Ratnashree’s series articles published weekly in News Front. The articles clarify prevailing misconceptions on Buddhism and help general readers understand authentic Buddhism. The articles first appeared on 16-22 April 2007 issue. News Front is a weekly newspaper that is published every Monday. Read the articles published to date in full.
Published on 16-22 April 2007 Issue
Having humbly offered marshland flowers to the Master of gods and men (sasta deva manushyanam), the god of gods (Devadideva) the yogi of yogis, I humbly begin this series on Buddhism. Nepal is the land where the Buddha was born and it was the first country outside India where Buddhism spread. A vast number of Sakyas had become Buddhists at the time of the Buddha himself. However, leaving aside the Himalayan ethnic minority, the vast majority of the Nepalese people, including those who are supposed to be Buddhists by birth, know very little about both the Buddha and Buddhism. To the vast majority of non-Buddhist Nepalese, the Buddha-legend is based on myths coming from non-Buddhist cultures. So the Buddha becomes an incarnation of Visnu and that’s about all that is known about the Buddha. In this age and era when Buddhism is spreading like wild fire across the seven seas and becoming the talk of the intellectuals across the world, Nepalese intellectuals fumble and mumble about the Buddha being born in Lumbini before their knowledge about Buddhism dries up, whilst the more orthodox try to cull up what other famous Hindu yogis had said about the Buddha – most of which are purely fabricated story, historically unsound and alien to any form of Buddhism around the world.
So, putting the horse before the cart, who or what is the Buddha or a Buddha according to the Buddhists themselves? This story goes three asankhya kalpas ago. When there was a powerful yogi with all the siddhi and riddhis called Bhikchhu Sumedha. It is said that even though he was already a powerful yogi with siddhi – riddhis, he resolved to make the aspiration (pranidhan) to become a Buddha, in front of the Buddha Dipankara, some three asankhya kalpas ago. And that was the starting of the making of a Buddha. This point is based on the words of the Buddha Sakyamuni himself as recorded in the Jatak which is one of the Scriptural texts found in the Tripitaka. The Jatakas are collection of the stories of Sakyamuni’s former lives as told by himself.
Then Bhikchhu Sumedha practiced sadhanas for three asankhya kalpas under many Buddhas like Kashyapa etc. until finally he became a Buddha. Whether we regard this story as mere myth or real, it is the Buddhist version and speaks abundantly about the Buddhist culture related to who or what a Buddha is. Even if it be considered as only a myth it is the Buddhist myth as opposed to non – Buddhist myths about the Buddha. But myth or not it does tell us a lot about who or what a Buddha is to the Buddhists and about Buddhism. This story says that a Buddha is a sentient being who is the acme of spiritual development, as he was already a powerful yogi when he began his journey to Buddhahood. Thus he is the king of all yogis. Also he is not some kind of a God or incarnation of a God, but rather a human being who started on the long journey to become a Buddha. In the process, the Jatakas tell us he was born many times as Devas like Indra etc, many times as humans etc. This opens up the Buddhist concept that there is not much difference between the Gods and men and animals in terms of cycle of existence, because the continuity of the same mental continuum can be a deva at one time and a human at another time. So devas in Buddhism are not eternally fixed devas but can die and be born as humans etc. depending upon the karma they have accumulated. This means karma is not fixed thing bestowed upon men by some super gods but rather the actions one’s own self has perpetrated and the result one’s own self has to experience and is changeable by one’s ownself. So a Buddha is not a God come down to help mankind but a person that has reached the acme of spiritual development. That is why he called himself “Sasta deva manushyanam” which means the Spiritual Guru or Master of Devas and humans. Being born as a human, he was a human but having become a Buddha he was no more a mere human, but the Sasta/Guru/Master of humans and Devas in terms of spiritual development. He himself clearly said in the Drona Sutra of the Anguttara Nikaya that he was not a Deva, not a yakchhya, not a Gandharva and not a human as well. The Buddha is certainly not a God or an emanation of any God by any Buddhist account but then if he is not a human too what is he? He is a Buddha. What is the meaning of the word Buddha and how is a Buddha different from being a human?
He was born a human of a human mother and father. Suddhodhan and Mayadevi were not gods and goddesses or even their avatar. They were humans. But in Buddhism as I have already mentioned humans are not some eternally stuck beings whose lot is to be humans for ever. It is those very humans who became gods and goddesses according to the actions they have performed (karma); and gods and goddesses become humans and animals according to their karma performed in the past and present. So devas are not eternal gods and goddesses, who have no connection with humans. So how was he not a human? Humans are those who are still engrossed in emotional defilements, and still lost in ignorance. Ignorance here does not mean ignorance of worldly knowledge – whatever they be – but ignorance of the way the world really exists, ignorance of ones own true nature (swarup). Since a Buddha is neither entangled in emotional defilements nor is he ignorant of the true nature of all that exists including himself, he cannot be said to be a human, although his physical endowments continue to be that of a human. His level of mind is no more the same as the level of mind of any human or gods and goddesses for that matter.
In fact the mind of a Buddha is no more like any sentient beings in the entire universe called Trisahasra mahasahasra loka dhatu in Buddhist culture. That’s why the Buddha himself told the Bramin Drona to understand him as a Buddha as he was not a Deva, yakchhya, gandharva or human. A Buddha is the result of the spiritual practice of three immeasurable kalpas (tri asankhya kalpa), thus according to the Lalitvistar, the Mahasangik record of the Buddha’s life, he was the eldest of all sentient beings (including Gods and Bramah of the highest Deva lokas) at the point of birth itself. This is the meaning of Bramah, Visnu and Mahesh coming to greet him at his birth as is shown in the sculpture in Lumbini and in many paubha paintings.
Because of the immeasurable merit he accumulated during the three immeasurable kalpas of practice he was born with the 32 lakchhyanas (physical characteristics) and 80 anubyanjanas (sub – characteristics). These are found only amongst those who will become a Chakravarti King or a Buddha. These two are concepts which existed in the sub-continent even before the time of Sakyamuni because we find the Brahmin Puskarswati sending his Brahmin disciple Ambatha to check whether Gautam was really a Buddha and had those characteristics or not. Ambatha was rude to the Buddha, he appears to be a snobbish Brahmin but when the learned Brahmin Puskarswati heard that Gautam indeed had those characteristics, he asked Ambatha “How did you behave with him?” When Ambatha told him how he behaved, it is said Puskarswati gave him a swat on the face and went himself to apologize for his disciple’s rude behaviour. But it must be made cleat that these 32 lakchhyanas and anubyanjanas are not the same attributed to Krishna. These are a more ancient version of the 32 lakchhyanas. Some of the major part of which are a golden colored skin, a swirl of white hair between the eye brows, and a mound on top of the skull which gives the impression that he has tied his hair in a tuft on the crown. That tuft – like mound on top of all Buddha – statues is actually not a tuft of hair tied up in a bun above the crown as most non – Buddhist Nepalese think but rather a peculiar bump of the skull found only in the Buddha or a Chakravarti Kings, called the usnisa. These are characteristics not found in any non – Buddhist devas or yogis, although some of them are common. According to the Ambatha sutta, Digha Nikaya, these characteristics were well known to the Brahmins of the time of the Buddha and mentioned in their texts too. But, this knowledge seems to have become lost in the Brahmanical systems in later centuries after the Buddha, because we find in later Hindu texts, that the Buddha is made into an avatar of Visnu and Krishna whose very name means black is also said to have the 32 lakchhyanas. Even the Brahmins of the Buddha’s time knew that a Buddha is as rare as the Udumbara flower. A flower said to bloom only when a Buddha attains full enlightenment and that was very rare. A Buddha arises only when the teachings of a Buddha before him has been totally lost. As there can be no two lions in the same forest so there can be no two Buddhas at the same time or two different teachings of two different Buddhas at the same time. So a new Buddha arises only after the sasana (dispensation) of the one before him has totally vanished. Right now the dispensation of Sakya Muni Buddha still exists and is going strong and so no other Buddha can arise. Maitreya Buddha will arise only after the dispensation of Sakya Muni has totally vanished.
Taking this metaphor (which should not be stretched too far like all other metaphors) we can say that the Buddha and only the Buddha could possible validate whether or not another person he has taught has experienced the same Bodhi or not. I am sure there can be no two thoughts about this much. This is exactly what the Buddha did when he declared hundreds of his disciples as arhats or srotapannas or sagridagami or bodhisattvas who had attained Darsan marga or higher up the ladder.
These new words bring us closer to what the Buddhists call enlightenment but we shall deal with them a little later after having dealt with the “Unbroken – enlightened lineage” issue first. So the Buddha historically validated different levels of enlightenment amongst his disciples; and this is recorded in Theravad, Sarvastivad, and Mahayan literature. Now that means these first generation disciples were enlightened to various degrees according to the Buddha himself. So, more than anybody else these disciples would be the authentic authorities on what was the Buddha’s Bodhi. Now these disciples authenticated the degrees of enlightenment of their disciples who were the second generation. As these first generations had experienced themselves the Bodhi of the Buddha to various degrees, they would know better than anybody else which of their disciples had reached/attained/experienced various degrees of the Buddha’s Bodhi. I do not think there can be two minds about it. Only a scientist can test whether a new student has the knowledge he himself has and definitely not a non – scientist. Likewise only Masters of Buddha’s unbroken lineage can gauge whether the practitioners of the next generation have attained the Buddha’s Bodhi to some degree or not and not other non – Buddhists. For this validation to remain authentic and pure, the lineage should be unbroken generation to generation from the time of the Buddha through the first generation, second generation, third generation etc etc. till the present time. Even if in one generation, there was no one who was validated as enlightened, the lineage is broken as far as enlightenment is concerned; even if it continues. That then is an unbroken lineage but not an enlightened unbroken lineage. There are other kinds of lineages like the pandit lineage of scholars, who have transmitted unbroken, the knowledge of the Buddha’s teaching from generation to generation up to date. But that is not an unbroken enlightened lineage but and unbroken pandit lineage. The pandit lineage can not validate authentically the experience of someone as valid Buddhist enlightenment or not. It can only infer based on scriptures. In the Buddhism of today, as a whole both the lineages exist unbroken and alive. It is the Masters of these lineages who are the authentic disseminators of the Buddha’s teachings and not others no matter how brilliant or profound their explanations of the Buddha’s teachings are.
Published on 7-13 May 2007 Issue
Actually since such lineage Masters of both types of lineage exist in abundance in both the Mahayana and Sravakayana tradition, many of them being holders of both lineages, there’s no need for others who do not belong to such authentic lineages to explain or even teach Buddhism based on one’s own personal ideas. The Buddha’s teaching is still alive and dynamic. It is not a thing of the past history which can be explained according to one’s preferences and conditionings. So this is the meaning of unbroken enlightened lineage and unbroken pandit lineage. Within Buddhism, there is also an unbroken Bhikchhu lineage from the time of the Buddha till today. Some Masters hold all the three unbroken lineages. They are enlightened Masters authenticated by their Masters who themselves were authenticated by their Masters thus going backwards to the Buddha himself, but at the same time are also pandits, taught by pandits of an unbroken lineage who were themselves taught by such pandits going back to Sakya Muni himself and they were also Bhikchhus, made by Bhikchhus by older generations, who themselves were made by Bhikchhus by older generations going back right upto Sakya Muni himself. These are not unrecorded facts; but well recorded. In Mahayana, which consists of two Major streams :- 1. Paramitayana 2. Vajrayana, the names of the unbroken lineage Masters from Masters of present day back to Nalanda, Bikramashila etc etc are well recorded and available even today. And everybody knows that these great Mahavihars were like huge universities whose lineage goes back to the Buddha. People from as far away as China, Korea, Central Asia, Greece, Egypt came to study in these learning houses which were virtually Mahaviharas (Great monastic complexes). And those Mahayana lineages of those Mahavihars were unbroken and continue to remain alive and vibrant up till this day. The meaning of the sutras and sastras of Buddhism should be according to the Masters of such lineages and not otherwise. There have been many interpreters of the Buddha’s teachings in the Indian subcontinent who never studied under any of the authentic lineage masters. Needless to say people are free to interpret as they deem fit the teachings of the Buddha but such interpretations should not be mistaken as authentic Buddhism.
