Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Explore hidden Buddhist caves around Mumbai

by Abhishek Rawat, Hindustan Times, Jul 25, 2015

Mumbai, India -- Two women flank a man; one of them is playfully trying to pull a sash off the man’s waist. This scene, sculpted in the 1st century BC at the Kondane caves near Karjat, is among the architectural marvels you can find in Maharashtra’s collection of little-known Buddhist caves.
<< This set of 16 Buddhist caves, excavated in the 1st century BC, are known for intricate sculptures on the façade, especially of common men and women. (Photo: Sandesh Lad)
These caves are called lenis, derived from lavanya, the Marathi word for beauty. “Their architecture is deeply influenced by the state’s climate. For instance, they have verandahs to keep out the torrential Sahyadri rains, which make them different from lenis found elsewhere in India,” says Yojana Bhagat, coordinator of the department of Pali, University of Mumbai.In the monsoon, you can trek through lush greens and cascading waterfalls to explore the rock-cut caves, created between the 1st century BC and 6th century AD. “Back then, Maharashtra was an important juncture on the coastal trade route,” says Kamini Gogri, coordinator of the arts and aesthetics course at the University of Mumbai. “These exquisite structures were built to house Buddhist monks and serve as guest houses for traders.”
Made during the rule of the Satavahanas, Vakatakas and Kshatrapas dynasties, these caves, with sculptures and paintings of Buddha and scenes from everyday life, also house those of Hindu deities. “Most kings from these dynasties were followers of Hinduism,” says historian and filmmaker Benoy Behl. “These caves are one of our greatest heritage assets.”
Pitalkhora Caves
The inscriptions found on these 14 caves date back to 250 BC to 3rd century AD. “The chaitya griha here or the monk’s rooms are the crowning glory of Indian Buddhist architecture,” says Behl. “Also, you find the first examples here of the popular motif of elephants holding up temples.”
“From the early phase of Buddhism, these caves have beautiful sculptures of Yakshas, and house a painting of Buddha,” says Bhagat.Getting there: Take the overnight train, bus or an hour-long flight to Aurangabad; from here, the caves are about 40 minutes away by road.
Kondane Caves
This set of 16 Buddhist caves, excavated in the 1st century BC, are known for intricate sculptures on the façade, especially of common men and women. These are indicative of a free, equal society, says Behl.
Aside from having interesting architecture, the caves are hidden under a grand waterfall, and you could get the chance to spot unusual birds here, and sometimes, deer stroll by too.
“It’s an easy, hour-long trek to the caves, one that even kids can take,” says Sandesh Lal, 36, an eco-tourism professional.
Getting there: Drive or take a train to Karjat station, and then drive about 30 minutes to Kondivadi village, the start point of the trek.
Panhalekaji Caves
These 29 rock-cut caves are situated on the river Kotjai, in Dapoli. Nestled inside a forest, these are a combination of Hindu and Buddhist caves, believed to be 1,000 years old. Kotjai river is also home to some crocodiles. “It is the only leni from Vajrayana, the last sect of Buddhism. The stupas are placed outside, rather than inside, which is very rare,” says Bhagat.
Getting there: The caves are 25 km from Dapoli, towards Dabhol. It should take about five hours by road from Mumbai.
Gandharpale Caves
On a hill near Mahad-Konkan, across the Mumbai-Goa highway, this cluster of 30 Buddhist caves rest by the banks of Savitri-Gandhari rivers.
One of the most interesting carvings of the cave, excavated in 150AD to 300 AD, is of people giving donation to the monks. A sculpture shows a farmer handing over his farm to the group of monks who ran the place. “Moreover, these also have inscriptions in the rare Brahmi script,” says Bhagat.
Stone steps take you to the top of the hill, a 15-minute climb to the viharas. “In the monsoons, the hillock is wrapped in a green blanket, adorned with rivulets,” adds Saurabh Thakekar, 27, director of travel company Mumbai Travellers.
Getting there: Drive to Gandharpale village, which is on the NH17 or the Mumbai-Goa road, about six hours from Mumbai.

The Buddhist way of life in the Northeast

by Jayashree Narayanan, DHNS, July 28, 2015

New Delhi, India -- What many know of Buddhism is Siddhartha Gautam and his awakening under a peepal tree. ‘BUDDHISM – A Living Religion in the North East of India’, a documentary directed by Bappa Ray tries to delve deep with interesting insights into Buddhism being practised in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
The documentary filmed over a year traces the origins of Gautam Buddha and the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. As a world religion, based on the teachings of Buddha or the ‘Awakened One’, in modern times, two major branches of Buddhism exist -- the Theravada in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and the Mahayana throughout the Himalayas and East Asia.
From Ladakh and Himachal in the west to Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim in the east, in small villages scattered throughout the areas bordering Tibet, are communities which have adopted the Buddhist way of life.
Ray tells Metrolife, “Buddhism spread from Ladakh to Sikkim, bordering Tibet in the remote areas.” The film follows the narrative tradition of story telling where the voiceovers lead the 60 minutes of the film. From the 7th century, Buddhism underwent radical changes, and new forms appeared which were called Mahayana and Vajrayana and Tantra.
The film shows the discipline combined yoga practice with highly complex ritualism, mixed with magic, and includes the worship of a large number of divinities. It also traces Padmasambhava, ‘the great master of tantra’, who introduced Tibetians to Buddhism’s Tantric form. His journey from Tibet to northeast India forms an interesting part of the film revealing Padmasambhava as more powerful to the Buddha and incarnated to transfer an esoteric doctrine called ‘Pemagatha’.
While Sikkim showcases the daily lives of the worshippers and the rich cultural heritage that still remains nascent, the artistic pagodas, symmetries, stupas, arts, crafts of the Buddhist tribe of Arunachal Pradesh have been captured in the second half of the film.The film looks at the influence of Buddhism as a ‘Living Religion’, on the socio-cultural heritage. “Mainland India many times fails to look at northeast but they are close to nature, understand beauty and have a strong cultural heritage,” says Ray.
sourse:Buddhist channel

