Today, as the full moon day of the fourth Tibetan lunar month, is the Tibetan observance of Saka Dawa and it is also Vesak Puja in Thailand and Poson Poya in Sri Lanka. Poson Poya commemorates the day in which King Asoka‘s son, the Arahat Mahinda, officially introduced Buddhism to Ceylon in the 3rd century BCE. In the Tibetan and Thai Buddhist traditions, today marks the celebration of the Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment, and Paranirvana. According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche of the FPMT, the karmic effects of meritorious acts which are performed on this day are multiplied exponentially – about 100 million times. He also offers some good advice and recommends the following specific practices for Saka Dawa:
So to all of my Tibetan and Theravada Buddhist friends, I wish you a very happy and meritorious Saka Dawa, Vesak Puja and Poson Poya!
This post is dedicated to the memory of Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, who passed away yesterday at the age of 47. He had been battling salivary gland and lymph node cancer for several years. He was one of the founding members of Beastie Boys, and he directed many of their videos under the moniker of Nathanial Hornblower. The Beastie Boys started out as a hardcore punk band inspired by the Bad Brains (which is where they derived their name), later expanding into hip hop and dance. They subsequently helped make rap music even more mainstream throughout the years.
As a practicing Buddhist, Adam founded the Milarepa Fund and also organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. After 9/11, he and the Beastie Boys organized New Yorkers Against Violence, as a benefit concert for those victims who were least likely to recieve much help elsewhere.
As I noted in my last post, for many Buddhists today marks the observance of Vesak Puja because it is the first full moon of May. For many people in Mexico and the United States, today is also Cinco de Mayo which commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). So today is certainly an auspicious day for many throughout the world. But that isn’t all.
This full moon is also considered to be a “supermoon” or “harvest moon” because this is the closest point that the moon gets to the Earth on its elliptical orbit. This will make it bigger and brighter than at any other point of the year. But that is not the only thing that is happening in the night sky tonight. There will also be the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.
These meteors are actually fragments of Halley’s Comet and they tend to leave large streaks in the sky. However, the harvest moon may be bright enough to wash out any of the smaller meteors, so they may not be very easily detectable tonight. You will probably have a better chance of seeing the meteors a few hours before dawn. Regardless, there are plenty of reasons to keep your eyes on the night skies tonight.
The following video is of Adam Yauch performing Bodhisattva Vow live in 1994.
As I noted in my post Zombie Jesus and Buddha’s Birthday, many different traditions celebrate the Buddha’s birth on different dates, such as Vesak (or “Visakah Puja”) which marks the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha all in one day. This celebration is called Vesak because it is the name of the month in the Indian calendar.
China/HK and Taiwan celebrated Vesak already on April 28th, in accordance with Chinese Mahayana liturgy. However, most Theravadin traditions will observe Vesak on either May 5th or 6th, with the exception of Thailand. They, along with Tibetan Buddhists (who call this day “Saga Dawa Duchen” or simply “Saka Dawa”), will observe it on June 4th.
Vesak is a day to recommit to our practice and study of Buddhist teachings. To paraphrase Ven. Mahinda:
“The significance of Vesak lies with the Buddha and his universal peace message to mankind…The teaching of the Buddha became a great civilising force wherever it went. It appeals to reason and freedom of thought, recognising the dignity and potentiality of the human mind. It calls for equality, fraternity and understanding, exhorting its followers to avoid evil, to do good and to purify their minds.”
May the three auspicious days of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana be a blessing to all of us. May we all attain the wisdom and courage that can liberate us from all stress and suffering!
Also, on a different note, fellow blogger Priyesh at Meditation 4 All nominated me for the Sunshine Award! This award is given to blogs that contribute to the blogosphere in a positive or inspirational way. I am extremely grateful for the nomination, and even more grateful for everyone who visits this blog. You are all my inspiration to keep doing what I do!
1. Thank the person who nominated you and write a post about it.
2. Answer ten questions about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to 10 or 12 bloggers you enjoy, link to their blogs, and let them know you nominated them.
Blogs I Nominate (in no particular order):
1. Fierce Buddhist
2. Zen and the Art of Borderline Maintenance
3. Fundamental Happiness
4. Live. Grow. Nourish. Create.
5. The Heart Drive
6. Serene One
7. Surface Nuisance
8. Living in the Now
9. Five Reflections
10. Tales from the Lou
Ten Q&A’s about myself
1. Favorite drink? Tea, of course.
2. Favorite food? This is a tough question. But I’ll go with vegetarian chili because its soooo yummy.
3. Age? 26
4. Favorite time of day? Sunset
5. Favorite time of year? Fall
6. Favorite animal? Another tough question. I love all different types of animals, but I do think megabats are amazing creatures.
7. Favorite movie? Suburbia.
8. Favorite vacation?: The beach, of course!
9. Physical activity?: I do a lot of walking, but I have to say my favorite “physical” activity would be just sitting, counting my breaths.
