La Fleur- Buddhism

La Fleur- Buddhism - L14 FUEL/fl e B UPDH/SM a history...

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Unformatted text preview: L14 FUEL/fl e B UPDH/SM a history oszrddhism 71 ’ it is the rough “enlightenment” or an “awakeningf at least of falsehood are removed th dharma that can be seen in all its clarity and solidity.The important thing, to the Buddhists, is that it always was there, is there, and will be there. It does not come into being at a certain point in history and does not ever pass awayieven though our own human awareness of it may be dimmed during certain periods of our history. Time neither makes nor breaks the dharma; history too does not seri- ously affect it. This “always there’ dhists, part and parcel of its universality. and portrayed very pictorially: the dharma is the Truth that always was and always history will be at the inner structure of the universe or cosmos, in all places and in all time frames. Being Indians, the early Buddhists immediately thought of the universe in ity and as a frame within which many world-systems exist. arily measured I of buddhtsm terms of vast immens The distance of other worlds and times from our own was custom in terms of the kalpa,‘ a unit of time equal to 4,320,000,000 of our years. Therefore, when the early Buddhists of India talked about a man whom they had personally known and who had been for them an unparalleled teacher. they he who we today called him the enlightened one or “the Buddha.” He is someo estimate must have lived roughly between 560 and 480 B.C.E. But the important ‘ ‘ hat the Indian Buddhists did not regard him as the one and only hey regarded him as one among many Buddhas or enlightened closest to them—and even the closest to us today—in time because accordin dharma is universal and f the dharma is. according to the End- ’ characteristic 0 And this universality is taken very literally Buddha; rather, t ones. He was the one g to them the ALWAYS THERE: THE OPEN ENDS 0F HISTORY and space, but, precisely This chapter will be largely historical; it will take up the basics of the life of the pervading the universe, the early Buddhists simply assumed that the dharma could man usually referred to when the term “Buddha” is used to point to one specific not possibly have begun with him. According to their logic, it had to be older, individual living within a specific time in world history. But before giving the ac- much older—as old as the universe itself. It extended far beyond the reaches of our count of his life, something needs to be said about the way in which most Bud- most ambitious imagination, and, since it was the habit of the Buddhists to refrain dhists themselves view this aspect of their own history. Specifically, we need to from thinking of the universe as having a definite point of beginning, this meant note that Buddhists do not claim to be possessors of any “revelation” in the sense that the dharma was very old indeed' of some news or information divulged or delivered to humankind from some extra- The implications of this were profound. For one thing, this meant that their Gods, as we shall see, do not have an important role, Buddha, the one they themselves knew and talked with, had not just happened into history but had been prepared for this life during earlier lives. He had, they as- reparatory training for his present life by being taught Buddhists, human or supernatural source. to play in Buddhism, and as a re man either. What the Buddhists d they call the dharma. The content of this will be d true that the word “dharma” has many meanings and uses to what at bottom is true, real, and reliable about man an you have left over after conducting the most thoroughgoing analysisesornetimes mes. To these early suit, there is no real role for divine revelations to Indians, the matter ofliving o regard as crucially important,however, is what sumed, undergone intense p lds and other time fra iscussed in Chapter 5, and it is by other Buddhas in other wor this was not a matter of speculation or conjecture; as “rebirth,” “metempsychosis,” or “reincar- . But most often it refers multiple livesrwhat we sometimes call fthe basics of their minds and d the universe. It is what ' "—was simply assumed to be true. It was part 0 it assumption, not a “maybe” or a possibility. The fact of mul- as certain to them as was the daily rising and setting ofthe sun. culture, an implic set out to tell the story all the falsehoods, fabri- while doing meditationeto clear away and dispense with cations, and half-truths that people hold in their minds and use for shaping-or just tiple lives seemed ves. The Buddhists share in one of the general supposi- So the question became: Where do we begin when we of the “life” of the Buddha? If we begin with a date somewhere around 560 3.05., a is always there underneath all as likely misshaping—their li hidden behind a bank of clouds tions of Indian culture in h the delusions we manufacture; i or like the mountain that is tempora that these are a couple ofthe most favo olding that the dharm : Prentice- t is like the moon 1 Perspective (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, ‘ David R. Kinsley, Hinduism: A Culture rily obscured by mist and fog. (It is no accident red metaphors in Hall, 1982], p. 86. Buddhism.) When the veils 10 12 chapter two we will already have twisted what most Buddhists believe out of shape to some ex- tent and refashioned it to fit the contour, presuppositions, and expectations of our culture. If we begin the historical account in the sixth century B.C.E., we will al- ready have shaved off an immensely important prehistory, the kalpas oftime when _ the dharma was already “there” and when other Buddhas—one named Dipamkara, for instance—were the enlightened ones of their own aeons and were in their time and space frames busily involved in giving the necessary training to the one who would later be born in a place and time relatively close to us, that is, in India in the sixth century B.C.E. According to many Buddhists, that was when he became “our” Buddha, but he really existed much earlier as a bodhisattva, that is, a Buddhato-be. it was as such that he was trained by Dipamkara and other Buddhas in the cosmos. The important point is that, at least according to many Buddhists, those earlier lives were in an important sense also parts of his comprehensive biography; to chip them away because our culture does not share the same assumptions as the lndians is to chip away a piece of something very important to many Buddhists and to an under- standing of this form of religious philosophy. According to them, the only right way of talking about the “life” of the Buddha is to switch to the plural and talk about his “lives.” Buddhists have usually done this through an entire genre of narratives, the Stories of the Buddha ’5 Pre- - vious Lives (Jritalca);2 some of these stories are as old as the second century B.C.E. and are believed to tell the story of how he made a slow but steady ascent up the ladder of being and rebirth until he was born and lived in India with the name of Sakyamuni (Sage of the Sakya clan). This slow ascent even involved earlier lives in nonhuman form. Many Buddhists believe that these stories are rooted in the preaching of the Buddha himself,3 that is, lives that he, by virtue of the wonderful mental power that was part of his enlightenment, became able to remember and recollect. His mind had become one from which the fog of forgetfuiness had been dissolved. and, it was assumed, he himself had told his companions the details of his earlier lives. After centuries of telling and retelling, these got to number 547 tales concerning 547 lifetimes and were collected most completely in Sri Lanka in the fifth century C.E. The modern skeptical mind will wonder about all of this and suspect that most or all of them are fabrications, stories of a later time that were appended to whatever original germ of truth was there. The traditional Bud- dhist. however—unless he or she too has been touched by the presuppositions of the modern Westeusually holds these to be factual accounts. / 2Buddhist Birth Stories or Jétaka Tales, trans. by T. W. Rhys Davids (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1880). 3Frank E, Reynolds, “The Many Lives of the Buddha: A Study of Sacred Biography and Theravada Tradition,“ in Frank E. Reynolds and Donald Capps, eds., The Biographical Process: Studies in the History and Psychology of Religion (The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1976), pp, 37—6lr See also Richard Gombrich. “The Significance of Former Buddhas in the Theravadin Tradition," in Somaratna Balasooriya, ed., Buddhist Studies in Honor of WalpoIa Rahula (London: Gordon Fraser, and Sri Lanka: Vimarnsa, 1930), pp.62—72. :2 history of buddhism 13 DEVELOPMENT: FROM éfitKYAMUNl TO THE BUDDHA If it is understood that many B I and will continue to be many Buddhas in the vastness of cosmic time and space, we may now narrow our focus and tell the basic events in the life of the Buddha who is both closest and most important to usisakyarnunifi At the end of the nine- teenth century, many European scholars were very skeptical as to whether such a person had, in fact, ever lived. They thought that the whole of his life story might be a pious fiction. something concocted by a religious community, or maybe even a solar myth. Today, however, there is a general agreement that we need not be prune so skeptical. Although certainly the story of his life was elaborated and embellished by many retellings and the imagination of pious people, all the extant biographies seem to have been based on one lost one that was composed a little more than a century after his death. Scholars now also generally hold that the events narrated concerning the latter part of his life are far more trustworthy than are those about the earlier part. I I But it is not necessary here to try to sort out the different levels ofcredibil- ity. More important for us is to grasp the basic outline of the story of the Buddha that has captured the imagination of the Buddhist community for more than two thousand years and, for Buddhists, still serves as the paradigm ofideal human exis- tence. Perhaps because Buddhism continues to bear the stamp of something that arose in India rather than in the history-conscious West, it is said by some contem- porary Buddhists that the truth ofthis basic life as paradigm would remain true and compelling even if someone were to come along some day and prove definitively that Sakyarnuni had never even lived. That is, according to Indian thinking. the truth of the universal paradigm is much more important than are any individual The life span of Sakyamuni began somewhere around the year 560 B.C.E. when he was born on the full-moon date of the fourth month as the son of Sud- dhodana and his wife Maya. Suddhodana was the ruler of Kapilavastu. a city or town on the plain where the Ganges river meets the foothills of the Himalayan range. Pious tradition probably exalts his status considerably, telling us that he was a king and a person with immense wealth. Thus. his son‘ 5 later renunciation of that status and wealth was made even more impressive. It also greatly exaggerates the nature of Sakyamuni‘s birth; the Jataka tales say that his mother became pregnant when she had a dream of a white and wondrous elephant, that he was born from her side rather than through her birth canal, and that as a newborn infant, he im— mediately stood up, pointed Skyward, and predicted to all that he would become a Buddha in this lifetime. One aged wise man is said to have confirmed this prophecy. but others predicted that he would become not a religious sage but a cakravertin or Wheel-Turning Monarch instead. This either-or prophecy becomes the fulcrum on / “ Another frequently used name is Gautarna (Getarna). 