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Anathapindika, the Great Benefactor

Anathapindika was a lay disciple and benefactor of the historical Buddha. His generosity toward the Buddha and his monks became the ideal of lay support of the monastic sangha. His original name was Sudatta.

To appreciate Anathapindika’s role in Buddhist history, one must understand the way the first Buddhist monks lived. They took shelter in forests, sleeping among tree roots. They had no roofs over their heads other than what nature provided.

The Buddha and his disciples did not stay in any one place, except during rainy season. Most of the time they traveled from one village to another, teaching the dharma and begging for their food. Possibly the Buddha felt they should not stay in any one place so that they wouldn’t deplete any community’s food supplies. Only during the summer monsoon rains did they remain in one place, devoting themselves to intensive study and practice.

Sudatta’s Journey

One day, about a year after the Buddha’s enlightenment, the wealthy merchant Sudatta left his home in Savatthi (which was in what is now the state of Uttar Pradesh in India) and traveled to Rajagaha (the site of present-day Rajgir, in the state of Bihar) on business.

His married sister lived in Rajagaha with her well-to-do husband, and Sudatta went to her home for a visit.

To his surprise, the members of the household were too busy to greet Sudatta. They were bustling about preparing a meal for many guests. Are you hosting a wedding? asked Sudatta. Is the king coming?

But Sudatta’s brother-in-law replied that the meal was for a buddha, an enlightened one, and his monks. Sudatta was astonished, then excited. He became so eager to meet the Buddha that he couldn’t sleep, and he didn’t want to wait for the dinner to meet the Buddha.

While it was still night Sudatta left his sister’s house and began to walk to where the Buddha was staying. According to tradition, Sudatta became afraid in the dark, but his determination to keep going scattered the darkness.

He found the Buddha walking in meditation in the early dawn. “Come, Sudatta,” the Buddha said, calling him by name, although they had never met before. Sudatta, awestruck, threw himself at the Buddha’s feet. “I hope you slept peacefully, Blessed One,” Sudatta said.

“One who is unbound to sensual pleasure and acquisition sleeps at ease,” the Buddha replied.

The Buddha saw that Sudatta was ready to receive teachings, and so he taught the Four Noble Truths to Sudatta. Sudatta had an opening insight that day. The Buddha would call his lay disciple Anathapindika (“feeder of the orphans or helpless”).

The First Monastery

The next day the Buddha and his monks dined at the home of Anathapindika’s sister and brother-in-law. After the dinner, Anathapindika invited the Buddha and his monks to spend the next monsoon season in in Savatthi. The Buddha accepted, adding “The Tathagatas, oh householder, take pleasure in solitude.”

Arriving home in Savatthi, Anathapindika looked for a property appropriate for the Buddha’s rainy-season retreat. He found a forest glade near Savatthi that belonged to Prince Jeta. The price was dear — 18 million gold coins. And he was allowed to buy only as much land as he could cover with his gold coins.

When the coins were laid out, only a small area on the edge of the grove remained bare. Then Prince Jeta, moved by Anathapindika’s devotion, announced that he would build an imposing gate tower there at his own expense.

Anathapindika was not done. He spent more of his wealth building a meeting hall, a dining hall, sleeping cells, wells, lotus ponds, and whatever else the monks might need during their solitary rains retreats. And he surrounded the property with a great wall. This was the very first Buddhist monastery.

Today, readers of the sutras will notice that the Buddha delivered many of his discourses “in the Jeta Grove, in Anathapindika’s Monastery.” The Buddha did not live there permanently, but it became his customary place to stay during the summer rains retreats.

Anathapindika the Householder and Student

This is not the end of Anathapindika’s story. Many stories about him and his family are recorded in the Pali texts. His wife became a devoted follower of the Buddha also, and delighted in taking care of the monks who came to the house for alms.

There were four children, three daughters and a son. The daughters also devoted themselves to the dharma. The son resisted, preferring to pursue wealth, but eventually he gained in insight also and became a benefactor of the Buddha like his father. The monks would call him “Little Anathapindika.”

Anathapindika the elder remained a student for the rest of his life. His devotion to the Buddha was such that when he came to hear the Buddha speak he sat quietly and did not ask questions. He did not want the Buddha to feel obligated to cater to him because of his patronage.

Instead, he would modestly wait to one side in case the Buddha chose to speak to him and offer instruction. If the Buddha said nothing, then sometimes then Anathapindika would speak, offering some anecdote from his daily life. And then he would wait to see if his teacher had comments or criticisms to offer. Most of the Buddha’s advice and teachings that are specifically for laypeople are taken from his instructions to Anathapindika.