10. Favorite thing?: No-thing.
Since ancient times, May 1st marked a holiday celebrating the beginning of spring in many cultures. This day probably has more holidays than any other day of the year. One example is Walpurgisnacht, the day designated for St. Walburga – who helped St. Boniface bring Christianity to Germany in the 8th century. She had several different days dedicated in her honor, one of which was May 1st. This date actually coincided with an already existing pagan holiday in Germany, which included rituals to protect people from witchcraft. This led to the two holidays being meshed together, and the hybrid legend of witches meeting with the devil on the eve of May 1st.
Some ancient cultures such as in Egypt, India, and Rome held fertility festivals. For example, there is the Roman festival which was celebrated from April 28th through May 3rd, which centered around Flora – the goddess of fertility, f|owers, and spring. There was also the Celtic festival of Beltane, which was a feast celebrating the start of summer. It included rituals involving bonfires, such as dancing around the fires, driving cattle between two fires, and burning witches in effigy. There was also this tradition which involved the baking of “Beltane cakes”, which were broken down into several pieces. One of these pieces would be blackened, and the unlucky person who received this blackened piece would face a mock execution.
May 1st is also known as the International Worker’s Day, or simply May Day, around the world. May Day actually has its origin in the United States labor movement in the late 19th century. Unions across the country went on strike on May 1, 1886. Their demand was simply an 8-hour workday. Something that many people in the US take for granted. These strikes eventually lead to the now infamous “Haymarket Riot”. On May 4th, someone threw a bomb. Nobody really knows who it was, but a lot of anarchists were ultimately blamed and executed without any proof other than their political ideology.
In Zen Buddhism, “samu” is an extension of meditation which is a relevant practice for this particular aspect of May Day. It is bringing mindfulness to work practice. Samu includes the practice of dana (giving or generosity), mindfulness, and devotion. So one doesn’t have to just meditate while sitting (zazen), but they can also meditate while working (samu), walking (kinhin), eating (i.e. seiza), chanting (okyo), listening to Dharma talks (teisho), and even while having private meetings with a teacher (dokusan). The point is to bring mindfulness and clarity to all aspects of our life.
Also, in honor of the spring holidays, the Subha Jivakambavanika recounts a story of an arahant nun who lived alone in the forest, and is hounded by a man who lusts after her insisting that she “delight” in the pleasant season of spring. In this story, the nun Subha was walking through the delightful mango grove of Jivaka. As she was walking, she was approached by a young libertine – who was the son of a goldsmith. He blocked her path so that she couldn’t walk any further. So she asked him what wrong has she done to him, and why is he standing in her way? She also reminded him that she was pure, without blemish, and it wouldn’t be right for him to touch her since she has “gone forth”.
So he tries to convince her to renounce her robes and vows, insisting that she is young and beautiful. So what need does she have for “going forth”? He further insists that she:
“Throw off your ochre robe — Come, let’s delight in the f|owering forest. A sweetness they exude from all around, the towering trees with their pollen. The beginning of spring is a pleasant season — Come, let’s delight in the f|owering forest. The trees with their blossoming tips moan, as it were, in the breeze: What delight will you have if you plunge into the forest alone? Frequented by herds of wild beasts, disturbed by elephants rutting and aroused: you want to go unaccompanied into the great, lonely, frightening forest? Like a doll made of gold, you will go about, like a goddess in the gardens of heaven. With delicate, smooth Kasi fabrics, you will shine, O beauty without compare. I would be under your power if we were to dwell in the wood. For there is no creature dearer to me than you, O nymph with the languid regard. If you do as I ask, happy, come live in my house. Dwelling in the calm of a palace, have women wait on you, wear delicate Kasi fabrics, adorn yourself with garlands and creams. I will make you many and varied ornaments of gold, jewels, and pearls. Climb onto a costly bed, scented with sandalwood carvings, with a well-washed coverlet, beautiful, spread with a woolen quilt, brand new. Like a blue lotus rising from the water, where there dwell non-human spirits, you will go to old age with your limbs unseen, if you stay as you are in the holy life.”
So she asked him what in the world he assumes of any essence in her body, and what it is that he sees when he looks at her? So he tells her that it is her eyes that are “like those of a fawn, like those of a nymph in the mountains.” When he gazes into her eyes, his “sensual delight grows all the more”. He said that even if she were to go far away, he will think of only her “pure, long-lashed gaze”, for there is nothing dearer to him than her eyes.
Upon hearing this, Subha explained,
“You want to stray from the road, you want the moon as a plaything, you want to jump over Mount Sineru, you who have designs on one born of the Buddha. For there is nothing anywhere at all in the world with its devas, that would be an object of passion for me. I don’t even know what that passion would be, for it’s been killed, root and all, by the path. Like embers from a pit — scattered, like a bowl of poison — evaporated, I don’t even see what that passion would be, for it’s been killed, root and all, by the path. Try to seduce one who hasn’t ref|ected on this, or who the Master hasn’t instructed. But try it with this one who knows and you do yourself violence. For whether insulted or worshiped, in pleasure or pain, my mindfulness stands firm.
