Sunday, January 18, 2015

Third Century Buddhist Relics Discovered in India

by Adam Steedman, New Historian, January 10, 2015

Nalgonda, India -- Excavations in India have unearthed items belonging to a third-century Buddhist monk.
Archaeological digs have been taking place for over 70 years at the Phanigiri hillock near Nalgonda, in India’s southern province of Telangana. The recent discovery however, represents one of the most significant yet made at the site.
The findings have led to the location being described as the most important site in the region. During excavations of the Mahastupa – a large, mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, the archaeological team unearthed a red earthenware pot which held a silver container.Within the silver box was a well-preserved collection of eleven miniature beads, some made of silver. The beads were probably prayer beads and may have belonged to a Buddhist monk who was an important figure in the area.
Alongside the earthenware pot, a Potin Coin made of a copper and lead alloy was discovered. On one side of the coin was a bust of a king and on the reverse a depiction of a ship. Researchers were able to precisely date the coin to the third century CE, as one side was adorned with a particular set of characters prevalent at the time.
The Phanigiri Mahastupa presents a unique glimpse into Buddhist history in the area. “The Buddhist findings are pertaining to third century CE. [This marks the] first time we have a Buddhist cascade with material in it and this puts [the] area as an important Buddhist heritage site,” BP Acharya, principal secretary of tourism for Telangana, told the New Indian Express. For Acharya, the recent discoveries represent the culmination of excavations which began at the site in 1941. It is reasonably rare to discover personal objects in stupas; they typically contain the physical remains of Buddha and his disciples. The archaeologists’ discovery of carefully stored beads allows us to see what Buddhist monks in the third century used in their day-to-day lives.
“Usually we get only bodily remains of Buddha or of any important monks. The fact that gold, silver and beads were preserved here indicates the importance of the personality”, explained J Vijayakumar, Deputy Director of Excavations at the site.
The 16-acre site on the hill of Phanigiri dates to between the third century BCE and the third century CE. It was a major Buddhist learning centre, with numerous Viharas (monasteries) and Chaityas (prayer halls). To date, only about four acres of the site have been excavated.
Within those four acres, however, a wealth of discoveries has already been made. Ruins of congregation halls, Viharas and one particularly impressive structure containing sixteen pillars have been revealed. Future plans for the site involve preserving and conserving it in order to create a heritage tourism attraction.
It is rare to find such well-preserved items from such a long time ago and it is also uncommon to find the physical possessions of Buddhist monks in stupas. The discovery of personal objects in the Phanigiri Mahastupa provides hitherto unknown information about the everyday life of third-century Buddhist monks

Keralamahabodhi mission organised Dhamma classes for Upasakas

Keralamahabodhi mission organised Dhamma classes for Upasakas.Dhammamithra Binojbabu was the keynote speaker.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Buddhism and freedom of speech

