Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gone Forever

I'm sorry to inform you that the best computer minds in Singapore (Samata and Terrence) have been unable to correct my thumb drive, the result being that a whole month of posts has been lost. I just do not feel like rewriting them so they are gone forever. However, having promised to write about hell, I have quickly rewritten the posts on that subject. So from tomorrow, as promised, I will examine hell and its implications in Buddhism and compare it with the concept of hell in other religions.

In the meantime, an interesting picture for you to contemplate.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sutta Nipata,71

Be like the lion, not frightened of noise.
Be like the wind, not caught in the web.
Be like the lotus, not stained by the mud.
Be like the rhinoceros, alone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

God Goes To Court

I'm still struggling to retrieve the previously written posts from my 'gone funny' thumb drive. In the meantime read this which is from the Times of India.

A man claiming to be God and wanting recognition of his divine status on Thursday failed to get the judicial endorsement he had sought. The Bombay High Court rejected 30-year-old Dharmendra Mishra's application, saying it was not in its jurisdiction to respond to his prayers. 'I am Vishnu, Buddha and Christ. I know everything that goes around,' said Mishra, who also pleaded with the court that he should be given the reins of the country and the UN as he was God. The matter came up before a division bench of acting Chief Justice J. N. Patel and Justice S. C. Dharmadhikari, who dismissed Mishra's plea. Mishra, a resident of Kurla who works in a call centre, claimed in his petition that he had written to the President, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterji, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Chief Justice of India K. G. Balakrishnan about his divinity. He stated in his petition that his wife is Laxmi, and that she recollects her previous births. Mishra also told reporters that he was ready to undergo a cyanide test and claimed he would not die. From The Times of India.

I reckon they should give him the job. He couldn’t make a bigger mess of it and if he really is God he might become very nasty if he doesn't get what he wants.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

For Bodhi

For Bodhi; a painting of Kuvera from the new Kagyu temple at Bodh Gaya.

Monday, November 24, 2008

One Man's Symbol

Some weeks ago I was having a discussion with a woman who had come to see me concerning the Buddhist position on abortion. She was doing a project on this subject for her church. After answering her questions as best I could (she was surprised that Buddhism had a ‘position’ on the subject similar to her own) we talked in general about our respective religions and made comparisons. At one point she told me that in her opinion, Buddhists worshiped devils. I asked her to give me an example of this and she said, ‘Well, look at all those multi-headed and animal-headed idols with six alms, holding swords and all that.’ I didn’t think it worthwhile to correct her. I long ago found that it is impossible to convince someone of something that they don’t want to be convinced of. And besides, she said this in a tone of pity rather than horror and disgust so I thought it kinder to leave her in her ignorance. But it is an interesting position that could well raise several questions. ‘Why do you associate animal features or multiple limbs with evil?’ ‘Is it not possible that these "idols" are only symbols, as when Jesus is represented by a fish or a lamb?’ And of course I could also have quoted some of the many passages in the Bible where God is described as looking uncannily similar to Hindu ‘idols’; e.g. Numbers 11,1; Isaiah 27,1; Zechariah 9,14; Job 23,15. And what about Psalms 18, 7 and 8?
But this set me thinking about the similarities in religions when it comes to mythology, symbolism and imagery. Take holy beings with animal features. A very popular Christian saint used to be St Christopher Cynocephalus who is always depicted with a dog’s head. The reason for this is a fascinating one but you’ll have to look it up for yourself. Of course there are no Theravadin or Mahayanist bodhisattvas or Buddhas with animal features, despite my Christian visitor’s opinion to the contrary.
And what about the multi-headed thing? My inquirer was probably unaware that her god often used to be depicted with three faces which looks no less strange than the four-faced Shiva or Brahma. The three-faced God was how medieval artists attempted to represent the Trinity. Then take the guardians of the four directions (catummakarajika deva). According to Buddhist cosmology, each of the four cardinal directions are presided over by a god or spirit; Kuvera in the north, Virulaka in the south, Dhatarattha in the east and Virupakha in the west (D.II,209). The gates of ancient Indian Buddhist temples and monasteries always had images or paintings of these gods on them, a custom that continues in China and Tibet. Beyond this, these deities have no doctrinal significant in Buddhism. Now in the Book of Revelation from the Bible (a veritable treasure house of rich symbolism) it mentions ‘four angles standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree’ (Rev.7,1). The only difference between this and the Buddhist myth is that the early Christians thought the earth was rectangular whereas the Buddhists knew it to be round or spherical. In the corners of European world maps until well into the 18th century these angles were commonly depicted, usually blowing air across the landscape. I would have to admit that Buddhism has no equivalent to the Bible’s seven angles with their trumpets (Rev.8,6), Michael fighting the dragon (Rev.12,7) or Jesus with eyes like blazing fires, a sword coming out of his mouth and dressed in a robe dripping with blood (Rev.19,11-15), but this is no less strange that the 32 Signs of a Great Man. One person’s symbols are another person’s devils.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

First Asana Then Apostasy

Malaysia's National Fataw Council has just banned (No, not that; that was banned last year. And not that either; that has been forbidden you decades) Muslims from doing yoga. Summarizing the Council's edict Abdul Shukor Husin said that doing yoga could 'destroy the faith of a Muslim.' Another religious scholar added that if Muslims wanted to do exercise they should take up jogging or bicycling, activities which apparently are not able to shake one's faith so easily.
The picture shows a man of unknown religion jeopardizing his faith.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Unfunnying The Thumb Drive

It had to happen I suppose. The thumb drive on which I have written all my posts has gone funny and until I unfunny it you are going to have to wait for more Dhamma Musings.

