Tibetan Sand Mandalas

 

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The sacred art of sand painting comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition (Tib: dul-tson-kyil-khor – mandala of coloured powders; ‘mandala’ means circle in Sanskrit). Tibetan Buddhism (7th century) is based on Indian Buddhism (5th century). Its main goals are: a) to reach individual enlightenment, 2) the liberation of all beings, and c) the development of unconditional compassion and insight wisdom.  

Mandalas which are cosmic maps indicating the succession of initiations from the historical Buddha 2600 years ago to present day are a crucial aspect of most Buddhist traditions. They are used to guide practitioners to enlightenment and are usually painted or woven on scrolls and huge wall-hangings placed in the main prayer halls of temples or occasionally constructed in 3 dimensions (the Kalachakra Mandala at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet). As new teachers, or acharyas, are initiated, lineage mandalas are updated so that all those who have succeeded to the teachings are indicated there.

Each mandala represents the entire universe with Mount Meru, a sacred mountain with 5 peaks manifesting physically, metaphysically and spiritually in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cosmologies, in the centre. There are 3 realms inside the mandala: Arupyadhatu – the formless realm, Rupudhatu – the realm of form and Kamadhatu – the desire realm.

 

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In the Tibetan tradition, however, they are usually created from coloured sand laid on to a geometrical blueprint and represent a ritual in their own right. In addition they  are a sacred object of meditation in the memories of viewers. Similarly, the deities adopted in each lineage reside inside the mandala, the principal deity in the centre. The sand mandala is a two-dimensional representation of 3-dimensions and could be said to resemble an intricate palace where the deities reside.

It is ritualistically dismantled once it has been completed and all accompanying ceremonies and viewings come to a close. This process and its conclusion symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life, in other words, impermanence. Buddhists aspire to be liberated from all attachments to objects and beings on the material plane or in the visible world.  According to this tradition, the world we can perceive with our eyes is but a dream and reality is to be found inside and accessed by meditation.

History

The first references to mandalas made of sand in Tibet come from ‘The Blue Annals,’ an ancient history of Tibetan Buddhism written by Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pel c. the 14th century called ‘The Treasure of Lives: A Biographical encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalaya Region.’ He started to write this seminal work by dictating it to his at the age of 84. The mandala was originally metaphysical or spiritual rather than tangible.  It was a way of accessing or unlocking the power of the universe during meditation and there are references to Buddhist teachers transforming themselves into mantras and then dispersing into the universe. 

 

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Purpose

The sand mandala is an intricate focus of meditation which monks study in depth, sometimes for as long as 3 years. It is designed to guide those who aspire to enlightenment by purifying and healing their minds, transforming them from an ordinary mind into an enlightened mind. When completed and dispersed, mixed with water and given back to the Earth, its blessings and beauty can be shared with all beings.  In this way, it is truly a metaphor for human life in that each being grows from a dependent child into a complex system of structures, memories, experiences and relationships.  But at death, this disintegrates and is returned to the earth.  In other words, nothing and no-one ever truly dies but just changes, growing at the same pace as the universe. The mandala is deeply rooted in the mind of its creator or creators and is often made at the request of a particular teacher or guru. The deities which reside inside its palace serve as role models or Bodhisattvas for practitioners.

 

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Materials

Originally, granules of crushed coloured rock and precious gems were used to create mandalas, but today white rock dyed with coloured inks is preferred. The grains form a dense kind of sand which is needed to limit interference from sneezing or sudden breezes. The colours used are white (crushed gypsum), yellow ochre, red sandstone, blue made from a mixture of gypsum and charcoal, red and black making brown, red and white making pink, etc. Also, corn meal, flower pollen and powdered roots and bark are used depending on their availability.  

The monks wear masks to preserve their work from breath. Small tubes and funnels called chak-pur are gently tapped with metal rods to create vibrations which lay down the sand into the blueprint a controlled way.  A skilled mandala maker can enable the sand to flow like liquid. Also, large pairs of compasses are used to draw circles accurately, but there is no engraving of any kind as the sand is laid on a flat surface.

 

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Method

First, the site where the mandala is to be made is consecrated with sacred chants, incense burning and Tibetan music played on sacred Buddhist instruments.  The leader of the team of as many as 20 monks will use white chalk or pencils to mark out the detailed drawing or blueprint of the lineages from memory with an area outside representing the charnel grounds or sacred area where bodies are left to decompose naturally. They can be as big as 7 feet square. It is important to note that Tibetan Buddhism is Esoteric in that teachings are handed down from Master to pupil and preserved orally.  They are rarely written down.

One monk is assigned to each of the four gateways aligned with the compass points and he and his team will work specifically on that quadrant until completion. Assistants or novices fill in the forms while the senior monks attend to the detail.  Adding the coloured sand always starts from the centre where the principal teacher or guru resides.

When the mandala is complete, it is once more consecrated with an elaborate ceremony, and the final stage is the sweeping away of the grains in towards the middle which reverses the original process. Deities are removed scrupulously in a particular order and the sand is collected in a jar, wrapped in silk and taken to a body of water to be released. According to the scriptures, this constitutes a healing, transmitting positive energies back into the environment and sharing the blessings from the beautiful ephemeral form with the universe.

 

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Famous examples

The Kalachakra Mandala mentioned above, a 3-dimensional ornate golden palace, embraces 722 different deities in a complex 2-dimensional representation of 3. According to scholars, it is now more or less certain that the ornate structures of Borobudur in eastern Java and Angkor Wat in Cambodia are 3-dimensional mandalas. Their carvings and devotional intensity are a living meditation for those who visit to pay homage. However, due to the esoteric nature of Mahayana Buddhism, this can never be entirely confirmed. Both of these structures are mystical and not intended to be analysed or labelled.

 

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Sand Painting exponents today

It is thought that there are only 30 people in the world today who are qualified to teach the techniques and secrets of Tibetan sand painting.  Losang Samten, an American Tibetan scholar and sand painting artist is one of them. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan nation, instructed his monks to make a sand mandala following the Sept 11 tragedy at the New York World trade Centre as a protection from future disasters and to heal the environment and the human life so devastated by it.

 

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Images courtesy of various Tibetan websites and Linden Thorp

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Prince Shotoku: Founder of Japanese Buddhism and the Japanese nation

 

AHE-Logo-TM-265pxhttp://www.ancient.eu/article/1029/

by Charley Linden Thorp

published on 09 March 2017

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In Japan in 573 CE Anahobe, the wife of the Emperor’s son, had a dream of a priest in golden robes who asked her if he could lodge in her womb as he was about to be born as a world-saving Bodhisattva. The child was born painlessly and unexpectedly in the imperial stables and was named Shotoku (sho meaning sacred, and toku meaning virtue). At the age of 2, he naturally placed his hands together in gassho (reverence), faced the East, and recited the words, Namu Butsu (praise be to Buddha). Buddhism had hardly been heard of in Japan at that time! Prince Shotoku was to rule Japan between 594-622 CE as Regent and to unite his nation of warring clans in the dual roles of the first Buddhist statesman in the world and the lay founder of Japanese Buddhism.

Prince Shotoku as a Youth

Prince Shotoku had several titles:

  • Prince of the Stable Door (Umayodo no Miko) due to the unusual circumstances of his birth.
  • Prince of Eight Ears (Yatsumimi no Miko) because of his special intelligence and his ability to listen to eight people at one time and understand each of them.
  • Prince of the Upper Palace (Kamitsumiya no Miko or Jogu Taishi) because his father, Emperor Yōmei, loved and respected his talented son so much that he created a special part of the palace for him to live in.

ACHIEVEMENTS

The civic contributions made by Jogu Taishi (the title most people in Japan give him) were impressive and are still in place. Among them, he created the ‘cap system’ for government officials which rooted out nepotism with the recognition of merit. He imported Chinese culture along with the lunar calendar, art and scholarship and he resumed the existing practice of dispatching of envoys to import all manner of cultural and religious knowledge to Japan which had been terminated. He initiated irrigation projects to improve agriculture and implemented extensive welfare measures. He created highway systems and he wrote the first chronicle of Japanese history.

BUDDHISM IN JAPAN

How he came to be devoted to this new faith which suddenly appeared in the islands of Japan is something of a mystery as mentioned above. However, though a Buddhist scholar and the first patriarch of Japanese Buddhism, he remained a lay practitioner throughout his life. It is thought that Buddhism first became known in Japan when the ruler of a province of Korea called Baekje visited Japan and presented a beautiful gold-plated image of Buddha Shakyamuni and sutra scrolls to Emperor Kimmei (531-571), Shotoku’s grandfather, who was impressed. However, his enthusiasm to adopt Buddhism threw the principal families of Japan into confusion. 

