Friday, September 23, 2016

Yantra in Cambodian Buddhism - Boran

Yantra are magical diagrams used in popular-folk Buddhist mystical and meditation practices throughout Theravada Buddhist countries. They are practiced in tantra. The yantra is created by a master of yantra, a gru, which may have a vaguely Shivaite or Visnivite memory. The gru is usually a former Buddhist monk, or a current monk, who claims to have learned his healing arts from Buddhist ascetics.
                A yantra is a physical expression of a mantra – a mantra being a divine aspect in the form of sound vibration – yantra in the form of geometrical figure. When mantras or divine ideas are meditated upon, certain images are brought out and these images are used in meditation or worship to symbolize or express certain divine ideas and qualities.
                The word “yantra” means “yam” with the suffix “tra” – where tra means “instruments or tools” and “Yam” means “to gain control over the energy inherent in some element or being.”
                A yantra is “an instrument designed to curb the psychic forces by concentrating them on a pattern, and in which a way that this pattern becomes reproduced by the worshiper’s visualizing power.” [Myth and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, Heinrich Zimmer]
                The yantra may serve as:
·         A representation of some personification or aspect of the divine
·         A model for the worship of a divinity immediately within the heart, after the paraphernalia of outward devotion (idol, perfumes, offerings, audibly uttered mantra) have been discarded by the advanced initiate.
·         A kind of chart or schedule for the gradual evolution of a vision, while identifying the self with its slowly varying contents, that is to say, with the divinity in all its phases of transformation.

The abhidhamma is the important  source book of the practices of yantra. Ian Harris says, “A yantra designed to exorcise spirits contains the written text, ‘Please give the heartwood of the abhidhamma, the one that is the greatest, to come and take away the anger.’”
The Khmer Gru have medical manuals, with symbolic diagrams (yantra) and mantras. These books are used in an oral teaching tradition, under a master, and cannot be understood without them.
“The texts underpinning the tradition are often obscure, are clearly symbolic, and may be subjected to multiple interpretations. They have much to say about ritual and frequently contain mantras in Pali. The tradition is certainly old and certainly predates the reform movements of the nineteenth century.” [Harris, p.93]
Francois Bizot wrote in The Gate: “I was very familiar with the diagrams for protection which the war had made  fashionable again. Every enlisted man – except the Khmer Rouge – wore one of these, in the form of a shirt, a scarf or a turban, given by his father or by a spiritual teacher. They were sacred items, and the principle of their protective properties was based upon the powers of Buddhism ascribed to letters: wrapped in the immortal worlds of the doctrine the warrior is invulnerable. Certain designs were very ancient and signed by a great master….”


                Donald Swearer writes of the yantra traditions of northern Thailand. “Yantras play an extraordinarily important role in northern Thai culture even though they are most often associated with Hinduism, Tantra, or esoteric forms of Buddhism. Protection yantras are as pervasive in northern Thai Buddhism practice as is the chanting of protective suttas. Chanting the paritta (protection) in Thai Buddhist parlance is called “chanting the mantra”, and this act links the oral and visual dimensions of various protective and empowering rites. For example, when a new house or business is consecrated monks chant protection suttas and draw a yantra in a prominent place, usually over the front door. Thai ethnic groups in northern Thailand and the Shan states often wear protective yantras on their persons; as inscriptions on amulets worn around the neck, as bodily tattoos that may cover much of the upper torso, or as yantra inscribed on undershirts. Protective yantra banners are sold at all famous wats, especially pilgrimage sites with reliquary chetias.” [Becoming the Buddha, Swearer, p63.]
Yantras were also used during the construction and consecration of Buddha images, inscribed on gold foil and placed on, or within the Buddha image.
Yantras are made in a variety of shapes, although the most common are either round or square with a specific number of ‘eyes’ or connected squares in which the syllables of a gata are written. While some yantra chessboard grids can be read sequentially from left to right, line by line, most are the ‘skip’ variety. Meaning cannot be derived from skip yantras simply by reading the letters sequentially in any direction. Skip yantras resemble a picture puzzle in which the individuals pieces must be correctly placed if the picture is to be revealed, or a game of anagrams with individual letters that must be placed in a specific sequence to spell a word. The form of the yantra suggests that it encapsulates meaning on both esoteric and exoteric levels – meaning that is both hidden and manifest – much like the [Buddha] images itself represents reality in both a particular form (rupakaya) and beyond form (arupa or dhammakaya). An elderly monk informed me that a yantra maker perceives the arrangement of the letters during meditation; however, the publication of yantra books demonstrates that yantras formats are routinized. Insome Shaiyachom phy observes that the yantra maker must both memorize the gatha to be inscribed and the maze-like grid on which he writes the syllables.” [Becoming the Buddha, Swearer.]
Yantras became a cult, subject to a strict set of rules, governing taboos regarding the parts of the body, especially below the waist and acts considered impure. The liquid used to inscribe yantras varies, as does the objects on which they are written and method of application. Some may be inscribed on a betel leaf and ingested, written on a small metal scroll and worn around the waist or places over a doorway, sewn as a yantra shirt, or written on a piece of cloth attached to a monks robe. Depending upon the circumstance, they are often used to procure a specific objective such as beauty, holiness, longevity, or invulnerability. Yantras are written in Pali inscribed in a variety of scripts, for example, mul in Cambodian, kham and yuan in Thailand, tham in Laos, and the Burmese and Shan scripts in Myanmar.”