China to expand 1,943-year-old Buddhist temple

by Jagriti Kumari, One India, July 27, 2015

Beijing, China -- China is all set to expand country's oldest Buddhist temple in Henan Province in the country, media reported.
A site-cleansing ceremony was recently held in Baima Temple in Luoyang city in Henan Province, the local religious affairs authority said, The Global Times reported.
A new Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, designed in Han Dynasty style and with a floor space of 13,891 square meters, will be added to the ancient temple.
The 1,943-year-old Baima Temple, also known as the White Horse Temple.
It was the first Buddhist temple in China and is considered "the cradle of Chinese Buddhism. The temple went through two major expansions by Empress Wu in 685 AD and by Emperor Shizong of Ming Dynasty in 1555 AD.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why a Buddhist Monk Doesn't Need an App to Meditate and Why You Do

by Dragos Bratasanu, The Huffington Post, July 17, 2015

A few years ago I traveled to Nepal to hike in the Himalayas, learn a bit more about myself and about the world from the Buddhist spiritual teachers.

For over seven years I have went back and forth across the bridge between science and spirituality. I have studied both, trying to understand why we try to separate them, why we need to follow one path or the other. I never could quite understand why a scientist cannot spend time in meditation or pray and why a person on the spiritual path can't actually think?
"Why a scientist cannot spend time in meditation
and why a spiritual person can't think." -- Dr Dragos

As the night embraced the highest peaks in the world, I walked through the gates of a beautiful Buddhist monastery. Pale yellow lights shimmered from the classrooms where students were still learning their most sacred ancient texts. Only the crackled sound of me turning the prayer wheels a couple of times, my footsteps in the garden and the bark of a stray dog in the distance created rhythm through the stillness of the night. Suddenly I felt somebody pulling my jacket and as I turned around, a small Buddhist kid with a big smile and sparkling happy eyes asked me laughing: "Do you have candy?"
Four words you need to make your dreams come true:
"Do you have candy?"

As it brings me great joy to share what I have, I gave him all my chocolate bars that I bought to help me resist the long hikes in the mountains. He ate all the chocolates really fast and I soon realized that "do you have candy" were the only English words he knew. He took my hand and walked me to the abbey of the monastery without saying another word.
The abbey was a wonderful man in his fifties now, with a most obvious trait: he was always laughing and smiling. When he was just 5 years old he ran away from Tibet to escape the Chinese oppression. Leaving his family behind, he fled across the mountains and took refuge in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. He became a monk. In spite of all his hardships, he was now intensely happy.
How do you do it? I asked him. How do you stay so happy?
He begun his answer with a delicious laughter: "You know, in the western world you have everything you need to have a happy life. You have access to an abundance of information online, you have freedom, you have bookstores to learn anything you want, you can afford to buy anything you need. You even have apps for meditations!
I don't know what those are because I just sit down and meditate."
"What in the world is an app for meditation? I just sit down and do it." -- Buddhist monk
"You know what the problem really is? You fill your head with so much information but you never put it into practice. You never take action. You never do it. You study meditation, you learn techniques, you take courses, you read books, you go to classes but you never do it on the long run. And it's driving you crazy. It's that simple."
"Stop thinking and start doing!" -- Dr. Robert Richards, Co-Founder Singularity University
It's never the extraordinary people who do the extraordinary. It's the ordinary people like you and me who decide to stand up and take the journey. Because they complete the journey, ordinary people become extraordinary. What do you need to do today that you know you have to do and don't do it? Is it to go to the gym and exercise? It is to eat healthy? Is it to find the courage to tell your manager that he's wrong? Is it to take bold leadership of your life and stand up for who you really are?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dharmarajika – a Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh, feeds fasting Muslims over Ramadan