When Anathapindika was on his deathbed he asked for the Buddha’s disciples Sariputra and Ananda to come to him, probably because he was too modest to make demands of the Buddha. Sariputra’s words to the dying Anathapindika are recorded in the Anathapindikovada Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 143), which include more advanced teachings, usually reserved for monks, than Anathapindika had heard before. But at that point he had renounced all attachments to worldly things and was ready to hear it.

And Anathapindika shed tears, and he said, “Venerable Sariputra, please let this sort of talk on the dharma be given to lay people clad in white. There are clansmen with little dust in their eyes who are wasting away through not hearing this teaching. There will be those who will understand it.” His last thought was for the enlightenment of others. And later that day, after Ananda and Sariputra left him, he died.

[This post was one I wrote for the About.com Buddhism site, but since the host company is no longer making it public, rights reverst to me.]

The Arya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upayaisaya-vikurvana-nirdesa-nama-mahayana-sutra

A Buddhist “Just War” Theory?

The generously titled Arya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upayaisaya-vikurvana-nirdesa-nama-mahayana-sutra — Arya-Satyakaparivarta for short — is a Mahayana Buddhist Sutra written some time before the 5th century CE, possibly earlier. It appears to be canonical only within Tibetan Buddhism.

As literature it’s not in the same class as the great Mahayana sutras — the Lotus, the Heart, the Diamond, the Flower Garland, the Vimalakirti, etc.

— most of which date to the 2nd century CE, give or take. But it’s of interest for a couple of reasons. One, according to Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, this sutra may be the only Buddhist scripture that spells out anything approximating a Buddhist “just war” theory. The other is that some alarming things are being said about it in western academia.

Misreadings

For example, in the book Buddhist Warfare, edited by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer (Oxford University Press, 2010), an essay titled “Making Merit Through Warfare and Torture According to the Arya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upayaisaya-vikurvana-nirdesa-Sutra” claims the sutra actually promotes violence, including war and torture, as a means to make merit toward realizing enlightenment.

The author, Stephen Jenkins, is a professor of religious studies at Humboldt State University.

The only English translation is by Lozang Jamspal (The Range of the Bodhisattva, a Mahayana Sutra, American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2010), which Professor Jenkins cites as the translation he is using. I acquired a copy, and read it. I assure you that the claim that the sutra somehow condones or promotes violence as a means to realize enlightenment is bogus.

Jenkins’s arguments rests heavily on analysis of other texts, Hindu and Buddhist, that Jenkins claims use similar wording and also promote violence. Among these is the Cula-Saccaka Sutta, in which, according to Jenkins, an armed bodyguard accompanying the Buddha threatened to kill a character named Saccaka, whom Jenkins calls Satyavaca, unless he conceded that kings have the authority to execute criminals. This interpretation not only misses the point of the sutta; it is simply not a factual account of the story the sutta tells. The “bodyguard” is a kind of celestial spirit, and the question Saccaka is pressed to answer by the spirit is about the nature of the self, not the virtue of executions.

“Just War?”

So what does the Arya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upayaisaya-vikurvana-nirdesa-nama-mahayana-sutra say about warfare and torture?

Regarding torture, the speaker in the sutra, a sage named Satyavadin, advises that a king should chastise people in a benevolent manner, which is explained this way —

“When a ruler believes that punishment [of the wicked] will not be effected by means of mere obloquy, then, concentrating on love and compassion and without resort to killing, damaging of sense organs, or cutting off of limbs, he should try warning, scolding, rebuking, or beating them, or confiscating their property, exiling them from the state, tying them up, or imprisoning them. A ruler should be tough, but not in any heavier ways than these.”

Variations of this same wording are repeated several times and constitute the sutra’s advice for handling unrepentant prisoners. Here in the 21st century we do think of tying people up and beating them as “torture,” but I’m not sure the people who lived when this sutra was written would have seen it that way, especially given other options available at the time. But that’s as close to advocating “torture” as the sutra gets.

And then if the chastised individual mends his ways and behaves responsibly, the king obtains merit. However, he would obtain the same merit if he could get the prisoner to reform by reading him poetry. The punishment itself is not what earns the merit.

As far as warfare is concerned, the sutra explicitly denies any merit to wars of conquest or aggression. A ruler may use arms to defend his kingdom and protect his people, but he may only use as much force as is necessary to expel invaders. Once they are expelled, he must not seek to punish the invaders but instead try to make peace with them. Even better, he should do what he can to prevent war in the first place, such as settling disputes or making alliances with other kingdoms so that an aggressive foreign king would think twice about starting a war.