 “Bizot is especially interested in Buddha image yantras composed of Pali mantras taken from the Tripitaka, commentaries, and paracononical works. As evidenced in the Buddha Yantra text, the manual for making a Buddha image, and in Bizot’s research, these yantras may be inscribed on the body of the image (or the chedi) or on strips of metal or other materials and then applied to the image to empower and protect it. Bizot explores the historical development of this esoteric, apotropaic tradition from its probably vedic and Hindu roots to its general use throughout Buddhist Southeast Asia. Of particular importance to the buddhabhiseka [Buddha image consecration  ceremony] are the 108 katha (gata) of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, the source for which appears to be a text entitled the Ratanamala (The Garland of Jewels), versions of which are found in Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. The unique Southeast Asia Pali texts have no apparent connection to the five texts entitled Ratanamala in the Tanjure. The earliest reference appears to be a Pagan inscription dated 1442 C.E. the 108 katha are divided respectively into fifty-letters (Iti pi so), thirty-eight letters (svakitto) and fourteen letters (supatipanno) representing the powers (guna) of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. In this yantric acrostic form, ‘Praise to the Triple Gem.’ It is impossible to decipher without decoding the words to which the letters refer and knowing the correct word order. This katha is changed during the buddhabhiseka and in other ritual contexts with its power and meaning embedded in its dual esoteric-exoteric nature.”
                “The Buddha image is a homologic structure: the eternal body of the Dhamma (dhammakaya) made visible in the bodily form of the Buddha (rupakaya). Bizot and Coedes…link the dhammakaya to the yogavacara tradition of Sri Lanka, a system that teaches the method by which a yogic adept can realize the state of the Buddha’s omniscience.” [Coedes, “DhammakayaAdyar Library Bulletin 20, 1956.
This tradition suggests “two aspects of meditation practice directly applicable to the dhammakaya, namely, that individual sounds, syllables, or words such as A-Ra-Han likewise have a hidden meaning or reality, in the instance cited, Dhamma (A), Buddha (RA), and Sangha (HAN).”
“Both Bizot and Coedes consider a Thai Pali text entitled the Dhammakayassa Atthavannana to  be an example of the yogavacara tradition the text is a doctrinal abridgment in thirty paragraphs of Buddhist teachings homologically identified with twenty-six bodily parts and four elements of Buddha’s vestments. The order of the paragraphs is determined not by a logical or philosophical classification but by the arrangement of bodily parts beginning with the head and ending with the feet. This suggests a natural or a proiri correspondence between the Buddha’s teaching, namely, the dhamma, the parts of the Buddha’s body. Bizot, furthermore, notes that in the Khmer tradition the dhammakaya associates the thirty-two bodily parts with the mulakammatthana, or meditative foci.” [Bizot Le chemin de Lanka]

“Even though such a homologic tradition may have roots in early Vedism, the mythic, cosmological model represented by the Purusa Sukta underwent a significant transformation in subsequent yogic traditions, including Buddhism. The longstanding Indian tradition as the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks of the mahapurisa (Lakkhana Sutta), came to be linked to the dhammakaya, with possible origins in the cultic veneration of material signs of the Buddha.  Although the identification of the dhamma with the body of the Buddha was the subject of wide ranging philosophical speculation, it may also reflect the practice of putting fragments of scriptures in stupas and Buddha images, a tradition popularized in the legends that King Ashoka’s 84,000  stupas enshrined both the bodily relics and dharmas.”
Bizot described the eye-opening ritual ceremony of consecrating a Buddha image, “he divides the ceremony in three parts; implanting the marks, opening the eyes, and the consecration. In comparing  it with the yogavacara tradition, Bizot likens to practice of the eye opening ritual to the yogavacara transformation of the body through meditation. The parallel of the transformation of the body through Samadhi, and the transformation of a material representation into the Buddha provides a striking insight into the operative significance of the meaning of the Buddha image consecration ritual.” (Swearer, Becoming the Buddha.)
The Bayon temple in Cambodia is a physical yantra. “The Bayon was always intended to transform – a matter over which there can be little doubt when we remember that it is named to derive from ‘Pa yantra, the ‘father’ or ‘master’ of yantra. This is a Sanskrit world, meaning literally ‘instrument’ defined as a form of mandala: ‘a diagram used as a support for meditation….the component parts of the yantra take the believer along the different steps of Enlightenment….” – Grahm Hancock, Heavens Mirror.

Yantra Tattoo and Tantric Theravada traditions

The yantra tattoo is a mystical symbol crafted by the monk on the chest of a man to ward off weapons. The disciple must keep certain precepts, vows, to keep the tantra active. The tattoo ritual may require the client to remain silent for three days and nights. The master guarantees no harm will come to them. Those who break the silence must keep the five Buddhist precepts for the rest of the lives.
The Khmer people often have yantra tattooed on their bodies as magical protections. Young men believe the yantra tattoo protects them from being harmed by bullets and knives.
The tattoo is important but more important is the perseverance in keeping the precepts and abstinences involved in receiving the tattoo. The devotee must be clean in thoughts and conduct. The magical power is effective only as long as the devotee continues to observe all religious festivals, spend time in meditation and regularly pay respect to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
The yantra is part of the magical tradition (sayasat) of Southeast Asia. It is an ancient practice. The individual must employ bhavana (meditation) and “concentrate his thoughts and power” before battle in order to activate the power of the yantra.
Each component of the yantra (lines, shapes, and alphabets) has certain meaning. For example the lines within the yantra means the “bones” of the yantra. The continuous line means the umbilical cord of the Buddha. The circle means the face of the Buddha or Brahmin. The triangle means the three-fold teaching of the Buddha or the three worlds or the three Hindu gods. The square means the four worlds or the four elements. Other symbols are also used, such as the image of the Buddha, half moon, sun over the moon, etc, each have a particular meaning.
During the  initiation when the yantra-tattoo is administered, there are important rituals to pay gratitude and respect toward the teachers and celestial beings. This ritual requires various specific items such as food, flowers, candles, incense, colored cloths, money, to make offerings to the celestial beings and the teachers. This ritual is called Ongkarn Shumnum Wai Kru, the gathering to pay respect to the teachers. There are also specific recitations to accompany this ritual.
The master instructs the disciple during the days of tattooing ritual. The master and disciple recite mantras during the ritual tattooing. The rows of alphabets on the body represent holy verses (gata) derived from Pali texts.
The nature of the yantra is secretive, encoded, and cannot be understood without an authentic teacher, who reveals and initiates the devotee during the process of the tattooing, administering vows, precepts, meditation instruction, explaining the meanings of the yantra.
The writings of text on the yantra are in ancient Khmer script. The Khmer alphabets are considered sacred, and are therefore used to write down the incantation (kata or sutra) that appears on each yantra. But there are yantras that are written in Pali, Burmese and other languages. Each yantra has its own verbal incantation to be recited at the time of its making. A number is used as a code that signifies a particular incantation to be recited for that yantra (instead of having to write down the whole incantation). Each yantra also has its own unique recipe and material and its own way of using it.