by Sanitsuda Ekachai, The Bangkok Post, 14 Jan 2015

Bangkok, Thailand -- How to be truthful in a hostile environment? How to say things that need to be said to avoid coercion and violence from low tolerance of criticism? What should we respect more in an open society where different cultural norms often compete and clash - freedom of expression or cultural sensitivity?
The senseless Paris attacks and the ensuing "Je suis Charlie" phenomenon have brought these questions to the fore. Many feel torn between modern values that liberate their individual self and traditions that give them a precious sense of identity and group belonging.
The dilemma is also real in Thailand. In a war to restore cultural and political identity and dignity, the Muslim insurgency in the deep South has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the past decade.
Meanwhile, serious abuse of the lese majeste law and harsh political persecution have created a chilling climate of fear that silences constructive criticism, and ends up hurting the international standing of the revered institution.
How to reconcile? How to protect what we deeply revere? How to react to what we see as a sacrilege without betraying our faiths? How to be truthful to ourselves?
Since Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country, let me try answer those questions from a Buddhist approach.
In my view, if Thai Buddhists only truly observed the Buddha’s teachings on Right Speech, they would find that the ancient wisdom still offers answers to modern-day angst.
According to the teachings, lies, half-truths, insults, even gossip are all a no-no. What we say must be the truth only, but being truthful alone is not enough.
Non-exploitation - both of others and ourselves - is a central Buddhist principle. Wrong speech is discouraged not only because it hurts other people, but also ourselves when we taint our souls with anger, hatred, greed and delusion.
How we express those truths are also important. Before we utter a word, we must be certain that it is beneficial, timely, with gentle words and goodwill.
Despite our best intentions, if what we want to say is useless, not going to bring any positive change, spoken at the wrong time and place, then we should wait, then find the right time and right way to speak the truth in order to enable change.
Under this guideline, hurtful words against what others love and revere is unacceptable. Meanwhile, hiding behind the "silence is golden" motto at all times is sheer cowardice.
A hard truth remains that we have no control over what others think, say, or do. But we have complete control over our action, or karma, which is primarily the reaction to external stimulation of our senses.
In Buddhism, dhamma practice is essentially a spiritual training so our reactions are not governed by either negative or positive emotions, but by equanimity that comes from the insight that all things are impermanent and illusory. That all of us — regardless of birth, rank, race, ethnicity, gender and beliefs - are the same in the samsara of suffering, thus all deserving our empathy and compassion.
As Buddhists, inculcating equanimity and tolerance should be what we strive to do when we face what upsets us. That applies to the lese majeste issue.
It is understandable that when our deep reverence makes the monarchy a system of faith, insulting what we hold sacred is considered sacrilege. We feel hurt and we want to hurt them back. The challenge is whether we can rein in our hatred and anger, as Buddhists should.
Since childhood, we are forced to recite the five precepts so that our life will be guided by wholesome deeds.
In the hierarchy of precepts we recite, "don't lie" or unwholesome speech comes after "don't kill", "don't steal", and "don't violate others' wives and daughters".
Based on the non-exploitation principle, the message is clear: Verbal violation is less serious than actual physical attacks and abuses. When Buddhism demands a reaction of tolerance and kindness, what we see from the lese majeste cases is severe physical punishment for words we dislike.
In an open society where competing values are tied with conflicting interests, cultural and religious sensitivities must be respected alongside freedom of expression to stem violent outbursts.
What if the sacrilege continues?
When the Buddha was faced with a storm of insults and lies to discredit him, he remained calm and returned them with kind words.
Admit this. The way our society handles the lese majeste sacrilege is not only un-Buddhist, or disproportional. It is plain cruel.
Sanitsuda Ekachai is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Reflections on Buddhist practice, human rights