If the kingdom is invaded, the king is advised to deploy his forces in an advantageous manner to ensure victory. Injuring and killing the invaders should be avoided if possible, although it is acknowledged that this may not be possible.

But if the king has sincerely done his best to avoid war, if the self-defense is carried out so that there is no punishment or vengeance heaped upon the invaders, and if the king “undertakes these measures for the protection of the people and for the sake of their families, wives, and children without concern for himself and his property and possessions, he greatly will increase his immeasurable merit.”

It’s not warfare that earns merit, but carrying out the defense of a kingdom with the least possible harm — including harm to the invaders — that earns the merit.

The warfare section is only a small part of the Aryan-Bodhisattva-gocara-upayaisaya-vikurvana-nirdesa-nama-mahayana-sutra. Other chapters cover the Six Perfections and upaya, or skillful means, among other things. Lozang Jamspal’s translation is very clear and readable and deserves to be widely read, if only to dispel accusations about what it says.

The Disciple Angulimala: From Serial Killer to Enlightened Monk

Angulimala’s story is found in two places in the Pali Sutta-pitaka. It in in the Angulimala Sutta, which is the 86th sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya, and the story is also told in the Theragatha, which is part of the Khuddaka Nikaya. Here is the story as told in the Angulimala Sutta.

Angulimala’s Story

Once when the Buddha was staying in the monastery built by Anathapindika, he arose one morning, put on his robe, and went out to beg for alms. After he had returned to the monastery and eaten his meal, he set out walking on the road to where Angulimala was known to be staying.

As he walked, farmers and herders saw him and warned him to go no further.

Angulimala, wearer of the mala of fingers, had slaughtered whole villages, they said. As many as forty men had walked together down that road and had all died by Angulimala’s hand. The Buddha heard this, but said nothing and kept walking.

As the Buddha continued to walk, more people saw him and warned him to stop. A second and third time the Buddha was warned about the fierce Angulimala who could slaughter forty men at once and who had left entire villages dead. The Buddha said nothing, but kept walking.

Finally Angulimala himself saw the Buddha and was astonished to see a man walking alone. He picked up his sword, bow and quiver and ran toward the Buddha.

Then a remarkable thing happened. The Buddha was walking at a normal pace, but as fast as Angulimala ran, he could not catch up. Finally, in exasperation, Angulimala yelled “Stop!”

At this, the Buddha spoke. “I have stopped, Angulimala,” he said, still walking. “You stop.”

Angulimala said, “You say you have stopped, but you still walk. I have stopped, but you say I haven’t. How can you say you have stopped and I have not?”

“I have cast off violence toward living beings,” the Buddha said. “I have stopped causing harm. You, however, kill without restraint. That’s why I say I have stopped and you have not.”

Angulimala was so moved that this holy man had come to save him, he threw his weapons into a pit and prostrated himself before the Buddha. He became a disciple of the Buddha on the spot, and then the two returned together to Anathapindika’s monastery.

Read More: The First Precept, Do Not Kill

Angulimala’s Pardon and Enlightenment

This is not yet the end of the story. One day the King and 500 soldiers on horseback and in chariots came and entered the monastery grounds. The King told the Buddha he was looking for the terrible bandit Angulimala. “I’m going to find that fellow and put an end to him!” The King said.

“I must ask you something,” the Buddha said. “What if you were to find that Angulimala had shaved his hair and beard, and put on monk’s robes. And what if you learned that he is living a virtuous life and keeping the Precepts. What would you do?”

“I would bow to him,” the King said, “and offer him alms, robe cloth and lodging.”

At this, the Buddha pointed to Angulimala and said, “There he is. And you do not need to fear him.”

The astonished King questioned Angulimala and became satisfied that this was, indeed, the terrible murderer, now gentled. And the King kept his word. He bowed to Angulimala and offered to give him food, robe cloth and a place to live. But Angulimala said he needed nothing he didn’t have already. And the King departed.

Angulimala spent most of the rest of his life in seclusion in a forest, meditating and keeping his monastic vows. In time he realized enlightenment and became an arhat.

Protestant Buddhism

You may stumble into the term “Protestant Buddhism,” especially on the Web. If you don’t know what that means, don’t feel left out. There are lots of people using the term today who don’t know what it means, either.

In the context of a lot of current Buddhist criticism, “Protestant Buddhism” appears to refer to a tepid western approximation of Buddhism, practiced mostly by upper-income whites, and characterized by an emphasis on self-improvement and rigidly enforced niceness. But that’s not what the term originally meant.