Roots of the yantra-mantra may be found in the Pali Tripitika itself in the Dhajagga Suta (S I 218-220. The itipiso formula that is foundation of recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. This sutta is regarded highly throughout the Buddhist world as an excellent means of dispelling fear. It is included in many collections of Paritta (Protection).
The syllables are often arranged in complex magical symbols. Francois Bizot identified 8 basic types: (1) Images of the Buddha (preah Buddha nimitta); (2) Horse footprints (chon seh); (3) net (sumnan); (4) leap (lot); (5) Lattice of Naray-Vishnu (narayn kraloa); (6) Separated Segment (pen bha); (7) ladder of crystal (jaundor kev); (8) Circular (van).
The practice is supposed to be highly effective for both right hand (phluv sdam) and left hand tantra (phluv chveng). The left hand path is concerned with attainment of worldly ends, such as pleasure, or gaining power over others. The left-hand yogi can turn toward evil if he strays from the path of Lord Buddha which leads toward enlightenment: Evil magic is  used to enough to induce death of the enemy.

The lines of the yantra drawing represent the Umbilical cord of the Buddha, and are traditionally known as “the bones of the yant.” There are many forms of yantra, such as round-yant, triangular-yant, four-sided-yant, and even pictorial yant. Each one has different meaning. Round yant represents the face of the Buddha (Pra Pakt Khong Pra Putta Jao).
“The tattoo is important, but more important is keeping the assistance. The devotee must be clean in thoughts and conduct himself well. Besides the magical power in the tattoos will only be effective and even strengthened if the devotee continues to observe all religious festivals, spends time in meditation and regularly pays respect to the Buddha Dhamma and Sangha,” said Master Prum Yan.
These yantra tattoos were also decorative in early times, when Khmer wore few clothes.
The tattoo was often used to heal people in the form of acupuncture.
Buddhist women sometimes have yantras tattooed on themselves, perhaps on their shoulders, neckline, collar bone or palms. Most Khmer women have the yantra tattooed into the skin with invisible palm oil and a special wood oil.
Today, the practice has declined, and yantra may be used for a whole host of worldly purposes including magical power to indulge carnal desires, fire protection, protection from violence, and magical charms. Most often, the devotee is seeking “invulnerability” and protection from curses, evil spirits, and violence

Ajahn Toh of Thailand

Somdet Ajahn Toh (1788-1872) Phra Brahmarangsi, was a Thai forest monk and meditation master, and was one of the most famous Buddhist monks during Thailand's Rattanakosin Period.

 He rose to the highest ranks of the Thai Sangha during the reign of the King Rama IV (1851-68) and  Rama V (1868-1910). His mother, Gade, daughter of Chai, lived at Tambon Tarr-It, Amphur Tarr-Poh (now Amphur Muang) in Uttaradit Province. Somdet Toh was born in Kamphaeng Phet Provine, possibly the son of King Rama I.
When Somdet Toh was young, he studied at ChaoKhun Arunyik Institute, Wat Intarawiharn in Bangkok. At the age of 12 in B.E.2343, he was ordained novice by ChaoKhun Bowonwiriyataera. Later he had moved to Wat Rakang to study sacred pariyatti scriptures of the  Buddha, under several Buddhist masters. After becoming a well-known monk, he became the preceptor for Prince Mongkut, later King Rama IV, when Mongkut became a monk. During Rama IV's reign Somdet Toh was given the ceremonial name Phra Buddhacharn Toh "Phomarangsi".
He was noted for the skill of his preaching and his use of Thai poetry to reflect the beauty of Buddhism, and for making amulets call "Somdej". The amulets were blessed by himself and other respected monks in Thailand.
Somdet Toh was the popularizer of the Chinabunchorn (Jinnabunchorn) Katha. The Pra Katha Chinabunchorn was an ancient Buddhist katha, inherited from Langka city, and was found in an ancient book by Somdet Toh.
            He was one of the teachers of the Great Relic (Mahathat) monastery in Bangkok, who taught pali to Prince Mongkut as a young monk. In the 1830s he became a > thudong monk, wandering in the forests of Cambodia and southern Laos. It is said that he lived as a thudong monk in the forests of the Great Fire (Dong  Phaya Fai) for fifteen years. 
            In 1851, King Mongkut disrobed and ordered the Sangharaj to track down Ajahn To and have him returned to Bangkok. Venerable To was 63-years old at this time.
He lived on the outskirts of Bangkok, and often went wandering in the forest with his students. He was famous for his psychic powers and for blessing amulets, and was held in veneration by Bangkok authorities. The amulets were blessed by himself and other respected monks in Thailand. He also appears in many versions of the story of Nang Nak.
To was appointed as abbot of Bell Monastery in Thonburi, on the west bank of the Chao Phgraya River. In the 19th century this monastery was covered many acres of forests and its entrance faced the river.
In 1864, at age 76, he was titled Somdet.
King Chulalongkorn patronized To, and firmly believed in his mystical attainments.
            Somdet Toh died on Saturday the 22, June in B.E2415 B.E at the age of 85.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Theragata and Therigata: A Manuel for the Forest Tradition

The Theragata and Therigata are collections of ancient Buddhist poems, contained in the Kudkha Nikaya, which present a picture of forest monks and nuns in the original first centuries of Buddhism.

Reginald Ray, Buddhist Saints of India says;Forest tradition means to undertake a particular wandering, ascetic lifestyle, based on restraint in food, shelter, clothing, and medicine, in order to engage in meditation.

WANDERING. Having left the world and become a renunciant in the Buddha’s tradition the elders wander abroad, the women as well as the men (Ti 17, 20, 92). With no fixed abode, they “go to different countries, wandering unrestrained” (Ta 37). Referring to the geographical and temporal expanse of her peregrinations, a bhikkhuni tells us, “Anga, and Magadha, Vajji, Kasi, and Kossala have been wandered over by me. For 55 years without debt I have enjoyed the alms of the kingdoms” (Ti 110).

