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The essential teachings of the Buddha

[Siddhartha Gotama was the prince of the Sakiya clan who ruled a prosperous republican community belonging to Kosala kingdom situated at the foot of Himalayan ranges. His father was Suddhodana a Sakyan Chieftain; and his mother was Maya. Siddhartha was born under a sal tree in the Lumbibi garden (along the Indo -Nepal border) while his mother was travelling to her parent’s home. He lost his mother while he was still an infant; and, was brought up by his mother’s sister, Pajapati Gotami. He married Yasodhara, his cousin; and the couple had a son named Rahula. Siddhartha was a good looking person with a strong body. He had his military training in his upbringing and was once invited by King Bimbisara to join his army as a General.

Siddhartha left his home, at the age of twenty nine, soon after the birth of his son, in search of ‘Truth’.  For six long years he studied earnestly, went from teacher to teacher and lived the life of a mendicant practicing severe austerity. He was satisfied neither with the teachings nor with the methods prescribed. He also realized   that with a body so utterly weakened as his, he would not be able to pursue his path with any chance of success. Finally, he broke away from his fellow Samanas and also abandoned extremes of self-torture and prolonged fasting. He practiced meditation under a pipal tree in the Uravela forests along the banks of the Neranjara River (near Gaya). Gotama at the age of thirty-five, attained enlightenment on a full moon of May (vaisakha, vesak).

The Buddha was a wandering monk for twenty years starting from his enlightenment, continuously on move from place to place. He then settled down at Savasthi, living on alms, for about twenty years. He left Savasthi in his 79th year and spent the next rainy season at Rajagraha from where he moved northward. While on move, at the age of 80, he passed away quietly at Kusinara in the Malla country.

The Buddha is the precious jewel of humanity. No matter how you look at him, he must have been a wonderful person of majesty, tenderness, compassion and one who was free from prejudices. He always carried himself with dignity. You cannot fail to wonder at the brilliance, greatness, empathy and the nobility of the person and his teachings. Though twenty-five centuries have gone since the passing away of the Buddha, his message of love, compassion and wisdom continue to influence and guide us.]

Introduction

1.1. It is said that the First Discourse (pathamadesana) of the Buddha introduces his teachings and his philosophy. Many think it holds the essential teachings of the Master: ‘There is no teaching of the Master outside the scope of this sermon.’ It also marks a watershed in his life. It was from here that Samana Gotama the wanderer emerged as the Revered Teacher (Bhagava), as the Blessed One (Araha) and as the perfectly enlightened One (Sammaa- Sambuddha).

1.2. The pathamadesana is of unique importance in the Buddhist history. It was from here the incomparable wheel of Dhamma was set in motion (Dhamma-chakka-parivattana) by the Blessed One. The full moon of Asadha is therefore celebrated as Dhamma Day and it marks the beginning of the annual retreat period in the monasteries for the monsoon (Vassa or chatur-masya).

A. My emancipation is won

2.1. It was on the full moon night in the month of Vesaka – the sixth month; on one of those nights he spent under the Bodhi tree, he understood the sorrows of earthly existence and experienced the supreme peace unaffected by earthly existence. He said to himself “My emancipation is won…Done what is to be done. There is nothing beyond this (katamkarniyam, naaparamitthattaya).”

2.2. For several days, he wandered in peace and tranquillity, among the woods. He enjoyed his quiet serene days and lonely walks in the forest. He wished the idyllic life would last forever. He pondered whether he should share his newfound wisdom with others. Yet, he wondered whether anyone would be interested or would appreciate his findings, which helps in seeing things clearly, as they are, and in attaining knowledge, higher wisdom, peace, and enlightenment or nirvana.

2.3. He debated, there might still be those not entirely blinded by the worldly dirt. He thought of his teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, both “wise, intelligent and learned; and of nature scarcely tainted “; and said to himself they would quickly comprehend the knowledge he had just gained. Then, he sadly realized that Uddaka son of Rama had just passed away; and Alara Kalama died about seven days ago. Then the thought came to him of his erstwhile fellow Samanas, those who left him to pursue their ways. He decided to talk to his fellow seekers and share with them the new wisdom (Majjhima Nikaya; Sutta 26).