AFP, July 7, 2015

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- A Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh is serving food to hundreds of poor Muslims during Ramadan, in a rare example of social harmony between the religions in the South Asian nation.
Dharmarajika, in the capital Dhaka, has become a hit on social media since it started distributing daily food packs for Muslims who break their fast during Iftar.
“Buddhism taught us that serving humanity is the ultimate religion. We are feeding poor Muslims who cannot afford to buy proper meals to break their fast,” Suddhananda Mahathero, the head monk of the monastery, told AFP.
When AFP visited on Monday evening, more than 300 Muslims were waiting at the gate of the monastery in Dhaka’s Basabo neighbourhood to receive some Iftar delicacies.
“I can eat some good food served with love and care,” said 70-year-old Amena Khatun, who added that she had walked several kilometres to get there.As a young monk distributed tickets to hungry Muslims, police were on hand to ensure the process remained orderly.
“This is such a wonderful example of religious harmony: showing respect and affection to the fasting neighbours without thinking of the difference of religions,” said policeman Asad Uzzaman.
Muslims make up around 90 per cent of Bangladesh’s 160 million population, with a tiny community of Buddhists residing mostly in the country’s southeastern districts bordering Myanmar.
In September 2012, tens of thousands of Muslims vandalised and torched nearly a dozen Buddhist temples in the south of the country following allegations that a Buddhist man had desecrated the Holy Quran.
Many Muslims took to social media to thank the Dharmarajika monastery for their food distribution, posting photos on Facebook of the yellow-clad monks handing out supplies. Others praised the monks on Twitter.
“I really appreciate the initiative and thank them,” Nur Hossain, a banker, told AFP.
The monastery was established in 1949 and is home to more than 700 orphans who study at a free school it runs.


First annual Wisdom and Mindfulness retreats for westerners in Myanmar

by Alan Clements, The Buddhist Channel, July 14, 2015

Yangon, Myanmar -- Myanmar’s renowned Mahasi Meditation Center will launch a first-ever Western yogi meditation training for lay-teachers, first-time and experienced meditators.

First annual Wisdom and Mindfulness retreats for westerners in Myanmar, January 3-17, 2016 and January 24-February 7, 2016
Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha-Yangon (MSY), in partnership with the Buddha Sasana Foundation-USA/Canada (BSF), is hosting two rare meditation retreats (January 3-17, 2016 and January 24-February 7) specifically for Westerners interested in training in the techniques and foundations of insight meditation at the Center that launched the global mass lay meditation movement.
For nearly seventy years the Center has maintained a continuous 24-hour schedule of meditation for as many as 500 yogis at a time. The life-transforming training and practice
has impacted the lives of millions of meditators both in Myanmar and worldwide who have practiced in the tradition of the late Mahasi Sayadaw.
The techniques have been adapted to a variety of settings in the West - medical, educational,  correctional,  psychotherapeutic, business, and personal growth and spiritual development, in addition to the integrated approach to Buddhist philosophy and enlightenment. In South and Southeast Asia, the Mahasi method of insight meditation has influenced the face of Buddhist practice regionally.
Since 1962, the Mahasi Center has been closed to the world (other than in rare circumstances for a handful of practitioners). With Myanmar’s recent democratic opening,
the Center is poised for the first time to accept foreigner lay meditation teachers and passionate practitioners interested in training in the systematic mindfulness techniques of
Buddhist insight meditation, that is currently sweeping the world. (TIME: The Mindfulness Revolution).
Rooted in the long monastic tradition of an integrated ethical, scholarly and meditation based approach to pedagogy and outcomes, MSY has embarked on an unprecedented undertaking: a long-term training center for Western lay teachers taught in the medium of the English language. The 2016 Retreats mark the first annual meditation events and the
start of a new era in Buddhist training and practice.
The first yearly Mahasi Commemorative Gathering will follow the launch of the two Special Retreats on February 7 from one to five pm. The event commemorates the life and work of
the late Mahasi Sayadaw with lectures and commentaries offered on the extraordinary life and impact of the Mahasi’s systematization of insight meditation practice.
The retreats are open to all yogis by application on the The Wisdom of Mindfulness website but space is limited to 50 yogis in total. The retreats offer practical insights into the heart of Buddhist insight meditation and the emancipatory teachings of the Buddha.
The Retreats will be guided by the Center's abbot, Sayadaw U Jatila and the meditation teachers at Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha. Cultural and retreat assistance will be provided by Mr.
Alan Clements (former monk at the Center). Dr. Ingrid Jordt (former nun at the Center) and Dr. Jeannine Davies (long-time practitioner in the Mahasi tradition). Participating yogis may
come to the Retreat Assistants (kappiyas) with any questions regarding cultural translation of the monastic environment, help explaining protocol, interview style, technique questions,
and other general help.
If you go:
First Annual