Published on 14-20 May 2007 Issue
While dealing with various interpretation or more aptly misinterpretation of Buddhism made by non-buddhist yogis and the like it seems apt to point out some of the more common ones before continuing with the lineage issue. One of the oft repeated concept is that the Buddha actually taught, the same thing as the Vedanta of the Vedic system but his disciples did not understand him. Now a lot of non-buddhists believe with ease such blatant fallacies. First of all, as we have seen, the Buddha himself validated the scholastic and experiential understanding of all his immediate disciples and their lineages still exist unbroken. So to say that the Buddha’s disciples who walked the breadth of North India with him and studied with him for forty years or more and were validated by the Buddha himself, that they fully understood what he taught, did not understand him while non-buddhist swamis and yogis really understood him and that too after two thousand five hundred years afterwards is indeed a bit far fetched to say the least. No rational person could possibly agree with such flagrant distortion of reality.
A corollary to the above misconception is that the Buddha actually taught what was in the Vedas but his disciples either did not understand his teaching or distorted them. An aspect of the above mentioned misconception has already been shown as totally absurd. But there is another aspect which needs to be dealt with. As the Buddha’s immediate disciples had experienced in their own mental continuum what the Buddha meant, there could not possibly have been any distortion. And as the living enlightened lineages continue to date, which means that each generation experienced in their mental continuum, the exact meaning of the Buddha’s teachings, to claim that the Buddhists distorted the Buddha’s teachings and that’s why it has become so different from the Vedic teachings, is the height of naivety.
And this brings us to another similar misconception about Buddhism. Most Hindu scholars, or otherwise, would like to believe that the Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism. This misunderstanding is rampant amongst educated Hindus and is a correlate of the story fabricated in the 16th century and later in the Shiva Purana and its likes, that the Buddha was an incarnation of Visnu. First of all Hinduism as it is known today did not exist at the time of the Buddha, so there can be no question about Buddhism being a branch of Hinduism. In fact, according to historical records and anthropological studies, what we call Hinduism is 75% derived from Buddhism and is the offspring of the impact of Buddhism on the Brahmanic system. What existed in the Buddha’s time was a form of Brahmanism, that was quite different from what is known as Hinduism today. From ancient times there were two streams of spiritual quest in the Indian sub-continent. One was Sramanism and the other was Vedic Brahmanism. These two streams did interact with each other as is seen clearly in the Upanishads of the Brahmanic systems and the sutras of the Buddhists and Jains who were both members of the sramanic system. It should be kept in mind that both the Buddha and Mahavir called themselves Mahasramans, which is a clear indication that they did not subscribe to the Brahmanic systems. In one of the most famous mantras of Buddhism ‘ye dharma hetu prabaha hetustathagato hyevadat tesancha yo nirodho evam badi mahasramana, Aswajit, the famous Brahmin disciple of the Buddha called the Buddha Mahasramana. Sramanism was probably older than the Vedic Brahmanism, that, according to many historians came into India when the Indo-Aryans transmigrated into the Indian sub-continent, from Central Asia. But there are many who do not agree to this view. However, Sramanism is definitely an indigenous spiritual tradition of the Indian subcontinent, and there is no two thoughts about this.
We see the transactions between the Sramans and Brahmins in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad 3.6.1 where we find Gargi (who is often vaunted as the daughter of Nepal) challenging the Brahmin Yagyavalkya. We know that Gargi was a Sraman by the fact that she stuck a twig of the rose-apple (Jambu tree) as a sign of challenge. And also the style of questioning of Gargi is a shade different from the questions put forth by the many other Brahmins in that same text. The Brihadaranyak is thought to be at least 2-3 hundred years older than the Buddha if not older. So Sramanism was an equally old (if not older) stream of spiritual system as Brahmanism and the Buddha has clearly called himself Mahasraman. This would clearly imply that Buddhism is definitely not an off-shoot of Brahmanism, what to speak of Hinduism which is a product of Brahmanism’s interaction with Buddhism and thus something that developed in the Indian sub-continent after the Buddha. We could give scholastic quotes to validate this but it’s not necessary in an article like this. Vedic Brahmanism metamorphosed drastically due to the catalytic influence of Buddhism and others and became the multifarious system under the generic name of Hinduism.
Published on 21-27 May 2007 Issue
But of course, we cannot say that Buddhism was not influenced by Vedic Brahmanism and later Hinduism at all. That would be too naïve. However, in the give and take which is inevitable in any culture within a space of time (and Buddhism covered 75% of India and 75% Asia for sixteen or so hundred years), it was Hinduism which took mostly from Buddhism and not the other way around.
Another interrelated myth is that it was Sankaracharya who defeated the Buddhists all over India and that is how Buddhism vanished from India or as the former President of India Dr. Radhakrishnan Sarvapulli put it, Hinduism embraced Buddhism and in the process killed it. Again these are myths running wild amongst Hindus of the Indian sub-continent; but they do not have any historical validity. This notion is given further credence to Nepalese, including Buddhist Newars by the Newari legend that Sankaracharya came to Nepal and defeated all the Buddhists, converted the kings and beheaded the Bhikchhus. First of all the Adi Sankaracharya was around the 7th century and great Mahavihars like Nalanda and Bikramashila were still running strong till the 12th /13th century when the Muslims over ran India and destroyed them. Secondly there were still Mahasiddhas like Naropa, Tilopa and many others till the Muslim invasion. So, Buddhism was still running strong five century after Adi Sankaracharya. And furthermore, the stories of Sankaracharya as written by Ananda Giri and Madhava etc. do not contain any element which mentions that he debated with the Buddhists all over India and defeated them. In fact those stories show Sankaracharya debating mostly with other non-advaita Hindus and rarely with the Buddhist. So, the misconception that Sankaracharya went up and down India defeating all the Buddhists and this is how Buddhism vanished from India seems to be baseless and fabricated by uneducated Non-Buddhists. Thirdly, the Sankaracharya that came to Nepal seems to be of the 11th-12th century or later and not the Adi Sankaracharya. He seems to have entered Nepal when Buddhism was beginning to decline in Nepal as a result of its having declined in India due to the Islamic invasion which literally destroyed Buddhism in India. So he did not find any match for his debates and was able to convert many people in Kathmandu. He may possibly be the same Harinanda who was defeated by the Great Tibetan Guru Sakya Pandit. However this is not conclusive. But the stories do say he died in Tibet. However he did not die before he created havoc amongst the Buddhists of Kathmandu Valley, who still do not seem to have recovered from the shock. Big learning houses like Nalanda, Bikramashila etc were raised to the ground and the monks beheaded and the books in the libraries burnt to cinders by the Islamic invaders like Bakhtiar, Khilji etc. It is said in the diary of Khilji’s general that, the books of the library of Nalanda took six months for the cinders to settle down and nine months for the smoke to settle down. So much destruction took place all over the Indian subcontinent. It said one of the reasons why the Buddhist monasteries were specially picked out by the Islamic invaders is that they mistook the monks in uniform monk dress as uniformed army men and the books in the library as books on warfare et al. This happened in the 12th/13th century, almost 5 centuries after Sankaracharya. Till then Buddhism was still flourishing strong in the Indian subcontinent.
Published on 28 May – June 3 2007 Issue
Yes the Adi Sankaracharya refuted the Buddhist tenets in his commentaries of the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra; but the Buddhists have also equally refuted the concepts of Sankara. Debate and refutation was both ways till the Islamic Invasion. It was only after Buddhism was literally raised to the ground by the Islamic Invaders that present day Hinduism, which is a metamorphosed form of Vedic Hinduism, began to raise its head. Till then 75% of Indian subcontinent and 75% Asia was Buddhist. From the time of the Buddha and specially from the 1st/2nd century till the 11th/12th century, when the Vajrayana form of Buddhism was in sway, Buddhist art, philosophy and logic developed to its fullest potential. It can certainly be said that, that was the golden period of Indian culture as a whole and Indian Buddhism specifically. This was also the period when, as a result of interaction with Buddhism, Hinduism also developed to its cream. It should be remembered that Sankaracharya who is considered as the cream of Hinduism by an overwhelming majority of the Hindus, was a product of the 6/7th century and many ancient Hindus like Bhaskaracharya etc even called him pracchanna Bauddha (crypto Buddhist). Why did these Hindu pillars call Sankaracharya a crypto-Buddhist? This is not because he, his philosophy or tenets were like the Buddhists’. No, far from it, he has attempted to refute the Buddhist tenets. It is because he has used the Buddhist logical modus operandii to refute all his opponents which included the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. This clearly shows how even Sankara was influenced by Buddhism. The great Buddhist Nyaiyayik (logician) Dharmakirti literally changed the logical system of the Indian subcontinent with his Buddhist logical tenets.
Another big confusion is that the Buddhist Tantra was a result of the influence of Hindu Tantra on Buddhism. But the famous Indian Iconographist Benoytosh Bhattacharya has amply proven that it is the other way around. Hindu Tantra developed after Buddhist Tantra (Vajrayana) reached its acme in the Indian subcontinent. One of the oldest Hindu Tantric literature the Pichu Tantra also called the Rudrayamala and the Brahmayamala very clearly states that Vasistha went to Mahachina (Tibet) to study the tantric methods with Shiva-rupi Buddha. Now till the 12th century, Tibetans came down to the hot plains of India to study the tenets of Vajrayana in the great learning houses like Nalanda/Bikramashila etc. Now this means this oldest Hindu Tantra was written after the 12th century and not before that. It was written after Vajrayana vanished from India after the Islamic Invasion. Although Hindu Tantra developed as a result of the influence of Vajrayana on the entire subcontinent, the two are only apparently similar. A deeper probe into both of them exposes a tremendous difference not only of the paradigms on which each is based but also on the principles on which each is based, the path followed by each and the final goal of each.
The entire Hindu Tantric systems are themselves diverse; some based on Shakti, others on Shiva and some on Visnu. The objective of most of them is to unite with the deity and finally attain Brahma, Parasamvit or Sambhava states. Excepting the dualistic tantras, they are all varieties of advaita Vedanta where other names substitute the Brahma of the Vedanta. Most of them are geared towards the realization of the Eternal unchanging self called the Atma in the entire Hinduistic system. Now the whole of Buddhist Tantra is geared to the realization of emptiness (sunyata) which is a subtle form of Anatma.