Knowing the unattractiveness of fabricated things, my heart adheres nowhere at all. I am a follower of the one well-gone, riding the vehicle of the eightfold way: My arrow removed, eff|uent-free, I delight, having gone to an empty dwelling. For I have seen well-painted puppets, hitched up with sticks and strings, made to dance in various ways. When the sticks and strings are removed, thrown away, scattered, shredded, smashed into pieces, not to be found, in what will the mind there make its home? This body of mine, which is just like that, when devoid of dhammas doesn’t function. When, devoid of dhammas, it doesn’t function, in what will the mind there make its home? Like a mural you’ve seen, painted on a wall, smeared with yellow orpiment, there your vision has been distorted, meaningless your perception of a human being.
Like an evaporated mirage, like a tree of gold in a dream, like a magic show in the midst of a crowd — you run blind after what is unreal. Resembling a ball of sealing wax, set in a hollow, with a bubble in the middle and bathed with tears, eye secretions are born there too: The parts of the eye are rolled all together in various ways.”
After saying all of this to him, without any sense of regret, she plucked out one of her eyes. With her mind completely unattached, she gave it to him. She said to him, “Here, take this eye. It’s yours.” As soon as she did this his passion faded right then and there as he begged her for forgiveness. He promised that he will never let this happen again. He said that harming a person like her is like embracing a blazing fire, or having seized a poisonous snake. After this encounter, Subha went to the Buddha. It is said that when she saw the mark of his excellent merit, her eye became as it was before.
Happy Earth Day! Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the modern environmental movement which began in 1970. The founder of Earth Day was the then U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, who proposed the first nationwide environmental protest “to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda.” According to the California Community Environmental Council in Santa Barbara, “The story goes that Earth Day was conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson after a trip he took to Santa Barbara right after that horrific oil spill off our coast in 1969. He was so outraged by what he saw that he went back to Washington and passed a bill designating April 22 as a national day to celebrate the earth.”
In The Buddhist Attitude Towards Nature, Lily de Silva points out that:
“Prior to the rise of Buddhism people regarded natural phenomena such as mountains, forests, groves, and trees with a sense of awe and reverence. They considered them as the abode of powerful non-human beings who could assist human beings at times of need. Though Buddhism gave man a far superior Triple Refuge (tisarana) in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, these places continued to enjoy public patronage at a popular level, as the acceptance of terrestrial non-human beings such as devatas and yakkhas did not violate the belief system of Buddhism. Therefore among the Buddhists there is a reverential attitude towards specially long-standing gigantic trees. They are vanaspati in Pali, meaning ‘lords of the forests.’ As huge trees such as the ironwood, the sala, and the fig are also recognized as the Bodhi trees of former Buddhas, the deferential attitude towards trees is further strengthened. It is well known that the ficus religiosa is held as an object of great veneration in the Buddhist world today as the tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.”
Also on this day, back in 1954, the United Nations put into force the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which guaranteed asylum to those persecuted in their homelands on account of their ethnicity, religion, or political opinion.
Today is Ambedkar Jayanthi, or Ambedkar Day, which is a secular holiday as it is the 121st birthday or Bharat Ratna Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar Vishwavidyalaya (or just Dr. B.R. Ambedkar for short). He was not only the founder and architect of the Indian Constitution, but he was also also a Buddhist activist, juror, political activist and leader, social revolutionary and reformer, anthropologist, historian, scholar and orator, prolific writer and editor, economist, and a revivalist of Buddhism in India.
He was born into a poor Mahar family, which were considered a “Dalit” or “Untouchable caste”. Therefore, he campaigned against social discrimination and the injustice of the caste system (chaturvarna). Ambedkar was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 1990. Overcoming numerous social and economic obstacles, Ambedkar became one of the first “Dalit” or outcaste to obtain law degrees and multiple doctorates for his study and research in law, economics and political science from Columbia University and the London School of Economics. Every year, April 14th is known as Ambedkar Jayanti, as his birthday is celebrated all over India which the Union Government declared as a public holiday.
Since 1948, Ambedkar had been suffering from diabetes. He was bed-ridden from June to October in 1954 owing to diabetes and failing eyesight. He had been increasingly embittered by political issues, which took a toll on his health. His health worsened during 1955. He was also credited with delivering hundreds of thousands of Dalits (untouchables) to Theravada Buddhism and even many other Buddhists from India and abroad. Three days after completing his final manuscript The Buddha and His Dhamma, it is said that Ambedkar died in his sleep on 6 December 1956 at his home in Delhi.
In fact, his condemnation of Hinduism and its foundation in the caste system made him pretty controversial and unpopular among the Hindu right of the time. His political philosophy has inspired a large number of Dalit political parties, publications and workers’ unions that remain active across India, especially in Maharashtra. Presently, massive conversion ceremonies have been organized by Dalit activists emulating Ambedkar’s Nagpur ceremony of 1956.
