Saturday, September 27, 2008


Remember always that you are just a visitor here, a traveller passing through. Your stay here is but short and the moment of your departure unknown. None can live without toil and a craft that provides your needs is a blessing indeed. But if you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you and you will be denied the joy that comes from labour’s end. Speak quietly and kindly and be not forward with either opinions or advice. If you talk much this will make you deaf to what others say, and you should know that there are few so wise that they cannot learn from others. Be near when help is needed but far when praise and thanks are being offered. Take small account of might, wealth and fame for they soon pass and are forgotten. Instead, nurture love within you and strive to be a friend to all. Truly, compassion is a balm for many wounds. Treasure silence when you find it and while being mindful of your duties set time aside to be alone with yourself. Cast off pretence and self-deception and see yourself as you really are. Despite all appearances, no one is really evil. They are led astray by ignorance. If you ponder this truth often you will offer more light rather that blame and condemnation. You, no less all beings, have Buddha Nature within. Your essential mind is pure. Therefore, when defilements cause you to stumble and fall, let not remorse nor dark foreboding cast you down. Be of good cheer and with this understanding summons strength and walk on. Faith is like a lamp and wisdom it is that makes the light burn bright. Carry this light always and in good time the darkness will yield and you will abide in the light.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Something Compleatly Different

And now for something completely different. I chanced upon a web site with a bibliography of books and research papers on two very obscure but extremely interesting subjects – Islam in Tibet and Buddhism in Iran. Some of this material may have a value in helping bring about a better understanding between Buddhists and Muslims. Have a look at If you are interested in a revealing account of Soka Gakhi, that weird mixture of Buddhism, Japanese fascism and high pressure marketing, have a look at If that doesn’t raise your eyebrows check out And finally, if you think the evangelicals in your country are a bit over the top, have a look at what they are like in Korea. This gives new meaning to the term ‘holy roller.’