Japan had been culturally isolated and conservative until then and showed no sign that the indigenous religion, Shinto, the ‘Way of the Gods,’ was inadequate. Shinto develops a deep appreciation of natural beauty and spirituality but there is no ethical element, unlike Buddhism.  Also, at the time there was no formal written language in Japan so the enthusiastic adoption of Chinese pictographs happened simultaneously with the influx of Buddhist sutras in Chinese translation.   

However, Shotoku, now Prince Regent to his Aunt Suiko who succeeded her husband in 593 CE, was to convince the country that Buddhism was exactly what was needed. In fact, at the age of 14, he fought in a brief civil war between the progressive Soga family who favoured Buddhism and the conservative Monobes family.  It was a Holy War fought over the enshrinement of Holy relics in a pagoda (stupa) which Shotoku insisted was essential as the origin of Buddhism was so far away from Japan in India

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Prince Shotoku

Surprisingly, Buddhism replaced Shinto as the national religion of Japan within 50 years exactly due to its values of tolerance, rationality and philosophical depth, none of which featured in the Shinto faith. The only remnant of Shinto which was retained was the link between members of the Imperial family and the Japanese goddess of the Sun and the Universe, Amaterasu, who are still considered to be her direct descendants.

Perhaps the story which best exemplifies Shotoku’s devout Buddhist faith as an adult is when his father became seriously ill. The Prince sat by his father’s bedside day and night meditating on his recovery and as a result, he did recover and became a devoted Buddhist himself.

TEMPLES & TEACHINGS

The Prince initiated the first two Buddhist temples to be built in Japan. Shitenno-ji  (530 CE), the temple of the Four Heavenly Kings, of the North, South, East and West, was erected because whilst defending his family in battle, he prayed intently to the 4 Buddhist Kings and victory was achieved. Later Horyu-ji was built in Nara to contain many treasured artworks and artefacts, and he went on to build five more. But these temples were not merely places of worship. Shitenno-ji, built at the seaport, was a religious sanctuary providing training in music and the arts, a dispensary for medical herbs, an asylum for the abandoned and a hospital and sanatorium. Monks took many roles in society, as educators, physicians, and even engineers. Temples in Japan today are often cultural and welfare centres.

Prince Shotoku also gave public lectures on various aspects of Buddhism. He authored eight volumes of commentaries on sutras. The Sangyo-gisho (3 Sutras) was popular among lay Buddhists. It focused on the Lotus Sutra which conveyed Buddha Nature and universal enlightenment, the Vimalakirti Sutra which expounded lay Buddhism and national rulers as Bodhisattvas, and the Srimaladevi Sutra which extolled the virtues of a Buddhist Queen to honour his devout aunt, Princess Suiko.

SHOTOKU’S CONSTITUTION

‘HARMONY IS THE MOST PRECIOUS ASSET.  WE ALL ALTERNATE BETWEEN WISDOM & MADNESS.  IT IS A CLOSED CIRCLE.’ SHOTOKU SEVENTEEN-ARTICLE CONSTITUTION

The 5 bonds of Confucius figure in each article: ruler to ruled, father to son, elder to younger siblings, elder friend to younger friend, and husband to wife. Shotoku declared, ‘‘Harmony is the most precious asset.  We all alternate between wisdom and madness.  It is a closed circle.’ According to the Nihon Shoki, a definitive history of ancient Japan written in circa 720 CE, Prince Shotoku created a seventeen-article ‘constitution’ (Jpn. Jushichojo Kenpo) which was implemented as a political tool to unite the warring clans. This was not a modern constitution designed for the governing of state and subjects, but a set of spiritual aspirations inspired equally by Buddhism and Confucianism. It focused on the morals and virtues that should be the aspiration of every subject in the realm and led to him receiving the title ‘Dharma Monarch’ (Skt; Dharmaraja)

The following articles are evidence that this is truly a Buddhist constitution: Article 2: Reverence to the 3 Treasures of Buddhism – Shotoku firmly believed that all beings could benefit from their truth. Article 6: the difference between merit and demerit, reward and punishment – this demonstrates the laws of karma so central to Buddhism. Article 10: self-control and mind-control – the harmony between nature and society, also a strong goal of the Buddhist way of life. They are as follows:

1. Harmony should be valued and quarrels should be avoided.

2. The three treasures, which are Buddha, the (Buddhist) Law and the (Buddhist) Priesthood; should be given sincere reverence, for they are the final refuge of all living things. 

3. Do not fail to obey the commands of your Sovereign. He is like Heaven, which is above the Earth, and the vassal is like the Earth, which bears up Heaven. 

4. The Ministers and officials of the state should make proper behavior their first principle, for if the superiors do not behave properly, the inferiors are disorderly.

5. Deal impartially with the legal complaints which are submitted to you. 

6. Punish the evil and reward the good. 

7. Every man has his own work. Do not let the spheres of duty be confused. 

8. Ministers and officials should attend the Court early in the morning and retire late, for the whole day is hardly enough for the accomplishment of state business. 

9. Good faith is the foundation of right. 

10. Let us control ourselves and not be resentful when others disagree with us, for all men have hearts and each heart has its own leanings. 

11. Know the difference between merit and demerit.

12. Do not let the local nobility levy taxes on the people. 

13. All people entrusted with office should attend equally to their duties. 

14. Do not be envious! For if we envy others, then they, in turn, will envy us. 

15. To subordinate private interests to the public good — that is the path of a vassal. 

16. Employ the people in forced labor at seasonable times. 

17. Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone.  

(Nihon Shoki)

These tenets provide the basis of stable and peaceful Japan today 1500 years later and could be said to be part of the essence of its distinctive culture.

DEATH & LEGACY

In 621 CE, Shotoku became gravely ill and as an indication of his popularity, a statue was commissioned in the form of the Buddha. It can now be viewed in the Hall of Dreams of the Horyuji Temple in Nara.  After his death in 622 CE, he became known as ‘Japan’s Shakyamuni’ and his relics were enshrined in the various temples he established.

The surviving features of the Mahayana Buddhism he founded are as follows: the notion that all beings have Buddha Nature and can be enlightened regardless of spiritual training, class or gender (Jpn. Ekayana); the spiritual aspects of Buddhism are the most important – this remains true today; gender discrimination in monasteries should not exist; Buddhism should be synonymous with the welfare of the Japanese nation and symbolic of prosperity and peace.    

Shitenno-ji Temple, Osaka

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In the Middle Ages, Shinran (1173-1262 CE), the founder of Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land), the largest school of Japanese Buddhism today, worshipped Prince Shotoku as the saviour of Japan. Shinran is famous as the first ordained monk to reject his clerical vow of celibacy which set a trend for Japanese clerics. He openly married and had children with Eshinni and the reason for this departure was that Prince Shotoku appeared to him in a dream as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kannon, who assured him that he would be incarnated in Eshinni.  So, in a way, Shinran married his greatest hero. Shotoku is also said to have reincarnated as Bodhisattva Eshi of the Tendai faith and later as Amida Buddha, the principal Buddha of the Pure Land School.

In conclusion, as Prince Shotoku firmly believed, it is certain that our sincere relationships with each other are the most important factor of all in society and that individual power and success must only be viewed through that lens. But this 17-article constitution could and can only be successful if humans put aside all their self-seeking ideas and temper their dominant egos and temporal desires. This can best be achieved by cultivating Buddha Nature and embodying our divine mission of unconditional love and light. Altruism – sincerely looking after others before ourselves – is an ancient universal tenet of the human species which Prince Shotoku spent his life embodying.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CHARLEY LINDEN THORP

Linden is a ValidLit writer/teacher living in Japan. Ordained as a Buddhist Priest, she is a Dharma/Meditation teacher working to make the ideas of Buddha Nature accessible to everyone, which involves many thousands of years of historical research.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Buddha World
  • Anesaki, M, The Foundation of Buddhist Culture in japan. (Monumenta Nipponica, 1943), 1-12.
  • Anonymous, An Introduction to Buddhism: teachings, History and Practices. (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  • Anonymous, Nihon Shoki
  • Banarsidass, M., “The Birth of Japanese Buddhism,” Buddhist Spirituality vol II.
  • Buswell, J.R.E. (Ed), Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Macmillan Reference, 2004)
  • Carr, K.G., “Pieces of Princes: Personalized Relics in Medieval Japan,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 38(1): 93-127.
  • Fujiwara K., Shotoku Taishi Derek
  • Kitagawa, J.M., “The Buddhist Transformation of Japan,” History of Religions 4 (2): 319-336.
  • Soper, A.C., A Pictorial Biography of Prince Shotoku (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 1967), 197-215.

