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

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

A. The Early Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. The Jain ascetic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D. Her ordination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

E. The Issues

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

navamallika

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

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

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

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

There are a few unusual features in the story.

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

maze

 

The Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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The Early Buddhist Women – stories – An Introduction

1. Theri – gatha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hamsa 5

2. Women in the pre-Buddha period

2.1. While discussing the position of women during the pre-Buddha period there appears to be a tendency among some to over-estimate the amount of ignominy, of obedience and subservience to men; and their exclusion from certain worldly occupations or religious education or observances. Much of those accusations are unfounded. For instance, I came across writing  which said: ” It (Buddhism) put an end to child marriage, dowry and sati. Women were free from bondage and an era of equality was created”. But the fact is that the practices such as sati and child-marriage cropped up, like weeds, in the Indian society about 1,500 years after the Buddha;  and the women were never in bondage during the pre-Buddha period. As regards the equality or the equal status accorded to women, sadly, that ideal state was not fully realized either during or after the life of the Buddha. Ans, it still remains a distant , unrealized dream. 

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

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

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

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

3. The Sangha

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even in case one discounts its spiritual objectives and aspirations, the Sangha did act as a useful and an effective safety-net in the society.  I wish the institution of Sangha continued to this day, in one form or other.

Unmarried women

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

Married women

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

4.7. In the stories narrated by the Theris , you will come across many who   left behind a home and husband and went into the world searching for freedom and a meaning to life. There are also cases where the woman was turned out of her house by her husband who took on another wife. It is said; a woman endowed with five virtues: beauty, wealth, relations (from her parents’ side), a son, and chaste conduct (shila) could dwell with confidence as the lady of the house, get the better of her husband and keep him under her thumb (S iv 246). But, if she lacked those virtues, she ran the risk of being driven out of her house (S iv 248). The instances where the husband deserted his wife or threw her out of the house were not rare. On the expulsion of the wife, the husband then usually took another wife

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

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

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

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

Kisagotami too had to endure such sorrow:

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

 

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

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

 

Then she rejoiced, saying

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nakulamata and Nakulapita were considered by the Buddha to be the most eminent among his lay-disciples for their close companionship and mutual regard (A i 26).There is a poignant verse of how Nakulamata comforted her husband when he was dangerously ill and was worrying about the future of his wife and children should he die. “Do not fret,” She said, “I am deft at spinning cotton and carding wool and so would be able, were you to die, to support the children and run the household. Nor would I go to another man. Even greater than when you were alive would be my desire to see the Bhagavan and the Order of monks. As long as the Bhagavan has female disciples, clad in white, I shall be one of them, fulfilling the precepts of ethical behavior, and gaining inward tranquility  of mind. I shall live confident, without doubt or questioning, following the Teacher’s instruction. So do not die, householder, while you are fretting, for so to die is anguish” (A iii 295ff).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.17. Another was the case of Dhammadinna though happily married to Visakha, a rich merchant of Rajagaha; she sought his consent to go forth into homelessness , because she felt her spiritual hunger was stronger than the earthly ties. Visakha at once sent her to the Bhikkuni Sangha in a golden palanquin ; although he had no desire to enter the Sangha and become a monk. In due course, Dhammadinna gained fame as an eminent preacher; and the Buddha considered her as the foremost among the nuns who could preach. Interestingly, years later, Visakha, as a lay devotee, sat at the feet of Theri Dhammadinna to receive a discourse from her   [Culavedalla Sutta (MN 44)].

Courtesans

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

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

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

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

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

Hamsa

5. The Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. The Society

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

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

6.3. As the Buddha’s message and the Sangha captured the imagination of the populace, more young and able bodied persons left their homes and lands. The trade and agriculture, in particular, and the economy in general did suffer. As the number of monks increased, more monasteries had to be built; and more number of monks had to be provided with food, clothing and health care. Over a period, the living conditions and the health care arrangements in the Sangha improved considerably. A stage was reached when the poor and the feeble found that it made more sense to live in the Sangha than try hard to eke out a meager living. Many poor people, afflicted with disease and unable to pay for treatment, joined the Order in order to avail free medical facilities.

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

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

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

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

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

buddhist monastery2

7. The question of gender equality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For instance, one rule prescribed that   Bhikkhunis could not observe the annual retreat (vassa) in a district where there were no Bhikkhus; this was meant to ensure safety of nuns living in isolated areas. Another rule laid down “Bhikkhus were always to have precedence over Bhikkhunis in matters of salutation, etc. irrespective of any other consideration”; “Bhikkhus can officially admonish Bhikkhunis, but not the other way.” It is likely the senior nuns found the protocol rather irksome. [The Bhikkhuni Patimokkha contains 311 rules for conduct of the nuns.]

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

7.4. The sexes were not segregated in the Sangha, and though naturally nuns had their quarters apart from those of the monks. The nuns wore yellow robes and shaved their heads like the monks; and , their discipline was very similar . The nuns carried out their official acts, such as ordination, in conjunction with an Order of monks. The monks and nuns participated in debates; and nuns were respected for their learning and spiritual attainments. The nuns freely moved around the town seeking alms and dispensing Dhamma. “With shaven head, wrapped in their robe the Sister was free to come and go, to dive alone into the depths of the wood, or climb aloft. “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. At the end

As Isaline Horner said:

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

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

*****

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

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

 

***

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

lotus-flower-meaning-3

Next

The story of much married Isidasi

References and sources

 Buddhist women by Dr. Bimala Churn Law

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

Buddhist Women at the Time of the Buddha by Hellmuth Hecker

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

Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India.

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

The Place of Women in Buddhism by Swarna de Silva

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

Women in Early Buddhist Literature by I.B. Horner

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

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

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

The Bhikkhuni Patimokkha containing 311 rules for conduct of the nuns

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

Pictures are from Internet

 

 
12 Comments

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

 

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The Legacy of Chitrasutra- Three – Badami

[This is the third article in the series.

This article and its companion posts may be treated as an extension of the series I posted on the Art of Painting in Ancient India .In the present set of articles , I propose to talk , briefly, about the influence of Chitrasutra – its outlook, its theories and its recommended practices – on the Indian mural paintings. In this process I propose to cover some , not all , of the main mural paints of India that succeeded Ajanta , such as : Pitalkhora (c.6th century), Badami (c, 6th century), Sittannavaasal (c.7th century), Pannamalai (7thcentury), Kailasanatha – Kanchipuram (8th century),Brihadeshwara – Tanjore (11thcentury), Lepakshi (16th century), Mattancheri (c.17th century) and Padmanabhapuram palace (18th century).I propose to round it up the discussion with a note on the sublime paintings of Shri S Rajam , who kept alive the tradition of Chitrasutra in the modern times.

The first article was meant to serve a brief introduction to the subject outlining the characteristics of the Chitrasutra tradition.

The present article attempts to give an account of the murals at Badami.]

Continued from the Legacy of Chitrasutra- Two-Pitalkhora

Badami

8.1. Badami, along with Aihole, Pattadakal and some other sites in and around the valley of the River Malaprabha in Bagalkot District of Karnataka, contain some of the earliest temples built in stone in the regions of Southern India.  Badami known as Vatapi in the earlier times, founded in 540 AD by Pulikeshin I was the capital of the early Badami Chalukyas from 540 to 757 AD.