Origin of the Term

The original Protestant Buddhism grew out of a protest, and not in the West, but in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, became a British territory in 1796. At first Britain declared it would respect the people’s dominant religion, Buddhism. But this declaration raised a furor among evangelical Christians in Britain, and the government quickly backtracked.

Instead, Britain’s official policy became one of conversion, and Christian missionaries were encouraged to open schools all over Ceylon to give the children a Christian education. For Sinhalese Buddhists, conversion to Christianity became a prerequisite for business success.

Late in the 19th century Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) became the leader of a Buddhist protest/revival movement. Dharmapala also was a modernist who promoted a vision of Buddhism as a religion compatible with science and western values, such as democracy. It is charged that Dharmapala’s understanding of Buddhism bore traces of his Protestant Christian education in the missionary schools.

The scholar Gananath Obeyesekere, currently an emeritus professor of anthropology at Princeton University, is credited with coining the phrase “Protestant Buddhism.” It describes this 19th century movement, both as a protest and ask an approach to Buddhism that was influenced by Protestant Christianity.

The Protestant Influences

As we look at these so-called Protestant influences, it’s important to remember that this applies mostly to the conservative Theravada tradition of Sri Lanka and not to Buddhism as a whole.

For example, one of these influences was a kind of spiritual egalitarianism. In Sri Lanka and many other Theravada countries, traditionally only monastics practiced the full Eightfold Path, including meditation; studied the sutras; and might possibly realize enlightenment. Laypeople were mostly just told to keep the Precepts and to make merit by giving alms to monks, and perhaps in a future life they might be monastics themselves.

Mahayana Buddhism already had rejected the idea that only a select few could walk the path and realize enlightenment. For example, the Vimalakirti Sutra (ca. 1st century CE) centers on a layman whose enlightenment surpassed even the Buddha’s disciples. A central theme of the Lotus Sutra (ca. 2nd century CE) is that all beings will realize enlightenment.

That said — As explained by Obeyesekere and also by Richard Gombrich, currently president of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, the elements of Protestantism adopted by Dharmapala and his followers included the rejection of a clerical “link” between the individual and enlightenment and an emphasis on individual spiritual effort. If you are familiar with early Protestantism vis à vis Catholicism, you will see the resemblance.

However, this “reformation,” so to speak, was not with Asian Buddhism as a whole but with Buddhist institutions in some parts of Asia as they existed a century ago. And it was led primarily by Asians.

One Protestant “influence” explained by Obeyesekere and Gombrich is that “religion is privatized and internalized: the truly significant is not what takes place at a public celebration or in ritual, but what happens inside one’s own mind or soul.” Notice that this is the same criticism leveled by the historical Buddha against the Brahmins of his day — that direct insight was the key, not rituals.

Modern or Traditional; East Versus West

Today you can find the phrase “Buddhist Protestantism” being used to describe Buddhism in the West generally, particularly Buddhism practiced by converts. Often the term is juxtaposed with the “traditional” Buddhism of Asia. But the reality is not that simple.

First, Asian Buddhism is hardly monolithic. In many ways, including the roles and relationship of clergy and laypeople, there is considerable difference from one school and nation to another.

Second, Buddhism in the West is hardly monolithic. Don’t assume that the self-described Buddhists you met in a yoga class are representative of the whole.

Third, many cultural influences have impacted Buddhism as it has developed in the West. The first popular books about Buddhism written by westerners generally were more infused with European Romanticism or American Transcendentalism than with traditional Protestantism, for example. It’s also a mistake to make “Buddhist modernism” a synonym for western Buddhism. Many leading modernists have been Asians; some western practitioners are keen on being as “traditional” as possible.

A rich and complex cross-pollination has been going on for more than a century that has shaped Buddhism both East and West. Trying to shove all that into a concept of “Buddhist Protestantism” doesn’t do it justice. The term needs to be retired.

For a well-written and well-informed explanation of this cross-pollination, see The Making of Buddhist Modernism by David McMahan.

Anagarika Dharmapala: Buddhist Revivalist and Modernist

Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) was a Buddhist modernist who deeply influenced the early development of Buddhism in the West. He also played a leading role in the revival of Buddhism in his native Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and other parts of Asia.

Ceylon had been partly or entirely controlled by European nations since the early 16th century, and wherever European ships landed, Christian missionaries were not far behind. In 1796 control passed from the Dutch to the British, and Ceylon became a British colony. The British government encouraged the Christian missionaries to,open schools throughout the island to convert the people of Ceylon from Buddhism. By the mid-19th century, Buddhist institutions in Ceylon were fading, and the people were largely ignorant of the spiritual tradition of their ancestors.