The Peacock: embodying human aspirations to connect with the Universe

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Ancient Indians, like the Aborigines of Australia and Japanese Shintoists, believed wholly in the supernatural and the natural world. They especially envied the characteristics of some animals. The peacock was one such creature they revered and desired to emulate.

At first, they were afraid of the peacock with its mournful cry, its fantastic plumage and feral ways, and especially shocked when they realized on observing that it was capable of eating poisonous spiders and snakes in order to nourish its large physical structure, and could survive. Quite naturally, they also wished to transcend such poisoning and human fragility, and so came to worship the peacock out of a mixture of envy and fear.

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At this time in India there were 2 powerful religions: Hinduism for the masses, and Brahmanism for the elite and all beings aspired to spiritual liberation through these pathways. Therefore many mantras, or recited invocations, were used as a matter of course in everyday life. It is clear from research that the ancient Indians possessed an authentic insight into the use of the spiritual voice to communicate with the invisible world.

So, such mantras were developed to emulate the peacock and bring this animal god closer to the human world—mantras, which even incorporated the doleful cry of the peacock, for example, the Great Peacock King mantra from Tibetan Buddhism: “Om Mayura Krante Svaha.” They really believed that by calling upon this magical and terrifying bird, they may themselves would gain some of its divine qualities and so enable them to transcend their human weaknesses and limitations.

 

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So, Mantrayana, the next stage of Buddhism after the Golden Buddha’s initial teachings and death (circa 2600) was created. This movement was inspired by the idea that all poisons are the same so that in time, the negative aspects of the human mind such as ignorance, greed, and hatred became known as ‘poison’ which required an ‘antidote.’ Mantras or invocations were viewed as just such a kind of antidote and eventually became recognized as a part of nature and not created by man at all.

They represented an esoteric or secret language which nature or the universe would respond to. In other words, a way for humans to fuse with the microcosm.

 

 

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These faith pioneers had enormous imagination not having yet learned the passiveness of modern, intensively technological societies. As today, poisonous snakes such as the cobra were common, so protection and awareness was essential to prevent fatal bites or stings. One method was to mesmerize the snake with the sound of a flute so that it would obey, but another way was to worship creatures that could dispose of them.

When a peacock comes face to face with a snake, it purposely pretends to be scared and allows the snake to wrap itself around its body. Then just as the snake is about to attack, it spreads out its wings and feathers with great force and sends the snake flying.

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The image of the elegant peacock driving away a poisonous snake, like a beautiful woman driving off an evil beast, impressed people. They thought this bird had god-like powers, and so gradually this image metamorphosed into a Buddhist deity or Holy Being. Much later in Japanese Buddhism (7th Century), this image below became known as Peacock Myoo or Guardian of the Law.

The Guardian of the Law is riding on the back of the peacock and holding sacred instruments in each of her four arms: a lotus, a peacock feather, a fruit resembling a lemon, and a pomegranate. The lotus represents benevolence and kindness. The lemon cures the diseases of anyone that eats it. The pomegranate drives off evil spirits. But the mighty peacock feather has the power to actually prevent disasters such as earthquakes and floods. This painting was made using luxurious materials like silver and gold leaf to make it sparkle and shine with the Peacock’s mystical power. However, the metals have tarnished over time so it is difficult to see clearly.

 

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In general, the peacock is a symbol of openness and acceptance. In Christianity, it is a symbol of immortality, and in Hinduism, the patterns of its feathers, resembling eyes, symbolize the star constellations. And in Buddhism as we can see above, wisdom is its attribute.
The five feathers on the peacock’s head are said to symbolize the five spiritual paths and the five Buddha families. Their beautiful colours give pleasure to all beings in the same way that setting eyes upon a Bodhisattva (an enlightened being) or Buddha (an awakened being) can bring comfort and provoke bliss.

 

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Sacred human intelligence is awe-inspiring. The unique human spirit naturally will find many ingenious ways to communicate with its divine origin, the invisible world. I believe that this communication beyond what we can see or prove visually is the way to true balance and unending happiness.

 

 

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Images courtesy of Megapixl.com and Linden Thorp: Vietnam Chua Bai Dinha Temple main Buddha – https://www.megapixl.com/klodien-stock-images-videos-portfolio by jessealbanese; Three Peacocks-kvkirllov; Indian Architecture exterior-Jaipur City Palace-twinandphotography; Indian divinity with peacock – https://www.megapixl.com/magicinfoto-stock-images-videos-portfolio; Myoo-Japan Temple exhibition-clthorp; Beautiful Peacock Roof design-Japan-Lucyinsisu; Head of Peacock – https://www.megapixl.com/adeliepenguin-stock-images-videos-portfolio; Peacock – Krookedeye

 

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Prince Shotoku: Peace and Salvation for all beings of the realm

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According to the Nihon Shoki, the definitive history of ancient Japan, written in Japan in 720, Prince Shotoku created a seventeen-article ‘constitution,’ which was adopted  during the reign of Empress Suiko, his aunt.  This was not a modern constitution designed for the governing of state and subjects, but a set of regulations inspired equally by Buddhism and Confucianism which focused on the morals and virtues that should be the aspiration of every subject in the realm. It is one of the earliest constitutions in history which is as it should be perhaps, ie. more spiritual than legal or civic. 

Prince Shotoku had several titles which provide a neat outline to his biography, as follows:

  1. Prince of the Stable Door (Umayodo no Miko).  This is due to the legend that his mother gave birth to him unexpectedly and without any pain whilst inspecting the imperial stables.
  2. Prince of Eight Ears (Yatsumimi no Miko). This came about because of his special intelligence and his ability to listen to 8 people at one time and understand each of them.
  3. Prince of the Upper Palace (Kamitsumiya no Miko or Jogu Taishi). His father, Emperor Yomei, loved and respected his talented son so much that he created a special part of the palace for him to live in.

 

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His character was naturally strong and devoted to creating a new Japan, and his influence is unquestionable although his absolute authorship of the first constitution Japan is now in question. Jogu Taishi’s civic contributions are impressive, among them: creating a ranking system for government officials which abolished the existing nepotism with a system which recognized merit; importing Chinese culture along with the calendar, art and scholarship, resuming the dispatching of envoys to import all manner of cultural and religious; irrigation projects and welfare measures; highway systems; and writing the first chronicle of Japanese history.

But perhaps he is best known for the remarkable constitution which he accomplished from a brilliant combining of Buddhist and Confucian principals based on Chinese models. In addition, he introduced Buddhist practice which unified a collection of Shinto or animistic cults. His personal faith was quickly awakened which he continued to act on in daily life throughout his life.

Perhaps the story which best exemplifies this is when his father became seriously ill.  The prince sat by his father’s bedside day and night meditating on his recovery and as a result he did recover and became a devoted Buddhist himself.

 

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He initiated the first two Buddhist temples to be built in Japan.  Shitenno-ji  (530 AD), the temple of the Four Heavenly Kings  – North, South, East and West – was erected because at the age of 15 whilst defending his family in battle, he prayed intently to the 4 Buddhist Kings and victory was achieved. Shitenno-ji in Osaka is dedicated to the Kings. (below left) Later Horyu-ji was built in Nara to contain many treasured art works and artifacts. (below right)

 

 

Shotoku’s reign marked the beginning of the era of the unification of many independent states in Japan in which the emperor was to be regarded as the highest authority. The Prince, choosing to remain a lay practitioner throughout his life, also introduced the Three Treasures or JewelsBuddha (the awakened One), Dharma (the Law) and Sangha (the community) as the national object of worship.  He invited outstanding Korean Buddhist priests to tutor him while Confucian scholars became his advisors.

The 17-article constitution speaks for itself of balance and ethics.  He achieved an ideal combination of ethical and spiritual values and an openness to other more sophisticated cultures and systems of government unknown until then.  Japan had been in turmoil until his succession, moral values thwarted and gross unfairness dominating. But in each article the 5 important relationships or ‘bonds’ of Confucius – ruler to ruled, father to son, elder t0 younger siblings, and husband to wife – are apparent and harmonized with the Buddhist aspirations to altruism and the Great Truth. 

Read them for yourself to decide.

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1. Harmony should be valued and quarrels should be avoided. Everyone has his biases, and few men are far‐sighted. Therefore some disobey their lords and fathers and keep up feuds with their neighbors. But when the superiors are in harmony with each other and the inferiors are friendly, then affairs are discussed quietly and the right view of matters prevails.

2. The three treasures, which are Buddha, the (Buddhist) Law and the (Buddhist) Priesthood; should be given sincere reverence, for they are the final refuge of all living things. Few men are so bad that they cannot be taught their truth.

