Category Archives: Buddhism

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 caves, Karnataka

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 ceiling designs 2

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.

Badami ceiling motiff

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.

badami.jpillars pgvishnu 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.  

Badami swasthika Badami chakra


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.


Pen-and-ink drawing of two sculptures from Cave I, Badami, depicting Harihara and Ardhanarishvara, by an  unknown Indian draftsman, dated 1853.

badami sketch

Pen-and-ink and wash drawing of two sculptures of Vishnu as Trivikrama and Varaha from Cave II, Badami

badami sketch 2

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.


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



— Sittanvaasal->


All pictures are from Internet



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Crazy Wisdom

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 behavior 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 wide 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 heavy 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 tightly 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 would not be 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:


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॥


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॥


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॥


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॥


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 vidyaAtma_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.LankavataraThe 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:

Crazy Spirituality

Wisdom of the Holy Fools


Crazy Wisdom


Sri Sadashiva Brahmendra

 Zen Stories by Sylvan Incao




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


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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.


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.


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.


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

[ Ron Humphreys , in his comments , observes :

The space between two thoughts is indeed a place of awareness and much is derived from the study and employment of that space. Such space forced, as in forcibly retained by excluding thoughts, with the purpose of reaching that amazing place, is mistaken in practice., in this context. One may employ exclusion, or control of thoughts, as a means to discipline mind and exert control over it, but it is not the end all that is described in the article.

So adding the two together, the letting things come and go on their own and the identification of that place as one of value is of upmost importance.

Not forcing this silence but being in it when it occurs.

As exclusionary practices of mediation have purpose, but in the end will not bring full understanding. With attention to this place of silence, I think one will find it pervades all, and thusly does not have to be forced. But first it, in some methods, must be forced, to first train the mind. But training the mind and retaining silence as a natural state are two differing things. ]


7.1. The teacher cautions the student:   do not be deceived, the mist might envelop you again. Keep practicing . 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


The Zen Frog


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


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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.

 bodhi 3 
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.


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.

daruma doll

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.


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:


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


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Origins of Zen School


1.1. Mahakasyapa was an enlightened disciple of the Buddha. One day, while Mahakasyapa was sitting with the Master, in silence, the Master picked up a lotus flower and held it in front of him. Mahakasyapa, at once smiled knowingly; he understood the master’s teaching. That teaching was an instant communication, a direct meeting of the hearts without use of words. It was a secret teaching; but Mahakasyapa did not keep the secret. He passed it on to his disciples. The later scholars remarked,” If you do not understand, then it is the secret of Sakyamuni. If you do understand, it is Mahakasyapa not keeping the secret”.

1.2. That was how the Dhyana School was born. Its emphasis was on one’s own experience; and asked its students to desist from borrowing others’ experiences. It therefore discouraged undue reliance on what one heard or read. Its teaching had four main aspects:

  • Transmission of the instructions is beyond book learning.
  • It is not couched in words and letters.
  • It points directly to the human mind.
  • It lets one see into one’s own true nature and leads to attaining Buddha- hood.

1.3. The tradition of Dhyana masters began with Mahakasyapa. After the passing away of the Buddha, Ananda, his cousin, became a disciple of Mahakasyapa and received the wordless instruction. The Dhyana School counts 28 masters in the line of Mahakasyapa. They include great names such as Ananda, Asvaghosha, Nagarjuna and Vasabhandu. The twenty-seventh in the lineage was Prajnatara, whose disciple was the 28th Dhyana master Bodhidharma, who also became the first patriarch of the Dhyana –> Cha’n – > Zen schools of China and Japan.

Tibetan sources mention him as Bodhidharmottara  or Dharmottara (Dharma of enlightenment) . Bodhidharma is presumably a shortened form of that name. Let’s , however , stick to the standard usage.

2.1. According to some sources, Bodhidharma (470-543 AD) hailed from Kanchipuram in south India; and was a Pallava prince.  He was the third son of Simhavarman II; and a contemporary of Skandavarman IV and Nandivarman I. He was the disciple of Prajnatara. Bodhidharma lived with his teacher for nearly forty years, until the teacher’s demise. Thereafter, as per the wish of his teacher, Bodhidharma left for China. He arrived at the port city of Kwan-tan (Canton), along the southern coast of China, during the year 520. He was honored by the Chinese emperor Wu-li in whose court was the great translator Paramartha. Bodhidharma soon left the palace headed north and crossed the Yangtze River. He continued moving north until he arrived at the Temple in Ho Nan Province. It was here that Bodhidharma meditated for nine years facing a wall, not uttering a sound for the entire time.



2.2. After he initiated his disciple Hui-k’o into Dhyana, Bodhidharma moved on to Chen Sung (One Thousand Saints) Temple to propagate the Dharma. He passed away in 543 AD. It is said Bodhidharma was buried in Shon Er Shan (Bear Ear Mountain) in Ho Nan, and a stupa was built for him in Pao Lin Temple. Later, the Tang dynasty Emperor, Dai Dzong, bestowed on Bodhidharma the name Yuen Che Grand Zen Master, and renamed his stupa as Kong Kwan (Empty Visualization).


2.3. There is a legend connected with his death; it surely does not sound real and yet, is interesting. It says, soon after his death, someone saw Bodhidharma walking towards India barefoot and with a single shoe in hand. His grave was later exhumed, and according to legend, the only thing found in it was the shoe he left behind.

For nine years he had remained and nobody knew him;
carrying a shoe in hand he went home quietly, without ceremony.

Another legend says that Bodhidharma, during his last days, remarked, “I came to China and transmitted my Dharma to three people. One received my marrow, one received my bones, and one received my flesh.” After the transmission,   Hui K’o received the marrow and Tao Yu received the bones.  A bikshuni Tsang Chih received Bodhidharma’s flesh. And, in the end Bodhidharma had no body at all.

2.4. His main teaching which has impacted Zen was taken from Vajrasamadhi Sutra:” Be at rest in all things and seek nothing, for Buddha-hood is attained by perceiving one’s own true nature.”

[There are varying accounts of Bodhidharma’s early life; his arrival and life in China. Some accounts mention that Bodhidharma lived for 150 years.]

3.1. Bodhidharma was the first patriarch of the Chinese Cha’n School. But, he was not the first one to bring Buddhism into China.  By the time he arrived, the teachings of the Buddha were already prevalent in China. It is not clear when exactly the Buddha’s teachings entered China. In any event, Tao-sheng (360-434 AD) the disciple of the Indian saint Kumara-jiva (ca. 400 AD) had been a well recognized Buddhist teacher. Tao-sheng, following the footsteps of his teacher, advocated the practice of meditation and rejected mere book learning; he also spoke of enlightenment or awakening.

3.2. Bodhidharma relied, to a large extent, on the premier text of Yogachara School of the Mahayana Buddhism: the Lankavatara Sutra. It is regarded a difficult text; and, its basic thrust is on “inner enlightenment that does away with all duality and is raised above all distinctions.”

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 in China

3.3. Bodhidharma instructed his disciples to follow a certain principle; and to practice.

The principle was 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. .”  He warned, it might sound like the direct, easy path to enlightenment, but it is, in fact, difficult. Bodhidharma’s rigors life long sadhana was  a testimony to that.

[The wall in these contexts carries a special meaning. All mental activities are like murals on a wall. Without the wall there can be no paintings; but the paintings hide the wall, cover it up and hide it from the view. The wall, here, stands for awareness (prajna), free from all thoughts. This (wall) is the original mind or no- mind, as the Buddhists call it. To get back to that blemish– less wall is the aim off Cha’n (Zen) practice.

The wall in this context is analogues to the clear cloudless sky that Vedanta talks about.

The mind is formless like the sky,
Yet it wears a million faces.
It appears as images of the past, or as worldly forms;
But it is not the supreme Self.
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.
–  Avadhuta Gita

This was also what Bodhidharma  taught.]

The practice involved:

(i)The willingness to accept, without complaining, suffering and unhappiness because you understand it is your own karma.

(ii) Understanding that all situations are the consequences of karmic causes, and therefore, you maintain equanimity in all circumstances, both negative and positive.

(iii)  Acting in accordance with ones Dharma (one’s own nature or svabhava) which is therefore pure. Realizing through practice the essence of one’s Nature, which is equanimity.

3.4. It is said, the following four-line stanza captures Bodhidharma’s teaching. Its first two lines echo the Lankavatara Sutra’s disdain for words and its latter two lines stress the importance of the insight into reality.]

A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words and letters;
By pointing directly to [one’s] mind
It lets one see into [one’s own true] nature and [thus] attain Buddhahood


3.5. Bodhidharma approached Buddhism in the most direct, simple and practical way. He grasped that enlightenment was the most fundamental aspect of Buddhism; and , that did not need   either sacred scriptures, rituals or objects of worship,  though all of which had  somehow become a part  of Mahayana Buddhism in India. . He discouraged superstitious veneration of the Buddhas .The practice of meditation, according to him, was the key to awakening ones inner nature, compassion and wisdom

3.6. Bodhidharma’s method also implied that Dhyana is not an intellectual exercise one can learn from books. Instead, it’s a practice of studying mind and seeing into one’s nature. The face-to-face transmission of the Dharma was important. That meant, the student and the teacher have to work together face -to – face. This made the student–teacher relation critical to its success. Consequently, the lineage of teachers also became important.

Ultimately, Dhyana is about coming face-to-face with yourself, in a very direct and intimate way. And, that is not easy.