Due to Ambedkar’s prominence and popular support amongst the Untouchable community, he was invited to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1932. Gandhi, who was in jail in Poona, fiercely opposed a separate electorate for untouchables, though he accepted a separate electorate for all other minority groups such as Muslims and Sikhs, saying he feared that separate electorates for untouchables would divide the “Hindu community” with the scheduled caste.
When the British agreed with Ambedkar and announced the awarding of separate electorates, Gandhi began a fast while imprisoned in the Yerwada Central Jail in 1932 against the separate electorate for untouchables only. In fact, Gandhi stated, “I am certain that the question of separate electorates for the Untouchables is the modern manufacture of satanic government. I will resist it with my life.”
The British authorities did not want to deal with Gandhi’s death and said that the UK would accept any voting arrangement that was satisfactory to both Hindus and Untouchables. Gandhi’s fast provoked huge civil unrest across India. Therefore Congress politicians and activists such as Madan Mohan Malaviya and Palwankar Baloo organized joint meetings with Ambedkar and his supporters.
Ambedkar thought that Gandhi’s fast was a ploy, but feared not only increased coercion by Gandhi supporters, but also communal reprisal and even genocide of Untouchables. This agreement, which saw Gandhi end his fast, was called the Poona Pact. As a result, Ambedkar dropped the demand for separate electorates that was promised through the British Communal Award prior to his meeting with Gandhi. Instead, a certain number of seats were reserved specifically for Untouchables who were, in the agreement, called the “Depressed Class”.
Here are a few words from Ambedkar himself:
“History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.”
“For a successful revolution it is not enough that there is discontent. What is required is a profound and thorough conviction of the justice, necessity and importance of political and social rights.”
“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”
“Political tyranny is nothing compared to the social tyranny and a reformer who defies society is a more courageous man than a politician who defies Government.”
“Positively, my social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. Let no one however say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French Revolution. I have not. My philosophy has its roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha.”
April 8th was Easter to a lot of people in the West, but in Japan the 8th was the first day of Hanamatsuri which celebrates the Buddha’s birthday. Many different traditions celebrate the Buddha’s birth on different dates, such as Vesak which marks the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha.
However, Hanamatsuri literally means “flower festival” and it is celebrated from the 8th until the 13th of April. It is traditionally known as bussho-e, tanjo-e, kanbutsu-e and Shakuson gotan-e. It commemorates the birth of Siddhartha Gautama (who became enlightened as Sakyamuni Buddha) to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya. The first Hanamatsuri celebration was held in Hibiya Park, Tokyo, in 1917 and it was headed by Ando Ryogan and Watanabe Kaikyoku. A common practice on this day includes the pouring of ama-cha (a tea prepared from a variety of hydrangea) on small Buddha statues (tanjobustu) decorated with flowers, as if to bathe a newborn baby. In Buddhist temples, monasteries and nunneries, more involved ceremonies are conducted for practicing Buddhists, priests, monks and nuns. There are also public festivals in some areas.
So, I have decided to address some questions many people have regarding Buddhism. More importantly, what the heck is a Buddha, anyways? A Buddha is literally an “Awakened One”, as it refers to any being who has become fully awakened (bodhi) – thus attaining Nirvana (Pali: Nibbana; or Unbinding). The historical Buddha, meaning the founder of what is presently called Buddhism, was an ex-prince named Siddartha Gautama (Pali: Siddatha Gotama; ca. 563-486BCE). He was born to a noble family of the Shakya clan in Lumbini Grove, Nepal. Other names of Siddartha Gautama, besides Buddha, include: Arahant or “Worthy one”, Bhadanta or “Most Virtuous”, Bhagava or “The blessed one”, Shakyamuni or “Sage of the Sakyas”, and Tathagata or “Thus gone.”
People often wonder, “Isn’t he like a God? Don’t people worship him as such?” Well, the short answer is no, that isn’t necessarily the case. When Buddhism spread across Asia, it was usually incorporated with the already existing cultural norms of that society. Therefore paying homage and respect to the Buddha is often practiced in most traditions, but this does not constitute worshiping the Buddha as a deity. The Buddha himself spoke against such things, stating in the Vakkali Sutta, “He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma.”. Therefore Buddhists have faith in the Buddha as an enlightened teacher, and often show their respect for his teachings in the form of symbolic offerings.
“Master, are you a deva (god)?”
“No, brahman, I am not a deva.”
“Are you a gandhabba (regarded as ‘heavenly musicians’)?”
“… a yakkha (a nature spirit)?”
“… a human being?”
“No, brahman, I am not a human being.”
“…Then what sort of being are you?”
“…Remember me, brahman, as ‘awakened.’
A lot of people often mistake the historical Buddha as “that one fat guy”. Actually, that one fat guy is a Chinese monk named Ch’i-tz’u or Qieci, also known as Pu-tai or Budai (Jp: Hotei) which refers to a hemp bag he is often depicted carrying. According to some traditions, he is popularly seen as an incarnation (bodhisattva) of the future Buddha Maitreya. Therefore his figure is often used in artistic expressions of the future Buddha.