3.1. He journeyed from place to place from Gaya ; and at length reached the holy city of Varanasi after nearly seven weeks, covering a distance of about 144 miles .On his way a monk named Upaka enquired Gautama where he was headed to, “To set in to motion the wheel of Dhamma (Dhamma Chakkampavattetum)” he replied ” I proceed to Varanasi”.

3.2. There at Varanasi he learnt the five ascetics (Kondanna, Vappa, Mahanama, Assaji, and Bhadda) whom he knew before were at Isipatana (Rishipattana – where the sages live; now called Saranath), nearby. He found them in the garden Migadaaya (Deer park) at Isipatana. They were surprised to see him but were impressed by his majestic, pure and serene demeanour. They wondered whether he had achieved uttari-manusa-dhamma, the super human status.

He told them he had done what had to be done. He had attained it. He asked them to listen to his findings. He told them: “I teach about suffering and the way to end it”.

3.3. They listened to him in all earnestness. What he spoke to those five ascetics later gained renown as one of the greatest and most important discourses in religious history. At the end of the talk, Gotama emerged as the Teacher. He came to be revered as Bhagava (the Blessed One).

The talk was “The first teaching” (Pathamadesana). It later came to be celebrated as Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the discourse that set in motion the wheels of Dhamma.

B. Pathamadesana

4. 1.The Buddha spoke to the five ascetics at the garden of Migadaaya where the deer roamed unmolested and in peace, located in Isipatana near the holy city of Varanasi, in the evening of the full moon day in the month of Asalhi – the eighth month (Ashada-July). He spoke in simple Magadhi the language his listeners understood well. The discourse was brief, with short, simple and precise statements. There were no definitions and no explanations. It was a direct sincere talk.

4.2. It was a simple and a straight narration of how Samana Gotama transformed into the Buddha. He spoke from his experience, narrated his findings, and explained the four truths and the three aspects of each; and the middle path.

5.1. He opened the discourse by exhorting the five monks who believed in strict asceticism to avoid the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, as both do not lead to perfect peace and enlightenment. “These two extremes should not be resorted to by a recluse who has renounced the world”. He advised them to follow the Middle Way (majjhiama-patipada). Then, he went on to explain four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani) and their true nature: Sorrow (Dukkha) in life is a fact; it has a cause; that cause can be eliminated; and there is a method by which it is eliminated.

5.2. The Indian tradition looks upon the Buddha as the master of the analytical method (vibhajyavadin). His very first discourse is an excellent example of his consummate analytical skill.

5.3. The discourse is logically well structured. It puts forth certain postulates derived from observation and experience; and seeks to construct a logical structure explaining relationships among the postulates.

5.4. The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. Dhamma preached here is both a theory and a practical procedure.  His postulates have therefore an operational aspect. The methods he suggested were drawn from his life and his experiences. His methods lead to a definite end (niyyana). It is like “putting down the burden” or to “cure the disease”. That is what Dhamma really means.

C. The Middle Way (majjhiama-patipada)

6.1. The Buddha arrived at a time when almost every shade of opinion was in currency in the Indian scene; but, excessive speculation was the bane of the period. In a way of speaking, he came to the rescue of Indian philosophy at its critical hour when no one seemed to have a clear view of things. He set himself to prepare a perfect –net (Brahma-jaala) of dialectics for entangling all sorts of sophistry.   The Buddhist philosophy is not only an integral part of Indian philosophy, but is a whole in itself. It therefore shares many characteristics   of the other streams of Indian thought; and, at the same time asserts its own beliefs.

6.2. The Buddha opened his celebrated discourse at the Migadaaya in Isipattana, saying:

“There are two extremes, O monks, from which he who leads a spiritual life must abstain. What are those two extremes? One is a life of pleasure, devoted to desire and enjoyment: that is base, ignoble, and un-spiritual, unworthy, unreal. The other is a life of mortification: it is gloomy, unworthy, unreal. The perfect one, O monks, is removed from both these extremes and has discovered the way which lies between them, the middle way (majjhiamapatipada) which enlightens the eyes, enlightens the mind, which leads to rest, to knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvana.”

6.3 The Middle-way that the Buddha taught here as the right conduct for a monk is compared to tuning a lute which emits melodious sounds of right pitch only when its strings are stretched neither too loose nor too tight.