Retreat 1: Sunday January 3-17, 2016 (25 spaces)
This retreat, reserved for beginning and experienced meditators, will be taught in the Theravada Buddhist tradition using the Satipatthana Vipassana mindfulness method of insight meditation as instructed by the late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw. The teachings emphasize developing sustained mindfulness throughout the day. (i.e., awareness of mental and physical phenomena as they arise moment to moment, in all activities, when sitting, walking, standing, bending, bathing, eating, lying down to rest, waking up etc.)
Retreat 2: Sunday January 24 – Feb 7, 2016 (25 spaces)
Reserved for lay meditation teachers and guides who would like to receive comprehensive training in the systematic Mahasi pedagogy. This retreat offers a special opportunity for teachers in the West to deepen their practice and to gain a more systematic knowledge of insight meditation. Guidance will be offered in the pedagogical foundations and skillful means required to guide practice and decipher the meditator’s report of vipassana experience in order to facilitate their role as a noble friend and guide/mentor.
First International Mahasi Commemorative Gathering: Feb 7th 1:00- 5:00 pm.
The Gathering to be held at the Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha Yangon, commemorates the life and works of the late Ven Mahasi Sayadaw and the history of the Mahasi teachings in Burma and throughout the world.
Further details and online application at:
Alan Clements is author, dharma guide and a former Buddhist monk residing in Burma.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Buddhism and the World Crisis

by Prof Dr Damien Keown, The Buddhist Channel, May 29, 2015

In his keynote address at the opening of the United Nations Day of Vesak 2015, Prof Dr Damien Keown presents his view on how global crises can be turned into opportunities in the context of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) region

Bangkok, Thailand
-- While reflecting on the word ‘crisis’ I was reminded of a remark made by US President John F. Kennedy in a speech he gave in Indianapolis in 1959. The President said ‘The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word “crisis.” One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity.’ I don’t know if the President’s understanding of Chinese was accurate, but I would like to take those words as the inspiration for my comments.

Certainly, there is a world crisis, and this presents itself in many shapes and forms. While the world has faced many crises in the past, the threat seems greater today due to modern developments such as globalization, advanced technology, mass migration, and the accelerated speed of transport and communications.

The pace of change has never been faster, allowing less time to pause in the face of the challenges that arise on every side, and less time to develop wise solutions.

In the face of these challenges there is a pervasive feeling, both among individual citizens and their political leaders, of being caught off-balance and wrongfooted by events; of being swept along by a tsunami of powerful forces which are beyond the power even of governments and world leaders to control. In this context, there is a greater need than ever for Buddhist teachings to be heard, and not just heard but implemented with commitment and decisiveness.

The panels in this conference will explore the role of Buddhism in the current world crisis under four different headings:

1.    Buddhist Response to Social Conflict
2.    Buddhist Response to Environmental Degradation
3.    Buddhism and the ASEAN Community
4.    Buddhist Response to Educational Crisis

These are interrelated themes, but let's start with the third, Buddhism and the ASEAN Community. I begin with ASEAN for two reasons. First, because 2015 marks the year in which the ASEAN Community comes into being; and second, because questions like social conflict, the environment and education will increasingly demand regional as opposed to national or local solutions.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was founded in Bangkok with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration on 8 August 1967. The five founding nations were Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. These were subsequently joined by Brunei, Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar and Vietnam, bringing the total to ten, and with the planned inclusion of East Timor the total will be eleven. The ASEAN Charter, which came into force on 15 December 2008, gave a legal and institutional framework for the creation of the ASEAN Community.


The motto of ASEAN is ‘One Vision, One Identity, One Community,’ and the aims and purposes of ASEAN, as stated in its founding declaration, are as follows:
  1. To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations;

  2. To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter;

  3. To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields;

  4. To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres;

  5. To collaborate more effectively for the greater utilisation of their agriculture and industries, the expansion of their trade, including the study of the problems of international commodity trade, the improvement of their transportation and communications facilities and the raising of the living standards of their peoples;

  6. To promote Southeast Asian studies; and

  7. To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes, and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation among themselves.
In these seven items , the key words that stand out are: partnership, peace, prosperity, respect, collaboration, assistance, and cooperation. To what extent are these seven aims and purposes in harmony with Buddhist values? Like us, the Buddha lived at a time of change and instability: in his day, smaller states were being incorporated into larger political units, not voluntarily - as in the case of ASEAN - but as a result of the aggressive policies of their expansionist neighbours. 

As an alternative to this pattern of conquest and annexation, the Buddha commended an alternative political model based on collaboration and peaceful co-existence through the implementation of what he called ‘the seven conditions of welfare’ (sattā aparihāniyā dhammā) (D.ii.73ff).


  1. There are regular and frequent assemblies. This implies a democratic system in which the people or their representatives meet regularly for discussion on all matters.
  2. The assemblies meet in harmony, rise in harmony, and carry on their business in harmony.  Here there is an emphasis on united action in establishing an agreed manifesto, an agenda for action, and the implementation of democratically agreed policies. It also implies that communities will help each other in times of need.
  3. They enact nothing not already established, abrogate nothing that has already been enacted, and proceed in accordance with their ancient institutions. Perhaps this sounds overly conservative and suggests the Buddha was opposed to change. I think instead it was intended to safeguard the identity of the community and to establish the principle that resolutions should only be approved when they are in harmony with the community’s constitution and values.  In simple terms it suggests that everyone should respect the law.
  4. They honour, respect, revere, and salute the elders among them and consider them worth listening to. This involves recognition of the contribution made by statesmen and political leaders. It can also be seen as a call to respect and participate in the democratic process.
  5. They do not take away by force or abduct others’ wives and daughters and detain them. Here we see the Buddha’s strong disapproval of violence towards women and an implicit call for gender equality. While directed specifically at women, by extension it includes all vulnerable members of society and would prohibit exploitative practices like slavery, human trafficking, and child labour.
  6. They honour, respect, revere, and salute religious shrines at home and abroad, not withdrawing the proper support given before. This is a call for respect for religion and its symbols and material culture. It includes the sacred buildings of all religions such as temples, mosques, churches and shrines, along with their respective communities.
  7. Proper provision is made for the safety of arahants so that those from far away may enter the realm and live in peace along with those already present. Linked to the previous condition, this can be interpreted as a call for tolerance and religious freedom throughout the community. In addition, it suggests that restrictions on free movement should be removed so that those who wish to live in peace and bring benefits to the community are welcomed.

