Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Kingdom Of The Mind

This beautiful little poem was written by Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607). There may not have been Buddhists in Elizabethan England but is it clear that even without the Dhamma’s gentle and benign influence there are always a few people who ‘get it’ nonetheless.  
MY mind to me a kingdom is;
Such present joys therein I find,
That it excels all other bliss
That earth affords or grows by kind:
Though much I want that most would have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely pomp, no wealthy store,
No force to win the victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to feed a loving eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall;
For why? my mind doth serve for all.

I see how plenty surfeits oft,
And hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that those which are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all:
They get with toil, they keep with fear:
Such cares my mind could never bear.

Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice;
I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look, what I lack my mind supplies.
Lo, thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring.

Some have too much, yet still do crave;
I little have, and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have,
And I am rich with little store;
They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;
They lack, I leave; they pine, I live.

I laugh not at another’s loss,
I grudge not at another’s gain;
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
My state at one doth still remain:
I fear no foe, I fawn no friend;
I loathe not life, nor dread my end.

Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,
Their wisdom by their rage of will;
Their treasure is their only trust,
A cloaked craft their store of skill;
But all the pleasure that I find
Is to maintain a quiet mind.

My wealth is health and perfect ease,
My conscience clear my chief defence;
I neither seek by bribes to please,
Nor by deceit to breed offence:
Thus do I live; thus will I die;
Would all did so as well as I!

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Treasures of Kanganhalli

The small village of Kanganhalli in the Indian state of Karnataka briefly attracted the attention of archaeologists in the early 1950s but caused little excitement. The brick walls of an ancient city enclosing an area of about 80 hectares was situated next to the Bhimi River, the small medieval Chandralamba Temple contained a few ancient inscriptions of little interest, and there were several low mounds in the area which were likely to have ancient structures under them. Then in 1989  Kanganhalli   leapt into the news, and not just in India but internationally as well. When workmen repairing the Chandralamba Temple lifted a large flat stone beneath the statue of the temple deity they found, to their utter amazement, an inscription of King Asoka inscribed on it. Asoka's inscriptions are extreamly important for unraveling early Indian history and the discovery of each new one helps build a more compleat picture of that history. But a decade later Kanganhalli was to reveal even more of his hidden treasures to the world. When the government of Karnataka decided to dam the Bhima River, meaning that  Kanganhalli would eventually disappear below the water, archaeologists were asked to excavate the several mounds  around the village, just to see if anything of historical importance lay beneath them. They could have hardly imagined what they would find. Almost immediately crisply carved white limestone slabs covered with sculptures, a railing, 300 inscriptions and Buddha statues began to emerge. They had stumbled across one of the most important archaeological find in India since independence. What was to finally emerge was the Adhalaka Maha Caitya first built in about the 1st century BCE and which was a major centre from Buddhist pilgrims for the next 400 years. The first stupa at  Kanganhalli may have been built by Asoka and this was later enlarged and beautified by the early Satavahana kings of Andra.  Twelve such kings are mentioned in the inscriptions, greatly adding to a better understanding of this dynasty. It seems that sometime in the 4th century the stupa collapsed, displacing all the carved slabs, breaking some of them, and burying them under the rubble. Why the devotees and monks did not try to repair the stupa is unknown, but this served to preserve the carved slabs in almost perfect conditio
From a historical and artistic perspective the  Kanganhalli  stupa is of the highest importance, it has a significance for today’s Buddhists also. It shows that the Buddhism we are familiar with is almost the same as that practiced by the Buddhists of  Kanganhalli  two thousand years ago. Some of the carved slabs depict the main events in the Buddha’s biography just as it is taught in a thousand  sermons even today, from the birth right up to the sharing out of the relics. Other slabs illustrate the same Jataka stories that we read; the Mahakapi Jataka, the Vessantra Jataka, the Chhaddanta Jataka, etc. Interestingly, some of the Jatakas are named slightly differently from those we know; for example the  Sutasoma Jataka is called the Mahasutasoma. Scenes from Buddhist history are also depicted, the most important ones being of Majjhima and Durabhissara who introduced Buddhism to Kashmir after the  Third  Council, an event mentioned in the Dipavamsa. One of the most interesting of the inscriptions is above the image of a regal figure with a woman besides him and with an umbrella being held over him. This inscription, in Brahmi script, reads raya asoko, "King Asoka". This seems to be the earliest depiction of the great Buddhist monarch. At present it is quite difficult to get to Kanganhalli as the roads are poor and public transport is irregular. The nearest town is Gulbarga which has a museum housing a fine selection of the sculptures from Kanganhalli.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Mother's Love

The Buddhist scriptures contain numerous words for love such as ādara, atthakāma, dalhabhatti, hita, kāma, lokassādara, manāpa, mettā, paṭibaddhacitta, paṭisanthāra, pema, petteyya, piya, sambhajeyya, sampiya, siniddha, sineha and vissāsa. Some of these words are synonyms, others refer to distinct types of love.  Although it is not always easy to find exact English equivalents for them, some can be identified with certainty. For example paṭibaddhacitta means infatuation, petteyya is paternal love, kāma is erotic or sensual love, and vissāsa means a warm trusting acceptance. Matteyya means mother love, both love of one’s mother and maternal love. The Buddhist tradition has long had personifications of the different types of positive feelings; for example Avalokitesvara can be seen as the personification of manifestation of compassion. And if mother love or   maternal love has a personification it would be Harati.
   Legend said that Harati and her husband Pañcika lurked in the forests and rocky crags around Rajagaha. They had scores of offspring, their favourite being Pingala. Hariti would snatch unguarded or lone children so she and her brood could devour them. One day the distraught citizens of Rajagaha came to the Buddha begging him to do something about Hariti. Moved by compassion and agreeing to help, he tricked Pingala into following him and then hid him under his alms bowl. Hariti spent a week looking for her beloved son but without success, and in desperation finally came to the Buddha asking for his help. The Buddha asked her why she was so upset and she replied: “How could a mother not be upset when her child goes missing?” The Buddha replied: “What of the mothers of all the children you have eaten? Do not they feel the same pain as you?” Realizing the truth of this, Hariti promised to give up her child-eating habits. To make up for all the pain she had caused others she also promised to do everything in her powers to protect children. Seeing the sincerity of these promises, the Buddha showed Harati where Pangala was concealed.

For centuries Hariti was honoured as the embodiment of maternal love. She was believed to protect children from all kinds of harm, to see that mothers always had sufficient milk to feed their babes, and to ease the pangs of childbirth. She was also believed to protect from smallpox, a disease that children were more susceptible to. Hariti was particularly popular wherever Mahayana prevailed although shrines to her and images of her have been found in Thailand and Indonesia and she is mentioned in the Sri Lankan epic, the Mahavamsa.  The worship of Hariti had declined throughout most of the Buddhist world in recent centuries but she is still popular in Nepal and in Japan, where she is known as Kariteimo.