Another question is that since there are so many different Buddhas, aren’t they all the same? What makes this Siddartha guy so special? It is true there have been many Buddhas in the past, and more to come in the future. Shakyamuni Buddha, born Siddartha Guatama, was the last Sammasam or Samyaksam Buddha of this particular world-system or kalpa. The previous were Kakusandha Buddha, Konagamana Buddha, and Kassapa Buddha. The next Buddha is currently a Maha-Bodhisattva, probably residing in the deva realm of Tusita, known as Maitreya.
However, there are essentially three types of Buddhas. There are the Sammasam Buddhas (Skt: Samyaksam Buddhas), such as Siddartha Gautama, who attain Buddhahood and then decide to teach others what they have discovered. There is actually only one Sammasam Buddha for any given world-system, because they basically “rediscover” the Dharma at a time when it has been completely forgotten. The Bahudhatuka Sutta states that,
“It is impossible that two rightfully Enlightened Ones should be born in the same world element at one and same time.
It is possible that a single rightfully Enlightened One should be born in the world element at one time.”
The next Sammasam Buddha will be Maitreya, who will appear when the teachings of Siddartha Gautama have been completely lost and forgotten. In the Infinite Life Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra, Amitabha Buddha is also a Buddha from another world-system that existed ten kalpas ago. Then there are also what are called the solitary or silent Buddhas, known as Pacceka Buddhas (Skt: Pratyeka Buddhas), who do not teach the Dharma to others for they do not even have the desire to do so. Finally, there are the disciples of a Buddha who realize enlightenment and Nirvana called Savaka Buddhas (Skt: Sravaka Buddhas) which basically means “Hearer Buddha”
Any present day Buddha would fall into one of the latter two categories, as the teachings of Siddartha Buddha are still obviously around – meaning he is still the current Sammasam Buddha of this era. This is why the emphasis is laid on Siddartha Gautama, because it is still his teachings which lead other beings to awakening. The Buddha Sutta states:
“The Tathagata — the worthy one, the rightly self-awakened one — is the one who gives rise to the path (previously) unarisen, who engenders the path (previously) unengendered, who points out the path (previously) not pointed out. He knows the path, is expert in the path, is adept at the path. And his disciples now keep following the path and afterwards become endowed with the path.”
So what differentiates a Buddha, anyways? How can you tell a Buddha apart from some other enlightened teacher? Well, the Maha-sihanada Sutta lists ten “powers” or “factors” of a Buddha (tathaagata-balaani) which he understands in actuality:
1. The possible as possible and the impossible as impossible, that is causes and conditions and their results;
2. Past, future and present deeds and their results;
3. The practices leading to good and bad destinations;
4. The world (of the aggregates, etc.) in all its diverse elements;
5. The various (good and bad) dispositions and inclinations of beings;
6. The state of the faculties (indriya, of faith, energy, etc.) of other beings;
7. The cleansing of defilements and the emergence in regard to the jhanas, liberations, concentrations and attainments in meditation;
8 The recollection of many former births and the remembrance the various experiences he had in them;
9. The witnessing of beings arising and passing away according to their deeds;
10. The knowledge of destruction of the mental effluents/pollutants/fermentations/etc. (asavakkhaye ñana), dwelling upon and abiding in the deliverance of mind (cetavimutti) and deliverance through wisdom (paññaa-vimutti).
In a previous post, I touched upon how the story of Buddha found its way into the Abrahamic faiths which eventually led to the Catholic Church proclaiming the Buddha as a Saint. In recognition of the Pesach and Easter holidays, I decided to further expand upon the relationship between Buddhism and other faiths. Alternatively, Tan Swee Eng compiled a list of the differences between Buddhism and other religions. If anyone has anything else to add or correct, please leave a comment.
Buddhism and Hinduism are both post-Vedic religions. However Siddhartha Gautama’s teachings deny the authority of the Vedas and sometimes Buddhism is generally viewed as a nastika school (heterodox, literally “It is not so”) from the perspective of some Hindus. Gautama Buddha is mentioned as an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranic texts of Hinduism. In the Bhagavata Purana he is twenty fourth of twenty five avatars, prefiguring a forthcoming final incarnation. A number of Hindu traditions portray Buddha as the most recent of ten principal avatars, known as the “Dasavatara” (Ten Incarnations of God) – but this view is not accepted by most Buddhist schools. Prominent Hindu reformers such as Gandhi and Vivekananda acknowledge Buddhist influence
Buddhism and Jainism are the two branches of the Shramana tradition that still exists today. The Upanishads, Mahavira (founder of Jainism) and Buddha (founder of Buddhism) taught that to achieve moksha or nirvana, one did not have to accept the authority of the Vedas or the caste system. Buddha went a step further with the principle of anatta, or not-self and dependent origination. Until recently Jainism was largely confined to India, while Buddhism has largely flourished outside of India. However the two traditions share remarkable similarities. In his life, the Buddha undertook many fasts, penances and austerities, the descriptions of which are elsewhere found only in the Jain tradition. Ultimately Buddha abandoned these methods on his discovery of the Middle Way or Magga. To this day, many Buddhist teachings, principles, and terms used in Buddhism are identical to those of Jainism, but they may hold very different meanings.
