Prince Shotoku: Father of Japanese Buddhism and the Japanese nation.

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2600 years ago in northern India, the beautiful Queen Maya married a wise King, Suddhõdana of the Shakya family and soon gave birth to their first child. When the time came, she was carried by her ladies-in-waiting to Lumbini (present day Nepal), a secluded wooded garden. There, the Queen gracefully stood under an Ashoka tree in full blossom, reached out to hold a branch and a Holy Being (Bodhisattva) was born without pain from her right side.

The newborn child took seven steps in each cardinal direction proclaiming that he would put an end to the sufferings of the world. The entire universe trembled with joy as this miraculous event took place. The child was named Siddhārtha Gautama, meaning one who fulfills all, and seven days later, Queen Maya passed away. Siddhārtha, adored but troubled Prince, later left his privileged life to become fully enlightened and became known universally as the Buddha.

In Japan in 573, more than two thousand years later, Anahobe, the wife of the Emperor’s son, had a dream of a priest in golden robes. He asked her if he could lodge in her womb as he was about to be born as a world-saving Holy Being (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 palms 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 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.

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Prince Shotoku had several titles:

1. Prince of the Stable Door (Umayodo no Miko) due to the unusual circumstances of his birth.

2. Prince of Eight Ears (Yatsumimi no Miko) 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) 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.

The civic contributions made by Jogu Taishi (the title most people in Japan give him) were impressive and are still in place. 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.

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 into Japan threw the noble families into confusion.

 

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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 in 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, 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 (Skt.stupa) which Shotoku insisted was essential as the origin of Buddhism was so far away from Japan in India.

 

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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.

The Prince initiated the building of the first two Buddhist in Japan. Shitenno-ji (530 AD), 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 artifacts, and he went on to build 5 more.

 

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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 8 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, Queen Suiko.

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According to the Nihon Shoki, a definitive history of ancient Japan written in circa 720, 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 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. Shotoko declared,

“Harmony is the most precious asset. We all alternate between wisdom and madness. It is a closed circle.”

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 Dharma – the Law and the Sangha – 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 only at seasonable times.

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

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.

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In 621, 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 Golden Hall of Horyuji Temple. After his death in 622, he became known as ‘Japan’s Shakyamuni’ and his relics were enshrined in the various temples he established. His figure has appeared on Japanese bank notes 8 times, more than any other leader.

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.

 

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In the Middle Ages, Shinran (1173-1262), the founder of Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land), the largest school of Japanese Buddhism today, worshipped Prince Shotoku as the savior 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, the father of Japanese Buddhism!

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.

 

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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.

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This article will be published on Ancient History Encyclopedia at http://www.ancient.eu this month. Please visit. It’s a Non-profit making site.

Images courtesy of megapixyl.com and Prince Shotoku images.com

The 9 Breaths: Breath 8

3 questions?

1. Why is Breath 7 only for sleep time?

2. What is Prāna?

3. Can we really wake up from the long sleep of death?

Answers:

1. This is a special practice which is most effective if done while you are waiting for sleep to come. This is perhaps the most powerful moment of the day – as you prepare to die. Each sleep is a small death from which we are reborn. As you prepare to fall into sleep, your eyes automatically gravitate towards your Third Eye, the power centre between your eyebrows. If you follow these instructions, you can become not only Master of your Dreams but also Master of Death!

2. We breathe in Air which is, as Science tells us, composed of the vital gases we need to survive on Planet Earth. But it also contains an element of magic which allows us to be vital and to breathe without effort or even consciousness. Prāna is energy from the Cosmos which created you. It is invisible and unmeasurable by the crude mechanisms of Science, but it is your Divine link with the Universe. Shiva’s special way of breathing and thinking about breath connects you with the Universe!

3. Human Beings are energy manifested in flesh and blood. Your origin is spirit, energy, and energy can never be destroyed. It exists eternally. Remember that ‘time’ and ‘space’ are intellectual concepts not reality! Be assured you will always exist and so Shiva teaches you how to live in that special way!! You are in the world of form in order to contribute to the balance of the whole cosmos before you return to the invisible world.

Please visit the series to catch up with today! If you seriously want to make bonds with the Universe, this is a progression, not something you can just dip into! The 9 breaths are published consecutively so they are easy to find here in Nirvana Linden. You can also find them at Niume.com – urls below.