Published on 4-10 June 2007 Issue
Hinduistic Tantra is based on the experience of an eternally existing, unchanging entity called the true Self or true Atman, whereas the entire Buddhist Tantra is based on the experience that from the very beginning there is no eternally existing, unchanging Self. Both experience is a non-dual experience. In the Hindu system one merges non-dually with the eternal, unchanging Self and that is the non-dual experience. In Buddhist Tantra one sees through that there is no eternal, unchanging Self as opposed to the changing world. So there is no two, i.e. advaya. Many scholars have been confused by similar words like advaita/advaya and many others used in both the systems and believe that they are two versions of the same thing. Nothing could be further away from the truth. There are also many differences in the path; but that would require detailed technical nitty gritties which is not the purpose of this article. So we shall stop here about these points. All forms of Mahayana Buddhism within which Vajrayana lies, uses Sanskrit as its lingua franca. Since Hinduism and Hindu Tantra also uses Sanskrit, and because Buddhism and Hinduism developed first and foremost within the cultural milieu of the Indian subcontinent, it is not surprising that similar words are used in both system. For example, words like mantra, dhyana, Samadhi are common to both but do not necessarily mean exactly the same thing and one must not be fooled by the use of such common words to conclude that Buddhism and Hinduism are the same. One famous Nepalese Brahmin scholar saw that the word Bhairava is used in the mantra of Bignantak and used that as a proof that the Buddhist worship Bhairava and thus they are the same. In the Buddhist context the word only means wrathful and not any particular deity as is the case in Hinduism. The two tantric systems of the Indian subcontinent are as different from each other as Theravada is from Vaisnavism. Only the name Tantra is the same but even the exact definition of tantra in each of the system is drastically different. So these are some of the myths about Buddhism rampant amongst non-buddhists of Nepal which needed to be exploded.
These rampant confusions exist amongst the non – buddhists of the Indian subcontinent because, it has been over nine centuries since Buddhism was erased from the memory of the Indian subcontinent. It is common place for absurd rumors to spread like wild fire in the absence of authentic information.
The people of the Indian subcontinent came to believe that Buddhism had died out completely and did not exist at all; so each was free to interpret it according to one’s own predilictions. But in reality Buddhism continued to survive in full fledge in other lands where it was taken by the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent themselves. Buddhism is still alive and dynamic in Central Asia, Mongolia, Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, the Cis – Himalayan regions of Nepal and India, and in the Kathmandu Valley. But remarkably enough blinded by their own cultural preconceptions, biases and prejudices even the non – buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley who could not but rub shoulders with it constantly, were completely oblivious about its reality and continued to subscribe to the rumors made up by their Indian Gurus. This is indeed one of the world’s best epitome of how blind spots control the human mind, that in Nepal where Buddhism never died, the non – buddhist populace virtually know nil about authentic Buddhism.
Published on 11-17 June 2007 Issue
Now let’s go back to the unbroken enlightened lineages. Within Buddhism from very ancient times, and in fact according to the Buddhist notion, even in the times of former Buddhas there were three distinct highways. They are called :-1. The Sravakyana 2. The Pratyek buddhayana 3. The Bodhisatvayana also sometimes called the Samyak sambodhiyana. The goals, that is the enlightened state of each of them, though similar are not exactly the same. Thus the enlightenment of the Sravakyana is called Sravak Bodhi which is the enlightenment of the Arhat, and this is not according to Buddhism itself the same as the Pratyek bodhi which is the enlightenment of a pratyek Buddha and both of the above are not exactly the same as the Samyagsambodhi of a Samyak sambuddha. Now here within the Buddhist tradition itself we find three different enlightenments and this is something we have found that most non-buddhist teachers were totally unaware of. Here we shall take issue with all those who believe or claim that the enlightenment taught by the Buddha is the same enlightenment as taught by other non-Buddhist Masters including those who claim to be Buddhists or teach Buddhism but do not stem from any authentic Buddhist lineages. If Buddhism itself says there are 3 different enlightenments which may be similar but not exactly the same, how can others claim that non-buddhist enlightenment and the enlightenment of the Buddha are the same? It is not even clear which of the three Bodhis they are talking about when they claim that their enlightenment is the same as the enlightenment of the Buddha. Not only that much, according to the Theravadin sutta, Samyukta Nikaya (which is a form of Sravakayan) the two agrasravakas (foremost disciples of the Buddha, Maudgalyayana and Sariputra) had penetrated Dhammadhatu (in Sanskrit Dharmadhatu) which even the other Arhats had not penetrated. So to claim that whatever other non-buddhist Masters call enlightenment (Bodhi) is the same enlightenment as the Buddha and his disciples is to display gross ignorance about what Buddhism is all about. The goal of Sravakyana is Sravak bodhi which is the same as to say to become an Arhat. An Arhat is someone whose kleshas (emotional defilements) have become totally extinguished. Unless a person has became totally free from all klesha to claim that she/he is an Arhat is like a fox claiming that she/he is a lion. There are two different types of Arhats, those who become Arhats through samatha and vipassana practice and those who become Arhats through what is called Sukkha Vipassana/Vipassyana which means practicing Vipassana after attaining only the first dhyana. The former have pratiharya (miraculous powers) whilst the latter usually have less of it. Now these Arhats are neither Buddhas nor is their Bodhi (enlightenment) considered as Samyak Sambodhi, i.e. the enlightenment of the Buddha, what to speak of the enlightenment of non-buddhist systems. Likewise there is the enlightenment of the Pratyek-Buddhas called Pratyek bodhi which is neither the same as the Arhats’ nor that of a Buddha.
Published on 18-24 June 2007 Issue
Pratyekbuddhas arise only in the gaps between the teachings of two Buddhas. They do not appear at other times. For example, when the dispensation of Sakya Muni has become completely extinct, there will be a gap between the extinction and the coming of Maitreya Buddha. It is during this period that Pratyek Buddhas will arise. They are those who have already practiced in many lives with other Buddhas and they will practice based on their memories of the teachings of the Buddhas under whom they practiced before, when the Buddhas teaching have become completely extinct. It is said that at the moment when they attain Pratyek bodhi, no matter what their get-up was they will miraculously be transformed into full fledged Bhikchhus along with the Bhikcchu dress. These Pratyek Buddhas do not teach like Arhats or Buddhas. They are loners or live in groups of Pratyek Buddhas and only answer questions asked but do not formally teach. Needless to say, there are no Pratyek Buddhas now at this period when the dispensation of Sakyamuni is still alive. Nor has anyone heard any particular person miraculously turning into a Bhikchhu with all its regalia at the point of his enlightenment. And this is correct, because Pratyek Buddhas will not arise until Shakyamuni’s sasan (dispensation) has completely died out. Now let us talk about Samyak Sambodhi which is the enlightenment of a Buddha. First of all a bodhisattva (i.e. a being destined to be a Buddha in the future) begins his career by making the resolve in front of a living Buddha, that he too has determined to become a Buddha like himself to be able to free immeasurable sentient beings from sorrow. Then his career begins. The career or path of the Bodhisattva is practicing the six paramitas (sometimes also called the ten paramitas). These six paramitas are practiced from three to four asankhya kalpas during which period the Bodhisattva crosses through the five paths called the pancha marga. Various lineages like Theravada, Mahasangikas, Sarvastivadins have different categorizations in order to explain the path of the Bodhisattvas; but they are not really different in essence. Here, however, we shall use the explanation of Mahayana-Vajrayana which is similar to that of the Sarvastivadins. It is only these who make the resolve to become a Buddha in front of a living Buddha and practice the six or ten paramitas for 3 to 4 Asankhya Kalpas, who become a Buddha as a culmination of their path and not others. No other person, no matter how intelligent and how great a meditator can and should be called a Buddha. To become a Buddha one must cross the pancha marga (the five paths) and these may take a longer or shorter time but there are no short cuts to Buddhahood – as some have misconceived. Perhaps an explanation of the pancha marga (five paths) will clarify the above statement; but let us finish with the unbroken enlightened lineage issue first.
Published on 25 June – July 1 Issue
Thus there are three distinct ‘yanas’ i.e. vehicles of which there are no unbroken lineages of the Pratyek Buddhas. The remaining two, the Sravakayana and the Bodhisattvayana were both taught by the Shakyamuni and their unbroken lineages continue till today. The teachings and lineages related to Sravak Bodhi continued to grow after the Parinirvana of the Shasta, and in later centuries developed into 18 distinct lineages called Nikayas. Some scholars say that they developed into 24 lineages. These were the Sravakayana lineages whose methods produced Arhats. Arhathood was the final stage of these lineages and not everybody was called an Arhat the moment he experienced some extraordinary state of mind. In fact, people go through four stages of enlightenment in which they become progressively free from Klesha until they become completely free of all klesha (emotional defilements). It is only those who have become completely free of all klesha, whose klesha have been completely destroyed, that are called Arhats, what to speak of Buddhas. In the Sravakayana it is the progressive experience of nirvandhatu (Pali: nibbandhatu) that is called enlightenment. And the first glimpse of nibbandhatu cuts off three major klesha and is called srotappatti. It means he has entered the stream (srota) which will carry him towards Arhathood. And he has become enlightened but not fully enlightened. There are two more stages of enlightenment before he becomes a fully enlightened Arhat. Many non-buddhist systems in the bazaar call the experience of thoughtless awareness, as enlightenment and some go even further and call people who experience such thoughtless pure awareness by itself as Buddhas. Needless to say, that is not even what the srotappanna experiences what to speak of an Arhat or even further a Buddha? There seems to be a lot of confusion about this point in the spiritual market especially in Nepal. So let’s make this point clear once and for all. No form of Buddhism, Sravakayana or Bodhisattvayana claims that the experience of pure awareness by itself / Pure thoughtless Awareness / Watcher as the enlightened state. So people who experience only such states are not ever considered as enlightened let alone Arhats or Buddhas. Experiencing such states is relatively easy and quick. That does not make methods which produce such mind-states or awareness as the quick, short path. The path to Arhathood or Buddhahood is a slow and gradual path. The Buddha himself has said that extinguishing the klesha (emotional defilement) is a slow and gradual process and therefore becoming an Arhat or Buddha is a slow and gradual process. People who experience only the pure awareness by itself do not become permanently free of any klesha even after experiencing such a state which I have said is relatively easy to experience for anybody who has a mind. So let me recapitulate once again, just experiencing a thoughtless pure awareness by itself is not any kind of enlightened state nor is the ability to remain in that state an enlightened state. We shall speak in more detail about this point when we talk about the Buddhist enlightenment.
Published on 2-8 July Issue
Of the eighteen to twenty four Sravakayana lineages, only the Theravada (which developed out of the Vibhajyyavadin which itself developed out of the Sthabirvadins) remains today. However, it is still alive, dynamic and going strong. It has many lineages and there are still enlightened masters in Laos, Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. And these masters are both householders (upasakas / upasikas) and monks and nuns (Bhikchhus / Bhikchhunis). However, the Bhikchhuni lineage of the Theravada tradition has been broken. But China still have an unbroken Bhikchhuni sanga of the Mahasangika Nikayas. For anybody to become even a srotappanna, what to speak of an Arhat, one must study and practice under such lineage masters and be confirmed by such a Master. This is how the Buddhist system works from the time of the Shasta (Master) himself. It was the Buddha himself who declared and thus stamped the authenticity of the Srotappanna, Sakridagami, Anagami and Arhats of his time. In fact, there is a story that some Bhikchhus who had reached the very high state of Anagami (those who will not return to human forms) claimed that they had reached Arhathood; but when the Buddha was told about this, he called them and told them they had not become Arhats yet. This story implies that only Arhats and Buddhas can know whether a person has become an Arhat or not and that the individual himself cannot possibly know it and can easily be fooled. This is the raison d’etre for an unbroken enlightened lineage. All forms of Buddhism and specially lineages of the Mahayana place great importance and value to the purity of such an authentic unbroken enlightened lineage.
