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Zen Koan #1: Parable of A Cup of Tea – Buddhist Teaching on Spiritual Bankruptcy

Zen Koan #1: Parable of A Cup of Tea - Buddhist Teaching on Spiritual Bankruptcy Together with Vedanta Hinduism, Zen is an early and continuing example of the globalization of religion from the East on several levels. The reward body also appears for the sake of sentient beings; for this reason, it is limited in location. The poem encourages us to practice without attachment. It merely reflects whatever you put in front of it, as it is, without hindrance.

Once you narrow yourself down to the mental environment, there are two things you are involved with—the method, and stray thoughts. What is the difference between Buddhahood and enlightenment? Buddhahood is attaining the ultimate, whereas enlightenment is seeing Buddha nature without encompassing it fully. In Japan, it was pellucid that in the lay Zen tradition you donated to the temple, you had your memorial accommodations, you had your family plot, and you fortified the priest.

Meditation decreases experienced stress load and leads to a faster decrease in heart rate after exposure to stressful film clips, but it is not clear whether improved access to unconscious processes is mediating processes. There are sundry levels of coalesced mind—the unity of self and macrocosm, the unity of body and mind, and beyond this, just one mind remaining.

Zen Koan: “A Cup of Tea” Parable

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868–1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Buddhist Insight on Spiritual Bankruptcy

When water is agitated by waves, reflections that may arise are not grasped. A lot of our busyness is because we’re looking for something to fulfill us. This is the root cause of spiritual bankruptcy, according to Zen Buddhism. The charters are different but the practical path towards human liberation touches both. Can you learn the basic precept of transforming your unwanted sufferings into the path of practice? The British Zen Buddhist author and psychotherapist David Brazier writes in The Feeling Buddha,

We all carry hurt within us. It is not possible to have gone through life without getting buffeted. The hurt we carry is fuel. It is one of the essential conditions for a fire. When a person, or a whole community, is spiritually impoverished, this fuel is stored up. It then becomes tinder dry.The potential for fire to get out of control is then great. This is when wars start. I asked an acquaintance from Sarajevo why he thought the civil war there broke out. He said: ‘Boredom.’ He meant that people’s lives had ceased to be purposeful and war gave them a sense of direction. People sometimes fear that religion causes wars but, although religion, patriotism, self-interest, history and many other things may be invoked by war mongers, the real root of war is spiritual bankruptcy.

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A Mandala is a Cosmic Diagram that is Symbolic of the Universe

Mandala is a ritual diagram symbolic of the universe---object of meditation in Tantra and Vajrayana Buddhism.

A mandala is a ritual diagram that serves as an object of meditation in Tantra and Vajrayana Buddhism. It is symbolic of the universe.

Around the eleventh century, mandala meditation was initiated in Tibet from India and even today, lamas pass on their knowledge to initiates in the same way.

Mandalas are fabricated at the beginning of a puja, out of grains of colored sand watchfully placed on a specially prepared platform. They are momentary structures and in a instruction of impermanence, are deliberately destroyed at the end of the ritual, their sand swept up and dispensed into a nearby stream or river.

Mandala Denotes the Mind and the Body of the Buddha

The word Mandala is derived from the root manda, essence; and la, container. Thus, a mandala is a container of essence. As an image, it may denote both the mind and the body of the Buddha. The origin of the mandala is the center, the bindu, a dot—a symbol free of dimensions. Bindu also means seed, sperm or drop—the salient starting point. It is the congregation center into which outside energies are drawn, and in the act of drawing in the forces, the devotee’s own energies unfold. In the process, the mandala is sanctified to a deity.

Monks carefully construing a mandala, mystical diagram, with colored sand

Monks carefully construing a mandala, mystical diagram, with colored sand. As is apparent, the making of a mandala is a mind-numbing process, requiring great concentration and attention to every intricate detail of color, line and form. Once the ritualistic purpose is over, the sand is swept away—one more teaching in the impermanence of things. For desire meditate on impurity, for hatred kindness, and for ignorance interdependent arising.

In its creation, a line materializes out of a dot. Other lines are drawn until they intersect, creating triangular geometrical patterns. The circle drawn around stands for the dynamic consciousness of the initiated. The outlying square symbolizes the physical world bound in four directions, and characterized by the four gates; and the central area is the deity. Appearance does not bind, attachment binds. The center being visualized as the essence, and the circumference, as clasping, a mandala thus connotes a grasping of the essence.

