trouble hath overtaken you, save such as hath already overtaken you many and many a time in the infinite number of your past spans of life. Why, then, fall ever back on these hapless tears that never have availed aught? ”  (Thgi 37 Ubbri)

5.4. Then, there were the uncomfortable questions of funeral obsequies and the periodic rites of the ancestors (Shraddha ceremonies) that had to be performed by the son. Only a son could perform those rituals which were believed to be essential for bestowing peace and serenity on the pitris, the departed ancestors

But, in the changed context, the aged parents had to learn to cope with the reminder of their life without sons at home. And, they  could no longer hope to be looked after by their son either.

Added to that, the old folks often had to take care of their grand children, left behind by their parents who went into the Sangha. Because, in many cases, when the husband left home for the Sangha, the wife emulated him; and, she too became a Bhikkhuni.

6. The Society

6.1. The message of the Buddha was essentially addressed to the individual in his quest for freedom. The Buddha did not set out to be a social reformer . He was a preacher who guided to “the road leading to the suppression of sorrow.”

6.2. The Pali texts hint that in the early years of his ministry,  the Buddha had been accused of being a snatcher of sons, a breaker of homes, one who turned wives into widows and rendered the  mothers childless (pubbajatha).The allusion was to his call for “ home-leaving”. His early followers indeed were social run-aways; they wandered about without a care or dwelt in forests learning “to bend their minds towards emancipation”. They were, in the Master’s own words, like uprooted palm trees.

6.3. As the Buddha’s message and the Sangha captured the imagination of the populace, more young and able bodied persons left their homes and lands. The trade and agriculture, in particular, and the economy in general did suffer.

As the number of monks increased, more monasteries had to be built; and more number of monks had to be provided with food, clothing and health care. Over a period, the living conditions and the health care arrangements in the Sangha improved considerably.

A stage was reached when the poor and the feeble found that it made more sense to live in the Sangha than try hard to eke out a meager living. Many poor people, afflicted with disease and unable to pay for treatment, joined the Order in order to avail free medical facilities.

6.4. The Buddha in consultation with his physician Jivaka had to put in place a sort of screening process to keep out the non-genuine entrants to the Sangha, as he thought the Sangha was being misused. As a result, it was decided that men afflicted with certain diseases be refused entry into the Order. The diseases prevalent in Magadha of those times included: leprosy, boils, dry leprosy, consumption, and fits (Vin.i.71ff). Later, cripples and homosexual were also kept out of the Order. (Vinaya, Vol. 4, pp. 141-142).

[ As regards the life of monks/Nuns in a Buddhist community , during the later times, Prof A L Basham writes (The Wonder That Was India)

While the Buddhist monk resembled his Christian counterpart in his vows of chastity and poverty, he took no vow of obedience. Each novice or junior monk had his preceptor, and was expected to treat him with great respect, but the monk was essentially a free member of a community of free men. There was no central authority to regulate the many monasteries and enforce uniformity; each was a law unto itself, guided only by the precepts of the Master as it had received them, and as it interpreted them. The constitution of the monastery had elements of democracy about it. The chief monk, or abbot, was not appointed from above or nominated by his predecessor, but held office by the suffrage of all the monks in the monastic parish. The day-to-day business of the monastery was managed by a committee of elder monks, and important decisions, such as the admission or expulsion of members, could only be made by the committee and not by the chief. Important business was discussed at meetings of the whole monastery in chapter.

 The daily life of the monk was chiefly spent in study and religious exercises, but he was expected to take his share in the work of the monastery, cleaning his cell, and sweeping the courtyard and the monastic buildings, while the elder monks devoted much of their time to teaching the novices. Among the most important of the monk’s spiritual exercises were the Four Sublime Moods (Brahma-vihara), in which, sitting quietly cross-legged, he endeavored to fill his mind with the four cardinal virtues of Buddhism—love, pity, joy, and serenity—and to consider all living beings in the light of these virtues. A fifth mood was that of impurity, in which he considered all the vileness and horror of the world and of the life of the flesh. For those more advanced in sanctity there were more advanced meditations, which brought the monk very near to the realization of Nirvana.

He was taught  to train himself to be continually aware of what he was doing, observing himself, as it were, all the time. Every act must be fully conscious, and distraction, carelessness, and lack of consideration were serious faults. When he ate, the monk should be aware of the nature of the act, its purpose, and the transience of the body which he fed, and similarly with every act throughout the day. No doubt few but the most advanced monks were able to keep up this state of “Right Recollection” continuously.]

buddhist monastery2

7. The question of gender equality

7.1. The attitude of the Buddha towards women was an enlightened one. His utterances on such issues as the girl child, the conduct of a newly married girl, setting up of the  Order of Nuns etc have however to be viewed in the context of his times.