In the meantime have a look at this. This picture really has nothing to do with the Dhamma but I liked it so much I just had to share it with you. Contrary to common opinion, not the South American Anaconda but the Indian Python, Python molurus is the world’s biggest snake. In Pali they were known as ajjakara, literally ‘goat-eater’ and some are indeed big enough to swallow goats, calves, dogs and small deer. In the Jataka it says ‘pythons are not poisonous but they are very strong. They wrap their coils around any human or animal who comes near them and crush them’ (Ja.VI,507). Last time I visited the Lucknow Zoo (known in the animal world as ‘the Belsen of the East’) they had one that was absolutely enormous. The men in this picture look Latino so I assume the snake they are holding is not an Indian Python. Nonetheless, it’s a very impressive reptile.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Another Big Buddha

On the 1st of May 2002 sculptures started working on what will be by far the biggest human image in existence, a 68 meter high, 416 meter long reclining Buddha. The image is being carved out of a huge hummock in Yiyang County in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi. While missionaries in China attracts hundreds of thousands of converts every year with their basic health services, child-minding centers, English classes, beautifully produced and cheap or even free books, counseling centers, theological collages and old peoples' homes, we Buddhists continue to squander our recourses and energy on projects such as this. Judging by the pictures, like many giant Buddhas, this one doesn’t even have the virtue of being particularly beautiful.

From the 1st of next month I will be having a no souls bared - eh! sorry, that should be 'no holes bared' - look at hell, the subject that no one likes to talk about. I hope you'll log on for it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Manuscript Machinations II

To the viewers one of the most surprising revelations of the NRK program probably was the extent of scholarly involvement there is in the trade. The point was made that when scholars and academic institutions enter into different forms of collaboration with collectors, and start to research and publish unprovenanced objects, in effect, they legitimize them. Therefore the program questioned why respectable scholars, such as Jens Braarvig, Mark Geller, Dan Levene, Shaul Shaked and others, would publish objects in the Schøyen collection despite their questionable origin.
One of the most interesting parts of the program dealt with how Buddhist manuscripts came into vogue among the collectors, and it was implied that in this respect too scholars had become pawns in the games of the market-makers. The investigators managed to interview a London-based smuggler, who said that when the manuscripts started to come on to the market in 1993 and 1994, there was hardly any demand for them. The situation changed when the British Library acquired a number of manuscripts. When announcing the acquisition, the manuscripts were hailed as a sensational discovery and comparable in significance to the Dead Sea scrolls. The program interviewed Graham Shaw, who is responsible for the Asian collections at the British Library, and who said that the manuscripts were first brought to the Library ‘for advice on conservation’. This sounds like an innocent motive for bringing texts to a library, but in the program it was suggested that the real reason for making this material known to the British Library was more sinister. It may have been a marketing strategy, based on the calculation that an acquisition by such a prestigious institution would stimulate the market. Regardless of whether the British Library was deliberately manipulated or not, the news of its acquisition aroused the interest of collectors. Among the collectors who were now eager to acquire this kind of material was Martin Schøyen, who in 1996 made his first purchase of Buddhist manuscript fragments from Sam Fogg. By 1998 he had bought 10,000 manuscript fragments. When the NRK interviewer suggested to Shaw on screen that the British Library, by its act of acquisition, had stimulated the market and started off a looting campaign, Shaw did not seem very happy. He said he refused to answer such a ‘totally unfair question’, stood up, took off the microphone, and walked off. The program did not give further details on how the manuscripts were acquired by the British Library, but an article in The Art Newspaper reported that '…the scrolls had been sold by Robert Senior, a coin dealer who is currently based in Somerset. The purchase price has never been disclosed, but it has been suggested that the texts were purchased and donated to the library by Neil Kreitman, a specialist in Gandharan art and son of the late Hyman Kreitman, chairman of Tesco supermarkets.' According to this article, the manuscripts are believed to have been looted near Hadda in Afghanistan in 1992. Another article reports that the purchase price was ‘a five-figure sum’. The British Library defended its acquisition by arguing that the manuscripts were in need of urgent conservation work and that the Library wanted to make them ‘available to the international scholarly community’. Clearly there is a moral dilemma when material of great scholarly value but with uncertain provenance is offered on the market. Any scholar may instinctively feel an urge to rescue the material by acquiring it, especially if it comes from a war-torn country where there are no functioning institutions able to take care of it. Yet, in the case of the manuscripts acquired by the British Library, the alleged price throws some doubt on the notion that the British Library saved them. Does not the five-figure price suggest that there were other prospective saviours available and that the Library was in competition with them? Why did the British Library have to compete with them? Which collector, willing to pay a five-figure sum, would have refused to make the material available to scholars? Collectors do not hide away their collections. Collectors want their collections to be studied as it enhances their own social status, as well the collection’s economic value.
Looting will only come to a halt when collectors refuse to purchase unprovenanced material. Of course, even without a market, chance finds would still be made, and it could be argued that if the objects appearing this way were devoid of monetary value they would be destroyed. A case in point would be the above-mentioned Zargaraan manuscripts which started to blow over the countryside after a landslide. Still, any acquisitions of material of great scholarly importance from another country should only be made by, or on behalf of, an internationally-recognized body, with the purpose of keeping the material in trust until conditions permit its return to the country of origin. The only acceptable forms of acquisition are by donation or, if purchase is absolutely necessary, by payment of modest sums that will not spur further looting. Public information about acquisitions has to be worded so as not to stimulate commercial interest in the type of material in question. Acquisitions should not be made by public or private collectors who confuse a desire to enrich their own collections with protecting the world’s cultural heritage, and who directly or indirectly inject large sums of money into the trade.
This truly shocking and excellently produced program made an impact in Norway and abroad. Two days after the broadcast of the first part of the program, Oslo University decided to put a halt to research on the manuscripts. The same day, the Pakistani ambassador to Norway demanded the return of the Gilgit manuscripts to Pakistan. Schøyen, apparently taken aback by the media attention, quickly replied that he agreed to repatriate them, and in March 2005 they were handed over to the Pakistani embassy. He also offered to return the manuscript fragments stolen from the Kabul Museum. However, what he intends to do with the remaining Afghani manuscripts in his possession is uncertain. Afghanistan’s Minister of Culture, Sayyed Raheen, had already in 2003 made a claim for restitution. Schøyen refused to give them back at the time and there is no indication that he has changed his mind since. In view of Schøyen’s indifference to the Afghan request, it might be worth quoting the words of Sayyed Raheen, who was interviewed in the program. Raheen recalled the calamities which had befallen Afghanistan, with 1.5 million dead during 23 years of conflict, and said: ‘I hope everyone will think about the moral duty they have regarding the people of Afghanistan, and I am sure no man with clear mind and heart will take advantage of our disastrous situation.’ As a result of the program, the Afghan government have now also requested the return of the scrolls in the British Library. A spokesman for the British Library has said that ‘the library would be willing to consider a claim’, but the outcome of this consideration is not yet known. UCL has launched an enquiry into the provenance of the magic bowls, though it has not yet reached any conclusions. In March 2005 Braarvig declared he would resign from his position as coordinator of research and publication of the material in the Schøyen collection. In April 2005 the program was awarded a prize for excellence in investigative journalism by the Norwegian Foundation for Investigative Journalism. From the internet. The picture shows an ancient Buddhist carving in Gilgit recently defaced.

