These include the specific social setting, the lineage of practice, the cultural background, even the aesthetics of a tradition.
Given the character of meditation practice, however, context also includes the intentions and expectations of the practitioner. This is just the point that Carl Jung made many years ago—that the cultural values and preconceptions within which someone undertakes a practice such as meditation deeply influence the effects that practice has on that individual.
In several of his essays, Jung sounded a cautionary note regarding the appropriation of yogic practices by Westerners Jung b, p. This has drawn the opprobrium of many Buddhist apologists, such as Daniel Goleman, who accuse Jung of a variety of sins, including racism, crypto-fascism, stupidity, and plain narrow-mindedness. It is important to note what it was that Jung tried to warn us of: that there were certain dangers involved that resulted from the attitudes inherent in Western culture. Jung, however, is not unqualifiedly negative in his evaluation of yogic meditation.
He says, for example Quite apart from the charm of the new and the fascination of the half-understood, there is good reason for yoga to have many adherents. It offers not only the much-sought way, but also a philosophy of unrivalled profundity. See for example, Nauriyal et al. This attitude is displayed in countless Western myths, legends, novels, films, television programs, and comic books. Whether Jason or the Dark Avenger, the hero is one who conquers his enemies. What Jung saw was that such an application of meditation under the guidance of the heroic attitude will simply reinforce the mistaken conception that the conscious ego is in charge of what happens.
As discussed above, the attitude with which meditation is undertaken is an important element of the context of practice, directly effecting the outcome of practice. Shinran phrased this concern in terms of self-power Jpn. While these terms have quite mistakenly been used to describe different schools of practice, it is more appropriate to understand them as describing different attitudes toward practice.
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Using contemporary psychological terminology, we can say that self-power is ego-directed, and therefore is unable to effect change in the ego itself. Religions , 9, 16 of 19 More recently, Jack Engler made a point similar to the ones that Jung and Shinran both made about attitude and expectation as part of the context of practice. Generalizing the issues described by Jung, Shinran, and Engler, the problem can be said to be the result of an unrecognized dualism in the practice of meditation.
The boards are the mind, the hammer is meditation, and the person hammering is the person doing the meditation. While the instrumental attitude works in carpentry, it sadly reinforces one of the very problems meditation in the Buddhist context is intended to overcome—the reification of the self, that is, the thought that the self is something separate from the very ongoing process of meditating.
Conclusion: Steps Toward an Alternative Construction Awakening and Practice as Fully Embodied Rather than Mental One of the key issues to transforming our understanding of Buddhist practice is to confront the intellectualist presumptions of the Western religious tradition. The emphasis on proper belief, orthodoxy, as salvific, which is central to the Protestant tradition, has created a focus on doctrine and belief as keys to understanding religious traditions. This in turn has fed into the psychological presumptions of contemporary Western society, and its tendency to locate agency in the mind.
The representation of awakening as a mental event is overdetermined for us. There certainly are discussions in the Buddhist canonic literature that accord with such a view. The presumptions regarding religion held by many of the authors representing Buddhism to a Western audience led them to selectively construct a version of Buddhism that presents awakening as a mental event. And, there is also the equation of awakening with mystical experience, itself understood as mental.
But there are also discussions within Buddhism that present awakening as involving body, speech, and mind equally, and which call into question an exclusive location of agency in the mind. Seriously considering the relation between meditation and ritual as constructed in the process by which Buddhism was incorporated into modern religious culture facilitates recognizing that three common presumptions about Buddhist practice are problematic.
That is, the effects of technology depend upon the context within which it is employed, and the use of technology entails values. This is a broader issue, one that includes philosophic, political, economic, and psychological dimensions, and needs to be acknowledged within discussions of the adaptation of meditation.
What does it really mean that someone combines, for example, a Zen-style of silent, seated contemplation with Catholic prayer? Would such a combination lead to an experiential awareness of emptiness? Or would it give one a greater sense of connection with God, the Creator and Lord of the Universe? The Zen example is of course made particularly complex because of the historically early adoption of the language of context-neutral and value-free mental technology by Zen apologists in the West.
Thus, the rhetoric is well entrenched, and one finds Zen authorities who will themselves present Zen as in just this fashion. They were used as a means of justifying the Zen tradition and propagating it in a potentially hostile environment—religious pluralism not being valued in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Western and Westernized societies.
Second, the distinction between ritual and meditation is a conventional one, and there is no way in which the two can be clearly delineated from one another. Any attempt to do so is simply a stipulative definition, that is, one that is purely conventional, and potentially idiosyncratic. Rather, what one finds within Buddhism is that meditation is ritualized, and ritual has a meditative function.