7.2. At the time the Bhikkhuni Sangha, the Order of Nuns, was established, as demanded by Prajapati Gotamai, she had to agree to obey eight special rules (garudhamma) before she was ordained; and those rules were later incorporated into the Bhikkhuni Vinaya.

” If, Ananda, women had not received permission to go out from the household life and enter the homeless state, under the doctrine and discipline proclaimed by the Tathagata, then would the pure religion, Ananda, have lasted long, the good law would have stood fast for a thousand years. But since, Ananda, women have now received that permission, the pure religion, Ananda, will not now last long, the good law will now stand fast for only five hundred years…”

The Buddha then goes on to illustrate his point by a series of similes. And he ends his statement saying:

“And just, Ananda, as a man would in anticipation build an embankment to a great reservoir, beyond which the water should not overpass ; just even so, Ananda, have I in anticipation laid down eight chief rules (atth-agaru-dhamma) for the bhikkhunis, their lifelong not to be overpassed” .(Cullavagga, X.l ,6. ).

 However,  some believe that this statement was attributed to the Buddha at a much later date

Sace, Ananda, nalabhissa matujamo Tathagaatappavedite, dhammavinage agarasma anagariyam pabbajja, ciratthitikam, Ananda, brahmacariyam abhavissa, vassasahassam saddhammo tittheyya. Yato ca kho Ananda, matugamo………. pabbajjito, na dani brahmacariyam cirtthilikam, Ananda, bhavissati. Pavceva dani, Ananda, vassasatani saddhammo, thassati. (CV, NE, p.377.)

Many fears and apprehensions of the Buddha  sadly came true. The tenor of the rules indicates that the Bhikkhunis in general were placed next to the Bhikkhus (monks). It was explained that some of the rules were meant for the  protection of the  nuns, while a few others were merely a  matter of protocol.

[ Prof. A L Basham writes : Though strict rules were laid down for preserving the respectability of the two branches of the Order- Monks and Nuns – which often dwelt in adjoining establishments, accusations of immorality were sometimes leveled against them by their religious opponents; and, these accusations may have had some foundation. During the much later period, the sexual activity of Tantric Buddhism, of course, did not constitute a breach of the vows, when performed in accordance with the rites of the sect.]

For instance; one rule prescribed that   Bhikkhunis could not observe the annual retreat (vassa) in a district where there were no Bhikkhus; this was meant to ensure safety of nuns living in isolated areas. Another rule laid down “Bhikkhus were always to have precedence over Bhikkhunis in matters of salutation, etc. irrespective of any other consideration”; “Bhikkhus can officially admonish Bhikkhunis, but not the other way.” It is likely the senior nuns found the protocol rather irksome.

[The Bhikkhuni Patimokkha contains 311 rules for conduct of the nuns.]

7.3. Women were important to the Order. They are mentioned in almost every Pali Canon; and even in the Thera-gatha, the anthology of verses attributed to the elder monks (verse 1257). But, women and the discourses delivered to them are not central to the Canon. Those discourses are scattered through the Vinaya and Nikaya texts; and have to be picked and collated in order to gain a reliable picture of women’s position, particularly that of the lay-women, in the Order.

7.4. The sexes were not segregated in the Sangha, and though naturally nuns had their quarters apart from those of the monks. 

The nuns wore yellow robes and shaved their heads like the monks; and , their discipline was very similar . 

The nuns carried out their official acts, such as ordination, in conjunction with an Order of monks.

The monks and nuns participated in debates; and nuns were respected for their learning and spiritual attainments.

The nuns freely moved around the town seeking alms and dispensing Dhamma. “With shaven head, wrapped in their robe the Sister was free to come and go, to dive alone into the depths of the wood, or climb aloft. “

Another interesting feature was that, unlike in other religions, The Buddhist Order of Nuns did not place a premium on the state of virginity of the women entering the Sangha. A vast number of its inmates had been mothers and wives; and, a few had been courtesans. The Master himself was once a husband and father. This again was an assertion of the Buddha-faith that the road to enlightenment is not blocked by the state of the body and its condition.

7.5. But, the more important aspect was that, the women were not discriminated against in doctrinal matters. The Dhamma preached by the Buddha was addressed to one and all; and had no gender preferences. The Buddha’s path could be practiced by anyone, male or female. The travails of life and the difficulties in the pursuit of the path were regarded the same for men and women alike.

The female disciples of the Buddha who had grasped the true essence of the Dhamma were clear in their mind; and had realized that Dhamma was beyond all distinctions and free of the gender as well.

7.6. The Sanyutta Nikaya text contains an interesting repartee that takes place between Mara the tempter and the Theri Soma. Mara taunts Soma saying she is laboring hard but in vain, because no woman can reach “the high ground of the wise”. He said mockingly, a woman has only the “two-finger knowledge (dva-angula-panna)”, an allusion to cooking where the woman tests the consistency of the cooked rice by pressing it between her fingers. Soma shoots back, saying:

What can that signify to one in whom
Insight doth truly comprehend the Norm?
To one for whom the question doth arise:
Am I a woman in such matters, or
Am I a, man? or what not am I, then?–
To such an one is Mara fit to talk..!