The rock-cut cave temples of Badami located in a ravine at the foot of rugged sandstone rock formation were carved and sculpted mostly during the 6th and 8th centuries. However, the history of construction of monuments in stone go back much farther in time, as evidenced by the large number of megalithic monuments that are distributed at several sites in the Malaprabha Valley.

The ceiling designs in the Badami temples are highly intricate; and, are decorated  with  stylized padma-vitāna, lotus-ceiling involving radial symmetry, and concentric borders enclosing lotus motifs.

badami cealing designs

The four cave temples depict the art of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious inclinations, evidencing the secular outlook and religious tolerance of the ancient Kings of Badami. The rock cut temples at Pattadakal (UNESCO world heritage monument), Badami and Aihole are among the most celebrated monuments of ancient India.


8.2. It is said; the cave temples of Badami influenced the development of the rock-cut structures of Mahabalipuram. Rev H Heras SJ in his ‘Studies in Pallava History’ (SG Paul and Co, 1933) discusses in fair detail the similarities between the two groups of sculptures and traces certain features of  the statues and sculptures at Mahabalipuram to the caves of Badami. According to Rev Heras, soon after his accession to the throne the Pallava king Mahamalla Narasimhavarman I (ruled 630-668 AD), in retaliation, successfully attacked Vatapi (Badami) the capital of the Chalukyas. While at Vatapi, Mahamalla was greatly impressed by its extraordinarily well executed cave-temples; and particularly by cave No.3 the largest and most ornamented of all the Badami caves.

Narasimhavarman was struck with admiration at the beauty in the architectural concept and the perfection of its execution in those elaborate cave-temples. Rev Heras asserts it is beyond doubt that the Pallava king studied the Chalukya style of cave building took designs of some of the architectural elements and motifs of ornamentation. He also broadened his views on stone carving and fostered in his mind new ambitious projects to emulate the artistic achievements of his enemies. And he did succeed.

8.3 .Rev Heras points out striking similarities between the pillars the Varaha Mantapa of Mahabalipuram and the pillars in the veranda of Cave No.1 of Badami:” The same prismatic appearance; the same bulbous lotus-like development of the capital; the same interruption of the fluting by a band of filigree work; the same rosary-like garlands “. He also points out that Mahamalla adopted the Badami style of decoratively covering the side-walls with large sculptural panels displaying elaborate figures that resemble the Badami depictions. For instance Varaha, Vamana, Gaja-Lakshmi and Durga in Cave No. 2 and Cave No. 3 of Mahabalipuram closely follow in their depiction the figures of the Badami caves. Rev Heras remarks; the statues and sculptures of Mahabalipuram are plainer than those of Badami; there is neither profusion of ornamentation nor richness of details. But the figures of Mahabalipuram seem richer with their’ naturalness s and freshness of the poses ‘that is   not found in the more conventional panels of Badami.

vishnu badami d1613

8.4. It is remarkable; while the cave temples of Badami influenced the carved structures of Mahabalipuram, about a century later the Pallava temples influenced the style, structure and depiction of the Chalukya temples. Over a period the two rival schools enriched each other giving place to composite styles of sculpture and architecture.  

Paintings

9. Though its exquisite carvings and sculptures are fairly well preserved, the murals in the Badami caves have all but vanished. Only a few fragments of the paintings tucked away in the concave surfaces of the vaulted cornice of the 3rd and 4tn cave have survived. They are perhaps the earliest surviving specimens of the Hindu wall paintings.

578 CE Mangalesha Kannada inscription in Cave temple 3 at Badami

Badami inscription of Mangalesha

An inscription dated 578 AD records, in Kannada language; the caves were completed during the reign of King Mangalishwara (aka Mangalesha) son of Pulikeshin I. The wall paintings might therefore have been executed during that period. Some other paintings in cave 4 might belong to a later period (6-7th century) as they appear related to paintings in Cave 1 of Ajanta, depicting the visit of a Persian emissary to the court of Pulakshin in 625 AD.

10. It is likely that the caves were earlier painted and fully decorated. The fragment remains of the Badami murals still evoke the images of splendour and magi of the bygone eras. The remains of the Shiva and Parvathi murals, and of other characters from the Puranas ( in cave 3) strongly resemble the figures painted in Ajanta .

The mural in cave 4, dedicated to Adinatha Thirthankara, depicts Jain saints relinquishing the world for attainment of knowledge   , is truly uplifting.

11.  The secular paintings too closely resemble the Ajanta paintings, thus carrying forward the tradition of the Chitrasutra. Shri SM Sunkad an artist from Hubli (Karnataka) has attempted reproducing a mural each from Ajanta and Badami and illustrating how closely they resemble in style.

http://gallery.passion4art.com/members/sunkad/picture.html

This was the commencement of Chalukya style of architecture and a consolidation of South Indian style.

Next

— Sittanvaasal->

 References:

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

http://gallery.passion4art.com/members/sunkad/picture.html

http://www.indiamonuments.org/

http://indiabackpacker.blogspot.com/2008_11_01_archive.html

All pictures are from Internet

 

 

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Crazy Wisdom

1.1. Crazy wisdom is a way of teaching; and it is prevalent in almost all traditions.  It has been there for a very long-time. Crazy wisdom says, we all are, in truth, interconnected. The separations in the physical world such as human bodies, houses, communities are mere appearances.  Crazy Wisdom seeks to unearth and heal the false beliefs that people have about themselves and of the world around them. It is a means for expressing and maintaining the difference between the conventional point of view and the transcendental point of view.

1.2. The teaching might have gained that name- crazy – because its teachers were eccentrics who used their eccentricity to bring forth an alternate vision, the one that was different from the pedestrian and dogma-riddled view of existence. They were the masters of inversion, proficient breakers of taboos and lovers of surprises. They relished the delight in   contradictions and ambiguity. Sometimes they overdid and went overboard; and were mistaken for tricksters and clowns.

1.3. Crazy wisdom or holy-madness, as it came to be called, does indeed seem crazy to rational mind and commonsense. That is because it is designed, deliberately, to confront, to shock and to confuse an otherwise rational mind. The crazy teacher’s behaviour and his teachings turn the ordinary view of life upside down, and project life in a different perspective. His approach is what one might call “no-holds-bar”. The crazy teacher is willing to employ a large range of tactics and applications including , but not limited to ,provocation , insult, physical and mental abuse, humour, and credulity; and in extreme cases, it might stray in to use of alcohol, drugs and sex. All those unconventional and socially unacceptable ways of behaviour were pressed into service in order to drag the student out of the cocoon, strip him naked and bring him face to face with reality.

1.4. Predictably, such behavioural patterns create scare and conflict in the minds of even the committed followers of the path. It also brings into question, the issues of trust; and abuse of position and power. But a serous seeker will have to face those challenges and resolve the contradictions, all by himself.

1.5. The crazy wisdom or foolish wisdom is thus a two-edged sword, to be handled with extreme caution. The dividing line between wisdom and foolishness is very thin; and it is not possible to say with certainty when a fool is just a fool, or a fool graced by wisdom, or a wise person touched by foolishness.

1.6. In all such traditions, it is said, a genuine crazy –wisdom- teacher will act only in response to the needs of his student, regardless of his own discomfort and personal preferences. His main concern is the awakening of his student .But, it is   the responsibility of the student to understand and learn; and the teacher is not obliged to make it easy for the student.