Mandala— The Essence of One’s Own Buddha Nature

A Buddha figure in a Tibetan temple, with a mandala on the roof overhead. The figure of the Buddha can be seen in the center of the mandala, which might be supposed to exemplify the being of the Buddha and his nirvana. Examination of such a mandala would be intended to help the practitioner grasp the essence of his own Buddha nature by following the diagram of spiritual experience laid out in the mandala.

Monks in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are required to learn how to construct mandalas

All monks in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are required to learn how to construct mandalas. They have to memories texts that specify names, lengths and positions of the primary lines outlining the basic structure of mandalas, as well as the techniques of drawing and pouring sand. By this unfavorable conditions are pacified. These texts, though, do not describe every detail of each mandala, but rather serve as mnemonic guides to the complete forms that must be learned from the repeated practice of construction under the guidance of proficient monks. However, most of us seldom recognize the karmic or ritualistic nature of our actions. Knowing only verbally, such people never accomplish anything very beneficial.

Carl Jung’s Mandala and Its Relationship to Art Psychotherapy

Carl Jung's Mandala And Its Relationship To Art Psychotherapy The Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung asserted that the mandala, or, more generally, a circular art form, had a comforting and centering effect upon its maker or observer. He wrote in 1973,

The pictures differ widely, according to the stage of the therapeutic process; but certain important stages correspond to definite motifs. Without going into therapeutic details, I would only like to say that a rearranging of the personality is involved. A kind of new centering. That is why mandalas most appear in connection with chaotic, psychic states of disorientation or panic. Then they have the purpose of reducing the confusion to order, though this is never the conscious intention of the patients. At all events, they express order, balance, and wholeness. Patients themselves often emphasize the beneticial or soothing effect of such pictures.

Jung applied the mandala in his own personal therapy too and thought it to be a visible statement of his psychic state at the moment it was created. As Jung considered the course of producing a mandala to be healing, he would also often construe symbolism appearing within the mandala. He used such descriptions as a bridge from the unconscious to the conscious. He stimulated his patients at the appropriate time in their therapy to learn to decode their own symbols, and thus used the mandala as a channel from dependency on himself, the therapist, to greater autonomy for the patient. Art psychotherapists these days often make use of the mandala as an essential instrument for self-awareness, conflict resolution, and as a foundation for various other art psychotherapeutic techniques in a variety of situations.

Art therapist Joan Kellogg describes the mandala as a still picture taken out of context from a moving picture of the life process of the person. She expounded the process of making a mandala:

Because of the intense focusing when working with the mandala, an altered state of consciousness, an almost hypnotic state may ensue. The mandala then works itself differently than one’s conscious desires. In a sort of biofeedback manner, one gives reign to that part of one’s self that is able to express the contents of consciousness. Then, on reflecting on the finished product, one participates critically.

Cognitively-oriented psychoanalysts occasionally shrink back from Jungian theory asserting that it is too complicated and difficult to understand and accordingly better left to the artistic and religious. Jung every so often has not gained the admiration he warrants among the more scientific schools of thought. The predicament of art psychotherapy has been to some extent similar to that of Jungian theory by reason of the limited amount of scientific research currently existing in such a moderately new field.

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Buddha’s Doctrine Means Redemption by Insight

Buddha's Doctrine Means Redemption by Insight

The answer to the basic questions of existence is to be drawn from these deeper sources, which first lend meaning and justification to the conclusions of reason. Thus what Buddha wishes to reveal is lost in the words that can be said quickly and the abstract propositions that can be thought quickly which make up his teaching. “Deep is the doctrine, hard to behold, hard to understand, full of peace, magnificent, inaccessible to mere reflection, subtle; only the wise man can learn it.”

'How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life' by Dalai Lama (ISBN 0743453360) To this way of thinking, the truth both of the philosophical thought that takes place in normal consciousness and of experience in meditation goes hand in hand with a purification of one’s whole life by ethical action. Falsehood cannot be overcome by acts of thought alone or by the technique of the transformation of consciousness; these methods will succeed only where the soul has been purified.