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Buddhism And War

The title seemed interesting and it was thick enough to keep me busy for a while so I decided to take it out; the Encyclopedia of Religion and War, edited by Gabriel Palmer-Fernandes. It certainly looked comprehensive enough. The list of entries included ‘Bishop’s War’, ‘European Wars of Religion’, ‘Jihad’, ‘Japan-Tokugawa Period’, ‘Roman Catholicism-Just-War Doctrine’, ‘Taliban’ and ‘Zen and Japanese Nationalism’. I did wonder what Aum Shinrikya, Ghost Dance and Thugs were doing in such an encyclopedia, since they were not linked to any wars I know of. Anyway, I started reading two or three entries each evening. The ones ‘Judaism-Biblical Period’ and ‘Holy War Idea in the Biblical Tradition’ made informative if grim reading, very grim reading. I finally found out the Hebrew for two Old Testament terms I have long wondered about – ‘God is a man of war’ (ish milhamah), and God’s title ‘Lord of Hosts’ (adonay zeva’ot) meaning ‘chief of the army.’ The entry on Jainism is only two pages long which is appropriate given that Jainism doesn’t just talk about peace and respect for life but has, for the most part, long practiced it too. Eventually I go to the entries related to Buddhism. ‘Buddhism-China’ and ‘Buddhism-Tibet’ are accurate and thorough and should be read by all those who keep on repeating that hackneyed old cliché ‘Not a drop of blood has ever been shed in the name of Buddhism’. Then I got to ‘Buddhism-India’ and the problems began. This entry gives a passable but hardly ‘encyclopedic’ account of early Buddhist doctrine although a good chunk of it is actually about Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The author, Todd Lewis from the College of the Holy Cross, mistakenly describes King Dhutagamani as ‘a convert to Buddhism’ (p. 44) and following Nikam and McKeon gives Asoka’s dharma vijaya as ‘moral conquest.’ This is, Todd feels, an example of where Buddhists used warfare as a spiritual metaphor. Boy! He is really clutching at straws. Vijaya here would be more accurately translated here as ‘victory’ or ‘mastery over’. The author could have said something more substantial (and accurate) by discussing the comparative rarity of the military metaphor in early Buddhism. The Buddha’s description of soldiering as a wrong livelihood (S.IV,308) his extortion to monks and nuns not to attend military parades (Vin.IV,104), to even talk about war (D.I,7; 10) and his others statements relevant to warfare get no mention. The next entry, ‘Buddhism-Mahayana' by Michael Lazich is more an account of early Buddhist doctrine, which one would have thought would have been more appropriate in the previous entry. Lazich only gives one Buddhist source, the Metta Sutta, and fails to mention the numerous Mahayana works that speak against violence. One would have thought that the wonderful plea against war and in favor of peace from the Suvarnaprabhasottama Sutra would have been appropriate here, but presumably Lazich is unfamiliar with it. The next entry, ‘Buddhism-Myannmar and Thailand’, covers much of the same ground as the two earlier ones, without really saying very much about the Buddhist attitude to war. I will be kind and call this entry ‘amateurish’. The entry on martyrdom is well-informed and detailed as far as Christianity and Islam are concerned but what it says about Buddhism is confused and misleading. One wonders why Buddhism would even get a mention in this section unless it were to say that the concept of martyrdom does not exist in Buddhism. The author, Reuven Firestone, obviously knows nothing at all about Buddhism. He gives as examples of martyrdom, the Bodhisattva’s sacrifices as depicted in the Jataka. This is right off the mark. Stories of bodhisattvas like Khantivada sacrificing their lives were meant to demonstrate the strength of their resolve, patience, compassion or endurance, etc, not to show that they died for their religion, which is what a martyr is. Strangely, having made this wrong association, the author them contradicts himself by saying, ‘The bodhisattva suffers for the sake of the dharma, which if often identified with the Buddha himself (Really! Where is this ever done?), though in most cases the persecution is not due to the bodhisattva’s being a Buddhist per se.’ Firestone then mentions that in many stories from the Mahayana, bodhisattvas inflict suffering upon themselves. Since when does self-inflicted suffering qualify one to be a martyr? One has to expect there to be a few mistakes in a large work like an encyclopedia but in this one the mistakes look systemic. Throughout the entry on Sri Lanka the native people of the country are called, correctly, ‘Sinhalese’ but page 408 refers to ‘the Sinhala dynasty of the Anaradhapura Kingdom.’ It looks very like the author has mistaken this different way of pronouncing ‘Sinhalese’ for the name of a particular dynasty. On page 162 we find this sentence. ‘He erected massive stone pillars known as “Asokan edicts” throughout his empire.’ Asoka’s pillars are not known as ‘Asokan edicts’; the pillars are one thing and the edicts are another. Indeed, some pillars don’t have edicts on them and some edicts are not on pillars but on rocks.
I get the feeling that some of the contributors to this encyclopedia have a very thin knowledge of Buddhism and have just done a bit of reading before writing their articles. In fact, it looks like the publishers have tried to produce a work at a minimum cost by commissioning teachers from small-town American collages who have little expertise in Buddhism, Buddhist history or the sociology of Buddhism. The resulting encyclopedia is inaccurate, superficial and confused and I do not recommend it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Savage But Savvy

This passage was written by the Reverend Francis Owen, missionary to the Zulus in the 1830’s and is reproduced in Eric Newby’s delightful A Book of Travellers’ Tales. The description is both fascinating and amusing in that it captures all the elements of the Christian missionary endeavor – the initial polite invitation to hear the Gospel, the skepticism on hearing it, the request for convincing answers and evidence, the missionary’s inability to provide them, his exhortation to just believe, him dismissing his hearers as willful and stubborn and they dismissing the Gospel as unbelievable. Of course what preaching was unable to accomplish military power was and the Zulus, broken in spirit and divested of their lands, eventually succumbed to the message.