The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by interaction and syncretism with Taoism in particular. Originally seen as a kind of “foreign Taoism”, Buddhism’s scriptures were translated into Chinese using the Taoist vocabulary. Chan Buddhism was particularly modified by Taoism, integrating distrust of scripture, text and even language, as well as the Taoist views of embracing “this life”, dedicated practice and the “every-moment”. In the Tang period Taoism incorporated some Buddhist elements like monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness, and collecting scripture into tripartite organization.
Confucianism in particular raised fierce opposition to Buddhism in its early, initial introduction in China. It was principally due to what it viewed at the time would be the negative result of the “nihilistic” worldview of Buddhism (although Buddhism is a Middle Way between eternalism and nihilism) on society at large. The prominence of Confucianism in the Chinese society forced Buddhism to endorse certain uniquely Confucian values. Over time as Buddhism became increasingly accepted by the Chinese intellectual class, relation between these two philosophies became more symbiotic. For example, Buddhism shares many commonalities with Neo-Confucianism.
In Japan, since the symbol of one of the Dainichi Nyorai (non-historical buddhas of Mahayana Buddhism), was the sun, many equated Amaterasu (Sun Goddess) with a previous reincarnation (bodhisattva) of Vairochana. The later Tokugawa Shogunate era saw a revival of Shinto, and some Shinto scholars began to argue that Buddhas were previous incarnations of Shinto gods, reversing the traditional positions of the two religions. Shinto and Buddhism were officially separated during the Meiji Restoration and the brief, but impacting rise of State Shinto followed. In modern Japan, most families count themselves as being of both religions, despite the idea of “official separation”.
Buddhist views of Jesus differ, since Jesus came after Buddha. Some Buddhists, including the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, regard Jesus as a bodhisattva who dedicated his life to the welfare of human beings. Both Jesus and Buddha advocated radical alterations in the common religious practices of the day. There are occasional similarities in language, such as the use of the common metaphor of a line of blind men to refer to religious authorities with whom they disagreed (Digha Nikaya 13.15, Matthew 15:14). Some believe there is a particularly close affinity between Buddhism (or Eastern spiritual thought generally) and the doctrine of Gnostic texts such as the Gospel of Thomas.
Some scholars believe that Jesus may have been inspired by Buddhism, and that the Gospel of Thomas and the Nag Hammadi texts reflect this influence. These theories have been popularized in books such as Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels (1979) and Beyond Belief (2003), and Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten’s The Original Jesus (1995). Edward Conze has suggested that Hindu or Buddhist tradition may well have influenced Gnosticism. He points out that Buddhists were in contact with the Thomas Christians. Elaine Pagels notes that the similarities between Gnosticism and Buddhism have prompted some scholars to question their interdependence and to wonder whether “…if the names were changed, the ‘living Buddha’ appropriately could say what the Gospel of Thomas attributes to the living Jesus. ” However, she concludes that, although intriguing, the evidence is inconclusive, since parallel traditions may emerge in different cultures without direct influence.
Barlaam and Josaphat are said to have lived and died in the 3rd century or 4th century in India. Josaphat’s story appears to be a Christianized version of the story of the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama. The first Christianized adaptation was the Georgian epic Balavariani dating back to the 10th century. A Georgian monk Euthymius of Athos translated the story into Greek, some time before he was killed while visiting Constantinople in 1028. There the Greek adaptation was translated into Latin in 1048 and soon became well known in Western Europe as Barlaam and Josaphat. The story was translated into Hebrew in the Middle Ages as “Ben-Hamelekh Vehanazir” (“The Prince and the Nazirite”). For more information, please read my post entitled The Teacher of Gods and Humans.
The Indian scholar Maulana Abul Kalam Azad proposed in a commentary on the Qur’an that Siddhartha Gautama is the prophet Dhu’l-Kifl referred to in Sura 21 and Sura 38 of the Qur’an together with the Biblical characters Ishmael, Idris (Enoch), and Elisha. Azad suggested that the Kifl in Dhu’l-Kifl (Ar: “possessor of a double portion”) is an Arabic pronunciation of Kapilavastu, where the Buddha spent his early life. Azad did not, however, provide direct historical evidence to support his speculation. According to other ancient Muslim scholars Dhu’l-Kifl was either a righteous man and not a prophet, or he was the prophet called Ezekiel in the Bible.
In his article “A Muslim View of Buddhism”, Professor Majid Tehranian suggests, “Sufism as a bridge between the two religious traditions (Buddhism and Islam).” One of the reasons, he states, is: “In Islam, Sufism represents a reaction against the excessive emphasis on the Shari’ah, the Letter of the Law, as opposed to the Spirit of the Law, the Tariqah.” However, the fact that all the Islamic countries signed the Cairo Declaration indicates that any ethical basis for either global civilization or universal responsibility needs to take Shari’ah into account.