No yogi / yoginis or practitioner is accepted as a Genuine Master (Guru) no matter how intelligent he may be, no matter how hard he may have practiced, no matter how many years he has spent in retreat, no matter how scholarly he is, no matter how much of an orator he may be, until and unless he is authenticated by a master or masters of such authentic unbroken enlightened lineages. This is the Buddhist culture in all Buddhist countries where the unbroken enlightened lineages have not died out. This issue is crucial not only to understand what is genuine, authentic Buddhism but also for the existence of authentic Buddhism itself. So, forget about non-buddhists who have never practiced any form of genuine Buddhist practices of either the Sravakayana or the Bodhisattvayana even by reading genuine, authentic books of Buddhism; even those who have studied and practiced for long periods under authentic masters do not dare pretend to be Masters until and unless, older Masters authenticate them as Masters.
Published on 9 -15 July 2007 Issue
A very good example is that of the famous scholar of Zen Buddism Professor Dr. D. T. Suzuki. He was a good practitioner of Zen Buddhism, and had attained a very high level. He wrote many books on Zen Buddhism which was crucial in popularizing Zen Buddhism in the west. When he died not a few masters said that he was already enlightened. But because he had never sat for the dharma – battles (The Zen system of interview) with any of the older Masters, he never received the title of Roshi / Zenji / Osho etc. which are the authentication of his enlightenment from any of the Masters; he himself never called himself an Osho or Zenji or Roshi which are all Japanese words. Zenji means Zen Master, Roshi means old venerable Master which is given to a disciple whether he be a lay person or a monk, when he completes the training and the Master is satisfied that he has attained the final Satori (enlightenment). This entitles him to teach. In the Rinzai school of Zen the person has to complete the course by answering a series of three or four hundred koans. Koans are questions which point directly to the nature of mind and dharma and the student has to show that he has experienced directly what is being pointed out by the question. In essence they are not questions but fingers pointing to the dharmata of all dharmas (phenomena). We shall talk more about this later when we describe the Zen lineages. For now, no one is entitled to call himself Roshi unless he has completed this course and been validated by his own Master and at least 3-4 other masters. The word Osho is also a Japanese word which is given to a Master who is a monk. It is made up of two Chinese ideographs which is pronounced as Hwa Shang in Chinese, and in Japanese the pronunciation varies with the particular lineage. The Zen and Pureland Schools pronounce those two ideographs as Osho, while the Tendai school pronounces those same ideographs as Kasho and in the Shingon School (Japanese Vajrayana) it is pronounced as Wajo; and they originate from the Sanskrit Upadhyaya (Pali Upajjaya) which means ‘Master’ in the sense of teacher. A layman cannot be an Osho / Upadhyaya. The meaning of Osho does not mean ‘to be one with or disappear in the ocean’ or one who has attained Bhagvatta upon whom the sky showers flowers or Ocean of wisdom as some non-buddhists with very little knowledge of Buddhism have posited; but means the teacher who is an old monk specially. Now going back to the example of Professor Dr. Suzuki, even though he was already enlightened, according to many Zen Masters, since he was never authenticated by any of the older Masters, he never called himself an Osho / Zenji / Roshi or Zen Master. Even though he wrote many books on Zen; he never took on students to guide them on the path. This is the spirit of genuine Buddhism. It is a true display of the authentic experience of anatma (Japanese Muga). And this is a genuine Buddhist culture, a culture based on modesty (Hri – apatrapya) and no-self (anatma).
Published on 16-22 July Issue
Another example from the Sravakayana tradition (Theravada) is of Achan Jha (Acharya Jha) of the Thai – Laos Mountain. He was renowned to be an Arhat but when a journalist approached him and asked him the question, he said “How can I be an Arhat?” This answer has a double entendre. One, he just clearly denied it and second he was also teaching the journalist that as long as there is an ‘I’ , there is no Arhat, when there is ‘no – I’ (anatma) there is no one to be an Arhat. This beautiful answer hits the heart of the entire Buddhist tradition.
Now let us go back to the lineage issues. Within Buddhism there always have been two major lineages – 1. The Sravakayana lineages and 2. The Bodhisattvayana lineages. Let us first talk about the Sravakayana lineages. From the time of Shakyamuni the Sravakayana lineages grew, expanded and branched out into 18 to 24 Nikayas. Each Nikaya had its tripitaka written in its own language. For example, the Shaila and Purva shaila Nikayas had their tripitakas in the Paisachi language, the Sarvastivadins had their tripitaka in the Sanskrit language and the Theravadins had their tripitaka in the Pali language. The Buddha himself is said to have discouraged his teachings being formalized in any one language. When a group of Brahmin disciples suggested to him to record all his teachings in the ‘Chanda’ (Vedic Sanskrit) he discouraged that and unequivocally reiterated that his teachings should be made accessible in all languages. That is why the tripitakas developed in so many languages. Of the 24 or so nikayas today only the Theravada is alive while the tripitakas of the Sarvastivadas exist in the Chinese language. While the Theravadin tripitaka remained in the Pali language which was a language developed out of the Saurseni family of Indian language for the express purpose of maintaining high philosophical standards, the Sanskrit pitaka of the Sarvastivadins and the Prakrit pitaka of the Mahasanghikas were further translated into Tibetan, Chinese, Khotanese, Mongolian etc etc following the injunctions of the Buddha himself. The Mahayan Pitaka also was in Sanskrit and later in accordance with the inner intention of the Buddha, translated into Tibetan, Chinese, Khotanese, Mongolian, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and various Central Asian languages. So of all the various Sravakayana lineages, only the Theravada is alive today and still going strong. The Theravada Nikaya spread to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Southern Vietnam. This system began when in the 3rd century King Asoka’s son Bhikkhu Mahinda (Mahendra) took the Pitaka prevalent in Ujjain in the Pali language from Ujjain to Sri Lanka. Since then the lineage spread to Burma and Thailand. Although Burma was already Buddhist, the Sri Lankan Theravada reformed and gave it an impetus. The Bhikkhu lineages and the Samatha and Vipassana lineages of the Theravada School are still running strong and unbroken in these countries. Because a form of Sukkha Vipassana from Burma arrived in Nepal through the Venerable Sri Goenka, many Nepalese, including those who should know better, are a not a little confused about the Vipassana meditation.
Published on 23-29 July Issue
Most Nepalese who have heard of the word Vipassana and perhaps have attended the Vipassana Shibirs (retreats) of The Venerable Sri Goenkaji in Budhanilkantha are of the impression that that is the one and only way that the Buddha taught (Ekayano Maggo). This notion is completely baseless. First of all there are many lineages of Vipassana existing even today in Burma itself whose methods are very different from the style of Vipassana taught by the Venerable Sri Goenkaji. It is certainly not the one and only true method that the Buddha taught. Two other methods of Vipassana taught in Burma is the lineage of Mahashi Sayadaw which is being taught in Sankhamula even today; and the lineage of Sun Lun Sayadaw. There are many other lineages existing in Burma which are all different from each other; but are all pure Vipassana methods. Then there are many other different lineages still existing, still going strong and still producing enlightened Masters in the Laos Mountains, Thailand and Sri Lanka. They are all true teachings of the Buddha. Perhaps we need to explain a few points here. All these methods are based on the teachings of the Buddha like the smrityupasthan Sutra (Pali: Satipathan Sutta). Let us take the Satipathan Sutta. In it the Buddha simply says look at the body (kaya), look at the feeling sensations (vedana), look at the mind (chitta) and look at the mental – factors (chaitta / chaitasik or dharma) with smriti – samprajanya (sati – sampajana) which means with mindfulness or mindful comprehension. Now let us look at one of them. The Buddha say look at the Vedana, when it arises and when it ceases and know that it has arisen (udaya) and it has ceased (vyaya). Now if you understand this, we can easily see that many methods could be used to see the arising and ceasing of Vedana and not just one way. For example, you could scan the body from top of the head to the tip of the toes and back again to the head to observe the Vedanas there and that is a correct way but definitely not the one and only way.
In the Therigatha, a Theravadin text and part of the Theravada tripitaka, an old woman attained Arhathood by simply going around and around the wall of the nunnery feeling the sensations on the hands as she used her hands to support herself on the wall. She did not look at her vedanas from the top of the head to the toes etc. The methods of Mahashi Sayadaw is to look at the sensations in the stomach region as one breaths. It is looking at vedana that arises and ceases in the stomach / belly area as one breathes; and the Shasta (Master) taught to look at the Vedana. So it is equally a valid method of Vipassana. The method of Sun Lun Sayadaw is to breathe heavily until strong sensations are produced all around the body and to look at it just as the Shasta (Master) prescribed. It is an equally valid method of Vipassana. But those are just two from Burma itself which have not yet made an impact in Nepalese Circle.
Published on 30 July – 5 August 2007 Issue
We Nepalese tend to be like frogs in a well and believe whatever is within my well in the one and only truth, full stop! This is a dangerous attitude as far as Buddhism is concerned. The Shasta himself said to Chanki in the Majjhima Nikaya that learned people should never say “This is the only truth” and close their mind to all other possibilities. Then there are many powerful Vipassana systems in Laos, Thailand, and Sri Lanka which are pure Theravada systems based on the Theravada pitaka and coming through long unbroken lineages. In fact, according to Nyan Ponika Thera, a German Theravadin Bhikkhu, the Burmese Sukkha Vipassana lineages all began from Jetavan Sayadaw about a hundred and fifty years ago. If this is true, none of the Burmese lineages are unbroken lineages.
But whether they are unbroken lineages or not they are based firmly on the unalloyed interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings and are not mixed with other non-buddhist views however the Pandit lineages and the Bhikkhu lineages of Burma are unbroken. But if these Burmese Sukkha Vipassana are not unbroken lineages (as pointed out by Theravada scholars themselves), then many fine points will be missing. The marga is not matter of just looking at vedana or chitta etc only. There are many aspects of the marga which is handed down in an unbroken enlightened lineage like the nitty gritties of when to push, when to relax, when to recognize that the winds are being disturbed by meditation, what are the medicines for the wind – disturbances, what are the landmarks on the path and how to use them, the development of sraddha which is equally as important to become an Arhat or Bodhisattva etc etc. There are thousands of such things which will be missing in a broken lineage. The richness of meditation – lore, experiential – lore handed down through the unbroken enlightened lineages cannot be compensated for by reading books or conducting seminars. The experiential – richness of a Master cannot be compensated by any other means. The presence of an authentic Master itself acts like a catalyst for the transformation of the practitioner. There is a story in the Theravadin tradition itself (Anguttara Nikaya) that the Master told one of his attendant not to go to retreat during the three month monsoon period (varsabas); but disobeying him, the attendant nevertheless went for the retreat. After 3 months, he came back and told the Buddha that he had absolutely no experience in those three months of retreat. The Buddha told him, ‘I told you not to go.’ This episode tells us a few things.