As unscrupulous as they can be, without dealers and buyers all these manuscripts would have been used to boil water for tea. My feeling is that it was a mistake returning these priceless Buddhist treasures to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both countries have consistently shown themselves unable and even uninterested in preserving their pre-Islamic heritage.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Manuscript Machinations I

On 7 September and 14 September 2004, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) aired the documentary called 'The Manuscript Collector', a well-researched and hard-hitting investigation into the collecting activities of the Norwegian multi-millionaire Martin Schøyen. The documentary offered to a wide audience a clear-cut example of how the looting and destruction of archaeological heritage is ultimately financed by wealthy collectors and legitimized by naive scholars.
In 2001, the year that the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas, Martin Schøyen made the headlines. In newspaper articles and radio interviews he revealed that he had in his possession a large collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts and manuscript fragments that had been saved from the Taliban regime. In a radio interview Schøyen related the following story about the origin of the manuscripts: Buddhists in Afghanistan, seeking refuge from the regime and hiding in caves had discovered the manuscripts. The Buddhists sent out requests for help to save these ancient manuscripts and Schøyen mounted ‘a rescue operation to save a part of the world’s cultural heritage, which otherwise would have been destroyed’. According to Schøyen, the manuscripts were smuggled out of Afghanistan by refugees as they were perused by the Taliban. Schøyen also related that he had in his possession all the fragments of a book that, he claimed, had been below the hand of a Buddha statue the regime had blown up. Having rescued these manuscripts, Schøyen wanted them to remain in safety in Norway. He hoped the collection would be purchased by the Norwegian government for the National Library and placed in a new, specially-constructed building. Schøyen’s asking price for the collection is not known, but in 2003 he turned down an offer of over $110 million. In short, according to Schøyen’s testimony, he had saved an important part of the global cultural heritage from certain destruction, and his implication was that for this altruistic ‘rescue operation’ he deserved public gratitude and a monetary reward. Yet, the NRK investigators asked: what were the exact circumstances of Schøyen’s rescue operation? Were the manuscripts really saved from the Taliban? Where and when were they actually found? To answer these questions, the NRK team went to Bamiyan where they met with the archaeologist Kazuya Yamauchi, who was working at the site. Yamauchi explained that he had never found any manuscripts in the caves at Bamiyan, and that the caves had been thoroughly looted long before the Taliban came to power. But Yamauchi also told them that when he had visited the town of Zargaraan, east of Bamiyan, he had heard that in 1993 a landslide had uncovered a cave and a strong wind had blown manuscript fragments across the countryside. Yamauchi believed that Zargaraan could be the true find spot of the manuscripts in the Schøyen collection.
Schøyen refused to be interviewed for the documentary, but Jens Braarvig, professor of Religious Studies at Oslo University, and the person in charge of publishing the Schøyen manuscripts, admitted on camera that there is no reason to believe that the manuscripts are not from Zargaraan. If this is the case, the investigators concluded, then it means that the story about the manuscripts being saved from the Taliban is false. The investigators uncovered more disturbing facts. During the civil war in Afghanistan the National Museum in Kabul was looted and lost over 70% of its collection, including its collection of Buddhist manuscripts. The NRK program revealed that two, probably six, manuscript fragments in the Schøyen collection came from the National Museum. This fact had been known to Schøyen, Braarvig and other scholars publishing the manuscripts since 1998, but they had not made it publicly known, nor had they informed the Kabul Museum that they had the fragments. It was not until the NRK investigators started to make inquiries that Schøyen wrote a letter to the Afghani authorities and offered to return the fragments to the Museum. But there was more. The investigators discovered that many manuscript fragments in the Schøyen collection were not even from Afghanistan. It appears that, after initial purchases from Sam Fogg and other London dealers, Schøyen attempted to cut out these intermediaries and to buy closer to the ‘source.’ The program alleges that Schøyen started to deal directly with the smugglers.
The place where the objects were said to have been dug up is not named, but the investigators concluded that it was probably the town of Gilgit in northern Pakistan, which is known for its archaeological remains. The fact that the Schøyen collection contains material from Gilgit was confirmed by one of Schøyen’s suppliers, Bill Veres. Veres did not want to be interviewed, but in conversation with one of the NRK investigators (recorded with a hidden microphone) he said that in 1998 he had sold Schøyen a manuscript from Gilgit. The price paid was equivalent to £13,000. When interviewed, Braarvig reluctantly admitted that there were ‘a few leaves (from Pakistan) which had crept into the collection’. After the broadcast of the first part of the program, Schøyen confirmed that his collection contained between 200 and 300 manuscript fragments from Pakistan. To find out more about the source of the manuscripts, the NRK team travelled to Gilgit. After a long journey, passing through Peshawar, the main trading centre for drugs, arms and antiquities from Afghanistan, they eventually reached Gilgit. Here they met with Muzaffar Ali, a representative of the local administration. He related that for ages the ruins of monasteries and other archaeological remains had remained untouched because they were considered to be haunted by evil spirits. The situation changed one night in April 1994. That night a group of looters arrived. They started digging in the ruins and found books and other antiquities. After the looters had left, the poor people from the neighborhood also tried their luck in the ruins. Among them was the shepherd Mohammed Iqbal, who told the NRK team that he had dug up a book with several hundred pages and later sold it for R. 270,000 (£2500), equal to about 10 years income for him. He was later told that the book had been sold in Peshawar for a price equivalent to £40,000. Its later whereabouts are unknown, but according to Bill Veres it may well have been the book he sold to a Japanese collector for a price equivalent to £200,000. Schøyen had been offered the book first but did not bid more than £80,000.
At Gilgit, the NRK team documented ample evidence for the destructive consequences of looting. The site was littered with pottery fragments. The Pathan looters had found the manuscripts stored in jars and in their hurry to retrieve them they had broken the jars into pieces. This violent treatment had also damaged the manuscripts. The investigators were told by Iqbal that when he arrived at the site he had found around some 500 manuscript fragments spread over the area. Believing that these were ‘bewitched Hindu texts’ and apparently unaware that small manuscript fragments could also be sold, Iqbal and his friends used them as fuel when making tea. At the site the NRK team was shown a shallow Buddha relief on a mountain slope around which the first group of Pathan looters had drilled holes for explosives. They had planned to detach the Buddha with dynamite, but aborted the attempt. The investigators could only conclude that the true circumstances of the origins of the Buddhist manuscripts were less flattering for Schøyen than the saga he had told. The manuscripts were not saved from the Taliban in a rescue operation. They had come into his possession through a totally unrelated route. They had been bought on the art market, sometimes directly from smugglers. Some of the material was not even from Afghanistan. These facts had been known to Schøyen and a number of scholars for years, but they had kept the information to themselves.
Tomorrow Part II