At length I told him (the king) it was Sunday, whereupon he bid me to address his people and teach them the word of God. At the same time a he sent Masipulu, his head servant to tell the Indoonas that they were all to be quiet and listen attentively to me. A dead pause immediately ensued…I commenced by telling them that they all knew that there was a great chief above the sky…I proceeded to say that this king was greater than all kings, greater than my king, greater than their king: that they aught to fear their parents, they aught to fear their king, but much more that they aught to fear the great God; they aught to do what their parents bid them, what their king bid them, and also what God bid them! We have none of us, however, done what God has told us to do. We are all sinners before him. He is displeased at us: each of us has a soul that must live forever when the body is dead, but that our Souls, by reason of sin, are filthy and that they must be washed. Until this moment the greatest stillness and attention prevailed but not the contradiction began, and such a caviling and stormy audience never did I before address. It is impossible to give an adequate idea of the despite which lasted for nearly 2 hours. When I began to speak of the need of spiritual washing in order to introduce the Gospel the subject was treated with scorn. One asked if it were to be washed in the river. I said not with water, but with blood! Whose blood was the natural reply. The blood, I answered, of the Son of God, who was Jesus Christ. Where is he? They asked. In heaven, I said, but once he came down to earth, and…whom did he leave behind to wash us. He washes us himself with his own blood. It is not our bodies that he washes but our Souls. – He washes all who come to him by faith. Away, its all a lie. I persisted in crying that Jesus Christ shed his blood and that if they believed in him, that he came down from heaven that he died for them their souls would be saved. They asked me how this person was killed and who killed him. I said, wicked men nailed him to a tree. Dingarn then asked if it was God that died. I said the Son of God. Did not God die, he asked. I said God cannot die. If God does not die, he replied, why has he said that people must die? I told him it was because all people were sinners, and death was the punishment for sin, but he would raise us all again from the grave. This gave rise to innumerable cavils. They wanted me to tell them the day and the hour when we should rise again, who would be witnesses of the resurrection, who would be alive at that day. They said if any generation had been seen to raise from the grave they would believe. I told them that Jesus Christ rose again on the third day, and that he was seen by his 12 servants, and afterwards by 500 persons at once, and that his servants raised a great many other people. Dingarn asked how many days Jesus Christ had been dead. If only 3 days, he said, it is very likely that he was not dead in reality but only supposed to be so! I said, that when he was on the tree a soldier pierced his side from which came forth blood, and that blood, I said, if believed in washes away sin. After a great deal more combat they told me I need not speak anything more about the resurrection, for they would not believe it. They had no objection to God’s word, but they would not believe in the resurrection. I many times broke away from their caviling and exhorted them to believe instead of objecting. The king once asked if all men would go to heaven? I told him plainly, if you believe the words which I now speak you will go to heaven, but if you believe them not you will go to hell. They wanted me to give them proof that Christ was not in heaven; as who had seen him there. What the persons who took him up into heaven said when they came back again. Condensed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nepalese Paintings

Paintings of Buddha dating back at least to the 12th century have been discovered in a cave in Nepal’s remote north-central region by a team of international researchers who were tipped by a local sheep herder. A mural with 55 panels depicting the story of Buddha's life was uncovered in March, with the team using ice axes to break through a snow path to reach the cave in Nepal’s Mustang area, about 160 miles northwest of the capital, Katmandu. ‘What we found is fantastically rich in culture and heritage and goes to the 12th century or earlier,’ Broughton Coburn, a writer and conservationist from Jackson Hole, Wyo, US., told The Associated Press recently. Coburn said the main mural measured around 25 feet wide, and each panel was about 14 inches by 17 inches. The team of Nepalese, Italian and American archeologists, art experts, and climbers, were tipped by a local sheep herder who mentioned that he had seen a cave with old paintings several years ago when he took shelter from the rain. ‘I was overwhelmed with questions,’ Coburn said about the discovery. Besides the main mural, paintings were discovered on other walls of the cave which they believe were made slightly later. A nearby cave had manuscripts which were written in the Tibetan language, which were photographed by the team and will be translated by experts. Coburn said the team planned to perform limited excavation, collection and cataloging of the manuscripts. The team has refused to reveal the exact location of the caves, fearing visitors could disturb the centuries-old art. The expedition spent three weeks in the remote mountainous area, where there are few people due to the extreme weather and barren land. ‘We learnt how much we don’t know, how much there is to discover, explore and understand,’ Coburn said, adding they plan to return to the cave next spring to conduct more research. The area has for centuries been used as a major passageway between Nepal and Tibet. Taken from the interned.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Religion In The News