14 chapter two which the future hinges. The narratives make clear that his father, Suddhodana, preferred the royal career for his son and was determined to do evertything in his power to prevent him from taking up a spiritual vocation. He circumscribed his son’s life with guards and with pleasures, building three palaces for him, choosing a beautiful wife for him at age sixteen, and, according to the Jatakas, keeping him entertained with forty thousand dancing girls. But at age twenty-nine, the young man slipped outside the royal compound of his confinement and over four succes- sive nights saw the “four signs,” the very things from which his father wanted so desperately to shield him. This became the crucial turning point. According to the account he was astonished to see four types of human con- ditions he had never before observed or known to exist: on the first night an old man bent with age, on the second a man riddled with disease, on the third a corpse, and on the fourth a serene-looking wandering monk. With each night‘s shocking new revelation of the real facts of humanexistence, the young Buddha-to-be’s resolve to change the course of his own life became more fixed. it was precisely at this point in his life, however, that his wife gave birth to a son, something that ordinarily would have tied him much more to the householder’s life. He immedi— ately named the child “Impediment,” thereby indicating that he had already re-- solved to break with life as husband, father, and householder. He retired to his harem that night, but in their sleep and nakedness, even his dancing girls seemed “like a cemetery filled with dead bodies,” and he concluded that our multiple passions tend to turn our existence into “houses aflame with fire.” With this he decided that the pursuit of the highest dharma was most impor- tant, left the household once and for all, cut off his hair as a symbol of his new life, and began to walk the life path of a homeless monastic. At first he sought out some of the most famous spiritual and philosophical teachers of his time. He quickly and completely mastered the things they advocated, but still remained unsatisfied. Therefore, he turned to more severe and demanding practices. Having lived in the lap of luxury for twenty-nine years prior to his renunciation, he turned to the op- .‘rl4mi ;"="'\4x":‘ r:';\-§‘Ltvr1>i1;:.Mn-.'F.Wl'- :mWWu; _ a history of buddhism 15 posite extreme and became an ascetic yogi living in the forest. His practices there and his self-starvation took him to the point where his eyes were deeply sunken in his head and his body was just skin over bones. But he found that this did not uest either and he received refreshing nectar from a young woman who satisfy his q took pity on him. This led him to discover something that he would later call the Middle Way. This discovery, the dharma, has among its characteristics the avoidance of the extreme of indulgence in pleasures and also the extreme of self-mortification. He discovered the truth that there is no abiding self or ego, that is, no trace of what the Indians in most of their philosophies called the ritman. Then he went to the north of the forest to a place near the village of Bodh Gaya and sat down under a tree, vowing not to rise from that spot until he experi- Sitting alone, he entered enced complete enlightenment, the essence of nirvana. into the deepest of meditations. He was on the brink of the most important event in his long sequence of lives and in the history of Buddhism. 0n the night of his thirty-fifth birthday, another full-moon night, he was spiritually accosted by Mara, the powerful “Robber of Life" who is the personification of evil and is attended by a whole army of accomplices. That night the Buddha-to-be persevered through the most excruciating trials and temptations. But in the end he gained knowledge of all his previous existences, gained the “divine eye,” and also fathomed the truth of what was to be called pratitya-samurpéda or dependent co-origination. His goal had finally been attained; he was now united with enlightenment, no longer a Buddha- to-be but a Buddha. Long kalpas of preparation had yielded their positive result; Sakyamuni himself knew the deepest dharma, the taste of nirvana. The next question became one of what he now should do. For a number of weeks he stayed in deep meditation near the tree where the great event had taken place, a tree later to be called the Tree of Enlightenment and the parent of a tree that exists even today in Bodh Gaya. One tradition holds that a couple of mer- chants, laymen rather than monks, stopped to pay tribute to him and offer him rice and honey cakes. The gods immediately appeared and provided him with sapphire humble bowls of stone in- bowls to use for eating, but he refused these and chose stead. Sometime afterward, having hesitated to teach because he thought his own insight into _the dharma too profound and difficult for ordinary folk to compre- hend, he decided at last to give expression to what he had learned and mastered. Compassion for the suffering of other beings and his deep desire to lift them out of their misery compelled him to bring into being the sangha, that is, the commu- nity of those trying to follow the same path. At a place called Deer Park near the holy city of Benares, he addressed his first discourse to a group of mendicant monks. This is known as the Sermon that Turns the Wheel (of the dharma). Its core is usually summarized in two formulas, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The former is Sakyamuni‘s insistence that spiritual liberation consists of com- ing to a realization of (l) the Truth of Suffering (duhkha) and its pervasrveness in ding ourselves; (2) the Truth of the Cause of Suffering as lying in all beings, inclu 16 chapter two our selfish cravings for pleasure, for perpetuation of our own existence, or for the illusion that we might somehow be exceptions to the law of impermanence; (3) the Truth of the Cessation of craving which is found by recognizing the vanity of our illusion of self and self-perpetuation and by living life consistent with this factgand (4) the Truth of the Eightfold Path which leads to the eradication of suffering. ‘ This fourth truth, logically, leads to the specification of the points of the Eightfold Path. It consists in (I) right seeing, (2) right thinking, (3) right speaking, (4) right action, (5) right livelihood, {6) right effort, (7) right mindfulness, and {8) right meditation. This also articulates the content of the Middle Path which stresses following the norms that S'akyamuni himself discovered to be “right” in the sense that they are those of the deepest dharma of the universe. From this point on in the life of Sakyamuni, there were many places to visit and many sermons to preach. His life as an itinerant teacher lasted for the next forty-five years. MUSt Buddhists through history have beiieved that the sermons he preached on different occasions and to different audiences were remembered by disciples and later copied down. They became the sutras or scriptures of Buddhism. These record in specific detail the names of the people who became his disciples and the ongoing interaction between Stikyamuni and those disciples as he corrected their understanding of the dhanna and encouraged them toward the liberation that he had come to know. Often these disciples appear in the sutras with distinctive and interesting traits of character: Amanda, S'ariputra, Kaéyapa, and Maudgalyayana are among the better known. Some of these were ascetics whom he had known earlier and who now, deeply impressed with the evidence of Sakyamuni‘s attain- ment, joined his sangha. Others were kings and influential citizens who sometimes joined the order as monks or nuns but more often as devout laypersons. These in- cluded even Bakyamuni’s own father, Suddhodana, who earlier had so opposed his aspiration to seek enlightenment. Also Sakyamuni's son, the child born just as he was about to leave the householder’s life, became a follower of his father, now the Buddha. According to the sutras, large numbers converted quickly to his teaching of the Middle Path. Lay patrons made it possible for the company of monks to live their modest livelihood without fear of starvation and added to the sangha’s ca- pacity for rapid growth. When he was approximately eighty years old, Sakyamuni told his followers that he would soon die and was fully prepared to do so. The prospect of seeing him come to the end of his life was at first distressing to his disciples, but he chose to meet that end in a grove of trees near a small village named Kusinagara, He died there of an illness, but also expired in a manner typical of an Indian holy man— that is, through a series of meditative trances. His expiration is