Three factors contributed to an environment in which Buddhist modernists privileged meditation in their representations of Buddhism to modern, Western audiences. These were, first, the Protestant devaluation of ritual in favor of direct communion with God, second, the Romantic rhetoric of spontaneity as the highest expression of human existence which is itself an extension of the former , and third, the ideas regarding individual spiritual development as a rational, scientific, and psychological process formulated by modernist occultism.
All three of these strains of thought contributed to a positive cultural valuation of meditation at the expense of ritual. Buddhist modernists, in their efforts to make Buddhism relevant to Western audiences and the modern world, created a representation of Buddhism in which meditation is paradigmatic for the entire tradition.
Meditation and ritual, however, do not constitute two separate, natural kinds. Rather, the distinction that is made between them seems to derive from a choice as to what aspect of the practice is being focused on. Commonly, if the mental aspect is the focus of attention, the practice will be considered to be a meditation, while if the physical aspect is given attention, then it will be considered a ritual. There are, of course, terminological distinctions within the tradition that may be interpreted as analogues to the meditation—ritual distinction, but the complexities of invoking those are not involved in the popular perception that the two are autonomously distinct from one another.
A different distinction is based on the way in which the intent of the practice is characterized. If it is described in terms of a mental practice intended for individual psycho-spiritual development, then it will be considered a meditation. If, however, the intent of the practice is described in terms of expressions of devotion, as oriented toward a deity, or as a group activity, then it will tend to be considered a ritual. Rather than considering ritual and meditation as two separate, distinct categories of activities, it is more accurate to consider ritual as a range of phenomena marked by varying degrees of ritualization, rather than a clearly demarcated category.
The idea that ritualization as a scalar measure involving various degrees of various different characteristics—formalization, regularity, and so on—derives from the work of Catherine Bell Some activities, including meditation, are more highly ritualized than others—more formalized, more strictly defined in terms of sequence, and so on. Thus, from this perspective, an activity can be both meditation and ritual. Third, the privileging of meditation is itself a particular polemic construction of Buddhism, one that warps our perception and evaluation of the actual majority of Buddhist practice over the last two and a half millenia, as well as marginalizing a majority of Buddhists in the contemporary world.
The styles of meditation that are presented in the West as paradigmatic of Buddhism were in traditional Buddhist societies almost exclusively the domain of religious specialists—and indeed, even within the monastic tradition, were often part of a program of training which for most practitioners ended after a set period. This is the case, for example, with the majority of Zen monks in Japan—the image that we have of a Zen monastery is a Zen training monastery, not the ordinary Zen temple.
The widespread promotion of Zen meditation as a practice for lay people is a very modern novelty in Japan. The same is true throughout the Buddhist world. The relation between Buddhist meditation practices and ritual practices has a long history, and the two cannot be discriminated from one another in accord with the simplistic dichotomy that makes them semiotic opposites commonly found in popular religious culture in the West today.
The dichotomy of thought and action, upon which the dichotomy or meditation and ritual is based, is itself an historically conditioned concept, one that is not supported by contemporary understandings of cognition. Religions , 9, 18 of 19 Funding: This research received no external funding. Acknowledgments: This is a revised version of a paper presented in the second of a series of three conferences on Buddhism and psychotherapy.
This essay allows me to express my thanks to the organizers, institutions and other particpants in the series. Conflicts of Interest: The author declares no conflict of interest. References American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. Washington: American Psychiatric Association. Aronson, Harvey B. Boston and London: Shambhala Publications. Batchelor, Stephen. New York: Riverhead Books. The Agnostic Buddhist. Boston: Weiser Books. Bell, Catherine. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice.
New York: Oxford University Press. Bharati, Agehananda. The Journal of Asian Studies — Berkeley: University of California Press. Blyth, Reginald Horace. Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press. Boykin, Kim. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. The Path of Purification Vissudhimagga. First published Burns, Douglas M. Buddhist Meditation and Depth Psychology. Various Editions. Original Buswell, Robert E. The Zen Monastic Experience. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Carmody, Denise L. Boston: Wadsworth. Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, trs.
Boston: Wisdom Publications. Eire, Carlos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Engler, Jack. Promises and Perils of the Spiritual Path. Edited by Unno Mark. Boston: Wisdom Publishing. Feenberg, Andrew. Questioning Technology. London and New York: Routledge. Freeman, Laurence. New York: Crossroad. The Selfless Self. New York: Continuum. Freud, Sigmund. Obsessive Acts and Religious Practices.