3. Do not fail to obey the commands of your Sovereign. He is like Heaven, which is above the Earth, and the vassal is like the Earth, which bears up Heaven. When Heaven and Earth are properly in place, the four seasons follow their course and all is well in Nature. But if the Earth attempts to take the place of Heaven, Heaven would simply fall in ruin. That is why the vassal listens when the lord speaks, and the inferior obeys when the superior acts. Consequently when you receive the commands of your Sovereign, do not fail to carry them out or ruin will be the natural result.

4. The Ministers and officials of the state should make proper behavior their first principle, for if the superiors do not behave properly, the inferiors are disorderly; if inferiors behave improperly, offenses will naturally result. Therefore when lord and vassal behave with propriety, the distinctions of rank are not confused: when the people behave properly the Government will be in good order.

5. Deal impartially with the legal complaints which are submitted to you. If the man who is to decide suits at law makes gain his motive, and hears cases with a view to receiving bribes, then the suits of the rich man will be like a stone flung into water, meeting no resistance, while the complaints of the poor will be like water thrown upon a stone. In these circumstances the poor man will not know where to go, nor will he behave as he should.

 

6. Punish the evil and reward the good. This was the excellent rule of antiquity. Therefore do not hide the good qualities of others or fail to correct what is wrong when you see it. Flatterers and deceivers are a sharp weapon for the overthrow of the state, and a sharp sword for the destruction of the people. Men of this kind are never loyal to their lord, or to the people. All this is a source of serious civil disturbances.

7. Every man has his own work. Do not let the spheres of duty be confused. When wise men are entrusted with office, the sound of praise arises. If corrupt men hold office, disasters and tumult multiply. In all things, whether great or small, find the right man and they will be well managed. Therefore the wise sovereigns of antiquity sought the man to fill the office, and not the office to suit the man. If this is done the state will be lasting and the realm will be free from danger.

8. Ministers and officials should attend the Court early in the morning and retire late, for the whole day is hardly enough for the accomplishment of state business. If one is late in attending Court, emergencies cannot be met; if officials retire early, the work cannot be completed.

9. Good faith is the foundation of right. In everything let there be good faith, for if the lord and the vassal keep faith with one another, what cannot be accomplished? If the lord and the vassal do not keep faith with each other, everything will end in failure.

10. Let us control ourselves and not be resentful when others disagree with us, for all men have hearts and each heart has its own leanings. The right of others is our wrong, and our right is their wrong. We are not unquestionably sages, nor are they unquestionably fools. Both of us are simply ordinary men. How can anyone lay down a rule by which to distinguish right from wrong? For we are all wise sometimes and foolish at others. Therefore, though others give way to anger, let us on the contrary dread our own faults, and though we may think we alone are in the right, let us follow the majority and act like them.

11. Know the difference between merit and demerit, and deal out to each its reward and punishment. In these days, reward does not always follow merit, or punishment follow crime. You high officials who have charge of public affairs, make it your business to give clear rewards and punishments.

12. Do not let the local nobility levy taxes on the people. There cannot be two lords in a country; the people cannot have two masters. The sovereign is the sole master of the people of the whole realm, and the officials that he appoints are all his subjects. How can they presume to levy taxes on the people?

 

13. All people entrusted with office should attend equally to their duties. Their work may sometimes be interrupted due to illness or their being sent on missions. But whenever they are able to attend to business they should do so as if they knew what it was about and not obstruct public affairs on the grounds they are not personally familiar with them.

14. Do not be envious! For if we envy others, then they in turn will envy us. The evils of envy know no limit. If others surpass us in intelligence, we are not pleased; if they are more able, we are envious. But if we do not find wise men and sages, how shall the realm be governed?

15. To subordinate private interests to the public good — that is the path of a vassal. Now if a man is influenced by private motives, he will be resentful, and if he is influenced by resentment he will fail to act harmoniously with others. If he fails to act harmoniously with others, the public interest will suffer. Resentment interferes with order and is subversive of law.

16. Employ the people in forced labor at seasonable times. This is an ancient and excellent rule. Employ them in the winter months when they are at leisure, but not from Spring to Autumn, when they are busy with agriculture or with the mulberry trees (the leaves of which are fed to silkworms). For if they do not attend to agriculture, what will there be to eat? If they do not attend to the mulberry trees, what will there be for clothing?

17. Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone. They should be discussed with many people. Small matters are of less consequence and it is unnecessary to consult a number of people. It is only in the case of important affairs, when there is a suspicion that they may miscarry, that one should consult with others, so as to arrive at the right conclusion.

As a permanent resident of Japan and a practicing Buddhist, I find my life in Japan stable and harmonious. In the globalization process of my adopted country, it is to be hoped that this spiritual and civil symmetry first established by Shotoku Taishi almost 1500 years ago, will survive.  

 

lotus-5595396

 

It is certain that our sincere relationships with each other are by far and away the most important of all, and that individual power and success must only being viewed through that lens.  If the teachings of the Buddhas are utilized as a raft to travel to Nirvana, the other side of human suffering, and we can then let go of them and encourage our True or Buddha Nature to flow, we can cohabit with tolerance and respect for each other.

But this constitution can only be successful if we put aside all our self-seeking ideas, and temper our dominant egos and temporal desires.  This can best be achieved by cultivating our Buddha Nature and embodying our divine mission of unconditional love and light. Altruism – sincerely looking after others before ourselves – is an ancient universal tenet of the human species which Prince Shotoku spent his life embodying.

 

 

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images courtesy of megapixyl.com, Linden Thorp and Mariko Kinoshita.

References:

Masaharu Anesaki, Prince Shotoku, the Sage Statesman(1948); nine entries in Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697, translated by William G. Aston (1896; repr. 1956); many entries on the prince in the Nihongi are quoted in Ryusaku Tsunoda and others, Sources of Japanese Tradition (1958); George Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334 (3 vols., 1958).

 

 

O Bon: profound gratitude to ancestors in 21st century global Japan

It is sizzling summer here which induces a panic in non-natives used to more temperate climates. We cannot survive without air conditioning, so it is difficult to stay long in the open air, even for native Japanese, born in the far south in tropical Kagoshima and Okinawa. So, driving in the car with cold air rushing in through the vents, is so calming as well as tantalizing.

This land is exquisite when away from the rather careless and pragmatic urban areas. We drive north-west of bold and brassy Osaka, into the mountains. The forests of mixed pine and bamboo are dense with rigorous and ancient energy, and sure to be full of brown bears, raccoons and monkeys. 

It is 3.45 in the morning, and we set out to join the crowded motorway, filled with people returning to their hometowns in order to clean and adorn their family graves, and to wait for the return of their ancestors from the world of spirits. Dawn approaches as we dive into the forests interspersed with rich green rice paddy, and I marvel at this glorious land of rock and tree and bear. 

My partner Mariko chants he Heart Sutra in Japanese as we drive on, followed by iced Oolong tea and freshly sliced Japanese pear, nashi.

Three hours later, we arrive in Takeno, a tiny seaside village, Mariko’s hometown, and park our little ‘k’ car (economy car) in the small shale yard of the old family house. Her cousin and her daughter with her children are waiting for us, offering us a cool shower, and iced Barley tea

After we have cooled down, we prepare to chant for Mariko’s mother’s 27th death memorial, putting on our robes and preparing the giant home altar (butsudan) with candles and incense. Every one sits behind us holding their juzu (rosary beads) being sure to copy our bowing and gassho (palms together at the level of the heart).

The chanting is more of a challenge and pleasure than usual because the ancient owner of the house has abandoned real Buddhist practice to join Sokka Gakai, a Japanese religious organization which has prohibited any Buddhist images. So, we must focus extra hard in order to slice through this misguided diversion from Dharma to reach the golden reclining Nirvana Buddha right at the back of the butsudan.

Afterwards, we take flowers to the family grave and chant again, being sure to wash the tall head stones with fresh water so that the spirits will not be thirsty. In the hottest part of the day, the local people will retreat indoors, closing all sliding doors to create a cool place, and relax together drinking sake (rice wine) to wait for the arrival of their ancestral spirits. 

Later, when the sun has set, they will go again to the graveyard with lanterns and food to offer at the grave. They have come together from all parts of Japan to meet together at the family house and celebrate their ancestors.

This profound gratitude to all their descendants without whom they could not be alive today, is most moving. This is supreme Dharma, identical in the human world and the world of the spirits! 

I have learned so much from this most inspiring Japanese custom.