usually called the parz’nirvfina, that is, the nirvana that has been rounded out to complete perfection. Nothing especially miraculous happened at this point—other than the sudden burst- ing into white blossoms of the trees in the grove. Soon afterward his remains were cremated and the sarira or residue, something that would be exceedingly precious to later generations, was placed in a stupa or mortuary mound with a small tower on top. a history oj‘buda'hism 17 EXPANSION OF THE SANGHA It was important that membership in the sangha be open to all. The Buddha did not recognize any special religious status or role in the brahmin or priestly caste of Indian society. This fact in itself meant that, although Buddhism was decidedly stamped by the Indian religious imagination and Indian culture from the very begin- ning, it at the same time fit somewhat oddly within the socioreligious composition of Indian culture, since caste there was taken to be something that is religioust significant. That is, the recognition of the brahrnins as an elite class has also been the recognition of them as religious specialists who are born to that status. This has always been intimately bound up with the nature of Hinduism itself.5 For the Buddhists, however, this was not so. The brahmins as specialists in religious ritual were given no special recognition, and the opportunity to pursue the Path outlined by the Buddha was open to anyone of any caste whatsoever. But, of course, this is also what made Buddhism very appealing to those who were not brahmins, and it is certainly no accident that the teachings of Sakyamuni were readily embraced by merchants, members ofthe military class, craftsmen, and other people in more “secular” vocations. By opening the pursuit of the Middle Path to any and everyone, the Buddha created a context wherein that path would be quite widely accepted. The number of persons ready to give up the house- holder’s life and become a monk or nun, of course, was bound to be limited. But there was a much more vast population of people ready to be pious laypersons— supporters of the sangha, people who themselves were hoping to be born in another life where they themselves might become ascetics and aspire to be whats—that is, persons who have realized enlightenment. Likewise, in the early stage of Buddhism, there seems to have been a certain, though qualified, move in the direction ofoffering equality to women. The earliest texts tell the stories of women who attained perfect enlightenment through their own efforts and were qualified as arhats. The status of women in Buddhism will be considered further in Chapter 3', here, however, it is important to note that early in the history a fairly large number of women was attracted to Sakyamuni’s teach— ing. The recognition of an intrinsic spiritual vocation in women, other than that which comes through child bearing or through serving as consorts and assistants to holy men, was also something that went against the grain of ancient Indian society—in fact, against the structure of all male-dominated societies in history. But it quite clearly seems to have been a dimension of the earliest sangha, The monks were supposed to be in training to curb and then eliminate their cravings for physical things. for sex, for fame, or for experiences that gild and pain- per the ego. Thus, their contact with women was carefully circumscribed; many of the sangha‘s rules deal with these matters. In addition, the monks were sup- posed to be itinerant and unburdened by a collection of worldly goods. Initially sKinsley, Hinduism: A Cultural Perspective. w... M'imvw [awn .w :“afi'v‘g'ywa -WWW1-:Wflkh =* 18 chapter two their actual possessions, in fact, were supposed to be limited to the following itemsea begging bowl, an extra robe, sandals, a razor for shaving the head, a needle, and a piece of gauze for straining liquids before drinking-so that the monk would not inadvertently take the life of small life forms that live unnoticed there. By this - severe limitation of possessions they were expected to lead lives that were free of the burdens and cares of the ordinary householder; being “homeless” in this very radical and pervasive sense, they were meant to be free to give themselves fully to meditation, to the memorization and mastery of the vast canon of scriptures that was coming into existence, and to teaching junior monks or the laity who would gather to hear sermons. Daily rice and other foodstuffs were received from householders or lay Bud- dhists on a begging round made by the monks each morning. Throughout much of the history of Buddhism—and in Sri Lanka and the nations of southeast Asia even today—this has been the hallmark of Buddhist culture. The monks made their rounds early in the day and provided the iaity with an unparalleled opportunity to practice the virtue of drimr, that is, giving to the sangha, an act that at the same time is the first and major step in the layperson’s move toward his or her own even- tual nirvana. The monks would merely appear at the door of a home, receive a portion of food from what was prepared for the family that day, receive also the reverential and respectful bow of the layperson, and silently go on their way. When all the monks had returned to their temple or monastery, they would eat their meal in common-and do all the day’s eating before noon so that the remainder of the day could be completely devoted to practice of the dharma. The begging bowl is an important Buddhist symbol; it encapsulates the ideals and freedom ofthe early sangha and serves also as a reminder of the long historical linkage between the monastic community and its lay supporters. The most important layman in Buddhism—so important, in fact, that some say he should be ranked next to Sakyamuni in historical importance—was the em- peror Asoka (ca. 274 —232 B.C.E.). From his grandfather and father, Asoka had in- herited a newly united India that stretched far in all directions. It remained for Asoka only to defeat one recalcitrant people, the Kalingas. He did so, but the bloodbath this caused seems to have deeply bothered the emperor’s conscience, and he felt the need to desist from any further warfare or conquests. Either because he found it to be an effective way of consolidating his gains or because he was sin- cerely interested in establishing a humanitarian rule (or perhaps a combination of both reasons), Asoka issued a large number ofpronouncements. Because these were inscribed in stone and because many are extant and still legible today, the edicts of Asoka are often cited as one of the most impressive ethical statements of the ancient world. Asoka openly declared himself to be a lay follower of the Buddha, openly repented of the suffering he had caused by his eariier bellicosity, and de- clared that, unlike kings who go about their realms on “pieasure tours,” he would travel through his own domain on “dharma tours” to promote justice, morality, and the welfare and harmony of the sangha. Although a declared Buddhist, he up- .,:.,......1..=__,,.: raspar‘nfl-ummemm‘r-.wa - . ...:W.:';: ;.,:',: $.45 _ . a history of buddhism 19 held the principle not oniy oftolerating other faiths but also ofgiving them honor. He wrote: The faiths of others all deserve to be honored for one reason or another. By honoring them, one exalts one’s own faith and at the same time performs a service to the faith of others. . . . If a man extols his own faith and disparages another because of devotion to his own and because he wants to glorify it, he seriously injures his own faith.5 Asoka promoted respect for parents and teachers, granted amnesty to prisoners, stated that morality is more important than ritual, proscribed the slaughter of ani- mals for use in palace meals, and declared his eagerneSs to ensure the happiness and well-being of all men (whom he called his “chiidren”) in this and any future worlds. Asoka’s service to the Buddhist sangha was that of a very beneiicent patron and the settler of internal disputes. He stated that it was his desire that the sangha be unified and last through all time. Thus, he shaped a model that would for many centuries serve kings and governors throughout Asia. Since Srikyamuni had re- nounced his natural capacity to become a world ruler in order to pursue his spiri- tual vocation, Asoka has long represented the other optionethat of staying within the “secular” world and of translating the truth of the dharma into a social and political reality? Asoka held that self-mastery and the restraint ofthe passions are important for the establishment of peace and harmony within the political realm; he wrote: {I} wish for members of all faiths to live everywhere in my kingdom. For they all seek mastery of the senses and purity of mind.8 With the passage of time the sangha expanded and diversified. Initially there had been a rule of perpetual itineracy; the monks were not only homeless but also intended to live without a fixed residence of any type. Receiving aims from lay- persons, their habitations were of utter simplicity—at most a thatched hut or tem- porary residence in Some housing provided by a layperson. Early collections of religious poems by monks and nuns testify to this. At some point within the first centuries, however, it became customary for the monks to remain in one place during the long months of the monsoon rains.9 Lay patrons provided them with places to stay during these longer periods of time, and it soon became a practice M E'N. A. Nikam and Richard McKeon, ed. and trans, The Edicts ofAsoka (Chicago: Uni- versity of Chicago Press, 1959), pp. 51—52. TBardwell L. Smith, ed, The Two Wheels ofrhe Dhammai Essays on the Theravada Tm dition in India and Ceylon (Chambersburg, Pa.: American Academy of Religion, 1912). ‘Nikarn and McKeon, The Edict: ofAsoka, p. 51. 'On this development, see Sukumar Dutt, Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1962), and Ivan Strenski, “0n Generahzed Exchange and the Domestication of the Sangha, "Man, n.s. Vot. 18, no. 3 (Sept. ’83), 463—477. 