In Collected Papers. Edited by Ernest Jones. New York: Basic Books, Vol. The Future of an Illusion. New York and London: W. Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. When is religion a mental disorder? The disease of ritual. London and New York: Routledge, pp. Graham, Dom Aelred. Zen Catholicism: A Suggestion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World. Harris, Marvin. Religions , 9, 19 of 19 Haynes, Sarah. Holmes, Ernest. New York: Jeremy P. Hori, Victor Sogen.
Sweet-and-Sour Buddhism. Tricycle 4: 48— Huxley, Aldous. The Perennial Philosophy. New York: Harper and Brothers. Johnston, William. Christian Zen. San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco. Jung, Carl. Yoga and the West. In Psychology and Religion: West and East. Collected Works of C. Jung, Vol. The Psychology of Eastern Meditation. Kolakowski, Leszek.
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Most senior monks in Phnom Penh were killed immediately Ledgerwood b, Harris , describes in painful detail what happened to the sangharaja , the chief monk or sanghareach of the dominant Mahanikay fraternity, and therefore the leading Buddhist cleric in the country during the first day immediately following the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge:. After the communists had taken the Information Ministry on April 17, , Ven. Huot That then returned to Wat Unnalom, where he was falsely accused of having a wife and children in Paris.
Evidence brought before the Vietnamese -backed trial of Pol Pot in affirmed that Huot That was executed at Wat Prang in the old capital of Udong the following day. It is widely believed that he was crushed by a bulldozer. The leading monks of the sangha were easy targets. Yet, initially, there seems to have been some inconsistency in how the urban monks of Phnom Penh and how the monks of countryside wat s would be treated, especially in those areas of the countryside that previously had been nominally under Khmer Rouge control.
Harris , — describes how these monks were treated in comparison to established rural monks:. In any case, they had no means of support, for the laity were no longer allowed to support the sangha. A few monks managed to escape to neighboring countries. Most were sent to work, and if they resisted, they were executed just like everyone else. Doubtless, few refused. There is no doubt that ultimately the leadership of the Khmer Rouge decidedly adamantly and thoroughly directed its cadres to the effect that the sangha should be totally decimated. Many temples were converted into interrogation centers and storage facilities.
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In temple spaces normally associated with the purity of moral behavior, as sanctuaries from the troubles of the routine world, indescribable atrocities occurred as thousands were tortured during the interrogation process. Thus, the sangha was already a crippled and distorted social institution by the time the Khmer Rouge seized power and completely finished it off.
In summing up, Charles Keyes has provided perhaps the most apt depiction of the impact of the Khmer Rouge on Theravada Buddhist religious culture in Cambodia during the malignant years of Democratic Kampuchea. Without the sangha , the Buddhist ritual life of the population had been almost totally eradicated; in its stead, the people were supposed to dedicate themselves to work.
In no other Communist society, including even Tibet, was a materialist ideology so radically imposed at the expense of a spiritual tradition. The attack on Cambodian Buddhism went well beyond the Marxist notion that religion serves to disguise class relations. The Khmer Rouge sought, by eliminating the institution that had for so long served as the basic source of Khmer identity, to create a new order with few roots in the past. After the Vietnamese armies entered Cambodia and wrested control of the country away from the Khmer Rouge, they gradually relaxed restrictions on the public practice of Buddhism, though it cannot be said that they actually encouraged its practice.
Initially, the Vietnamese promulgated a prohibition on the ordination of monks who were under the age of 50 years old, and established a quota for the total number of men who could be in robes at one time. Descriptions of life in Cambodia in and paint a very grim picture. There are many lurid descriptions composed during the past 30 years about the almost complete devastation of Khmer society, but those offered by Osborne ibid.
Osborne wrote:. We now know that upwards of two million people had died while the Khmer rouge ruled Cambodia. The country was shattered physically and the number of those who remained alive and who possessed the skills required to make the country work had been drastically reduced. Only a tenth of the doctors who had been in the country in were still alive in There were even fewer teachers, proportionately, who had survived. Malnutrition was endemic among children, and within six months of the Vietnamese invasion the whole country was on the brink of starvation. Osborne ibid. This meant that restarting the economy, the government and the educational system was almost a matter of complete reinvention that would require perhaps a generation of training.