7.1. His majjhiama-patipada was not merely his ethical teaching but was also the very foundation of his views on many issues including those on the nature of universe, the nature of soul sand such other subjects. One could even say that the metaphysics of the Buddha was based in the ’middle-way’. By this, he achieved a position that was away from extremes, away from dogmatism. He always maintained that one should avoid clinging to an idea or a concept for the mere sake of it. He is said to have remarked “I’ve used ideas as boats to cross the river, not to carry them around upon my head.”

Being and Non-Being

8.1. Even at the very early stages of Indian thought, two groups had clearly emerged: the one that asserted the hypotheses of the Being (sat-karya-vada), and the other of Non-Being (asat-karya-vada) .Both the camps left strong impressions on the later Indian speculations. The history of the subsequent Indian philosophy could be said to be mostly about the unfolding and expansion, a wider application, continued modifications of these two ancient postulates, or   departure from either.

8.2. The Buddha rejected both the extreme positions of Being and Non-Being. He preached the doctrine that embodied the middle mode (eteubho ante anupa-gammam-ajjhimena …Dhammamdeseti) of Becoming; believing neither in chance nor in necessity exclusively, but in conditioned happening.

The Universe

9.1. In regard to the Universe, the Buddha was questioned several times whether ‘it exists’ or whether ‘it does not exist’’; whether the universe (loka) is eternal or not; whether it is infinite or not. The Thathagatha, not going by the extremes, taught the intermediate way (Madhyama Prathipada). He explained that the concept of ‘it – exists (asti)’ represents an absolute and an un-changing substance; while ‘it- does not – exist (nasti)’ concept means that everything is annihilated without a trace. His middle-path was   that the world is neither Being nor is it Non-Being; but it is the Becoming. It is a continual change- to- be and passing away; ‘there is nothing permanent or eternal in the universe’. He preferred a dynamic explanation to the static changeless position.

9.2. The real nature of the universe, according to the Buddha, consists series of temporary principles, which change; each principle in the sequence of conditions becomes the condition for the next; there is continuity though there no continuous substance.

The Buddha explained  :

“ Just as from milk comes curds , from curds butter , from butter ghee , from ghee junket;  but, when it is milk it is not called curds, or butter , or ghee or junket; and, when it is curds it is not called by any of the other names; and so on”.

 Here, he was not only putting forward his concept of the law of causation but was also pointing to the principle of identity at each stage. Each state in the chain of changes is real in its own context and when it is ‘present’; and it is not real when it was past as ‘something that it was’; and also not real when in future ‘it will be something’.

10.1. The Buddha held the view that the transmigration (samsara) was a process and it was beginning-less. No ultimate point of origin could be discerned. There is no final, ultimate beginning, according to the Buddha. One can go on forever tracing the cycle back from life to life. The same conditions will be found generating new life all the time. “Leave aside these questions of the beginning and the end “he said “I shall instruct you on the Law. If that is, this comes to be; on springing of that, this springs up. If that is not, this does not come to be; on the cessation of that, this ceases to be” (Majjima Nikaya: 2.32).

11.1. The Buddha was asked several times ‘who runs’; ‘who contacts’; or ‘who desires’ the universe, and so on. His reply was that the questions were ‘unsound’ or wrongly worded. The proper form of the questions, as he said, was ‘through what conditions is there contact or desire’ etc. For each condition there is the ‘cause’ (hetu), the source (nidana), the origination (samudaya); and there is a condition (pratyaya) for each principle we are examining. If the condition did not exist the principle would not happen. It is not, therefore, correct to speak of persons who do things; but we should try to understand the universe in terms of the series of events and the conditions that caused those events. In other words, there is action, but there is no agent such as a god, soul, self etc ‘who does things’ (Samyutta Nikaya: 2.13).There is just the process (vritti) a continuing coming-to-be and passing away or a series of related events; and, these are impersonal.

11.2. The Buddha was no mere logician; he was a philosopher endowed with a keen insight into the nature of reality. In place of theories of this or that agency constituting the source, the Buddha put attention on the order of things itself. The order he conceived was the continual coming-to-be and passing away of everything. He explained the reality , as he understood, in terms of change, movement, continual becoming; a change which does not consist of disconnected events or isolated freaks of nature, but one that presents a continuous structure, a closed series of forms, a series of causes and effects. It is not that the effect is identical with the cause, but it has its roots in the cause. When a seed grows into a plant, it becomes a wholly different object without the seed having survived (niranvaya-vada). But a tree would not have been in existence without the presence of the seed

11.3. That constant transition, change or becoming is not erratic, not pre-ordained; but, it goes on by the momentum of its own natural laws of causes and effects. Thus, the universe, according to the Buddha, is some kind of objective reality that is governed by natural and impersonal forces and processes; by conditions and principles that are transient, with no beginning. And, his universe has no enduring substances.