Cunda: the Beginnings of Lay Buddhism

Article published in Ancient History Encyclopedia  – http://www.ancient.eu

by
published on 01 December 2016

The frail Buddha Shakyamuni, known as Gautama Buddha and the Historical Buddha, had reached the end of his physical life and long teaching career. He and his close disciples decided on his final resting place under the twin sala trees in Kushinagar, the republic of Malla in North Eastern Ancient India. There he lay on his side surrounded by many dignitaries and enlightened monks who had gathered to say farewell to him, (c. 563 or 480 BCE). Among them, there was a deeply devoted lay follower named Cunda (Chunda). He was the son of a blacksmith from the nearby area of Kushinagara castle who had come of his own accord to pay his respects to the great Buddha, bringing with him 15 of his friends.

To show his devotion, Chunda had discarded his daily work clothes and put on a simple robe, bearing his right shoulder in the traditional way of monastics. He knelt on his right knee and bowed at the feet of the Buddha. He then made a speech confidently and sincerely which was to change the future course of Buddhism.

 

chunda

 

As all those attending had done, Chunda implored the Buddha to accept the simple customary offerings of homemade food he and his friends had brought. All the distinguished members of the congregation had already offered luxurious gifts of precious commodities like livestock and gold, but the Buddha had refused to accept everything until this point. Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, Chunda’s modest offerings were accepted and he proceeded to eloquently express his deep sadness of himself and his 15 friends at the prospect of losing the Buddha. He hoped that the simple food would prepare him for entering Parinirvana, the highest state of the ceasing of all craving, and that all sentient beings would not suffer from spiritual poverty after his decease.

In ancient India, and to a certain extent there today, the rigid caste system rejected people such as Chunda because he did not fit into any of the four main castes: He was not a clergyman or scholar, not of the nobility or a warrior, not a merchant or farmer, or a general labourer or servant. But he had confidence that all humans, despite their caste imposed at birth, were equal, and that when the Buddha left them, they would all be equally spiritually destitute. He said:

O World Honoured One! My situation is like that of anyone among the four castes who, because of poverty, has to leave his country to find work and then buy domesticated cattle and fertile fields. After removing the stones and weeds and tilling his land, he has only to wait for the rain to fall from the sky.  (Chapter 2, Mahaparinirvana Sutra)

His words displayed great wisdom despite his lack of formal education or spiritual training. He knew that all living beings needed simply the rain of the Dharma to make them spiritually fertile, and that the Buddha, the truly awakened one, the Tathagata, could bring such rain into the human world of suffering (samsara). The Buddha was delighted and immediately conferred eternal life and connected him to the ever-presence ( Skt.; dharmakaya).  In other words, he was enlightened on the spot.

 

death-of-buddha-fresco

 

Cunda Preparing the Last Meal for the Buddha

During his ministry the Buddha had insisted that his disciples should leave their ordinary life and become monastic practitioners, learning strict moral discipline (Vinaya) and upholding monastic rules. The assembled disciples who had reached the pinnacle of all spiritual training were looking on as Chunda, a lay person and an ‘untouchable’ – a person outside the caste system – became immediately enlightened with no training and therefore supposedly little virtue. Chunda became the exception that was to be a crucial part of the Buddha’s last will and testament as he moved back to the spiritual source.

THE UNPRECEDENTED ENLIGHTENING OF CHUNDA, A LAY PERSON AND HOUSEHOLDER, WAS TO OPEN THE PATH FOR ALL BEINGS, NO MATTER WHAT THEIR CASTE.

There were two ways in which this moment in the history of Buddhism brought fundamental changes to the aspirations of Buddhists. Firstly, this unprecedented enlightening of Chunda, a lay person and householder was to open the path for all beings, no matter what their caste, whether lay or clerical, to aspire to reach Nirvana (or enlightenment). It is easy to imagine just how radically this changed the course of Mahayana Buddhism because now anyone could become enlightened and many lay Buddhist orders emerged later.

Secondly, Chunda became enlightened within his own lifetime as a relatively young man. He did not have to work hard to accrue merit and virtue in order to become enlightened in a future lifetime, which was the prevailing Brahmin belief at the time. The Buddha’s acceptance of humble Chunda’s offerings was symbolic of the fact that all sentient beings are endowed with Buddha Nature, and that when the rain of Dharma waters the seeds of Buddha Nature, they will ripen, cutting away all negative karma and human suffering.  By bringing so many of his friends in a sincere gesture of reverence to the Buddha and by having the confidence to make his offering in front of all the dignitaries and esteemed disciples, he had exhibited the spirit of a Buddha, without training or privilege.

In appreciation of the Buddha’s acceptance of his humble offerings, Chunda said,

It is hard to be born a human being, and harder still to encounter a Buddha. It would be like a blind sea turtle encountering a floating log with a hole in it and poking its head through. (The Great Parinirvana Sutra)

This comment prompted the Buddha to leave his final instructions before shifting into Parinirvana. His final teachings known as the Dharmakaya focused on impermanence and detachment followed.  He left them in place of his physical body, assuring the grieving congregation that he would always be with them embodied in the last teachings and that these final teachings would exist for all eternity because they were indestructible.

 

Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha

Chunda is also reputed to have described the rareness of meeting a Buddha in the Sala grove as follows:

An udambara (a flower said to bloom once every 3000 years) can rarely be seen, and so is it to encounter a Buddha…who can nurture the faith of all sentient beings and…extinguish the suffering of death and rebirth. (The Heart, Diamond and the Lotus Sutra)

A recent sculpture of Chunda in the Sala Grove with his 15 friends executed by a modern Japanese sculptor is an inspiration for Japanese Buddhists of Shinnyo Buddhism whose principal belief is that all beings are capable of polishing their Buddha Nature and reaching Nirvana.

Chunda’s deep humility and sincere heart radiated out beyond that of the advanced practitioners and enlightened who had perhaps become arrogant or complacent. This indicates that practising as a true Buddhist of the heart is not about worldly success and reputation, but about humility, sincerity, and simple but total belief in the power of loving goodness and pure faith in the world. The character of Chunda marks the beginning not only of lay Buddhism but also a prevailing feature of the Mahayanas of Buddhism (2nd century CE onwards), the Bodhisattva who achieves enlightenment for the sake of all other beings and vows to postpone his own enlightenment until universal enlightenment is reached.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Nirvanasutra.net
  • Anonymous, Mahapariniravan Sutra
  • Anonymous, The Heart, Diamond and the Lotus Sutra (Lepine Publishing, 2009)
  • Asvaghosatr – Suzuki T., The Awakening of Faith (Dover, 1900)
  • Kato, Tamura, Miyasaka (trans.), The Threefold Lotus Sutra. (Kosei Publishing, Tokyo, 1975)
  • Page, T., Buddha-Self: The Secret Teachings of the Buddha in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. (Nirvana Publications, London, 2003)
  • Patton, C., The Great Parinirvana Sutra (Abuddhistlibrary.com)
  • Williams, P., Mahãyãna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (Routledge, 1989)
  • Yamamoto K. (trans.), Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (3 volumes) (Nirvana Publications, London, 1973)
  • Yamamoto, K., Mahayanaism: A Critical Exposition of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. (Karinbunko, 1975)

Chunda: the beginning of liberation for all without discrimination

Chunda

2600 years ago, under twin Sala trees among all the dignitaries and enlightened monks gathered to say farewell to the Buddha Shakyamuni, there was a deeply devoted lay follower named Chunda. He was the son of a blacksmith from the nearby area of Kushinagara castle who came to pay his respects to the Buddha, bringing with him 15 of his friends.

To show his devotion, he had discarded his daily clothes and put on a simple robe, bearing his right shoulder in the traditional way of monastics, kneeling on his right knee and bowing at the feet of the Buddha. He then made a speech confidently and sincerely, which was to change the future course of Buddhism.

In essence, he begged the Buddha to accept the simple offerings of homemade food he and his friends had brought. All the distinguished members of the congregation had already offered luxurious gifts of precious commodities like livestock and gold, but the Buddha had refused to accept everything until this point. To everyone’s surprise Chunda’s modest offerings were accepted. Chunda eloquently expressed his deep sadness at the prospect of losing the Buddha and begged him to accept the offerings from himself and his 15 friends before he entered Parinirvana, the special Nirvana only Buddha’s can enter, so that all sentient beings would not suffer from spiritual poverty.