DWELLING IN THE FOREST. The wandering renunciant takes up residence in the forest, that is, in remote and uninhabited regions, for “forests [aranna] are delightful, where ordinary people find no delight. Only those rid of desire will delight there” (Ta 992). The specific places where the forest renunciants dwell include mountains (giri) (Ta 115), mountain cliffs (nagamuddha) (Ta 544), caves (lena) (Ta 309, 545, 1135), woods (vana) (Ta 545) hillsides (sanu) (Ta23), the bases of trees (rukkhamula) (Ta 217, 467, 998,), and so on. 

Sometimes the renunciant takes up residence in the cremation grounds (Ta 6, 315, 393, 599, 854). Occasionally, he or she lives in a small hut (kuti), and the frequent association of such huts with rain and storm suggests that it was during the rainy season that these were typically used (for example, Ta 1, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 59, 60, 325-29, 487). An indication of the variety of places in which a renunciant might life and meditate during his or her career is given in several of the songs, such as Samkicca’s, in which he remarks, “I have dwelt in woods, caves, and grottoes, in solitary lodgings, in a place frequented by beasts of prey” (Ta 600-601).

ROBE AND APPEARANCE: The garments of the monk/nun are typically made from rags, which have been collected “from rubbish heaps, cremation grounds, and streets” (Ta 578) and stitched together (Ti 1, 16). Anuruddha, for example, “sifted, took, washed, dyed, and wore the rags from a rubbish heap: (Ta 896). Generally, the renunciants of the Theragatha and Therigatha are tonsured, and both laity and matted-hair ascetics are depicted as having head and beard shaved (Ta 377, 512). The bhikkhunis similarly have shaved heads as marks of their way of renunciation (Ti 32, 75).

SEEKING ALMS. When the monk/nun seeks alms, they come from their forest haunts to where the laity live (Ta1054), receiving “left-over scraps…as food” (Ta 1057). Their food is “cooked a little here, a little there, in this family of that” (Ta248). The renunciant should wander from door to door, neither seeking out the wealthy nor avoiding the poor (Ta 579) and should not seek to fill the stomach: “While eating moist or dry food, he should not be satisfied. A bhikkhu should wander with unfilled belly, eating in moderation, mindful” (Ta 982). 

This austere begging practice is most conducive to meditation, for, we are told, “the mind of one who is greedy for flavors does not delight in meditation (Jhana)” (Ta 579 – 80). The renunciant is also to accept food, as it comes, without judgment. For example, Mahakassapa reports that he came down from his lodging and entered the city to seek alms, coming before a leper who was eating. “He offered a portion to me with his rotting hand; as he was throwing the piece (into my bowl) his finger broke off there. But near the foot of a wall I ate that portion; no disgust arose in me, either while it was being eaten or when it had been eaten” (Ta 1054-56).

THE IMPORTANCE OF SOLITUDE. One of the most frequently  repeated themes in the Theragatha and Therigatha is that of the necessity, the virtue, and the joy of a life lived away from others, in seclusion. One is to avoid all companions, “not living…with householders nor houseless ones alike” (Ta 581; see also 54, 577-80, 896), find no satisfaction (asamsattha) in company (Ta 860), and enjoy the “sweetness of solitude” (Ta 85). Dwelling “alone in the forest like a tree rejected in a wood” (Ta 62), the monk/nun is not to grieved, for “if no one else is found in front or behind, it is very pleasant for one dwelling alone in the wood…alone, companionless, in the pleasant great wood” (Ta 537, 541). The solitary retreat of monks/nuns makes them inaccessible to others, the virtue of which is often stressed (for example, Ta 109). It is not only that renunciants are to live in retreat alone; in addition, they wander alone (Ta 1122).

Their solitude exists in order to facilitate meditation, for bhikkus and bhikkhunis withdraw into solitude for the purpose of meditation and therefore “should resort to a lodging which is secluded” (Ta 577). Significantly, like the other elements of the forest life, such solitude supports meditation not only physically and socially but psychotically and spiritually. The Theragatha and Therigatha present the belief that, by retiring to solitary retreat, the forest renunciant may purify defilements in a depth and manner not possible “In company.”

It should be observed that women ascetics face the particular threat of harassment and even attaqckd by men, a theme highlighted in the Therigatha. One nun in her forest abode remarks on her fear of this danger but says that such fear is a wile of Mara to which she will not succumb. For her, as for the  other renunciants both women and men, courage and tenacious resolve prevail: even if 100,000 rogues were to menace her, she will not move a hair’s breadth (Ti 230-31). Although complete solitude is the general rule, forest monks/nuns sometimes live together with one or a few like-minded others (Ta 177-78), or in small communities (Ta 148), or when a disciple lives with or near his or her teacher (Ta 66). Such situations are exceptions, however, and in the two texts the general rule applies that where people gather in numbers, be they laity of renunciants, the virtue of the true renunciant life is compromised (Ta 245, 898).

SPEAKING LITTLE. The renunciant is peaceful and taciturn, speaking little. Sariputta, we are told twice, is “calm [upasanta], quiet [uparata],  speaking in moderation [mantabhanin]” (Ta 1006, 1007). Gangatiriya tells us, “In two rainy seasons I uttered only one word” (Ta 127). Elsewhere in the texts reference is made to the noble (ariya) silence (tunhibhava) of the renunciants, indicating an implicit characteristic if not an explicit vow (Ta 650, 999). The theme of silence is connected with not only renunciants on the path, so to speak, but also with enlightened saints. Thus we read in Revata’s song, “Having attained to non-reasoning (avitakka) the disciple of the fully enlightened one is straightway possessed of noble silence” (Ta 650).

FOREST LIFE. These elements of the lifestyle of the forest renunciant are often described in concert, as in Upasena Vangantaputta’s gatha, in which he refers to a habitation that is secluded; a coarse robe fashioned form cloth taken form rubbish-heap, cremation ground, and streets; wandering “for lams form family to family without exception; and not living in company with householders not houseless ones alike” (Ta 577-81). Sometimes the collection of conventions followed by the renunciant represents one of the classical lists of ascetic requisites, such as the “four requisites” (Ta 1057) or other lists of dhutaguna-type practiced (Ta842ff.). Another, less standardized description is found in the song of Gangatiriya, who says, “My hut was made of three palm leaves on the  bank of the Ganges. My bowl was only a funeral pot, my robe a rag from a dust-heap”.