The situation was further complicated by the fact that as the post-Khmer Rouge years wore on, the Vietnamese were increasingly hard-pressed to devote the resources necessary to revive the beleaguered economy and battered social structures, owing in part to the decreasing amounts of assistance that they, in turn, were receiving from the Soviet Union, itself on a course of decline that would lead to its implosion in This resulted in both govern ment and private assistance from the West to Cambodia being largely precluded, though the sorry events of what had transpired in Cambodia in the s, originally precipitated by the American military campaign, became increasingly known throughout the world in the early s.
Moreover, models for the government and economy that were initially launched by the Vietnamese and their Khmer collaborationists were models that were eventually jettisoned in the early s. Suffice it to say that life in the s was exceedingly grim, though without the immediate threats of terror, forced labor, torture and violence that were the hallmarks of the Khmer Rouge. Throughout , and for most of , hundreds of thousands of Cambodians crisscrossed the country looking for relatives returning to their homes.
As the PRK struggled to its feet, many prerevolutionary institutions, including markets, Buddhism and family farming, came back to life. Buddhists wat s and schools opened soon afterward. Villages had been abandoned or torn down, tools, seed, and fertilizer were nonexistent; hundreds of thousands of people had emigrated or been killed; and in most areas the survivors suffered from malaria, shock, or malnutrition.
So many men died or disappeared in DK that in some districts more than 60 per cent of the families were headed by widows. Thousands of widows raised their families alone and with difficulty. As families were reunited and the violence of life under the Khmer Rouge became a painful memory of recent history, the extent of which only became more clear with the passage of time, many traditional ritual practices of Khmer Buddhist religious culture began to resurface, including weddings, funerals and other annual rites in addition to pchum ben.
It is extraordinarily difficult, well nigh impossible, to measure the degree of human suffering of a mental, physical or social nature experienced by the Cambodian people for nearly 20 years, from until Indeed, the legacy of those 20 years is still being played out by the both older and younger generations today. Back in , while problems of restarting the economy and the government were problematic, the problem of reinventing the family was even more acute.
Pchum ben is a ritual process that regenerates family cohesion among the living through pilgrimage, and family reunion through compassion and thus merit-transfer for the dead. In establishing ritual links to the dead, a kind of moral order is re-established unconsciously. While moral order may be in part re-established through a linking or re-union with the dead, the possible cases of dealing with immorality on the part of some ancestors can also be confronted within this ritual context as well.
This is an especially difficult issue for those families with members who were active members of the Khmer Rouge or who publicly collaborated with them extensively. Zucker insightfully reflects on this issue:. The loss of elders creates an obstacle to the restoration of moral order by impeding the transmission of traditional knowledge and practice and therefore creating a disjunction with the past and the ancestors. Yet, it is precisely because the moral condition of so many ancestors from the recent violent past is simply unknown that surviving kin feel compelled to undertake ritual actions specifically on their behalf.
The fact that the dead are envisaged as preta s by those who attend the pchum ben rites means that the ritual is being undertaken by some as a kind of insurance policy against the possible deleterious fate of their kin. Zucker ibid. Troubled ancestors may be rehabilitated by the righteous actions of their living kin. This reassertion of a moral order through the rehabilitation of ancestors makes it possible for living kin to abide in a lineage whose past symbolizes the ideals of moral order. In the semi otics of ritual theory that was articulated so clearly by Mircea Eliade in his many works, ances-tors ideally represent the qualities of in illo tempore , a past or origins that was ideal or normative before the problematic nature of the present existence was introduced.
Venerating what ancestors stand for, or what they symbolize, is a way of simultaneously recovering the qualities of that past, of transcending a problematic present, and overcoming the condition of alienation by re-establishing the link between past and present. As we shall see, the engine driving this process of recovery is karma and its transfer. In focusing her study on the dhammayietra , an annual public pilgrimage articulating a progressive agenda of social engagement led by the activist monk Mahaghosananda, 34 she emphasizes. The total field of Khmer religion includes belief in ancestor spirits, pagan demons, and the spirits that inhabit the heavens and hells of Buddhist cosmology, as well as the Buddha Himself.
This worldview also allows Cambodians access to different levels of reality such as the world of dreams, the world of ancestors, and the world of spirits. Cambodians draw upon this worldview to both comprehend violence and to provide an idiom for their experience of a culture of terror and the space of death. Psychiatrists have documented Cambodian attempts to express distress and rework their life-world epistemologies from within this cultural frame. Some respondents reported having dreamed of relatives, some alive, some dead, only to have the relatives step out of the dream and appear to the dreamer in waking life.
