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BUDDHIST SPECTRUM

Buddha Gaya

Remnants of a spiritual history:

The modern pilgrim visiting Buddha Gaya will undoubtedly be overwhelmed by the palpable sense of the ‘sacred’ when approaching the unconquered seat of the Buddha. The road that leads you to the sacred precincts, teems with polyglot vendors and hawkers. Strange enough they are adept at speaking to you in your language, exhibiting quite an intimate awareness of your country. They will insist on keeping a promise on your honour as a genuine Buddhist.

Asokean pillar

As you enter the enclosed area you meet the main entrance gate to the Mahabodhi Temple. When you walk down you come upon the segment of the Asokean pillar, introduced to the place from another site, probably the place where the Ajapala Banyan Tree stood. On either side of the steps leading to the main Temple, minor shrines are situated. Along the corridors of these, monks and laymen from a vast variety of regions practice their rituals. Tibetan Lamas, ritually pouring grains on metal vessels continuously, form a familiar sight.

All these lead to the imposing main structure of the Mahabodhi Temple. The main structure of the Temple is a 52 metre-tall tapering spire. Bathed in the morning sunlight it rises majestically towards the sky.

When you enter into the sanctum you cross a large threshold of solid stone, and gaze upon the main statue-gilt image of the Buddha, seated in the bhumi-sparsha mudra (posture of touching the earth to say: Earth is my witness).

The unconquered

A devotee at this holy site, when contemplating the moment in which Ascetic Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, will find it excruciatingly difficult to hold back tears of spiritual joy, on being conscious, “Here I am, at the very spot where Supreme Buddhahood was attained!”


The main structure of the Mahabodhi Temple is a 52-metre tall tapering spire. Bathed in the morning sunlight it rises majestically towards the sky.

When you reach the sacred Bodhi Tree, which is the main object of veneration for all Buddhists, you experience an inexplicable sense of the holy. It was under this Tree that Ascetic Siddhartha Gautama sat, 2595 years ago. Today the Vajrasana (the unconquered seat) cannot be seen, as a railing encloses that spot. Devotees circumambulate this sacred spot, chanting. They are a multi-racial, multi-cultured host, propelled by deep devotion.

The Buddha sat at this spot throughout the first week after Enlightenment, absorbed in His inner tranquility. In the second week He walked over to the slightly high ground next to the Bodhi Tree, and gazed upon the sacred Tree in extreme gratitude. A shrine was built by Emperor Asoka to mark this spot. The ambulatory, along which the Buddha walked in the third week after Enlightenment, is marked by lotus-shaped stone carvings and a raised ambulatory slab (a plinth). In the fourth week he sat in the jewelled abode. At present visitors to this holy site can view segments of the ruins of this jewelled abode.

Sujata’s village

According to tradition the fifth week after the attainment of Enlightenment was spent under the Ajapala Banyan Tree. For this the Buddha walked back to Sujata’s village. But, today, a fragment of an Asokean Pillar, originally set up perhaps at the Ajapala Banyan Tree, has been erected within the premises of the Mahabodhi Temple. However, Emperor Asoka had a special pillar erected at Buddha Gaya. The pillar-fragment at Mahabodhi Temple premises is not at all the original Buddha Gaya Asokan Pillar.

The Buddha spent the sixth week after His attainment of Enlightenment, at the foot of a Muchalinda shade, on the banks of a lake. This spot is located a little beyond the Mahabodhi Temple. But, today, in an artificial pond that has been dug out at a later time, the statue of the Buddha is placed under the hood of a cobra, which protected the body of the Buddha by encircling the Buddha with its coils. This has reference to the story that while the Buddha sat in deep contemplation under the Muchalinda shade, a sudden rain-storm arose. A serpent-king came over, encircled the Buddha’s body with its coils and protected the head of the Buddha by spreading its hood over the Buddha’s head.

Architectural traditions

The artificial pond, in which the statue of the Buddha is shown under the hood of the serpent-king came into existence due, perhaps, to the digging done to obtain clay for the construction of the Temple. The pond is teeming with fish.

During the seventh week, the Buddha moved closer to the Vajrasana and sat at the foot of a Rajayatana tree, reflecting on His attainment of Enlightenment.