It was into this anglicized, Christianized Ceylon that Dharmapala was born.

Dharmapala began life in 1864 as David Hewavitharane, a son of one of the wealthiest families in Colombo, and he was educated in the best British Christian academies in Ceylon. As a child he also came to enjoy spending time among Buddhist monks, even when he didn’t understand what they were talking about.

Among the Theosophists

David Hewavitharane was only 16 when the spiritualist Madame Blavatsky and her companion, Henry Steel Olcott, arrived in Ceylon. The pair publicly took the refuges at a large temple in Galle. After centuries of being told by whites that Christianity was the superior religion, the “white Buddhists” were embraced by the people of Ceylon.

Blavatsky and Olcott lit a fire in young Hewavitharane, and he soon fell into their orbit. The westerners had created a new religion by blending together elements of Asian traditions with big doses of western Transcendentalism and 19th century Orientalism, calling their beliefs”Theosophy.” Hewavitharane traveled with the pair, sometimes acting as translator. He worked with Olcott to establish Buddhist schools in Ceylon.

During this time he renounced his English name and began to call himself Anagarika (“homeless one”) Dharmapala (“protector of the dharma”). He didn’t take monks’ vows until very near the end of his life, but as a lay “home leaver” he vowed to keep the Eight Uposatha Precepts daily, and not just on special observance days. He ditched western clothing in favor of simple white or yellow robes that would not be mistaken for monks’ robes.

In time, however, Dharmapala broke off his association with the Theosophists. Olcott and Blavatsky held on to the Transcendentalist ideal of a universal religion, of which all established religious traditions are only fragments. Dharmapala came to see the dharma as the supreme truth, and he thought the westerners’ belief in a Universal Soul was more Hindu than Buddhist.

Spreading the Dharma

After his split with the Theosophists, Dharmapala became a leader in his own right. He worked to restore Buddhism to its central place in the culture of Ceylon. He also called for independence from Britain.

His influence spread beyond Ceylon when he co-founded the Mahabodhi Society in 1891. This organization restored Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha realized enlightenment, as a Buddhist pilgrimage site.

In 1993 Dharmapala traveled to Chicago to take part in the World Parliament of Religions. He and Rinzai Zen master Soyen Shaku both addressed the assembly. Although there had been Buddhist priests and teachers in the West for a few decades, this was arguably the first time non-ethnic Asian Americans heard about Buddhism from Buddhists on western soil.

The 29-year-old Dharmapala was a sensation. Press reports glowingly described his all-white robes, his black curly hair, and his gentle, refined face. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he spoke excellent English and had a good understanding of western culture, thanks to those British Christian academies.

Philosopher and author Paul Carus invited Dharmapala back to America a few more times to present talks on Buddhism, and so his influence in the West lasted long after the Parliament.

On one of his trips to America, Dhammapala stopped in London to visit author Edwin Arnold, whose Light of Asia was one of the first popular books about Buddhism published in English. The London trip inspired him to establish a small Theravada monastery in London; The London Buddhist Vihara opened in 1926.

Buddhist Modernism

In the West, Dharmapala “pitched” Buddhism to appeal to modernists who were seeking a spiritual tradition that was pro-science and anti-supernatural, a view of Buddhism that is still widely held in the West today.

His timing could not have been better. In the late 19th century Christianity was reeling from the challenge of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and psychology was just emerging as a new branch of science. Dharmapala wove science together with Buddhist teaching, arguing that the Buddha had taught things science was just beginning to discover.

In many ways Dharmapala’s presentation was a re-tooling of Buddhism, emphasizing some aspects of the teachings while de-emphasizing others. But it was brilliantly done, and it worked. Dharmapala’s influence on modern Buddhism can still be felt, in Asia as well as the West.

Dharmapala continued to lecture and write about Buddhism and to call for Ceylon’s independence from Britain. He was ordained a monk shortly before his death at the age of 68.

Liu Tiemo, the “Iron Grindstone”

According to legend, Liu Tiemo (ca. 780-859) was born into a Chinese peasant family that lived near Mount Hua, in north central China. She was a short, plain girl who grew up helping her father farm a rich man’s plot of land. The family was poor and often hungry. When she was old enough to leave, she left.
Liu wandered through mountains and towns, often seeking shelter in convents. Eventually she asked to be ordained. She worked hard at study and meditation. After a few years she left the convent and began wandering again.
Zihu Heshang:

Liu Tiemo encountered nuns, monks, and teachers, and won a reputation as a fierce debater. When she met Master Zihu, he told Liu Tiemo that he’d heard she was hard to handle.”Who says this?” asked Liu.