RIGORS OF FOREST LIFE. The life of forest monks/nuns is difficult and demanding, something expressed in a verse repeated several times: “Tormented by gnats and mosquitoes in the forest, in the great wood, like an elephant in te4h van of the battle, one should endure there mindful” (Ta 31,684). Another song mentions other hardships: “Brought low by colic, dwelling n the grove, in the woods, where there is restricted food supply, where it is harsh” (Ta 250, compare 435). The forest life is not only onerous, it can pose danger to life and limb, and several songs make reference to the continual threat of wild beasts (for examples, Ta 524, 577, 1135). Other verses make reference to the difficulty of finding sufficient food and to the loneliness of forest life, the inclement weather one faces in the forest, the threat of attacks by others, and so on, as well as the social disapprobation that seems to go along with and to parallel whatever praise may come one’s way (Ta 1119). These difficulties are summarized in the following frank appraisal: “Truly it is hard to go forth...sustenance of life is difficult for us with whatever comes our way” (Ta 111). While presenting a realistic picture of the rigors of forest life, the saints are able, at the same time, to affirm its unique value in comparison to the alternatives. As Godatta observes imply, “There is happiness arising from sensual pleasures and pain springing from seclusion: but the pain springing from seclusion is better than happiness arising from sensual pleasures” (Ta 669).

MEDITATION. The inside practice e of meditation is the substance of the spiritual quest. Meditation stands at the center of the Theragatha and Therigatha; one abandons the world, follows the arduous conventions of forest life, and dwells in solitude and silence all for the purpose of mediation. And one meditates because it is the sole road to enlightenment (Ta 112). It is uniquely through mediation that one trains one’s mind (Ta 134), develops good qualities (Ta 352-53), gains the highest happiness (Ta 884), and achieves liberation (Ta 112). Thus, in one’s solitary retreat, “one should meditate undistracted” (Ta 37) “continually putting forth energy” (Ta 266). The sounds of the forest are welcome because they “awaken the sleeper to mediation” (Ta 22). One should sit down, cross one’s legs, and hold one’s body erect Ta 29). Then one carries out the practice of meditation to transform the minds unruliness (Ta 355ff.) and gradually bring it into a state of calm (Ta 689). Mindfulness (sati) is the standard practice of the two texts. Sometimes other standard practices are mentioned, such as the practice of concentration (jhana) (Ta 12), “recollecting the Enlightened One” (Ta 354, 382), and practicing the four unlimited (appamanna) (Ta 386). There are also references to the classical cremation ground contemplations (Ta 567ff., 18).

Meditation is depicted as an arduous practice requiring commitment and exertion, because the mind is wild and chaotic. Dominated by conflicting and defiling emotions, it is a horse that needs to be tamed and a wild elephant that needs to be put in a pen (Ta 355-59). Given this situation, one must exert oneself in order to attain success. 

Part of the rigor of mediation is the lifelong commitment it entails, seen in Anuruddha’s reference to fifty-five years of mediation practice (Ta 904). The rigor of  mediation is also a day-to-day commitment, as implies by one of the classical dhutaguna practices wherein the renunciant does not lie down at any time but remains upright, meditating night and day (nesajjika). 

In addition to expressing the rigors of the solitary meditative path, the songs also speak of the joy and contentment that it brings. Bhuta remarks, “’when in the sky the thunder-cloud rumbles, full of torrents of rain all around on the path of the birds, and the bhikkhu who has gone into the cave meditates, he does not find greater contentment than this” (Ta 522). 

Meditation is not something abandoned at the time of realization but plays a role for the enlightened ones in two ways. . First, although enlightened, one continues to meditate, like Bhaddiya, who, “having plucked out craving root and all, meditates, happy indeed” (Ta 466). Second, meditation, it would seem, becomes internalized and defines the state of being of the saint.

The Theragata also notes that the Forest Tradition was already being abandoned and sidelined by Buddhist monks and nuns who were attracted to a more comfortable, conventional monastic way of life.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Upagupta, master of the Indian Forest Tradition

John Strong, Legend and Cult of Upagupta: insists on the forest tradition as the source of the cult of Upagupta, throughout Southeast Asia - Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Thailand.

Venerable Upagupta was the third-generation successor of the great Arahant disciple of the Buddha, Venerable Ananda.

Upagupta was disciple of Venerable Sanakavasi, the patriarch of Mount Urumunda, a disciple of Venerable Ananda. Sanakavasi was a native of Rajagrha, according to the northern legends (Asokarajasutra). He introduced Buddhism to Mathura in the west, by establishing a forest tradition on Mount Urumunda where he built a large temple.

Venerable Sanakavasin is associated with the Second Buddhist Council whose patron was Kalasoka.

When Venerable Sanakavasi passed away, Venerable Upagupta became his successor as patriarch.

“Not enough attention has been given to the fact that the masters of the Dharma in the legends were forest-dwelling ascetically inclined tradition of meditators,” Strong wrote.

“Sankavasin, when he is in Kashmir, rejoices at the contemplative life and sings of his meditation on rocky peaks and in deep ravines which keep him warm despite his wearing but a single garment of hemp. When he returns to Mathura and is taken for a mahalla monk, the next contrasts him to the Tripitaka masters form South India, who have memorized the whole of the Buddhist canon but knows nothing about meditation. The tripitaika master is a scholar monk, but the Upagupta knows he is a matricidal fornicator and will have nothing to do with him. Sankavasin, on the other hand, follows the vocation of mediation; he may look grubby, have long hair, and appear to be a mahalla, but he is actually enlightened, and he is Upagupta’s master.”

Upagupta himself was the head of the Natabhitika monastery on Mount Urumunda, which Sanakavasin founded. This monastery is repeatedly called “the foremost of all the Buddha’s forest-haunts (aranyayatana) where the lodgings (seat beds) are conductive to meditation (samatha).”

From her, Upagupta instructs monks from all over India who came to see him. The Ashokarajavadana says the Buddha predicted that Upagupta would be “the foremost of all those who are instructors of mediation.”

