Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pole Dancing Buddhist Style

At that time, the Lord said to the monks:  “Once upon a time, a bamboo acrobat set up his pole, called to his pupil, and said:  ‘Now, my boy, climb the pole and stand on my shoulders.’  
 ‘Alright, master,’ said the pupil, and he did as he was told.  Then the master said:  ‘Now, my boy, you protect me and I will protect you, and protected and watched by each other we will do our act, get a good fee, and come down safe and sound from the bamboo pole.’ But then  the pupil said:  ‘No master, no!  That will not do.  You look after yourself, and I will look after myself and thus watched and guarded each by himself, we will do our act, get a good fee, and come down safe and sound from the bamboo pole.  That is the way to do it.’
 Then the Lord said:  “Just as the pupil said to the master:  ‘I will protect myself’ so should you practice the four foundations of mindfulness, which also means:  ‘I will protect others.’   Because by protecting oneself, one protects others and by protecting others, one protects oneself.  And how does one protect others by protecting oneself?  It is by the repeated and frequent practice of meditation.  And how does one protect oneself by protecting others?  It is by practicing patience, forbearance, harmlessness, love and  empathy.”   

It is by no means clear what type of gymnastics the two characters in the Buddha’s story preformed. But what is now called mallakhamb may be distantly related to it. If you have never seen mallakhamb have a look at this amazing young gymnast. But of course the thrust of the Buddha’s story is not gymnastics but the importance of forbearance (khanti), harmlessness (avihimsa), love (metta)  and empathy (anydaya) in benefiting oneself and others.    


台語與佛典 said...

Venerable Dhammika,

On 2011.4.2, we discussed this sutta (SN 47.19, SA 619) in a college called Dharma Drum Buddhist College.

I assume that you can not read Chinese, but there are two pictures of Chinese ancient dolls dated somewhere around AD 400-600 about the pole gymnastics might interest you.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ken, I can’t read Chinese but my students can and I’ll have one of them translate the passage for me. However, I can get an idea of what it’s about from the pictures. It would be interesting to know whether the Chinese tradition of pole balancing or gymnastics was adopted from India. It’s possible but unlikely. I suspect similar forms of exercise or entertainment have existed in many cultures. Anyway, thanks for your comments.

brahmavihara said...

There is an account of a pole acrobat becoming enlightened during his nightly balancing routine. His name is Uggasena and he hears the Buddhas voice at the moment he is balancing vertically on the pole. If I memorized it correctly he hears the Buddha's voice saying to him, "Let go in the front, let go behind, let go in the middle, Gone beyond existence, thou returnest not to birth and decay. I read this in Walpola Rahula's anthology, Zen and The Taming Of The Bull.

Unknown said...

Venerable Sir,

I love your blog and I learn a great deal from it all the time. However this post, well, for me, this may be athletic, but it is pole dancing in the sense that it awakens the hindrances in force! Sigh.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Brahmavihara, the name Uggasena does not appear in the Tipitaka. However, in the Dhammapada commentary there is a story about a young man of that name who falls in love with a girl who is part of a travelling troupe of acrobats. He runs away from home and joins the troupe so he can be with the girl. Like most ‘run away to join the circus’ stories this one ends in heartbreak. After the marriage the girl acrobat soon grows tired of the young man. In the meantime he learns some of the troupe’s tricks, one of which is balancing on a pole. Apparently he could do 14 somersaults from the top of the pole and land on his feet. The full story can be found in volume III, page 226 ff of Burlingame’s translation of the Dhammapada commentary.

brahmavihara said...

Dear Bhante, I have'nt been able to lay my hands on my copy of Zen and The Taming of The Bull. but if I remember correctly that story was in a chapter called "enlightenement, sudden or gradual?" Discussing various Bikkhus and Bikhunis' and in this case, layman's experience of enlightenment from canonical records. So if I can uncover my copy of Walpola Rahula's book we may be able to find a cross reference. Fascinating that this acrobat seemed to be very skilled.
perhaps his heart break led him to become a Buddhist, not the first I'd say. He is certainly listed as a disciple of The Buddha by Walpola Rahula. Interesting, thanks for your feedback.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ravi, thanks very much for drawing my attention to that statement in the Kathavatthu. I was completely unaware of it and am impressed that you knew it. Please contact me at

Blogger said...

I have just downloaded iStripper, and now I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.