1. The path is not merely sitting down and meditating even if the meditation is correct.
2. Without the backing of a genuine enlightened Master, even if you really sit hard in meditation, nothing authentic is going to happen.
3. This is a good warning for all those who think they can read books and practice on their own and avoid any contact and interaction with another living being who has deeper experience than himself. This avoidance or fear of interaction with another personality is itself a neurosis, which will keep him stuck wherever he is and is a sign of big ego.
Published on 6-12 August Issue
But from what I have known, the Laos and Sri Lankan and Thai lineages are unbroken. Even Sri Lankan Theravadin scholars have objected that the Burmese Sukkha Vipassana is the true teachings of the Buddha. But in spite of these Theravadin scholars’ objections the Burmese Kalyanmitras spread their system throughout the world.
These are facts most Nepalese, including those who are supposed to be experts in Vipassana, are blissfully unaware of. The word Vipassana in the Theravadin scholastic system means to ‘see’ in a special way ‘visesena passati’ or to see it holistically from many angles ‘vividena passati’. This is the same definition found within the Mahayana tradition. Various forms of Vipassyana (the Sanskrit version of the Pali Vipassana) exist in the Mahayana tradition too and are equally pure teachings of the Buddha. But we are jumping ahead and we shall deal with this matter when we come to the bodhisattvayana lineages.
Also within the Theravada system, the form of Vipassana which emphasizes looking at the sensations (vedana) is only one kind of Vipassana and it is certainly not more special than other forms of Vipassana which lay emphasis on looking at the body (kayanussati) or mind (chittanussati) or mental – factors (dhammanussati). Nor is vedananussati the one that Shasta emphasized as the root practice of all practice. There are no suttas in the Theravada tradition to validate that. In fact, it is stated that in the Visuddhimagga that the exercise of mindfulness of the body had never been practiced before the advent of the Buddha, nor does it come within the scope of any of the other religious systems. It is praised in various ways by the Buddha in different Suttas; for example, “there is one state, monks, which, being developed and repeatedly practiced conduces to great religious emotion, great benefit, great freedom from bondage, great mindfulness and self – possession, the attainment of knowledge and insight, the happy state in this visible life, the realization of the fruit of knowledge and release. What is that one state? Mindfulness of the body ………”
Again, “those who do not enjoy mindfulness of body do not enjoy deathlessness (amata); those who enjoy mindfulness of the body enjoy deathlessness. Those who have not enjoyed mindfulness of the body have not enjoyed deathlessness; those who have enjoyed mindfulness of the body have enjoyed deathlessness. Those who have neglected mindfulness of the body have neglected deathlessness; those who have not neglected mindfulness of the body have not neglected deathlessness.” – (Anguttara Nikaya I 43-45) and Nagarjuna says that kayagatanusmriti is the most important meditation taught by the Shasta.
Published on 13-19 August Issue
Various Theravadin meditation techniques continue to proliferate in the various Theravadin countries. They maintain strong Samatha – Vipassana lineages. These Masters are not only monks, but also are, as the Buddha himself would have it, householders, both female and male. The nun (Bhikchhuni) system has been broken in the Theravadin system but, the Mahasangika Bhikchhuni system still exists unbroken in the Chinese system.
As we said earlier the Theravada is only one of 18 – 24 Nikayas (lineages) of the Sravakayana system. However, today only the Theravada lives on, the others vanished along with the rest of Buddhism from the Indian subcontinent. By the time of the Muslim invasion 11 – 12th century, Theravada had already left the Indian subcontinent and had been transplanted in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia. So, even if all other forms of Buddhism vanished from India, the Theravada Nikaya continued to flourish and proliferate in the South – East Asian countries. This was merely a historical fluke. Likewise, various forms of Mahayana and Vajrayana had entered China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Central Asia and the entire Cis – Himalayan belt from Kashmir to North Eastern Frontier of Arunachal before the Muslim Invasion and continued to thrive strongly in those countries just as the Theravada Nikaya of the Sravakayana continued to thrive in the countries it had reached before the Muslim Invasion. It is important to understand that we cannot compare the Theravada with the Mahayana because the Theravada is a lineage within Sravakayana and thus only one of the 18 – 24 Nikayas or lineages of Sravakayana, whereas the Mahayana is not one particular lineage but rather a conglomeration of a vast array of lineages. That is why Theravada is a more uniform and homogenous system as it is one lineage amongst the many lineages of Sravakayana. The Sravakayana is not uniform as there were at least 18 – 24 different lineages, all Sravakayana. But Mahayana is a counterpart of Sravakayana. Thus Mahayana like Sravakayana has many lineages within it. Because of that it appears to be more heterogeneous and diversified. Thus we cannot compare Mahayana and Theravada. We can compare Zen or Tien Tai and Theravada because they are single more homogenous lineages within the Mahayana and Sravakayana systems respectively. However, within the Theravada system there are many diverse lineages teaching different modes, styles and emphasis on the Samatha – Vipassana meditations of Buddhism. And this is rightly so, because in his forty or so years of dispensation, the Buddha certainly did not teach just one method or technique or style.
First of all the Buddha taught many types of people and naturally as a skillful doctor he would dispense teachings according to the needs and temperaments and capacities of the person. Famous and learned Brahmin Pandits came to him and he taught them, simple village folks came to him and he taught them, people with sharp intellects, people with great faith in him all came to him. Thus it is most natural that he taught many styles, modes, techniques. If he were to have taught just one straight forward method to all and sundry he would have been very unskillful to say the least. Secondly in the Theravadin suttas themselves, he has given many modes and styles of meditation: Samatha – Vipassana. In the Satipatthan Sutta he gave the methods of watching four different things to attain insight into the characteristics of all phenomena. In the Udayi Sutta, Anuttariya Vaggo of Anguttara Nikaya, he has given other methods of Vipassana like pabbhassar sangya, ratri sangya, diwa sangya etc etc. He has said that people can attain liberation through these methods also which means they are other forms of Vipassana different from Vedananussati and the others mentioned in the Satipatthan Sutta.
Published on 20-26 August Issue
As for styles, although the Buddha himself never conducted intensive group retreats, he often did tell his disciples to sit under a tree, or an abandoned house and spend their time meditating. But today, intensive group retreats have become common in both Mahayana systems like Zen Tien Tai, Vajrayana and Theravada. However, there are Theravadin Acharyas like Achan Jha of the Laos Forest Mountain tradition of Theravada who decry such intensive retreats as unnatural, not conducive to enlightenment and not taught by the Buddha. He emphasizes a more relaxed and natural, unforced style of gaining insight (Vipassana) into the nature of all dhammas.
Before I go into some of the various styles of meditation within Theravada itself I would like to elucidate a little on what the Buddha taught. Even though, as I said, he taught many varieties of teachings according to both the Theravada and the Mahayana traditions, they can all be subsumed into what is called the Tri Shikchhya; often translated as the Three Teachings or Three Trainings. The Tri Shikchhya are 1. Shila 2. Samadhi and 3. Pragya. Shila means living a life according to moral precepts. All Buddhist householders must take the 5 Shilas (Pancha Shila). There is also the taking of eight or ten Shilas during special ceremonies like uposatha (fasting) etc. Then there is the two hundred and fifty three Shilas taken by the Bhikchhus.
Shila is taken basically to purify the mind to some extent by not allowing the mind to remain in an emotionally defiled state. The purpose of Shila is to lighten the mind of emotional defilements (klesha) to some extent, and not to suppress the emotional defilements back into the subconscious mind. In Mahayana, the meaning of Shila is to help lighten self – oriented behaviours and the like. Shila should develop selfless behaviour. If following a rule is selfish in a context, then following that blindly is no more Shila but Shilabrataparamarsha i.e. grasping to Shila and rites and rituals no matter what the case. While Shila help in liberating the mind, Shilabrataparamarsha only bind the mind more and more.
Shilabrataparamarsha is to cling to ideas that following this ritual or that strictly sticking to precepts and rules will automatically liberate you, while Shila if followed properly can be liberating, if not properly understood and followed blindly can produce neurotic people who tend to be fundamentalists. The purpose of Shila is to open the mind to become more gentle and compassionate not to see other’s faults and gloat over it. In modern psychotherapy those who pin – point others’ faults or lack of Shila by that very act show that they are not free from that defilement but rather have repressed those defilements into their subconscious so well that it is projected onto others. That was not the purpose of the Buddha making these Shilas. If a mind has genuinely followed the Shila in the correct way, it opens up to the suffering and mistakes of others. It empathizes with the difficulties of being a human. Such a mind does not criticize others. But if in the name of Shila, one has only suppressed ones emotional defilements, then one tends to only see others as Shila breakers, one only sees others’ faults and think one is pure. And this definitely was not the purpose why the Buddha considered Shila as one of the three Shikchya. Shila called Tsul Trim in the Tibetan tradition means ‘cool’. It should cool the mind.
Published on 27 August – 2 September Issue
A cool mind is relaxed and open to the suffering of humans and aware of ones own human weakness. Such a mind cannot be critical but understanding and helpful. I would like to elucidate a story of Zen Master Bankei. There was one thieving monk in his monastery. This had been brought to his notice many times but besides telling the monk not to steal etc. he did not take any action to punish the thieving monk. This kept on going for quite a while until all the other monks in the monastery became fed up. One day they caught the monk red handed and took him to the Master. But again he did not seem to take any strict action. So all the monks got together and went to the Master and told him in no clear terms that either he kick out that thieving monk from the monastery or all the rest of them were going to leave the monastery. But to their utter surprise, the Master said “Ok if all the rest of you would like to leave you are free to leave.” They were all shocked to say the least. After they recovered from the shock, they asked the Master, “How can you possibly drive all of the rest of monks like us who have adhered strictly to the Shila while taking the side of a thieving monk?” Osho Bankei coolly replied “You are all excellent monks who maintained your Bhikchhu Shila very well and can easily maintain them anywhere you go. So you all will be able to survive easily anywhere you go; but this poor kleptomaniac will not be able to adjust anywhere, so if I don’t keep him who will keep him.” This is the result of a mind that has opened to the suffering of others due to having maintained his Shila. Osho Bankei was able to empathize with the kleptomaniac monk, just like the Shasta (Master) empathized with Angulimala, who had already murdered nine hundred and ninety nine humans and strung their fingers in a garland. The Buddha’s mind did not get heated up (perturbed) when he came to know about Angulimala, no, it remained calm and cool (Shila); but rather he empathized with the human – situation of Angulimala. As a result, Angulimala became an Arhat himself.
Shila is important because if followed properly it cools the mind. A cool mind is the stepping store to the next Shikchya called Samadhi. A mind beset by klesha (emotional defilements and neurotic tendencies) cannot attain Samadhi. That is why Shila is the corner – stone of all of Buddhism. Although all the three Shikchyas (trainings) are emphasized in all forms of Buddhism, it is often said that the Theravada system of South and South – East Asia is better known for its special emphasis on Shila, Tibet is better known for its special emphasis on Pragya while China is better known for its special emphasis on Samadhi. Chinese Buddhism has historically been well known for Samadhi till today, Tibetan Buddhism for the development of Pragya in all its three levels (Srutamayi, chintamayi and bhavanamayi) and the Theravadin tradition for laying great emphasis on Shila. This does not, of course, mean that there is no Shila or Samadhi in the Tibetan system or no Pragya and Shila in the Chinese system, no Pragya and Samadhi in the Theravada system. We are talking about the emphasis given to one of the three Shila in terms of the historical direction the system took.
