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‘Buddhism in abode of clouds’

The State of Arunachal Pradesh in the Republic of India is skirted on the West by totally Buddhist Bhutan, Tibet and China in the North, Myanmar on the East, Asian in the South consists of sub mountain ranges sloping to the plains of Assam, is the largest State area-wise in the North Eastern region of the Indian subcontinent.

All in all the Twang monastery is the most important centre of social and religious life of Monpas

The State is area-wise 83,743 sq km, population of 864,558 as per 1991 Census, with the capital at Itanagar, is obviously a country in the Himalayan clouds. This State is multilingual with the following languages as principal languages; Monaoa, Miji, Aka, Sherdulpen, Nishing, Aparani, Tagin, Hill Miri, Adi, Digaru-Mismi, Idu Mushni, Khanti, Miju-Meshmi, Nocte, Tangasa and Wanchi.

The languages spoken by the people some without a script, indicate people from various parts of India migrated to Arunachal Pradesh for permanent settlement.

No historical records are available as regards its history but or oral literature and number of historical ruins excavated in the region. This is totally an agricultural region, with a bustling handloom textile industry engaged by the people, especially women.

At 10,000 feet altitude, the Tawang Buddhist monastery nestles in a picturesque location, high atop a mountain. Along with the Rumtek Buddhist monastery in Sikkim, this is one of the largest functioning monasteries in India and houses more than 300 Buddhist monks.

It was founded in 1681 A.D. and is of the Gelupa Sect of Vajrayana Buddhist, a sect of Mahayana Buddhism. The Vajrayana school of Buddhism was created in Eastern India, in the then great Buddhist Nalanda University of the State of Bihar.

In the eighth century A.D., King Dharmapala, a devout Buddhist king, founded another Buddhist University near the modern Bhagalpur, named Vikramasila Mahavihara. It was in this Mahavihara that Vajrayana Buddhism developed reaching its highest esteem.

At these vast monastic Buddhist Universities, the attributes of necessary for attaining Enlightenment of Buddhahood were analyzed in great detail.

This resulted in the origin of a pantheon of Buddhist deities, personifying these qualities, the following of which the Buddhist devotees could attain the ultimate goal of Buddhism, Nibbana. A devotee or a monk meditating upon these qualities, was thought to awaken and their prayers taken by the wind to all quarters of the universe.

Young monks

Life is totally hazardous in these high altitude regions. However, the Buddhist faith imbues all the lives of the people with patience and commitment and an understanding of the Dhamma is ultimately born out of the entire creation, leading them to vision to eternity, was the belief that enveloped the minds of the Vajrayana Buddhists, both of the monks and the laity.

In this pursuit the Twang gompa (or monastery) plays an essential role in the religious and social life of the Buddhist following the Vajrayana school of Buddhism. The lamas are greatly revered, respected and loved by the lay devotees. Prayers are a constant refrain in day-to-day life of the people of this Buddhist region.

The Twang too has a renowned vast library of manuscripts, on Vajrayana Buddhism. When a child is born in any family, the parents take him to an oracle or soothsayer, who gives him or her a name, as well as predicts their child’s future his term of life, whether he will be healthy and the child’s future progress.

This is how in the case of a male child, he will be a lama (monk). Accordingly some male children at their very young age are enrolled in the monastery and trained as lamas.

This gentle Vajrayana Buddhist tradition is continued in Arunachal Pradesh especially those of the Twang district, where the Twang monastery is located.

Another instrument used is the prayer wheel, which is believed to unite the mind, the body and speech in harmonious prayer. Mantras or sacred Vajrayana Buddhist sacred chants are written in scrolls of paper which are put inside the prayer wheels.

These very same prayers embedded inside the prayer wheel are recited while turning the prayer wheel. In this manner the devotees both monks and the laity remain fully absorbed in thoughts and deeds related to that which is beyond their natural reach.

Any visitor to Buddha Gaya Maha Vihara in Gaya district Bihar State, India could see the Vajrayana monks and the laity both male and female circumbulating the Sacred Bodhi Tree, softly chanting these prayers while turning the prayer wheels. These circumbulations normally aggregate to hundreds.