Soul

12.1. The texts tend to bracket the issue of universe with the question of the ‘soul’. He was often asked whether he who acts is the same as the one who (subsequently) enjoys the results of it; or, whether one (person) acts and another one experiences the results of it. Here too, the Buddha favoured a middle path avoiding the extremes of an entity called soul that survives birth after birth; and that of a soul which perishes as the body withers away. The Buddha explained a human as the dynamic inter-relation of five skandas. 

“Truly, if one holds the view that self is identical with the body, in that case there can be no holy life. Again, if one holds the view that self is one thing and the body another, in that case, too, there can be no holy life. Avoiding both extremes the Perfect One teaches the doctrine that lies in the middle.” (Sauyutta Nikaya: 2, 61).

13.1. Here, the Buddha opted for a sequence of conditioned events, where there is neither a permanent soul nor an agent, but where there are series of causes and effects, with each effect conditioning that which follows it.

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

13. 2. But, translating the Buddhist concept of an-atma or anatta as –   ‘no soul’ or that ‘self does not exist at all ‘- seems rather misleading.  An-atta, in the Buddhist context suggests that ‘self is not an enduring entity or eternal essence’. It is not the ultimate reality (dharmataa) either .The Buddhist tradition believes that the root of all suffering is in regarding the ‘self’ as a permanent or a static entity or as an unchanging essence; and clinging to it.

14.1. It must be mentioned that Buddhism does not deny a soul altogether. The Buddhist view is that the belief in a changeless “I-entity” (soul) is the result of incorrect interpretation of one’s experiences. As per the Buddhist view, self/soul is not a permanent entity, or a static substance, or as an essence, but it is understood as a dynamic process which one experiences as perceptions, ideas or desires. It says; self is wrongly taken as a fixed, enduring entity. According to Buddhism, there is not anything which is enduring, fixed, and eternal. Everything is interdependent and changing. Everything is an aggregate lacking self (samghata); and has no astitva or existence outside of shifting contexts . Everything is in constant flux (spandana). If things are not momentary, everyone and everything would be eternal. There is incessant change; but with continuity. 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 a false concept leading to mistaken notions about reality.

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

Consciousness

15.1. Similarly, in regard to consciousness too, the Buddha did not deny existence of feelings, thoughts, sensations or whatever; but, he did not also talk about a permanent conscious substance that experiences all these. According to him, the streams of consciousness ever changing, arise and perish leaving behind no permanent “thinker”. As Abhidhamma-kosa explains that there is no agency apart from feeling, ideas, volitions, etc “There is no self separate from a non-self”. In other words, there is no “self” apart from the process.

15.2. Each phase of experience, as it appears and disappears, is shaped into the next. That process of change with continuity ensures that every successive phase carries within it ‘all the potentials of its predecessors’. Hence, a man is not the same in any two moments’;  and yet he is not quite different. The body which is the aggregate (skandas) of sensations, the thoughts, and the physical frame is thus    not only a collective, but also a   recollective unit.

Suspended judgment

16.1. The Buddha is often blamed for maintaining silence on the key question of a permanent self. I reckon that was rather unjust. The Buddha was reluctant to define the indefinable, that which cannot be apprehended by mind.

When he suspended his judgment on certain questions, he really meant us to understand that no one answer (eka-amsika) could be taken to be the only right one. The Buddha chose not to give out a partial answer of either a ‘yes’ or ‘a no’ when other explanations seem quite possible. For instance, on the question of ‘soul’, had he said ‘yes’, it would not have been consistent with his position that all things are impermanent. And, had he said “no” then, he would be denying his own concepts of kamma, rebirth, and dependent origination etc. Merely judging the issue from individual (separate) stand points of view would lead to wrong conclusions. According to the Buddha , as most of those matters pertained to a ‘state – of –fact’ (loka-dhamma) it would be prudent to approach each from more than one point of view (aneka-amsika).