In the Sravakayana systems, the emphasis is on the Shila and Theravada being a Sravakayana system; it is natural that the emphasis is on the Shila. Although there are Samatha (Samadhi) and Vipassana (Pragya) practices within the Theravadin system, the emphasis on Vipassana is a new dimension within Theravada which began approximately 150 years ago from Jetavana Sayadaw of Burma. Before that, Vipassana was limited within Theravada to only special Bhikkhus, whereas in Tibet Vipassyana (Tibetan: Lhag Thong) in the form of Mahamudra practices and Dzog chen practices were commonly given even to cow herders. In the Chinese systems and their satellite systems which flourished in Korea, Japan, Vietnam etc. too, Vipassyana was well known in various forms. The Chinese for Vipassyana / Vipassana is ‘Kuan’ and for Samatha is ‘chi’. There seems to be a kind of misconception that Vipassana is taught only in the Theravadin system and that too only in Burma. This is based completely on lack of knowledge. As I said earlier, all the Tri Shikchya are in full form in all forms of Buddhism i.e. in Paramitayana and Vajrayana of Mahayana. This misconception began in Nepal because a form of Theravadin Vipassana arrived in Nepal in the late seventies and because it was presented in Nepali and Newari it became very popular very quickly; and the acharyas etc. of this particular system went around claiming that only their method is Vipassana and especially Mahayana does not have any Vipassana. But Samatha and Vipassyana of one form or the other have been taught and practiced in Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Central Asia and the Cis – Himalayan belts for centuries. As I said Samatha – Vipassyana is called Shiney – Lhagthong in Tibetan and Chi – Kuan in Chinese. And all the forms of meditation found within the Tibetan or Chinese Buddhism are one or the other forms of Samatha – Vipassyana.
Published on 3-9 September 2007 Issue
Perhaps we need to go more into detail about what Samatha / Vipassyana means to really fully understand how this confusion, mentioned above is not correct. As we said before, Samatha is intimately related to Samadhi and Vipassyana to Pragya. Without following Shila properly the kleshas will not be weakened. Without weakening the kleshas or cooling the mind from the fire of kleshas (emotional defilements), there is no possibility that the mind will attain Samadhi. And without some degree of Samadhi, Pragya just becomes an intellectual game (Buddhi – vilash). However without Pragya, Shila can become a source of neurosis, a means of making people self – righteous and puritanical. Shila must always be peppered with some Samadhi and some Pragya. Samadhi without Pragya is Mithya Samadhi. Most people of the Indian subcontinent think that once a yogavachara (yogi) attains Samadhi he has reached his goal. This may be true for Non – Buddhist systems; but in Buddhism the Shasta (Master) himself has said very clearly that there are many types of Mithya Samadhis [Samadhis which propagate the continuity of ignorance (falsity / avidya)]. So Samadhi without proper Pragya is a trap into which many unwary yogavacharas fall.
Now let us go into Samatha – Vipassyana. Samatha in Sanskrit means remaining in an equipose / level / quiet place. ‘Sama’ means equipose / level / quiet / tranquil / equanimous / peaceful etc. and ‘tha’ would mean both place and abiding / dwelling. It is translated most accurately in Tibetan as Shine. Shi is the exact counterpart of Sama and ne is the exact counterpart of ‘tha’. The word Samadhi also has a similar meaning with ‘sama’.
This part of the training begins after the wild whirlwind of a mind has cooled down by following Shila to the best of ones ability. Then the mind is slowly but steadily trained to abide (stha) quietely (sama) on an object if it is a focused meditation or to remain objectless – remaining aware without focusing on anything – if it is a non-focused meditation.
Published on 10-16 September 2007 Issue
In the Buddhist tradition, there are many kinds of focused meditations. The Sravakayana has forty or so different types of focused meditations on outer and inner objects and the Mahayana has others on top of those forty or so. The forty or so Samatha methods were taken by the Shasta from those prevalent in the Indian subcontinent and were not his own creations.
Samatha is the quieting of the mind by focusing it on some object normally. No matter what method is used if that method gradually quietens the mind and concentrates it on an object, whatever it be, that is Samatha meditation. This was common in the time of the Buddha in the Indian subcontinent and it was common before his time and is still common today. The Buddha himself took some of those to help his disciples to attain one-pointed concentration. So Samatha is not specifically special to Buddhism.
Even Christian Mystics and Muslim Sufis have various methods to make the mind concentrated, i.e. Samatha meditations. When one crosses a certain level of ability to remain in a concentrated state without effort then that is called Samadhi. In the Buddhist tradition, there are eight levels of Samadhi called dhyanas (meditative stabilizations). There are nine levels of concentration. Through long and dedicated practice the person slowly climbs upon the ladder as his / her capacity to concentrate single pointedly on one object (alambana) increases by dint of effort. At the eighth level, his / her concentration starts becoming easier and effortless. When he reaches the 9th level, the object of meditation takes on a new quality. It generally becomes brighter and seems to come closer to the meditator. This is called Samantaka Samadhi in Mahayana or Upachar Samadhi in the Theravada system (Near attainment Samadhi). Then as s/he goes on practicing with great dedication, the winds in the body (called Prana – vayu in Sanskrit and rlung in Tibetan and Chi in Chinese, Ki in Japanese) begin to move in his body. The winds begin to flow up to his head so that s/he feels like someone is pressing his head lightly with the palms of the hand. During this period bliss called Prasabdhi begins to rise. It can rise to such a degree that his / her breathing can become belaboured. This Prasabdhi reaches a peak point and then begins to subside somewhat like a rushing river subsiding when it arrives at the ocean. Then the mind becomes extremely calm like the calm after a storm and this is the attainment of Mula Samadhi of the 1st dhyana. In the Theravadin tradition, this is called Appana Samadhi. But this is only the first dhyana; higher levels than this is the second dhyana; third dhyana and the fourth dhyana. In some Buddhist systems both Sravakayana and Mahayana, there is also a 5th dhyana but this is not really a higher Samadhi than the fourth dhyana mentioned above but only the style of categorizing it makes the difference.
In the fourth dhyana, breathing stops automatically. This breathing can stop in other methods of meditation using the nadi – chakras as alambana (channels etc); but even without the use of any breath control and nadi – chakra when a person reaches the fourth dhyana his/her breathing stops. It is said that great Gurus like Gampopa (the disciple of Milarepa) took his breath in at sunset and let go of his breath at sunrise.
Above the fourth dhyana are what are called formless meditative stabilizations (Arupa dhyana). These are really based on the fourth dhyana and are not really considered higher than the fourth dhyana in the Buddhist tradition. They are called formless dhyana because the objects of meditation (alambana) are formless (arupa). The first of these is Infinite Space dhyana (Akasanantyayatana dhyana). The experience at this stage is of Infinite Space or void, as all forms are dropped. Beyond that, even the space is dropped and experience is of the infinite consciousness (Vigyanantyatana dhyana). This is what many non – Buddhist systems call the experience of super-consciousness, where there is only the Infinite all expansive consciousness or pure awareness by itself, that does not seem to change. In the Buddhist system of Samatha, there are two more stages above this 1) Akinchanyatana (Nothing remaining) and above that 2) Naiva sangya naasangya (Neither perception nor non-perception). All these are highly rarefied states of mind; but and a big but at that : in Buddhism, none of these states are considered as the attainment of enlightenment. There is one more Samadhi state called Nirodhasamapatti which is higher than all the above but is accessible only to Arhats and Boddhisattvas from eighth bhumi upwards.
This is a crucial point to understand if you want to understand Buddhism. Although the various Samadhis, including the Samadhi of Pure awareness by itself, is cultivated and used in Buddhism as in all religious systems, in Buddhism they are only used to develop concentration and never accepted as the enlightened state.
Published on 17-23 September 2007 Issue
Here we are talking about genuine high level Samadhis of Pure awareness by itself where the person remains absorbed in it for six, twelve or twenty four hours without taking a single breath. Even such an experience is not considered as having penetrated the veil of Ignorance, what to speak about watered down, thoughtless states of clear awareness where the person is not even in the first dhyana level. Such experiences of thoughtless awareness by itself without entering into various levels of Samadhis are even further away from the Buddhist enlightenment. Such states can be easily produced and are not considered as either enlightenment or even near to it. In fact, according to all Buddhist traditions especially the Mahayana, such states are considered dangerous and if the correct view is not present can be even detrimental to the process of enlightenment. The great Siddha Pandit of Tibet, Sakya Pandit said cultivation of such Pure awareness without the correct view can cause the person to be reborn either in the formless Deva realm or as a Naga etc. To be reborn in the formless Deva realm (Arupa dhatu Deva Loka) is considered as the worst birth for a Bodhisattva as once born there, s/he cannot help sentient beings from ten thousand to eighty thousand kalpas. In that state, the yogi remains in a highly blissful, and formless state which can easily be mistaken for the Non-dual state from anywhere between ten thousand kalpas to upto eighty thousand kalpas.
There are others types of Samatha systems which are conducive to deep Samadhi that take you to the state of super-consciousness, like meditating on the inner sounds called Nada yoga or in the Shanta Parampara of India as Sabad Surati yoga. There are four levels of Samadhi related to nada yoga technically called 1) Vaikhari 2) Madhyama 3) Pasyanti 4) Para. During the process, the person hears various types of sounds like the humming of the bumble bee, the sound of the bell, the sound of the drums, the sound of thunder and the sound of Om (Pranava) and so on. At the Para level, all sounds subside and only the infinite Pure Awareness by itself or super-consciousness remains. Likewise another well-known method is to concentrate on the light/sparks or the like seen in between the eye-brows. This too has various stages similar to different levels of Samadhis etc. until one reaches the infinite light of the mind or Atman as non-buddhists would call it. All of these methods are only varieties of Samatha and, according to Buddhism, these states are neither enlightenment nor do they produce enlightenment by practicing them for a long time. This statement is true of the famous Kundalini yoga methods too; which also ends in the super-conscious state of Pure Awareness by itself which is infinite. That one can experience such an awareness through various methods of Samatha is well-known to Buddhism and is not alien at all to Buddhist literature. However, Buddhism neither regards such a state as enlightenment or liberation nor regards such states or production of such states over and over again for longer and longer periods as productive of enlightenment.
Let me repeat again, that any method that only absorbs the mind on anything belongs to the Samatha type of meditation. And Samatha meditations, no matter how extraordinary or different from other Samatha types, are not enough to attain enlightenment. And in this context, Buddhism is very emphatic that only the types of meditation that probe into the mode of existence of all phenomena (dharmas) to gain insight can cut through the ‘Innate Ignorance’ (Sahaja Agyan) and thus destroy that Ignorance. And this type of meditation (and there are many techniques here) is called Vipassyana in Sanskrit, Vipassana in Pali, Lhag thong in Tibetan and Kuan in Chinese and Kan in Japanese.
Issue 35: 24 – 30 September 2007
…Science itself never claims what it cannot measure at the moment as superstitious.
It is through various types of Samatha practice that various Pratiharyas (miraculous powers) also called Siddhi – Riddhis develop as a matter of course; or if they do not easily develop, they can be developed by various specialised mental exercises geared to awaken these potentials in the human mind.