The laywomen of Arunachal Pradesh, on pilgrimage to Buddha Gaya could be seen decked with an apron with checks of different colour over their gowns reaching their feet during the prayer wheel and circumbulating the Sacred Bodhi at Buddha Gaya.

The most breathtaking building of the Twang Buddhist Vihara is the assembly hall known as a dukhang. It is three-storied on the Northern side of courtyard and houses the Buddhist shrine room and the residence of the chief monk, the abbot.

The internal walls of the hall are painted with murals of various Buddhist deities and the Vajrayana saints. These murals are done by the painters who were commissioned from the neighbouring kingdom of Bhutan.

The offering table or altar extends right through the Northern wall of the hall. There is an altar on the left is an altar with a silver casket covered with a silk cloth, holding the valued thangas (the painted pictures of for meditating called mandalas of the monastery).

A richly embellished image of the Buddha is installed against the North wall of the hall. This is a two-layer image, done in tradition well established in Ladakh of Jammu-Kashmir region and other regions or Himalayas. The courtyard is the arena for the dances and ceremonial pageants.

All in all the Twang monastery is the most important centre of social and religious life of Monpas, and even marriage ceremonies take place here, like the Hindus who celebrate their marriages in Hindu shrines.

Annually the monks of the Twang Buddhist Vihara celebrate their Cham. The Cham is a dance of the Lamas signifying victory of good over evel, like the Doorsha festival of Varanasi, celebrating the Ramayana told vanquishing the evil doer Ravana by Rama, the god king, with the help of the monkey god Hanuman.

In the Buddhist doctrine the greatest evil is the ego or self interest. It is this great illusion, which the Buddha taught the devotees to overcome to gain true knowledge of ultimate truth as against conventional truth. IT is believed by the Lamas and people of Arunachal Pradesh the enacting the Cham frees oneself from egoism.

(The writer is a member of the Bharathiya Kala Kendra of India).

Buddha’s first days of doctrine propogation

As a man who long has struggled to swim across a wide and stormy water and at length after much effort reaches the safe shore, lies down awhile to rest his wearied limbs and look back with satisfaction on the dangers he has safely passed, as a man who has climbed into the cool pleasant air of a high mountain slope, when he gets there turns round, pleased and contented, and looks down upon the hot, dusty plain whose stifling air he had left behind, so now, his long toil past, his labors successfully accomplished, there in the quiet wood of Uruvela the victor in this fierce fight, rested Himself for a time, enjoying the relief of release from toil and labor, tasting in peace well-won, the fruits of truth and knowledge He had gained.

The doctrine of the Buddha’s is not a very easy doctrine to understand

Then having rested Himself sufficiently beneath the tree of victory, Gotama the Buddha, passed from under that tree and went towards another near by under which the goatherds of the place were accustomed to take shelter from the sun while they watched their flocks.

As He sat resting here, a Brahmin happened to come past that way, and after the usual greetings to the ascetic under the goatherd’s tree, he said to Him, “Gotama, what makes a man a real Brahmin? What qualities does he require to possess in order really to be a man of the highest caste?”

And the Buddha, taking no notice of the proud Brahmin’s rudeness in addressing Him by His family name of Gotama without any title of courtesy before it such as “reverend Sir,” or the like, pointedly replied to him in this verse:

“The Brahmin who has put away all evil, has put off pride, is self-restrained and pure, Has learning, follows out the Holy life, He alone has the light to be called Brahmin, He nothing has to do with worldly thing.”

And the Brahmin went away muttering to himself: “This ascetic Gotama knows me, this ascetic Gotama knows me.” A few days after this, while the Buddha was still staying under the goatherd’s tree, two merchants who were going about the country selling their wares, came along the road, and seeing the ascetic sitting there under the goatherd’s tree so calm and content, enjoying its fruits in the peace and quietude it has brought him, they offered Him an offering of the best food they had, and struck by His noble and majestic look, asked Him to accept them as believers in Him.

These two merchants, whose names were Tapussa and Bhalluka, were thus the first persons in the world who became the followers of the Buddha Gotama.