Indeed, dreams have been an important venue for the communication of the dead with the living within Buddhist religious culture since the early centuries of Buddhist tradition in ancient India. Many of the people I interviewed at pchum ben rites in Cambodia in reported communications with their dead ancestors within the context of dreams. Ritual, then, becomes a means of acting upon the sense of imperative that derives from a dream of this kind.
While the place of dreams is an important detail, the larger issue here is how the ritual process helps to reconstitute and re-enchant the family. The reconstitution of the family, within the context of Khmer culture, is necessarily the predicate for the reconstitution of society. Wounds may never completely heal, as memories may never be completely erased. But the reinstatement of ritual culture in the immediate aftermath of social devastation, a process that was allowed to accelerate after the exodus of Marxist-inclined Vietnamese ideologues, has abetted the ability to at least cope, and just as importantly, to at least hope.
Concern for a proper funeral is among the basic material and psychological matters addressed within pchum ben. In early October, , the Cambodia Daily ran a series of articles on how spending during pchum ben seemed to be down that year. Its reporters had interviewed traders in the central market and monks from Wat Langka. But there was a sudden burst of spending in the final days of the season as many Phnom Penh people prepared for their pilgrimages back to home villages and wat s. The monks at Wat Langka said that perhaps the next phase of building and remodeling would have been put on hold unless donations had recovered, which they did.
Pchum ben is clearly a major economic moment during the year, not only for the donations made to the temples, but also in the feasts prepared and in the gifts to parents that children provide. It is likely about as important to the fledgling Cambodian economy as Christmas is to the American. Certainly, the transportation industry receives its biggest boost of the year as hundreds of thousands leave Phnom Penh for the provinces, a pilgrimage home to honor parents and ancestors. Thus, pchum ben is not only a festival season aimed at establishing the well being of the dead, it is a marker of the well-being of the living as well.
I will rely upon Davis to introduce the salient cultural and religious issues in play within the rites constitutive of pchum ben. Once a year during the fifteen-day festival of Bhjum Pinda [ pchum ben ], the king of hell, Yamaraja, allows the preta to travel back to the villages where they previously lived as humans. They are supposed to search in at least seven temples during this period; if they find food, they will give their blessings.
If they cannot eat together, the ghosts will ensure that they at least starve together. Khmer assert that they too should return to the villages of their birth for Bhjum Pinda, or at least for the final day of Bhjum, the day of gathering. Families from the city make great efforts to give to the limits of their ability when they journey back to the villages. If they are indeed wealthy, they will often arrange for the temple ceremonies, and will hire a tent for a catered meal for themselves and a few of their country relatives on the temple grounds after the ceremony.
In return, they occupy the major roles in communally performed rituals, sit in the best places, receive more attention from the high ranking monks, and eat delicious food in catered tents, around which children and hungry adults wait for left overs. Their food and gifts do go a long way to help create a sense of solidarity, familial love, and trust, which might otherwise be strained by the tyranny of distance, the length of absence and the gulf in lifestyles.
During the two weeks of Bhjum Pinda, the direction of wealth is reversed. Wat Unnalom see Photo 1 is the home temple of the sangharaja or sanghareach of the Mahanikay order and is located in close proximity to the royal palace. It is here that the. Buddhist sangha was first regenerated following the dispersal of the Khmer Rouge. It remains an unofficial headquarters of the sangha in Cambodia. Wat Langka is probably the second most important wat institutionally in Phnom Penh. It has been described by Davis ibid. Wat Sampov Meas is a very large wat located in more of a working class and traditional business section of Phnom Penh and is also home to some of the most socially and politically progressive monks in Cambodia, including the activist Mahaghosananda who was nominated for a Nobel Prize for Peace in and Wat Svay Po Pe is a smaller and rather non-descript Thammayut temple located across from the sprawling Russian embassy in a middle class section of town.
It enjoys a reputation for having monks of a more intellectual bent who are connected to some of the Buddhist universities in Phnom Penh. Wat Phnom, of course, has become iconic for the city. In repeated visits, the only Buddhist cultic activity I observed were prostrations to the central Buddha image. I also observed a ritual gathering of the royal family sending off their ancestral spirits on the eve of the final day of pchum ben at an auspicious ford located along the Tonle Sap River just opposite the royal palace in Phnom Penh. Since pchum ben is so robustly celebrated in the countryside, I observed bay ben rites at two very important rural wat s, each located about 40 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh, and I made sure that I was at a rural venue for the final day of pchum ben , the day that serves quintes-sentially as a time for family reunion.