In ancient India, and to a certain extent there today, the rigid caste system rejected people such as Chunda because he did not fit into any of the four main castes: He was not a clergyman or scholar, not of the nobility or a warrior, not a merchant or farmer, or a general labourer or servant. But he had confidence that all humans, despite their caste imposed at birth, were equal, and that when the Buddha left them, they would all be equally spiritually destitute. He said:

‘O World-Honoured One! My situation is like that of anyone among the four castes who, because of poverty, has to leave his country to find work and then buy domesticated cattle and fertile fields. After removing the stones and weeds and tilling his land, he has only to wait for the rain to fall from the sky.’  (Chapter 2, Mahaparinirvana Sutra)

Chunda’s words displayed great wisdom despite his lack of formal education or spiritual training. He knew that all living beings needed simply the rain of the Dharma to make them spiritually fertile, and that the Buddha, the truly awakened one, the Tathagata, could bring such rain into the human world of suffering (samsara). The Buddha was delighted and immediately conferred eternal life on him and connected him to the ever-presence. In other words, he was enlightened on the spot.

The Buddha during his ministry had insisted that his disciples should leave their ordinary life and become monastic practitioners, learning strict moral discipline and upholding monastic rules. The assembled disciples who had reached the pinnacle of all spiritual training were looking on as Chunda, a lay person, and an ‘untouchable’ – a person outside the caste system – became immediately enlightened with no training, and therefore supposedly little virtue. Chunda became the exception that was to be a crucial part of the Buddha’s last will and testament as he moved back to the spiritual source.

There were two ways in which this moment in the history of Buddhism brought fundamental changes to the aspirations of Buddhists. Firstly, this unprecedented enlightening of Chunda, a lay person and householder(someone who had not given up ordinary life or entered a monastery), was to open the path for all beings, no matter what their caste, whether lay or clerical, to aspire to reach Nirvana (or enlightenment). It is easy to imagine just how radically this changed the course of Mahayana Buddhism because now anyone could become enlightened, and hence the emergence of many lay Buddhist orders later.

Secondly, Chunda became enlightened within his own lifetime as a relatively young man and did not have to work hard to accrue merit and virtue in order to become enlightened in a future lifetime, which was the prevailing Brahminbelief at the time. The Buddha’s acceptance of humble Chunda’s offerings was symbolic of the fact that all sentient beings are endowed with Buddha Nature, and that when the rain of Dharma waters the seeds of Buddha Nature, they will ripen and all negative karma and human suffering will be cut away.

By bringing so many of his friends in a sincere gesture of reverence to the Buddha, and by having the confidence to make his offering in front of all the dignitaries and esteemed disciples, he had exhibited the spirit of a Buddha, without either training or privilege.

In other words, this courage and wisdom was a facet of Chunda’s true nature, and thus true human nature is Buddha Nature. The Buddha’s exclusive mission was to liberate all beings from the sufferings of being a human.

In appreciation of the Buddha’s acceptance of his humble offerings, Chunda said,

‘It is hard to be born a human being, and harder still to encounter a Buddha. It would be like a blind sea turtle encountering a floating log with a hole in it and poking its head through.’

This comment moved the Buddha to leave his final instructions before shifting into Parinirvana. His final teachings on impermanence and detachmentfollowed, known as the Dharmakaya, which he left in place of his physical body. These final teachings would exist for all eternity and were indestructible.

Chunda is especially significant to my own spiritual journey. During my lengthy Buddhist career, I can trace the beginnings of my Buddhist faith to the sea turtle that Chunda mentions. As a young child in urban Britain, I heard this maxim on a radio program and retained it as I searched for a way into Buddhism without any leads.

I was a quite devout Christian through my family’s influence, but the Buddha, even though at that time I had no idea what or who it was, somehow penetrated into my unconscious mind and I began to yearn to receive the teachings and become a disciple. I had neither Buddhist friends nor contact with the Buddhist teachings in northern working class Britain in the sixties, and yet, I was certain that I would be like that turtle, and that one day I would find the Buddha.

Chunda is also reputed to have described the rareness of meeting a Buddha in the Sala grove as follows:

‘An udambara blossom (a flower said to bloom once every 3000 years) can rarely be seen, and so is it to encounter a Buddha…..who can nurture the faith of all sentient beings and …extinguish the suffering of death and rebirth.’

The Buddha’s revelation that even lay people and women, in fact, anyone, could train spiritually and so enter enlightenment is also pertinent to my case. As a Tibetan Buddhist in the Kagyu lineage, I was intent on taking vows and becoming a Lama, but at the final stage I had a tiny doubt about committing myself to monastic life because I felt the best training ground to learn how to love unconditionally, was in ordinary human life. I searched to find a lay order so I could fully devote myself to humanity. Also as a woman, as is commonly known and still the case in some lineages, there was no equal treatment with men.

Finally, the Nirvana teachings have found me in Japan, and I am fulfilled and engaged in normal human life while holding a priestly rank, and serving at the Temple whenever possible.

In Japan, for historical reasons, Buddhism has been and continues to be perceived as training for the elite or monastics only, so my order is working hard to make Mahayana Buddhist practice accessible to all Japanese people and people of the world. It is a challenge to guide Japanese people of great humility to have the confidence to practise rituals that were once only available to the Imperial family.

Kobo Daishi, or Kukai, was responsible for single-handedly bringing Buddhism to Japan from China in 9th century, but at that time the national popular religion was Shinto, and it remained so until 1945. Here, in modern times, Buddhism has become the principal means of conducting funeral rites within society, but the main emphasis on Buddhism still lies in monastic practices at a distance from general society.

Chunda then, is a seminal figure in my Dharma stream. We aspire to do as he did: to bring as many people as possible to the other shore of Nirvana. A recent sculpture of Chunda in the Sala Grove with his 15 friends executed by a modern Japanese sculptor, Nakayama Hideo, is one of our objects of devotion. It is truly inspirational.

As Mahayana Buddhists, the welling up of or generating of Bodhicitta – the wish to take all sentient beings with us to enlightenment – is made all the more possible by knowing that every being is capable of polishing their Buddha Nature and reaching Nirvana. That just as Chunda’s Buddhahood was identified by the Buddha because of his sincere heart and wish for all his friends unconditionally to have the opportunity to experience the presence of the Buddha so rare in the world, we can each experience the ever-presence of the Buddha through the Nirvana teachings, and our sincerity will be recognised

The Buddha’s acceptance of the final offerings of a lay householder and untouchable signalled the very final instructions, which could not have been revealed before that moment. The essence of them is that we must each learn to control our own minds; our minds determine our behaviours in the world, either as a self-serving beast or a magnanimous and compassionate Buddha. We must rid ourselves of human passions, driving them out of our rooms as if they were poisonous vipers.

He then reassures everyone that his death is only of the flesh – as it was born and nurtured by parents, so it must deteriorate and perish – and that Buddhahood is not of the flesh, but of the spirit. The final teachings were to become the body of the Buddha –the Dharmakaya – and he begs all his disciples to preserve them just as they had followed and cherished him in life. In doing so, the Dharma Body of the Tataghatas will be ever-present and so never disappear.

Chunda’s deep humility and sincere heart radiated out beyond that of the advanced practitioners and enlightened who had perhaps become arrogant or complacent. So we can learn from this that practising as a true being of the heart is not about worldly success and reputation, but about humility and sincerity, and simple but total belief in the power of loving goodness and pure faith in the world.

I believe we are all Chunda. Even if we have low status and are poor in materialist terms, even though we might have shortcomings and little knowledge, everyone has the capacity to love all beings unconditionally and indefinitely, and this is our principle mission in human life – to become a Bodhisattva – the embodiment of spiritual ideals.

I
images courtesy of Megapixyl:  Chunda sculpture –  Shinnya Nakamura – permission to use from Shinnyo-en, Tachikawa, Japan.

The Peacock: connecting humans to the Universe

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Ancient Indians, like the Aborigines of Australia and Japanese Shintoists, believed wholly in the supernatural and the natural world and especially envied the characteristics of some animals. The peacock was one such creature they revered and desired to emulate. At first, they were afraid of the peacock with its mournful cry, its fantastic plumage and feral ways, and especially shocked when they realized on observing that it was capable of eating poisonous spiders and snakes in order to nourish its large physical structure, and could survive. Quite naturally, they also wished to transcend such poisoning and human fragility, and so came to worship the peacock out of a mixture of envy and fear.