What Buddha teaches is not a system of knowledge but a path of salvation, “the Noble Eightfold Path”: right views, right aspiriation, right speech, right conduct, right means of livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, right meditation. This coherent picture of the path of salvation is itself a form of pedagogic system. Buddha’s truth is not based solely on meditation but also takes normal consciousness into account. The understanding is transcended, but not rejected. It is called back into use the moment the experience of transcendence has to be communicated. And it would be equally incorrect to say that Buddha’s truth is based entirely on specubtive thought, though its forms of expression are drawn from this source. Nor is it subsumed in the ethos of monastic life. Meditation, understanding, philosophical speculation, monastic ethos. all are part of the truth.

Buddha Teaches a Path of Salvation

Buddha teaches a path of salvation There is no definite relation between the stages of meditation and the ideas accessible to the normal understanding, or between the experience gained by operating with ideas and that gained by operations affecting the state of consciousness. But we find certain parallelisms. In each stage of meditation, for example, a new suprasensory world is experienced. To disregard a reality in order to transcend it is a formal operation that can be performed even without such experience.

Logical ideas create space by freeing us from our bonds with the finite. But it is only by meditation that truths are reinforced and established, that full certainty is attained. It cannot be said that the one is primary, the other a mere consequence. One is, rather, the confirmation and guarantee of the other. Each in its own way prepares us for the truth.

'Buddhism and Science' by Donald S. Lopez Jr. (ISBN 0226493199) In speculation, meditation, and ethos alike, it is the human will that sets the goal and attains it. Each man has his own power of action and conduct, meditation and thought. He works, he struggles, he is like a mountain climber. That is why Buddha is forever calling for an effort of the will. All a man’s powers must be engaged. Not all who try achieve the goal. To be sure, there are exceptional cases of spontaneous Enlightenment without effort of the will, especially under the personal guidance of Buddha. Then the goal is attained all at once, and for the remainder of the adept’s life it is merely clarified by repetition.

Meditation is not a technique that can succeed by itself. It is dangerous to gain a systematic control over one’s states of comciousness. to conjure up one and dispel another. Such methods are ruinous for those who attempt them without the proper foundation. And the found ~ition is the purity or one’s whole life. In the conduct of life the main requirement is “wakefulness,” which is carried over into meditation, where it attains its fullest scope.

Then awareness permeates the body, illumines the unconscious down to the last nook and cranny. To carry light into the depths is the principle of the ethos, of meditation, and of speculation as well. The stages of meditation should not consist of intoxication, ecstasy, or the enjoyment of strange states such as those induced by hashish and opium, but of insight exceeding all normal insight in brightness, an insight in which the thing is present and one is not merely thinking about it. The universal imperative is thus: let nothing lie dormant in the unconscious, wreaking its havoc; let perfect wakefulness accompany all your action and experience.

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Dharma: Does the Universe Have an Inherent Order?

Indian sculpture of the footprints of Buddha with soles of the feet are two Dharmachakras

Dharma is a central Hindu socioreligious precept that may be defined as order, the moral order, or duty, as well as both religious and customary law. Dharma literally means “what holds together” and thus is the basic Hindu concept for all order, whether individual, social, or cosmic, as established by the Veda. The Hindu concept derived from the Vedas of social obligation or duty and that is the basis of all Hindu social laws and ethics.

The concept of dharma dates back to the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE. It is expounded later Hindu texts, such as the epic work Ramayana (500-100 BCE) and the 700-verse Bhagavad Gita (c. 100CE), and is present in other Asian traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Dharma comes from the Sanskrit word for “uphold” or “support.” In Hinduism, dharma refers to the inherent order of things, both in terms of natural laws and social/ethical norms. Karma is a causal force that connects all things in the universe. As a result of this force, everything that a person does affects not only his own future, but also the futures of others.

As stated the word dharma is rendered in the new inscription by eusebeia. Scholars of Hellenistic Greece assure us that this Greek word in Hellenistic contexts refers not only to the veneration of gods, but also to a “generally reverential attitude toward the orders of life,” and that it is used “also for conduct toward relatives, between husband and wife, and even for the conduct of slaves toward their master.”

All human beings have a responsibility to maintain the natural order, which is manifested in the caste system of Hindu society. A person’s actions lead to karma, which determines their gunas (traits) and varna (caste), which in turn dictate the moral obligations that individual has to other people (dharma). For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna’s dharma as a kshatriya (warrior) obligates him to fight in a war even though he does not want to.