1.7. It is explained, the teacher, to put it crudely, is like a dispensing machine. The student will have to come up with right questions to get the benefit of the teacher. It is the questions the student frames – internally or explicitly- and the demands he makes in seeking the answers that truly matter. He   can challenge himself to formulate a question that accurately captures the real need; and follow it with intensity. After a period of time, as he begins to endure the heat (tapa), generated by the genuine unanswered questions, the answers start appearing unexpectedly in the most unlikely places or in the most obvious places right under his nose.

That is the basis of the learning process under an Avadhuta or a Siddha or a Zen teacher or the saintly-madman (lama myonpa) of Tibetan Buddhism.

[ By the way, Aryadeva (14th century?), a Buddhist scholar, in his Chatuhsataka (four hundred verses) narrates a story to illustrate (a) madness is a relative concept; and (b) just because one is in a minority he cannot be dismissed as being wrong.

According to his story, a wandering astrologer warned a king that in a week’s time, very rain would pour down on his country; and whoever drinks that rainwater would go insane. The king took the astrologer’s warning quite seriously and ordered to get his well of drinking water well covered. His subjects, however, either lacking means or laughing at the astrologer, took no action to secure their sources of drinking water.  It did rain a week hence, as predicted; and the whole of the kingdom’s populace drank the rain water which found its way into their well and tanks. They all, promptly, went mad. The king who had protected his well was the only sane person in the whole of his kingdom.

But, the king’s subjects gathered together and laughed and jeered at the king calling him insane. After such repeated heckling, the king – the only sane person in the whole of the kingdom – could no longer endure the irritating jibes. In order to put an end to his agony, the king, at last, decides to drink the rain water. And, he promptly goes mad just as his subjects. Now, all are alike and all are happy in their madness.

Therefore, if one is the sole, single sane person, then he does not get to call the rest as insane. But, at the same time, he not wrong if he calls the rest as insane. Then, again, who will listen to him or pay heed to his words …!!

The story also illustrates how ‘madness’ is a relative concept, depending upon each one’s perspective. In the broader view, what defines madness is the social, cultural and other ways of understanding human behavior at different times and in different regions. Madness is thus a highly context-sensitive issue.]

****

2.1. Avadhuta, the one who has cast off all concerns and obligations, like the Shiva himself, is the typical teacher of wisdom. He does that in a highly unconventional manner. He has no use for social etiquette; he has risen above worldly concerns. He is not bound by sanyasi dharma either. He roams the earth freely like a child, like an intoxicated or like one possessed. He is the embodiment of detachment and spiritual wisdom..

Avadhuta Gita describes him as :

Having renounced all, he moves about naked./ He perceives the Absolute, the All, within himself.

ātmaiva kevalaṃ sarvaṃ bhedābhedo na vidyate । asti nāsti kathaṃ brūyāṃ vismayaḥ pratibhāti me ॥ 4॥

The Avadhuta never knows any mantra in Vedic meter or any Tantra.

 Ashtavakra Gita describes him in a similar manner:

17.15

The sage sees no difference/ Between happiness and misery,/ Man and woman, / Adversity and success./ Everything is seen to be the same.

sukhe duḥkhe nare nāryāṃ sampatsu ca vipatsu ca । viśeṣo naiva dhīrasya sarvatra samadarśinaḥ ॥ 17-15॥

17.16

In the sage there is neither/ Violence nor mercy,/ Arrogance nor humility,/ Anxiety nor wonder./ His worldly life is exhausted./ He has transcended his role as a person.

na hiṃsā naiva kāruṇyaṃ nauddhatyaṃ na ca dīnatā । nāścaryaṃ naiva ca kṣobhaḥ kṣīṇasaṃsaraṇe nare ॥ 17-16॥

17.18

The sage is not conflicted/ By states of stillness and thought./ His mind is empty./ His home is the Absolute.

samādhāna samādhāna hitāhita vikalpanāḥ । śūnyacitto na jānāti kaivalyamiva saṃsthitaḥ ॥ 17-18॥

18.9

Knowing for certain that all is Self,/ The sage has no trace of thoughts/ Such as “I am this” or “I am not that.”

ayaṃ so’hamayaṃ nāhaṃ iti kṣīṇā vikalpanā । sarvamātmeti niścitya tūṣṇīmbhūtasya yoginaḥ ॥ 18-9॥

18.10

The yogi who finds stillness/ is neither distracted nor focused./ He knows neither pleasure nor pain./ Ignorance dispelled,/ He is free of knowing.

na vikṣepo na caikāgryaṃ nātibodho na mūḍhatā । na sukhaṃ na ca vā duḥkhaṃ upaśāntasya yoginaḥ ॥ 18-10॥

**

2.2. Among the classical  texts that describe the nature of the Avadhuta,  the prominent ones  are the Avadhuta Gita , the culminating text of the Dattatreya tradition; the Ashtavakra Gita , a text of the highest order, addressed to advanced learners and  dealing  with the means of realizing the Self (atmanu-bhuti) and  the mystic experience  in the embodied state. The third and  a comparatively a recent text is the Atma-vidya-vilasa of  Sri Sadashiva Brahmendra , an Avadhuta who lived during the eighteenth century.

2.3. The other major sect is the Siddha tradition of South India. The Siddha is one who has attained flawless identity with reality.

Jainism too recognizes Siddha as an enlightened teacher. In the Tibetan Buddhism, Siddha is a yogi who has attained magical powers and the ability to work miracles.

2.4. In so far as the folk tradition is concerned, there are a number of regional groups and subgroups. The better known of them are the Bauls of Bengal; the word meaning mad or confused. They are a religious sect of eccentrics. The Baul synthesis is characterized by four elements: there is no written text and therefore all teachings are through song and dance; God is to be found in and through the body and therefore the emphasis on kaya (body) sadhana, the use of sexual or breathe energy; and, absolute obedience and reverence to Guru.

3.1. Avadhuta Gita the ‘Song of the Ever Free’ does not indulge in debates to prove the non-dual nor does it ask you to control your senses; it sees no distinction between sense perception and spiritual realization. It makes some amazing statements:

The mind indeed is of the form of space. The mind indeed is Omni faced. The mind is the past. The mind is present and future and all phenomena. But in absolute reality, there is no mind.

All your senses are like clouds; all they show is an endless mirage.  The Radiant One is neither bound nor free.I am the Bliss, I am the Truth, I am the Boundless Sky

There is neither knowledge nor ignorance nor knowledge combined with ignorance. He who has always such knowledge is himself Knowledge. It is never otherwise.

How shall I salute the formless being, indivisible, auspicious and immutable, who fills all this with its self and also fills the self with its self?
Know it firmly, freely, independently. And maintain it at all times, all conditions. That is all. Be Avadhuta Dattatreya yourself; because, you are yourself that.

3.2. In the Ashtavakra Gita, sage Ashtavakra maintains that all prayers, mantras, rituals, meditation, actions, devotion, breathing practices, etc are secondary. These distract the aspirant from self-knowledge. Knowledge/awareness is all that is required. Ignorance does not exist in itself; it is just the absence of knowledge or the lack of awareness. The light of knowledge or consciousness will dispel ignorance revealing the Self. The Self is merely forgotten, not lost.

This is not a belief system or a school of thought. This is simply ‘What Is’ and the recognition of ‘What is’.