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Malaysia's Buddhist Past

It’s a long but pleasant drive from Alor Star, capital of Malaysia’s northernmost state, through lush green jungle and small villages. Eventually you start climbing and enter the Bujang Valley with its verdant peaks on either side. The ruins in the valley cover an area of about 220 square km and consist of about 50 temples (candi) stupas and other structures, the most important of which have been dismantled and reconstructed around the museum. The museum itself contains a small but very well-presented collection of artifacts. The whole site dates back about 1500 years to the time when Buddhism and Hinduism were the main religions in what is now Malaysia. Considering that the earliest examples of writing from Malaysia are Buddhist, as is the earliest plastic art and the first architectural structures of any significance, Bujang Valley’s antiquities are little known to the average Malaysian. Official bodies in Malaysia are very reticent about mentioning country’s pre-Islamic heritage. There have long been claims that Buddhist and Hindu antiquities are hidden away in museum cellars or even destroyed. In the 1930’s Dr. Quaritch Wales investigated some 30 sites round about Kedah and wrote up his findings in the Journal of Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. A rectangular stone slab with the famous Buddhist Ye dhamma hetu… formula in South Indian characters from the 4th century CE was found in a temple (site I) of which only the basement survives. Another inscription in Sanskrit dated 1086 CE has also been found. Quaritch-Wales’ material still makes interesting reading but little has been published on the discoveries made since then.

It seems the area south of the Bujang Valley was the capital of Kadaram, ancient Kedah, which was founded around 300 CE. The mouth and lower reaches of the Merbok River were a major port until they silted up. The famous Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien stopped here on his return journey from India. All the evidence shows that Buddhism along with other aspects of Indian culture was introduced to Kedah from South India, probably originally by traders and wandering monks.
Note: The accompanying photos are not mine but were taken by Ven. Anandajoti during his recent trip to Bujang Valley and used with his kind consent.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gold And Stillness

I don’t know much about the American poet Robert Service except that he spent time in the Yukon in the 1890’s and that he was full of that commonsense wisdom that many unschooled people seem to develop naturally. For example, once he said,‘Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out – it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.’ How very true! One of Services’ best poems is The Spell of the Yukon which captures better than any poem I know the majesty of vast mountain landscapes. Many of its lines could have been written about the Himalayas. Service knew what many Hindu and Buddhist ascetics know too - that it’s not the gold that is important but ‘the stillness that fills me with peace.’

I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy, I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.

I wanted the gold, and I got it –
Came out with a fortune last fall, --
Yet somehow life's not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn't all.

No! There's the land. (Have you seen it?)
It's the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.

Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it's a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there's some as would trade it
For no land on earth -- and I'm one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.

It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it's been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I've stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That's plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I've watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,

Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I've thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o' the world piled on top.

The summer - no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.

The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness –
O God! how I'm stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.

The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I've bade 'em good-by - but I can't.

There's a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;

There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There's a land - oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back - and I will.

They're making my money diminish;
I'm sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I'm skinned to a finish
I'll pike to the Yukon again.

I'll fight - and you bet it's no sham-fight;
It's hell! - but I've been there before;
And it's better than this by a damsite –
So me for the Yukon once more.

There's gold, and it's haunting and haunting;
It's luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting
So much as just finding the gold.

It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How Did That Get There!