16.2. His teaching represents a reaction and an attempt to approach life rationally. He was averse to theoretic curiosity. He did not speculate on things beyond the sphere of perception and reason. He was pragmatic. The Buddha taught what was necessary to overcome Dukkha. He did not dwell upon all that he knew, since he saw no practical use for the rest. He denied speculative intervention; disassociated from dogmas. He perhaps thought that such speculations would fuel idle curiosity and distract the seeker from the task of getting past Dukkha. ‘Philosophy purifies none,’ he said, ‘peace alone does.’

D. Four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani)

17.1. The Buddha then went on to explain four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani): Sorrow (Dukkha) in life is a fact; it has a cause; that cause can be eliminated; and there is a method by which it is eliminated.

Briefly, he said:

  • Clinging to existence is sorrow (dukkha-mariya-saccham);
  • Thirst or craving (tanha) for pleasure (kamatanha), thirst for existence (bhavatanha), thirst for heavenly existence (vibhavatanha) is the cause;
  • Suffering ceases with the complete cessation of this thirst, and
  • The Path (dukkha – nirodha-gaminipatipadaariya-saccham) that leads to the cessation of sorrow is the Eightfold Path, that is: Right Belief, Right Aspiration, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Means of Livelihood, Right Endeavour, Right Memory and Right Meditation.

17.2. When a person properly develops the Noble Eight Fold Path (ariyo-atthangiko-maggo) he can eradicate craving which is cause of suffering. When he eradicates craving, he can stop completely the continuous cycle of suffering. When this craving and this suffering are removed completely (vimutti), one can realize Nibbana.

17.3. Based on these postulates the Buddha set out to teach his methods for the benefit of humanity. The rest of Buddha’s teachings are within the ambit of these principles.

 18.1. The first three Noble Truths (understanding, diagnosis, and prescription) are of theoretical import while the fourth is essentially a practical measure. The discourse explains this as the method (naya), the road (magga) and the steps to be taken (patipada) to eliminate sorrow and to obtain emancipation.

18.2. The second and the fourth postulates (origination of sorrow and the methods of eliminating sorrow) represent Buddha’s original contribution to Indian ethos; the former being his philosophical stand point and the latter his religious system.

18.3. Of the eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, the first two relate to Wisdom, the second three to Morality, and the last three are about Concentration. Sila – Morality (right speech, right action, right livelihood), Samadhi – Concentration (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration), and Panna – Wisdom (right attitude, right understanding) are the three stages of the Noble Path. These factors denote the stages and attitudes of the aspirant.

18.4. The concept of path as it relates to the pilgrim and his progress occurs in Upanishads too. Yajnavalkya mentions it as pantha. The Buddha extends it to a series of steps patipada (step by step) leading to the goal (vaddanaka-patipada).The Buddha is thus the path finder of noble path (ariyapada or ariya-atthangika-magga). He preferred to describe it, simply, as majjima-patipada, the middle path.

18.5. The removal of Dukkha was also the stated objective of other doctrines (e.g. Samkhya), but the Buddha made it the central point of his teaching. Its special value lies in the explanation it gives of the origin of suffering, in the manner in which it deduces the possibility of its removal and in the means it recommends for doing so.

E. Dukkha: cause and cessation

19.1. The First Noble Truth deals with Dukkha, which, for want of a better term in English, is inadequately rendered as suffering or sorrow. In many English-language – Buddhist texts Dukkha is therefore often left un-translated. As a feeling, Dukkha means that which is difficult to endure. What is Dukkha? It is a phenomenon, which is universal (sabba-satta-sadharana); and is readily identifiable (suvinneya) by the troubles (badhana) it causes. It is like the ’burning heat’ (santhapana).

In the Canon, the Pali term ‘Dukkha’ is meant to denote disquiet, unrest, sorrow, affliction,   stress, a sort of heat (tapana) etc caused by attachment. It is explained; attachment to whatever that is impermanent (anichcha) leads to Dukkha (Yad-aniccam tam Dukkham). It was meant to include both pleasure and pain; happiness and suffering; all arising out of impermanence of things. In short, whatever is subject to the law of causality is characterized by Dukkha.   The older texts equate Dukkha with ‘tanha’ (Snkt. thristna) meaning thirst, craving , dissatisfaction  or at times with burden.

19.2. Elimination (nirodha) of Dukkha, in contrast, has the character of quiet (santi). Nirodha is the absence of rodha (flood) of suffering. It is characterized by cessation (attagama), detachment (virago) and freedom from craving (mutti).