“Too often, the ascetic practices in general and the pamsukulika practices in particular have been studied from the perspective of the town-dwelling monks, who tolerated them but did not follow them, rather than from the perspective of the forest-dwelling monks, who advocated and maintained them…..The Pamsukulanisamsan ( is a text that is self-avowedly of the ascetic tradition). It is a Pali work of the anisamsa genre (telling the “advantage” of doing good deeds) and has found popularity in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. It tells the story of the very first pamsukula: A rich merchant of Uruvela had a daughter who died giving birth to her first child, who was still born. The merchant then decided to offer some robe material to the Buddha; he took an expensive piece of cloth, wrapped it around the dead fetus and the afterbirth of his daughter, and kept if for seven days. Then he deposited it on the road where he know the Buddha was due to pass. The Buddha, seeing it, thought,, “ This is the first pamsukula…the Buddhas of the past wore pamsukula; I, therefore, will wear one too.” He picked it up; the decaying fetus and afterbirth fell on the ground, which then shook and trembled to mark what for this tradition was a momentous occasion.”

“There follows an account of the washing, drying, and dyeing, of the pamsukula by the Buddha with the divine help of the god Indra; and then, as the text puts it, ‘the Buddha’s old robe disappeared, and he became a pamsukulika.’ Later, the Buddha exalts the wearing of rag heap robes in no uncertain terms: ‘the pamsukula robe,’ he declares, ‘is the best. It is while wearing it that the Buddhas have liberated all creatures…O monks, I wear the pamsukula robe; you should do likewise.”

“The real hero of this text, however, is not the Buddha but his disciple, the elder Mahakassapa, who the story goes on to present as a sort of patron saint of the pamsukulikas. The tale passes very quickly over his ordination and then features a noteworthy conversation between him and the Buddha. Mahakassapa asks the Buddha how many ‘vocations’ (dhura) there are open for Buddhist monks. The Buddha replies, “There are two: the vocation of books and the vocation of mediation.’ The elder then wants to know what is meant by these. ‘In the vocation of books, replies the Buddha, ‘a monk memorizes on nikaya, two nikayas, or all the texts of the canon. In the vocation of mediation, a monk practices awareness of the perishable nature of existence and he reaches arahantship. The Buddha goes on to describe the thirteen ascetic practices and in particular the wearing of pamsukula (of which he lists twenty-three different kinds) Kassapa decides to choose the vocation of meditation, but he does so fro noteworthy reason: “ I wandered forth,’ he declares, ‘to become a monk when I was an old mahallaka; I cannot follow the vocation of books! I will therefore follow the vocation of meditation.”

“The notion that the vocation of meditation (forest tradition) was particularly appropriate for monks who had entered the Sangha late in life (that is, mahallas) has important repercussions and may go far in helping to explain the town-and-book monks’ attitude towards long-haired ascetics and forest monks. As he Buddhist Sangha evolved, it became clear that the establishment liked to recruit new members when they were young. Not only did this allow for more control in maintaining the status quo, but it had the practical effect of giving more time to young monks for memorizing sutras when their minds were still supple and not yet preoccupied with pastoral cares and other duties. Monks ordained late in life not only found it more difficult to learn great numbers of texts by heart, but they brought with them habits form lay life that they sometimes found hard to shake and which caused them to be viewed with suspicion.”

“More importantly, becoming a forest monk late in life seemed to follow a well-established Brahmanical pattern of spiritual development, rather than a typically Buddhist one. According to the doctrine of the four ashramas, or stages of life, after being a student (brahmacarin) and hen a householder (grhastha), a twice-born Hindu could become a forest-dwelling hermit (vanaprastha) ‘when he had seen the birth of his sons’ sons and white hairs began to appear on his head.’ In India, then forest meditation was classically the prerogative  of men who turned to spiritual practices in their old age. Youth, the brahmacarin, stage, was the time for memorization of texts and for celibacy.” [John Strong, The Cult of Upagupta]

The scholar monks look back at the writings of Sakyamuni. The forest monks look forward to the Buddha of the future, Maitreya. Mahakassapa is instructive in this regard, he awaits the coming of MaĆ®tre in a meditative trance in the mountains, and will present the Buddha’s robe to him. It is not clear whether he is dead or alive.

The forest saints are witness to the potency of the Dharma, of the possibility of present enlightenment, and to the awaiting of the Buddha of the future, Maitreya.

Forest monks were most active in promoting the vajrayana in India.