Attachment and aversion/ Are attributes of the mind./ You are not the mind. You are Consciousness itself–Changeless, undivided, free./ Go in happiness

rāgadveṣau manodharmau na manaste kadācana । nirvikalpo’si bodhātmā nirvikāraḥ sukhaṃ cara ॥ 15-5॥

*
Ashtavakra does not pay much heed to book learning or to the importance given to mind and its control. You are already free, what will you gain by deliberating or pondering. Remain unattached at all times from all things (including the mind). He advocates direct approach. Teachings of Sri Ramana are remarkably similar to that of sage Ashtavakra.
 *

You can recite and discuss scripture / All you want,/ But until you drop everything / You will never know Truth.

ācakṣva śṛṇu vā tāta nānā śāstrā aṇyanekaśaḥ । tathāpi na tava svāsthyaṃ sarva vismaraṇād ṛte ॥ 16-1॥

*

Ashtavakra then attacks the futility of effort and knowing.

Being pure consciousness, / Do not disturb your mind with thoughts of for and against./ Be at peace and remain happily’ In yourself, the essence of joy.   15.19

mā saṅkalpavikalpābhyāṃ cittaṃ kṣobhaya cinmaya । upaśāmya sukhaṃ tiṣṭha svātmanyānandavigrahe ॥ 15-19॥

Give up meditation completely/ But don’t let the mind hold on to anything./ You are free by nature,/  So what will you achieve by forcing the mind? 15.20

tyajaiva dhyānaṃ sarvatra mā kiṃcid hṛdi dhāraya । ātmā tvaṃ mukta evāsi kiṃ vimṛśya kariṣyasi ॥ 15-20॥

I Am Awareness./ Where are principles and scriptures?/ Where is the disciple or teacher?’ Where is the reason for life?/ I am boundless, Absolute

kva māyā kva ca saṃsāraḥ kva prītirviratiḥ kva vā । kva jīvaḥ kva ca tadbrahma sarvadā vimalasya me ॥ 20-11॥

kva pravṛttirnirvṛttirvā kva muktiḥ kva ca bandhanam । kūṭasthanirvibhāgasya svasthasya mama sarvadā ॥ 20-12॥

**

 

3.3. Atma_vidya_vilasa is written in simple, lucid Sanskrit. Its subject is renunciation. It also describes the ways of the Avadhuta, as one who is beyond the pale of social norms , beyond Dharma , beyond good and evil; as  one who has discarded scriptures, shastras , rituals or even the disciplines prescribed for sannyasins;one who has gone beyond the bodily awareness , one who realized the Self and one immersed in the bliss of self-realization. He is absolutely free and liberated in every sense – one who “passed away from” or “shaken off” all worldly attachments and cares, and realized his identity with God. The text describes the characteristics of an Avadhuta, his state of mind, his attitude and behavior. The text undoubtedly is a product of Sadashiva Brahmendra’s own experience. It is a highly revered book among the Yogis and Sadhakas.

One of such Sadhakas who really emulated Sadashiva Brahmendra and evolved into an Avadhuta was the 34th  Acharya , the Jagad-guru  of Sri Sringeri Mutt, Sri Chandrasekhar Bharathi Swamiji. He studied Atma_vidya_vilasa intensely, imbibed its principles and truly lived according to that in word and deed. Unmindful of the external world, he roamed wildly in the hills of Sringeri like a child, an intoxicated, and an insane; and as one possessed, singing aloud the verses from Atma_vidya_vilasa:

Discard the bondages of karma. Wander in the hills immersed in the bliss of the Self -unmindful of the world like a deaf and a blind (AVV-15)

avadhūtakarmajālo jaḍabadhirāndhopamaḥ ko’pi । ātmārāmo yatir āḍaṭavīkoṇeśvaṭannāste ॥ 15॥

Rooted in the Brahman absorbed in the bliss within, he for a while meditates, for a while sings and dances in ecstasy. (AVV-21)

tiṣṭhanparatra dhāmni svīyasukhāsvādaparavaśaḥ kaścit । kvāpi dhyāyati kuhacidgāyati kutrāpi nṛtyati svaram ॥ 21॥

He sees nothing, hears nothing, and says nothing. He is immersed in Brahman and in that intoxication is motionless.(AVV-44)

paśyati kimapi na rūpaṃ na vadati na śṛṇoti kiñcidapi vacanam । tiṣṭhati nirupamabhūmani niṣṭhāmavalambya kāṣṭhavadyogī ॥ 44॥

4. 1.The Lankavatara Sutra of the Mahayana Buddhism is another text of the “crazy wisdom” tradition.  It was the text that Bodhidharma followed all his life and bequeathed it to his disciple and successor Hui K’o . Its basic thrust is on “inner enlightenment that does away with all duality.”  One of the recurrent themes in the Lankavatara Sutra is, not to rely on words to express reality. It holds the view that objects do not owe their existence to words that indicate them. The words themselves are artificial creations. Ideas, it says, can as well be expressed by looking steadily, by gestures, by a frown, by the movement of the eyes, by laughing, by yawning, or by the clearing of the throat, or by recollection, or by trembling.

Bodhidharma instructed his disciples to: “Leave behind the false, return to the true; make no discrimination between self and others. In contemplation, one’s mind should be stable, alert and clear like the wall; illuminating with compassion. “

4.2. In Zen too, the “holy madness” is widely used by the roshi (teacher). The adepts of Zen make use of shock techniques such as sudden shouting, abuses, physical violence, hand­clapping, paradoxical verbal responses, koans and riddles in order to induce satori or enlightenment.

4.3. Tibetan Buddhism also has its share of eccentric Lamas who use unconventional methods to initiate their disciples into enlightenment. Crazy wisdom in Tibetan is yeshe cholwa, where craziness and wisdom walk hand in hand. It is craziness gone wise rather than wisdom gone crazy. Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) and Karma Pakshi the second Karmapa are the celebrated crazy-wisdom – teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. They both were regarded as being able to overpower the phenomenal world. They demonstrated that what we call crazy is only crazy from the viewpoint of ego, custom and habit. Crazy wisdom is natural and effortless; not driven by the hope and fear.

There is also another set of “mad lamas (smyon‑pa) who reject  monastic tradition, ecclesi­astical hierarchy, societal conventions, and book learning.

4.4. Crazy wisdom is also practiced in Sufism, where it is known as “the path of blame.” Some Sufi mystics –majzubs – are known for their strange behaviour as well as for their heretical doctrine of their identification with the divine. The Sufi  practitioners of “crazy wisdom” pursue freedom and humility without concern for worldly consequences.

5.1. The crazy teachers were found not just in the East. Socrates was an archetypal wise fool who claimed that his wisdom was derived from his awareness of his ignorance.  His distinctive teaching method consisted in exposing the foolishness of the wise.

5.2. Even in the Christian tradition, the absurd notion that the fool may be wise and that the wise may be foolish—has long been in existence. It is often expressed as the “fool in Christ” or the “fool for Christ’s sake”. Here, foolish wisdom, the “holy folly”, is akin to “holy simplicity” or “learned ignorance”, which is an alternate way to rekindle the love of wisdom in the hearts of men and women. It is singular and sudden; and, is in contrast with the laborious common wisdom of the learned.

5.3. Europe in the sixth century seemed to be a great period for Crazy Adepts.  For instance, there was St. Simeon who liked to pretend insanity for effect.  Once he found a dead dog on a dung heap.  He tied the animal to his belt and dragged the corpse through town.  People of the town were outraged.  But, he was trying to demonstrate the uselessness of excess emotional “dead weight” that people drag through their lives.