19.3. In this context, happiness (sukha) is not mentioned as an opposite of sorrow (Dukkha) or as an ideal state for aspiration. In the Buddha’s scheme of things, nothing phenomenal could appear to be sukha; happiness is not a reality. Suffering is a reality and when it is removed, we find quiet, wisdom and freedom as positive gains- and not happiness.

20.1. The Buddha, the Great Healer, looked upon Dukkha as a sort of disease and his method was naturally that of a physician seeking a remedy to cure it. Illustrating the Buddha’s design the second century scholar Upatissa in his Vimutti-Magga wrote: “Just as a skilled physician first sees the symptoms of a disease, then examines the cause of it, and then prescribes a suitable remedy; so the four truths may be known as coming in the same order”. The Buddha is therefore revered as the Beshaja- guru and Mahabeshaja (the great physician).

20.2. 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 all its effect.

20.3. The Buddha reasoned that Dukkha the core problem of human existence has a cause; and, the removal of that cause must result in removal of its effects. The Buddha recognized that Dukkha is caused by the ignorance of the reality of things as they are and by clinging to things that have ceased to exist. Holding on to something that no longer exists, he observed, leads to delusions, attachments and stress.

20.4. He argued, if you find the principles, you should also be able to find the method, because the two are intimately associated; and, if we once know the process, we are on the most expedient way (magga) to get rid of its effects. 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 (vimutti) must move away from attachments and discard mistaken ideas in order to acquire right understanding (samyak-gnana or prajna). That is to say, when ignorance is dispelled (attagama) by right knowledge, the succeeding links of the chain snap one after another automatically.

20.5. In other words, 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. He said, ‘clinging to ideas is an obstruction to right –understanding; the best of states for right- understanding is non-attachment; and let-go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts’.

20.6. According to this scheme, prajna or right knowledge is the basis of the whole discipline of the four-fold truth. But if it were to result in a sense of freedom, it should be more than mere intellectual conviction, however strong it might be. It is essential that the knowledge be transformed into one’s own authentic experience. And prajna leads to that intuitive experience.

Nirvana

21.1. What is the logical aim of the eight-fold path? The object attained by following this discipline is designated Nirvana. The term Nirvana derived from the root va (to blow like the wind) qualified by a negative prefix nir denotes a state of motionless rest where no wind blows, where the fire has been quenched, where the light is extinguished and where the stars have gone out . The term therefore literally means ‘blowing out’ or ‘becoming cool’. It signifies attaining the Truth by cessation of craving (tanha) and clinging (upadana). Nibbana is a state of utter extinction – not of existence, but of attachment to things that are impermanent. It is a state beyond the chain of causation, a state of freedom and spontaneity.

The Buddha explained it with a simile of an oil-lamp sinking upon itself and expiring when its fuel runs out. Nirvana suggests a state of emptiness and nothingness; of the emptiness of ego and of the impermanence of all things. It is the realization of truth that destroys ignorance; and ends cravings, hatred and suffering.  And, Nirvana is described as a state of blessedness, unbound peace and deliverance. The Pali Canon speaks of Nirvana as a state beyond all conceptual thoughts; and yet, the one that could be experienced in meditation.

22.1. The Buddha refused to speculate on the nature of his Nirvana. His attitude was, in effect: If you want to know what Nirvana is like, then experience your own Nirvana. We therefore do not really know how the Buddha experienced his Nirvana.

22.2. The Buddha insisted that his followers should not try borrowing ideas or experiences from him; but they should arrive at their own. In other words, every person should win his/her own liberation. It is an attainment through self-reliance, not by the grace of a god; or by the blessings of a teacher or someone else.

22.3. The Buddha guides the aspirant on the path that leads to right-understanding. But he disclaims any personal authority; and asks the follower to work it out himself. The follower when he succeeds in attaining the enlightenment will not become a second Buddha or a replica of the Buddha. In the final analysis, both the Buddha and his follower free themselves from the bonds of samsara; yet, each retains his individuality.

22.4. The Buddha, therefore, emphasized that Nirvana is neither annihilation nor eternal life. It simply is a cessation of a process, of a sequence of events. In the Brahma-nimantanika Sutra (Majjhima-Nikaya), the Buddha said: Do not think that this (nirvana) is an empty or void state. There is this consciousness, without distinguishing mark, infinite and shining everywhere (Vinnana-mani-dassana-manantam-sabbato-pabham); it is untouched by the material elements and not subject to any power.