At this time in India there were 2 powerful religions: Hinduism for the masses and Brahmanism for the elite, and all beings aspired to spiritual liberation through these pathways. Therefore many mantras, or invocations, were used as a matter of course in everyday life, the Indians possessing an authentic insight into the use of the spiritual voice to communicate with the invisible world. So, such mantras were developed to emulate the peacock and bring this animal god closer to the human world—mantras, which even incorporated the doleful cry of the peacock, for example, the Great Peacock King mantra from Tibetan Buddhism: “Om Mayura Krante Svaha.” They really believed that by calling upon this magical and terrifying bird, they may themselves gain some of its divine qualities, and so transcend their weaknesses and limitations.

peacock

So, Mantrayana, the next stage of Buddhism after the Golden Buddha’s initial teachings and death (circa 2600), was created, and the idea that all poisons are the same, pondered upon, so that in time, the negative aspects of the human mind such as ignorance, greed, and hatred, became known as ‘poison’ which required an ‘antidote.’ Mantras or invocations were viewed as just such a kind of antidote, and so eventually were recognized as a part of nature and not created by man at all. They represented an esoteric or secret language, which nature or the universe would respond to, and a way of fusing with the microcosm.

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The people had enormous imagination not having yet learned the passiveness of modern, intensively technological societies. As today, poisonous snakes such as the cobra were common, so protection and awareness was essential to prevent fatal bites or stings. One method was to mesmerize the snake with the sound of a flute so that it would obey, but another way was to worship creatures that could dispose of them. When a peacock comes face to face with a snake, it purposely pretends to be scared and allows the snake to wrap itself around its body. Then just as the snake is about to attack, it spreads out its wings and feathers with great force and sends the snake flying.

The image of the elegant peacock driving away a poisonous snake, like a beautiful woman driving off an evil beast, impressed people. They thought this bird had god-like powers, and so gradually this image metamorphosed into a Buddhist deity or holy being. Much later in Japanese Buddhism (7th Century), this image below became known as Peacock Myoo or Guardian of the Law.

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The guardian is riding on the back of the peacock and holding sacred instruments in each of her four arms: a lotus, a peacock feather, a fruit resembling a lemon, and pomegranate. The lotus represents benevolence and kindness. The lemon cures the diseases of anyone that eats it. The pomegranate drives off evil spirits. But the mighty peacock feather has the power to actually prevent disasters such as earthquakes and floods. This painting was made using luxurious materials like silver and gold leaf to make it sparkle and shine with the Peacock’s mystical power. However, the metals have tarnished over time.

three-peacocks
In general, the peacock is a symbol of openness and acceptance. In Christianity, it is a symbol of immortality, and in Hinduism, the patterns of its feathers, resembling eyes, symbolize the star constellations. And in Buddhism as we can see above, wisdom is its attribute. The five feathers on the peacock’s head are said to symbolize the five spiritual paths and the five Buddha families. Their beautiful colours give pleasure to all beings in the same way that setting eyes upon a Bodhisattva (an enlightened being) or Buddha (an awakened being) can bring comfort and provoke bliss.

Human intelligence, the unique human spirit naturally will find many ingenious ways to communicate with its origin, the invisible world, and this is the way to true balance and happiness.

japanese-peacock

Images courtesy of Megapixl.com: Peacock by jessealbanese; Three Peacocks-kvkirllov; Indian Architecture exterior-Jaipur City Palace-twinandphotography; Peacock Myoo-Japan Temple exhibition-clthorp; Beautiful Peacock Roof design-Japan-Lucyinsisu; Japanese Peacock – Krookedeye

7: Making Bonds with the Universe

 

universe

The Buddha made it clear that we should create and maintain bonds with the universe even though we have been born into human life. The Cathars also were constantly connected to the spiritual or invisible world, regarding death, the ending of human life, as a simple veil that could be easily removed. The halo (a circle of light around the head of a holy being depicted in Christianity) and the aureole (a circle of light around the head and/or body of a deity in Buddhism), were and still are used as reminders of the spiritual origin of all things manifest in the material plane. In both systems of living out the lessons and struggles of human life (Christianity) or samsara (Buddhism), we aspire to make the transition back into the spiritual, formless world, taking all sentient beings with us.

reclining Buddha aureolehaloed beings

 

 

 

 

 

Cathars, who were vegetarians apart from eating fish occasionally, prescribed the endura, a form of ritual suicide, as a practitioner approached death, preceded by the administering of the consolamentum. (see post Consolamentum https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/consolamentum/  in this series on the Cathars)  In Buddhism, the diet is always important as it is important to allow the subtle inner winds (vayu– in Sanskrit) to blow naturally through the channels of the body, the body and mind being unable to function at subtle levels without these winds being balanced. So, in both cases, the awareness of what substances from the earth we put inside our bodies is central to the way we use them. These rules about living allow us to connect with mystical knowledge, to be able to be a channel for such energy, to fine tune in order to receive the countless messages and signs from invisible sources.

teachers

The mystical has always drawn me personally since being a young child. I could never accept that worldly achievements were the pinnacle of all existence, always being certain there was much more than that.  Of course, children are usually not yet conditioned as adults are: they are pure and still close to the universe before their intellectual capacities develop. I always dreamed of touching the mystical and my dream came steadily true through the Buddhist pathway and gnostic traditions such as Catharism and Sufism. Indeed, in my present practice, the Nirvana Teachings of Shinnyo-en, it is possible to become a spiritual medium so that through intense training and empowerment, one can channel messages from the Buddha and other deities, which will touch the hearts of those receiving them. I am almost at the end of such a training now, and so looking forward to devoting myself to being that empty pure channel to help guide people to true and lasting happiness in Nirvana.

mandala 1 Mandala 2

In Esoteric Buddhism, the mandala is the traditional way of mapping out the Dharma Lineage passed down through the ages from Buddha Shyakyamuni. It represents the whole universe, and if you are correctly connected to the Dharma Stream, there is nothing and no-one outside you, no ‘us’ and ‘them,’ you are actually in the centre of that universe.

Buddhists strive to release themselves from attachment to objects and people because attachment means separation: attachment requires the attached and the attacher. Once we are truly one with the universe and all sentient beings, then we have realized emptiness and the native silence and stillness of the heart. All cravings are extinguished, and it is said that we have crossed the great Ocean of Nirvana to the other shore.

waterfall training waterfall training

In Japan, there is a strong tradition of mountain asceticism, shugendo in Japanese.  Yamabushi  in Japanese (one who likes mountains) follow a special doctrine, which combines esoteric Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto. They are usually solitary and today mostly lay practitioners. Emphasis is placed on physical feats of endurance in the open air where the aspirants live in the primeval forests of rural Japan, and their goal is to find supernatural powers through such practices.

Shingon Buddhism, which my own practice is connected to, emphasizes enlightenment through isolation, the study and contemplation of oneself and nature, and of mandalas.  Yamabushi can often be seen engaged in waterfall training – standing under waterfalls in freezing winter, ridding themselves of their ego so that they can receive the esoteric. My own masters did this practice regularly, as did many other key teachers in my lineage of Shinnyo Buddhism.

The Cathars also had a strong reverence for and involvement with nature. The sacred caves of Sabarthes in Languedoc are known as the ‘doors to Catharism.’ Part of initiation as a Parfait was to climb a steep path leading up to these caves (a practice common in shungendo) to the cave of Bethlehem. There were four important elements inside the caves involved in this initiation before receiving the consolamentum, or making the final vow: first, a square niche in the wall which could have conceivably contained a mandala or manual of some kind; second, a rough granite altar; third, a pentagram carved into the wall, possibly symbolizing the 5 elements of the universe (a common symbol in Esoteric Buddhism); and finally, the telluric currents emitted from the rock walls and cave floor. The atmosphere in these caves fills one with awe. I was particularly sensitive while inside, and after visiting had a series of Cathar dreams which have recurred since that time.

The Sacred Caves of Sabarthes.

The Sacred Caves of Sabarthes.

Buddhists work to achieve emptiness and liberation from all attachments. If you step out of the enclosure of your mind, the view of the world you construct with your intellect, then you step into the Buddhafield or mandala where you are protected and qualified to receive by oral transmission the wisdom of the Dharma stream. At this moment, you become unified with the universe, and this is reality. You can take refuge in this powerful mandala whilst struggling in samsara to liberate all sentient beings and bring them to enlightenment with you.

Buddhafield

It could be said that the notion of making ‘bonds with the universe’ began with the young Prince Siddartha’s first experience of meditation. He was 7 years of age and already showing promise in his training to succeed his father and become King of the Shyakya clan. One day, he accompanied his father and entourage to an agricultural festival dedicated to the earth deity. While there, the young prince noticed a small bird pecking at a worm that had been turned up by a plough. He felt such compassion for the worm that he was inspired to sit in a nearby grove under a jambu (roseapple) tree and soon entered into an advanced meditative state. The sun was high in the sky, but the shade provided by the surrounding trees stood still, keeping the young child cool and sheltered from the hot sun. This first meditation inspired by nature demonstrated the highest respect and reverence for the treasures of the universe.