20 chapter two for one or more monks to remain there year round as “caretakers.” Out of this developed the monastery, a place of more or less fixed residence for a number of monkswoften in separated cells. Sometimes these were caves cut in rocks and some- times places built of bricks. The unmistakable fact is that they became more and more elaborate and in some instances were decorated with carvings and paintings as the graphic arts of Buddhism gradually began to develop as well. As the number of sacred scriptures began to proliferate and as commentaries came to be written, there were some monks who began to excel in scholarly things. With this development, the Buddhist monastery began to assume a role it was to play in many Asian cultures over many centuries, namely, as a center of learning. Monks became masters not only of the Buddhist dharma per se but of virtually every branch of human learning available to them. The network of Buddhist monas- teries stretched eventually from India to Japan; they were, in fact, the real univer- sities of Asia and guaranteed a network of intellectual communication among the various cultures that came to adopt Buddhism. The connection between this and Sakyamuni’s enlightenment may, in fact, be closer than it would at first seem. After all, the path of realization that he pro- claimed represented a tremendous emphasis upon the human being’s potentialwnot only for a peaceful life but also one that demonstrates a man or woman’s mastery of iife through intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, and the training of the mind itself. Memorization of vast portions of the scriptural canon was itself often taken to be an indication of spiritual attainment; the mind that could master much was also the mind that demonstrated clarity, depth, and the wisdom to make good choices. Some of these monks in the early tradition no doubt could perform impressive feats of memorization, as monks here and there in the Buddhist world still do today. The emphasis upon the human mind and its powers also is present in the traditional ac» count of Sakyamuni’s enlightenment when it is said that a part of this attainment consisted in his new capacity to know the course of all his previous existences. Al- though Buddhists have always insisted that the tonting of one’s own knowledge of former lives can easily lead to a very ugly form of spiritual egoism, in the texts that come from India there is a clear supposition that enlightenment entails such a knowledge—even if many humble persons choose to keep that knowledge to themselves. Enlightenment involves the removal of the veils of ignorance that ordi- narily hide this part of our own past from ourselves—and in this too Buddhism was unmistakably Indian in its initial intellectual and cultural assumptions. But all of this only underscores the strong emphasis upon the religious significance of en- hanced mental powers in Buddhism. It was, therefore, no accident that whole schools of philosophy soon developed and, in fact, proliferated within Buddhism. Monasteries such as the famous one at Nalanda in India housed thousands of monks, so that Chinese pilgrims stopping there could report that within one day a person might attend lectures on an amazingly wide array of different subjects.10 ” Arthur Waley, The Real 'D’ipr'raka (London: George Alien 8: Unwin, 195 2). a history of buddhism 21 PENETRATION INTO EAST ASIA This development of learning may aiso help to explain why Buddhism had an im- mense appeal to peoples outside the borders of India, peoples who before had been only peripherally aware of Indian thought and culture. It may explain why, for in. stance, it captivated the Chinese, a people otherwise quite content for the most part with the philosophies and religious traditions that were of their own making. For certainly one of the most significant events in human history has been the fact that beginning in the first century C.E., Buddhist ideas began to filter into China, and over the subsequent centuries they were, in fact, to make a very deep impression on the Chinese mind and on Chinese culture.11 Not only wonld Indian Buddhists travel to China, but eventually pilgrims from China would visit India, something we know not from the Indians who had almost no interest in writing down historical ac counts but from the Chinese who had an immense interest in doing so. The im- mense canon of holy texts was eventually translated from Sanskrit into the Chinese language so that in some sense a whole new library of religious and philosophical writings came into existence for the Chinese. This was a scholarly enterprise that would he carried on for centuries.12 The T’ang dynasty (618—907) was one in which Buddhism received lavish royal patronage, schools of Buddhist philosophy flourished, and China was to become a great international cultural magnet, one to which people from all over Asia went for training and iearning. As a center of Bud- dhist education, meditation, and art, China was to be the source from which the Koreans, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese learned how to be Buddhist; moreover, China’s Buddhist culture was a stimulus that spurred others on to place the imprint of Buddhism on their own cultures. Scholars today can debate at length the exact nature of Chinese Buddhism. Some point out that, by being passed through the Chinese mind and Chinese ex- perience. Buddhism lost a good deal of its original Indian character. Also, it had to make its peace eventually with Confucianism and Taoism, the older philosophies of the Chinese.13 One important way for the Buddhists to prove their respect for the Chinese tradition was by stating that the indigenous philosophies and religions themselves articulated truths that were very valuable and ought not be jettisoned in the people’s rush to become Buddhist. However, it is also quite clear that Bud— dhism fascinated the Chinese, at least in part, because it was different and inter- esting to them. Buddhist art was at first totally unlike any of the art the Chinese l1E. Zfircher, The Buddhist Conquest ofChimz, 2 vols. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972). 1“Kenneth K. S. Ch’en, Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey (Princeton, NI: Princee ton University Press, 1964), esp. pp. 365—3 86. uTang Yung-tung, “On 'Koeyi,’ The Earliest Method by which Indian Buddhism and Chinese Thought Were Synthesized,” in W. R. Inge, ed., Redhakn'shnmr; Comparative Studies in Philosophy (New York, I950), pp. 276~86, and Arthur Link, “The Taoist Antecedents of Tao-en‘s Pranjha Ontology,” History ofReligions. Vol. 9, nos. 2, 3 (Nov. '69 and Feb. ’70), 181-215. 22 chapter two a history of buddhism 23 o 3“ considerable alteration from the original impulse and simple organization of theV“ a), themselves had created earlier; the making of Buddhist images, often gigantic in earliest sangha. Already mentioned have been moves in the direction of monastic \k scale, became an important new ingredient in Chinese culture. But in the realm of ideas, too, it seems clear that the Chinese were attracted to Indian concepts such as that of karma, namely, that all actions lead to inevitable effects upon the person who did them and these effects are either positive or nega- tive. In other words, good deeds bring good rewards and bad deeds bring bad re- wards. In addition, even if the reward cannot be seen during the life of a person, there are other lives in which it will certainly be made manifest. Combined as it was with the idea of transmigration through many lives, this novel idea fascinated many Chinese; it offered them a new and interesting way of thinking about life, mortality, what lies beyond death, and the way in which all forms oflife are deeply interconnected. As developed in the forms of Buddhism that reached China, the Buddhist teaching of pratitya-samutpada was one that claimed that all things in the universe depend upon all other things for existence; nothing can be singled out as having its existence dependent upon itself alone. Even gods, if they exist, are dependent upon other things. This made philosophical sense to many Chinese, and the Bud- dhists there seem to have relished both this teaching and the earlier-mentioned em— phasis upon the mind and its capacities. To people wanting to see the connection between doctrine and the living of daily life, the teaching ofpratitya—samutpada or dependent co-origination seemed to imply that all sentient beings, including wild and domesticated animals, are involved along with us in the same transmigration pattern, one that is shared on a deep level. Therefore, when we kill animals, we vio- late the lives and sanctity of creatures who very well may have been our human ancestors in some earlier life or lives. To the Chinese, whose Confucian philosophy _ and religious practice traditionally included a deep respect for all ancestors, this was a striking and impressive new teaching. To many of them, since their cuisine usually included the flesh of many kinds of animals, becoming Buddhist seemed to necessi- tate becoming vegetarian as well, or at least vegetarian on certain Buddhist days of the calendar or for certain meals. (Although some Indian Buddhists were vege- tarians, many others seem not to have pushed the logic quite so far. For them it was the intention of an act that was the important thing, and it was not thought unseemly even for monks to eat bits of meat placed in their begging bowls as long as they themselves had not taken the life of the animal involved.) In China the close connection between being Buddhist and being vegetarian led historically to the in- vention of many rich protein food items from plant sources, especially from the soybean—discoveries that appear to have been made in the kitchens of the large monasteries of medieval China.M Of course, the Buddhism that entered China had already in India undergone "K. C. Chang, Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological Perspectives (New Haven, Conn, and London: Yale University Press, 1977). (Check index under “vegetarian foods") r 5' ram» 't.mr.‘='rmzwmfi":t1‘fl!