Buddha is classified as one of the Manifestations of God which is a title for a major prophet in the Baha’í Faith. Similarly, the Prophet of the Baha’í Faith, Baha’u'llah, is believed by Baha’ís to be the Fifth Buddha, among other prophetic stations.
Tonight was the last night in which eight candles are lit on the menorah as tomorrow (the 9th) is the last day of Hanukkah (which ends at sunset). It’s also known as the Festival of Lights, as it is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem following Judah Maccabee‘s victory over the Seleucid Empire.
According to Rabbinic tradition, the victorious Maccabees could only find a small jug of oil that had remained uncontaminated by virtue of a seal, and it only contained enough oil to sustain the menorah for one day. However, it miraculously lasted for eight days, which was enough time to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.
Hanukkah can also be celebrated by singing prayers and hymns such as Maoz Tzur, Psalms, etc.; exchanging presents; and children are also sometimes encouraged to give tzedakah (or “charity”) for at least one of the nights, in lieu of presents for themselves.
This year, Hanukkah actually coincided with the Zen Buddhist Rohatsu Sesshin which is usually held from the 1st to the 8th of December. During the session, many practitioners stay up all night before the 8th in intensive meditation. This is because the 8th (today) was Bodhi Day (also Jodo-e, etc), or Enlightenment Day, for many Buddhists. It is a day which commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment. As Venus rose in the sky on the early morning of December 8th, Siddartha Gotama (also known as Shakyamuni Buddha) experienced enlightenment at the foot of a bodhi tree (fiscus tree of the genus ficus religiousa, or sacred fig) in Bodhgaya.
As a day of remembrance and meditation, Bodhi Day may also sometimes appear as if it is the Buddhist version of Christmas. In some Buddhist homes you are likely to find a bodhi tree (fiscus tree/sacred fig). Beginning on Bodhi Day, these trees are decorated with multi-colored lights, strung with beads to symbolize the way all things are united, and hung with three shiny ornaments to represent the Three Jewels – The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
Sometimes you may also find colored lights which are strung about the home to recognize the day of enlightenment. They are multi-colored to symbolize the many pathways to enlightenment. The lights are turned on each evening beginning on December 8th and for the following 30 days. A candle is also lit for these thirty days to symbolize enlightenment.
A meal of rice and milk is significant on this holiday, because it is what Sujata offered to the Buddha upon his awakening to help him regain strength. Sometimes cookies are made in the shape of a tree to symbolize the bodhi tree, or of the leaves of the bodhi tree. Fortunately, the leaves are heart shaped, so its easy to find a heart shaped cookie cutter from Valentine’s Day.
However, the Buddha’s enlightenment is also observed at different times in other Buddhist traditions. Such as some Theravada Buddhist communities usually commemorate the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing into paranirvana on the same day, called Vesak Puja (which already happened May 21st). Tibetan Buddhists also observe those same three events of Buddha’s life at the same time, during Saga Dawa Duchen (which was May 27th).
Since it’s Thanksgiving, I thought I would take this time to offer thanks and gratitude and present some useful Buddhist tips for the holiday.
First of all, I would to thank anyone who actually takes the time read this! Second, I am thankful for my grandmother who is now out of the hospital and can actually spend Thanksgiving at home with the family. Thank you everyone for your prayers and thoughts. I am thankful for my beautiful fiancee, who makes me laugh my ass off, comforts me when I need it the most, and is all around the coolest person I’ve ever met. I am thankful for my family – my brother and his beautiful family, and all of the family that I can’t see this holiday because of the distance between us. I am also thankful for the job that keeps me from being homeless, and the Buddhist practice which continues to help me towards awakening every single day.
Thanksgiving is also well-known for the huge meal, of course centering around turkey. A chant which can be used before meals is included in the Paritta Suttas (as translated by Piyadassi Thera) which goes:
“Wisely reƒlecting I will partake of food not for pleasure of it, not for the pride (resulting from physical strength obtainable), not for adornment, not for beautifying the body, but merely to maintain this body, to still the hunger, and to enable the practice of the holy life; also to resist the pangs of hunger (due to previous want of food), and to resist the pain (resulting from excess of food). Thus will my life be maintained free from wrong doing and free from discomfort.”
There are also some more meal chants, such as the Gokan No Ge (as part of the Gyohatsunenju, or “Meal Sutra”) which is used in some Zen traditions:
“First, we consider in detail the merit of this food and remember how it came to us;
Second, we evaluate our own virtue and practice, Lacking or complete, as we receive this offering;
Third, we are careful about greed, hatred, and ignorance, to guard our minds and to free ourselves from error;
Fourth, we take this good medicine to save our bodies from emaciation;
Fifth, we accept this food to achieve the Way of the Buddha.”
