Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Sacred Fire

Most of the rituals of Brahmanism, the main religion at the time of the Buddha, centered on fire (aggi). Agni, the god of fire, also sometimes called Jatadeva (Ja.I,286; IV,51), is invoked in the Rg Veda more than any of the other deity. The Vedic sacrifice consisted of three fires, the ahavaniya, the garhapatya and the daksinagni. There were also the three fires of the household, the primary one being the birth fire (jataggi, Ja.II,43) which was ignited when a person was born and from which their funeral pyre was ignited when they died. It was essential that these fires be kept burning throughout a person’s life. Walking seven times (saptipadi) around the nuptial fire, also lit from the birth fire, sealed the marriage. Apart from these sacred fires, brahmans who renounced the world to become ascetics worshipped Agni by tended a sacred fire in the jungle. This fire was likewise ignited by the birth fire (Ja.I,494).
It seems that the Buddha chose to itemize three main mental defilements (greed, lobha; hatred, dosa; and ignorance, moha) and call them fires, to parallel and contrast with the sacred fires of Brahmanism (Vin.I,35). Brahmanism required that the three fires be tended and kept burning, the Buddha taught that one attained enlightenment by abandoning the three fires and extinguishing them. Of the several names he gave to the state of complete liberation the most common was Nirvana, meaning ‘to blow out’, i.e. to blow out the burning mental defilements. The Buddha commented that a monk will not make offerings to the sacred fire (aggihoma, D.I,9) and in the Dhammapada he said; “If one were to attend the sacred fire for a hundred years in the forest or were to honour even for a moment one who had developed himself, that honour would be better than the hundred years of sacrifice” (Dhp.107).
The early Buddhists considered fire worship to be as foolish and ineffective and several stories in the Jataka pokes fun at it (e.g. Ja.II,43-40; VI,206-7). In one of these, an ascetic decided to offer an ox he had been given to Agni. Not having salt for the meat he went off to get it, tethering the animal near the sacred fire before going. While he was away a band of robbers came to his hermitage, slaughtered the ox, cooked the meat, eat their fill, and left nothing but the hide, tail and bones. When the ascetic returned and saw what had happened he said; “If Jatadeva the cannot protect what is his how can he protect me?” He dumped what was left of the ox into the sacred fire and then threw a bucket of water over it (Ja.I,494).
After the 7th century CE the fire ritual was one of many Brahmanical practices incorporated into Vajrayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism it is called sbyin-sreg and in Japanese Shingon Buddhism goma.


j d said...

Dear Dhammika, I came across one of your old articles about homo sexuality and the young man made me pause and think. Over the years I have found people on a serious spiritual quest tend to drop there interest in sex whether it be 'gay' or heterosexual.
I feel it should not be condemned or encouraged but one should enquire who is feeling this intense desire? " The hungry ghost referred to in Buddhism. The hungry ghost does not wish to be free it wishes to continue eating or desiring. Usually when it expresses the wish to be free it is in the hope that somehow it could be free while continuing to desire. Desire is really the illusory belief that what is desired will fill me or complete me. The fact that even when our desire is satisfied it is satisfied for only a moment seems to go unnoticed. We are born as pure consciousness and this never changes we are always that pure consciousness. Consciousness is complete, nothing can change it. This is the great mystery, if consciousness is already complete what is it we are looking for to complete ourselves"
Not being a monk or nun this is only a laymans perspective.

Tim said...

I have just come across your blog and was puzzled to read that, despite having been a Buddhist monk for 32 years and, although you are a Spiritual Advisor to the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society, you are yet to attain any of the jhanas.
Why is this? Are the Jhanas important? I had come to understand the Jhanas as 'Right Concentration' and as central part of Buddhist practice. I thought at least the first Jhana must be secured prior to undertaking insight practices. Have I got this wrong? Is your not having achieved Jhana a source of concern for you or do you not see it as important? If not, why not? etc.

藏經閣外的掃葉人 said...

Recently I came back to my hometown and visited my school teacher of the senior high School where I studied.

He was one of my teachers and taught Physics for more than 30 years.

I asked if he did ever write an article or thesis of Physics. He gave me his answer 'Not at all' pleasantly.

And, I said to my teacher, 'Why is this? Are the papers important to a teacher like you? I had come to understand the papers as 'research' and as part of school teacher practice, I thought at least the first level of research paper should be secured prior to teach high school boys?'

Am I ever wrong, if not, why not? etc.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Tim,
My profile was meant to be humorous, tongue-in-cheek, not to be taken seriously. I’m surprised you hadn’t noticed. In saying I have never attained the jhanas I was contrasting myself (humorously) with the many people I meet who do 5 or 10 minutes meditation a few times a week, in between work, kids, Sunday at the races and Tuesday night playing cards with the gang, and then talk learnedly about fourth jhana and their regular visits to the plane of neither perception nor non-perception.
I do not discuss my meditation experience online but I will say this. The jhanas are clearly a most important practice in Buddhism and anybody who is committed to attaining them needs to spend a lot of time in solitude, silence and sitting practice. They are attainable by anyone, but they take time and commitment.

brahmavihara said...

J_d I dont regard myself as the final authority in Buddhism. however I do not recall The Buddha ever mentioning that we are, or that we are born as Pure consciousness. From my understanding there is no such consciousness high, low lofty or humble. As I understand it all consciousness is conditioned and therefore dukkha. The second point about dropping sexuality gay or otherwise as spiritual progress unfolds may well be true, however it's really on a case by case basis. As I recall, one of the foremost of the Buddha's lay followers was a woman Vesaki? was a Sotapanna at age 7. As legend has it she gave birth to twenty children and had a successful family life . The Buddha also gave her the duty of providing would be Bikkhus, and Bikkhunis? their robes and requisites etc just before they ordained. Compared with Ven. Ananda The Buddha's long time companion, also a Sotapanna, who mentioned to the Buddha after many years in the Monkhood that had not one sexual thought for twenty years. Interesting ! Dear Tim, if the Samma Samadhi section of The Noble Eightfold Path was defined by obtaining Jhana, then I believe he would have named it Samma Jhana. So it tends to point to Samma Samadhi as something, or somethings rather than just Jhana, albeit a very lofty abiding that it is. The Jhana factors are actually present during most if not all of our waking moments, before you fall off your chair laughing, consider this. One pointedness is needed to bring even scratching your head into fruition. Yes In Jhana it reaches stability. But of course this is not an end in itself, rather Jhana is only helpful to the Buddhist aspirant if he or she uses it as part of The Noble 8 Fold path as a whole. Everything that a Buddhist does is in the context of Dukkha, Annicca, Annata... even washing the dishes, or even switching on the dishwasher! I would profer that anyone with the sincere wish to overcome suffering in this lifetime or the next, who assiduously cultivates the whole of the Noble 8 Fold Path in that context, is practising Samma Sammadhi no matter how shaky there Jhana factors are. Where as someone who gets Jhanic bliss time after time this life and the next, but who has not heard or understood The Buddha's teachings is probably not. The Dharma is the key.

Your humble fellow traveller on The Dharma path.


althea said...

@J D, I have read your comment and I agree. Its very interesting about this hungry ghost. This is the first time I have heard this story. LGBT people should not really be condemned, instead we should help them.

Andy from abattant toilette