In Buddhism, dharma refers to not only the natural or moral order, but also to the teachings of the Buddha. Dharma determines a person’s duties at various stages of life (ashrama):

  • in youth, a student’s obligation is to learn;
  • in middle age, a householder is expected to promote the good of society;
  • in advanced age, the forest dweller and renunciant are expected to focus on spiritual cultivation.

The domain of what is moral was never as clearly emphasized in Hinduism as it was in Buddhism. On the one hand, the realm of dharma stretches out well beyond what is moral; on the other hand, dharma, in most of its contents, is not common to all humankind.

Dharma is one of the central metaphysical justifications for the caste system in India. The symbolic representation of dharma, the Dharmachakra or “dharma wheel,” appears in the center of the flag of India, representing the idea that truth and virtue should be the guiding principles of the nation.

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Karma: What Goes Around Comes Around Meaning and Every Action Has Consequences

Karma: Every action has consequences

The idea of karma illustrates that every action has consequences that go beyond a mere human lifetime.

Karma is a law of causality that first appeared in the Upanishads, the sacred texts that expound the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE. Karma is also a key concept in Buddhism and Jainism.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is God’s inviolable law that karma never fails to produce its effect.”

The term karma means “action” in Sanskrit, and refers to the idea that every action has a specific set of causes and effects. Ethically, karma is a metaphysical record of a person’s moral worth. When someone commits an evil act, they acquire karma; when someone does good, they acquire merit, which cancels out karma. Karma is linked to samsara (the cycle of reincarnation) because when people die, their karma determines the type of rebirth they will have in the next life.

In Hinduism, this is closely tied to the varna (caste) system: a virtuous life eradicates karma and guarantees rebirth in a higher caste that is more capable of attaining moksha, a state of unity between a person’s atman (true self) and Brahman (ultimate reality).

The Meaning of Karma

'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying' by Sogyal Rinpoche (ISBN 0062508342) Max Weber wrote in The Religion of India (1916) that “Karma doctrine transformed the world into a strictly rational, ethically-determined cosmos; it represents the most consistent theodicy ever produced by history.” Schools of established Indian philosophy have established more or less sophisticated paradigms of the psychological processes that typify the relations between karma, rebirth, and spiritual fulfillment. Tibetan Dzogchen Lama Sogyal Rinpoche wrote in ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’,

In simple terms, what does karma mean? It means that whatever we do, with our body, speech, or mind, will have a corresponding result. Each action, even the smallest, is pregnant with its consequences. It is said by masters that even a little poison can cause death, and even a tiny seed can become a huge tree. And as Buddha said: “Do not overlook negative actions merely because they are small; however small a spark may be, it can burn down a haystack as big as a mountain.” Similarly he said: “Do not overlook tiny good actions, thinking they are of no benefit; even tiny drops of water in the end will fill a huge vessel.” Karma does not decay like external things, or ever become inoperative. It cannot be destroyed “by time, fire, or water.” Its power will never disappear, until it is ripened.

In Buddhism, life is characterized by suffering; the goal of spiritual cultivation is to eradicate karma and attain nirvana, a state in which all karma is nullified and a person can exit the cycle of rebirth. In Jainism, expunging all karma leads to moksha, a blissful state of liberation from samsara. In Hinduism and Buddhism, people receive karma only for intentional acts, whereas in Jainism, even unintentional acts can generate karma.

Karma in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy

Understanding Karma

Karma is a principal doctrine to Indian theology and has a similar meaning in both Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. It represents the proposal of universal justice, the conviction that in the end, good will be rewarded and wrong doing penalized. Karma is an objective force functioning to meet out outcomes of actions. The concept of karma is in contradiction of the understandings of the Western Abrahamic beliefs (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) where a personal God adjudicates individual souls at the end of time and dispenses rewards or castigations in proportion to one’s actions in life. Karma is involuntary and not a judgment of one’s conduct but merely a outcome occurring by way of action. 'What the Buddha Taught' by Walpola Rahula (ISBN 0802130313) The Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Walpola Rahula wrote in ‘What the Buddha Taught’

The theory of karma should not be confused with so-called “moral justice” or “reward and punishment.” The idea of moral justice, or reward and punishment, arises out of the conception of a supreme being, a God, who sits in judgment, who is a law giver and who decides what is right and wrong. The term “justice” is ambiguous and dangerous, and in its name more harm then good is done to humanity. The theory of karma is the theory of cause and effect, of action and reaction; it is a natural law, which has nothing to do with the idea of justice or reward and punishment.