Today, around the Mahabodhi Temple, a vast variety of edifices can be observed. The premises of the temple have been utilised extensively by devotees to erect votive shrines. These minor shrines reflect the stupa-architectural traditions of the devotees who offered them. Devotees perform endless rituals at this shrine. Hundreds of Tibetan devotees, both lay and clergy, perform the strenuous prostration-worship ritual, using body-length planks.

In the vicinity of the Mahabodhi Temple a market city has arisen. Buddhist monasteries, sponsored by such Buddhist countries as Sri Lanka. Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Tibet etc., perform a great service by assisting the devotees. They are show-cases of the Buddhist architectural traditions and styles of their countries.

Outer-walls

The vendors, hawkers, and others of that ilk, are a characteristic presence in Buddha Gaya city. Some of them are unexpectedly helpful. Devotees coming away from the Mahabodhi Temple should do well to observe the outer-walls of the main shrine. The minor niches in the walls of this tall spire, are occupied by numerous statues - mainly of the Buddha.

It is a human and specifically Buddhist duty on the part of the devotees visiting this site, to remember with gratitude the restoration of the Mahabodhi Temple and its adjuncts in the years after 1880 by such great men as Sir Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of Archaeology in India and British archaeologist J.D. Beglar, who, beyond the call of mere professionalism, addressed the task of restoring Buddhist sites, out of a sense of deference, adoration and admiration.

The inhuman vandalism in which some of these Buddhist sites had been ruthlessly and heartlessly subjected to, shocked their sense of humanity. The modern holy tourist must feel and equal sense of debt and gratitude to Anagarika Dharmapala. He suffered and endured not only mental but even physical assaults, in his unflagging resolve to see that these Buddhist sites flourished, defeating the vandalish aims of uncouth and inhuman marauders.

In the aftermath of Buddha Jayanthi 2550, Buddha Gaya and Mahabodhi Temple should be especially venerated, since this is the centre where the Buddha’s understanding, vision, Doctrine and the magnificent cultural traditions associated with Buddhism, had their supreme and sacred origin.

Serene contemplation

After spending the seven weeks reflecting upon the Enlightenment He achieved, the Buddha sat under the Rajayatana Tree, in serene contemplation. The two merchant brothers Tapassu and Bhallika, while travelling along for trade, came upon the Buddha.

They had the good fortune to be the first devotees to offer alms to the Buddha after He had attained Enlightenment. They served the Sattu dish (fried flour and bee’s honey). The two merchant brothers took refuge in the Buddha and His Doctrine. There were only two Refuges at the time, as the Third Refuge (the Sangha) had not come into being by then.

The Buddha presented some hair Relics from his head as objects of worship. The stupa Shwedagon in Yangon, Mynamar, is considered the sacred structure in which the hair Relics are enshrined.


ABHIDHAMMA IN A NUTSHELL – II:

The Worlds we live

A person with an ill-will mind is always engaged in nasty, unwholesome evil act and spends a restless life. Such a person always feels like living in a hell. Extreme attachment, aversion, hatred, ill-will, ignorance, blindness are the feelings he always suffer with.

Such a person gathers plenty of unwholesome kamma and is reborn in a place of suffering and continues the life in a place like hell. In contrast, honest, virtuous and generous people who always engage in wholesome acts of Charity (Dana), Righteousness (Seela), and Meditation (Bhavana) would live with sensations of generosity, goodwill and wisdom. Such person will spend a heavenly life and will be reborn in pure heavenly places as a result of wholesome kamma gathered in this life. This is natural law and together with law of kamma it is common to all beings.

31 Realms of existence

There are 31 ‘Planes’ or ‘Realms’ of existence for a being to be reborn during the long journey of samsara. These 31 planes are divided into three:;

1. Sensuous worlds

Kama Loka/bhava - 11

2. Form worlds

Rupa loka/bhava - 16

3. Formless worlds

Arupa loka/bhava - 4

11 types of sensuous worlds include the four states of misery, the realms of suffering, the human realm where we live and six heavenly realms occupied by Devas. Four realms of suffering are known as Kamadugatti (states of deprivation or apaya). Rest of the 7 realms are known as Kamasugatti.

The following chart summarises the 11 sensuous worlds.