The very next day, St. Simeon entered a church and just as the liturgy began, he threw nuts at the congregation.  St Simeon revealed on his deathbed that his life’s mission was to denounce hypocrisy and hubris.

5.4. Another example of the sixth-century spiritual silliness was Mark the Mad, a desert monk who was thought insane when he came into town to atone for his sins.  Only Abba Daniel saw the method in the monk’s madness, and declared the monk the only reasonable man in the city.

5.5. Saint Francis of Assisi was another example of foolish wisdom. He regarded himself as a fool deserving nothing but contempt and dishonour. He is cel­ebrated for his tender love for God and for God’s creatures, big and small.

6.1. The paradoxical idea that the fool may be wise is perhaps as old as humanity itself. It is a common experience that the untutored and innocent, including children, somehow seem to grasp profound truths, while the lettered and the learned just walk past it. Jesus alluded to it  when he thanked  and praised  God  for having hidden from the learned and the clever what he revealed to the merest children (Mt 11:25).

6.2. Without love, foolishness is just foolishness; and wisdom a mere collection of inflated bits of information. Ultimately, the fool­ish wisdom is a gift, a revelation received in humility of mind and simplicity of heart; an un-bounded, luminous, loving energy. It attains the power to convince and transform, more effectively than the sword and rhetoric.

That is possible only when it is graced by tender love for the fellow beings and for the fellow seekers.

 

 

Sources and References:

 http://www.spiritual-endeavors.org/basic/crazy.htm

Crazy Spirituality

http://eapi.admu.edu.ph/eapr002/wisdom.htm

Wisdom of the Holy Fools

http://www.onelittleangel.com/wisdom/quotes/book.asp?mc=319

Avadhuta

http://www.shambhala.org/teachings/view.php?id=131

Crazy Wisdom

Ashtavakra

Sri Sadashiva Brahmendra

 Zen Stories by Sylvan Incao

 

 

 
7 Comments

Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Bodhidharma, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy, Vedanta, Zen

 

Tags: , , , ,

What is no-mind?

Tsung-Kao

1.1. When Bodhidharma (470 -543 AD) arrived in China, say in 520 or 526 AD, he setout to help people attain awakening through self-enquiry. The process of that self discovery later transformed into Zen which typically explained its attitude as “when I pass over the bridge, the bridge, but not the water flows” or “It is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves.” These ideas were crystallized by Hui-Neng (638-713 AD) the sixth patriarch of the Cha’n school after Bodhidharma. Following him, Tsung-Kao (1089-1163) brought clarity to the issue and contributed to the development of Zen practice.

1.2. Tsung-Kao in his discourse addressed to his disciple Yung-Mao-Shih, explained how to go about the task of attaining enlightenment. He said, what matters is not hard work but the ability to let go and allow things to happen. Do not hurry; do not be lax lest you become lazy; but do as a musician does as he tunes the strings of a harp – neither too tight nor too loose.

1.3. He remarked that conceptualization or aimless wandering of mind in prejudices and favors is unsuitable for practice of Zen. The grasping mind, he said, is the one that thinks, plans, calculates and decides. How can that mind grasp the no-mind?

2.1. He explained: when I speak of no-mind, I do not mean a lump of clay or a dead wood or a block of stone. It is not lifeless; nor is it devoid of consciousness.  It does not also mean that mind will be paralyzed; no, it cannot be so because the mind by its nature is active and responsive. When I speak of no-mind, I refer to that which is natural and spontaneous at all times and in all circumstances.

2.2. This is analogues to what the Indian texts call unmaana, a clear mindBhagavadGita too asks na kimchid api chintaye stop aimless thinking, drifting; be awake. Awareness perhaps is the word. Tsung-Kao was instructing development of awareness.

2.3. He said, thoughts are like murals on a wall. There can be no painting without the wall; but, they cover and hide the wall. The wall in this context is awareness (prajna), free from thoughts; it is the no-mind. The wall here is analogues to the Vedanta’s imagery of the cloudless -clear –sky .This is also what Bodhidharma taught. He said the thoughts are devoid of substance; they are only shadow-like and have no independent existence. This was also the consistent theme of Sri Ramana Maharishi’s teachings.

The mind indeed is of the form of space. The mind indeed is Omni faced. The mind is the past. The mind is present and future and all phenomena. 
But in absolute reality, 
there is no mind.
 There is neither knowledge nor ignorance nor knowledge combined with ignorance. He who has always such knowledge is himself Knowledge.
 It is never otherwise.
 
– Avadhuta Gita

 

2.4. Tsung-Kao did not advocate any special effort. He said one must be ordinary, natural and unaffected. He asked his disciples to be spontaneous and natural.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing;  

Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

 In walking just walk;
In sitting just sit;
Above all, don’t wobble.

He also said do not strain or work too hard to be natural, then that begs the question.

 

Without making an effort

But remaining loose and natural

One can break the yoke

Thus gaining liberation.

Zen-Purple-Flower-with-Black-Stone

 

3.1. According to Tsung-Kao, there are two aspects to Zen .One, is to develop the right view; and the other is to adopt the right practices. The right view (chien or samkhya) is compared to climbing up to the top of a hill and looking from there at the village below; it is comprehensive and uninvolved. The right practice (hsing or yoga) is compared to getting down to the bottom of the sea and walking along its floor. It is getting to the very root of the reality and working one’s way up from that level. Of the two aspects of Zen, the right “view” is considered more important and direct. Tsung-Kao emphasized that koan is the expedient method which combines the virtues of both the aspects.

3.2. Tsung-Kao was an influential figure in the development of Cha’n School. His importance lies mainly in his successful creation of a teaching method called Koan (Kung-an in Chinese, also called “public cases”) in Cha’ n meditation. The Koan gained an important position in later Zen. Koan originated in the ninth century and evolved into a dialogue or event that takes place between a Zen teacher and his student. It is in the nature of a problem, a Zen problem. It is not meant to be “understood “ or “solved”. A koan has no right or wrong answer.  In fact, the problem here has neither a solution nor an answer.  It is said, it cannot be solved; but it has to be dissolved. In most cases it is contextual; and  is in the way the student reacts and resolves the dilemma.  It is said , he who knows will know how to answer. The answers could come in a wide variety of manners, ranging from simple verbal responses to acrobatics.

It is the teacher who decides the level of understanding the student has attained, depending on the context and the way the student finds the way out of the dilemma.

3.3. [The use of absurdity for conveying a serious idea is not an exclusive preserve of Zen, many others have done it. But, using it for enlightenment is a Zen specialty. The koan is, however, just one of the many tools employed in Zen.

Almost every activity performed during the course of the day in the Japan of old was elevated to ‘the path of Zen’, whether it be drinking tea, ink-painting, pottery or archery and swordsmanship. Elaborate rules governed these, the trick was to bypass them and unite with the action. For instance, the Zen archer unlearns his training even as he stands poised with the bow drawn taut in his hands, aiming at the target. Just before he lets the arrow fly, he becomes one with the target. The subsequent release of the arrow has been equated with the resolution of a koan, both occurring without deliberation.]

 

4.1. The  Koans used in Zen are of two kinds; one  , the natural problems chosen from details of daily life and the other, mere verbal formations. It appears there are nearly two thousand koans in circulation.