Introductionhttps://niume.com/post/264747

Breath 1https://niume.com/post/265632

Breath 2https://niume.com/post/266432

Breath 3https://niume.com/post/267922

Breath 4https://niume.com/post/268886

Breath 5https://niume.com/post/269810

Breath 6https://niume.com/post/271614

Breath 7https://niume.com/post/272641

Important points from Breath 7:

* We are going to deeper and deeper levels with each breath. Think of an onion: the peripheral skins and the tender core!

*There are many ways to use your breath in any situation you may find yourself in. You don’t have to go on retreat to a monastery. Daily life is the best spiritual training place of all!

*Prāna is magical. It is contained in each breath if you are devoted sufficiently to it. Attention is exclusive! Awareness is inclusive!

*If you become Master of your Dreams with Breath 7, there will be no more dreams because reality and dreaming will become one!

*We can choose to be either a victim of life or a Master!

*Death is a vital part of life. So embrace it each night as you sleep. It leads to the next stage of spiritual evolution!

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Shiva’s 8th breath requires your utmost devotion.

So far, you have developed a scientific approach to Shiva’s 9 breaths. But now it’s time for you to know the knower!

 

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You may be able to be devoted to a Christ or Krishna, an Einstein or Pythagoras, a Descartes or Renoir. But Shiva demands now that you are devoted to yourself.

Your body is a Divine temple which you have been invited to inhabit during your human stay. It is sacred and holy. And you are not alone in it – the Divine is there too.

Therefore, treat your body form as the abode of the Divine.

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Each intake of breath – the down (in) breath – is received, not only by ‘your’ body but by the Divine.

Each output of breath – the up (out) breath – is witnessed, not only by ‘your’ body but by the Divine.

Each turn of the breath – at the bottom and top of the circle – is experienced, not only by ‘your’ body but also by the Divine.

Do everything in your ‘man-moments’ and in ‘man-space’ with the Divine and as the Divine.

There is no separation!

You are the Divine!

 

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Shiva says:

“With UTMOST devotion, centre on the two junctions of breath and KNOW the KNOWER”

 

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You may consider ‘yourself’ to have a scientific mind, but be certain that science is nothing, is incomplete, without the Knower! And who is ‘you?’ It is only a mundane creation of ephemeral Mind!

This is another opportunity to glimpse the tricky interfering Mind and turn away from it.

It limits you!

It generates fear!

Your TRUE NATURE is unlimited and utterly fearless.

 

Inspiration: Dwell on the notion of the Divine during the day! It is a glorious truth that we are each Divine and each unique, but we are in the process of becoming Divine once more during our training in human form. Interfering Mind will throw a spanner in that naturally turning wheel if you are not mindful.

Surely you want to live in a divine way in your divine body?

 

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Wonderful images courtesy of Linden Thorp and megapixyl.com

See you tomorrow for Breath 9, the final Breath!

 

But don’t worry, I’m going to publish each breath again in the following days so that you get a second chance at uncovering your True Nature and becoming Divine once more!

A devotional sculpture expressing Enlightenment for all Beings.

chunda

This life-size sculpture ‘Chunda’ (Junda in Japanese) pictured below was created in 2005 to portray lay Buddhism by Shinnya Nakamura. He is still producing dynamic works despite his age of 90. It is owned by a Buddhist Denomination Shinnyo-en, Tachikawa, Japan and I have special permission to display this photograph even though it is a sacred Buddhist object.

This is highly significant in the Buddhist world because Buddhism was dominated by monasteries and monks throughout the Buddha’s lifetime. However, when Buddha was on his deathbed many illustrious followers, Kings and enlightened monks, visited him to bring him lavish offerings. To everyone’s amazement, he refused everything.

Then, a local blacksmith, Chunda, arrived with his 15 rough friends offering a modest pot of homemade food which the Buddha accepted to the disgust of the assembly. Chunda was uneducated and had received no spiritual training whatsoever, but became enlightened on the spot!

This signifies that all beings can become enlightened only through their sincerity and that spiritual training is perhaps not necessary. Chunda represented a new direction for Buddhism away from the domination of the pious monastics. He has given all beings hope of being enlightened in their lifetime.

I am deeply grateful to be able to bring this work to those outside Japan.

I have just published an article about Chunda, the first lay Buddhist, at Ancient History Encyclopedia, a wonderful non-profit platform where experts share their knowledge at no cost – http://www.ancient.eu.

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cover image: Buddha’s Head + Buddha’s Parinirvana https://www.megapixl.com/juliengrondin-stock-images-videos-portfolio, Chunda and 15 friends – Linden Thorp

 

The 9 Breaths: Breath 6

Questions?