¥FTW"" i- i . '. organization and increased philosophical sophistication. Another change of far- reaching importance was the development of what is called the Mahayana 0r Larger Vehicle. This was a movement that gathered strength in India during the first cen- tury B.C.E. and the first century 0.13. It grew especially within the Mahdsarrghikas or adherents of the Great Assembly, one of two sects that resulted from a schism around the time of Asoka; the Mahasanghikas comprised the more liberal faction and were at that time opposed by the more conservative Sthaviras or Elders.15 Most of these events had already taken place in India. But it is important to take adequate note of these developments because, otherwise, it is difficult to un— derstand why. this form of religious philosophy appealed to the Chinese, a people who otherwise had been totally content to rely only upon indigenous resources. In fact, it is often said that, aside from the impact of Marxism on twentieth-century China, the only other time when the Chinese looked beyond their own borders for intellectual sustenance was during that period when Buddhism was absorbed from India. Since it clearly was Mahayana Buddhism that appealed to the Chinese, its basic structure needs to be described. The focus of the change to the Mahayana within India can best be repre- sented as a modification of the ideal of enlightenment. Those Buddhists who did not go along with the new Mahayana changes were labeled the Hinayana or Smaller Vehicle by their opponents. It was a pejorative term and was intended to suggest that the ideals of this more conservative group were more confined and more lim- ited. The Mahayanists asserted that the others had become too easily satisfied with merely becoming arhats, persons whose whole goal was defined in terms of their Own private and individual enlightenment. They charged that the Hinayanists were relatively unconcerned about the fate of others and what would today be called a “social conscience.” The Mahayanists claimed that any enlightenment or nirvana enjoyed by an individual in and by himself would not really be enjoyable at all. In their more acerbic cements, they castigated the Hinayanist group as being, at bottom, self-absorbed and even selfish. How, they asked, can the adherents of a philosophy that states that there is no permanent “self” allow themselves to be- come so concerned only for their own spiritual well-being? By way of pointing up the contrast, the Mahayanists defined their own goal as that of the bodhisattva.16 Although this important figure was not, in fact, absent from the ideal pattern of the Small Vehicle group, the Mahayanists wished to make it emphatically their own--or at least a symbol of the difference they sensed be- tween themselves and the others. They made much of the significance ofthe bod- “Edward Come, Buddhist Thought in India: Three Phases of Buddhist Philosophy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967), pp. 195 ff. “ Hat Dayal, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature (London: Kegan Paul, 1932). 24 ch tip rer two hisattva as one who deliberately and intentionally postpones his or her own final enlightenment, choosing instead to remain in samsara, that is, in the painful world of the repeated births and deaths that comprise the fate of the still unenlightened. But the reason that the bodhisattva chooses to remain in samsara is not by necessity but due to his or her wholly altruistic impulse to remain there in order to aid and influence the enlightenment of others still trapped in this sorry round of earthly existences. The Mahayanists held that only a shared nirvana, a nirVana in which all distance between self and others as well as ail friction between them has been elimi- nated, could be the true one. They held that at bottom the message ofthe Buddha was one that prescribed a way for men and women to find escape from the prison of the “self” and the attitude of selfishness. The development of the Mahayana meant, of course, the writing ofmany new texts expressing this point of view. These texts were originally written in India and in Sanskrit. Aithough composed sometimes as late as the early centuries C.E., these too were referred to by the Mahayanists as sutrasuthat is, as texts purported to record words spoken by Sakyamuni during his lifetime. Naturain this exuberant new spawning of sutras could not always guarantee agreement among them, and it required considerable mental agility to try to find ways to solve all these textual and conceptual problems. As the inheritors of these texts, the Chinese felt com- pelled to straighten out the apparent inconsistencies among them; the ingenuity they showed in doing this is itself a fascinating story, although too long to tell here?7 Probably the most colorful and narratively interesting of these new sutras is the Saddharma—punciarfka or Lotus ofthe Good Dharrna, often simply called the Lotus Sutra. Another important group of new Mahayana texts is those called the Prajh'd—pciramitd or Perfection of Wisdom sutras. These elaborated what the Maha- yanists called sunyarti or the doctrine of Emptiness-wthe principle that all things in the cosmos lack the ability to be totally independent or without any need for anything or anyone eise. Emptiness is a complex and subtle doctrine, h0wever, and was a principle that gave rise to some of the literary and philosophical gems of the Mayahana. One especially important thinker was an Indian named Nagarjuna (ca. 150—250 (3.13.), whose treatises used an exacting logic to demolish the arguments of any who would assert that something somewhere has its foundation in itself. Nagarjuna insisted that Emptiness itself, if correctly understood, is dependent tooior, in his words, emptiness too is empty. Sunyata will be explored further in Chapter 5. This implied that nirvana and samsara, long thought to be polar opposites and utterly unconnected with each other are, in fact, interconnected and co-dependent. In fact, Nagarjuna went as far as to write: There is nothing whatsoever which differentiates the existence—in-flux (sam- sara) from nirvana; l"Ch’ert, Buddhism in China. pp. 305 ff. Wi "717-. W't’vfiYu—‘f'Tu,’1\"r‘w‘ytgflfi‘v‘FI—rfirf.1W;f‘t'::="wIn ‘ a history of buddiiirm 25 And there is nothing whatsoever which differentiates nirvana from existence: iii-flux (samsara).18 This meant that the most holy ideal in Buddhism and the mundane world of pain and evil came to be seen as deeply implicated with one another. This principle gave the Mahayanists a philosophical base for their favorite representation of the bodhi- sattva as a deeply enlightened being who joyfully stays in samsara so that he or she might work there—they actually often called it “playing there”-for the benefit and salvation of other sentient beings. This concept of the bodhisattva had an im- mense appeal for many East Asian people. As a concept and powerful symbol, it gave impetus to much of the rich development of Buddhist schools of thought in China. Certainly it was an important basis for the development of that distinctiveiy Chinese form of Buddhism called Ch’an by the Chinese and known in the West by its Japanese name, Zen. Ch’an was a monastic movement that placed great emphasis upon doing meditation and avoiding abstract thinking. Although it produced its own texts, it detested wordiness. Arthur F. Wright wrote: Indeed, Ch’an may be regarded as the reaction of a powerful tradition of Chinese thought against the verbosity, the soholasticism, the tedious logical demonstrations, of the Indian Buddhist texts.19 The stress in Ch’an was upon the nonverbal, bodily demonstration of the enlight- ened mind. Much of this activity took the form of a kind of “playfulness,” often childlike, on the part of the monks and sage masters of Ch’an. The literature on this, some of which is looked at in chapters that follow, is rich. Here then was the Indian Mahayana notion of the bodhisattva’s playfulness in the world of sam- sara, but transmuted into the idiom of traditional Chinese patterns and with clear analogues to Taoist notions of the holy man as often a slightiy crazy sage. Another very important type of Buddhism in China was the teaching con- cerning the Pure Lands presided over by a transcendent Buddhist figure, most fre- quently that of Amitabha. His Pure Land has been imagined as existing in the West, a “West” that lies beyond this iife. The power ofthis form of Buddhism, not only in China but also in Korea and Japan as weli, lay in the way it circumvented the need to project a whole sequence of additional lives and additional deaths before one could hope to attain nirvana. Its appeal to the iaity was great, especially be- cause it held out a way of canceling negative karma and promised passage directly to a heavenly mode of existence after a person’s present life. “Nagirjuna, “Mfilamadhyamakakirilcis,” trans. in Frederick J. Streng, Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning (Nashville, Tenn, and New York: Abingdon Press, 1967), p. 21?. "Arthur F. Wright, Buddhism in Chinese History (New York: Atheneum, 1968), p. 78. 26‘ chapter two ' Many Chinese found it convenient to adhere to more than one school of Bud- dhism, to move with relative ease from the values found in one to those found in another, and even to combine the teachings of various schools into grander, more embracing syntheses. Criticism from staunch Confucianists—for a whole varietyof reasonsrmade it impossible for Buddhism ever again to regain the power it had had during the period of the T’ang. But vast monasteries of astounding architectural proportions and with very large communities of monks and nuns could still be found in China during the first half of the twentieth century.20 They also easily accommodated large numbers of lay pilgrims who would stay in these monasteries for important rituals or to practice meditation for a while. The development of the lay movement, however, has been an important aspect of Chinese Buddhist life for the past five hundred years or so. Buddhism is said to have been introduced to Korea near the end of the fourth century 013., and there was a very intimate connection between it and the Bud- dhism of China for many centuries. Patronage by the government, the printing of the entire canon, and impressive works of art characterized the Korean Buddhist community between the eighth and the fourteenth centuries. However, with the founding of a new dynasty in 1392, one that was based on strict adherence to Con- fucian norms, Korean Buddhism began to be suppressed. As Buddhists were forced to relinquish their urban temples, the strength of their movement shifted to the mountain monasteries. These became places to which many lay Buddhists went for religious pilgrimage over the subsequent centuries. Discipline among the monks and nuns of these mountain temples remained strict, and in the twentieth century, Korean Buddhism has been undergoing a revival and is beginning to be seen more and more in the cities once again.2L The Japanese took to Buddhism quite rapidly—especially because of the im- mense prestige it had in China and Korea. Officially introduced by Korean kings who sent sutras and images to the Japanese court in the sixth century C.E., socially Buddhism remained largely an aristocratic movement for some centurieswalthough great scholar-monks such as Kfikai (774-835) and Saicho (766—822) formed schools of teaching that continue even to the present. Then in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a series of charismatic Buddhist leadersiofthe Pure Land schools, ofthe Zen schools, and Nichiren (1222—1282), whose schools hear his name—made Bud- dhism intelligible and important to the masses. These men are often referred to as the great teachers of the Kamakura era (1192-1338); they left an indelible stamp on Japanese Buddhism, one that remains today. During all of Japan’s medieval period, the connection between Mahayana Buddhism and literature, especially 2°]. Prip‘Molier. Chinese Buddhist Monasteries (London: Oxford University Press, 1937'), and Holmes Welch, The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 1900-1950 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1967). 