The following, for instance, are some of the well-known koans.

*.What is the sound of one hand clapping?

*. Has a dog the Buddha- nature?

*.Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?

*.What was your real face before you were born?

*.All things return to the One.

big-dark-pink-lotus-flower-photo1

4.2. Some Koans take the form of questions, like the one that asks, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?” There is no “right” answer to this question. It can be argued for years from either perspective, yes or no. there could be at least one other answer. It matters not at all whether the tree makes a sound or not. What is important is that it has fallen.

Has a dog the Buddha- nature?

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.

The “trick” appears to be, to “read between the lines” but also “within the words”. There is always more than that meets the eye.

Truly, words have no power.
Even though the mountain becomes the sea,
Words cannot open another’s mind.

To tread the sharp edge of a sword
To run on smooth-frozen ice,
One needs no footsteps to follow.
Walk over the cliffs with hands free.

[Please click here for a collection of about one hundred  koan parables, written late in the thirteenth century by the Japanese Zen teacher Muju (the “non-dweller). Please also see the gateless gate.]

4.3. The teacher introduces certain keywords such as: What; Who: No; and One. The student has to contemplate on those keywords. Koan is described as a complete mind; for when the mind is complete no koan presents a problem. Koan is compared to the use of a fish-hook; when the fish is full it does not bite the hook. It is also compared to a stone used to knock at the door; when the door is opened the stone is of no use. The purpose of koan is to open the door of awakening.

5.1. A typical koan is meant to generate the sensation of doubt-mass. The student is thrown into a vortex of doubt. But there is no intellectual solution to the doubt; it is a mere doubt without content .For instance, no one can really know the answer to a problem, such as:”Where did I come from before my birth; and where am I going after my death?”  The purpose of that koan is to create an intense sensation, a strong feeling and a load on one’s mind. One should stick to this doubt-mass, as they say, on one’s forehead, day and night; keep it there until one can neither drive it away nor put it down, even if one wants to.

spiral

 

5.2. Po-shan, a follower of Tsung-Kao, describes the state of a student thrown in the vortex of doubt: the whole world is turned to muddy vortex; without and within the body and mind; nothing seems to exist but this burden of doubt sensation; when he looks up, he does not see the sky and when he looks down he does not see the earth; walking or sitting, he is not aware of doing so. Mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers and the thought is pushed to the dead end.

As the Zen master said: When working at Zen one should not just wait. That is like a traveler who sits idly by the roadside and expects his home to reach him. No, he will have to reach home himself, walking all the way.

6. How does this happen?

6.1. It is explained, there are two aspects to a word or a thought; one is its head (hua tou) and the other its tail (hua wei). The head of a word or thought is the state of mind before a thought arises or a word is uttered. It represents the reality, devoid of forms. (It corresponds to para vak, of the Indian tradition) And, the tail of the word or thought is the state of mind after the thought has arisen and the word has been articulated. It is the world of common experience; seemingly real but lacking in substance. (This corresponds to vaikhari vak)

6.2. The Zen teacher asks the student to look inward and watch the state of mind before the thought arises. That is meant to “dissolve the mind’ (mano nasha) , break the thought-barrier to get out of the world of illusions. The mind then becomes void; and, the doubt-mass drops away leading to awakening. This surely is not easy; it takes years and years of practice. The student then returns to the normal world of transactions, but without clinging to it. For him, the mountains are again mountains and the rivers are again the rivers.

Whoever understands the first truth
should understand the ultimate truth.
The last and first,
Are they not the same?

6.2. To explain it from an Indian perspective, the Zen student, just as the follower of Sri Ramana, watches out objectively and identifies the birth of a thought. As he does that, the thought vanishes at once (like a thief sensing trouble, as Sri Ramana explained). The practitioner holds on to that interval of infinitesimal duration between death of a thought and the birth of another. He seizes that silence, that minute fraction in space and time and lets the mind stay open.  It is then, the self-mind or no-mind flashes forth like a clear, limpid pond as the mists hiding it melt away. If one could do that, one is said to be awake, at last. The Zen practitioner comes back, again and again, to that silence.

Lightning flashes,
Sparks shower.
In one blink of your eyes
You have missed seeing

7.1. The teacher cautions the student:   do not be deceived, the mist might envelop you again. Keep practising. Keep coming back to that no-mind. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa also said, it was like cleaning and polishing a brass vessel day after day, lest it get dull and tainted.

7.2. The Zen as well as the Indian teachers stress repeatedly, that the process is not an intellectual exercise. It is to discover reality as it really is.  It is ones own experience of freedom from clinging, even while one is alive.  That is also the jivanmukthi of Vedanta. The mind merges with all conditions of life.

It is better to realize mind than body.
When the mind is realized one need not worry about body.
When mind and body become one
The man is free. Then he desires no praising.

In spring, hundreds of flowers; in autumn, a harvest moon;
In the summer, a refreshing breeze;
 in winter snow will accompany your.
If useless things do not hang in your mind,
Any season is a good season for you.

Under blue sky, in bright sunlight,
One need not search around.
Asking what Buddha is
Is like hiding loot in one’s pocket and declaring oneself innocent

Sources and References

Dhyana and Zen by Prof.SKR Rao

http://1thing2dob4die.blogspot.com/2007/11/zen.html

ZEN

http://thezenfrog.wordpress.com/2008/07/10/chan-master-ta-hui-tsung-kao-and-kung-an-zen/

The Zen Frog

http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/zenindex.html

http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln360/Yu-Dahui.pdf

http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/HistoricalZen/TaHui.html

 
10 Comments

Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Bodhidharma, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy, Zen

 

Tags: , , , ,

Bodhidharma: Stories and Legends

Bodhidharma is usually featured with wild hair, darker skin, an earring, and strikingly wide eyes (lidless, extremely round, sometimes blue).

There are a number of stories and legends surrounding Bodhidharma. Some of that might be real; and a lot others just made up. In any case, they are very interesting. They bring forth the down-to-earth wisdom and the curt wit of Bodhidharma. I could not mention these in my post Origins of Zen School  as they would not fit in there.

It is said; the legends amplify facts and render them in a way they become more significant and larger in scope. That holds good for some of the stories associated with Bodhidharma. They might have sprung using him as the ideal prop to symbolize the essence of Zen. All these stories are placed in the context of the master-disciple relationship. In these stories, Bodhidharma stands for an ideal and an unreachable model; and a stern but loving teacher who guides, unerringly, to awakening.

With these, Bodhidharma introduced to China an alternative to text-based scholastic learning. He was the first to proclaim: “Directly point to the human mind; see one’s nature and become a Buddha; do not establish words and letters.”

As all legends, the stories of Bodhidharma too try saying something new and unexpected. They can be enjoyed as stories and one can also read meaning into them to extract a teaching.

1. According to the Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall, around the year 527 (?) the eighth year of Putong, Bodhidharma called on the Emperor Wu Ti (502-550 A.D.) of Liang dynasty, a fervent patron of Buddhism. The Emperor was then at Jinling (today’s Nanjiang).

Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma: “After I ascended the throne, I have built countless temples residences for monks and copied innumerable scriptures. How much merit have I accrued?”

Bodhidharma answered: “There is no merit.”

Startled, the Emperor then asked Bodhidharma: “What is the first principle of the holy teachings?”

Bodhidharma replied: “Vast emptiness, nothing holy.”