1. How can we access our spirit which seems so elusive, so intangible?

2. What does the breath consist of actually?

3. Why does the notion of freedom create fear?

Answers:

1. The treasure of the human spirit is hidden is very small things. In other words, it is subtle energy not gross. Therefore, it must be accessed with subtle techniques such as Tantra and hypnosis.

2. Science says the breath consists of Oxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, etc. But it not only contains these gases but also the mysterious substance ‘prāna’ or ‘élan vital’ – this is the essence of vitality, of life itself.

3. Humans have become so distanced from our cores, so busy at the periphery out in life occupied with all its futility and tedium, that the vastness of freedom with its lack of limitations, is terrifying. Change in general is frightening because we have etched a deep groove of habit with our Minds which it is difficult to get out of.

Introduction – https://niume.com/post/264747

Breath 1 – https://niume.com/post/265632

Breath 2 – https://niume.com/post/266432

Breath 3 – https://niume.com/post/267922

Breath 4 – https://niume.com/post/268886

Breath 5 – https://niume.com/post/269810

Important points from Breath 5:

*Spiritual attainment is not difficult, nor is it ‘attainable,’ because every human is already spiritual. Spirit is our origin so we are already perfect and the perfect conditions exist if we open our spiritual eyes.

*Divinity cannot be re-created by man no matter how hard we try and how much technology we develop.

*Our habit is to identify totally with materials and delusional barriers and classifications, e.g. culture, gender, class, nationality, religiosity, etc.

*Only small efforts are needed to uncover what is already there with skillful use of awareness and attention. Tantric techniques are atomic formulae to make subtle changes.

*Focusing on the Third Eye between the eyebrows will close the gap between reality and dreams.

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Shiva’s 6th breath is a complete shift. Instead of working in isolation and stillness as for the 5th breath, the 6th breath is to be done while you are active in the world. In other words, this is perfect for when you are busy and should be performed continuously.

Activity is good for this breath because it distracts the mind.

 

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Your breathing circle should be fairly natural to you now, so continue briefly to watch your breath in the pauses or quiet times of your activity, lingering at the turn from down to up and the turn from up to down. But now for the 6th breath, move your attention away from following the circle of the breath to resting on the turns only at the top and bottom of the circle (the blue/turquoise sections in the following diagram)

 

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Try to keep your attention lightly on these two points while remembering to keep the centre of breath low in your navel not in your chest. This signifies that there are two layers of existence:

1. Doing at the periphery or circumference of your being.

2. Being at your centre.

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It may help to think of a singer performing to an audience. The face and body, the mouth and vocal apparatus are acting to channel the sound – that is doing – while the voice itself is coming from the still centre of the singer – that is being.

This is exactly like life. We act out in life playing the role our situation has assigned to us: but in our core, we simply are our unique energy. Because we have chosen to be members of large urban societies and communities, we have certain roles to fulfill. But our role is not who we are. It merely oils the wheels of harmony and progress.

In fact, it is useful for this sixth breath to think of yourself as an actor playing a major part in the Drama of your life. All the time you are acting, you can breathe at your still centre which is your true identity, the site of your True Nature. It’s like having a marvelous secret!

 

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Shiva says:

When in worldly activity, keep attentive between the two breaths, and so practising, in a few days be born anew.

 

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This 6th breath completely breaks the habit of identifying with what is your role in human life.

 

Inspiration: So far we have experienced two layers of existence: the periphery at the edge of your life, your social aspect, and the core, in your heart where your True Nature is located. Tomorrow, we will go even deeper into other layers by using the Third Eye and the energy shower raining down from the Crown chakra. Mull this over before Shiva’s 7th Breath.

 

 

                      Wonderful images courtesy of Linden Thorp and megapixyl.com

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                                                                   See you tomorrow!

 

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.  

 

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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.

Words and ideas dropping away

A young fair-headed child looks softly into a mirror. She wonders at her pale skin and iceberg eyes, becoming involved in intimately experiencing herself directly, the eye seeing exclusively. She is certain that there is no imaginingat all.

Each slow blink of her long lashes reveals a different person there in the large mirror surface: male, female, young, elderly, of many different complexions – a compendium of karmic identities. And someone photographs this procession of reflections obsessively from behind her, flash bulbs sizzling, the shutter rasping.

Then, as the rapid flick of images stops, from the side, dark elegant hands offer white robes of fine cotton to decorate the smooth skin of this mirror child. The child accepts them, slowly raising them towards her nose to absorb the scents of “jasmine” and “Japanese cedar,” names which she repeats to ensure that sensing is exclusive, then letting the sounds of the words drop away with their idea.