4.1. Bodhidharma’s teaching became known as the Cha’n sect for its primary focus on cha’n (Dhyan) training and practice. Shortly before his death, Bodhidharma appointed Hui-k’o (486 -593) to succeed him, making Hui-k’o the first Chinese born patriarch and the second patriarch of Cha’n in China. Bodhidharma is said to have passed three items to Hui-k’o as a sign of transmission of the Dharma: a robe, a bowl, and a copy of the Lankavatara Sutra. The following verse is attributed to Hui-k’o:

From the seed bed
Flowers rise.
Yet there is no seed
Nor are there flowers
The “seed bed “refers to the heart, which is the ground on which the mind rests and rises. It is what is called the original-mind, devoid of thought constructions (mano vikalpa).The seeds of enlightenment are hidden in it. The flowers of wisdom sprout from those seeds only when there is a seed-bed. But, if the seed-bed is void it has no flowers, no attributes.

This is analogues to what the Upanishads call nirguna (devoid of attributes), daharakasha (the subtle space within the heart). It is in the nature of void; it has no form; and, it is all pervasive. It is the substratum of all existence.


4.2. The Third Chinese Patriarch after Bodhidharma was Jianzhi Sengcan, a Taoist, best known for his verses on Faith-Mind. The opening lines of his gatha read:

Follow your nature and accord with Tao
Saunter along and stop worrying.
If your thoughts are tied, you spoil what is genuine.
Don’t be antagonistic to the senses
For when you are not antagonistic to it
It turns out to be the same as complete awakening
The wise person does not strive (wu wei)
The arrogant man ties himself up
If you work on your mind with your mind,
How can you avoid immense confusion?
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
 (D.T.Suzuky’s translation)

He advised “Let your mind alone; trust it to follow its own nature.” This is typical of Indian outlook too. We find its formulation in Upanishads. And, this became the main stay of the Mahayana Buddhism, which in turn had pervasive influence on the developments in the Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese traditions.

4.3. The fourth Chinese patriarch was Dayi Daoxin (580 -651); and he was followed by Daman Hongren (601-674).

4.4. The most famous teacher was Hui-Neng (638-713 AD), the sixth and the last Chinese patriarch. He appears to have led an adventures life. He had a huge following. It was during his time that Cha’n entered the realm of fully documented history. Cha’n school, during his time, also emerged out of Indian influence and acquired its unique Chinese characteristics. During his time, the Cha’n school of thought took a definite form. Later, the school branched into five major sects or five houses, which in due course consolidated into two streams of practices. They were Tsao-tung (Sato in Japan) and Lin-chi (Rinzai in Japan).The former retained the simple teachings of Bodhidharma, the serene reflections in silent meditation. The latter branch made the Koan- exercise its corner stone. It is in essence, working on the solution to problem which has no solution; trying to understand something which is not meant to be understto; and it is where talking (hua) ends (tou).

5.1. How Cha’n travelled to Japan, transformed to Zen and wove into the spiritual, artistic, cultural and social fabric of Japan is a long story. As regards Zen as spiritual practice, suffice it to say, it reached Japan in several waves; and each significant wave gave rise to a Zen sect.

5.2. Línjì Yìxuan (Rinzai Gigen, in Japanese) (ca.806), of China, was well trained in Cha’n by the Cha’n master Huang-Po Hsi-Yun. He later gained fame as an accomplished Cha’n master; and, by around the year 851, he founded the Linji school of Cha’n Buddhism. The Linji School ultimately became the most successful and widespread of the Five Houses (Schools) of Cha’n.

5.3. By around this time, the Cha’n practices had entered Japan but were not recognized as separate schools of spiritual enquiry.  However, later during the twelfth century, Myoan Eisai traveled to China to study Cha’n of the Linji School: and on his return to Japan he established a sect of Linji lineage. The sect founded by him in Japan came to be known as Rinzai School.

5.4.  Much later, that is, during the seventeenth century a Chinese monk named Yinyuan Longqi (Japanese name: Ingen Ryuki) also a member of the Linji School of Cha’n introduced into Japan another sect of Cha’n; It was called Obaku – named after Mount Obaku near Ingen Ryuki’s hometown in China.

The Rinzai and Obaku schools share common heritage traced back to Hui-neng the sixth and the last Chinese patriarch; and therefore they are closely related.

5.5. In the meantime , that is around the year 1215, Dogen, a younger contemporary of Myoan Eisai,  also visited China and studied Cha’n under Caodong teacher Tiantong Rujing .On his return Dogen established Soto school , the Japanese branch of Caodong.

5.6. Cha’n as it arrived in Japan acquired the name Zen, which is an abbreviation of the term Zenna (the Japanese form of the Mandarin: Channa) derived from the Sanskrit term Dhyana, Pali Jhana; all of which refer to a type or specific aspect of meditation.

5.7. The schools of Zen that currently exist in Japan are Soto, Rinzai and Obaku. Of these, Soto has the largest following and Obaku has the smallest following. Rinzai is itself divided into several branches, based on affiliations to various temples.

6.  Much has been written concerning the differences between Rinzai and Soto Zen though both advocate study of koans and practice Zazen (sitting meditation). The differences are mainly in the emphasis rather than in their contents. Soto Zen considers the practice of Zazen to be the sole means of realization. While in Rinzai Zen practice, a koan is examined while sitting in order to deepen insight. Soto is considered the more conservative of the two. Rinzai takes a more liberal, at times radical view of the Buddha-nature. The Soto Zen believes the awakening can happen gradually; while Rinzai believes awakening can occur in a flash of insight. In either case, awakening comes as the result of one’s own efforts.


7.1. Though Zen recognized the validity of the Buddhist scriptures, it created its own set of texts, over the generations, written in informal language studded with folk sayings and street slang. Zen literature came to be built around anecdotes of its masters; the Buddha is barely mentioned. It is flavoured by a mix of Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese poetry.

7.2. Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on simplicity and the importance of the natural world generated a distinctive aesthetic style that influenced almost all walks of life say, art, literature, landscaping, gardening, tea ceremonies etc.

7.3. The Zen school eventually emerged as the most successful school of Buddhism in China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. By the mid-1980’s, the Zen traditions of all these countries had been transmitted to America.

8.1. Zen had its roots in India, undoubtedly; but its immediate ancestor and inspiration was the Cha’n school of the Chinese. During the time of Hui-Neng (638-713 AD), the sixth patriarch, the Cha’n school shed its Indian influences and became characteristically Chinese. And, Cha’n, when it moved into and took root in Japan, it became Zen- typically Japanese. It was no longer the simple Indian ideology; and, Zen had acquired a sophisticated, aesthetic style that influenced al walks of life.

8.2. But, the basic tenets of Zen and its “view” was the one provided by Bodhidharma .The enquiry into the nature of the Self, the symbol of the Buddha-hood latent in every living being, forcefully pronounced by Bodhidharma flowered into Cha’n School; and, that had its roots in the Upanishads. The understanding of Zen will be complete when it is viewed as a flowering of the Upanishads.

Buddhas don’t save Buddhas.
If you use your mind to look for a Buddha, you won’t see the Buddha.
As long as you look for a Buddha somewhere else,
You’ll never see that your own mind is the Buddha.
Don’t use a Buddha to worship a Buddha.
And don’t use the mind to invoke a Buddha.
Buddhas don’t recite sutras. Buddhas don’t keep precepts.
And Buddhas don’t break precepts.
Buddhas don’t keep or break anything.
Buddhas don’t do good or evil.
To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature.
-Attributed to Bodhidharma

There are no divine scriptures, no world, no imperative religious practices;
There are no gods, no classes or races of men,
No stages of life, no superior or inferior;
There’s nothing but Brahman, the supreme Reality.

 I do not know Shiva; how can I speak of Him?
I do not know Shiva; how can I worship Him?
I , myself, am Shiva, the primal Essence of everything;
My nature, like the sky, remains ever the same.
–  Avadhuta Gita

Please also read: Bodhidharma -stories and Legends


References and Sources:

Dhyana and Zen by Prof. SKR Rao

The 28th Patriarch of Indian Buddhism:


Zen History:

What is Zen:

Zen Buddhism:


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


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Citta the preacher

Among the followers of the Buddha there were many lay disciples , the householders, who excelled in the understanding of the Dhamma and in preaching the Dhamma . The foremost among them was Citta .He was the model that the Buddha urged others to emulate .He was the foremost disciple in expounding the Dhamma.On one occasion, the Buddha said to the monks: “Should a devoted mother wish to encourage her beloved only son in a proper way she should say to him: ‘Try to become like the disciple Citta “

A wealthy merchant who owned the hamlet of Macchikāsanda near the city of Savatthi celebrated the birth of a son by covering the village streets with flowers of various hues. The streets at once looked colorful and picturesque . The baby boy was hence promptly named Cittagahapati . His family and friends called him , for short , Citta . Because of his birth in Macchikāsanda , he also acquired the name Macchikásandika. The boy grew up to be a bright and an articulate young man . Besides his family trade Citta acted as the Treasurer of the City Council of Savatthi, where he now lived. He also owned a tributary village called Migapattaka . He had a resort in the grove Ambarukkhavana, in his native village of Macchikāsanda .

Once when the monk the Elder Mahānāma visited Macchikāsanda, Citta, pleased with his demeanor, invited him , for a meal at the Ambarukkhavana grove .Citta was so impressed with the discourse delivered by the monk that at its conclusion he dedicated the Ambarukkhavana grove to the Sangha . Later he built a splendid monastery there for the use of monks . The monastery came to be celebrated as the Ambātakārāma; and was the residence of a large numbers of monks . Discussions often took place there between Cittagahapati and the resident Bhikkhus . Among eminent Elders who visited the Ambātakārāma were Isidatta of Avanti , Mahaka of magical powers ,Kāmabhū ,Godatta and the Elder Lakuntaka Bhaddiya who lived there in solitude and in meditation . A monk named Sudhamma was another permanent resident of the Ambātakārāma .

