Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Parayanavagga

The Sutta Nipata represents the earliest strata of Buddhism. It dates from before the time when the Dhamma was systemized into the ‘four’ this, the ‘seven’ that and the ‘ten’ something else. The practice is presented in the simplest most natural way – have no expectations, be mindful and aware, keep an emotional and spatial distance from others, spend time in the forest and don’t accumulate too much. And probably the most beautiful part of the Sutta Nipata is the Parayanavagga. If you have never read it do so. I am happy to say that it has recently been translated by Ven. Anandajoti and you can read it at The story tells of a party of ascetics going in search of the Buddha who they eventually track down at the ‘the lovely, the beautiful’ (ramaniyam manoramam, Sn.1013) Pasanaka Shrine. The bulk of the Parayanavagga is these ascetics’ questions and the Buddha’s answers. The place where this all happened is identified with a rocky hill called Kawadol some 30 kilometers north of Gaya, and it really is a lovely and peaceful place.
When the Chinese pilgrim Huien Tsiang was on his way to Bodh Gaya from Patna he passed by Kawadol and described several large monasteries in the vicinity, the most important founded by and named after a monk called Silabhadra. Born in Bengal and ordained by Dharmapala at Nalanda, Siladhadra later distinguished himself in debates with non-Buddhist ascetics. As a reward for his skills the king gifted him the revenue of a town and from this he built a monastery the ruins of which can still be seen. I first went to Kawadol in 1975. Recently I went again with Viraj and Ven. Piyapal from Bodh Gaya and we spent a morning having a look around. At the foot of Kawadol Hill is a huge mound with several stone pillars emerging from it and nearby, sheltered under a grove of ancient gnarled tamarind trees, is a large and exceptionally fine image of the Buddha. This image used to sit in the open near one of these trees but the Archeological Survey has recently built an artless cement enclosure around it very successfully destroying the sylvan atmosphere completely. The image’s face has been damaged by iconoclasts but other than this it is in good condition. Cunningham measured it and found it to be 2.4 meters across the shoulders and 1.4 meters from knee to knee. The image’s eyes are depicted as almost completely closed, giving it a countenance of great inner serenity. The hands are in the earth-touching gesture and on the pedestal below it are arched niches with small Buddha images and stupas in them. An inscription above these niches has not yet been deciphered but is probably either the Epitome of Dhamma or the name of the person who donated the statue. To the right of the statue is the only remaining part of the throne that was once behind it – a pillar and capital and a finely carved leograph held aloft by a warrior who is in turn standing on the back of an elephant. When the British surveyor Francis Buchanan came here in 1811 much of the temple that had enshrined this Buddha statue still existed. It measured 40 by 27 meters, was made of brick and ten or twelve of the pillars that had had supported the roof were still standing. Buchanan also saw door and window frames, pillar capitals and fragments of sculpture but most of this has now disappeared. We scrambled around the huge boulders at the foot of the hill looking at all the Hindu images carved on them. These carvings seem to be rather late, I’d say post-Gupta, and show that the hill came to be shared by Buddhists and Hindus. How nice that two religions could do their devotions in proximity to each other and have no problems about it. Soon the head man from the nearby village came to see us accompanied by a gaggle of curious children and very graciously invited us for a cup of tea. People in cities and towns can be pretty obnoxious and this is especially so in India. Give me village folk any time. Even in Bihar, the black heart of India and where people are so poor, villagers can be so hospitable to strangers. Before we left we made a donation to help finish the local mandir.


desertboot said...

Those tamarind trees must be centuries old! It is remarkable that such a place should exist; how wonderful that you've been there. Db

footiam said...

People from the cities should be just as nice as those from the villages. It's just that we do not have the opportunity to see that goodness.

Buddha said...

I have just started to read teh Translations they are Beautiful.

I completley agree with your point that ASI has Messed up instead of Leaving it alone