The first rural venue, located to the southwest, was Wat Kokoh, a temple that had been turned into an interrogation center and prison by the Khmer Rouge for the duration of their time in power. My visit there was an especially grim reminder of the crimes committed in the late s. This particular wat is famous for its four-faced Buddha image that in popular lore is believed to be the image of the four-faced king mother, who is also thought to be the reincarnated mother of the Buddha. Now I will simply indicate that the spirits of these two mythic figures, who represent important aspects of Khmer culture, are thought to reside in this wat.
Wat Traleaeng Kaeng, therefore, is a site of considerable nationalistic sentiments. In my observations at these venues, I was ably assisted and supported by two out-standing Khmer graduate students, one male and one female, both of whom are Buddhist by background and fully fluent in English and Khmer. They readily handled all translation issues that arose and interviewed many individuals on each occasion at my behest.
My notes indicate that collectively, we interviewed scores of people from all age brackets and both genders. In addition, we participated and observed for the duration of ritual activities as these were held at these locations on each of several early mornings.
What follows is an analytical account that is based upon our efforts to understand what occurred at each wat. The knowledge we gained about pchum ben was cumulative, and that is how I shall proceed with my discussion. That is, the discussion will be guided by the sequence of our observations. My descriptions and analysis will begin with the first venue we visited, Wat Langka, and proceed serially through to the last occasion on pchum ben day itself at Wat Traleaeng Kaeng in Kompong Chnang.
The discussions occurring in relation to each wat will become progressively focused as we continue. We learned more that was new to us, of course, at the first sites. The information we gained as we proceeded day to day from watt to wat became increasingly redundant, although it often confirmed and sometimes contradicted what we had learned earlier. In any case, I discuss the many issues in what follows as they surfaced. Progressively, the picture that is painted is completed.
The first 14 days of the pchum ben season are known as kan ben. Determining the symbolic significance of pinda figures heavily in ascertaining the cardinal religious meaning of this entire ritual season. At a. Some of the trays that have been sold by hawkers on site just beyond the gates of the temple compound contain pinda s that have been shaped into the form of a cone by means of a banana leaf wrap see Photo 5.
The giving of rice, therefore, is symbolic of the giving of life, its nurturance, its sustenance. Thus, the gift is emblematic of sacrifice to what has been deemed worthy. It is also an act of thanksgiving and, to be more clearly seen in the pages that follow, an act of compassion.
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Finally, I would add that the generation of a sentiment that gives rise to acts of compassion, acts that reflect an ethical intention, signal the manner in which ritual is often the context in which ethical consciousness is forged. When the central image hall at Wat Langka finally opened, approximately laity entered first, 41 before about monks entered in stately, composed fashion to sit quietly and observantly in neat rows of about 10 each behind the chief monk and his most senior fellow monks.
Following the prostrations, the chief monk led all monks in chanting the Namassaka in Pali, followed by a Khmer translation of the same. The text is simply an homage, a praise of the virtues of the triratna : Buddha, the dhamma and sangha. During this monastic chanting, laity, in turn, lit their incense and candles and some poured a little water on to their trays. Following the invocation, the chief monk told everyone to concentrate on the next dhamma which consisted of the recitation of the pancasila , the five basic moral precepts of not to kill, not to steal, not to engage in sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to take intoxicants.
This taking and avowal established the conditions of moral purity, or at least the moral intentions driving the performance of the rite. To this point in the ritual, the elements of the liturgy had been generic and not unique to the pchum ben season or to kan ben. But after the Namotassa , the chief monk chanted the Tirokudda Sutta , an ancient Pali text found in the Petavatthu that actually forms a song or chant originally attributed to the Buddha within the mythic story he tells that establishes the basis for the rite of bay ben , the giving of pinda s to ancestors.
Davis , has aptly translated the short text of the Tirokudda Sutta as follows:. They stand at crossroads and outside the walls Returning to their old homes, they wait at thresholds Because of karma, no one remembers them When an abundant feast of food and water is served. Spectral relations gather and assemble.
We are honored; giving is not without benefits. There is no plowing in that place, and cow-herding is unknown; No trading, no buying, no selling with gold; Dead preta survive there on what is given from here. Just as water poured on a hill flows down and around it, sustaining the land all around, so a gift from here benefits ghosts in precisely the same way. The weeping, mourning, and laments of relatives are useless To those who remain in such a way. But proper gifts dedicated to the sangha become useful to them Immediately and for a long time. The duties toward relatives have thus been shown: Veneration for the ghosts, Strength for the monks And no small merit for you.