Citta , by diligence and dedication , not only grasped the heart of the Dhamma but also became quite an adept in explaining the Dhamma. The Buddha considered Citta the most learned and lucid of all the lay Dharma teachers. The Buddha recognized Citta as the foremost in expounding the Dhamma .He held up Citta as a model for others to follow. The Tipitaka contains discourses preached to and by Citta . The sixty-first section in Tipitaka , Citta Samyutta Nikáya is named after him and contains a record of his discussions . In the Samyutta Nikaya there are two sutras wherein he discussed Dhamma with the monks. They indicate his profound grasp of the subtle aspects of the Dhamma.

The first documented teaching by Citta relates to a discussion that a group of monks were having at the Ambātakārāma monastery . The discussion was about whether it is the sense objects that fetter the mind ; or whether it is the sense organs that cause the fetters or whether fetters and sense objects are one and the same. Citta joined the discussion and explained by using a simile .“ Suppose a black ox and a white ox were tied together with a yoke or rope. Now , would it be right to say that the black ox was the fetter of the white ox or that the white ox was the fetter of the black ox?” he explained “Certainly not; The black ox is not the fetter of the white ox nor is the white ox the fetter of the black ox. They are both fettered by the yoke or rope. Similarly, the eye is not the fetter of visual objects nor are visual objects the fetter of the eye .The sense faculties do not bind the external objects. Instead, they are bound or yoked by craving.”. The monks were delighted by Citta’s lucid explanation .

On another occasion, the monk Kamabhu, perplexed by one of the Buddha’s sayings, asked Citta if he could explain what it meant. The saying was:

Pure-limbed, white-canopied, one-wheeled,
The chariot rolls on.
Look at he who is coming,
He is a faultless stream-cutter, he is boundless.

Citta explained the verse with understanding and insight. He said: “‘Pure-limbed’ means virtue, ‘white-canopied’ means freedom, ‘one wheeled’ means mindfulness, ‘rolls on’ means coming and going. ‘Chariot’ means the body, ‘he who is coming’ means the enlightened one, ‘stream’ means craving, ‘faultless’, ‘stream-cutter’ and ‘boundless’ all mean one who has destroyed the defilements.” Citta’s ability to give a spiritual interpretation to what appeared to be merely a beautiful verse surprised and delighted Kamabhu .

The laymen and Bhikkhus respected Citta as a great teacher. Citta used his knowledge to help both believers and non-believers.

It appears that Citta did not formally join the Order though he had encouraged many of his friends to do so. That might have been because of his certain commitments in his personal life as a householder.

Citta’s visit to the Buddha at the Jetavana monastery is recorded in the Canon. It is said , Citta loaded five hundred carts with food and other offerings for the Buddha and his disciples visited Savatthi, accompanied by three thousand followers. They traveled at the rate of one yojana a day and reached Savatthi at the end of a month. Then Citta went ahead with five hundred of his companions to the Jetavana monastery and fell at the feet of the Buddha. Citta stayed at the monastery for one whole month offering alms-food to the Buddha and the bhikkhus ; and also feeding his own party of three thousand. All this time, his stock of food and other offerings. were being replenished. The Buddha preached to him the Salāyatana-vibhatti.

The Salāyatana-vibhatti Sutta is a series of definitions of the

six internal senses,
* six external sense objects,
* six groups of consciousness,
* six groups of contacts,
* eighteen mental researches,
* thirty six tracks for creatures,
* six satisfactions to the banished,
* three bases of mindfulness, and
* the supreme trainer of the human heart. 

On the eve of his return journey, Citta put all the things he had brought with him in the rooms of the monastery as offerings to the Buddha .The Buddha said, “Ananda, this disciple is fully endowed with faith and generosity; he is also virtuous and his reputation spreads far and wide. Such a one is sure to be revered and showered with riches wherever he goes.”

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

He who is full of faith and virtue, who also possesses fame and fortune, is held in reverence wherever he goes.

The Dhammapada Atthakatha says that once Citta made offerings to some monks and one of the monks was rather rude. He was therefore rebuked by Citta . The monk complained to the Buddha against Citta but Buddha rebuked him and asked him to apologize to Citta (the monk became an arahant eventually).

The Buddha uttered the following Verses to the monks :

The fool will desire undue reputation, precedence among monks,
authority in the monasteries, honor among families.

Let both laymen and monks think, “by myself was this done;
in every work, great or small, let them refer to me.”
Such is the ambition of the fool; his desires and pride increase.

Asantam bhavanamiccheyya / purekkharanca bhikkhusu / avasesu ca issariyam / pujam parakulesu ca.

Mameva kata mannantu / gihi pabbajita ubho / mamevativasa assu/ kiccakiccesu kismici / iti balassa sankappo/ iccha mano ca vaddhati

When Citta lay ill just before his death, he did not wish for heaven because he did not aspire to anything so impermanent. True to his calling he gave his last advice to those gathered around his death bed. Citta requested them to have trust and confidence in the Buddha and the Dhamma ; and to remain unswervingly generous to the Sangha.

Citta was an ideal lay disciple , an ideal preacher and an ideal son.


Should a devoted mother wish to encourage her beloved only son in a proper way she should say to him:

‘Try to become like the disciple Citta




Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism


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Mahayana Buddhism in India

Buddhism as it is practiced today has three principal branches viz. Theravada (the school of the elders), Mahayana (the greater Vehicle) and Vajrayana (the diamond vehicle).Of the three the Mahayana is spread over a wider geographical area. It covers the vast populace of  China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan. It is also more diverse in its content as it encompasses a variety of Buddhist schools .It is more emotional, warmer, and more personal in devotion, more ornate in art, literature and ritual. It also has a record of striving to invent or include doctrines agreeable to the masses of the region. It is even seen as being closer to Hinduism as far as the rituals and practices are concerned

It is in this context that, recently, someone on the Forum asked me a question concerning the proximity of Mahayana Buddhism to Hinduism .The question specifically asked was:

IS it not true that Mahayana is essentially the way that Buddhism tried to come to terms with Hinduism the main religion of the day? I see Mahayana as the way Buddhism tried to survive in India

Let me at the outset say that I do not quite agree with the tenor of the question. I also do not agree with its drift or content. Let me explain why I think so.


A. Birth of the Mahayana

1. The concept of Mahayana came about because of the churning of ideas within the Buddhist community at the beginning of the Christian era. A large section of the community strongly felt there was a need for a more emotional, warmer, personal religion adequately disposed to evolution and development. The general tradition connects this evolution to the initiatives of King Kanishka (c 120 A. D) and scholars of the time such as Ashvaghosha (c 120 A. D)  and Nagarjuna (c 150 A D).

3. Though the concept of Mahayana was launched, officially, at the fourth religious council held at Kashmir in first century A.D, the germ- idea was in circulation even a hundred years earlier to that, more as a matter of speculation and argument than as a precise statement.

The evolution of the Mahayana concept came about as a gradual unfolding rather than as a sudden development.

4. At the time when the Mahayana doctrine came up for debate in the fourth religious council, nearly years 500 after the historical Buddha attained nirvana, Buddhism had well taken roots in India. It was popular among the masses. It also enjoyed the patronage of kings and Emperors.

 It was therefore, at that time, not in desperate need of a ruse for survival. The Mahayana did not take birth as a reaction to Hinduism.

B. Mahayana is not a departure from teachings of Buddha 

5. The Mahayana is not a departure from the doctrines enunciated by the historical Buddha. Both the schools – Theravada and Mahayana- accept the fundamental teaching of Buddha implicitly without any questions. Both the schools argue that the basic tenets of their school emanate directly from the teachings of the Buddha. Followers of Mahayana insist they have not deviated from the teachings of the Buddha instead, they claim to have rediscovered the Buddha’s lost teachings. Many scholars say that Nagarjuna grasped the Buddha’s “seed- idea” of void Sunyata and developed it into a system of thought in his book Madhyamika Karika.

C. Theravada – Mahayana


6. An obvious difference between the two schools is the Bodhisattva ideal. Both schools accept the three Yanas or Bodhis but consider the Bodhisattva ideal as the highest. The Mahayana accepts many mystical Bodhisattvas while the Theravada considers Bodhisattva as a human amongst humankind and as one who devotes his life for the attainment of perfection and who ultimately becomes a fully Enlightened Buddha for the welfare and happiness of the world. The Mahayana transfers the emphasis from personal salvation to universal salvation, from the ideal of Arhant to that of the Bodhisattva. It said, a monk should not be a lamp unto himself, while there is darkness every where

Perhaps, at some point of time, it was thought that the way of the Arhant meant complete detachment from the world. It was considered desirable that one should remain in the world out of compassion for the benefit of all beings striving to attain enlightenment (Bodhichitta), to become a Buddha. Let me add, the status of the Buddha was regarded an ideal. The Buddha was never looked upon as unique: there had been many others in the past ages. The Buddha is the supreme ideal. Anyone could strive to reach there. The conduct through which Gautama had become the Buddha was described in ancient texts. Therefore, every ardent seeker motivated by compassion for all beings (as did the Gautama) is a Bodhisattva, the Buddha in making.  The progress was partly through practices, and partly through right-understanding (prajna); the latter being more important. After some early Mahayana Sutras furthered the concept of Bodhisattva many more Sutras elaborated on the theme.