Forest Tradition in India: origin of Mahayana

The Mahayana literature continuously praise the forest tradition and make calls for monks to return to the forest and practice dhutangas. This theme of the Mahayana literature has been overlooked by scholars, until recently.
First, this strong strand of radical asceticism may be yet another element in early Mahayana literature that has not been clearly recognized, or given its due, precisely because it is so much at odds with Chinese understandings of the Mahayana….Second, if this radical asceticism and the exhortations to forest life found in the literature were actually implemented, then we might have found a second location for the early Mahayana in India….the early Mahayana groups may have been marginal in small, isolated groups living in the forest, at odds with an not necessarily welcomed by, the mainstream monastic orders, having limited access to both patronage and established Buddhist monasteries and sacred sites.
“So Mahayana may well have grown up among – or been significantly influenced by – those who had left the monasteries in order to practice their Buddhism more austerely and ore single-mindedly, both in deep meditation and also in the practice of the various ascetic acts (dhutagunas) such as dressing only in rags form the dust heap, eating only food gained form alms, and so on. Mahayana may have been the result of an austere (perhaps even puritanical) ‘revivalist movement’ that felt it was returning to the example of the Buddha himself, and the long and painful path he trod to full buddhahood…..” [Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism.]
Forest monks in India were critical of the comfortable, conventional lifestyles of the settled town-monks, which they considered an abuse and laxity of the original way of the Buddha. The Mahayana Sutras’ criticism of the “hinayana” are a record of these half remembered criticisms.
 The most violent expression of the criticism of the abuses of town monks is found, perhaps, in the Rastrapalapariprccha. The Rastrapalapariprccha – like the Kasyapaparivarta, the Ratnarasi-sutra, the Maitreyasimbandada-sutra, and similar texts – constantly criticizes monks who are ‘intent on acquisitions and honors,’ but it also criticizes monks for owning cattle, horses, and slaves and monks who are ‘intent on plowing and practices of trade’; have wives, sons, and daughters; and assert proprietary rights to monasteries and monastic goods.
The sort of criticism found in the Rastrapalapariprccha and such other texts is, however, almost always joined with calls to return to ‘the forest’ and to ascetic practices  dhutangas.
It is clear that by the time of the final composition of the mainstream Vinayas that the dhutangas or ascetic practices were – for the compliers – all but a dead letter…It is, however, equally clear that some strands of early Mahayana sutra literature were attempting to reinvent, revitalize, or resurrect these ascetic practices. Such attempts are clearly visible in texts like Rastrapalapariprccha, the Maitreyasimbanada-sutra, the Ratnarasi-sutra, and even in texts like the Samadhiraja-sutra.
Moreover, almost an entire chapter in the Astashasrika is taken up with what appears to have been a serious debate and dispute concerning the centrality of the dhutagunas in the early Mahayana.
The new texts record a vigorous debate anout the restoration of the dhutangas and a call to return to the Forest Traditon way of  life.
The Rastrapalapariprccha and the Kasyapaparivarta both make constant appeals to ‘delighting in living in the forest,’ to ‘living zealously the forest uninterested in all worldly diversions,’ to living alone ‘like a rhinoceros, never forsaking forest dwelling,’ ‘living in an empty place’ or ‘in mountains and ravines,’ etc.
Both the Rastrapalapariprccha and the Maitreyasimhanada Sutra say that all former Buddhas ‘abided in the domain of the forest’ and exhort their hearers to imitate them; in fact both imply that it was through abiding in the forest that the Buddhas achieved enlightenment.
The Samadhiraja-sutra – like the Rastrapalapariprccha – returns to the old ideal of living alone ‘like a rhinoceros’ and says there never was, nor will be, nor is now a Buddha who, when residing in a house, achieved enlightenment and adds, ‘one should dwell in the forest seeking seclusion.’
The Ugrapariprccha says, ‘a bodhisattva who has gone forth, having understood that ‘dwelling in the forest was ordered by the Buddha,’ should live in the forest.’
The Rastrapalapariprccha-sutra says; “He must accept the restrictions of the pratimoksha…he must be irreproachable…Being free from passion, free from hate, free from ignorance, he must always have pleasure in solitude…and the jungle…where there are not many men, abandoned by men, suitable for complete absorption.”
He must abstain from commercial activity, or medical studies, not mix with nuns, and not be addicted to chattering. In fact, the monk who really desires to obtain enlightenment should behave according to the pattern that most modern students of Buddhism assume is the norm in practice as well as theory for all Buddhist monks.
The sutra criticizes the village monks, who have no ascetic life and are obsessed with worldly gain and comfort. They do wicked things like owning property, engage in trade, speak to women in private, criticize forest monks. They are hypocrites, who destroy the teaching of the Buddha. They are unfaithful, indolent, confused; conceited and always angry. When they see a monk engaged in meditation they expel him from the monastery and beat him with a stick.
In the early days, the term bodhisattva generally means ‘good monk’ as opposed to the decadent worldly monks. The sutra has a lot of detail on the importance of the good bodhisattva dwelling in the forest or wilderness, living an austere life practicing the dhutagunas.
The sutra also makes frequent reference to the jatakas as models of the forest monk.
The Mahayana Sarvadharmapravrttinirdesa-sutra, even criticizes forest monks who neglect their meditation but travel from village to village preaching to the laity out of compassion: He is a “dharma-preacher [dhhharmabhanaka]. The forest hermit is described as having supremely pure morality, supernatural knowledge and powers, and is a formidable ascetic. He is a bodhisattva, an expert in meditation. The hermit and his disciples never go on alms round in the villages because “the Lord has urged and praised that we should live in seclusion.”  So some monks founded forest monasteries, small places with a few monks 
around a teacher; and other forest monks traveled, visited villages from time to time, to teach the people out of compassion, staying in forest monasteries from time to time.
“The Sarvadharmapravrttinirdesa-sutra allows us to hypothesize that as time passed the Mahayana, which probably originated among antisocial forest hermits with the idea of returning to what was seen as the ascetic spirit of the Buddha himself, eventually became itself institutionalized …. “
Then it began to have real impact in India, in the fifth century. “At this point we can only postulate that the Mahayana may have had a visible impact in India only when, in the fifth century, it had become what it had originally most strongly objected to: a fully landed, sedentary, lay-oriented monastic   institution – the first mention of Mahayana in an Indian inscription occurs, in fact, in the record of a large grant of land to a Mahayana monastery. In the meantime the Mahayana may well have been either a collection of marginalized ascetic groups living in the forest, or groups of cantankerous and malcontent conservatives embedded in mainstream, socially engaged monasteries, all of whom continued pouring out pamphlets espousing their views and values, pamphlets that we now know as Mahayana sutras.” [Schopen]

Meditation: Recently Paul Harrison has expanded on the importance of appreciating the deep, sustained, and prolonged meditation practices apparently undertaken by the forest hermit monks who were behind the production of many of the early Mahayana sutras. He suggests approaching Buddhist texts with consideration of their meditative context. Harrison draws attention, for example, to ways in which early Mahayana sutras centered on Pure Lands, such as the Sukhavativyuha or Aksobhyavyuha Sutras, provide prescriptions for concentrated visualization, visualizing the Buddha with whom the meditator wishes to make contact – to ‘visit- - in his Pure Land, effectively constructing the Pure Land in the mind of the meditator, and replacing or substituting an alternative ‘pure world’ for the contaminated word of everyday life. Such texts are not simply read. They are, as it were, like music scores performed. And it is within this sort of context of intensive meditative transformation of reality that   we can begin to understand a text like the Sarvapunyasamuccayasamadhi sutra  that speaks of Bodhisattvas discovering ‘treasures of the dharma’ deposited inside mountains, caves, and tress, and tell s us that ‘endless dharma-teaching in book-form come into their hands.’
“There are other early Mahayana sutras, however, that speak not of books appearing in the hands, or being found in caves, or receiving direct teachings from a Buddha seen in a vision, but rather of deities, supernatural beings (including, not inappropriately for a forest monk, tree sprits), visiting the forest monk meditator and given him significant revelations. These supernatural beings are found throughout Buddhism, and often visit at night, frequently just before dawn. Their visits and ‘admonishment’ are generally viewed possibility by the  tradition, and Harrison points out that even the mainstream Buddhist canons have in them teachings preached by deities under such circumstance s and accepted as the authentic ‘word of the Buddha.’
The production of the Mahayana sutras, seem to have been the productions of forest hermit monks. The monks. They may have dwelled in isolation from one another and had no regular direct connection with each other. They communicated with the Buddha or deities, with his Dharma-body, dharmakaya.  [summary from my notes on various essays by Paul Williams, Reginald Ray, Gregory Schoper.]