Depending on one’s past, kamma and consciousness arise at the time of death; that being will circumnavigate these worlds and the rest of 20 realms during samsara.

The worst state of existence is at the realms of misery and getting rid of those realms are harder than getting into them. However, it should be noted that life in none of these 31 planes of existence are eternal.

There is a possibility for any being to fall into one of the realms of misery based on kamma vipaka of their action. Neither the joy in 6 heavenly realms nor other 20 realms are permanent. Therefore the ultimate joy is beyond these realms and that is to attain Nibbana to get rid of all these realms.

As ordinary human beings, it is beyond our capabilities to visualise all these 31 planes of existence. But the realm of animals (thirachchina) and the human realm (manussa loka) could be seen by anybody so that the existences of other realms are to be understood accordingly.

Consciousness pertaining to the sensuous-sphere (Kamavachara Chitthas)

Consciousnesses arise in the above explained 11 worlds are known as Kamavachara Chiththas. They are three-fold and 54 in all:

1. Immoral consciousness (Akusala chiththas) - 12

2. Rootless consciousness (Ahethuka chiththas) - 18

3. Beautiful consciousness (Sobhana chiththas) - 24

Immoral Consciousness

(Akusala Chiththas)

12 types of akusala chiththas are again divided into three:

1. Consciousness rooted in attachment

(Lobha mulika) - 8

2. Consciousness rooted in ill-will or aversion

(Dwesha mulika) - 2

3. Consciousness rooted in delusion or ignorance (Moha mulika) - 2

All the above 12 types of consciousness are caused by immoral roots (akusala hethu), that is lobha, dwesha and moha.

Some features of

immoral consciousness

All these consciousness arise with either of the three feelings or sensations (vedhana) of;

1.Pleasurable

(Somanassa) – Good-mindedness of the chiththa. It is a mental state of happiness which is experienced at the time of consciousness arises.

2.Displeasurable

(Domanassa) – Bad-mindedness of the chiththa. This is an unhappy mental state which is experienced at the time of consciousness arises.

3.Indifference/neutral

(Upekkha) – Neither pleasurable nor displeasurable state of mind experienced at the time of consciousness arises.

In addition to the above three types of mental states of sensations, there are two more physical sensations. They are Sukha, the feeling which is easy to endure or the “Physical Happiness” and Dukkha, the feeling which is difficult to endure or the “Physical Pain”.

There are instances where one acts prompted or induced by oneself or another. Or the action is involved with much of deliberation and premeditation. Consciousness arisen at such instances are Sasankharika. In contrast in a spontaneous act without any self or external inducement, the consciousness arise is featured with Asankharika.

Reference:

A Manual of Abhidhamma by Ven. Narada Maha Thera,

The 31 Planes of Existence by Ven. Suvanno Maha Thera)


 Book Reviews:

The Gems of Buddhist wisdom

In 1983 at the 21st anniversary of the founding of the Buddhist Missionary Society, Gems Of Buddhist Wisdom was published with a collection of various articles concerning different aspects of Buddhism written in a simple and concise manner.


Ven. Narada


Ven. Dr. W. Rahula

Though the writers who have represented articles like Dr. W. Rahula, Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda, Ven. Narada, Phra Sasana, Teh Thean, Francis Story are well-known authors of scholarly treatises on Buddhism and who are highly respected in academic institutions all over the world, the way they have written the most serious aspects of Buddhism is simple and straightforward, devoid of any pretentious, archaic or pompous literary style.

At the publishers note, Tan Teik Beng, the president of Buddhist Missionary Society, says “this book is not intended to be read from cover to cover at one sitting” and the articles have also not been arranged in any strict logical sequence so that they may be read in any order. Tan Teik hopes that the one who reads this book would go through each article mindfully, but at leisure, ponder the arguments presented by each writer before proceeding to another article.

As one reads articles, one may become aware of a number of repetitions, not only of the ideas presented but also of quotations from the sacred texts. But this must have happened not because the writers are dwelling on any specific theme but because at the end all articles try to point a common aim, otherwise many of the writers are widely separated in time and space too.