7. During the initial times, the difference between the two schools was not that apparent. As the Chinese traveler I- Ching (635-713 A.D.) put it, “Those who worship Bodhisattvas and read Mahayana Sutras are called Mahayanists, while those who do not do this are called Hinayanists”. It was that simple.

8. However the differences became explicit over a period when (a) each schools adopted its chosen texts –Pali texts by Theravada and Sanskrit texts by Mahayana; and;(b)when the two schools moved away to distinct geographical areas like Sri Lanka ,Burma , Far East on one hand and Tibet , China and Japan on the other.


D. Reforms within Mahayana

9. The challenges that Mahayana Buddhism faced in distant lands and diverse cultures called upon it to innovate. Buddhism that took root in those countries was not the same as the one practiced in India at the time. For instance, in order to be acceptable to the populace of Tibet it was necessary  that Buddhism evolve itself into a new form by letting in Bon practices and ideas while firmly retaining its basic Buddhist tenets. In the process, Buddhism took in materials and attitudes native to the soil, lent them a new sense of direction and grafted them with the Mahayana doctrines. It allowed many Bon attitudes, ideas, tribal gods, goddesses, and the associated rituals and instilled in them the spirit of Karuna. Thus, while the form was traditional to the soil, the soul was Buddhist.  Bon at the same time also adopted numerous Buddhist practices, attitudes and ideas.

A similar process took place in China and Japan where Buddhism imbibed the rituals, practices, attitudes and even deities of the native religions (Tao and Shinto) while retaining the essential Buddhist doctrines at heart. Those religions intern also modified themselves. It was/is a dynamic process.

10 Thus, Mahayana Buddhism became an umbrella concept for a great variety of sects, from the Tantric Sects found in Tibet and Nepal (secret Yoga teachings), to the Pure Land Sects found in China, Korea and Japan (reliance on simple faith- Bhakthi). The Mahayana also gave birth to an inward-looking Chan Buddhism (China), which then crossed the straights to Japan and flowered as Japanese Zen. For Chan and Zen followers, the path to enlightenment is meditation.

In fact, some scholars go further and say the Mahayana is not a single vehicle but rather a train comprising many carriages of different classes.

11 . Despite this proliferation in beliefs, Mahayana Buddhism tapers down to two general branches — the Madhyamika and the Yogacara.  While Madhyamika represents the middle view, the middle road, a path of relativity over extremes (e.g., extremes like existence vs. nonexistence, self vs. non-self); The  Yogachara  school emphasizes yoga — the practice of meditation. In either case, the path to enlightenment is long and arduous, requiring followers to build up merit in this life to be reborn in the next life with better karma.

E. Mahayana-Hinduism

12. Now, before coming to issue of Hindu influence we can digress a bit. While discussing the similarities among various Indian languages Prof. Emeneau, a well-known American scholar, in his classic paper, “India as a Linguistic Area”, came up with the concept of linguistic area for explaining the underlying Indian-ness of apparently divergent cultural and linguistic patterns. The resemblances between two or more languages (whether typological or in vocabulary), he said, can be due to genetic relation (descent from a common ancestor language), or due to borrowing at some time in the past between languages. He also said, essentially different but geographically and physically proximate languages often exhibit shared linguistic features.

We can perhaps extend this view to cover various religions that took birth or that took root in India. Amanda Coomaraswamy , the great scholar, once said “The more superficially one studies Buddhism, the more it seems to differ from Brahmanism in which it originated; the more profound our study, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish Buddhism from Brahmanism, or to say in what respects, if any, Buddhism is really unorthodox.”. The Buddha did not fight the religion of India of his time .He had a benevolent view towards it and its scholars. He however objected to the ritualistic aspect of that religion. Buddhist Rahula Vipola wrote,” the Buddha was trying to shed the true meaning of the Vedas. Buddha is a knower of the Veda (vedajña) or of the Vedanta (vedântajña) [(Sa.myutta, i. 168) and (Sutta Nipâta, 463)].” Hindus scholars have also accepted the Buddha and Buddhism as a fulfillment of Sanatana Dharma.

Swami Ranganathananada in his article Bhagavan Buddha and Our Heritage (published separately as booklet by Advaita Ashrama) explains that it is essential to understand Upanishads in order to fully understand the Buddha and his teachings. He regards the Buddha as continuing the Upanishad tradition of enquiry. Gautama assimilated whatever his teachers could give ; and asked for more. But, when that did not satisfy his aspirations Gautama resolved to leave his teachers and to seek the Truth on his own. Swami points out that Yoga and the Buddha both emphasize the Middle Path: “Yoga the discipline for the destruction of sorrow is for him who is moderate in eating, and recreation; moderate in work work and sleep and waking (BG-16.17).The additional charm of the Buddha’s teaching is that it arose out of his own experience. The Buddha’s second discourse at Saranath on the subject of Anatta is acceptable to Vedanta, entirely; and can be understood better in the light of the Upanishads. The attainment of Nirvana, the Swami explains, agrees essentially with the realization of the form-less Brahman of the Upanishads. The Buddha’s teaching is not only complete in itself but is also an essential part of the Indian Philosophy. The Buddha is the most wonderful flowering of the combined legacy. Swami Raganathananda concludes: “The self-transcending ethics of the Buddha united to the transcendent Self of Sri Sankara is the most stimulating essence of the Indian thouht”.

13. Hinduism and Buddhism influenced each other in many ways. The Buddhist notion of non-injury and compassion toward all living beings took deep roots in the Indian ethos, while Mahayana Buddhism took cue from the traditional Indian methods of devotional worship. Buddhism influenced the growth and development of Indian art and architecture and contributed richly to the practice of breathing and meditation in attaining mindfulness and higher states of consciousness. The Hindu Tantra influenced the origin and evolution of Vajrayana Buddhism that flowered in Tibet.   The systems of Buddhism and Hinduism are not either contradictory to one another or completely self contained.

14. We may say that in the first few centuries following the nirvana of the Buddha, Buddhism was an integral and significant part of that complex religious character of the Indian subcontinent, which the outsiders called as Hinduism. However over a period thereafter Buddhism crossed the boundaries of the Indian subcontinent and went on to play a much greater role in the whole of Asia. In the process, it developed a very complex sectarian, theological and geographical diversity and a tradition of its own – a unique blend of local customs and Buddhist faith- to become one of the most significant and influential religions of the world. Many people who are not familiar with the history of the Indian subcontinent fail to understand the deep connection that existed between Hinduism and Buddhism in the earlier days and the significant ways in which they enriched each other. 

F. Conclusion

15. The birth of Mahayana was not as a reaction to Hinduism .It was a concept that emerged out of churning of ideas within the Buddhist community. Perhaps it was the need of the time. The Mahayana did not deviate from the doctrines enunciated by the historical Buddha .The various forms that Mahayana assumed in different geographical and cultural contexts were a part of the dynamics of its growth.  The Mahayana in any country has to be viewed against the broad canvas of that region’s cultural and religious uniqueness. This is true in the Indian context too. Further, the systems of Buddhism and Hinduism are not either contradictory to one another or completely self contained.

16. What happened to Buddhism after eighth century and Muslim invasion is another story.



Hinduism and Buddhism – A historical sketch By Sir Charles Eliot

Timeline, history-Three   Main Buddhist schools


Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Buddhism


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Buddhism of Tibet

1. Early Days

1.1. India and Tibet (known to Tibetans themselves as Bod and to Indians as Bhota Desha) have had a long and a continuous cultural contact. The links between the old neighbors intensified when in 620 AD the emperor Sorang – sGam-Po (569 – 650 AD) sent his emissary to Kashmir to evolve a suitable script for the Tibetan language and to invite Buddhist scholars to Tibet. Interestingly this move was at the wish of two women one from Nepal and the other from China who were married to the monarch .The two queens were pious Buddhists .It does not however mean Buddhism was not known in Tibet until then. It appears that at least a hundred years earlier when LHa- THo- THo ruled the land a number of Buddhist texts were available in Tibet but not many could read the script. The initiative taken by the monarch not only brought in a gentler religion, a mellowed way of life but also a new “religious speech” (CHos – sKad) enriched by Sanskrit. Since then Tibet has regarded India as its sacred land and India in turn looks upon Tibet as its religious frontier. The mutual regard and respect has continued to this day.

2. Buddhism Enters

2.1. The introduction of Buddhist influence into Tibet was neither sudden nor violent. It was a gradual and a gentle process. This was a remarkable feat considering that the Tibetans and their religion at the time were “wild“ and that the Monarch did not resort to violence or repression to usher in Buddhism. The Tibetans were mostly nomadic in nature, Spartan in their ways of life and fiercely warlike. The religion native to Tibet called Bon –pronounced Pon – meaning “to mutter magic spells”, often described as shamanism, fetishism filled with rituals, spells, dances etc. had a strong influence on its followers. Yet the transformation brought about following the introduction of Buddhism is astounding. Today there is no gentler race than the Tibetans. No other people have preserved the high ideals of Buddhism as the Tibetans have even in the face of persistent trials, tribulations, displacements of immense proportions forced on them. How did this come about?

3. Synthesis

3.1. The religion that Indian monks planted in Tibet was not the one practiced in India at the time. In order to become acceptable to the populace of Tibet it was necessary that Buddhism evolve itself into a new form by letting in Bon practices and ideas while firmly retaining its basic Buddhist tenets. In the process, Buddhism took in materials and attitudes native to the soil, lent them a new sense of direction and grafted them with the Mahayana doctrines. It allowed many Bon attitudes, ideas, tribal gods, goddesses, and the associated rituals and instilled in them the spirit of Karuna. Thus While the form was traditional to the soil, the soul was Buddhist. Bon at the same time also adopted numerous Buddhist practices, attitudes and ideas.