The Tirokudda Sutta is recited on virtually every kan ben occasion during the 15 day pchum ben season. Along with the Parabhava Sutta see below , it is one of the two primary texts consistently invoked or recited within pchum ben ritual liturgies that I observed wherever I went. They are texts that are unique to the observance of pchum ben. According to Gombrich b, , the Tirokudda Sutta forms one of the most ancient strands of the Petavatthu , a Pali text itself that is likely to be at least more than 2, years old.
In fact, this sutta is none other than a notice of the Buddhist observance of dharma in relation to honoring ancestors. Though regarded as Buddhavacana words of the Buddha , it signals how the early Buddhist community initially understood and transformed the ancient Indian brahman ical practice of venerating the familial dead. Since this particular story is also very often referred to in sermons preached by Khmer monks on bay ben occasions, and since it is therefore known by most Khmer laity as the authorized beginnings of pchum ben traditions, I will summarize it here.
Ninety-two cycles ago, a king by the name of Jayasena ruled over Kasipura Benares. His queen, Sirima, gave birth to a prince who became a Buddha.
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The king resolved to keep the Buddha, dhamma and sangha only for his sole edification and gave no one else the opportunity to take refuge. When they returned, the king offered them a boon to which they replied that they wished to venerate the Buddha. The king denied them. The brothers then approached the Buddha directly and the Buddha agreed to spend the rain retreat season with his brothers in his attendance offering them the chance to make great merit. During the rain retreat season, the local provincial ruler and the royal treasurer also took refuge in the triratna , along with the three brothers.
The provincial ruler and treasurer then made magnificent gifts to the Buddha and sangha , but other people in the province became jealous of their charity, consumed their gifts of food and set fire to the refectory of the monastery that they had built for the Buddha and his sangha. In time, all the major players in this episode died and were reborn: the brothers, the provincial ruler and the treasurer were reborn in splendid heavens while those who had been jealous and had burnt the monastery were reborn in hell.
After 92 cycles of rebirths in heavens and hells, during the time of the Buddha Kassapa, those reborn in hell were finally reborn as peta s who noticed how some surviving kin folk provided gifts on behalf of their deceased relations to help assuage their suffering conditions. They asked Kassapa when this might happen for them. Kassapa told them that they had to await the appearance of the future Buddha, Gotama, and the rebirth of the provincial ruler as King Bimbisara.
Bimbisara would provide relief through dedicating the merit of his benevolence to Gotama to them. Eventually, Gotama was born, set the dhamma wheel rolling, converted thousands and made his way to Rajagaha where he established King Bimbisara on the path of dhamma. The peta s waited, but Bimbisara did not assign credit for his gifts to the Buddha and his sangha to them. One night, now without hope, the peta s howled dreadful cries heard throughout the palace.
In the morning, an alarmed Bimbisara expressed his fears to the Buddha that something sinister might happen to him soon. Then the Buddha told him the story and how the peta s, his ancestral kinsmen, were waiting for a transfer of merit. Bimbisara then prepared a generous bounty while the peta s waited outside the walls.
All of this remarkable scene was made manifest by the Buddha for a delighted Bimbisara to see the benefits of his merit transference. In conclusion, the Buddha then recited the verses of the Tirokudda Sutta. After the chanting of the Tirokudda Sutta , the achar in Wat Langka recited a Pali gatha or verse indicating anumodana , the moment when all beings, alive and dead, are invited to share in the joy of what is now to be given. Their cetana , or intentions, have been transformed. I was genuinely surprised that this somewhat sophisticated aspect of Buddhist philosophy was known to several of the older laity that we interviewed during pchum ben.
Cetana is actually how the Buddha defined karma within the early Buddhist Pali texts. In other words, the karma of the peta s had been changed, as evidenced by the fact that they could now rejoice in the good works of others. They now enjoyed an awareness of what constitutes morally wholesome action. As such, they could share in the merit generated. Younger monks were stationed at various intervals to supervise outside the sermon hall. In popular Khmer lore about preta s, it is important that each lay person recite the name of his or her deceased relation while making their donations.
As Davis noted in the introductory comments to this section, it is believed that the deceased will frequent up to seven temples searching for donations made by their descendants on their behalf. At the same time, it is believed that seven generations of ancestors can benefit from the donations provided by their descendants. That is why, for many Khmer traditional laity, it is important to actually make physical gifts and why the gift of rice itself is so significant. Moreover, in the Petavatthu stories, the types of punishments suffered by peta s are physically reflective of the nature of the moral offence that they committed as human beings.