Soma here is asserting the irrelevance of the “female condition” (itti-bhavo or Sthree bhava) in the spiritual path. She asks Mara to get lost.

With pleasures overcome everywhere
And the mass of ignorance torn away
Know this, 0 Defiled One,
Driven out art thou at last!

Thus in the samsaric sense there is no male or female, but only a single karmic stream.

7.7. The position of women in hierarchy of the Order could be seen as one relating to protocol rather than to spiritual progress. Assuming there was no Bhikkhuni order, there still was ample scope for women participation in Dhamma work. Even otherwise, the Buddha had not said that enlightenment could come only from formal adherence to a monastic order. Men and women either inside or outside the Order could attain enlightenment. The Buddha reiterated that position:

This is the only vehicle
Be it a woman or be it a man
The one who takes this vehicle
Can reach the peace of Nibbana (Sam.Nik., 1, 5, 6)

That was demonstrated by the Theri Bhadda Kapilan who associated herself in spiritual attainments with the learned Maha Kassapa, who later succeeded the Master as the Head of the Sangha.

She too, Bhadda the Kapilan–thrice-wise
And victor over death and birth is she–
Bears to this end her last incarnate frame,
For she hath conquered Mara and his host.

We both have seen both he and I, the woe
And pity of the world, and have gone forth.
We both are Arahants with selves well tamed.
Cool are we both, ours is Nibbana now..! (Thgi 37:65, 66)

Theri Sundari went even further and related herself to the Master: “Thou art Buddha..! Thou art Master..! And thine. Thy daughter am I, Issue of thy mouth.”

7.8. It is said, the Buddha in his last days desired to see some modifications made to the Vinaya practices. Some scholars surmise those modifications most likely had to do with the position of women in the Order.

That question is now purely academic since the Bikkhuni Sanghas have virtually disappeared in India and Sri Lanka. But the mere absence of the Bhikkhuni order does not in any manner affect a woman ardently seeking enlightenment.

[ For a discussion (for and against)  on the rules concerning Bhikkhunī ordination as recorded in the Culla-vagga of the Theravāda Vinaya , please click here.]

dharma chakra

8. At the end

As Isaline Horner said:

“in the Buddha’s time women were not despised and looked down on but, on the contrary, were respected and had a place of honor in the home. The difficulties they had to face and overcome were no more than normal for women in any time or country, even if their life was, at the worldly level, more restricted than it has come to be in the last decades as women go in more and more for public work and hold professional posts. At the higher, more spiritual level however, they had the great advantage and great joy of entering the Order of Nuns either because they wanted to get free of worldly sufferings or, more positively, and above everything else, because they wanted to find the way to the peace and bliss of Nibbana, all their former craving for sense-pleasures rooted out, tranquil and cool.

We live in a Buddha-era that is at a time when the Teachings of the Buddha are still remembered and are of significance. This alone would make it incumbent on us to put into practice his message of Peace, inner and outer, as faithfully as we can.”

*****

9. With this , as the backdrop, I would be posting, in the subsequent articles, the narrations or , call it , stories of a few women of that era, such as Isidasi, Bhadda Kundalakesa, Visakha , Mallika the Queen , Patachara and a few others, if possible . At the end of each story, I would like to put down a few issues emerging out of it.

In the next article let’s read the story of the much married Isidasi.

 

***

Abbreviations: A, AN = Anguttara Nikaya; D, DN = Digha Nikaya; Ja = Jataka; M, MN = Majjhima Nikaya; MA = Majjhima Atthakatha (commentary to the Majjhima Nikaya); S, SN = Samyutta Nikaya; Thag = Theragatha; Thig = Therigatha.

lotus-flower-meaning-3

Next

The story of much married Isidasi

References and sources

 Buddhist women by Dr. Bimala Churn Law

http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/sociology/031-buddhist_women.htm

Buddhist Women at the Time of the Buddha by Hellmuth Hecker

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/hecker/wheel292.html

Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India.

By: Stephanie Jamison
http://www.articlearchives.com/society-social/sex-gender-issues-women/1520676-1.html

The Place of Women in Buddhism by Swarna de Silva

http://www.uq.net.au/slsoc/bsq/bsqtr07.htm

Women in Early Buddhist Literature by I.B. Horner

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/horner/wheel030.html

Psalms of the early Buddhists- i.–psalms of the sisters by
Mrs. Rhys Davids,

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/davids/psalms/psalms.html

The Bhikkhuni Patimokkha containing 311 rules for conduct of the nuns

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/vin/sv/bhikkhuni-pati.html

Pictures are from Internet

 

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Buddhism, Buddhist Women, History

 

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