Every volitional action produces its effects and results. If a good action produces good effects and a bad action bad effects, it is not justice, or reward, or punishment meted out by anybody or any power sitting in judgment on your action, but this is in virtue of its own nature, its own law. This is not difficult to understand. But what is difficult is that, according to the karma theory, the effects of a volitional action may continue to manifest themselves even in a life after death.’

Karma is Complex

'Karma: What It Is, What It Isn't, Why It Matters' by Traleg Kyabgon (ISBN 1590308883) Karma is frequently spoken of as the law of return, that whatsoever you spread toward others in behavior will return in due course. Contrasting the Western monotheism which postulates only one life for each person, in Eastern beliefs the individual has an entire series of lifespans in which to progress their spiritual and ethical development. The wheel of existence in both Hindu and Buddhist thought is a series of births, lives, and deaths over infinite eons. The individual soul or karmic core gets passed along through consecutive incarnations until spiritual development leads to final union with the divine ground of Being. In Hinduism this is viewed as Brahman, and in Buddhism, this is simply termed enlightenment, or the fully awakened state.

Karma has become a popular term in New Age spirituality; all actions can be good or bad karma, contingent on their ethical characteristics. The Lama Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche wrote in ‘Karma: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Why It Matters’,

The Buddha, radically interpreted the individual as a compound of many different elements, physical and mental – a psychophysical complex. Therefore our feelings, thoughts, emotions, memories, dispositions; our perceptual capability, our cognitive capacities, and our physical conditions – all are constantly interacting and impacting each other.

And agents themselves are also continually interacting with other agents. Logically, then, we need not compelled to identify ourselves with a single thing, a core element to our psyche, as it is really a matter of being in a state of flux. In this sense, karma could be said to operate as streams of networking karmic processes, where all kinds of living, breathing individuals are involved. The really important principle to grasp about this approach is to look closely at things, for things in their nature are complex. Acknowledging this will bring us great reward in fact. Doing the opposite, looking at things in a very simple way, keeps us trapped in ignorance.

Due to the prevalence of Hinduism and Buddhism throughout Asia, karma has become a central moral paradigm. The doctrine of karma has influenced the spiritual beliefs of numerous traditions, including Sikhism, Falun Gong, and Theosophy.

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Buddhism Teaches that Only Knowledge Brings Redemption

Buddhism Teaches that Only Knowledge Brings Redemption

According to Buddha’s teachings, it is not prayer, not grace, and not sacrifice that brings redemption, but only knowledge.

An abstract understanding of theming is still absent, chiefly in the context of a religion-themed environment. How religion should be themed in an embedding environment to meet expectations of redemption remains undetermined. Never in the history of the world had a stratagem of redemption been put forth so simple in its nature, so free from any superhuman agency, so independent of, so even antagonistic to the belief in a soul, the belief in God, and the aspiration for a future life.

This knowledge lies within the power of the individual. It is won by his own insight, based on the power of his own moral conduct. No god bestows insight, the gods themselves are in need of it. Buddha imparts it. Each man who hears it must make it his own. Hence the last words: Strive unremittingly. In this sense, Buddha’s doctrine is philosophy. It lies in man’s power to acquire it.

The Four Buddhist Truths are frequently misinterpreted to mean that the Buddha’s teaching is cynical, or that it stresses only the suffering, pain and unhappiness which are inherent in us. But it is just the opposite. His teaching shows us convincingly what is disappointing and how to surmount it.

'Buddhism: The Complete Guide Of Buddhism' by Djamel Boucly (ISBN 153497850X) But once this faith in redemption by each man’s efforts was shaken, Buddhist thinking was bound to undergo a change. Now the Buddhist cries out for a helping god. But the gods themselves are in need of liberation, hence ultimately powerless. The Buddhist seeks help without abandoning his idea of a man who redeems himself by insight. And he obtains it when Buddha himself becomes a god. A whole new pantheon comes into being, though its figures are not called gods. Buddha, who wished only to bring a doctrine, becomes a divine figure over all the gods. The belief in Buddha’s insight is no longer philosophical faith, but faith in Buddha.