I make no claim that these two lists of seven items are identical, much less that the Buddha laid the foundations for the ASEAN constitution. I suggest only that the two lists share a common direction of travel.

In essence, what I think we see the Buddha calling for is a transparent democratic system built around consensus and based on a constitution enshrining humanitarian values, protection of the vulnerable, and freedom of religion. I think we can say there is no great incompatibility between the two lists, and it seems the political constitution and economic infrastructure provided by ASEAN can further the aims of allowing communities to co-exist in peace and prosperity in the modern world, an ideal to which Buddhists can happily subscribe.


To forge the member states into a functioning community was the aim of the ASEAN Vision 2020, adopted in 2006. Here, the ASEAN leaders agreed on a shared vision of ASEAN as ‘a concert of Southeast Asian nations, outward looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.’ The ASEAN Community is made up of three pillars:

1.    ASEAN Political-Security Community
2.    ASEAN Economic Community and
3.    ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

While nations in which Buddhism is influential will, like other member states, have an interest in the first two of these pillars, the contribution of Buddhist teachings and values will be especially important in the third. The aims of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, in which matters such as religious belief and traditions will play an important role, include achieving ‘enduring solidarity and unity among the peoples and Member States of ASEAN. It seeks to forge a common identity and build a caring and sharing society which is inclusive and where the well-being, livelihood, and welfare of the peoples are enhanced.’1

The various dimensions of ASEAN mentioned so far connect in various ways with the topics to be discussed at this conference. Buddhism has no objection to economic prosperity and the expansion of trade, provided, of course, that prosperity does not lead to rampant consumerism, and economic development takes place in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner.

Here we have a link to the second conference theme, namely concern for environmental degradation. Regional peace and stability, and respect for justice and law, are also admirable objectives, and connect to our first conference theme, which addresses the problem of social conflict. ASEAN’s commitment to renunciation of the use of force and a commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes is of key importance here.

The fourth conference theme, the Buddhist response to the educational crisis, is picked up by references - in the fourth and sixth of the seven ASEAN principles - to the provision of assistance in training and research, and also to the promotion of Southeast Asian studies. This last item provides a platform for expanding the study of Buddhism at various levels of the curriculum, a point I will return to shortly.

While Buddhist values overlap to a large degree with those of ASEAN, on a practical level it will be the task of the representatives of the Buddhist member states to be vigilant in ensuring that the formulation and implementation of specific policies reflects the values of their home constituencies. Buddhist groups and organizations will need to ensure that their views on social, economic and political issues are expressed at the appropriate levels within the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.


Having said something about the aims and principles of ASEAN, we turn individually to the three remaining conference themes. Of these, the environmental crisis is perhaps the most serious. It is the most serious because of its global nature, and its capacity to threaten the wellbeing of the planet in a fundamental way. Apart from harm to the environment itself, environmental degradation has a knock-on effect in other areas: it affects health and economic development, and potentially also gives rise to conflict as resources become scarcer.

Importantly, the effects of environmental degradation are felt most keenly by the poor. To turn this challenge into an opportunity will require considerable initiative, thought and planning.
The ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Sustainability states :

ASEAN shall work towards achieving sustainable development as well as promoting clean and green environment by protecting the natural resource base for economic and social development including the sustainable management and conservation of soil, water, mineral, energy, biodiversity, forest, coastal and marine resources as well as the improvement in water and air quality for the ASEAN region. ASEAN will actively participate in global efforts towards addressing global environmental challenges, including climate change and the ozone layer protection, as well as developing and adapting environmentally-sound technology for development needs and environmental sustainability.

Developments in this respect are already under way. A programme run by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) in conjunction with Germany was launched in Jakarta on 7 April 2015. The project, titled ‘Protection of Biological Diversity in the ASEAN Member States in Cooperation with the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity,’ aims to ‘protect the biological diversity, promote the sustainable management of natural ecosystems, and improve the livelihoods of local population in the ASEAN region.’

Earlier last month, the Secretary General of ASEAN, H.E. Le Luong Minh, speaking in Hanoi, accepted that ‘ASEAN, as elsewhere in the world, despite abundant human and natural resources, does face a big challenge in keeping a delicate balance between environmental sustainability and economic development.’ 2

In his remarks, the Secretary General said there was ‘broad agreement that with regard to sustainable development, ASEAN's Post-2015 Vision should continue to promote inclusive, sustained and equitable economic growth and sustainable development, consistent with the UN Post- 2015 development agenda,’ while ‘ensuring a proper balance between economic development and environmental protection.’