Most religions in developed countries are struggling to remain relevant. Only two developed counties have a significant Buddhist population – Japan and Korea. Since the 1950’s Korean Buddhism has declined drastically in part because it has been slow to engage to modern society and in part because of aggressive and determined Christian evangelism. In Japan Buddhism seems to be fading away on its own accord. What is lacking in traditional Buddhism that makes it so unresponsive to modernity? Is there anything about this troubling phenomena that Western Buddhists could learn from? Have a look at this interesting news item.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Little Nest

A god once asked the Buddha, ‘Don’t you have a little hut…a little nest?’ (kacchi te kuttika natthi…natthi kularaka, S.I,8). The Buddha replied that he did not. I on the other hand, do have a little nest, the emphasis being on the ‘little.’ I live in a three story building located on Balestier Rd, one of Singapore’s main roads. The ground floor is a rather busy food centre. The second story is the shrine room, library, kitchen, toilets, computer/guest rooms and store room of our society, the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society. This is the society I and a group of friends founded in 1987 and where I live, work, teach and do my writing.
The first picture is of me in my room at my blog, the second is of my bed and the third is my meditation corner on the other side of my room.

The next picture shows me watering my roof garden, about as close to nature the average Singaporean can get. Picture number five is of Viraj in the kitchen downstairs being useful as usual. The last picture is of our shrine room during our usual Sunday morning puja.

Tomorrow I will be leaving for Sri Lanka and be there until the 30th. However, I will try to do a posting every day. From the 1st of next month I will be exploring everything the Buddha says about health and physical well-being.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Apologies To Michelangelo

At first I saw all these pictures as just being funny or irreverent and I’m sure the people who made them intended them to be. But on reflection I realized that most of them could actually be the different ways people respond to God or perceive him/her/it/them to be. In the original, one of the great masterpieces of Western art, man and God are reaching out to each other and that’s how the genuinely spiritual believer sees things. The one with the baseball reminded me of a speech I heard by a victorious sportsman which started, ‘Firstly I would like to thank the Lord.’ God takes sides in sporting events? Interesting! The one with the money is defiantly how the people who attend certain charismatic churches see God. The picture of God handing Adam a pair of underpants reminds me of Cardinal Carafa and people like him. The raised finger represents the atheist’s attitude, the magnifying glass, me and people like me. And for all we know, if God does exist he/she/it/they may well look something like how he is depicted in the last picture. What makes humans think that God is a larger version of themselves? Meanwhile, Michelangelo is probably turning in his grave.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Naughty Jataka

This is one of several ‘rude’ stories in the Jatakas and has never been translated into English before. Like other such stories, Cowell thought it best to render it into Latin so that only scholars could read it. The purpose of the story is to highlight the Bodhisattva’s equinimity and non-retaliation. But the author or authors uses the oppitunity to poke fun at greedy brahmins who carry away more food than they can eat from various festivals and rituals, the tortoise’s shell looking something like a begging bowl. A ribald element is included to add to the fun and the tone of the story is generally lighthearted. In keeping with this ribald lightheartedness I have translated angajata as ‘dick.’ The Kacchapa (Tortoise) and the Kondannas were two clans or tribes that usually did not intermarry. The monkey (makkata) in this story is a Rhesus Macaque, the most aggressive and mischievous of the several species of primates found in northern India. Interestingly, while the Bodhisattva is often depicted in the Jatakas as being reborn as one of these other types of monkeys, he is never reborn as a Macque. One can well imagine village people roaring with laughter as a monk or learned lay person related this story to them at a religious festival or on a full-moon night.
I would like to thank Ven. Anandajoti for helping me with this translation.