“It’s conveyed from left and right,” Master Zihu replied.

“Don’t fall down, master,” she said, and turned to leave. He struck her.

Liu Tiemo sought out Master Guishan, and studied with him. Master Guishan was a famous teacher with 1,500 students, most of them men. Of these 1,500 he named only 43 his dharma heirs. One of these was Liu Tiemo. By now people were calling Liu “the Iron Grindstone,” because she ground to bits anyone who dared challenge her in debate. It was said she was as sharp as a stone-struck spark.

Blue Cliff Record, Case 24:

The Iron Grindstone is remembered in a koan.Iron Grindstone Liu arrived at Guishan. Guishan said, “Old cow, you came hah!”

Grindstone said, “In the coming day at Lookout Mountain (Taishan) there is a great assembly to provide monks with a vegetarian meal. Venerable, will you be leaving to go back there?”

Guishan relaxed his body and lay down to sleep.

Grindstone then left.

You can find a dharma talk explaining this mystical exchange here.

Shantideva’s Lecture

Shantideva (ca. 685-763; sometimes spelled Santideva) is best known as the author of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara, or The Way of the Bodhisattva. This accomplishment marks him as one of the patriarchs of Mahayana Buddhism. He was also the author of a lesser-known work, the Siksasamuccaya (“Training Anthology”).

For all of his importance to Mahayana Buddhism, however, we don’t know that much about him. The biographies written over the centuries probably are made up of folktales. But here is his standard biography.

Shantideva’s Story

Shantideva was said to have been a crown prince of a kingdom in what is now the western Indian state of Gujarat. The night before his coronation, Manjusri Bodhisattva came to him in a dream and told him to renounce his throne and instead dedicate himself to seeking enlightenment.

In another version of this story, on the night before his coronation Shantideva’s mother gave him a ceremonial bath in scalding water. When he complained, she said, “My son, this is nothing compared to the pain of being king.” After the bath, the prince departed.

After renouncing his throne the former prince lived for a time as a wandering mendicant. In time he came to the great learning center at Nalanda. He was ordained as a monk at Nalanda and given the name Shantideva, which means “god of peace.”

At Nalanda, Shantideva came across as a slacker. No one ever saw him study. He didn’t show up for practice debates. He was called “Three Realizations” because, it was assumed, his only activities were eating, sleeping and defecating.

It would not do to harbor such a do-nothing at Nalanda. The great monastery depended on the support of wealthy patrons to survive. In return, the patrons expected the monks to study and teach the dharma. If the patrons learned their donations were supporting the likes of Shantideva, they might withhold support.

So he had to go. Or else he had to be shamed into getting down to work. But how could that be accomplished?

It was decided to invite Shantideva to present a teaching to the entire university. This was a great honor usually given to the most accomplished students. He was to give his talk while sitting on a throne, which in some versions of the story was placed on a high platform without any stairs, to make him struggle to get to his seat.

On the day of the talk, Shantideva entered the great hall and made three prostrations to the throne. Then he effortlessly seated himself, to the astonishment of the audience.

Then he asked, “Should I teach you something that other monks have already presented? Or would you like to hear something new?” The audience called for the new teaching.

“Very well,” Shantideva said. And he proceeded to recite the verses of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara. These verses described the power of bodhicitta and how to cultivate it. They reviewed the Six Perfections and explained how the perfections also opened the heart to bodhicitta.

When his talk reached the sixth perfection, the Perfection of Wisdom, Shantideva began to rise into the air. He floated higher and higher, until the assembly only heard his voice but no longer saw him. Then his voice faded as well, and he entirely disappeared from Nalanda, never to return. In some versions of the story he is said to have returned to the life of a wandering mendicant.

Ruins of Nalanda

The Way of the Bodhisattva: An Introduction to the Bodhisattvacharyavatara

The  Bodhisattvacharyavatara, or “Way of the Bodhisattva,” by Shantideva is a seminal text of Mahayana Buddhism and a treasure of the world’s religious literature. Today it is primarily associated with Tibetan Buddhism, but its significance to all of Mahayana cannot be overstated.

The Bodhisattvacharyavatara, written about 700 CE, is said to present the entire spectrum of Mahayana teachings. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, ‘If I have any understanding of compassion and the bodhisattva path, it all comes from studying this text.

The title is also sometimes translated “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” or “Undertaking the Way of the Bodhisattva.” There is also a shorter Sanskrit name, Bodhicaryavatara, which means “Entering the Path of Enlightenment.”