The dark hands then offer a large stem of pink lotus complete with several woody seed-cases. The lotus is the only plant in existence which produces seeds whilst still in flower, and which can thrive in the poorest patch of mud.

The child smiles and walks out of the reflection, cool bare feet spreading on marble.

art by Mariko Kinoshita

Song

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‘There is a room around this song.’

Shocked, she wondered who thought of that? She asked who put this room in this library of other rooms to hold all the songs? It is called a ‘college of music,’ but an original college was a partnership, like the word ‘colleague’ today, not a huge institution with a whole unique ethos, surging forward, attracting fame and sponsorship, competing with other such urban necessities. Walls within walls, never still.

First everything is encased, captured. Then we must build a wall around it to hold it still, to make it stay so we can perpetuate it. Even the strings of this magical instrument ‘the piano’ that I am permitted to caress only the black and white teeth of are secreted away beneath designed wood, constructed, boxed. Must I play with these limits? Must I be held back? But wait! Questions are also constructed, their answers filed away in drawers.

Then suddenly amidst all this obsessive division, we will begin the song.

I have seen your face once or twice appearing and disappearing through doors and mirrors, your wine red lips, the hushed eyes of others with voice, the mutterings of your reputation, your talent. The light of you switches off and on again as you perambulate through the banal between songs, eating and drinking of necessity, speaking if spoken to, but saying as little as possible. You have always known that speaking the mundane is the poison, and you have found the perfect antidote in song.

You appear in this room indicating with your paper mantras – your score, as a talking point to get started, holding on to it scarcely with singing fingers. My mantras stand upright on the music desk only touched at the edges, but yours are cradled against the opaque skin of your forearms. Both are heavily marked, pencil, scratches, another kind of mantra made with numbers and symbols in Italian.

Before we start, oh how I long to get started, must there be this kind of foreplay? We both know that the poison is slowly killing us. Should we prolong the suffering for the sake of others? Should we stay to be like those who have not taken the antidote? Comfort in numbers, not to stand out for fear of being condemned as arrogant, or different?

The poison of containment behind walls and below roof tugs hopelessly at the fixed anchor of time. The tyranny of the visible, the prolongation of object permanence well into adulthood. Close the door, the drawer, the coffin lid, and now it’s gone. And the demented denial of the invisible, the inaudible, the untouchable, all the time the clammy jacket of space squeezing us tightly, holding us still until we are certain we really exist.

They do not realize that the poison of our ignorance and blindness hold us back, confine us, suffocating because we monopolize oxygen and are terrified that it will run out.

But once the learned conventions have been delivered, we can concentrate on the mirrors, polishing them up, breathing on them, rubbing, and they soon start to reflect. No decision to make about which of these miraculous antidotes to apply because they all work. The pages of scores are vague references, tacit, of no more concern so tossed aside.

We begin. We breathe as one in gratitude for the loan of just this one breath, and then the next, one at a time: gratitude and breath are key conditions that will make the antidote work.

I will start the song with breath-placed bent fingers perched on the cool ivory. Their tips are singing and they are calmed by air which convinces them that their nails should not tear away the wooden confines boxing in the gorgeous strings.

Seated beneath you, I am thrilled to be the soft underbelly of our union. My legs and feet drive the pedals, operate the dampers, quickly ‘on’ and ‘off,’ to promote the resonance or stop it summarily. I must be master of the used air in this song’s room because breath is required between strings and dampers, one for each key, an airiness which keeps the vibrations regular, oxygenation of the felt pads. Breath is also necessary for the highest treble strings, fine, taught, connected to the heavens; and the lowest bass, thick, loose, connected to earth which I never need to dampen with my foot pressure.

The convention of vocal song says that the accompanying instrument will start to set the mood. But I fail to notice the start because the antidote is already working. I am no longer conscious. ‘I’ has disappeared, leaving behind only poised fingers and forearms to weight them down. Fingertips and joints ripple and pivot, merging with you even before you let out a sound. There can be no human insubordination now.

The ethereal kiss is a delusion in the showcase of romance. The poison of possession, of fixing each appointed victim completely still with lips and arms, of pressing body weight, of the burn of skin friction and static. Crude, abstract, a stab in the dark, mirrors filthied by the poison and no antidote in sight.

Separate humans jammed together, confined, last-ditch, crammed in drawers and behind doors.

Conversely, this airy kiss of fingertips on strings is the perfect reflection of yours on lips like wild geese. Air and sound are only an apparition in the visible.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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