In this era of modernism when the physical science was considered the evaluating measuring rod for the validity of anything, Pratiharyas were suspect. And many Buddhists with modernistic leanings even thought that these were interpolated into the Buddhist scripture by overly naïve simple village folks. Needless to say this was a result of the so called scientific education spawned out by modernism. But the beauty of science is that it moves on and does not remain static.
From the 18th century to the mid 20th century, science progressed in leaps and bounds to such an unimaginable extent that man thought science alone was the answer to all its questions. So the milieu developed in which whatever was scientific was true/ real/valid/non-superstitious and whatever was not scientific was untrue/invalid/superstitious. The progress of physics and other physical sciences was so mind boggling, that its dazzle blinded all those who were part of the era of modernism. But there was a flaw in this thinking and not only Buddhist but also many Hindu Swamis and Yogis also failed to see it.
First of all only what can be measured can be studied by physics and such other physical sciences. Now there are many things which cannot and will never be measured like love/compassion/beauty, the splendour of the Himalayas and so on. We cannot possibly say that such things are unreal/untrue/superstitious. Secondly the physical sciences are limited by the type of instrument available.
That means even those things which could be measurable like the chemical correlates in the brain to love and feel compassion were out of reach of the sciences in the 18th and 19th century. Now are we to say that these brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin etc were all untrue/unreal/superstitious till the mid 20th century, and then they suddenly became real/true/scientific? Such type of thinking is absurd to say the least.
Furthermore, science itself never claims what it cannot measure at the moment as superstitious. It is the half baked ultra-modernist types whose knowledge of science is limited to vague ideas and the enjoyment of consumerist goods produced by science that have these kinds of quaint notions.
As early as 1950 Einstein declared that science cannot and will not answer all the questions and problems of mankind. This is true because rational linear thinking, on which science is based, is only one mode of thinking and knowing available to man. The world view made available through science is only one possible view amongst many other views. And this materialistic reductionist view of science is not only an artificial view extracted out of reality but also it is not more real than any other view.
Using the empirical reductionist positivism (reducing all things to empirically measurable things etc) modus operandi itself, we can question this style of absurd thinking that only what is empirically measurable is true/real/valid/non-superstitious. The million dollar question is, “Is this hypothesis empirically measurable?” Since it is not, by its own logic falls apart.
The central point of Werner Heisenberg in his various books like Physics and Beyond, Across the Frontiers etc is that physics can make only statements about strictly limited relations that are only valid within the framework of those limitations. He also says, “Science tries to give its concepts an objective meaning. But religious language must avoid this very cleavage of the world into its objective and its subjective sides: for who would dare claim the objective side to be more real than the subjective? (To be continued.)
Issue 36: 1 – 7 October 2007
…but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source.
Heisenberg warns that spirituality/religious experiences and science/mathematical knowledge are two different modes of thinking and should not be confused. He warns, “many modern creeds which claim that they are, in fact, are not dealing with questions of faith, but are based on scientific knowledge that contain inner contradictions and rest on self-deception.” Heinrick Hertz, in his introduction to the Principles of Mechanics says, “a natural science is one whose proposition on limited domains of nature can have only a correspondingly limited validity; that science is not a philosophy developing a world view of nature as a whole or about the essence of things.”
Erwin Schroedinger, the Nobel Laureate of Physics in 1933 in his various books like My View of the World, Mind and Matter, Science and Humanism etc says, “I do not think I am prejudiced against the importance that science has from the purely human point of view. But with all that, I cannot believe that (for example) the deep philosophical enquiry into the relation between subject and object and into the true meaning of the distinction between them depends on the quantitative results of physical and chemical measurements with weighing scales, spectroscopes, microscopes, telescopes, with Geiger-Muller counters, Wilson chambers, photographic plates, arrangements for measuring the radio-active decay, and what not……
Further Schroedinger says, “The scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experiences in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight, it knows nothing about beautiful and ugly, good or bad,…Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously…….Whence come I and wither go I? That is the great unfathomable question, the same for every one of us. Science has no answer to it.”
The well known Nobel Laureate of Physics in 1921, Einstein perhaps the most well known scientist of the 20th century says in his Ideas and Opinions: Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source.
Ken Wilber, a distinguished scientist in his own right and a prolific writer says in his Quantum Questions: “Modern science, in its beginning, was characterised by a conscious modesty; it made statements about strictly limited relations that are only valid within the framework of these limitations…..This modesty was largely lost during the nineteenth century. Physical knowledge was considered to make assertions about nature as a whole. Physics wished to turn philosopher and the demand was voiced from many quarters that all true philosophers must be scientific.”
This was the era named modernism, and we can see that the influence of modernism is found in almost all writing on religion, be it Buddhism or Hinduism or philosophy; during this period. Many Buddhist scholars of that period like Rahula Sankrityayana, Dr. Ambedkar are stalwarts of modernistic interpretation of Buddhism. Modernism lasted in the West till about the mid twentieth century when the cognitive revolution, threw modernism overboard and a new era of post modernism began in the west.
Many writers like Ken Wilber are of the opinion that post modernism is also on its death throes in the West and it is looking for another world view. But alas Nepal, as usual always behind time compared to the rest of the world is still in the throttling grasp of modernism, although a smattering of writers talk about post-modernism, the brunt of the Nepalese weltanschauung (worldview) is still pretty much coloured by modernism, which was itself blinded by the view that the one and only truth/fact/reality were what was compatible with the empirical, reductionist positivism that believed that only what could be measured by scientific instruments was real. (To be continued.)
Issue 37: 8 – 14 October 2007
A lot of spiritual principles are based on circular logic rather than simple linear logic alone.
Today physics is undergoing a basic change, the most characteristic trait of which is a return to its original self limitation. This is the beginning of post modernism which began because of the cognitive revolution that took place in the mid 20th century. When research was done on cognition, new facts came into light which implied that the empirical positivism is true but not the whole truth says Ken Wilber.
What began to be discovered was that, the so called objective observation of the world out there was not free from the observer (mind) and in fact we saw what the observer mind posited out there. The art psychologist Jerome Bruner and Leo Postman conducted an amusing demonstration experiment of this point. A series of cards were tachistoscopically presented to observers – giving observers only milliseconds of exposure to the display of the cards and increasing exposure to the display of the cards and increasing exposure successively. The display consisted of both normal playing cards and ones in which colour and suit were reversed – a red six of club for example. It was found that observers somehow corrected the wrong coloured playing cards and saw what the mind expected rather than what was out there.
Thus the world out there is not as objective as modernism would like to think but depends a lot on the observing mind. Now this opens up a whole new weltanschauung. That is, there are many ways to understand/experience/ interpret/give meaning to the world and that no one particular view/meaning/ interpretation is more true/factual/real than any other. And this is the essence of the post modern thinking. A new logic called the modal logic came into existence.
Jerome Bruner says in his book, Actual Mind Possible Worlds,….. In the new, more powerful modal logic, we ask of a proposition not whether it is true or false, but in what kind of possible world it would be true. Jerome further says….. Both science and the humanities have come to be appreciated as artful figments of men’s minds, as creation produced by different uses of mind.
The world of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (or Bhanubhakta’s Alkapuri) and the world of Newton’s Principia exist not only in the minds of men; each has an existence in an ‘objective world’ of culture – what the science philosopher Karl Popper calls the world three.
Robert Ornstein and many others brought out the fact the human brain was divided into two halves and each half more or less dealt with two different modes of knowing. (Robert Ornstein: The Metaphoric Mind/ The Nature of Human Consciousness) These two modes were named, the metaphoric mind and the analytic mind. The left brain is linked with the right side of the body and with logic, analytical thinking, science, mathematics, linear thinking.
Linear thinking means thinking in a straight line like 2 2 = 4 etc. But linear thinking is neither the only mode of giving meaning to the world nor is it the most accurate/correct/true mode. The right half of the brain is linked with the entire left half of the body and is also linked with what is called metaphoric thinking. Metaphoric thinking is linked with music, poetics, art, love, compassion, empathy, sympathy etc. It could also be called the intuitive mode. And spiritual experiences are based on this mode. Insight, which is the most used English translation for Vipassyana, does not depend on analytical linear thinking but rather on metaphoric thinking.
An experiment was conducted in New York for kindergarten children when they were asked to tick-mark the correct answer to the question: Birds eat seeds and seeds eat birds. It was amazingly found that the vast majority of the children tick marked seeds eat birds. The experimenter thought that perhaps the children did not understand the question, so the experiment was done again with explanation of the question. But the result was still the same.
After a lot of thinking the professors who conducted the experiment realised what the children had easily realised that it was equally true that seeds ate birds. When the birds die, they do fall on the ground and became compost for the seeds to eat. That birds eat seed is linear thinking which is correct but it is equally true that seeds eat bird – but that logic is not linear logic but circular logic. Circular logic is also equally valid and true. A lot of spiritual principles are based on circular logic rather than simple linear logic alone. Now let us go back to Ken Wilber.
The philosophic content of a science is only preserved if science is conscious of its limits. Great discoveries of the properties of individual phenomena are possible only if the nature of the phenomena is not generalised a priori. Only by leaving open the question of the ultimate essence of a body, of matter, of energy, etc., can physics reach an understanding of the individual properties of the phenomena that we designate by these concepts, an understanding which alone may lead us to real philosophical insight. (To be continued)
Issue 38: 15 – 28 October 2007
…Thousands of meditators around the world have remembered vividly incidents in their past lives.
So things like rebirth, miracles, the laws of karma may not have been proven yet by ‘science’; but that does not warrant throwing them out of the window by calling them unscientific. Science has very little to do with these things and probably never will prove these things as either false or true because, they do not belong to the field of science. And as we have seen, even according to top level scientists it is false to think/ believe that only the narrow and limited field that science deals with is real / actual / true / non – superstitious. This is a kind of fallacious thinking wrought about in the present day due to excessive outdated over-modernistic education which is already getting to be out of date in the western world.
Since the time of the Buddha till now, for about over 2500 years, reports have come again and again from both Buddhist and non – Buddhist sources of special humans possessing special powers of the mind. Yes there have been fakes who have capitalised on the simple credulous minds; but as the Egyptian Sufi saint of the eleventh century EI Ghazali says, “If there are fake gold that itself is a proof that there is genuine gold. If there were no genuine gold there would be no fake gold.”
In the Indian subcontinent it is not only the Buddhist literature spanning 2500 years of history but also Vedic – Hindu literature and Jain literature which speak of miraculous powers and remembering former lives etc. It is not a matter of one human or twenty humans but virtually unaccountable records when we take into consideration all the Buddhist / Hindu / Jain records. Such a vast array of records even if only anecdotal and not validated by scientific methods just cannot be thrown over-board so easily. And it should not be too, as we have seen that the knowledge based on science is not the only true piece of knowledge we humans should treasure.
As far as rebirth or re-incarnation goes, Ian Stevenson (MD), the Head of the Department of Parapsychology of Virginia University has done ‘scientific research’ on this issue, conducting research all over the world from Alaska, Lebanon, India to Sri Lanka. By the so called ‘scientific research’ it is meant research that is based on double blind methods and such other modus operandi used by science to prove any hypotheses.
He has come up with a huge four volume work doing research in cases from all around the world, even amongst people who do not have any cultural background regarding reincarnation. Based on his record he says that we can definitely say that science cannot disprove rebirth.