Arhant

23.1. 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. An enlightened- one living in a body is termed an Arhant in the Buddhist lore. On one occasion, the Buddha describes the state of an Arhant as:

He who has gone to rest, no measure can fathom him.

There is no word to speak of him.

What thought could grasp has blown away.

And every path to speech is barred. (Suttanipata)

23.2. 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 is said to have exclaimed: “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 or clinging) runs out.

 F. Compassion and ethics

24.1. The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. The Dhamma he preached was at once the theory and the practical way of conduct in life. In his first discourse, the Buddha talked about the importance Sila-Morality: right speech, right action, right livelihood; and asked his listeners “To cease from evil, to cleanse one’s mind, to do what is good”.

24.2. The distinctive character of the Buddha’s teaching is his emphasis on compassion and ethics. The Buddha asserted that it is not adequate if one merely focuses on elimination of suffering; but one must acquire the skill of probing the nature of the object. Those efforts must essentially be rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state. The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity is of great importance; and should be practiced with mindfulness.

The practice of these virtues would help development of a well-focused healthy human being. It would also ensure common good and help moving toward a harmonious strife-less society.

24.3. The Buddha is the very embodiment of compassion the loving kindness towards all beings. Dharmakirti (c. 600 -660 AD), a Buddhist philosopher, a pupil of Isvarasena and a teacher at Nalanda, remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields of learning but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.

buddha-wallpapers

Resources and References

1.DhammacakkappavattanaSutta http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html

2. Outlines of Indian Philosophy by Prof M Hiriyanna

3. A course in Indian Philosophy by  Prof. AK Warder

4. A Philosophical Analysis of Buddhist Notions by ADP Kalansuriya

Pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism

 

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

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

Discourses imparted to Rahula

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

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

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

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

Maha-Rahulovada Sutta

Dhatus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tendencies

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

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

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

Practice of Mindfulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 For more on Mindfulness please check here.

Please also check the links provided under.

Sources and references:

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

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.062.than.html

http://www.wwzc.org/translations/mahaRahulovada.htmhttp://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/2Majjhima-Nikaya/Majjhima2/062-maha-rahulovada-e1.html

Pictures are from Internet

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

 

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An-atta: On Self and Non-self

Dear Sreenivasa Rao Sb,

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

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

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

May I expect a small blog or knol on this?

Thanks,

DMR Sekhar.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vacchagotta the wanderer questions the Master “what have you to say about the existence of self (atta)?” The Exalted One was silent. Vacchagotta   again questioned “Is there no such thing as the self?” .The Exalted One was silent. At which Vacchagotta just walked out.

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

The Master explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards

References

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.010.than.html

http://budsas.110mb.com/ebud/ebdha215.htm

http://www.buddhanet.net/buddhism-self.htm

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

 

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Consciousness – a Buddhist view

The question of consciousness

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

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

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

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

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

Central reality of all existence is change

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

Five aggregates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding is the key

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

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

Emancipation….And after..?

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

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

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

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

Mind and consciousness

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

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

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

Practice of meditation

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

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

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

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

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 realityis not something that can be known by consciousness, nor is it an object of the mind..He said,   you cannot find This Ultimate One with the mind of thoughts … so how do you find it? … by no-mind, no-thought, by not attaching to thoughts but letting them just be there, but never attaching to them while maintaining presence.

Scientific investigations and Buddhist meditation practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and References

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

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

B Allan Wallace  : 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

 
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.

 

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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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 Agganna Sutta:  It was imparted to two Brahmins Bharadvaja and Vasettha who desired to enter the Sangha as monks. 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 defilements, is pure”(Dhammapada- Verse  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-Sumanasamanera Vatthu)

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 Bhikkus 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 Dhamma-pada Commentary (Vol. I, 384-420).

***

3. The early years

3.1. Visakha, bright and beautiful, was the daughter of Dhananjaya_Settthi and Sumanadevi 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.”

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”.

(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

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).

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.

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)

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 to be virtuous persons. She could even become the wife of a great King or give birth to a mighty Ruler. The Master advised Pasenadi to bring up his daughter with love and devotion, without undue attachment.

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)

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)

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.”

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)

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.
References and Sources
 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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