Syncretism is the adoption of elements of one religion into another. All religions are syncretic to some degree. Despite the widespread assumption to the contrary, the Buddha adopted very little from the religions or the folk beliefs of his time and included nothing at all from them into his essential teachings. Buddhism as it has evolved in traditional Buddhist countries is another matter. There, Buddhism has been far to casual (tolerant?) about accepting all sorts of superstitious beliefs and practices. To my mind, the most primitive of these is phallic worship.
There are several Buddhist temples in Japan associated with phallic worship. The most famous of these is Mara Kannon in Tawarayama in Yamaguchi Prefecture, supposedly dedicated to Avalokitsvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion - Kuan Yin in Chinese, Kannon in Japanese. For reasons that I have been unable to discover (other than that proclivity to corruption so common in Buddhism) the statue in this shrine has become associated with fertility which in turn has led to an unabashed phallicism. People who have problems associated with the penis – erectile problems, ‘size issues’, bed wetting, infertility, low sperm count, venereal diseases, etc. come here and offer small phalluses (bring your own or purchase one at the temple’s gift shop) in the hope of getting help. The Mara Kannon Matsuri Festival held on the 1st of May every year and during which huge phalluses are carried through the streets, attracts thousands of people. I have never seen it but I am told that thousands of prostitutes, cross-dressers and bawds from all over Japan come and there is much bacchanalian revelry. Very Buddhist indeed!
Wat Po is one of the largest monasteries in Bangkok. Go to the main shrine, pay your respects to the large Buddha statue there, then stand to one side, look up at the statues serene half-closed eyes and follow its gaze. You will see that it looks out the main door of the shrine directly to a large realistic stone phallus, usually with pink or yellow ribbons tied around it and garlands draped over it. There are several phallic shrines in Bangkok but this is the only one I know that is actually in a Buddhist monastery. I have been told there are others. If you want your own phallus – you know, to hang around your neck or worship in the comfort of your own home – the place to go is to the amulet market held every Sunday at Wat Mahathat, Thailand’s premier Buddhist university. They have all kinds there; small, big, very big, enormous, being hugged by little figures, with faces or legs on them, inscribed with mantras, blessed by famous monks, made of wood, bone, plastic or metal. I went to this market once and couldn’t help noticing how many monks there were (mainly old ones) inspecting the wares.
Drukpa Kunkey is a semi-mythological character in popular Buddhism in Bhutan and southern Tibet. The various legends about Drukpa Kunley are not only funny but are meant to be a healthy poke at monastic formalism, ostentatious piety, sanctimoniousness and spiritual pride. Having evolved amongst peasants many of these stories also contain a good deal of bawdy humor and imagery, particularly related to Drukpa Kunley’s apparently enormous member. I do not know that his phallus is actually worshiped but paintings of it appear on many houses in Bhutan while wooden versions of it hang from the corners of the roofs of others. On the main shrine at Chimi Lhakhang, the temple dedicated to Drukpa Kunley, there is a large red-painted wooden phallus and with a tassel on its end. When women wanting children come to this temple, the presiding monk touches them on the head with this phallus. Incidentally, the paintings in this temple, depicting the life of Drukpa Kunley are the finest I saw in all Bhutan. If you ever go there take Keith Dowman’s The Divine Madman with you. It will help you understand the paintings.
When I visited the famous Kaniska Gompa in Zanshar I noticed a large wooden phallus sticking out of the wall at the entrance to the temple. I asked the lama with me what it was for and he told me it was to frighten evil spirits so that they wouldn’t go in the temple. I didn’t ask why such spirits should be frightened by a phallus. If they are male I would expect them to admire it rather than be frightened of it.
From one point of view worshiping a sexual organ is no better or worse that worshiping any other part of the human body - e.g. Jesus’ ‘precious blood’, his sacred heart or guruji's lotus-like feet - or even the whole body, e.g. the actual person themselves. On the other hand, the sexual organs are the physical manifestation of sexual desire and pleasure, something the Dhamma teaches us to deemphasize and eventually try to transcend. I know of nothing in either Pali of Mahayana literature attributed to the Buddha that could be described even with the broadest interpretation as ‘a celebration of sexuality.’ The only thing I could imagine further from the Dhamma than phallic worship would be killing and perhaps hatred.
I know that many Westerners attend the Mara Kannon Matsuri Festival, as they go to Khajuraho, to gawk in wonder at the supposed lack of prudery and ‘healthy attitude towards sex’ of Asians. This is of course complete nonsense. What could be more twisted than the Japanese attitude to sex! Who could be more sexually suppressed than the Indians! And anyway, these and several other examples of phallicism in Buddhism have nothing to do with openness or healthy attitudes. They are just examples of where the guardians of the Dhamma have either acquiesced to popular desires and needs or where, out of lack of commitment to the Dhamma, they have allowed vulgar superstitions to creep into it. Sociologically and psychologically phallic worship is very interesting. Spiritually it offers nothing of any value.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Just Trying To Help

Funny how things sometimes turn out. Not funny Ha! Ha! Funny strange. A friend in Sri Lanka has just told me about a poignant series of events that happened there just recently. Sri Lankans are for the most part a kindly and gentle people and in all the years I lived in Sri Lanka I can never remember seeing people being cruel to animals. It is not just that they are not cruel to them they will actually go out of their way to help them. And like many people in the East they have a special regard for elephants. A villager from Morahena near Kakirawa up near Anuradhapura came across an elephant and her calf stuck in a pit. He ran back to the village to tell everyone what he had found and to summons everyone to help. About 60 people came both to lend a hand and to watch and after a lot of discussion and experimentation they managed to get the calf out. The calf, probably terrified by the experience and confused by being separated from her mother charged the crowd and then ran off. The mother, probably equally frightened, not understanding that the people were trying to help her and thinking that they had taken her calf, managed to extract herself from the hole and immediately began chasing the very man who had found her and called for help. She chased him across a field, caught him and holding him in her trunk stamped him to death. Understandably, the villagers feelings now changed from sympathy to angry horror and taking sticks and rocks they tried to kill the mother. Some policemen how had arrived on the scene prevented this from happening and the villagers retrieved the body of the dead man and returned to the their village and the elephant and her calf ran together back into the forest. Such are the strange twists and turns of samsara.
To see the dramatic photos of a man who happened witness this whole tragedy go to and click Human Elephant Conflict