Kacchapa Jataka
Once, when Brahmadatta was king of Banaras, the Bodhisattava was reborn into a brahman family in Kasi. After finishing his education at Taxila, he decided to give up sense pleasures and ordain as an ascetic. He established an ashram in the Himalayas on the banks of the Ganges and there attained spritual powers and the jhanas. In this birth, it seems, the Bodhisattva was exceptional impartial, having devoloped equinimity to perfection. One day, while he was sitting at the door of his leaf hut, a mischievous and naughty monkey crept up on him and tried to put its dick in his ear. The Bodhisattva resisted this and being equinimous continued to camly sit there. Then on another day, it happeded that a tortoise, having come out of the water onto the bank of the river, went to sleep in the sun with its mouth open. Spying this, that lusty monkey stuck his dick in the tortoise’s mouth. Waking up, the tortoise snapped its mouth shut (like someone banging) a chest, causing the monkey great pain and gripping its dick tightly. Unable to bare the pain the monkey thought, ‘Who can free me from this pain? Only that ascetic. I will go to him’ Carrying the tortoise in his hands the monkey approached the Bodhisattva and he, teasing the naughty monkey, spoke this first verse -

You have such a great meal (in that bowl),
Like a brahmin with a big handful of rice.
Where did you go for alms?
What funeral did you attend?
On hearing hearing this, the naughty monkey spoke the second verse -

I am truly a foolish monkey,
In that I have touched the untouchable.
If you can release me
I will go back to the mountains.

The Bodhisattva, having compassion for him and addressing the tortoise, spoke this third verse –

The Kassapa tribe are tortoises.
The Kondanna are monkeys.
Kassapa, please free Kondanna,
From having sex with you.

The tortoise, having heard the Bodhitattva’s words and pleased with his reasoning, let go of the monkey’s dick. The moment the monkey was free, he bowed to the Bodhisattva, then ran away so fast he didn’t even look back. The tortoise worshiped the Bodhisattva and returned to his own place. As for the Bodhisattva, without ever having fallen from the jhanas, he eventually passed away and was reborn in the Brahma world. Jataka No 273
The picture is of a monkey Jataka from Ajanta, 6th cent.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Indonesia

Between the 2nd and 12th of August I did a speaking tour through Indonesia. I gave 15 talks, launched a new CD disk on pilgrimage, visited the wonderful Bodhi Citta School in Medan, promoted the new Indonesian translation of my book The Broken Buddha and delivered a lecture to the scholars and students of Gadhah Madu University’s Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies. In between all this I had the chance to spend a pleasant morning at Borobudur and Mendut and to visit the nine lovely little Hindu temples on the slopes of Mount Ungaran and go to Jambi. Here are some photos taken during the trip.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Buddha In the Lampshade

Concerning my post of Sept 9th one reader commented that he had never seen a ‘Buddha’ lampshade. Obviously he doesn’t frequent up-market interior designer studios. Here’s a few for you, Dhamma81. And switch off the light when you go out!