1' Heinrich Dumoulin, “Contempmary Buddhism in Korea,” in H. Dumoulin, ed., Bud- dhism in the Modern World (New Yerk: Macmillan, 1976), pp. 202—214. _ ,.,.__., _. ,..,. ,_. HTJWW V. a history ofbudo‘irism 27 Haeinvsa Monastery, Korea poetry, was an intimate one.22 Zen also became a powerful force in Japanese politi- cal and cultural life during this same period.23 Then during the Tokugawa period (1600—1868), all Japanese households were required to have membership in Bud- dhist parishes and the temples were part of the strict social control exercised by the shoguns, a move that in many ways robbed the Buddhist schools of “nearly all Spiritual freedom.”24 Nevertheless, Japanese Buddhism has always been able to coexist quite comfortably with the indigenous Shinto religion and dominated the intellectual life ofthe country for well over a thousand years. Some of its forms, ‘2 William R. LaFleur, The Karma of Words: Buddhism and the LiremryArts in Medieval Japan (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1983). 13Martin Collcutt, Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan (Cambridge, Mass, and London: Harvard University Press, 1981). 2‘ Joseph M. Kitagawa, “The Buddhist Transformation in Japan,” Hisron‘ of Religions, Vol. 4, no. 2 (1965), p, 328; see also his Religion in Japanese History (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1966). 76 chapter four [fit will grow. Hard and slippery, It looks like You should plant it It shoots out thin the fingers# rbur then the dharma: doctrine and philosophy gets away.“ “red dust” usually meant this et firmly in the American a Wisdom literature posi- referenees to the wing, a poem s s the Mahayan 1n the Buddhist poetry of China world of samsara. The final line of the follo forests of the northwest, probably expresse tion that there is no nirvana apart from samsara. WHY LOG TRUCK DRIVERS RISE EARLIER THAN STUDENTS 0F ZEN h seat, before-dawn dark, In the hig Polished hubs gleam And the shiny diesel Stack warms and flutters Throughout the Buddhist world those who decide to enter int Up the Tyler Road grade munity, whether as a monk or as a layperson, do so by making a simple statement. The visitor to a temple might overhear it being said either in one of the classical Buddhism, such as Pali in Theravada countries, or in the colloquial lly repeated three times. In whatever lan- languages of language of the con guage, however, it e Poormart creek. ntry involved. It is usua To the logging on onsists of the following: Thirty miles ofdust. There is no other life.32 I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the dharma; I take refuge in the sanghe. n of faith. The Bud- he most basic confessio en taken to as the Three Treasures; wh In Buddhism this is tantamount to t t area of Buddhist ideals, teaching, and dha, dharma, and sangha are often referred together they comprehend every irnportan communal life. ons, but the purpose of mg secti nto matters in These have already been discussed in foregoi 121 part of this book, is both to go i hin Buddhism. Chapters 5 through 7, the secon d to explore how various elements interconnect wit ' ' ' to Buddhism corresponds ' g the study of religion into , a religion’s theo- and sociology, ' and its communal expressions.1 hat many f1 belief, worship, al expressions, quite nicely to w three basic parts: retical expressions, its practic 3‘ Snyder, Turtle Island, p. 61. 1This is the punitive Study of Religions, 31‘Snyder, Turtle Island, p. 63. ed. by Joseph . ' New York an is University Press, 1958). 77 78 chapter five That is to say, “taking refuge in the Buddha” could be said to express a Bud- dhist's own ideals or highest aspiration in life or, in this case. in the series of lives lived. That aspiration will also be considered worthy of respect and in some sense even of worship. Second, “Taking refuge in the dharma” corresponds to the con- tent of Buddhist belief and Buddhist philosophy; it is the intellectual component of Buddhism, although many Buddhists will wish to insist that its content is richer and deeper than those things we usually discover by our intellect alone. Third, “Taking refuge in the sangha" is a way in which the individual recognizes and declares his or her desire to be part of a larger social unit, the equivalent in Bud- dhism of what in Christianity is called the “church.” Within Buddhism, however, there will be a variety of ways of defining this community; sometimes it will be narrow and at others so broad as to include all sentient creatures in the universe. By analyzing these three elements in more detail, something of the particu- larity as well as the internal diversity within Buddhism can be explored. The only liberty taken here is that of slightly changing the traditional order so that we can begin with the theoretic component (dhanna), move from there to the practical expression of ideals (Buddha) and finally to a discussion of Buddhism’s expression in community (sangha). Buddhists generally refer to the content of their religious philosophy as the dharma, but this word, unfortunately, has a wide variety of definitions and is dif- ficult to pin down exactly.2 Fundamentally, it refers to the most basic law of the universe—a law, of course, that applies not only to natural objects but also to hu- man behavior. It includes both what humans do and the kinds of things that happen to them as a result. Therefore, according to Buddhists, to be ignorant of the dharrna is to put oneself in jeopardy since this law takes effect even when we as individuals do not know about it or do not especially care about it. That is why, to Buddhists, learning about the dharma gives one an inestimable benefit and why they refer to such knowledge as the most precious thing in the world. Such knowledge can make our behavior more rational and moral but also, in the long run at least, brings us happiness rather than woe. But the word “dharrna” is a word used in almost all religions and philoso- phies that had their origin in India; as such it is not specifically Buddhist. There- fore, to get more exact about the nature of what Buddhists mean by this word, we have to discuss another term they use, namely, their reference to Buddhism itself as the Middle Path. This, a term used throughout the Buddhist world and one that many find attractive, is also one that can be very vague. So the question becomes: What exactly is the Middle Path? This question, “What exactly is the Middle Path?” is one to which I myself was seeking an answer some years ago while in northern India. I addressed precisely this question to a learned Tibetan monk there. He was a man who, although raised _____'________F—_———————*——“ “Edward Conze, “Dharma as Spiritual, Social, and Cosmic Force," in Paul G. Kuntz, ed., The Concept of Order (Seattle, Wash., and London: University of Washington Press, 1968). pp. 239—252. the dharma: doctrine and philosophy 7.9 and educated in Tibet, had traveled also in the West and knew our ways. But now he was living and teaching in India. He listened to my question and immediately responded: “I would like to ask you a question. What is the similarity between a beggar and a gourmet?” Expecting a direct answer rather than a question thrown now in my direc- tion, I was caught offguard. Moreover, his question really puzzled me and my mind stumbled around groping for an answer. I could think only of the differences be- tween the two: the beggar will tend to be hungry and gaunt whereas the gourmet will be well fed and possibly even overweight. To me in my very ordinary way of looking at people and things, it seemed that the beggar and the gourmet were on opposite poles in our socioeconomic world; one lived on the bottom of society and the other often somewhere near the top. 1 could not imagine what they had in com- mon. In the end I was stumped and had to admit that fact. Then the monk smiled and said: “The similarity between the beggar and the gourmet is that each of them spends an unusual amount of time thinking about his next meal. The beggar does it because he has no choice; the gourmet because he has made food into a central thing in his life. But both of them spend a great deal of time each and every day contemplating food—the food they do not have in their mouths at the time. The life of each, therefore, is in some sense being consumed by hunger.” What he meant by this, as I was soon to find out by the monks further com- ments, is that duhkhrr or suffering characterizes. as Sfikyamuni taught, all sentient life. It is obviously and strikingly present in the man whose gnawing stomach forces him to move along the street searching out scraps of food in the various garbage pails he finds along the way; but it is also present in the man who daily moves along the boulevard going from restaurant to restaurant seeking always to find a dish or delicacy more exquisite than the one he has just consumed. His pain is, to be sure, more a pain of the mind—a certain vacuity in his lifeébut it is real pain nonetheless. Even his pleasure in eating is immediately linked up with his own kind of suffering and sense of need-at least the need to be recognized and praised by others as a gourmet. In Buddhist teaching this hunger is usually called trend—literally thirst or craving. There is no part of our existence that is untouched by it. A portion of the famous “Fire Sermon” of the Buddha, a text T. S. Eliot once called Buddhism’s “Sermon on the Mount,” states it very vividly: All things, 0 priests, are on fire . . . . The eye is on fire; forms are on fire; eye-consciousness is on fire. Whatever sensation, pleasant or unpleasant or indifferent, originates in dependence upon impressions received by the eye that is on fire. The ear too is on fire. The mind is on fire; ideas are on fire. . . .3 3From Maha— Vagga, in Henry Clark Warren, Buddhism in Translations (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. 