by K V Soon, The Malaysian Insider, 11 December 2014

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- The Buddhists have a practice known as the undertaking of Precepts. Specifically, there is a set of Five Precepts or Panca-sila.
As a Buddhist, the undertaking of the precepts is the most basic practice that cuts across all major Buddhist traditions.  As a ritual, Buddhists often recite the Five Precepts on a daily basis to remind themselves of their duties to self and society.
The Five Precepts constitute the basic spiritual training practice in the following aspects of life. They are the training to abstain from harming living beings, taking what is not given, indulging in sensual misconduct, speaking the untruth and substance abuse and intoxication.
The precepts and human rights
The first of the Five Precepts translates “I undertake the training rule to abstain from destroying lives”.
This recitation is so basic that children in temple Sunday schools can recite and memorise it. The precept tells us we should avoid harming one another – not just human beings – but also animals and all living beings.The destruction of lives can come in many forms. The worst form is the deliberate act to end a life – killing.
There are other forms of destruction – such as physical and emotional abuse that has no place in our spiritual practice.
As Buddhists, we cannot condone such acts as, the abuse of women and children from the homes to places of work. We cannot accept the fact that harm and pain can be inflicted upon others, no one has the right to physically harm another – whatever the reason.
We cannot condone the acts such as racism, discrimination based on class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.  Some abuses go so deep that the victim suffers physical and emotional damage.
The Third Precept provides us with a strong reminder to respect the will of others, especially those different from us. It is about appreciating others for who they are.
As we recite the precepts and reflect on the value of life, we are deeply aware that the destruction of lives happens on various levels, including political persecution, torture and death in custody.
Laws that allow the opportunity for bodily hurt, mental and emotional trauma and that remove justice and freedom must be abrogated.
I am reminded of the Fourth Precept that the value of truth. It is imperative to speak our minds to prevent the further damage and destruction to lives. Recitation of the precepts in ancient language words without the action is an empty practice.
Appreciating the value of life
The sole purpose of the precepts, beginning with the First Precept is to value life. We need to value life and all that support life. We cannot take away the right to education, cultural and religious practices of individuals.
More importantly, we must also support and sustain our ecological environment. Acknowledging and positively responding to climate change is a necessary part of our practice.
The Second Precept is a reminder that we must not take away what rightfully belongs to others. It also reminds us to of the need to develop generosity and to give without expectation of returns. True generosity is about being selfless in our generosity.
Selflessness can be achieved with a state of mind that is calm and peaceful.
The Fifth Precept reminds us of the need to have a calm mind, not quickly reacting to others is indeed a virtue.
With a calm and composed state of mind, meaningful discussions and dialogues will be able to be carried out. Truthful communication and right speech aids in the development of friendship. Healthy and positive relationships are foundations for a peaceful society.
As such it is not difficult for Buddhists to associate our practice of the precepts with the Declaration of Human Rights.
The precepts are indeed the basic building blocks of a peaceful society where human dignity, freedom and personal rights are preserved, we call this practice sila.
To practise sila is thus to train oneself in preserving one's true nature, not allowing it to be modified or overpowered by negative forces.
Acts of destruction are blinded by greed, rage or hatred. Such negative qualities as anger, hatred, greed, ill will, and jealousy are factors that alter people's nature and make them into something other than their true self. 
The practice of precepts is about returning to one's own basic goodness, the original state of normalcy, unperturbed and unmodified.
Our teacher, the Buddha, reminded us that even though we shut our eyes in meditation we cannot shut our eyes and hearts from the suffering of others.
We must strive to build a just society for our families and friends – present and future. Indeed, having a peaceful and just society to live is indeed a very high blessing. (Patirûpa dêsa vâso .... êtam mangala muttamam.)
Our spiritual and social duties are to cultivate our minds and at the same time work for the happiness and welfare of others. (Bahujana hitaya bahujana sukhaya.)
Let me conclude with a Buddhist Prayer of Loving Kindness:
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be free from enmity.
May all beings be free from malice.
May all beings be free from worry.
May all beings preserve their wellbeing.
K.V. Soon (aka Vidyananda) is an executive committee member of International Network of (Socially) Engaged Buddhists.