Ven. Dr. K.
Sri Dhammananda


Francis Story

What is this religion, Why Buddhism by Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda and The timeless message by Ven. Piyadassi are a few of the articles which speak about general Buddhism. The Buddha by Ven. Narada and What kamma is? by Ven. U. Thittila discuss the Buddha’s teachings. Facets of life by Ven.

Narada , The purpose of life, Can religion bring peace?, Religion in a scientific age and Religion in a multireligious society by Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammanadnda, Religious harmony by Teh Thean Choo and Ancient wisdom and modern problems by Francis Story discuss the importance of Buddhism in daily life.

However, as mentioned before, the reader may begin to see a common aim arising out of these different writings, namely to clarify a number of misconceptions regarding Buddhism and to stress the uniqueness of the Buddha’s teaching.

A close reading of these articles will surly prove to anyone that Buddhism can stand up to vigorous scientific investigation and changes, while at the same time going beyond science to give a man a purpose in life and to help him understand the nature of his existence.


Thus I heard Thoughts of a septuagenarian

The much quoted Kalama Sutta is a distinctive Sutta in Buddhist text, which instructs the disciples not to follow the philosophy because it came down from ancestors, but to inquire and testify.

Verifying the Dhamma is the hardest task to do, since the average man has no knowledge to do so. How do you testify a saintly philosophy with all defilements in mind? The preliminary step, then, should be cleansing the mind, and then attempting to contemplate the philosophy.

Thilak Ratnakara’s Ma Visin Mese asana Ladi attempts to examine the crucial points in the society. The title is based on the starting line of many Suttas, traditionally translated into English as ‘Thus I heard’ (later translations have dropped the archaic term ‘thus’). It came to being with Ven. Ananda, Buddha’s philosophy storage, as he recalled all the Suttas, and started reciting Suttas with this phrase.

Rathnakara’s work is a compilation of lectures delivered at various places. He attempts to testify the popular concepts such as meditation, gods and parent veneration.

Meditation is commonly considered as escaping from the practical life. However Rathnakara eliminates the idea stressing that it should be practised with a positive attitude. As taught in Buddhism, meditative man transcends others even in the worldly life.

Rathnakara brings out an interesting account of a conversation with the death. He questions the death why living beings are frightened of it, and the conversation ends in an insightful note.

His message to the living beings is to be mindful of the impending death, and live a righteous life. He introduces a guide to practise meditation at home, starting early morning, sparing 10 minutes from the busy schedule.

The septuagenarian’s lecture collection also includes a reference to Poson Poya, where the common belief is that Ven. Arahath Mahinda preached the Chulla Hatthipadopama Sutta on the same day he set foot in Lanka. Rathanakara logically comments that such an event is impossible, since there was homework for the Arahath monk to do, that is, to inquire the mindset of the King.

The concept of god is sensitive and often misunderstood in the Buddhist context. Many believe Buddhism deny the existence of gods, only because the philosophy condemns taking refuge of gods. This is not so. Buddhism accepts the existence of gods, but believe on self-dependency rather than taking refuge. Rathnakara explains this phenomenon in his lecture series.

His interpretation about Tsunami in the Buddhist perspective also sheds a fresh light. The unshaken Buddha statues were the talk of the town during Tsunami period, and Rathnakara dismisses the common belief that the statues were not shattered because of the concrete foundations. He interprets it as the battle between spirituality and natural forces. The bottomline mentions natural forces get beaten down when confronting with spiritual forces.

Buddhism is being discussed over both print and electronic mediums on a regular basis, attracting a considerable audience. However whether the audience will actually follow what is discussed or lectured is the question in focus. Rathnakara concentrates on this issue, and maintains that both the lecturer and the audience should be vigilant from the beginning to end.

Rathnakara’s lectures interestingly contains creative dialogues to convey the message impressively. The conversation with Ven. Arahath Maliyadeva creatively conveys the Buddhist interpretation of the layman’s life.

The book is published to mark the 70th birthday of the author, and indeed portrays his maturity. However, the lectures are transliterated almost as they are without editing. The mixture of the spoken and written mediums appear here and there, harming the coherence of the language flow. The best way to communicate a deep message is to respect the language coherence. This error, we hope, will not happen in the future.

Ma Visin Mese Asana Ladi, save the mentioned goof, is a resourceful guide for the leisure student of Buddhism.

 

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