3.2. It is important to remember that the Indian monks who brought in Buddhism were not missionaries in the usual sense of the term. They were not interested in conversions.

3.3. Some call the Tibetan religion as Vajrayana. It may perhaps be more appropriate to recognize it as Bon- CHos (Buddhism grafted on Bon). Because, what we have here is a harmonious synthesis of two religious practices and ideas rather than domination of one over the other. Tibet manifests a truly unique CHos (Dharma) with its own scheme of values.

4. Vajrayana

4.1. The form of Buddhism that took root in Tibet belongs to Vajrayana (the path of the thunderbolt) an offshoot of the Yogachara branch of the Mahayana. Vajrayana had its origin in South India, blossomed in the universities of Nalanda, Vikramashila and Odantapura in North India .It later took root in Tibet and Mongolia. Its characteristics are involvement in Tantric rituals, incantations (Mantras) and visualization of deities. At the same time the adaptable integration of the body (Kaya – Snkt,), speech (Vacha – Sanskt) and mind (manas – Sanskt.) is also a main plank of the Vajra (Diamond) path.

4.2. The Yoga – Tantra ideology (known to Tibetans as Grub –Thob) developed during the early part Christian era by a class of Indian seers called Siddhas became the driving force of the Vajrayana. Siddhas brought in the concept of Bhodhi –chitta.

4.3. As per the concept, Bhodhi-Chitta resides in all of us in its twin aspect: (1) as ordinary consciousness soiled by actions and agitated by thoughts, and (2) as a hidden pool of tranquility, unaffected, “ever washed bright”, beyond the phenomenal involvements. The former aspect is mind (Manas -Sanskrit) (Yid – Tibetan) and the latter is consciousness (Chitta – Sanskrit) (Sems – Tibetan). The object of the Tantra is to transform the former (characterized by Stress – Klesha) into the latter (experienced as Bliss – Sukha).

4.4. To illustrate the Bhodhi – Chitta, the mind is like a pool of water. The agitated water should become still before what lies beneath (consciousness) becomes visible. Beating or stirring the water does not help. The pool should be left undisturbed .The art of letting the mind alone (“let go”, “open hand”) to allow it to settle naturally into silence and tranquility is at the core of the disciplines advocated by the Siddhas. The instruction is “cast aside all clinging and essence will at once emerge”.

This concept gives rise to another one viz. Vipasyana meaning clear vision, which comes about because of stilling the constitutional mind.

4.5. These concepts entail a process that lays stress on utilizing the mind to reach a state of “no mind”, refinement and sharpening of the mind, purifying it and making it “like a cloud less sky”, “like a wave less occasion”,” like a bright lamp in a windless night” etc. In short, the object is to attain a clear, bright and a stable state. This process is also called as emptying the mind. The Tantra here not only suggests a path from a cruder form of thought and emotions to a higher level of functioning but also prescribes practices that transform and elevate the human being.

5. The Masters

5.1 From the 8th century onwards, the scholars at Nalanda began to play an active part in the propagation of Buddhist religion and culture in Tibet. It is likely Tibetan was taught at the institution. Chandragomin, at Nalanda, was the pioneer in the field.

Chandragomin (7th century CE) was a Buddhist scholar at Nalanda; and, he always dressed in the white robes of the Yogic tradition. It is said; Chandragomin challenged Chandrakirti (c.600 – c.650) another Buddhist scholar at Nalanda and a commentator on the works of Nagarjuna (c.150–c. 250 CE) to a debate held in Nalanda Mahavihara. Chandrakirti would immediately reply to any statements made by Chandragomin. But, Chandragomin, on the other hand, would take his time to answer – sometimes he would wait until the next day. His answers, nevertheless, were very precise and clear. The debate, it appears, lasted for many years.

Chandragomin’s work on Sanskrit grammar became popular in Tibet. And, scores of his works were translated into Tibetan; many scholars were in fact engaged in translation work.

5.2. The credit for evolving a wonderful synthesis of the two religious practices goes to the Tibetan monks and their Indian Gurus the prominent among whom, in the early stages, were Padmasambhava and Santarakshita.

Santarakshita, another Nalanda monk and scholar, was invited to Tibet by its king Khri-sron-deu-tsan in 74 (J A.D. for the purpose of preaching Buddhism. He was given a royal reception and the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet was built under his instructions. He became its chief abbot and vigorously helped the spread of Buddhism till his death in 762 A.D.

He received very valuable cooperation in this work from Padmasambhava, a Kashmirian monk educated at Nalanda ‘. Intellectual and literary activity of Nalanda must have continued in subsequent centuries also, for several manuscripts have been, preserved to this time, which were copied at Nalanda during the 10th, 11th  and 12th centuries A.D.-

Padmasambhava built the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet (bSam Yas) around 749 AD modeled on the Odantapura monastery while combining three styles of India, Tibet and China. He persuaded the great scholar Santharakshita of Nalanda to preside over the monastery.

Both were men of great learning. While Padmasambhava had his roots in Tantra, Santarakshita was a quiet ascetic in the traditional mold. The Padmasambhava – Santarakshita team was a curious combination of dissimilar capabilities .One complimented the other. One would argue thunder and coerce while the other could explain, expound, teach and convince. One had a mass appeal; the other had the quiet regard of the elite. One emphasized magic, rituals and success; the other highlighted the value of virtues, contemplation and wisdom. Padmasambhava stood for powerful action; Santarakshita symbolized gentle being. The two great men together molded the attitudes and approach of later day Tibetans. If the Tibetans have successfully accommodated the thunderbolt (Vajra) with the abiding peace of vacuity (Shunya) then a large share of the credit must go to these Masters each working in his own way for the betterment of humanity.

5.3. If the Padmasambhava – Santarakshita team introduced the Buddhist excellence the other team of Dipankara and Brom firmly established Buddhist influence in Tibet Dipankara, a prince from Bengal earlier in his life, presided over the VikramsilaUniversity. He was a great Mahayana scholar in the mould of Santharakshita. He was 60 when he arrived in Tibet where he lived for 13 years until his death in 1054 AD. He was fortunate in securing a very capable and devoted Tibetan disciple in Brom. The two together strived to clean up the cobwebs since settled in the Tibetan Buddhism and to restore the traditional values and virtues.

5.4. Another revered name in the annals of Tibetan Buddhism is TSong –Kha – Pa (1357 – 1419 AD), a scholar of great renown and author of the celebrated Lam – Rin CHen Mo. He is worshipped even today as a living presence, next only to Buddha. The Chinese emperor honored TSong –Kha – Pa’s nephew as a Bhodhi Sattva. Later in 1650, the Mongolian emperor conferred the all-powerful status of Dalai Lama on a descendent of TSong –Kha – Pa. Since then the successive abbots have been the religious and secular heads of Tibet.

TSong –Kha – Pa brought large scale and enduring reforms in the Buddhist monastic organizations in Tibet. The achievements of TSong –Kha _Pa and his contribution to Tibetan Buddhism in particular and to Dharma in general are too numerous to recount here.

6. India’s Debt to Tibet

6.1. India owes a debt of deep gratitude to Tibet for preserving Yoga-Tantra tradition and keeping it alive even though it has become extinct in the land of its origin.

6.2. Further, because of the large-scale destruction of Buddhist and Hindu texts stored in Nalanda when Muslim forces attacked it during the middle periods, many ancient texts are no longer available in India. The only credible source for such ancient texts is the body of Tibetan translations carried out centuries earlier by Tibetan monks.

6.3. More importantly, the extraordinary sprit of tolerance, non-violence and resilience displayed by the large population of ordinary men and women displaced from their homeland is a true tribute to Buddha and his ideals.

1. Tibetan Tantric Traditions
– Prof. S K Ramachandra Rao
2. The Buddhist Tantras
– Alex Wayman


Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Buddhism


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Jivaka, the physician

Jivaka, the Buddha_s physician. British Library

Jivaka, the Buddha’s physician. British Library

There is a natural association between Buddhism and medicine. The Buddhist doctrine recognizes the phenomenon of suffering; unravels its causes; understands the state of elimination of suffering; and , prescribes the right method for elimination of suffering seen and heard.

The Pali texts describe the Buddha as the physician (bhishak) and as the skilled surgeon (sallakatta).Ashvagosha the poet (80-150 BCE) called Buddha Maha –Bhishak (the great physician). At a later stage in Buddhism, the Buddha worship in the Bhaishajya Guru (The Guru of all physicians) form came into practice.

Interestingly, the life of one of the celebrated physicians and surgeons of the ancient India was closely associated with that of the Buddha. Jivaka came to the Buddha as a young man in the prime of his youth and stayed faithful to the Buddha until the later years of the Master, as his disciple, friend and as his physician.

He gained a great reputation as a surgeon who successfully conducted operations like craniotomy ( surgical incision into the skull) and laparotomy (surgical incision into the abdominal wall). He was known for curing jaundice, fistula and other ailments. Jivaka’s fame as a healer and as a child specialist was widely known; and, tales about his life and medical feats are found in almost all versions of Buddhist scriptures.

The Jivaka’s story is elaborated in four versions – the Pali; the Sanskrit; the Chinese; and, the Tibetan.

Here, we will follow the Pali version; because, some important discourses addressed to Jivaka are scripted in that version.

The Buddha-Jivaka story is a very human story. Their relationship was not cast in the usual mold that one comes across in religious texts. In a way, it de-mystifies the Buddha imagery. The Buddha you meet here is not the ethereal philosopher with his head in the clouds ; nor is he The God himself. You will find, he not always resembled the serene, ever smiling young Apollo – Greco Roman God like images that sit on our coffee tables or that decorate our bookcases.