In my own meditations, I often use the image that everything inside me, beneath the thin membrane of my skin, can amalgamate with everything outside. That my heart can beat in unison with all the hearts in the universe, that I can breathe as one with all in the universe. It is easy to transcend the thin membrane of skin and realize deeply that this is all that makes me a physical individual being, acting in the world, fulfilling my own unique mission.

The Universe is the Spiritual Source. The Moon and Sun are our protectors. We climb the mountains, flow into the oceans down wide rivers, swing from stars and planets. It is only the mundane mind that sequesters us in its synthetic reality, away from the glory of the great Universe.

deep meditation

6: metempsychosis and karma: the Church of Love

rebirth

rebirth

If we come into contact with people at large during each day, packed on to commuter trains, or standing in queues because of the delays of seasonal rushes and peak times, it is easy to become irritated or even enraged. We can be indignant and incredulous that people around us are behaving so badly, in such a self-centred way. We wonder why they cannot be like us, civilized, considerate, ‘normal.’ These dramatic differences we perceive distance us from humanity, isolate us inside the world we create in our heads with all its synthetic standards and bars to jump. We make judgments, and in so doing place ourselves above others and outside the field of love.

The medieval Cathars of Languedoc were so focused on their practice of faith out in the community that they could easily accept and have compassion for all the excesses and ‘fascist’ attitudes around them. They helped as many people as they could, and put themselves at risk of being discovered and captured while administering the Consolamentum so that people could be saved from damnation. Corruption and deception were a way of life in medieval Europe, and the friars and cardinals leading the interrogations against the Cathars were merciless, torturing and imprisoning at will, and other atrocities. Betrayal of the trust of the Perfecti was common too.

Some say that medieval European society was as bleak as today’s, but as the Perfecti believed that evil spirits could jump into other bodies – metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls or rebirth)- they could accept that people behaved badly, driven by their occupying spirits.  Metempsychosis is one of the oldest beliefs in the history of humans in all parts of the world, Orient and Occident alike, and it is thought nowadays that it may be almost a natural or innate beliefs native to the human mind. As Christianity spread steadily across Europe, the eternal nature of the soul was a seminal belief retained by the Manichaeans and Cathars, and other gnostic sects, but the mainstream Catholic church rejected it as heretical. They put enormous defensive energy into eradicating such beliefs, and in a way maiming their own roots of Christianity in the process.

Cathars believed that Jesus was the manifestation of a pure spirit unbounded by matter. The God of the old testament was Satan, while the God of St John’s gospel in the new testament was the all-loving compassionate God. The human figure of Jesus was simply a messenger, an emanation of the true God, which could never be made manifest in the Devil’s world. Cathars thus attached no importance to the crucifixion and nativity due to their material nature. In this respect, they were indeed a highly spiritual and mystical sect.

God of Love

God of Love

My own upbringing was fairly strict, mainstream Christian, and although I felt deep reverence for the holy beings and saints, I was always rather scared of the suffering evoked by the crucifix and crown of thorns, the dark corners of musty churches, the negative emphasis on sin and guilt because Jesus died for humanity on the Cross. On the other hand, if I had had access to the faith of the Perfects, I would have aspired to become a Perfect and eventually to join the compassionate God in the celestial realms.  Christian practices were too materialist for me, too dark, to oppressive, so I turned to Buddhism as an older teenager, which surprised my family and seemed to be a betrayal of the faith into which I was baptized.

When I encountered the Cathars of Languedoc, I was so thrilled to find a meaningful Christianity that was so similar in essence to Buddhism. Siddhartha, the privileged Prince who became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, was also perhaps only a messenger manifest as flesh and blood. After his death and Parinirvana at the age of 84 or so, after his final teachings of Nirvana which I devote myself to today, he shifted to the spiritual source, the Dharmakaya (see previous article at https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/dharma-kaya-the-body-of-truth/)  and so in various emanations can eternally guide and protect those who take refuge in him. Engaged Buddhists connect themselves to the faultlessly transmitted Dharma Lineage, which stretches back to Shyakyamuni Buddha who became enlightened. Our commitment is beyond the narrow intellectual concepts of time and space, and we know that as we approach or turn back from Enlightenment, we will transmigrate into other realms, either higher or lower. In fact, most Buddhists practice specifically to break the perpetual cycle of rebirths so that we can return to the spiritual source.

Siddharta

Siddharta

Some scholars refer to the Cathars as ‘Western Buddhists.’  This is ironic as Buddhism is quite widely practiced in the west these days, and has, as in my case, superseded Christianity. This is not to say that the original teachings of the messenger or prophet Jesus are not superb, but with time and cultural distortion, and the tightening of the material grip on societies, they seem to have been outgrown. In contrast to the Christian, the approach Buddhists make to the spiritual world, the invisible world, with the correct protections and aspirations, is positive. There may be dark corners in our spirits, which need to be sluiced with the lights of virtue and merit, with purification, but our appreciation of karma, the injurious actions of our ancestors and of our own, motivates us to cleanse our negative karma.  The Cathars too believed in karma necessarily because of rebirth, and worked to purify themselves during their human sojourn.

karma: dependent conditions

karma

In 1244, after the Albigensian Crusade, which lasted 9 months and claimed the cities of Beziers, Narbonne, Carcassonne and Toulouse, the Cathars surrendered. That year, on March 16th,  over 200 of them were brought down from the hilltop fortress Montsegur and thrown on to a huge pyre to be burned. On March 14th before they surrendered, they held a religious ceremony and made the prophecy that the ‘Church of Love’ as they referred to it would be proclaimed in 1986, 700 years later. Their own words on that occasion best describe their creed:

Cathar Creed at the Fountain 1244

Cathar Creed at the Fountain 1244

The Church of Love

It has no fabric, only understanding.  It has no membership, save those who know that they belong.  It has no rivals, because it is non competitive.  It has no ambition; it seeks only to serve. It has no boundaries for nationalisms are unloving.  It is not of itself because it seeks to enrich all groups and religions.  It acknowledges all great teachers of all ages who have shown the truth of love.  Those who participate, practice the truth of love in all their beings. There is no walk of life or nationality that is a barrier.  Those who are, know.  It seeks not to teach but be and, by being, enrich.  It recognizes that the way we are may be the way of those around us because we are the way. It recognizes the whole planet as a Being of which we are part.  It recognizes that the time has come for the supreme transmutation, the ultimate alchemic act for conscious change of the ego into a voluntary return to the whole.  It does not proclaim itself with a loud voice but in the subtle realms of loving.  It salutes all those in the past who blazed the path but have paid the price.  It admits no hierarchy or structure, for no one is greater than the other.  Its members shall know each other by their deeds and being, and by their eyes and by no other outward sign save the fraternal embrace.  Each one will dedicate their life to the silent loving of their neighbor and environment and the planet, while carrying out their task however exalted or humble.  It recognizes the supremacy of the great idea, which may only be accomplished if the human race practices the supremacy of love. It has no reward to offer here or in the hereafter save that ineffable joy of being and loving. Each shall seek to advance their cause of understanding, doing good by stealth and teaching by example. They shall hear their neighbor, their community and the Planet.  They shall feel no fear, feel no shame, and their witness shall prevail over all odds.  It has no secret, no Arcanum, no initiation save of the true understanding of the power of love and that, if we want it to be so, the world will change, but only if we change ourselves first.

Today, there are many Europeans, born in the 40s and 50s, who feel that they are the martyred Cathars of Languedoc reborn. They believe that they exist now as the result of a powerful commitment made at the end of a previous life to return to make a significant contribution towards the spiritual rehabilitation of this planet and its people. As mentioned in an earlier article, during my time living in Languedoc, I had many mystical dreams and feelings, which I could not ignore. I was born in the 50s and lived in Languedoc in the nineties at the commencement of the new era of Catharism!

The Church of Love

The Church of Love

Three years ago as a result of elevation and spiritual guidance as a Nirvana Buddhist, I received a strict chastisement from my spiritual superiors for neglecting and criticising my Christian origins.  I was so shocked, immediately repenting with remorse. Now, a little more wisdom and research into the community of present-day Cathars, leads me to accept that perhaps I was critical of the Roman Church (the basis of modern Christianity) because it has distorted the original teachings of God. Now, I strongly believe my origins to be Cathar, and my affiliation, the Church of Love. This embracement of all original faiths was a huge realization handed to me by my compassionate Buddhist gurus and guides. My main mission nowadays as a Buddhist is to bring all original and true faiths into the stable light of harmony. The Buddha in his final teaching, the Mahaparinirvana sutra, said,

 All rivers of faith flow into the great Ocean of Nirvana.

Interfaith Harmony and Unity

Interfaith Harmony and Unity