Forgotten Graves

The other day Ananda, Gerald and I went to visit two cemeteries in Singapore. The first was the old Japanese cemetery on Chuan Hoe Av, Serangoon North, which was in use from the middle of the 19th century up to the 1930’s. There were a lot of Japanese in the island in those days. Many of them were prostitutes and many of these poor women died destitute and lie buried here. In fact, the large piece of land that makes up this quiet shady place was donated by a wealthy brothel owner. Of course the bones of others – petty businessman, a few sailors, the wife of a diplomat and an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army - lie here too. Near the entrance to the cemetery is a fine image of Ksitigarbha, the bodhisattva who watches over travelers, including those traveling to their next life. The Bauhinia pursuer tree behind the statue was in full bloom. A little further along is a small Buddhist/Shinto shrine. Ambling amongst the trees and tombstones we came across a small image of a figure in meditation marking the grave of a child. Next we went to the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Kranji. War cemeteries always invoke a mixture of sadness and gratitude, anger and pity in me. On the slope of the hill to the right of the central monument and in the shade of a majestic rain tree, are the graves of nine Sinhalese Buddhists. It made me somewhat pensive to see the graves of these young men, all of them under 23, immaculately kept but probably completely forgotten, despite the inscription at the entrance of the cemetery which reads ‘Their Names Shall Live Forever More.’ Each tombstone has a beautiful Sinhalese-style stupa chiseled onto it. I imagined these young men coming from their villages, wide-eyed and innocent, and being thrust into the maelstrom of a conflict that had nothing to do with them, being killed and never seeing their beautiful Island homes again. I record here their names and ask that any Sri Lankans who might read this blog to give them a thought and dedicate some merit to them next time you meditate or do your puja. They are – K.K. Abraham, M.R.D. Appuhamy, S.M.A. Davidh Hamy, A.T.U. Gedera Jamis, L. Francis, H.R. Payadasa, M.A.W. Perera, V.K. Simon and W. Weerasingh.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Buddha Logo

Some months back I got a telephone call from an American woman who was in Singapore on business. Our conversation went something like this.

Her. Good morning. I’m ringing to try to get some information about Buddhism (cheerful).
Me. Yes. How can I help you?
Her. We’re launching a new line of clothing, T shirts and the like. And the logo for the line is a picture of the Buddha holding a cup of tea. I’m sure Buddhists wouldn’t be offended by this. What would you think about this?
Me. A picture of the Buddha holding a cup of tea?
Her. Yep.
Me. As a logo on T shirts?
Her. Yes. That’s right.
Me. Look, I’m just a simple monk so you explain for me. What’s the connection between the Buddha and clothing? And why the cup of tea?
Her. Well, you know. The Buddha is associated with, you know, spirituality, the infinite and all that. And the cup of tea suggests, you know, casualness, easygoingness, you know.
Me. Mmm. Actually I don’t know. But you would like my opinion about this. Is that right?
Her. Yes.
Me. Well, I don’t think this is very offensive and I don’t think the average Buddhist would be offended by it either. I don’t think they are going to throw rocks through you window, threaten to kill you or burn down your factory. But I do think that a logo like this belittles Buddhism and I think most Buddhists would agree with me. They would probably be more sad than angry that an images which is particularly meaningful to them was being used so frivolously. And also that it is being used for a commercial goal.
Her. But I’m a Buddhist myself. I would never belittle the Buddha.
Me. You’re a Buddhist?
Her. Absolutely! I respect the Buddha and Buddhism (defensive).
Me. What are the Four Noble Truths?
Her. Er!..Um…Um. Er! The Four Noble Truths? (very hesitant)
Me. Yes, the Four Noble Truths. What are the Four Noble Truths?
Her. Er! D…D…D…Dalka?
Me. Mm. Am I right in saying that you are reading that from a book in front of you?
Her. I feel like I’m being interrogated here (slightly annoyed).
Me. Well. You told me you were a Buddhist. I asked you a pretty basic question about the Buddha’s teachings and you didn’t know it. The proper pronunciation is dukkha. I suspect that like a lot of people you mistake ‘respect’ for Buddhism, for liking it from a distance, while knowing very little about it and not practicing the parts that don’t suit you.
Her. No! I really respect Buddhism.
Me. Well, to get back to your question. You asked me for my opinion about your logo and I told you what I think. I think it belittles and diminishes a noble man and a noble philosophy of life and I think it is an unfortunate choice. I think to use a sacred image for commercial purposes in insensitive to the feelings of others and inappropriate. It’s on a par with getting an image of the Buddha, drilling a hole in the top of its head and sticking a lamp shade in it. I don’t think I can say anything else.
Her. Well, thank you (irritated).
Me. Be well and happy.