The Buddha, you meet here, is a real person, a wise, compassionate, mellow, independent and a mature person who walked and lived on this land. He did encounter many problems; but, more importantly, he got over them with reason and dignity. He suffered from injuries, illness, constipation, diarroehea and other ailments related to old age. Whenever he needed help, he did ask for help. But, you never see him losing his composure. Here you see him put forth some unusual but rational views on the day-to-day concerns of the monks and the lay. That brings us closer to the Buddha.


Once when Prince Abhaya,  son of Bimbisara the king of Rajagriha, was riding through the city, he noticed a flock of crows circling and cawing round a winnowing basket, thrown on a rubbish heap. As he got closer to the basket, he saw, to his amazement, a lovely looking baby boy wrapped in clothes placed in the basket. He took the baby home and decided to raise him as his son. The baby was given the name Jivaka, the live one, since he survived his abandonment on the rubbish heap. Because the prince raised him, he also acquired the pet name Kumarabhacca (nourished by prince).

Jivaka enjoyed a happy princely childhood. As his birth-situation later dawned on him, Jivaka reasoned that it was unfair and dishonorable to be dependent on the generosity of the prince, forever. He determined to earn his livelihood by pursuing a career, independently. He aspired to be a physician. He then left home, without informing the prince, and traveled all the way to Taxasila, in the distant West; to study medicine under the well-known teacher Disapamok Achariya. There, he studied medicine diligently for seven years.

Towards the end of his seven-year study, he took a practical examination that tested his medical skills and his knowledge of medical herbs. He passed the test with merit. With a little financial help and blessings of his mentor, Jivaka set out into the world in search of a carrier, fame and fortune.

On his way back home to Rajagriha, he stopped at Saketha where he came to know that the wife of the richest merchant (setthi) in the town was suffering from a chronic head ache for the past seven years; and , the local physicians were unable to find a cure for her ailment.

Jivaka succeed in convincing the rich lady that though young as he was, he would surely rid her of the ailment. He procured some herbs and cooked them in pure ghee obtained from the lady’s household. He made the patient lie on her back on a couch and injected the medicine, he had prepared, through her nose.

When the injected medicine was flowing out of her mouth, the patient gestured to her servant to mop up that fluid (ghee/medicine) with a piece of cotton and store it a vessel. The bemused physician Jivaka wondered, “That ghee ought to be thrown away, but this stingy woman ordered it to be saved by swapping it  with  cotton. I do not know whether I will get my fee. This thrift is rather too much”.

After she recovered, the Settani watching the puzzled expression on Jivaka’s face smiled ; and,  explained, “That is a good ghee mixed with medicine and can be used for rubbing on sore feet. Don’t be alarmed. I am not so stingy . I will pay you your fee.”

She was highly pleased with the miracle cure ; and, paid the young physician four thousand kappanas (silver coins). Her son added an equal amount to his purse.

On his return to Rajagriha, flushed with success and money , Jivaka set up his own establishment. He had a great start to his medical career. He performed the operation of trepanning (to pierce with a surgical crown saw) on a setthi of Rājagaha ; and, followed it up with an operation on the son of the setthi of Varanasi , who suffered from chronic intestinal trouble due to its misplacement.

A son of a merchant while playing at somersaults suffered a twist in the bowels (an entanglement of his intestines). He could not digest properly whatever he ate and drank; and looked discolored with the veins standing out upon his skin. Jivaka cut the skin of the stomach, drew out the twisted bowel, and sewed the skin of the stomach. On applying an ointment given by Jivaka, the boy in due course became well.

Jivaka was also a well-known pediatrician. His name Kaumarabhtya (in Sanskrit) was some times interpreted to mean ‘expert in children’s diseases’. A part of the Bower MSS discovered during 1880 in Kuchar of Chinese Turkistan quotes Jivaka’s formulae as the “Navan_taka” (meaning ‘butter’).

This medical compilation of the 4th century AD attributes two formulae dealing with children’s disease to Jivaka, saying ‘Iti hovaca Jivakah” i.e. thus spoke Jivaka.

One formula is: Bhargi, long pepper, Paha, payasya, together with honey, may be used against emeses ( act of vomiting ) due to deranged phlegm. Some of the cures attributed to Jivaka may be exaggerations; but, they indicate the importance attached to accurate observation and deduction in ancient times.


[His teachings traveled to Thailand along with Buddhism, around the 2nd and 3rd century BC. Learners and practitioners of the traditional Thai massage art respect his methods, even today.]


As his fame spread, the king’s men invited Jivaka to cure the king Bimbisara of his fistula. The successful physician was paid a huge fee; and, was appointed as the physician to the king.


Jivaka, the successful young physician, enjoying fame and fortune went to meet his benefactor and adopted father Prince Abhaya and laid at his feet all the wealth he earned. Jivaka thanked the Prince for his love, compassion and caring.

Prince Abhaya appreciated the gesture; and, said that the gifts were undoubtedly very valuable indeed; but it was not the gift he was waiting for, he said. ”You verily are my true gift” he exclaimed.

Prince Abhaya explained that during Jivaka’s absence he enquired into the circumstances of his birth. His mother, Salawathi, was the most sought-after courtesan of the kings and nobility. Wanting to retain her freedom, she discarded her baby, who , she feared , might burden her. Prince Abhaya had unknowingly adopted his own child.

Prince Abhaya built a palace to serve as his son Jivaka’s residence ; and, provided him with riches and many servants


The turning point in Jivaka’s life happened  when Ananda came to fetch him to treat the Buddha who suffered from “blocked intestines” (constipation?). When Jivaka saw the condition of the patient, it occurred to him he might not survive a strong purgative. He then had fat rubbed into the Buddha’s body; and, gave him a handful of lotuses to inhale the essence emanating from the flowers.

Jīvaka was away when the mild purgative was later administered to the patient, and he suddenly remembered that he had omitted to ask him to bathe in warm water to complete the cure process. The Buddha, it is said, read his thoughts and bathed as required.( Vin.i.279f; DhA. ii.164f).

On another occasion when the Buddha’s was injured in his foot by a splinter from a rock hurled by Devadutta (Buddha’s cousin), the Buddha had to be carried from Maddakucchi (a park near Rajagriha) to Jīvaka’s Ambavana residence. There, Jīvaka applied an astringent; and , having bandaged the wound, he  left the city expecting to return in time to remove it.

However, by the time he did return, the city gates were shut. He was greatly worried because if the bandage remained on all night the Buddha would suffer intense pain. The Buddha, it is said, read his thoughts and had  the bandage  removed. (J.v.333.).


There is a mention of a meal hosted by Jīvaka, wherein the Buddha refused to be served until one Cūla-panthaka (denied entry by the host Jivaka) was served food. Cula_panthaka was the son of a rich merchant’s daughter who eloped with her slave. She, in dire circumstances, gave birth to a baby boy on the roadside. That baby was promptly named Panthaka, who later turned out to be a dullard. He was however , very fond of listening to Buddha; and, spent most of his time in the Vihara, though he was driven out each time. He later gained knowledge ; and, became an Arhant, by the grace of the Buddha’s compassion.


 Jivaka became an ardent admirer and disciple of the Buddha. He tried to meet the Buddha at least two times a day. Since the Veluvana, where the Buddha stayed at that time, was far away, he built a monastery with all its adjuncts in his own Ambavana in Rājagaha; and,  dedicated it to the Buddha and his monks (DA.i.133; MA.ii.590).

With foresight, love and compassion , Jivaka took care of the physical health of the Buddha and His Sangha. The Buddha, at the suggestion of Jivaka , introduced a number of measures to regulate the day-to-day activities of the monks. Those included the following:

-. When Jīvaka went to Vesali (capital of Licchavi) on business, he noticed the monks there had gone pale and were unhealthy looking (Vin.ii.119). At Jīvaka’s request, the Buddha instructed the monks to exercise regularly.

-. As an extension of this routine, the Buddha instructed the monks to sweep the compound of the monastery and attend to other duties in order to exercise their bodies, to ensure good health ; and at the same time , to keep the premises clean.

-. Those monks who were ill were advised to use medicines and whenever needed to apply ointment to their sore feet.

-. The monks were in the habit of walking bare foot; and, many of them had sustained injuries and suffered from sore feet. The Buddha advised them to wear foot coverings.

-. The Buddha advised the monks to use modest clothing and not wander about naked.  He also asked them not to indulge in excessive austerities.

-. A discipline was introduced , which required the monks to take care of each other. The famous advice of the Buddha to the monks, in this context, was,

“Ye, O Bhikkhus, have no mother and father to wait upon you. If you wait not one upon the other, who is there, indeed, who will wait upon you? Whosoever, O Bhikkhus, would wait upon me, he should wait upon the sick.”

-. With the introduction of better health care measures in the Sangha , more and more lay persons entered the Order. Many people, afflicted with disease and unable to pay for treatment, joined the Order in order to avail free medical facilities.

This influx naturally rendered Jivaka’s task more difficult. He was unable to cope with the increased workload. Further, he thought, the Order was being misused. At his suggestion, the Buddha laid down a rule that men afflicted with certain diseases be refused entry into the Order. The diseases prevalent in Maghada 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.). 


Once Jivaka offered to the Buddha, an exquisite shawl , which was earlier presented to him (Jivaka) by a king. The Buddha accepted the celestial shawl, as requested by Jivaka.

The Buddha, however, felt that keeping such a valuable shawl in the monastery would attract thieves and endanger His monks. He, therefore, asked Ananda to cut the shawl into strips and sew it again, so that it would be of little value to thieves or for resale . In addition, it would inculcate in the monks a sense of non-attachment to objects. This was how the custom of wearing patched garments came into practice in the Sangha.