Friday, November 14, 2014

Forest Bodhisattvas: Forest Tradition Origin of the Mahayana

Mahayana Buddhism may have arisen out of the Forest Tradition of India. A growing body of  scholarship by Reginald Ray, Gergory Schopen, and Paul Harrison, state that the Mahayana tradition was an outgrowth of the monastic forest tradition, who were critical of the domestic comfort, laxity, wealth, accommodation of the settled village monks.

The Chan (Zen) tradition introduced into China by Bodhidharma may also be seen as a forest tradition, emphasizing meditation practice rather than sutra-scholarship.

The book by Daniel Boucher, Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahayana: A
Study and Translation of the Rastrapalapariprccha-sutra,
outlines this research.

The Rastapala clearly preaches the ideal of rigorous ascetic practices, dhutanga, in the wilderness.

Primary sources for study of forest tradition in Mahayana Buddhism include Rastrapalapariprccha-sutra (short: Rastrapala). Other Mahayana texts of the forest tradition are  Ratnarasi, Kasyapa-parivarta, and Uprapariprccha, which share a pro-forest-dwelling ideology with the Rastrapala.

Paul Harrison, in “Searching for the Origins of the Mahayana: What are We Looking For?” says – “Far from being the products of an urban, lay, devotional movement, many Mahayana sutras give evidence of a hard-core ascetic attempt to return to the original inspiration of Buddhism, the search for Buddhahood or awakened cognition…They also display a strong and positive emphasis on the dhuta-gunas (extra ascetic practices) and aranya-vasa (dwelling in the forest or jungle), which is surely rather strange in the documents of a supposedly lay-dominated movement.”

The practice of dhutanga in the forest was an important part of the early Mahayana.

The Shier toutuo jing (Sutra on the Twelve Dhutagunas) is a Mahayana text translated into Chinese in the early sixth century.

“There can be no doubt that living in the wilderness in order to practice a rigorous form of reclusion was central to the orientation of the Rastrapala. Over and over again the authors of the Rastrapala exhort those on the bodhisattva path to ‘take pleasure in the wilderness’ and ‘dwell alone like a rhinoceros’, to ‘not abandon residence in the wilderness’, to take ‘pleasure in lodging in secluded hinterlands’, to ‘always dwell in forests and caves’, and to ‘frequent the wilderness and manifold hinterlands.’ Specific dhutaguna practices are listed in the story of Punyarusmi’s going forth after the death of the Buddha: “having gone forth he became a wearer of the three robes; he always practiced begging for alms and he only sat, never lying down.”

“Even when they are reviled on all sides, these sons of mine, remembering my words now during the final period of the Dharma, will dwell in forests in the hinterland at that time.”

“Those who are disciplined in morality and virtue will be despised in the last period of the Dharma. Abandoning villages, kingdoms, and cities they will dwell in the wilderness and forest.”

The Ratnarasi sutra vigorously promotes the dhutangas. Jonathan silk has translated and studies this sutra. The Sutra praises the sramana who “follows the yogic practice of cultivating the path,” “who delights in dwelling in the wilderness,” “who abides in the dhutagus,” and “who wanders alone like a rhinoceros.”

The true monks is “alone, unaccompanied, with nothing on which to rely, without possessions, without chattels”. He is entreated to take his alms systematically, in conformity with standard dhutaguna practice, showing no preference for generous patrons or disfavor toward those who give nothing. Although he practices alms begging, he should refrain from intimate contact with specific patrons or dropping hint s as to what he might prefer in his bowl. The monk should acquire his robes from the refuse heap, taking no delight in adorning his body with new robes.

Kasyapa-parivarta sutra, in the Maharatnakuta collection of Chinese and Tibetan cannons, is similar to the Ratnarasi says “There has never been a bodhisattva who dwells in the household and who has awakened to unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. They all, moreover, having gone forth from the household, fixed their thoughts on the wilderness with a predilection toward the wilderness. Having gone to the wilderness, they awakened to unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. And it is there that they acquired the prerequisites [sambhara] for enlightenment [bodhipakkyadhamma].”

The Ugrapariprccha marks the wilderness dwelling as a necessity, even if frightening; a requisite for all who set  out for Buddhahood.

When we start to look for the Forest Tradition explicitly in Mahayana literature, we begin to notice how wide-ranging the wilderness-dwelling motif  is within the Mahayana sutra literature, even when it is not the central preoccupation of any give text. In fact, wilderness dwelling shows up in places where we might least expect it, including texts that are overtly hostile to the monks who practice it. That even some Mahayana sutras qualify or oppose the wilderness for its members reminds us that we are witnessing one dimension of  the dialectic of tradition. 

Even the etymology of the words for Buddhist monastery reflect the root origin of forest dwelling. The word arama implies gardens filled with lush vegetation, flowers, birds - a sort of “garden of eden”. Buddhist monks refer to mandapas (groves) as components or constructions at monastic sites, and although this term is usually translated as a "hall" or "pillared hall." The most prominent architectural structures in gardens were bowers (mandapa nikunja), which could either take the form of a clump of trees which formed a sort of enclosure, or just as typically, were fashioned by arranging vines and other creeping plants around the structure of a roofed pavilion (mandapa).

The function of these "bowers" or mandapas was to provide shade, but that they were also "places of shelter and rest from the games and pursuits of the garden . . . places of seclusion--places where lovers could conduct their amorous liaisons in secrecy".

The early Indian garden, while full of flowers, flowering and fruit trees, and flocks of all sorts of birds, was a natural space, cultivated and carefully tended by gardeners called aramikas,  a category of lay workers who do the manual labor of the "monastery."

The Mulasarvdstivdda-vinaya of north India in the early centuries of the Common Era were fully aware of "the institution of the garden." Buddhist monks viewed their establishments as gardens, parks, groves. Buddhist monks had a detailed knowledge of the Indian garden.