The first factor indicates to the social motivation of being in a stimulating place with family and friends and sustaining curiosity; the second factor refers to the combination of experiencing the environment of expressions of religious redemption and seeking an escape from daily life; and the third factor includes items related to achieving a sense of redemption, being close to God and achieving fulfillment.

Buddha himself, as his last words show, had no desire to attach his wisdom to his person. But the Buddhists did not preserve the human veneration which opens the student to the master’s teachings. At an early day the impact of Buddha’s personility led to his deification.

Authors such as Matthew Arnold (1822—1888) gained the belief to contest the principal Protestant precept of salvation by faith, as well as the conventional reliance on revelation through miracles, in part from the ethical focus and historicism that he learned from Buddhism and, even more so, from the tactic of comparative religion. There is a central distinction between saying that being is incessantly miserable and saying that sorrow is an unavoidable part of the human condition.

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The Death of the Buddha

The Death of the Buddha

The memory of Buddha’s death and the period preceding it has been preserved. The date of his death, 480 B.C.E, is regarded as certain. His last wandering is described in detail. At first, he tried to get the better of his painful illness and cling to his life. Then he put his will behind him: “Three months hence the Perfect One will enter into Nirvana.”

Journeying onward, he casts a last glance back at the beloved city of Vesali. As they enter a little wood, he gives his last instructions: “Make me a bed between two twin trees, my head to the north. I am tired, Ananda.” And he lay down as a lion lying down to rest.

When one of his disciples wept, he said: “Not so, Ananda. Do not mourn, do not lament. Have I not taught you that it is in the very nature of all things near and dear to us to pass away? How then, Ananda, since whatever is brought into being contains within itself the inherent necessity of dissolution, how can it be that such a being should not be dissolved?”

The disciples believe that with Buddha’s death the word will have lost its master. “Think not so. The doctrine and the order that I have taught you, they will be your master when I am gone. The Perfect One thinks not that it is he who should lead the brotherhood. … I am now grown old, my journey is drawing to its close, I am turning eighty years of age. Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in the truth.”

His last words were: “All accomplishment is transient. Strive unremittingly.” Then, rising from one stage of contemplation to the next, Buddha entered into Nirvana.

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Meditation: Controlling one’s own mind to realize a new mode of consciousness

A carving of the Buddha sitting in meditation pose

The practice of meditation encompasses a range of techniques that can be used by individuals to cause their mind to experience a different level of consciousness. Meditation can be focused on many different goals, including self-regulation, religious experience, building internal energy sources, and relaxation. Typically, meditation is a practice that involves training the mind to engage in a particular habit of reflections. In some traditions, meditation involves attempting to separate the mind from the other experiences of the body, whereas others emphasize a physical element of meditation by encouraging repetitive action or vocalizations. The great Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Sivananda once said, “Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness.”

Many religious traditions developed practices that were intended to move the individual beyond the experience of the immediate self, and all of these can be considered forms of meditation. The earliest recommendations for the use of meditation can be found in the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE, and in ancient Buddhist texts, which promote meditation as essential for a path to enlightenment. In Tibetan Buddhism, meditation is both a path toward inner reflection to know oneself better and a path ultimately to move beyond the limits of the self.

In several traditions, meditation is intended to have a calming effect on the mind, which is why the term is often used nowadays to refer to a range of quiet relaxation techniques that do not necessarily have religious meaning. Even in the modern world, the idea of meditation usually means more than just relaxation, however. Communication with a reality that goes beyond the typically limited experience of consciousness requires that consciousness be transformed in some way. Thus, most religions include a form of prayer that can be considered a kind of meditation.

'Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism' by Chogyam Trungpa (ISBN 1570629579) Over 40 years ago, in his seminal book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, the Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talked about how we misuse meditation as a defense against what we do not want to feel.

Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit. . . . We go through the motions, make the appropriate gestures, but we really do not want to sacrifice any part of our way of life. We become skillful actors, and while playing deaf and dumb to the real meaning of the teachings, we find some comfort in pretending to follow the path.