Friday, November 14, 2008

Forest Folk

A word that occurs occasionally in the Tipitaka is milakkha or its variants milakkhu and milaca. This word’s Sanskrit equivalent is mleccha which comes from the root mlecch which is an onomatopoeia for the babbling of an incomprehensible language. It’s almost exact equivalent is the Greek barbarus meaning ‘stammering’, a name given by the Greeks to express the sound of foreign languages and from which our words barbarous and barbarian come. For the Buddha and his contemporaries milakkha referred to the tribal people who lived in the forests which were still quite extensive in the Ganges valley at that time. The Buddha said that it was a distinct advantage not to be reborn in the border areas (paccantimesu janapadesu) where the unintelligent tribal people (avinnataresu milakkhesu) lived (A.IV,226; S.V,466). This probably refers to the those places where farm land met forest and where settled Aryans came into contact with the hunter-gatherer forest dwellers. The Buddha also mentioned that one of the fears a mother might have for her son was that she might not be able to reach her son during a raid by forest dwellers (atavi sankopa, A.I,178). The Jatakas mention these tribal people hunting birds and worshiping water (Ja.IV,291; VI,207).
Today these tribal people are called Adivasi in Hindi, meaning ‘aborigines’, from the Sanskrit atavika, ‘forest dweller.’ One of the Pali words for forest is also atavi. Astonishingly, some of them still live in the southern forested edges of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, that part of northern India where the Buddha lived. The largest tribe in this area are called the Santals. The fate of aboriginal peoples all over the world is pretty much the same - divested of their lands, treated with contempt by their ‘civilized’ encroachers, decimated by alcohol and then either driven to extinction or absorbed into the lowest rungs of the mainstream. The story is similar one in India. Forest protection laws often shut them out of their traditional homes, Hindu money lenders exploit their lack of sophistication and more recently, evangelical missionaries are aggressively targeting them as easy converts. This last problem has recently led to violence in some of the tribal areas of Orissa. Nonetheless, despite centuries of exploitation, many Adivisi tribes continue to hold out and live according to their ancient traditions. It is amazing to think that in a land as crowded as India, a nuclear power that recently launched its own lunar probe, there are still people who hunt with bows and arrows and live pretty as much as they did at the time of the Buddha. The Adivisis of Chorta Nagpur (southern Bihar) fought a long series of battles with the British and although they could not possibly win they put up a very good fight. Recently, after decades of lobbing, they finally got their own state called Jharkhand carved out of Bihar. The Indian constitution calls Adivasis Scheduled Tribes and gives them special privileges, although this has not worked very much to their advantage so far.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sakka's Praises

The Lord has worked for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, for the good, the happiness and the welfare of gods and humans, out of compassion of the world. Other than the Lord, we find no teacher like this in either the past or the present.
The Lord’s Dhamma is beautifully taught, immediately apparent, timeless, inviting investigation, progressive, to be realized by the wise each for himself or herself. Other than the Lord, we find no teacher of such a Dhamma in either the past or the present.
Clearly has the Lord taught that this is good and that bad, this is right and that wrong. Clearly has he shown that this should be followed and that avoided, that this is lofty and that low. Clearly has he explained that this is the light and that the darkness. Other than the Lord, we find no teacher who could explain things so well in either the past or the present.
Well has the Lord shown to his disciples the Way leading to Nirvana and that as the Ganges and the Yamuna flow together and go on united, so do Nirvana and the Way. Other than the Lord, we find no teacher of the Way and of Nirvana in either the past or the present.
Gifts given to the Lord are of great fruit so that people of noble birth seek him out and make offerings to him, and he accepts these without becoming proud. Other than the Lord, we find no teacher such as this in either the past or the future.
The Lord has disciples who walk the Way, those with one-pointed minds and who have reached the destination, and he does not abandon them but lives in fellowship with them. Other than the Lord we find no teacher thus dwelling in either the past or the present.
As the Lord speaks so he acts and as he acts so he speaks. He is true to the minor and major aspects of the Dhamma. Other than the Lord we find no teacher so consistent in either the past or the present. The Lord has crossed over the sea of doubt, he has gone beyond all ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ and fulfilled every goal of his high resolve. Other than the Lord we find no teacher so accomplished in either the past or the present (D.II,222-4).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Belated But The Better For It

It was the official launching of our book The Buddha and His Disciples at Borders Bookshop. Our publisher had arranged for an interview with Susan (she did the illustrations) and I to appear in the Straits Times the day before to publicize the book. The launching was a great success with about 250 people lining up to have us sign the copies of the book they had bought. Towards the end of the book signing a man appeared before me, gave me his book and while I was signing it he said to me ‘Do you remember me?’ I looked up at him, rummaged through my memory for a moment, then smiled and said, ‘No I don’t. When did we meet?’ ‘You used to know my father Dr. Chee’, he said. Immediately memories flooded in although not of him but of his father.
Some 10 years before when I first came to Singapore an Anglo-Chinese doctor names Chee used to attend my talks regularly. He stood out from the crowd because he would often asked questions, sometimes even challenging ones, something Singaporeans rarely ever do. I liked him for this, it made my talks a little more stimulating, and we became friends. He took me out for lunch a few times and would often ring me up to ask for clarifications on aspects of Buddhist doctrine. He had been brought up by particularly narrow-minded Christian parents and this it had left him with a strong dislike for the religion, although he continued to have a spiritual yearning. During the years he built up a highly successful medical practice he had no time to explore other approached to spirituality but now that he had retired he did have and he had become fascinated with Dhamma. Despite his deep interest I noticed a strong restlessness and dissatisfaction in him. I encouraged him to do mindfulness of breathing and metta bhavana and it helped a bit but I suspected that his mind was too ‘set in its ways.’ Then, after not having seen him for a while I got a telephone call from his son, the one who stood before me now, inviting me to his father’s funeral. A bit surprised, I asked what had happened to Dr. Chee and was told that two days previously he had booked a room overnight in an expensive hotel, ordered and consumed a bottle of the best whiskey and then hanged himself. I was quite shocked. I went to the funeral which was in a church and never having met his wife or children spoke to no one and as is typical with Singaporeans, none of them introduced themselves to me. It was a bleak affair and I went feeling rather down.
I handed back his book, asked him how his family was getting along and then said, ‘So why did you come today?’ He replied, ‘Well, I saw your picture in the paper yesterday and it reminded me that my father often used to mention you and say how much talking with you had helped him. Then I recalled that when you came to the funeral none of us even spoke to you. So I just came to thank you.’ He took my hand, looked me in the face and said ‘Thank you. Thank you very much’, turned and then disappeared through the crowd. I was deeply moved, so moved in fact that that tears welled up in my eyes. Even though there were still a few people waiting to have their books signed I had to take a break for five minute. Its funny but this ‘thank you’ was more important to me, more poignant and meaningful for having come after a gap of so many years. It was one of the nicest gifts anyone had given to me for a long time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Jhanas

