Monday, May 30, 2011

The Lord's Compassion

Putting aside the bonds offspring have for their parents, and giving up the love he felt for his wife and child, the Lord renounced the world and dedicated himself to the quest of truth. He did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, for the good, the welfare and the happiness of gods and humans, out of compassion of the world.

Turning his back on wealth and royal glory, and all the security they provide, the Lord renounced his palace to live in the lonely forest. He exchanged a golden palace for the roots of the trees. He did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.

Assailed by Mara and his army, attacked by fearful shapes and sounds, enduring menace and doubt, the Lord remained calm and resolute, never being diverted from his noble quest. He overcame Mara and his army for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.

When the Lord attained enlightenment and achieved his high purpose, he decided to teach what he had realized to others, rather than enjoy the happiness of liberation alone. The Lord did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.

When he heard that Angulimala was waylaying travelers and murdering them, the Lord disregarded the dangers of the lonely roads and went to teach him the Dhamma of peace. He did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world. When the Lord could have partaken in royal banquets, he was content to eat scraps and simple fare. He could have worn cloth of gold gowns but he was satisfied with a robe of rags. The Lord did this for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.

Disregarding the heat and dust of summer and the icy gusts of the winter, the Lord traversed long roads and paths, byways and jungle tracks, to teach the Dhamma to one and all. He undertook such journeys for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion of the world.

Although abused by Asurinda, denied alms by the people of Pancasala, and mocked by the ascetic Nigrodha, the Lord never turned his back on the hostile, but remained open and friendly to all. He acted thus for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, for the good, the welfare and the happiness of gods and humans, out of compassion of the world.
Composed by Bhante S. Dhammika

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Naughty Jataka

This is one of several ‘rude’ stories in the Jatakas and has, I think, 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 equanimity and non-retaliation. But the author or authors uses the opportunity 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 light-hearted. In keeping with this ribald light-heartedness 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 Macaque. 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 spiritual powers and the jhanas. In this birth, it seems, the Bodhisattva was exceptional impartial, having developed equanimity 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 calmly sit there. Then on another day, it happened 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 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 Bodhisattva’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

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Vesakha Message

Dear Buddhist friends, on the occasion of Vesak Day, I join in prayers with you that this annual festival may bring serenity and joy to Buddhists in Singapore and throughout the world. in Singapore, the respect and of different religions and faiths is a building block o of our society, and we wish to acknowledge the importance that the Catholic Church places on inter-religious dialogue as a means to living in peace and working together to achieve the best outcome for all. Pope Benedict XVI in his message for World Day of Peace this year, has stated, “for the Church, dialogue between the followers of the different religions represents an important means of cooperating with all religious communities for the common good.” We value our work with representives from the Buddhist community and other religions in the Presidential Council for Religious harmony to promote peace and harmony among all people. As we witness great suffering around the world today on so many levels, from natural disasters to religious persecution and war, it is important that we join together in our efforts to spread peace, working hand-in-hand to alleviate the suffering of those around us. My dear Buddhist friends, on behalf of the Archdiocese of Singapore, I pray that your celebration of Vesak will be a source of spiritual growth. Happy Vesak! Yours sincerely, Archbishop Nicholas Chia.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Giving Sanctuary

Sanctuary (abhayatthana or pujjatthana) is the right of asylum available in certain religious establishments and which is recognized by the government. Sanctuary in Buddhist monasteries had a long history in Sri Lanka lasting for at least 1000 years. Royal officers or those who believed a crime had been committed could easily be infuriated, jump to conclusions and dish out swift justice to whoever seemed to be the most likely offender. This sometimes led to innocent parties being punished. An accused who was able to flee to the nearest monastery would be protected from such mob justice. Sanctuary would give him an opportunity to explain himself and allow his accusers to calm down so that the facts could be more objectively examined. The monks in the monastery the accused had sought sanctuary in would also be able to adjudicate on the accused’s behalf. Numerous documents from ancient Sri Lanka show that royal officers and others were forbidden to enter certain monasteries or sometimes even monastic estates, to apprehend offenders without permission of the monks. The rules of sanctuary varied at different times and in different places but usually a person was given sanctuary for five days or until the next full moon. If the monks decided the person seeking refuge was guilty they would expel him or allow royal officers to enter the monastery to arrest him. On other occasions they might negotiate a settlement between the accused and his victim and the judicial authorities.
Sanctuary was usually given to those accused of committing what were called ‘the five grave offences’ (pancamahaparadha), although exactly what constituted these is unclear. It might have been breaking the five Precepts or five of the six ‘acts of immediate retribution’ (anantariyakamma, Miln.25), i.e. murdering one’s mother, one’s father, an arahat, injuring a Buddha or causing a schism in the Sangha (Atthasalini 358). In this context injuring a Buddha was understood to as stealing or desecrating a Buddha statue or other sacred objects. Other versions of the five grave offences included assault, killing cattle, banditry and rape.
Violating the right of sanctuary could have very serious consequences for those who did it. The Mahavamsa records an example of this. During political upheaval in the reign of King Udaya III (934-937) a number of court officials fled to the monastery of some monks revered for their simplicity and holiness. The king and his soldiers pushed their way into the monastery and summarily executed the officials. As a protest against this violation of the right of sanctuary and the shedding of blood in their monastery the monks rose in a body and left the capital for the forest. In response to this protest riots broke out in the capital, sections of the army rebelled and the life of the king himself was threatened. To calm the situation the king had to send his senior ministers after the monks to beg for their forgiveness and plea with them to return to their monastery. The humiliated and chastened king had to promise never to violate the right of sanctuary again.
There is nothing in the Tipitaka addressing the matter of sanctuary in monasteries although it is may have evolved from a general respect for the Sangha and the Buddha’s teaching allotting punishment with compassion.
I have been unable to find any material showing that the custom of offering sanctuary in monasteries existed in Buddhist countries other than Sri Lanka. Do any of my readers know of any?

Monday, May 16, 2011


Vesakha Blessings To All My Readers

One of the genuine delights of Vesakha in Sri Lanka is the lanterns (Vesaka kudu) people make to celebrate the festival. For a week before children and young men spend their spare time making these lanterns out of bamboo and semi-transparent paper. Then they hang them on trees or in front of their houses and put a light inside them. The traditional ones sway gracefully in the breeze, the more innovative ones are slowly with electric motors as they illuminate the night with their subtle pastel colours. Crowds spend Vesakha eve walking around admiring other peoples’ lanterns.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Buddhist Art In London

Last Wednesday Ven. Vanghisa, Rajith and I went to visit Wat Buddhapadipa in Wimbledon. Built in 1981 the temple was the first purpose-built Buddhist temple in the UK. It is notable for several reasons – mainly the extensive and beautifully cultivated grounds and the murals in the main shrine. These murals were painted by Chalermchai Kositpipat, Sompop Budtarad and Panya Vijinthanasarn and their students and are a genuine tour de force; distinctly modern while drawing on traditional Thai forms. I would describe their style as Siamo-Buddhist surrealism. They were severely condemned in Thailand as ‘unBuddhist’ and ‘an insult to the Buddha’ until King Bumipol commissioned a painting by Kositpipat after which the critics decided they were outstanding after all. To me they are as temple paintings should be - understandable when viewed from a distance while being captivating when observed close up because if all their little details.