Emperor, frustrated, then asked Bodhidharma: “Who is this that stands before me?”

Bodhidharma answered:”I don’t know.”

The Emperor did not understand what Bodhidharma was saying. He was disappointed and upset. The meeting was obviously unsuccessful. Thereafter, Bodhidharma moved north, crossing the Yangtze River, floating on a reed.

Years later Emperor Wu realized he was hasty in dismissing Bodhidharma; and with regret wrote an inscription, on hearing the death of the sage:

 Alas..! I saw him without seeing him;
I met him without meeting him;
I encountered him without encountering him;
Now as before I regret this deeply..
!

[This exchange between Bodhidharma and the Emperor later became the basis of a koan in Zen. It also pointed out, we all fall into the trap of expecting our accomplishments to be acknowledged and honoured. Tomes have been written on Bodhidharma’s replies: “Vast emptiness, nothing holy” and “I don’t know”]

*****

2. It is said, as Bodhidharma was walking along a street, a parrot called out to him. The parrot could talk. It said:

Mind Come from the West,
Mind Come from the West,
Please teach me the way
To escape from this cage.

Bodhidharma thought, ‘I came here to save people and it’s not working out; at least I can save this parrot.’ And so he taught the parrot:

To escape from the cage,
Stick both legs straight out.
Close both eyes tight.
That’s the way to escape your cage.

The parrot heard and understood. It pretended to be dead. It lay on the bottom of its cage with its legs stuck out still and its eyes closed tight, not moving, not even breathing. The owner found the parrot this way and took it out to have a look. He held the bird in his hand, peering at it from the left and right until he was convinced it was indeed dead. The only thing about it was, it was still warm. But it wasn’t breathing. And so the owner opened his hand and in that instant the parrot was fully revived. It flew away and escaped its cage.

[“Bodhidharma coming from the West” became a much discussed Zen phrase; and came to be regarded ‘`the essence of Zen”.

In another interpretation, the parrot was consciousness, cage the body and the teaching was to be free from bonds of the of physical limitations and go beyond the demands of the body.]

 *****

3. After travelling and teaching around the country Bodhidharma settled at Shaolin-ssu (Shorinji), a monastery on Hao-shan Mountain near Loyang, in what is now Honan province. The legend says that Bodhidharma remained seated in meditation before the wall of the Shaolin Monastery for nine years. While Bodhidharma was meditating, according to the legend, he became sleepy, and his eyelids grew heavy. In frustration, he tore off his eyelids and threw them on the floor, where they became the first tea plants—used from that time as a mild stimulant.

Later, tea-drinking became a habit among the Zen practitioners, to keep awake. It also grew into aesthetic tea-ceremony.

  
That wall-gazing was called “Pi-kuan”. The Sholin temple where Bodhidharma meditated for long years and achieved enlightenment has preserved a large rock on which, it is said, one can see the shadow of the sage – apparently it burned into the rock.

*****

4. One of Bodhidharma’s disciples among the Shaolin monks was one Shen –kuang. One day, Bodhidharma asked Shen-kuang why he continued to turn to Bodhidharma for teachings; reprimanding him that true enlightenment is not sought through the teachings of another, but from within.

Shen –kuang said, “My mind is in pain and is restless. Please Patriarch, quiet my mind.”

“Find your mind.” said Bodhidharma. “Give it to me, and then I will quiet it and you will feel no pain.”

Shen Kuang searched, but couldn’t find his mind. After some hesitation, he said to Bodhidharma, “Master, I can’t find my mind.”

“See, how well I have quieted your mind.” said the Patriarch. Hearing this instruction Shen Kuang understood the meaning of transmitting the Dharma.

With that transmission of the Dharma, Shen Kuang received a new name. It was Hui K’o, “Able Wisdom,” meaning that his wisdom was abundant. Hui K’o later succeeded Bodhidharma as the second patriarch of the Cha’n school; and as the 29th master of Buddhism, in direct line from the Buddha himself.

Ten thousand Dharmas return to one; to what does the ‘one’ return?
Shen Kuang’s “Spiritual Light” wasn’t clear; he followed after ‘Dharma’,
Before him at Bear’s Ear Mountain he knelt nine years,
Only to seek some Dharma and avoid King Yama.

[The issue that Hui K’o brought up was the restlessness of his mind. But, there has to be a mind in the first place. There is no mind; it is only a bunch of thoughts floating like clouds in the sky. The mind has no existence of its own.  In other words, it is a false issue.]

*****

5.  There are a number of stories illustrating Bodhidharma’s teaching methods. He often used common  objects in   instructing students. He would often point at something and ask: “How do you call this?” He would do this using every available object, often switching the names in formulating a question.

For instance the Master would hold up a staff and ask: “Where do you think I got this? If you call this a staff, you are one whose eyes do not see. If you say it is not a staff, you must be one with no eyes.”

When a monk came to attend on him, the master pointed at the fire and said: “This is fire. But you cannot call it ‘fire,’ for I   just did.” The monk could not answer.

The Master would hold up his hand and ask “what is this?”

[The naming game, as it is called, is authentically Chan; and attributed to Bodhidharma. There are no correct or wrong answers here. It is in the way one reacts; and it is also contextual.

The idea appears to be that he who knows will know how to answer the question without breaking the rule (e.g., one must not speak and yet must not keep silent). Further, if things are empty of that which makes a real thing real, then names do not refer. If they do not refer, then you violate the Buddhist teaching of emptiness. Therefore, one’s ability to find a way out of the dilemma is taken to be a sign of one’s understanding of the Chan teaching. The answers could come in a wide variety, ranging from simple verbal responses to acrobatics.

A person may relate to what he/she believes in one of two ways: the notional way and the direct way. If a person understands it in a notional way, he will see only the verbal symbols of the proposition. On the other hand, a person who understands a proposition in the direct sense would be capable of answering semantic questions relating to the proposition as well as other types of questions.

So what is the appropriate way to handle the relation between a name and the named? It seems that an all-or-nothing attitude is not the right approach. Instead, whether one has acted appropriately in using (not using) some bits of language are the issues to be decided by the teacher, depending on the context and the way the student reacts.

Answering that question, no doubt, is a daunting task. ]

*****

6.Bodhidharma presented an imprint of a beautiful lotus flower in brown sugar to a disciple. The disciple admired the imprint but would not eat it. The master then took the imprint, broke it into pieces, gave it back to the disciple and asked him to eat it. The disciple ate the pieces and enjoyed it.

The master explained” your studies are like this imprint of lotus flower. You can hold it and admire it but you cannot enjoy it until you break it and put it in your mouth. Scholarship is a form and it should be brought into your experience by meditation. The purpose of all learning is to help meditation.

[That was to illustrate that book-learning and meditation, each has its value. Book learning is no substitute for personal experience.]

If you know that everything comes from the mind, don’t become attached. Once attached, you’re unaware. But once you see your own nature, the entire Canon becomes so much prose. It’s thousands of sutras and shastras only amount to a clear mind. Understanding comes in midsentence. What good are doctrines? The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words. They’re not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are illusions. . . . Don’t cling to appearances, and you’ll break through all barriers.

*****

7. There were as many as six attempts of poisoning Bodhidharma. It is said; some scholars, jealous of Bodhidharma’s celebrity status    offered him a vegetarian meal mixed with poison. Bodhidharma ate it, knowing full well that it was poisoned. He then called for a tray into which he vomited the poisonous food, which turned into a pile of writhing snakes, to the horror of those scholars.