Other interesting work has been done to explore ways in which specific economies can thrive in ASEAN while preserving their traditional ecological values. An example of this includes papers from a conference at Assumption University in 2013. One author, in his contribution titled ‘Buddhist Economics and Ecology: A Lesson for the Future of the ASEAN Community’  contrasts ‘mainstream economics, which is an economics of greed, with Buddhist economics whose goal is not to maximize utility but to promote a healthy life for the individual and wellness, peace and tranquillity for the society.’3

In the Buddha’s time there was no environmental crisis of the kind we face today. He was nevertheless well aware that nature can be a powerful ally or a dangerous enemy, and that the relationship between human beings and the natural world was complex and needed careful management.

The inhabitants of the region where he lived were very much at the mercy of the environment, and the early sources speak of natural disasters like flooding or drought leading to starvation, depopulation (A.I,160), poverty and crime (Ja.II,367; VI,487).4  The Buddha realized that the survival of forests and the wilderness was important to those who, like himself, left home to pursue the religious life.

Time and again he encouraged his monks and nuns to spend as much time as they could away from human habitation in the jungle (A.III,87). With respect to animals, the Buddhist values of non-violence and compassion are clearly expressed in the Buddha’s opposition to animal sacrifice. Various Buddhist teachings can be drawn on to promote environmental values and ecological awareness. Influential in defining ethical attitudes towards the natural world are the four Brahma-vihāras, or sublime states of mind, namely universal love (metta), compassion (karuṇā), sympathetic joy (muditā) and equanimity (upekkhā).

These attitudes foster feelings that lead to the protection of the natural world and ensure its well-being. While the environmental problems we face today are on a vastly larger scale, we can find in the Buddha’s teachings principles that can help guide our thinking.


The topic of social conflict is a subject that brings us face to face with a number of difficult questions. It is an unfortunate fact that religious discrimination, intimidation, harassment, and violence toward minority religious and ethnic groups are currently on the rise, even in countries where Buddhism is well established.

Contemporary events have shown that the simplistic view that Buddhism is exclusively a religion of peace, and that only other religions promote violence is no longer sustainable. Buddhism like any religion can become entangled with nationalism and caught up in ethnic conflict.

Of course, this is clearly contrary to Buddhist teachings on violence, which are well known and often repeated. The Dhammapada (v.129), invoking the ‘Golden Rule,’ counsels against violence, and the First Precept prohibits causing intentional harm to any living creature. The Buddha explained how conflict often arises from greed, hatred and delusion, and taught virtues such as kindness, compassion, non-violence, mindfulness, gentleness, contentment, generosity and wisdom that promote harmonious co-existence, and criticized vices like arrogance, pride, covetousness, egoism and greed, which fuel animosity and conflict. Greed gives rise to attachment to pleasures, material possessions, territory, and economic and political power.

Attachment to dogmatic views and inflexible fundamentalist ideologies can lead to persecutions and bloody crusades. In the last century millions of deaths can be attributed to such attitudes. Claims such as “This alone is true, all else is false” (idam eva saccaṃ moghamaññam) (M.ii.170) are characteristic of attitudes that divide society.

Hatred and prejudice becomes entrenched, often for generations, and are difficult to dislodge. The delusion that one’s self, or one’s community, is uniquely privileged and must be protected at all costs reinforces egocentric and nationalist perspectives that see other communities as the enemy and a threat. The Buddha specifically warned against this kind of attitude, counselling his followers not to react angrily if the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha were disparaged by others (D.i.3).

The great king Asoka was no stranger to conflict, and was responsible for suffering and death on a large scale, as he himself admits. Repenting of these campaigns of conquest he later sought to implement values of toleration, and in his 12th Rock Edict spoke about the importance of religious toleration and his desire that ‘all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.’ He states that he ‘honours both ascetics and the householders of all religions’ and desires that they flourish. Key to this, he suggests, is restraint in speech, which means:

… not praising one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honour other religions for this reason. By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others. 
Not resorting to divisive speech is also important in avoiding and defusing conflict, and one who refrains from it is said to be: ‘one who reunites those who are divided, a promoter of friendships, who enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that promote concord.’ 5

Although delivered many centuries ago, this wise advice seems particularly timely on the threshold of closer integration among the ASEAN nations and their diverse faiths.
The ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) was established in 2011 under the auspices of the ASEAN Political-Security Community and held its first Governing Council Meeting in Jakarta in December 2013. Since then it has held two symposia in 2014, the first in Manila and the second in Bali. It will have a valuable and difficult role to play in mediation and defusing tensions which will inevitably arise in a religiously and ethnically diverse community of some 600 million people.

Relations between the two largest ASEAN religions, Islam and Buddhism, will play a key role in the integration of the community. According to one scholar:

The coming formation of the ASEAN community in 2015 highlights the urgent need for religions of Southeast Asia to move from co-existence to dialogue. When the 10 countries of ASEAN are integrated economically, Buddhists will make up about 40% and Muslims 42%. Hence the formation of an economically dynamic, politically plural and peaceful ASEAN community will depend on the future of Buddhism-Islam relations.6

Apart from intolerance of other religions, conflict can also arise from other sources.
Economic inequalities in the distribution of resources can lead to crime and social unrest, and a wise government will seek to avoid revolution and revolt by ensuring that material support is provided for the poorest in society.

The Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta records how by failing to do this, the kingdom of one ruler fell into ruin. For those members of the laity with greater resources, the Buddha gave useful advice on how to generate and spend their wealth (e.g. S.iv.331-7).

In the Sigālovāda Sutta he recommends that a quarter be used for one’s personal needs and comfort, a half on one’s business, and the remaining quarter saved in case of hardship (D.iii.188). The Sigālovāda Sutta also gives advice on social relationships, and other sources offer guidance on what sort of trades and professions should be engaged in and which not. Buddhism thus has a wide range of strategies to draw on - including mindfulness and meditation--to help avoid social conflict and to defuse it once arisen.


Turning now to the final conference theme of the educational crisis, Buddhism is an intellectually dynamic tradition that holds learning in great esteem. Scholarship, or ganthadhura, is recognized as an important and legitimate monastic career. Unfortunately, however, learning can also deteriorate into the mindless copying or chanting of texts without any real understanding. To avoid this requires a comprehensive system of education from primary to university level in which questioning, originality, analysis and critical reflection are encouraged.

A UNECOSOC ministerial declaration in 2011 spoke of ‘the inter-linkages between education and the advancement of all the other Millennium Development Goals. We also recognize that education plays a fundamental role in creating an inclusive society and reducing inequity and inequality, as well as for achieving sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, poverty eradication and sustainable development.’

Following a two-year review of the curricula of member countries, ASEAN produced an ASEAN Curriculum Sourcebook as a tool for educators. The Sourcebook describes itself as :

… a resource that teachers throughout ASEAN can use to help learners explore their many connections to one another and to conceive of themselves both as individuals, and as engaged members in their community, country, their region, and the world. As they do so, they will understand the complex ways in which peoples and lands across ASEAN are connected, be able to exchange and appreciate diverse perspectives, and envision new ways in which they can work together to realize common goals and a brighter future.8

The Sourcebook explore five themes (Knowing ASEAN, Valuing Identity and Diversity, Connecting Global and Local, Promoting Equity and Justice, and Working Together for a Sustainable Future), through four Pathways (People, Places, Materials, and Ideas).
A third component is the ‘Essential Questions’ which ‘articulate the Pathways, connect the Themes with the learners’ own ideas and perspectives, and guide them in applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they engage with the material.’ These three elements form the basis of lesson plans which serve as free-standing teaching units.

While the Sourcebook is primarily intended for use in primary and secondary schools, it provides a blueprint that could be adapted for use in higher education as well. Institutions will need to review their existing curricula to make sure they meet the needs of incoming students who will graduate as citizens of the ASEAN community. 

The International Association of Buddhist Universities (IABU), with member universities in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia, seems well placed to coordinate this work among Buddhist universities and to represent Buddhist views on education in the Socio-Cultural Community of ASEAN. The IABU’s vision, mission and goals broadly coincide with the educational objectives of ASEAN, UNESCO and UNECOSOC, and discussions have already taken place on a model ASEAN Buddhist Studies Curriculum. It remains to be seen whether and how this work will be carried forward by member institutions. 9


In conclusion, let me echo the quote from John F.Kennedy mentioned at the start with one from another famous politician, Winston Churchill. Churchill is reputed to have said, ‘Never waste a good crisis,’ and while he was referring to crises of a political nature I think his words also apply more broadly. Crisis brings the opportunity for change, and our conference will explore four areas of contemporary crisis and the opportunities they present.
While each of these can be tackled independently, I have suggested that they are interconnected. The positive outcome we look forward to in addressing these crises successfully is a well-educated population enjoying prosperity based on sustainable development and living in peaceful communities. I hope this is not too utopian an ideal, and that it is one which our discussions in this conference can help bring a little closer.

Damien Keown is Emeritus Professor of Buddhist Ethics, University of London Goldsmiths. The United Nations Day of Vesak (UNDV) is currently being held in Bangkok, Thailand from May 28-30, 2015. Presentation was edited for publication.


[1] http://www.asean.org/communities/asean-socio-cultural-community.
[2] Communique in ASEAN Secretariat News, 1 April 2015. http://www.asean.org/news/item/sec-gen-minh-updates-world-parliamentarians-on-asean-s-sustainable-development-efforts?category_id=27.
[3] P.xii.
[4] S. Dhammika, Nature and the Environment in Early Buddhism, (Singapore: Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society, 2015) and available online from the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. All of the information in the present paragraph comes from this useful source.