1596, and reprinted New York: Atheneum, 1969), p. 352. 80 chapter five And so on. The depiction here of the extent of our cravings is unrelenting; the cravings of the mind can_be as painful as those of the flesh. Whether we prefer to call it a consuming fire, an ongoing thirst, or a hunger that afflicts both the beggar and the gourmet, it often shows even on the faces of human beings. At least the Tibetan monk in northern India had seen it; he had detected it, he said, in the faces of many young Americans and Europeans, often from wealthy homes, who had ex- hausted themselves chasing the immediate gratifications of food, sex, popularity, and drugs. Some had literally chased these pleasures to their end. And this, accord- ing to what we have seen of the Buddhist tradition, is what Sékyamuni himself is said to have done in his early life; the riches of a prince’s life, gourmet foods, and an abundance of women had all been his until he decided to pursue liberation instead. Then, the tradition says, Sakyamuni went to the opposite extremeethat of extreme asceticism. The first years after he left his family and palace were years spent with holy men who practiced a yoga that was not the body-toning yoga known in modern America but a yoga that was really a self-modification. Buddhist art representing that period in Sakyamuni‘s life has him as little more than a sack of skin and bones. The assumption in this kind of prolonged exercise was that the “spirit” will transcend the body and be liberated As experienced by Sakyamuni, however, this leads really to a new group of desires-the desire, for instance, of hav- ing other people look and take notice of what a wonderful and exemplary holy man you have become. The practice of asceticism itself can, as many have discovered, be itself an ego flatterer; the ascetic prides himself or herself on it as something that gives a kind of prestige above that of other men and maybe even a spiritual power over them. ' The result is that Sakyamuni discovered and articulated what he called the Middle Path, It is articulated in the eight points of “getting things right” in the way Sakyamuni came to see their rightness. It is a way that finds liberation neither in the pursuit of pleasure nor in the pursuit of ascetic self-deprivation. It finds the way through and beyond attachment to either of these two extremes. For many Buddhists, this teaching concerning a Middle Path is taken as a given and already proven fact. They accept it as true—through their reading of Buddhist writings, through listening to teachers, or even simply by living in the midst of an Asian cul- ture heavily influenced by Buddhism. For them the wisdom of the Middle Path has already been fully tested and proven. They accept it as taught and then lead their own lives trying to avoid both hedonistic and ascetic imbalance, trying to keep their expectations about things, including themselves, realistic, modest, and free of self-delusion. For others, however, the correctness of the Middle Path is not something merely to be accepted but something to be disaovered—in the sense that they may even feel compelled to recapitulate the bold experiment of Sakyamuni himself. For them, the following pertains: if the Middle Path is a way that avoids extremes, it can be located only after walking the way ofthe extremes and finding them useless by one’s own experience. For this group of people, which some scholars call the the dharma: doctrine and philosophy 81 “religious virtuosi,” both the hardships of asceticism and a deep draught from the cup of sensual pleasures are prerequisites to real enlightenment. The reasonableness of the Middle Path is for them to be discovered, not merely accepted on authority. Classical Buddhist doctrine goes on to say that among all the things we crave, perhaps the most important is the perpetuation and permanence of something each of us calls his or her own “self.”4 Each cherishes this above all, wantingto believe that some part of us, perhaps a soul or some other kind of invisible and interior stuff, will endure even after our body dies and begins to decay. It is probably our attachment to a notion of our own individual, independent, and substantial self, something the Indians called the airman, that is our deepest, most pernicious attach- ment. According to Buddhism, it is this notion, a false one at bottom, that leads to the egotisrn, self-centeredness, and rapacious behavior that makes life on our planet so hazardous and difficult so much ofthe time. Progressively magnified, it becomes the egotism of families, of groups, of races, of whole societies, and of half a world against the other half. So the Buddha taught that, if the truth be known, there is no atman, only fictions in our minds that try to invent one. In his most profound meditations under the tree of enlightenment he analyzed all the elements that constitute hu- man nature and found nothing real that proves the existence of an enduring soul or self. This teaching, a central one in Buddhism, is called the doctrine of no fitrnan (antitman). In itself it constitutes the rejection of a central tenet ofmost Indian religious philosophy and is a distinguishing feature of Buddhism. It is, however, a teaching that goes not only against the grain of most Indian thought; it probably goes against the human grain in general. Most people, especially Westerners, often react with considerable annoyance, sometimes even with disgust, when they hear that Buddhism teaches that there is nothing substantial and permanent to the thing we usually refer to as our individual “selves.” It strikes them as a teaching that must, then, be a negative and pessimistic one. Looking for an analogy, they tend to envision Buddhism as a teaching accord- ing to which what we hold most precious, our individual identities, are swallowed up into some cosmic funnel, merged together into one common mass, and then eventually extinguished, with a mere nothingness as the end result. Perhaps unfor- tunately, Buddhists often use terms such as “emptiness” and “nothingness” that, unless they are correctly understood, will reinforce that impression of Buddhism as a nihilistic form of philosophy. The problem of getting beyond the surface sug- gestion of negativity in some of Buddhism’s terminology and the need to penetrate to the actual facts of affirmation in what those terms really mean has been a prob- lem that has long plagued and impeded the West’s understanding of Buddhism.5 The fact is that Buddhists do not envision a cosmic funnel or the amalgama- ‘Waipola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1959), pp. 51-66. ‘Guy Richard Welbon, The Buddhist Nirva'rra and its Western Interpreters (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1968). 82 chapter five tion of all individuals into a common lump. Even the more mystical aspects of Buddhism do not hold that the particulars of our experience are unrealimerely the ghostly, insubstantial appearances of something else behind and underneath them that is more real and substantial. Buddhists do not so much deny the reality of the things we experience as they deny their permanence. They insist that all the particulars we know—including the ones that presently respond when our individual names are called—are bound, sooner or later, to succumb to the law of imperma— nence (anitya); every “thing” in existence is really a changing constellation of other “things” and is, even while we observe it, already undergoing a reconstellation into something else. Buddhists, therefore, say that all these particular things lack inde- pendent existence or “self-being." Buddhists recognize that, at least when it is first encountered, this is a difficult and probably even an unpalatable teaching. But they maintain that it need not remain repugnant; if pursued deeply and reckoned with adequately, it can yield a profound sense of reassurance and fundamental coopera- tion with the laws of the universe. To place oneself in a fully aware condition of harmony with these laws, the dharma, is tantamount to gaining a sense of great peacefulness. It also, so the Mahayanists claim, allows one to reduce friction and to learn how to be in a state of deep “play” in the midst ofthe universe. The point is that the term “emptiness” (stinyatd) too can move from being heard and perceived as threatening to a point where it is understood as something affirmative. It first sounds like a deprivation; after all, who likes an empty lunch- box, an empty pocketbook, or an empty life? But then when we realize that it is really the co-dependence and mutual cooperation of all thingsiand the “play” of all things—that is meant, sr'myata or emptiness comes to be seen as a fulfillment. Historically it became especially important in the development of the Mahayana.