That was followed by another unsuccessful attempt; and this time with a deadlier poison. Again, Bodhidharma ate it. After he finished his meal, Bodhidharma sat atop a huge boulder and spat out the poison. The boulder at once crumbled into a heap of dust.

In four more attempts, jealous people tried without success to poison the Patriarch.

The cause of his death is uncertain. He may have succumbed to the final attempt. Or, he might have walked back home with a shoe in hand, as the legend says.

When mortals are alive, they worry about death. When they’re full, they worry about hunger. Theirs is the Great Uncertainty. But sages don’t consider the past. And they don’t worry about the future. Nor do they cling to the present. And from moment to moment they follow the Way.

*****

8. The martial arts of the Shaolin temple, the weapon-less fighting that later evolved into kung Fu (gong fu) traces its origin and inspiration to Bodhidharma.

When Bodhidharma arrived, the Shaolin temple at Sung Shan (on Hao-shan Mountain near Loyang, in what is now Honan province) was primarily a monastery for translator-monks who poured over Sanskrit and Pali texts to translate them into Chinese. By overdoing their task, the monks had grown physically weak; and, some had even hunched. They were too weak to defend themselves against the robbers who frequently attacked the monastery, for grains. They had also grown feeble in mind; and therefore were not progressing in meditation.

Bodhidharma impressed on the monks the need to be strong both in body and mind. He prescribed them a set of physical exercises, based on Indian yogic practices, which strengthened the monks’ bodies and calmed their minds allowing them to meditate with more resolve.

Bodhidharma’s primary concern was to make the monks physically strong enough to withstand both their isolated lifestyle and the deceptively demanding training that meditation requires. Nonetheless, the techniques he taught also served as an efficient fighting skill. It is said, Bodhidharma initially trained the monks in the ancient Indian style of armless combat, which used mainly punching and fist techniques. It was called Vajramusti (diamond-fist) which he, as a prince, learnt in India. With that, the Shaolin style of fist fighting ch’uan-fa (literally “way of the fist”) was founded.

His system of movements combined artistic and acrobatic styles; and used circular principles to redirect an opponent’s attack. Though those movements were slow and cautious, they were a form of strength. The theory behind it was to always be on guard by using the attacker’s energy and redirecting it back to him in a circle.  These circular techniques, sometimes called “arcs”, allowed a student to yield to an opponent’s thrust, ultimately forcing the opponent to become unbalanced and vulnerable to multiple counters. This style was practiced as exercise and as a form of meditation.

Bodhidharma’s style was eventually formalized into the martial arts style known as the Lohan (Priest-Scholar). It contained eighteen positions and hand movements. It was the basis of Chinese Temple Boxing and the Shaolin Arts, a powerful and well known system of hand-fighting.

The Bodhidharma style did not, perhaps, include (open) empty-hand fights. According to legend, the eighteen positions, which he introduced, were improvised and enhanced to 170, decades after his death, by the two Shaolin monks: Ch’ueh Yuan and Li-shao. This was the basis for kung fu, which, now, is probably the best known of all Asian unarmed martial arts.

The ground rules of martial arts were laid down by Bodhidharma. He prescribed that martial arts should never be used to hurt or injure needlessly. In fact, it is still one of the oldest Shaolin axioms that ‘one who engages in combat has already lost the battle.’ His Five Commandments condemned: killing, robbery, obscenity, telling lies and drinking wine. Meat eating was considered “not necessary”; but there was no commandment against that. Hundreds of years later, the emperor gave the monks meat to eat and wine to drink. This was known as “The Change of the Sixth Ancestor”. Silence was highly prized and to be strived for.

Thus, the system crafted by Bodhidharma by integrating yoga for self-discipline and martial arts for self-defence gave rise to a system that was at once spiritual and combative ; the kung-fu . Monks of the Shaolin Temple specialized in kung fu have continued teaching Bodhidharma’s techniques since 539 CE.

The Shaolin temple’s claim to fame came from its association with the philosophy of Cha’n. When Cha’n travelled to Japan it came to be known as Zen. Bodhidharma’s concept that spiritual, intellectual and physical excellences are an indivisible whole necessary for enlightenment fired the imagination of the Samurai warriors. And, they made Zen their way of life.

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9.Bodhidharma’s life has become the stuff of fables and legends.  His stories and legends have been immortalized over the centuries in a variety of ways; on scrolls, wood block prints. Metals, papier-mâché, plastic etc. His image is easily recognized – a thick rounded body, swaddled in robes, heavy jowls, with thick bushy eyebrows and beard that frame large round eyes that captivate. When asked how long it took to paint a portrait of Daruma, the great Zen artist Hakuin replied, “Ten minutes and eighty years.”

Bodhidharma, he has become a popular icon of Japanese culture, folk lore and politics under the form of Daruma (Dharma – short name for Bodhidharma). There is even a Daruma Temple at Kataoka, near Horyuuji.

In Japan today, one of the most popular talismans of good luck is the armless, legless, and eyeless Daruma doll, or tumbler doll. Sold at temple festivals and fairs, such dolls are typically painted red, and depict Bodhidharma seated in mediation. When knocked on its side, the doll pops back to the upright position (hence “tumbler” doll, or “okiagari koboshi), “falling seven times and rising eight times.” (nana korobi ya oki), symbolizing perseverance through life.

At New Year time, many Japanese individuals and corporations buy a Daruma doll, make a resolution, and then paint in one of the eyes. If, during the year, they are able to achieve their goal, they paint in the second eye. Many politicians, at the beginning of an election period, will buy a Daruma doll, paint in one eye, and then, if they win the election, paint in the other eye. At year end, it is customary to take the Daruma doll to a temple, where it is burned in a big bonfire.

These Daruma dolls are also believed to protect children against illnesses such as smallpox and to facilitate childbirth, bring good harvests, ensure healthy rearing of silkworms, and generally bring prosperity to their owners.

The story of Bodhidharma is truly remarkable. It is amazing how the legend and the glory of the austere patriarch hailing from Kanchipuram, deep South in India, travelled to the courts of the Emperors and the monasteries in China, to the Zen schools and temples in Japan and world over. He brought awakening and enlightenment to millions of followers; gave a new dimension and a meaning to life, learning and to martial arts. He even became a tumbling doll, a fertility saint, a talisman, a protector of children and a bringer of good fortune. Bodhidharma is truly a many splendored adorable sage.

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Even if a Buddha or Bodhisattva should suddenly appear before you, there’s no need for reverence. This mind of ours is empty and contains no such form. Why worship illusions born of the mind?

Your mind is basically empty. If you envision a Buddha, a dharma, or a Bodhisattva and conceive respect for them, you relegate yourself to the realm of mortals. If you seek direct understanding, don’t hold on to any appearance whatsoever, and you’ll succeed.

*****

 

Sources and references:

http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Philosophical/Three_LanguageRelated_Methods.html

http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/daruma.shtmlhttp://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/daruma.shtml

http://www.geocities.com/gabigreve2000/redsmallpoxarticle.html

http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Teishos/WhyDidBodhidharmaCome.htm

http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/daruma.shtml

http://www.geocities.com/gabigreve2000/redsmallpoxarticle.html

http://rivr.sulekha.com/what-is-no-mind_361574_blog

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Bodhidharma, Buddhism, Zen

 

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