Since we are giving thanks, we should also keep in mind the principle of “parinamana” which means “transfer of merit” or “dedication”. There are benefits to be derived from the non-attached practices of Wisdom and Compassion. These practices include the Buddhist Precepts which are guidelines for enlightened living. These benefits, or “merit,” may be accumulated and subsequently transferred to any or all sentient beings for their benefit (transpersonal) or rededicated so as to transform it into a benefit for one’s self (personal). The three bases of merit are giving, virtue and mental development.
Monday was an amazing birthday. Since I’m pretty much starting my cd collection from stratch (again…although my vinyl collection, of course, remains intact to this day), my girlfriend gave me brand new copies of Group Sex and Carnival of Chaos! She also made me an amazing dinner, which I still feel kinda full from! My brother also gave me a dart to use to punch small holes in my jacket to make studding a lot easier. Also, as a random fact, my eldest cousin shares the same birthday. Yet, we live in separate states so we can’t exactly throw an extravagant party as celebration. Perhaps one year!
However, the festivities aren’t over. Tuesday also marked the celebration of Guan Yin‘s attainment of Bodhisattvahood. In Sanskrit, the term “bodhisattva” means “enlightenment (‘bodhi’) essence (‘sattva’)”. The Bodhisattva is compassionately dedicated to assisting all sentient beings in achieving complete Buddhahood (Buddhabhaava) – the highest state of enlightenment. This means that the Bodhisattva doesn’t practice for their own enlightenment, but rather for the enlightenment of all. Out of compassion, the Bodhisattva remains in this world of ignorance, illusions/delusions, sickness, and death while experiencing what everyone one else experiences until all sentient beings are liberated. In short, the Bodhisattva has delayed their entrance to Nirvana (unbinding) and thus remain in Samsara (the cycle of life and death) by taking the Bodhisattva Vow to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible so that they can teach Dharma until all have awakened to enlightenment and can enter Nirvana.
The Bodhisattva is primarily motivated by bodhicitta (lit. “enlightenment mind”) which is the wish to attain Buddhahood in order to benefit all sentient beings who are trapped in Samsara (cyclic existence). There are two types of bodhicitta. They are aspiring or relative bodhicitta in which the practitioner works to free all beings from bondage and suffering, and engaging or absolute bodhicitta in which the practitioner clearly sees that the bondage and suffering are illusory and never existed in the first place.
A Bodhisattva can chose either of three paths to help sentient beings in the process of achieving Buddhahood. They are King-like Bodhisattva, or one who aspires to become Buddha as soon as possible and then help sentient beings full-ƒledged; Boatman-like Bodhisattva, one who aspires to achieve Buddhahood along with other sentient beings; and Shepherd-like Bodhisattva, one who aspires to delay Buddhahood until all other sentient beings achieve Buddhahood.
The Four Great Vows of the Bodhisattva are:
Ordinary-beings are innumerable, I vow to liberate them all
Defilements are endless, I vow to eliminate them all
Buddha’s teachings are unlimited, I vow to learn them all
The ways of enlightenment are supreme, I vow to achieve them all
Guan Yin is the archetypal Shepherd-like Bodhisattva of compassion. Guan Yin’s name comes from the Sanskrit Avalokitesvara. As the offspring of the Buddha Amitabha, MahaBodhisattva Avalokitesvara is the archetype of universal compassion. The name “Avalokitesvara” has been translated as “the Lord Who Looks Down on the World”, “the Regarder of the Cries of the World” or even “Perceiver of the World’s Sounds”. Avalokitesvara is also referred to as Padmapani (“Holder of the Lotus”) and simply as Lokesvara (“Lord of the World”).
Although Avalokitesvara is often portrayed as a male prince in India with the Buddha in his crown, he is also well known for his female form known as Tara, Lokanat, Lokesvara, Guan Yin/Kwan Yin, Kannon, Kanzeon, etc. Although mainstream Theravada does not worship any of the Mahayana bodhisattvas, Avalokitesvara is popularly worshiped in Burma, where she is called Lokanat, and in Thailand, where she is called Lokesvara. In Tibetan, Avalokitesvara is known as Chenrezig, and is said to be incarnated in the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa, and other high lamas.
In chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, aptly named “The Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara”, it states that Guan Yin/Kannon/Avalokitesvara/etc appears in many ways and in many forms (e.g. male, female, god, monk, nun, some kind of important figure, or even that homeless guy on the corner, etc.), to help sentient beings according to their level of understanding. This is because Guan Yin has taken a vow to relieve the suffering of sentient beings whenever one should recite his/her name (“Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya”, “Namo Guan Shi Yin Pusa”, “Homage to the Bodhisattva Who Perceives the World’s Sounds”), and is thus the archetype of the boundless compassion found deep within us all.
Indeed, the thousand armed and thousand eyed Kannon (Sahasrabhuja Avalokitesvara) represents the many compassionate skills and techniques which one should develop, such as the compassion that arises when one sees suffering (with 1,000 eyes), and those actions taken to relieve this suffering (with 1,000 hands).
Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya
Namo Guan Shi Yin Pusa
Om Mani Padme Hum