‘5 The philosophical groundwork was laid for this already in the thinking of Indian Buddhists, and it has its finest expression in statements of the ijFid-ptiramirci or Wisdom literature. Perhaps the best known of these is what is usually called the Heart Sutra; because it is also the shortest, most compact, and most memorable of Buddhist sutras, it can be included here in translation. The Heart Sutra Avalokitesvara, a seeker of Awakening of the world as well as of himself, when he practiced in the profound perfection of ultimate knowing, thor- oughly realized that the five components of man’s being were all empty of their self-nature, and thus had all the sufferings and worries extinguished. The physical component is none other than emptiness; emptiness is none other than the physical component. The physical component is emptiness; empti- ness is the physical component. This is also true of the other four, mental components: sensation, representation, will, and consciousness. All that has its own characteristic or form, is empty of form: no arising, no ceasing, no lsEdward Conze, Buddhist Thought in India: Three Phases afBuddhisr Philosophy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967), pp. 60 ff. the a’harma.‘ doctrine and philosophy 83 contamination, no lack of contamination; no increase, no decrease. There fore, in emptiness is no physical component, no sensation, no representation, no will, no consciousness, no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no shape or color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no concept; no visible world nor any consciously perceivable world; no ultimate igno- rance, no extinction of ultimate ignorance, nor any aging—dying, nor extinc- tion of aging-dying; no suffering, no cause of suffering, no extinction of suffering; no practice which leads to the extinction of suffering; no knowing, no attainment. Because of non-attainment, the seekers of Awakening of the world as well as of themselves, resting on the perfection of ultimate knowing, have their mind freed from all hindrances. Because of no hindrances they are free from all fears, perversions, and delusions. This culminates in their attain- ment of ultimate calm. All the Awakened ones in the three divisions of time, past, present, and future, by resting on the perfection of ultimate knowing, have attained the unsurpassed right Awakening. Therefore, it should be known that the perfection of ultimate knowing, a great formula, a great for- mula of knowing, an unsurpassed formula, an unequalled formula, a formula which calms all sufferings, is truth because it has no falsity. in the perfection of ultimate knowing is a formula uttered such as: Attained, attained, per- fectly attained. Upon being perfectly attained: Oh Awakening, Bliss! Thus concluded is the Prajrnfa Heart Sutra" The Heart Sutra is memorable and even rnemorizable; in Japan during a brief period in the 19705 it even became the lyrics for a popular song. Being memoriz- able. however, does not make the Heart Sutra immediately intelligible. Long com- mentaries and whole books have been written to explain and make it clear.8 Here it is presented primarily to provide a taste of the style and language of one ofthe finest Mahayana texts, one that can be quoted in full because of its unusual brevity. It is like the earliest sutras in that it too takes the fOrm of a diagnosis, sometimes almost medical in tone, of reality into its various parts. However, on another level it expresses the freedom and even the playfulness of the bodhisattvaeAvalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.g This bodhisattva, known in China as Kwan-yin and in Japan as Kannon, is portrayed here as looking on with pleasure and insight into the structure of reality. This sutra originated, of course, in Indiaieven though it was probably not typically Indian. The icons of Avaiokitesvara were at first male but over the centuries increasingly took on female characteristics, so that today we might legitimately say either “he” or “she” when referring to this bodhisattva. Part of the purpose of the Heart Sutra, however, is not to contemplate a far-off bodhisattva who is contemplating reality but to become identified with him or herrto become such a bodhisattva oneself. _________—g_____a___——-——— "Translation by F.A.S. Society, Kyoto. 8For example, Edward Conze, Buddhist Wisdom Books (New York: Harper 3: Row, 1958), 91177—107. ’C. N. Tay, “Kuan-yin: The Cult of Half Asia," History of Religions, Vol. 16, no. 2 (November 1976), pp. 147—177. 84 chapter five One fascinating aspect of this sutra is that Avalokitesvara contemplates the structure of reality but _at the same time does so in a spirit of great, deep play. it might even be said that this sutra puts to music Nagarjuna’s point about nirvana not being separate from samsara. The great bodhisattva contemplates the world not to distance himself or herself from it but to live right in the midst of it with an attitude of spiritual playfulness. As such, this fits in well with a very character- istic type of thinking found in East Asia, where even “mystical thinking” does not so much try to remove the mystic from the world but seek to discover a new viewpoint on normal experience that makes the continuing experience of the normal a mystical experience in itself.10 Once understood as being at “play” in the midst of the universe, the bodhisattva and even the Buddha could be represented in lovable, cheerful, even humorous forms in China, Korea, and Japan. This easily led to a mixture of these notions with older ideas of the Taoist holy man as a delightful, sometimes crazin delightful, childlike being at play in nature or society. BUDDHAGHOSA: A CLASSICAL THERAVADA THINKER Throughout the Buddhist world it is customary for a person to be given a new name when he or she formally becomes a member of the Buddhist community. This, of course, is especially so when someone becomes a monk or nun; then the head is shaved, the robes of monk are donned, and he or she is formally declared to have left the householder’s way of life; in some sense the new name suggests the person has begun a new life. At least the new name, referred to as the dharma-name, indi- cates a deep aspiration and a commitment. _ The Buddhist name of an Indian monk who lived at the fourth century and beginning of the fifth century (2.13. and spent most of his life as a philosopher of the dharma in Sri Lanka has always seemed especially apt.“ We have no inkling of what his original name might have been; he has been known for centuries by his dharma- name, Buddhaghosa, the Voice of Enlightenment. As a name, it depicts accurately the clarity and authority with which his writings have articulated the dharma as understood within the Theravada tradition. His is the classical exposition—logical, clear, and enduring. His dates are roughly the same as those of St. Augustine of Hippo, probably the greatest doctrinal father of early Christianity; quite rightly, perhaps, Buddhaghosa’s role in Buddhism has often been compared to that of Augustine’s in the development of Christianity. Buddhaghosa’s writings are a good place to look in order to see the ways in 1nLee H. Yearley, “Three Ways of Being Religious," Philosophy East and West, Vol. 32, no. 4 (October 1982), pp. 440-451. ” Bimala Charan Law, The Life and Work of Buddhaghora (Delhi: Nag Publishers, 1976). "m" " "‘ i r w’“ WM - "W"- "W‘WFV'" "" -- ' ' the dharma: doctrine and philosophy 85 which what is called “meditation” in Buddhism often overlaps with what is called philosophy. Although he wrote commentaries on each ofthe three groups or “has- kets” (Tripz'rakrr) of classical Buddhist texts, his major work in Fall is called the Visuddhi—magga or Path of Purity.12 Its first part deals with virtue or morality and goes into great detail to define andjustify the multitude of regulations that were traditionally part of the life of a Buddhist monk or nun. The things said to lead to impurity are many, and they are proscribed-not so much because they are inher- ently evil but because they tend to deflect a monk or a nun away from the goal of nirvana, a goal that, according to Buddhaghosa, can only be achieved through total concentration. Sex, property, preoccupation with food, even the deserved fame of a saintly monk: these things are worthless when compared with the goal of nirvana, and they are to be shunned because they will tend to deflect the adept in his pur- suit of that goal. The fact that this section is first in Buddhaghosa’s work is due to the fact that the purification of one’s way oflife would be the initial step taken by anyone aspiring to follow the Middle Path-especially in the Theravada tradition. Without it the later stages would be effort taken in vain. The second major portion of the Vr'ssudhi—magga deals with “concentration”; in it Buddhaghosa describes many activities that we would identify as meditations. These are described and analyzed in considerable detail. Buddhaghosa very matter- of-factly tells the aspiring meditator to choose some object on which to focus and gives ten examples—things such as a circle drawn on clay, a bowl of clean water, a flame seen through a hole, air shaking a treetop, and the like. He then takes the first of these—a circle drawn on clay, called the “earth device’Land gives the procedure for meditating through the use of it. He advises that the person get free of all dis— tractions guarding the gates of the senses. Then he suggests that the person should place the circle about a yard from where he or she is sitting and focus on it with the eyes partially open, repeating at the same time the word for “earth” again and again. Then the eyes are to be opened and shut until a clear “afterimage” on the retina of the eye is retained; this is to be repeated until that afterimage can last for a night and day. After this the adept will know considerable serenity. But this is only a precursor of what is to come. Buddhaghosa wants his fol— lower to take up what is called Meditations on the Foulesomething that concretely refers to the intense observation of decaying corpses. He tells the aspirant to go to one of the cemeteries outlying the city or village, a place wherewapparently, at least, in Buddhaghosa’s own timeéone could find unburied and uncremated corpses lying in their decomposing state. Buddhaghosa is very detailed and anatomical about what exactly a decayed corpse looks like; he refers to it as trickling with juices “like a grease pot.” [n all of this, of course, he insists that such a corpse is the quintessence and empirical proof of the fact of impermanence, an inescapable aspect of the existence of each of us. He goes into detail because he wants a person uBuddhaghosa, The Path ofPtrriry, 3 vols, trans. by Pe Maung Tin (London: The Pali Text Society, 192341). ...
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