But now, having rested long enough, the Buddha began to think about what He should do next. He had found the Truth He sought, and now it seemed to Him that He ought not to keep such precious knowledge to Himself, but that He ought to tell it to others, so that they too might taste the comfort it brought. This was what He thought at first. But then other thoughts came into His mind.

“This doctrine of mine is not a very easy doctrine to understand,” he said to himself. “It is deep and subtle. Only the thoughtful and reflective can grasp it fully so that it will do them good. But there are not many men who are thoughtful and reflective. The great majority of men do not want to take the trouble to think and reflect.

They want something easy; something that will amuse and entertain them. Their minds are inclined only to what promises to give them pleasure and delight.

They are altogether given over to love of pleasure. If I were to preach this doctrine to them, they would not know what I was talking about. They would not pay attention to me. I should only be giving myself trouble all for nothing.”

Thus did the Buddha consider within himself almost making up his mind not to tell the Truth He had found to anybody, but just to keep it and enjoy it by Himself, since it did not seem to Him that anybody else in the world would want to hear it or thank Him for telling them.

However He did not stop at this point in His reflections or else the world would not know as it does to-day, the Truth He taught. He went on to consider the matter further; and this is what He next thought:

“Yes, it is true that most of the people in the world, will not want to hear this Truth I have found, and would not understand it even if they did hear me tell about it, they are so fond of what is easy and pleasant and comfortable and costs them no trouble. But still, everybody in the world is not alike.

There are sure to be some, not very many, but still some who are not satisfied with the way they are living now, who want to know more than they know now, who are not content to follow pleasure wherever it may lead them.

What a pity it would be that I should know this Truth which would bring to these few comfort and happiness, if only they heard it, and yet never give them a chance to hear it! No, I shall not do like that.

I shall go forth now and make known, to all men I meet, these Four Noble Truths, these Four Great Facts I have discovered, of Ill, and its Cause, and its Cure, and the Way in which it can be cured; and among the many I speak to, there will always be a few who will listen, and listening, understand me.

“Just as in a lotus pond where all kinds of lotus lilies are growing, pink and blue and white, many of them have grown only a little way about the muddy bottom of the pond; and some have grown half way up through the water; and some have reached the top of the water and rest there; but a few grown up so as to lift their blossoms right out of, and above the mud and water, into the open air and the sunshine.

So there are some beings whose minds are much sunk in the mud of passions and desires; and there are some that are not so much sunk in that mud; while some, a few are only a little touched with the mud of passion. These last will be able to understand my teaching when they hear it.

I will let them hear it. I will go forth now and preach it to all men everywhere.”

And then the Buddha began to consider who would be the best people to whom to tell.

Ahara Sutta:

Nutriment Translated from Pali

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. There he addressed the monks, “Monks, there are these four nutriments for the maintenance of beings who have come into being or for the support of those in search of a place to be born.

Which four? Physical food, gross or refined; contact as the second; intellectual intention the third; and consciousness the fourth. These are the four nutriments for the maintenance of beings who have come into being or for the support of those in search of a place to be born.

“Now, these four nutriments have what as their cause, what as their origination, what as their source, what as that which brings them into play? These four nutriments have craving as their cause, craving as their origination, craving as their source, craving as that which brings them into play.

“And this craving has what as its cause, what as its origination, what as its source, what as that which brings it into play?... Feeling...

“And this feeling has what as its cause...? ...Contact...

“And this contact has what as its cause...? ...The six sense media...

“And these six sense media have what as their cause...? ...Name-and-form...

“And this name-and-form has what as its cause...? ...Consciousness...

“And this consciousness has what as its cause...? ...Fabrication...

“And this fabrication has what as its cause, what as its origination, what as its source, what as that which brings it into play? Fabrication has ignorance as its cause, ignorance as its origination, ignorance as its source, ignorance as that which brings it into play.

“Thus, from ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications.

“From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.

“From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form.

“From name-and-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media.

“From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact.

“From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.

“From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.

“From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance.

“From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming.

“From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.

“From birth as a requisite condition, then aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress and suffering.

“Now from the remainderless fading and cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications.

From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness.

From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-and-form. From the cessation of name-and-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact.

From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/ sustenance.

From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming.

From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress and suffering.”


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