The original meaning of the word jhana, Sanskrit dhyana, was ‘to ponder’ or ‘to ruminate’ although by the Buddha’s time it had come to mean any deep meditative attainment. The Buddha used the word jhana for the stages the mind passes through as it progresses from cluttered normality to pristine clarity. Although he identified four such stages, they should not be thought of as being distinct and separate. Rather, one stage flows towards and is transformed into another as the various mental concomitants develop or fade.
The first step in attaining the jhanas is prolonged and disciplined meditation to the stage where the five hindrances are weakened or temporarily suspended. This gives rise to a state where there is ‘a distance from sense desires and unskilled states of mind’ (vivicc’eva kamehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi), where thoughts continue (savitakkam savicaram) although they are much reduced and mainly neutral in content, and where there is a subtle but noticeable joy and happiness (piti sukha). The meditator then `suffuses, utterly suffuses, fills and permeates' (abhisandeti, parisandeti, paripureti, parippharati) his or her body with that joy and happiness. The Buddha called this the first jhana.
If this state continues to be cultivated, thoughts eventually stop completely (avitakkam avicaram), the mind becomes effortlessly focused (cetaso ekodhibhavam), and one experiences a deep inner tranquillity (ajjhattam sampasadanam) while continuing to suffuse the body with joy and happiness. This is called the second jhana. In time, joy fades away (pitia ca viraga), equanimity (upekha), crystal-clear mindfulness and awareness (sati sampajana) become pronounced and one experiences the happiness (sukha) that is usually only the privilege of enlightened ones. This is called the third jhana. In the fourth and highest jhana one becomes completely detached from all physical and psychological pleasure and pain (sukhassa ca pahana dukkhassa ca pahana pubb’eva somanassa domanassanam atthangama) and the mind is emptied of everything except utterly pure equanimity and mindfulness (upekhasati parisuddhim, D.I,73-75).
It will be noticed that the three main components of the jhanas are positive feeling, mindfulness and equanimity. The joy and happiness, which continues even after the meditator emerges from the jhanic state, helps to untie the emotional knots and psychological wounds of the past thus simplifying the mind and imparting a deep contentment. The mindfulness allows for a clear penetrating vision of things while the equanimity keeps it from getting entangled in anything. The meditator becomes a still watching centre which is gradually filled with wisdom.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Hinderences

As soon as we begin trying to practice mindfulness of breathing or any other type of meditation, we soon notice the presence of intruding thoughts. The Buddha identified these thoughts and the emotions that often accompany them as being of five main types – sense desire (kammacchanda), ill-will (vyapada), sloth and torpor (thina middha), restlessness and worry (uddhacca kukkucca) and doubt (viciccha). These five hindrances are not just disruptive to meditation, they are also the root cause of most psychological problems as well and thus coming to terms with them can be useful to our mundane and our spiritual advantage (A.III,63). The Buddha said that these hindrances ‘cause blindness, lack of vision and contribute to distress’ (S.V.111). He also said that when they are diminished, the mind becomes ‘malleable, pliable, workable and bright’ (S.V.92) and that being free from them, even temporarily, allows ‘gladness to arise, from gladness comes joy, being joyful the body is stilled, a still body creates happiness and the mind that is happy becomes concentrated’ (D.I,74). The intrusion of the hindering thoughts during meditation can be weakened and in the Vitakkasanthana Sutta the Buddha recommends several ways of doing this – replacing agitating thoughts with neutral ones, considering the disadvantages of such thoughts, ignoring them and forcefully cutting them off, etc. (M.I,119). However, the hindrances are nourished by our behaviour when we are not meditating and so the best way to deal with them is by bringing about changes in our lifestyle. Following the Precepts, not deliberately seeking out excessive sense stimulation, being patient with oneself and spending time in silence, can all help achieve this. The subsiding of the five hindrances opens the way of the jhanas.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mindfulness Of Breathing

Mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) is the most basic and also the most popular form of Buddhist meditation. The Buddha said: `When mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it is of great fruit and benefit' (M.III,82). Those doing this meditation will sit in a comfortable posture, usually cross-legged and with a straight back, and try to gently focus their attention on the in-and-out movement of the breath. As they gradually proceed, they will more quickly notice when their attention strays and be able to return it to the breath. Thus they will develop enhanced concentration, mental discipline and physical and psychological relaxation. As the practice matures, concentration should be allowed to give way to mindfulness, i.e. rather than trying to control the attention, one simply becomes aware of what is happening from moment to moment. This physical comfort and mental alertness is the first step in controlling the mind so that it can be understood and eventually freed.
The Buddha said: `Just as in the last month of the hot season when dust and grit blow about and an unexpected shower of rain immediately settles it, so too, mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, is peaceful and sublime, a pleasant way of living and it dispels and settles evil unskilful thoughts immediately' (S.V,321). The famous psychologist William James made a similar point only in modern language: ‘The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will. No one is compos sui (master of himself) if he has it not. An education which would improve this facility would be the education par excellence.’

Thunder Dragon Land

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Coronation In Thimphu

Perhaps it's true that good things do come in pairs. First Obama and now this. Yesterday, the 6th of November, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned king of Bhutan, becoming the world's youngest head of state (he is 28) and the second of only two Buddhist kings left in the world. His father, who abdicated in favor of his son two years ago, had been a forward-looking and enlightened ruler who voluntarily renounced his absolute power to introduce parliamentary into his country. How often does that happen?!! Generally, politics (and quite a few other things) in Buddhist lands offers little worthy of emulation but at least in this area Bhutan has become a model for developing countries. Even some developed countries could learn a thing or two from them. Given this auspicious event, instead of continuing with our look at meditation tomorrow, I will share with you some of the photos I took in Bhutan, that lovely land with its gentle shy people.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


While in Sri Lanka last month I happened to see this full-color half-page advertisement in a popular Colombo newspaper. I was told that this monk’s ads appear every few weeks. The reverend’s four story residence/monastery? and his car in the driveway suggests that he is very successful. The national flag makes it clear that he is a real Sinhala patriot. And the copy informs the reader that the reverend can give mantras guaranteed to cure alcoholism, find lost articles, restore fertility, win court cases, solve personal problems, overcome financial difficulties, hasten stalled marriage preparations, heal bodily weakness and even cure baldness. A mantra for baldness! That’s the first time I have come across this one. Any of my readers who are getting a bit thin on top and who would like the good reverend’s contact number may write to me. My enabling charges are very reasonable. The Theravadin Sangha is often accused of being out-of-date and out-of-touch. I disagree. A good number of Sri Lankan monks have embraced the free market with remarkable speed and enthusiasm. Ads like this one are becoming more common in the newspapers than notices for Dhamma talks and religious activities.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

He Won!