Shantideva (ca. 685-763; sometimes spelled Santideva) was a monk and scholar of the Madhyamika school who taught at the great learning center at Nalanda. Little else is known about him, although he is the subject of many fables and myths.

Contents of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara

The Bodhisattvacharyavatara is written in verse and describes the path to enlightenment, beginning with the arising of the desire to realize enlightenment for the sake of others (bodhicitta). Early Chinese and Tibetan manuscripts of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara are not arranged in exactly the same way, but the version of the text commonly translated into English has ten chapters.

The first three chapters focus on bodhicitta. Shantideva describes the power of bodhicitta to enlighten all beings and explains how to nurture bodhicitta in ourselves. This section also introduces us to the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. For example, this well-loved passage is in Chapter 3*:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to cross the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

Read More: Bodhisattva Vows

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 focus on working with emotions and defilements. This middle section also elaborates on the Six Perfections or paramitas. The perfections of generosity and morality are explained in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 is centered on the perfection of patience, explaining how defilements in our minds keep us mired in selfishness and impatience.

In chapters 7, 8 and 9 Shantideva continues to elaborate on the paramitas. Chapter 7 is focused on the perfection of energy or diligence, and Chapter 8 is on the perfection of meditation. Chapter 9, on the perfection of wisdom, is considered the most challenging part of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara.  Here Shantideva goes most deeply into Nagarjuna‘s Madhyamika philosophy and the emptiness of phenomena.

Chapter 10 is a beautiful and lyric dedication of the merit of his work to all suffering beings, including beings in the hell realm.

Studying the Bodhisattvacharyavatara

There are several translations of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara in English; some are available in PDF form on the Web. If you are working with a teacher, he or she may prefer one translation over another. I am most familiar with the translation by the Padmakara Translation Group and published by Shambhala. There is a “companion” book to this volume, which is a commentary by His Holiness the Dalai Lama titled For the Benefit of All Beings: A Commentary on the Way of the Bodhisattva (Shambhala, 2009).

Another very readable guide to the Bodhisattvacharyavatara is Pema Chodron’s No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva (Shambhala, 2003). Chodron notes that Chapter 9 needs a book to itself and for that points the reader to Transcendent Wisdom by the Dalai Lama and B. Alan Wallace (Snow Lion, Rev. Ed. 2009).

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*Translations by Padmakara Translation Group (Shambhala Publications, 1997, 2006).

Do We Really Make Our Own Reality?

 The claim that “we make our own reality” pops up frequently in Buddhism, and the claim often is repeated in mind-body-spirit circles. But what does “make our own reality” really mean?

From a Buddhist perspective, it doesn’t mean that once you’re enlightened you can fly or step in front of speeding trains without harm. Whatever your spiritual status, expect to continue to be subject to the laws of physics.

So what does it mean? To a Buddhist, “we make our own reality” could be understood in different ways, and some Buddhists disagree with the statement entirely. It’s probably the case that Mahayana Buddhists are more likely to agree with it than Theravada Buddhists. And if you do find some truth in it, you may understand the phrase in different ways as your practice matures.

© Moyan Brenn / Wikipedia Commons / Creative Commons License

The Fruits of Karma

Some of those who object to the idea of making our own reality say that it’s a misunderstanding of the first verses of the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha found in the Pali Sutta-pitaka.One of the early translations of the Dhammapada, by F. Max Muller, begins All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.” A more recent translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu begins “Phenomena are preceded by the heart, ruled by the heart, made of the heart.”

This verse is about karma. It is said karma is created by body, speech and mind. But in fact mind comes first; whatever we do with body and speech begins with mind — a thought or an intention. . Note that the original Pali uses variations of the word manas for “mind.”

Read More: “Manas: The Mind of Will and Delusion

However, I think it can also be argued that karma creates our reality, or at least a lot of it. Karma is the action created by intention, and in Buddhism it’s understood that the life you have right now was built by all the choices, and the intentions, you made so far.

But when we say that karma created your reality, be clear that karma refers only to volition action. There are other natural laws in the world — such as physics — that are not affected by karma. Karma doesn’t create natural disasters, for example, but the karma of your life will affect how you handle being in one.

Projected Reality

At this point, you might be thinking this “make your own reality” thing isn’t so cool after all. But there are other ways to look at it.

One of these ways is psychological. People who are frequently angry create a lot of problems for themselves, while someone with a generous heart may inspire generosity in others. What you project out into the world is reflected back to you by the world.