Non-religious essence of Buddhism and Ethics

By Rohana R. Wasala, Lankaweb, December 24th, 2014

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- If one understands what the Buddha dhamma is saying, and if one is convinced that the spiritual path explained therein is the right one to follow, and commits oneself to do so, then one is a Buddhist.
As Rev W. Rahula points out, though the label ‘Buddhist’ is of little significance from a Buddhist’s unique point of view, there is a long established tradition in this regard in Buddhist countries, which is that for a person to be considered a Buddhist they must ‘take refuge’ in the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha) and undertake to observe the Five Precepts (the Pancasila – the five minimum moral obligations of a Buddhist: not to kill, steal, commit adultery, utter falsehoods, or take intoxicating drinks).
These are rules of moral conduct that a Buddhist voluntarily undertakes to follow. The average Buddhists may, more often than not, be remiss in the strict observance of these rules in the daily struggle of normal living; but it does impart a sense of self-discipline to them and encourages them on the path to morality. The ritual of ‘taking refuge’ in the Triple Gem is both reassuring and restorative for the practitioner, like prayer in other systems of faith.
However, taking refuge in the Triple Gem  is only a mental tonic for the person embarked on the path leading to the ultimate goal, which is the realization of final release from suffering.
The Buddhist teaching is about realizing that the world is suffering, that this suffering has an arising, that there is a cessation of suffering, and that there is a way to bring about an end to suffering.
These are termed the Four Noble Truths. The fourth one is called the Noble Eightfold Path (right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration).
The eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path can be categorized into three groups which are sila (ethical conduct), samadhi (mental discipline) and panna (wisdom). Ethical conduct consists in right speech, right action, and right livelihood; mental discipline is to be achieved through right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration; wisdom comes from right understanding and right thought.
The student of Buddhism needs to learn what all these terms actually mean. This can be done in various ways such as by consulting a teacher, reading Buddhist literature, listening to lectures, but all these must be accompanied by independent inquisitive thinking.
‘(A) perfect understanding of the nature and structure of reality’ is what the Buddha claimed to have achieved, in the words of Robert A.F. Thurman, a Western Buddhist scholar. Having declared that the universe is unknowable (a fact that even scientific common sense convinces us of), the Buddha narrowed his area of search for truth to the psychological spiritual sphere, which is what really matters in human existence. He stated: Within this fathom-long sentient body itself, I postulate the world, the arising of the world, the cessation of the world, and the path leading to the cessation of the world”. The ‘world’ here is ‘suffering’ (dukkha) according to Rev. Walpola Rahula, author of ‘What the Buddha Taught’ from which I have quoted the Buddha’s statement. Rev. Rahula further explains that the Buddha’s words imply that the Four Noble Truths are  within the Five Aggregates, i.e., within ourselves and that there is no external power that produces the arising and the cessation of dukkha.
The truth that Buddhism teaches is not presented as divine revelation, but as truth to be experienced or realized by the individual through their own effort. The Four Noble Truths that constitute the central essence of the Buddha Dhamma are so called because they are cardinal truths realized by the great savants who have followed the Buddha’s teaching and have attained to the highest spiritual state. They have been called ‘Aryans’ in the Buddhist teaching.
The practicality of the Buddha Dhamma which is focused on mental training and self-discipline is revealed in its structure. The Dhamma is divided into two branches: textual and experiential (the teaching and its practice, respectively). The textual is further divided into three types of verbal teaching: discipline (vinaya), discourses (sutta), and philosophy and psychology (abhidhamma). The experiential is subdivided into three types of mental training: ethical (sila), meditational (Samadhi), and wisdom (panna) as we have already seen above.
It is true that Buddhism teaches the reality of suffering, its arising, its cessation, and the way leading to the end of suffering. But its concern with the truth of suffering does not make it a pessimistic doctrine, because it, with equal zest, teaches the possibility of total release from suffering. Realizing that life is suffering is actually seeing the truth, which leads one to try to put an end to suffering. It is like diagnosing a state of ill health and finding an appropriate cure, all of which is something positive. Buddha’s core discovery was the immediacy of perfect freedom from this suffering (dukkha), from enslavement to craving  or ‘thirst’ (tanha), from ignorance (avidya).
To the ordinary householders the Buddha’s ethical system recommends four Sublime States (brahma-vihara): 1) extending loving-kindness (metta) towards all living beings, 2) compassion (karuna) for all living beings who are suffering, who are in distress, 3) sympathetic joy (muditha) in others’ success, welfare, and happiness, and 4) equanimity (upekkha) in all vicissitudes of life. Preoccupation with self makes it difficult to practice these cardinal virtues taught in Buddhism. Therefore selfishness is to be avoided.
Free from self, and full of compassion for all beings, and disdainful of all forms of attachment, those who truly follow the Buddha’s teaching cannot be a threat to others who hold different views. The parable of the raft suggests that at a certain stage of spiritual development, even the Dhamma has to be abandoned as a used aid. Here, the Dhamma is likened to a raft. Once the wayfarer has crossed a stream in flood using a raft hastily fashioned in the absence of a bridge or a serviceable ferry, it is clearly wrong for them to carry it on their back saying that it helped them to cross a dangerous stream safely.
Buddha’s compassionate disposition towards other belief systems is unequivocal. He advised his disciples thus: ‘ It is not proper for a wise man who maintains (lit. protects) truth to come to the conclusion: This alone is Truth, and everything else is false”……… To be attached to one thing (to a certain view) and to look upon other things (views) as inferior – this the wise men call a fetter” ’ (a hindrance to realizing Nibbana, the Ultimate Reality, the end of all suffering. This state is human mind’s deepest, and most true condition).
Rock Edict XII of the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka of India of the third century BCE was inspired by this tolerant, accommodative attitude of the Buddha Dhamma towards other religions. It declares:
‘One should not honour only one’s own religion and condemn the religions of others, but one should honour others’ religions for this or that reason. So doing, one helps one’s own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one’s own religion and also does harm to other religions. Whosoever honours his own religion and condemns other religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking I will glorify my own religion”. But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more gravely. So concord is good: Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others’.
Followers of Buddhism are expected to extend the same tolerant attitude of sympathetic understanding not only in the moral spiritual sphere, but elsewhere as well.