Well, he won. Of course it is by no means the first time someone from a disadvantaged minority or from beyond the mainstream has won the confidence of the majority.

The British voted for a Jewish prime minister in 1868.

The Australians voted for a Theosophist prime minister in 1901.

The UN General Assembly voted for a gay Secretary General in 1953.

The Indians voted for a communist chief minister in 1957.

The Sri Lankans voted for a female prime minister in 1960.

Muslim Turkey voted for a female prime minister in 1993.

Indian parliament voted for an untouchable president in 1997.

The Americans voted for an intellectually challenged president in 2001.

Nevertheless, he has overcome the considerable odds of race, age and lack of experience to become the most powerful and influential leader in the world. It says much for him and also for the American electorate. He has promised much and much is expected of him. May he guide that great nation with wisdom and kindness, prudence and good judgment.

Right Concentration

Right concentration (samma samadhi) is the eighth step on the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path and is an essential component of successful meditation. It is defined in the scriptures as `any unification of the mind' (M.I,301) and is sometimes also called `one-pointedness of mind' (ekodibhava). The advantages of concentration are many. The attention is fixed on an object for a sustained period allowing us to come to know it better and thus it has a role to play in wisdom. When we have developed concentration, we can turn our attention to whatever we like, rather than having it constantly flitting from one thing to another as is usually the case. The ability to do this can minimize useless daydreaming, worry and unwanted intrusive thoughts thus giving us a degree of peace and calm. In Buddhist meditation concentration is usually developed by practicing mindfulness of breathing (M.III,82).
According to the Buddha there are several things we can do which will assist in the development of concentration. The first is following the Precepts. Doing this simplifies our life and minimizes the possibilities of remorse, embarrassment and conflicts with others, all of which keep the mind churned up. Another thing is what the Buddha called guarding the sense doors (indriya samvara), which means not seeking out situations that will over-stimulate the mind (D.I,70). Also, there is a direct connection between physical ease, psychological well-being and concentration. While actually practising meditation, maintaining a relaxed, comfortable posture will allow the body to become still without being forced. Likewise, having a light, joyful attitude will make concentration easier. The Buddha said that ‘…from gladness comes joy, being joyful the body is tranquil, with a tranquil body one is happy and the mind that is happy becomes concentrated’ (D.I,74).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Meditation Posture

A posture (iriyapatha) is a position the body is held in. The Buddhist scriptures frequently speak of four postures – walking (gacchanta), standing (thita), sitting (nisinna) and lying down (sayana, M.I,57). The significance of posture in Buddhism pertains mainly to the practise of meditation. During the preliminary stages of meditation the Buddha recommended (M.I,56) that one sit (nisidati), with the legs crossed (pallankam) and the back straight (uju kayam). Most people find it helpful to put a pillow under their buttocks, place their hands either in their lap or on their knees and close their eyes. Some meditators might find it suits them better to sit on a chair rather than on the floor. The Visuddhimagga makes the helpful suggestion that meditators should try different postures for three days each and then decide on the one that is most comfortable for them (Vis.128). The two most important aspects of good meditation posture are (1) that the back be straight without being rigid so as to facilitate clear breathing, and (2) that the body be relaxed and comfortable so that discomfort does not become a distraction (S.V,156).
Those whose goal is to develop mindfulness, should do so with a regimen of regular sitting practise. However, after their mindfulness has been strengthened, it is necessary to then try to broaden it by becoming mindful during all activities, i.e. while in any of the four postures. The Buddha said: ‘A monk has full awareness while coming and going, while reaching out his hands or drawing them back, while putting on his robes and carrying his bowl, while eating and drinking, chewing and tasting, even while defecating and urinating. He has full awareness while walking, standing and sitting, while falling to sleep and waking up, while talking and remaining silent’ (M.I,57).


The English word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio meaning `to ponder' or `to ruminate.' The Pali word usually translated as meditation is bhavana and means `to develop,' `to cultivate,' or `to expand.' Thus the word meditation is actually an unsatisfactory one for the various techniques of psychological transformation taught by the Buddha.
In relation to thoughts, one could say that there are three approaches to meditation in Buddhism: (1) to utilize thoughts, (2) to still thoughts and (3) to observe thoughts. Loving- kindness meditation would be an example of the first of these. The meditator deliberately thinks particular types of thoughts for the purpose of evoking certain emotions and behaviour. An example of the second of these types of meditation would be mindfulness of breathing, where the meditator focuses his or her attention on the breath thus slowing down and finally stopping the flow of thoughts. In mindfulness meditation the mediator develops the ability to simply observe mental activity (thoughts, emotions, conceptualizing, etc.) thus gradually becoming less influenced by them.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Guide To Buddhism

I am happy to announce the launch of my new wed site called A Guide to Buddhism A to Z. The address is and is best viewed on Firefox. In the site you will find more than 430 entries on Buddhist doctrine, history and culture and as well as the Buddhist perspective on a variety of religious subjects and contemporary issues. As much as possible I have tried to give either quotations or citations from the Pali Tipitaka that state the authentic Buddhist position. To a lesser degree I have also quoted from Mahayana sutras and later Sanskrit literature. In choosing subjects I have given preference to Buddhist doctrines but have sometimes included quirky, unusual or unexpected subjects in the hope that the reader will find these of interest too. Readers will notice that some entries have already appeared on my blog. From time to time I hope to add more entries so that eventually the site will become a sort of mini encyclopedia of Buddhism. I would like to thank my student Samata Ling who spent a good deal of time helping to get this site ready. And lastly, I hope A Guide to Buddhism A to Z helps illuminate the Dhamma for you. And of course, its always nice to get feedback.
From tomorrow I will begin a series of posts on meditation.