The Blessed One accepted the suit,
and after having delivered a religious discourse,
he addressed the bhikkhus thus:

“Henceforth ye shall be at liberty to wear either cast-off rags or lay robes.
Whether ye are pleased with the one or with the other, I will approve of it.”

When the people at Rajagraha heard :“The Blessed One has allowed the bhikkhus to wear lay robes” .

Jivaka gained fame as the first layman to offer  robes to the monks. Thereafter, others who were willing to bestow gifts became glad.  The term kathina denotes a cotton cloth offered by lay people to bhikkhus (monks) annually, after the end of the vassa rainy retreat, for the purpose of making robes. And on that one day, many thousands of robes were presented at Rajagaha to the bhikkhus. Since then , the practice of offering robes to the monks and to the nuns in the Sangha came to be regarded as one of the meritorious deeds .

 The Buddha is sitting at the centre, surrounded by monks and lay people



Another very interesting feature of the Vinaya Pitaka, as elaborated in its Chapters such as the Mahavagga, Chullavagga, Pachittiya etc., is the importance accorded to ones education; the system of education recommended for the young student-monks in the Sangha; the teaching methods; and, the relationship that should ideally exist between the teacher (Upajjhaya- Snkt. Upadhyaya) and the disciple (Antevasi – the resident student).

The Buddha insisted that his teaching should be spread in the language that is commonly spoken by the ordinary people of the towns and villages; and, not in Sanskrit , the language of the scholars. He was keen that the education –spiritual, ritual or otherwise- should be open to all classes of the Society.

At the outset; the Buddha guides the aspirant on the path that leads to right-understanding; and, asks the student to work it out by himself, following a free and fair reasoning. As regards the attitude or the approach that the students should ideally adopt; the Buddha while answering a question asked by Kalamas of Kesaputta, counselled the young learners thus (the kalama Sutta appearing in Aguttara Nikaya (III.653) :

Come, O Kālāmas, Do not accept anything thinking that thus have we heard it from a long time (anussava). Do not accept anything thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations (paramparā). Do not accept anything on account of rumours (itikirā). Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures (piaka-sampadāna). Do not accept anything by mere surmise (takka-hetu); or upon an axiom (naya-hetu). Do not accept anything by mere inference (ākāra-parivitakka). Do not accept anything by merely upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā). Do not accept anything by coming under another’s seems ability (bhabba-rūpatāya). Do not accept anything merely because the monk-teacher says so (samao no garū). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (and therefore it is right to accept his word.)

“Kalamas, when you know for yourselves —these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow – then indeed you do have to  reject them.

“But Kalamas, when you know for yourselves – these things are good; these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise; these things when undertaken and observed, lead to well-being and happiness- enter upon and abide in them.’


Vinaya Pitaka describes the qualities (Guna) of a good student as:

(1) having a keen desire to learn;

(2) accomplish the task assigned by the teacher;

(3) watch ones conduct in word, deed and mind; repent ones mistakes, and ensure such mistakes do not occur again;

(4) practice concentration and meditation; and,

(5) honor and respect your teacher, develop a loving attitude towards her/him.

The Vinaya Pitaka asks the student to :

(1) properly receive the knowledge that is imparted  (Suggahitani );

(2) be attentive while listening (Samansiktani);

(3)  absorb and retain what is taught (Supdharitani ); and,

(4)  render what he/she has learnt in a clear voice , using a simple land meaningful words that are easily understood by the listeners (Kalyaniyasi).

The Vinaya Pitaka encourages the student to rationally and logically analyse the words of the teacher; to politely ask pertinent questions; to clear his doubts; and, to seek the answers himself.

As regards the responsibilities of the Pupils; each was charged with the task and responsibility of maintaining the monastery, in which they all live and study, cleanly and properly. Apart from cleaning and putting things in place, the resident-students were expected to look after their Master, with love and devotion.

Normally, a student-monk would be attached to a teacher till the end of the study-course. But, a student could go to another teacher, in case the present teacher:

(1) goes on a long pilgrimage or tour;

(2) is transferred to another monastery;

(3) changes his philosophy and ideology;

(4) voluntarily allows the student to seek instructions from another teacher;

(4) is unwell or sick; or

(5) dies.

An errant student runs the risk of being expelled from the monastery, in case he/she is held guilty of gross indiscipline, despite the repeated counselling.


As regards the desired virtues (Guna) of a worthy teacher (Upadhyaya) , the Chullavagga mentions that he/she should primarily be well disciplined; gain control of his/her senses ; set an example by his/her conduct; and , practice  in good-faith what he/she teaches. The teacher should ensure that his/her teachings are proper; and, unerringly guide the learner along the virtuous path.

The other merits of a good teacher (Sadguru) were said to be that he/she is: well educated, respected and posses a high moral conduct; has the necessary skill, aptitude and the tolerance to teach; spreads the knowledge without fear, favour or prejudice; well intentioned, having the well-being of the student; and, above all, should be well versed in the tenets and the disciplines enumerated in the Vinaya Pitaka (Vinayadhar), and, brings them into practices.


In regard to the teacher-student relationship, the Chullavagga desires that an ‘Upajjhaya’ should ever bear in his heart and mind a fatherly attitude towards his pupils.

And, in a similar manner, the pupils should respect and regard the teacher as they would to their own father; and, take care of their teacher with love and devotion.

And, the teacher, on his part, should look after and take care of his pupils with diligence. At the time of pupil’s illness, teacher has to look after him; arrange for proper medication; and ,nurse him back to good health.

The Buddha, in that regard, set an example to all other teachers.

Recalling the Buddha’s attitude, Bhadant Upali, a disciple of the Buddha, narrated that once, while in Sravasti, the Buddha came upon an ailing monk in a very sick and dirty condition. The Buddha at once asked his cousin and close disciple Ananda, to fetch a bowl of fresh water and clean the ‘Chivara’ (monastic robe) of the sick and old monk. The Buddha, thereupon, himself washed the body of that monk and changed his attire. Thus, by attending to the sick monk himself, the Master set a shining example to others about the responsibilities that a teacher must bear towards his pupils and followers.

Buddha sick monk

 The above instance illustrates the process in which the rules governing the conduct of the monks evolved in the early Buddhism. This was in sharp contrast to the practices in a few other religions, where the Rule was initially pronounced or written down and later imposed on the followers. The Buddhist practices, especially those concerning the conduct of the monks, emerged out of the incidents in the Buddha’s life or out of his discourses. It was a gradual process; and a Rule developed in response to a challenge or to fulfill the needs of the growing Order.

This tradition, incidentally, helped the Buddhist teaching methods in explaining the significance or the concept behind a certain conduct or a practice recommended for the monks. It helped the learner to appreciate how the rule fitted into a coherent whole.


Dr. Ananat Sadashiv Altekar (1898-1960) – who was the Professor and Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture at Banaras Hindu University –  (in his Education in Ancient India, 1934)  talks about  Buddhism and the system of ancient Indian education. The following is an extract:

Buddhism and ancient Indian educationChapter X – Section A- pages 225 to 233

Ordination Ceremony:

The wise injunction of the Buddha, that every novice should be properly trained in the discipline and doctrine of the religion, was primarily responsible for the educational developments in and activities of Buddhist monasteries. Two ceremonies were laid down for those who desired to enter the Order, the Pabbajja and the Upwampada.

The Pabbajja marked the beginning of the noviciate period and could be given when a person was less than eight years old. The permission of the guardian was necessary.

The Upammpada was given after the end of the noviciate period, and the recipient had to be not less than twenty years old.

(If he was a debtor, an invalid or a government servant, he was refused admission.)

 The ordination could take place only with the consent of the whole Chapter. There were no caste restrictions for admission.

The novice had to affirm his faith in the Buddha, his Dharma and the Sangha (the Order); and select a learned person as his preceptor. He was to follow strictly the rules and discipline of the Order.

Like the Hindu Brahmachari (student), he was expected to beg his daily food; but he was also permitted to accept invitations for meals from laymen. He was to do all manual and menial work connected with the monastic life, e. g. cleansing its floor and utensils, bringing water, supervising its stores, etc.

(If he was guilty of any serious breach of discipline, he could be expelled by a meeting of the chapter.)

The Relation between the Novice and his Teacher

The Relations between the Novice and his Teacher were filial in character; they were united together by mutual reverence, confidence and affection. Like the Hindu Brahmacharin, the Buddhist novice was to help his teacher by doing a variety of manual work for him ; he was to carry his seat and robes, supply him water and tooth stick, cleanse his begging bowl and utensils and accompany him as an attendant when he proceeded to the town or village for begging or preaching.

The teacher was to teach the student the rules of etiquette and discipline, draw his and abstinence from pleasures and help him in his intellectual and spiritual progress by suitable discourses and lessons* in the morning and afternoon. He was also to help him in getting food and robes, and even to nurse him if he was sick.

 The teacher ‘s own life was to be exemplary ; and, the novice was permitted to act as a check on him if he was wavering in his faith or about to commit a breach of monastic discipline. The needs ol the teacher were to be the minimum; the famous teachers at Nalanda used to receive an allowance only three times larger than the amount given to an ordinary student.

This would give a very clear idea as to how Buddhist teachers led a very simple life and cost next to nothing to society. They were lifelong students of their different subjects; for marriage did not intervene to put an end to or an obstacle in their studies.

The Education of the Laity

 As observed already, in the beginning Buddhist education was purely monastic and was intended only for those who entered, or intended to enter, the Order. This was but natural.