[5] Quoted in Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p.249.
[6] Professor Dr. Imitiyaz Yusuf , Graduate School of Philosophy and Religion, Assumption University. http://en.reingex.com/img/ASEAN-Religion.png
[7] This topic is addressed in depth by Dr Dion Peoples in a paper titled ‘Revised Role for Buddhism in ASEAN: Conquering the Educational Crisis’ to be presented in the ‘Buddhist Response to Educational Crisis’ panel of the conference, to which readers are referred for further information.
[8] ASEAN Curriculum Sourcebook, p.4.
[9] This was at the third conference of the Association of Theravada Buddhist Universities at Mahamakut Buddhist University, 16-18 May 2013 (Dion Peoples, ‘Revised Role for Buddhism in ASEAN: Conquering the Educational Crisis’).  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Buddhist view of homosexuality

by (the late) Ven. Dr K Sri Dhammananda, Published on the Buddhist Channel, June 30, 2015

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- We can no longer pretend that this aspect of human behavior - homosexuality - is something shameful and if we ignore it long enough it will simply go away.
<< "There is nothing intrinsically wrong with sex. What is wrong is attachment and slavery to it, on believing that indulgence in sex can bring ultimate happiness.." -- Ven Dr K Sri Dhammananda (1919-2006)
To begin with, present day attitudes are largely influenced by the Tudor-Christian approach in the Bible which was blown out of proportion by the narrow mindedness of the Victorian era in 19th Century England.
In Asia, especially India and China, sex was never seen as something dirty only to be indulged in surreptitiously and only for the purposes of breeding. Stone sculptures on the Hindu temples of India amply testify to the fact that all kinds of sexual behavior (including masturbation) was an expression of KAMA, of sensual pleasure which could be indulged in within the limits of Dharma, which in this case meant virtue.
As human beings, we are equipped with bodies which crave for the pleasures of all kinds (not only sex) - for food, pleasant smells, sounds etc. If we deny these for being sinful, then we repress natural desires which are harmful. The being which is the victim of MAYA (ignorance) sees the body as real and craves to satisfy its longing for KAMA.
But as the being matures spiritually MAYA is replaced with VIDYA (knowledge) and PANNA (wisdom) . Therefore when the body is seen as an illusion, than the being naturally GROWS OUT of craving. Here, we see the superior being renounces sex through maturity just as a child stops playing with toys as he or she grows up.There is nothing intrinsically wrong with sex. What is wrong is attachment and slavery to it, on believing that indulgence in sex can bring ultimate happiness. This is the problem with the exploitation of sex by the mass entertainment industry today - extending the myth that sex can bring lasting happiness.
The third of the Five Precepts we recite in daily Buddhist practice is: undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual misconduct. First we note that there is no compulsion, no fear of punishment for infringement of any divine law, but when we recognize the danger of attachment to sex, we freely take the steps (training rule) to grow out of it, i.e. "I undertake".
Next we look at "sexual misconduct" - here we refer specifically to sexual misconduct, not all sexual behaviour. Sex is not prohibited to those who do not choose to be celibate. Undoubtedly, this rule only applies to those who are not monks or nuns. These latter have voluntarily taken it upon themselves to abstain from sex to better concentrate on their spiritual progress. By misconduct is meant behavior which harms the person who does the act or the other party.
This in a way means that if both parties are consenting adults, not under-aged, not “attached”- legally or otherwise to someone else, there is no harm done.
In Buddhism we do not consider any action "sinful" in the sense that we transgress a divine commandment. We act wrongly because of Ignorance and therefore we commit an Akusala Kamma (unskilful action) which delays or interferes with our spiritual progress. Because of our Ignorance about the real nature of things (in this case our body) we act in ways which are detrimental to us from a spiritual point of view.
Wisdom and Understanding will help us refrain from harmful actions, both mental and physical.
In this connection, Buddhism does not recognize that marriage is a divinely ordained institution which suddenly makes sex OK. Sex is a human activity which has nothing to do with heaven and hell. You will notice that sexual restraint is only ONE of the Five Precepts.
Killing is far more serious because you can hurt another being more viciously. Sex is caused by a craving just like craving for food, liquor, drugs, wealth, power, etc. Attachment to any of these constitutes Akusala Kamma. Buddhism discourages any of these forms of carving because it will tie us down more firmly to Samsara. Also indulgence in sex can lead to other evils.
One may see from this that Buddhism does not see Homosexuality as WRONG and HETROSEXUALITY as RIGHT. Both are sexual activity using the body, both are strong expressions of lust which increase desire for life and therefore trap us longer in Samsara. Whether two men or a couple fall in love, it arises out of the same human limitation that is, of not seeing the body as empty of any ultimate reality.
Buddhism does not condemn homosexuals in the same way as it does not condemn any wrong doing. We act through ignorance of the true nature of things, therefore we are only guilty of AKUSALA Kamma (unskilful action) . We have no right to condemn others.
Our duty is to help others see that they are acting out of ignorance, to show how real happiness can be gained. We have no right to condemn those who think or act differently from us especially when we ourselves are slaves of sensual pleasure in other forms. We know that when we point one finger at others, three fingers are pointing at us.
In summary, homosexuality like heterosexuality arises from Ignorance, and is certainly not "sinful" in a Christian sense. All forms of sex increase lust, craving, attachment to the body.
With wisdom we learn to grow out of these attachments. We do not condemn homosexuality as wrong and sinful, but we do not condone it either, simply because it, like other forms of sex, delays our deliverance from Samsara.