In the context of Samatha meditation, it is possible to bring back memories of past life, just like memories of this life. This is not easy, but even memories of childhood are not easy. But thousands of meditators around the world have remembered vividly incidents in their past lives. We are not talking about imaginations but memories. There is a qualitative difference in experience between a memory and an imagination. Every mentally healthy person can distinguish whether he is imaging or remembering. After all I remember a past event not a future event while we imagine / fantasise the future.
Besides the meditators remembering when they go into deep levels of Samatha / Samadhi there are hundreds of cases of young children all around the world who remember, their previous life – their names, family names, city / village / town, the details of their old street / house / rooms and even what was in the cupboard in the room. (To be continued)
Issue 39: 29 Oct – 4 November 2007
Hypnotic trance facilitates revivification of lost memories…
Dr. Ian Stevenson has done a lot of research on such children and he has shifted fraudulent from the genuine. And he has come up with four huge volumes of genuine ones which he says cannot be scientifically disproved in any way. His four volumes are: Cases of reincarnation type: India; Cases of reincarnation type: Sri-Lanka; Cases of reincarnation type: Lebanon and Turkey; and Cases of reincarnation type: Thailand and Burma. He has also written another book – Twenty cases suggestive of reincarnation.
Then again there is the world famous psychotherapist Helen Wembach, who also used over 20 years of her own clinical work in hypnotherapy. She too claims that even though she herself is a Christian whose beliefs contradict the idea of reincarnation and her training in psychotherapy did not in any way prepare her for this; cases she dealt with for over 20 years, overwhelmingly pointed rather clearly at cases of former lives.
Hypnotic trance facilitates revivification of lost memories of this life especially those from birth onwards. Everything that the child sees, hears, smells, feels, remembers are stored in the subconscious/unconscious. These memories can be teased out into awareness through various methods like ‘free association’ in Freudian psychoanalysis, active imagination in Jungian analytical psychotherapy and hypnotherapy etc.
When Helen Wembach used hypnotherapy, which is a powerful tool to bring out lost memories entrenched stubbornly in the subconscious, she often found that her patients went further than birth into former lives. She also found that if memories and wounds of former lives were healed the effect was seen in this life’s mental life. These are records that cannot be easily explained away; as actual mental and physical healings had also taken place.
I would like to recount the case of a multi-millionaire that Helen had dealt with. One of her patients was a millionaire who had suffered from strong pains in his right ribs. Being a millionaire, he had the best of doctors and his personal physician made him go through all the possible checkups possible at the time in the States. Since no physical cause was found in spite of repeated tests of various kinds, his personal physician finally suggested that it could be of a psychological origin and he should try a psychotherapist as well. Then he met Helen.
Helen started digging up his subconscious mind to cull out some experience / event in his childhood which could be the cause of his excruciating pain. Many physical pains and pathologies originate in some traumatic experience in childhood. The purpose of all forms of psychotherapy, be it Gestalt psychotherapy, Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian Analytical psychotherapy, transactional psychotherapy or hypnotherapy or their combinations etc., is to bring the traumatic experiences hidden in the recesses of the subconscious to conscious awareness.
In both Buddhism and all forms of psychotherapy, awareness is curative. If the root cause (usually traumatic experiences but also sometimes just plain old childhood confusions) is brought clearly in front, to be scanned by awareness, the process of being cured begins. As long as the root causes are hidden in the dark nooks and crannies of the subconscious mind, there is no chance that we can free ourselves from its grasp and all that it entails. That is why Smriti – Samprajanya (mindfulness and comprehension) is of the utmost importance in the Buddhist path be it Sravakayana or Mahayana.
Even in the loony bin, a person who has flipped out begins to get cured only when he himself becomes aware that he has flipped out. The loony bin is an extreme case where people whose neurotic tendencies have become psychotic; but in society even amongst those who are considered socially acceptable, same neurotic tendencies found in the psychotic to an uncontrollable level, is to be found in a lesser or greater degree. Just like the lunatic we too can get cured or be freed of our neurotic tendencies, only as and when we become aware of them within us.
Thus awareness is curative and one of the purposes of most therapies is to bring the unconscious into awareness. This is called integrating the unconscious. The unconscious here means all the neurosis and complexes hidden within us. In Buddhist terminology, we can become free of our Klesha (emotional defilements) only if we are fully aware of the workings of the emotional defilements within us. That is why the Shasta (Master) prescribed living ones life in full mindfulness with comprehension – Smriti Samprajanya.
Going back to the story of the millionaire; while fishing for early memories of childhood, in a hypnotic trance, he suddenly slipped into a dungeon in the Roman period. He started wailing and crying, holding his ribs. When asked what was happening he described that he was in a prison in Rome and a Centaurian was towering over him and kicking him to death. When asked where he was being kicked, he pointed at the same ribs which had been causing him trouble since a long time. Thus he died being kicked on his ribs. When he was brought back to the present, he was commanded that he would remember the incident clearly even after he woke up. After he woke up from the hypnotic trance with full memory of the incident, it was found that he had ‘miraculously’ become free from the pain that had troubled him for such a long time. (To be continued)
Issue 40: 5 – 18 November 2007
Death is not the end of the mental continuum but only a change of the mental continuum.
Now let us go back to Shamatha after this explanation of rebirth and reincarnation. There are many questions regarding reincarnation which has not been dealt with yet; but let it be said that the Buddhist concept of reincarnation is neither unscientific nor scientific nor as baseless as materialists think. Although Hinduism and Jainism also believe in reincarnation, the Buddhist view of reincarnation is not exactly the same as the Hindu, Jain system.
Whereas in Hinduism and Jainism it is the same person or entity that is reborn again and again, the Buddhist view of Anatma contradicts such a notion. However, this does not mean there is no reincarnation at all in Buddhism. We shall discuss the various tenets of Buddhism later, however let me explain in short that it is not exactly the same person Hari Prasad or Ram Prasad who is born in the next life as one of the insights of proper Buddhist meditation is to see through the fact that ‘Hari Prasad’ is only a map of reality produced by culture / family / education / language / and the history of the person and not actually the territory itself.
In fact as per Buddhism there is no territory of the map but only the map. This is the concept of Anatma explained from an existential dimension. Since there is no Hari Prasad in reality but only a conceptual map based on culture / family / education / language and the history; there can be no question of that Hari Prasad being reborn again. But then what is the meaning of reincarnation in such a case? For now, in short, reincarnation means simply the continuity of the mental continuum.
Death is not the end of the mental continuum but only a change of the mental continuum. Since the mental continuum is a name for the flow, and since the mental continuum by nature changes second by second and does not remain the same there is no entity / thing / person who remains the same even second by second what to speak of after death. It is the illusion of memory which connects separate discrete mind – moments and make them seem to be the same ‘mind–stuff. ‘
But if your Shamatha meditation practice goes deep enough then these memories which are carried forward can be reawakened, and the person knows from her / his own memory the fact of reincarnation. This memory can also be brought out through hypnotic trance. A similar thing can be said of Riddhi – Siddhis which is also another thing that the overly materialistic try to deny without any base.
These parts bring us to another topic called in modern psychological research as altered states of consciousness. To understand the phenomena of Siddhi – Riddhi (miraculous powers) and reincarnation, it is useful to understand the concept of altered – states of consciousness.
The mind has many altered states and what we call normal waking state is only one of the states of mind. It is certainly not more true, real, accurate or suggestive of reality than the other states of mind. Various states of mind have various properties which are not available to the normal waking state of mind. Even the fact that we call the waking state as normal is only a culturally ingrained idea and it is not in reality more normal than other altered states of mind.
There are many kinds of altered states of minds which vary from what is considered as the normal waking mind. Hypnotic trance is a category of altered state of mind which differs from the normal waking state. I call it a category because within the categories there are many levels which are different from each other. If we were to give some degrees to the depth of hypnotic trance there would be a range one percent hypnotic trance to 100% hypnotic trance. What is available to a 98 – 100% hypnotic trance is not available to a 1 – 20% trance. At around 68 – 70% or so one could easily anaesthetise parts of one’s own body so that it could be operated upon without anesthesia. That is simply not available to either the waking state or even 10 or 20% hypnotic trance. (To be continued)
Issue 41: 19 – 25 November 2007
Einstein said that whenever he came up with a new theory, he used to go into a dream like state.
Similarly at 82% trance, recall of lost memories is easily accessible which is so useful to psychotherapy. This is called hyper amnesia while above 84% regression into childhood or past life is possible. These properties are not available to the common waking mind no matter how sharp or intelligent the person is. At around 80% the mind can control organic body functions like heart-beat, blood pressure, digestion etc. In all these are various levels of altered states of mind, many things are accessible which are not accessible to the mind in its humdrum waking state. When we go off in a tangent into a day-dream we are again going into another altered state of mind.
As we said earlier, there are many types of altered states of mind which are different from each other. For example, when we go off into sleep, we go through various levels of altered state. The first stage of sleep onslaught called the hypnagogic state is an altered state of mind which is different from the waking state. Actually the waking state itself is one state of the mind and is itself an altered state. It is not scientifically correct to say that the waking state is the normal state and all other states of mind are the altered states. Calling the waking state as normal and measuring all other states of the mind against it as altered state is based on conditioned ideas of what is normal and is thus scientifically unwarranted.
In another neuro-scientific language what is called waking state (what most people consider as the normal state) the brain emits beta waves. Beta waves are rays ranging from 13 hertz upwards. The normal waking state ranges from 13 hertz to 25 hertz. This is the waking state of normal alertness. Once the hertz increases towards 25 hertz and above, states of anxiety and stress begin. The higher the hertz go the more stressed out and anxiety laden the mind becomes. It becomes more distraught, tensed up and is unable to focus.
From 8 hertz to 12.9 hertz is the alpha wave range. When the mind is calmly focused and relaxed, it begins to dip between 8 and13 hertz. This is a relaxed but alert state. The state when the brain is emitting alpha waves is also called the super learning state because the mind is in a state where it can absorb vast amounts of information easily and quickly. Memory capacity is heightened. This is also the first stage of meditation and also the first stage of sleep onslaught.
Most meditators are normally at the lower levels of this frequency which means from 8 to 10 hertz. When a person is in this level of altered state, the mind is relaxed. This is a very good altered state for lowering blood pressure and relaxing the mind, making it free from all tension, anxiety etc. In this state, the mind tends to be positive and all negative thinking disappears.
Below 7.9 hertz to 4 hertz is theta wave state. This is a state of deep relaxation, deep meditation, increased memory and focus. This is a dream like state. When we are seeing dreams, the brain emits theta waves. This is also the state where creativity occurs. Einstein said that whenever he came up with a new theory, he used to go into a dream like state. Thomas Alva Edison also realised that he had in hand a new invention, just after waking up from a deep sleep. This is the theta state. Transformation or change can take place easily in the theta state. This is also the state of deep hypnosis when suggestions given by the hypno-therapist are easily absorbed into the subconscious and thus changes in mental attitudes and behaviour are brought about.
Creative visualisation as used in Vajrayana produce theta wave states quickly with a little amount of practice provided there is concentration. It is in such a state that the mind is receptive to creative intuition and insights and to transformation. The elaborate Mandala meditation of Vajrayana is based on this principle. (To be continued)