 Buddhism held that the worldly life was full of sorrow and that the salvation could be possible only by renouncing it. It could therefore naturally evince no interest in the education of those who intended to follow secular life and pursuits. In the course of time however it was realised that it was necessary to win public sympathy and support for the spread of the gospel ; this could be more successfully done if the Buddhist monk could help the cause of education .as was done by his theological opponent, the Brahman priest.

 It was also realised that the best way to spread the gospel was to undertake the education of the rising generation. This was  calculated to enable the Order to mould and influence the minds of the younger section of the society, when they were very pliable. There was thus a better chance of both recruiting proper types of persons for the Order and of getting a larger number of lay sympathisers, if the educational effort was not confined to novices but was also extended to the whole community.

Buddhism therefore threw itself heart and soul into the cause of the general education of the whole community from about the beginning of the Christian era. It may be pointed out that lay students were admitted in ‘external’ monastic schools of Christianity, ‘internal’ schools being reserved for those who intended to join the order. Jesuits also used to admit lay pupils, when space permitted the step.

Female Education

Buddhist nunneries went out of vogue from about the 4th century A. D. ; so at  the time when Buddhist monasteries had developed into colleges of international reputation, women were not receiving any advantages of the education imparted in them. Their marriages were at that time taking place very early.

In the early history of Buddhism however, the permission given to women to enter the Order gave a fairly good impetus to the cause of female education, especially in aristocratic and commercial sections of society. A large number of ladies from these circles joined the Order and became life-long students of religion and philosophy. Their example must have given an indirect encouragement to the spread of education among lay women as well


 It will thus be seen that Buddhism may well be proud of its contribution to the cause of  education in ancient In dial Its colleges threw their doors open to all, irrespective of  any considerations of  caste or country: The rise of organized public educational institutions may be justly attributed to the Buddhist influence.

 It raised the international status of India by the efficiency of its higher education, which attracted students from distant countries like Korea, China, Tibet and Java.  The cultural sympathy which the countries in Eastern Asia feel for India even today is entirely due to the work of the famous Buddhist colleges of ancient India. If some of the important lost texts can be reconstructed with the help of their Chinese translations, the credit must be given to Buddhist colleges, which enabled Chinese students to  get their copies.

The Buddhist education also helped in the development of Hindu logic and philosophy by initiating and encouraging comparative study. In the period of its early history, it championed the cause of education through the mother tongue; later on however it could not resist the charm and influence of Sanskrit and began to impart education through that language.

lotus blue

Vegetarianism in Buddhism :

Once while he visited the Buddha ,who was then staying in his Mango grove, Jīvaka asked, if it was true that animals were slain expressly for the Buddha’s use. The Buddha replied— he forbids the eating of meat only when there is evidence of one’s eyes or ears as grounds for suspicion that the animal was slain for one’s express use. Anyone who slays an animal for the use of a monk and gives it to him commits a great evil”. Jīvaka was pleased with the reply and declared himself a follower of the Buddha. (Jīvaka Sutta – M.i.368f.)

 Jivaka sutta :

This is the much-discussed Jivaka Sutta that puts forth the Buddhist views on meat eating and vegetarianism. The sutra and the discussions that follow are elaborate. Some of that can be explored by following the links at the bottom of this paragraph.

In summary:

– a monk or nun should accept, without any discrimination, whatever food is offered in alms , offered with good will; this could include meat. However, the Buddha declared the meat trade as wrong livelihood. (Vanijja Sutta, AN 5:177)

Taking life, beating, cutting, binding, stealing, lying, fraud, deceit, pretence at knowledge, adultery; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

– When men are rough and harsh, backbiting, treacherous, without compassion, haughty, ungenerous and do not give anything to anybody; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

– Anger, pride, obstinacy, antagonism, hypocrisy, envy, ostentation, pride of opinion, interacting with the unrighteous; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

– When men are of bad morals, refuse to pay their debts, are slanderers, deceitful in their dealings, pretenders, when the vilest of men commit foul deeds; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

– When men attack living beings because of either greed or hostility and are always bent upon evil, they go to darkness after death and fall headlong into hell; this is un-cleanliness and not the eating of meat.

-. Abstaining from fish and meat, nakedness, shaving of the head, matted hair, smearing ashes, wearing rough deerskins, attending the sacrificial fire; none of the various penances in the world performed for unhealthy ends, neither incantations, oblations, sacrifices nor seasonal observances, purify a person who has not overcome his doubts.

-. He who lives with his senses guarded, conquered, and is established in the Dhamma delights in uprightness and gentleness; who has gone beyond attachments and has overcome all sorrows; that wise man does not cling to what is seen and heard.(Amagandha Sutta)

 – meat should not be eaten under three circumstances: when it is seen or heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. (When a living being is purposely slaughtered for the eater).

 – meat can be eaten in three circumstances: when it is not seen, heard, or suspected (when a living being is not purposely slaughtered for the eater). (Jivaka Sutta, MN 55)

He permitted His monks to be vegetarians if they so wished; He did not prescribe that as a rule (to avoid hardship to His monks).

The Buddha declared that kamma is intention. One should not therefore condemn a person merely because he is eating meat to sustain himself. This sets him apart from one who eats meat out of greed for meat or for enjoyment in killing.

None should discourage those who opt not to eat meat. A balanced diet could be achieved without meat, if one so desires. Many Buddhists have opted to become vegetarians because it helps them to practice “loving-kindness”.


The Buddha’s last message to his disciples was:

Behold now, Bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness”

“My years are now full ripe; the life span left is short.
Departing, I go hence from you, relying on myself alone.
Be earnest, then, O bhikkhus, be mindful and of
virtue pure!

With firm resolve, guard your own mind,
Whoso untiringly pursues the Dhamma and the Discipline
Shall go beyond the round of births and make an end of suffering

(DN 16 Maha-parinibbana Sutta)

Jivaka’s story is fascinating by itself; in addition, it provides an insight into evolution of values and attitudes in the early Sangha.

 Buddha myroblalan

Sources and References (Amagandha Sutta)

Transformations in Indian History



Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Buddhism


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Pubbarama (purva_rama) was a Buddhist monastery situated in the neighborhood of Savasthi, to the Northeast of Jeta_vana, which was one of the Buddha’s viharas The Buddha spent nine rainy seasons in Pubbarama. During his stay there, the Buddha dispensed many discourses, guided and helped a large number of persons. Pubbarama monastery, therefore, is often mentioned in the Buddhist texts. How the Pubbarama monastery came into being, is a very interesting story. It is narrated in the Dhamma_pada Commentary (Vol. I, 384-420).


Visakha, bright and beautiful, was the daughter of Dhananjaya and Sumanadevi who resided in the city of Kosala. Dhanajaya was a wealthy merchant and lived a comfortable life. Visakha grew up playing around the Vihara of the Buddha, in Kosala.She was an active, inquisitive and a lively child; she was always questioning about the things around her and about Dhamma. The Buddha was fond of the little girl.

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

Migara sent a couple of well-fed Brahmins to scout for a girl who answered the specifications laid down by his son They roamed the Magadha and Kosala countries in search of a suitable girl who would make Punnavaddhana happy. They, however, could not spot the precious one. Having given up their search, and when they were loitering in Kosala, cooking up a ruse to appease the” angry-old- bull “- Migara, they were caught in an unexpected storm. While they were running for a shelter, they noticed, to their amazement, a young and a beautiful girl walking calmly and gracefully through the storm to the nearby shelter, just as her friends ran in all directions. The Brahmins , quite impressed by the pretty girl’s composure went up to her and questioned why she did not run to the shelter, as her friends did, to avoid getting wet. The fair maiden replied in her unhurried and measured voice, “It is not appropriate for a maiden in her fine clothes to run, just as it is not appropriate for a king in royal attire, a royal elephant dressed for the parade, or a serene monk in robes, to run.” Pleased with her reply, her composure and her exquisite beauty, the Brahmins went back and reported to Migara about their discovery of the most suitable bride for Punnavaddhana.

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

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

Migara duly chastened, changed his ways, invited the Buddha and his retinue of monks for their meal and arranged for rich food.

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

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

Thereafter, Visakha offered the jewels for sale, with the intention of donating the sale proceeds to the Sangha or using it for building a new monastery. She did not succeed in finding a buyer, as none could afford the exquisite jeweled headdress (it was her wedding gift from her parents and reached all the way down her long hair to her ankles.)

Visakha then decided to buy it herself. She thereafter went on to build a new monastery to house to the Buddha and His retinue of monks and nuns. It was a magnificent two-storied structure built of wood and stone. Besides the prayer and conference halls, it had a number of rooms. That monastery came to be known as pubbarama (Purva_rama) because it was facing to the East.

On the day, Visakha dedicated the monastery to the Buddha she was overjoyed. She sang and danced with immense joy. She ran like child, with her children around the monastery, many times. Her joy was infectious; even the Buddha was touched.

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


Soon after its completion, Visakha took charge of the nun’s section of the Pubbarama. One evening, while on her rounds, she was horrified to see the nuns’ fully drunk, dancing and singing crazy songs. When she asked the nuns to stop what they were doing, they did not listen to her. Instead, they asked her to raise a toast to the Buddha, get drunk and join the party.

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

(,_Part_III )


On one occasion, she sought the Buddha’s solace, as she was annoyed and angry with the tax collectors, who were obviously, over charging on her goods. The king too did not heed to her plea. The Buddha calmed her mind by singing:

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

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


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

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


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

She led a long and healthy life and lived for over a hundred years.

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

Visakha, the fair maiden

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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Buddhism


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