This variety of meditation is in many respects quite different from what is conservatively understood as “meditation” in our contemporary culture. Meditation buttonholed as a somatic habit consists of two aspects. The first involves paying attention to our body, transporting our conscious intention and focus to and into our physical form. Devoutness is an opening of your heart to the promises you seek—the promises of peace, freedom, or awakening.

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Resplendent Sculpture of Avalokiteshvara from Kurkihar (Bihar, India) from 12th Century

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara from Kurkihar, Bihar

The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, a sculpture originated from Kurkihar, during the reign of Ramapala of the Pala dynasty, 11th-12th century. Kurkihar is the historical site was visited by Buddhist pilgrims in the ancient times including the Chinese travelers Fa-Hien and Hieun Tsang. It lies at a distance of approximately 22 km from the Gaya district.

This bodhisattva sits on a double lotus in lalitasana; his right foot rests on a lotus emanating from the base, suggesting that a prabhamandala was in place on another base. His right hand is stretched out, bestowing blessings and boons. The left hand holds a lotus stem which blooms over his left shoulder.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara sits on a Double Lotus in Lalitasana Wearing a girdle with pearls around his waist, the other jewels comprise a necklace, bracelets, arm-bands and a beaded sacred thread that drapes over his right thigh. Notable are the twin kirtimukha, faces, on his armbands. His hair, arranged in a coiffure on top of his head, contains an effigy of Amitabha.

Kurkihar: Relic of an ancient Buddhist Monastery

Kurkihar is a village about three miles north east of Wazirgunj. It deserves mention on account of the remarkable abundance of ancient remains. Carved slabs of large size and architectural fragments of all kinds are found in plenty, often built into the walls of houses. Votive stupas are to be found in abundance on the edge of a large tank, great quantities of large bricks of ancient make are still being dug out of the great mound. Some well-preserved statues had been removed by the local zamindar to his house, the most important of which is a figure of bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

There is another collection of ancient sculptures in the courtyard of the temple of Bhagwati, among which is a singularly beautiful figure of Buddha in meditation. At Punawan, three miles to the south-west are more Buddhist remains. Here stood the once famous temple of Trailoknath which does not now exist.

A large mound that this village sits on the top of is the remains of what was a Buddhist monastery in antique times. The village hit the headlines in 1930 when one hundred and forty-eight bronze articles were dug out of this mound. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all sizes, bells, stupas and ritual objects of the finest workmanship were recovered. Most of these are now on display in a special room in the Patna Museum.

The second of Kurkihar’s two Hindu temples still has a large collection of Buddhist sculptures in it that have been found in the area over the years. One of the best of these is a fine statue of Akshobhya Buddha just outside the entrance of the temple. Note the fourteen calved pillars in the temple also, they date from about the 9th century.

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The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism

Buddha Statue at Borobodur Temple in Indonesia

Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, taught that the Buddhist path to enlightenment lies in freedom from desire.

According to traditional biographies, Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 BCE) was a prince from northern India who renounced his privileged life to seek spiritual awakening. At first he followed the ascetic tradition of Indian holy men, mortifying the flesh with extreme fasting and other hardships. After seven years of such striving, and now so emaciated as to be barely alive, he came to sit under the Bodhi Tree at Gaya. One evening, he accepted a little nourishing food, relaxed, and felt a profound change overtake him. After sitting through the night, at dawn he achieved a state of perfect understanding, becoming a Buddha (enlightened one).

Siddhartha’s insight into the nature of reality was later formulated as the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

  • 'Buddhism in Practice' by Donald S. Lopez Jr. (ISBN 0691129681) The first truth is that life, as usually lived, is suffering “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering.” The Pali Canon of Buddhist scriptures (duhkha)-frustration of desire, losing what we want, having to live with what we do not want.
  • The second truth is that suffering results from clinging to the illusory things of the world with desire or hatred, striving for one or fleeing another.
  • The third truth spells out the solution: the achievement of nirvana, the state of enlightenment in which the world can be seen for the delusion that it is. Freedom from illusion will mean freedom from attachment to illusory desires.
  • The final truth sets out the practical path to enlightenment dharma—including right understanding, right speech, right action, and right concentration.

In the context of the traditional Indian belief in reincarnation, nirvana is seen as the escape from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. Freedom is found in the realization that even the self is an illusion.

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