The poet Walt Whitman expressed this when he wrote.,

I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete,
The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and broken.

It is sometimes said your “outer” reality is a reflection of your “inner” reality, although the “outer” and “inner” really aren’t two separate things.

The Six Realms are sometimes interpreted to refer to personality types or mental states rather than physical places. People driven by addictions might be said to be in the Hungry Ghost realm, for example. So in this case the “realm” you are in is an allegory for your mental state.

Yogacara

The Mahayana philosophy of Yogacara is primarily concerned with the nature of experience. In particular, it analyzes how a mental function called vijnana, awareness or consciousness, connects sense objects with sense organs to create experience. For example, vijnana intersects a visible object with the eye to create the experience of sight. Vijnana also connects perception (samjna) to ideas to create thinking.

Read More: The Five Skandhas

Yogacara is a sophisticated philosophy that takes most of us a long time to comprehend. It proposes that the sense objects we see, feel, taste or hear are not “real” but are creations of vijnana.

This isn’t as off the wall as it might seem. Today’s neuroscentists say that the way we experience all the phenomena “out there” really is mostly a fabrication of our brains and nervous systems. Color, for example, is something our brains create from sensory impulses. The red in a rose is in our heads, not in the rose. This is also true of the way the rose smells and feels.

So, according to Yogacara, we really do “make our own reality”; we’re just not conscious of it.

The Ten Suchnesses: A Teaching From the Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra is one of the most revered scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. The sutra is known for its sumptuous allegorical imagery and its promise that all beings will realize Buddhahood.

Believed to have been written in the 2nd century CE, in 6th century China the Lotus Sutra was recognized as the supreme sutra by the Chinese monk Zhiyi (Chih-i), founder of the Tiantai school, which would be called Tendai in Japan. In part through Tendai influence, the Lotus became one of the most influential sutras in Japanese Buddhism. It deeply influenced Japanese Zen and also is an object of devotion of the Nichiren school.

The Ten Suchnesses are a teaching originally developed by Zhiyi based on passages from the Lotus Sutra. Suchness, in Sanskrit tathata, means “reality.” It is sometimes understood that suchness underlies reality, and the appearance of things in the phenomenal world are manifestations of suchness. The Ten Suchnesses are an exploration of the deepest nature of reality.

Many teachers and scholars over the years have written commentaries drawing deep lessons from the Ten Suchnesses, and this article is only a very brief introduction.

1.  Such a Form

In this case, “form” also means “appearance.” This is the form of individual phenomena that we can observe. Sometimes this is called “the suchness of the mark,” or what marks the particular thing being observed.

2.  Such a Nature

Nature means characteristic, particularly the kinds of characteristics that you might not “see” right away. It’s the nature of bees to make honeycombs, for example. It is the nature of daffodil bulbs to flower in the spring.

3.  Such an Embodiment

Sometimes “such a substance,” this one is a bit difficult to explain, especially in Buddhist terms. It is sometimes explained as an individual’s principal quality. In humans, this may refer to the quality of their skandhas.

4.  Such a Potency

This is a power or energy appropriate to the embodied being, particularly in potential form. The potency of a sunflower seed is to grow into a really big flower.

5.  Such a Function

This is sometimes “such an influence.” This is the potency manifested; the sunflower seed actually sprouting, rooting, and growing.

6.  Such a Primary Cause

Cause is hugely important in Buddhism (see karma). Primary cause refers to a direct or internal cause. Most of the time, this is explained as mind. As it says in the Dhammapada, “Phenomena are preceded by the heart, ruled by the heart, made of the heart.” (Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation; some translators say “mind” instead of “heart.”) The sutta tells us that a defiled heart and a pure heart cause very different effects.

7.  Such a Secondary Cause

This suchness is sometimes called “such a condition.” This refers to the conditions affecting an individual that either help or hinder it. For example, our sunflower seed needs to be planted, especially where it can grow roots.

8.  Such an Effect

Now the primary cause and the secondary cause come together to create an effect, which could be a big, flowering sunflower.

9.  Such a Recompense

This is sometimes “manifest effect” or “reward.” A manifest effect of our sunflower is not just its striking appearance, but also that its seeds provide food for birds and other creatures. Some of those seeds might grow into new sunflowers.

10.  Such an Ultimate Integration

Here all ten factors coalesce into a seamless whole. The sunflower is the sprout is the soil is the rain is the finch feasting on its seeds. Some commenters link this suchness to Dependent Origination, or the way all phenomena are linked to all other phenomena. Our sunflower is not just a component within a garden but is a manifestation of all phenomena everywhere — of suchness.