For instance, liars are born with worms in their mouths. Bullies are reborn with severe bruises or broken limbs. The greedy are continuously hungry. Yet, the physical act of giving pinda s has recently become a popular controversy in Cambodia. Other monks have complained about how the practice of bay ben dirties the temple environment and attracts stray animals and vermin. Consequently, some temples have abandoned the practice of bay ben. In temples where bay ben is observed, I did hear sermons by monks to the laity regarding the importance of keeping the temple neat, along with warnings, especially to the youth, not to throw pinda s indiscriminately.
In any case, one of the questions my assistants and I asked of the laity we met was how one knows for sure whether or not their offerings during bay ben made any difference to their ancestors. Several times, we were told that ancestors would appear in dreams, and from those appearances in dreams, it would be clear that they were wearing nice clothes, were no longer hungry or suffering from thirst, etc. This is a very curious explanation, because in most of the stories of the Petavatthu , the manner through which the dead communicate with the living is through dreams.
Consistently in our interviews with Buddhist laity during bay ben , we were told about how the dead appeared to their surviving kin in dreams. Later, I will argue that dreaming is one of the conditions of liminality that is so characteristic of pchum ben. During the ritual circumambulation of the temple and the ritual distribution of pinda , the second ritual text of primary importance to the pchum ben proceedings, the Pali Parabhava Sutta , was then intoned by the chief monk over the loudspeaker system.
The sutta can be translated as follows:. Now when the night was far advanced, a certain deity, whose surpassing radiance illuminated the whole of Jetavana, came to the presence of the Blessed One, respectfully saluted him, and stood beside him. The lover of the dhamma ascends. The despiser of the dhamma wanes. We understand this as the first cause of his decline. Tell us the second, O Blessed One. What is the cause of decline? He despises the worthy; he approves of the teachings of the bad tempered.
The declining include the man who is fond of sleep and the slothful, who is lazy and easy to anger. Whoever is well-to-do and does not support his parents who are old, and past their prime. Whoever deceives a Brahmin or recluse. Whoever is wealthy, who has much gold, and who has an abundance of food, but enjoys it all by himself. Whoever is proud of his lineage, of his wealth, and yet despises his relations. Whoever is addicted to women, alcohol, gambling, and loses his wages because of these vices. Whoever is not satisfied with only his own wife and seeks others.
Whoever becomes old and yet takes as his wife a girl in her teens. Whoever delegates authority to a woman given to drink and squandering, or a man of the same sort. Whoever has few possessions but colossal greed, is born of the ksatrya [warrior] lineage birth and aspires selfishly to royalty. Fully realizing these twelve causes of decline in the world, the wise, with aryan [worthy or noble] insight, realizes the security of nibbana. The Parabhava Sutta is obviously an explanation of how preta s become preta s. Truth is the enactment of liberating relationality—a truing of relational dynamics.
Chan teachings are—at least ideally—improvised in effective and always situated response to actual needs and concerns.
The ordination of a tree: The Buddhist ecology movement in Thailand
The monk continued probing. How do you teach them? If Chan teachings can include contradictory statements and such gruesome acts as killing a cat, what is to prevent the truth of nondualism from spurring an antinomian erasure of the boundaries not only between sense and nonsense, but also between the moral and immoral? Whether or not raising a finger actually brings about a liberating turn in a teacher-student encounter is not a function of the action or the intention behind it, but of what it means relationally.
When Zhu Di returned, the boy informed him how things had gone while he was away and Zhu Di asked him to demonstrate how he had responded to the visitors. The boy raised his finger, which Zhu Di promptly severed with a knife. As his attendant fled in pain, Zhu Di called out his name. When the boy stopped and turned, Zhu Di raised his finger. Chan teaching is not something conveyed by words or gestures; it consists in direct relational transformation. It still can be asked, of course, how one knows what direction of relational transformation is truly liberating or what interventions are appropriate in any given situation.
This epistemological concern is not one, however, that Chan endorsed. On the contrary, the general Chan view has been that asking the epistemological question is perhaps the single most pernicious form of distraction from embarking wholly upon the path of Chan practice. But he also noted that being without-thinking can be sustained even as thoughts are arising and passing away so long as one refrains from forming attachments, calculating outcomes and taking up fixed positions.
In short, being without-thinking is being single-mindedly present in unwavering attentiveness.
2. Personal Worship
In an iconic encounter between Mazu and his teacher, Nanyue Huairang — , Mazu has an awakening after pointing out to Huairang that he cannot make a mirror by rubbing together a stone and a clay roofing tile, only to be asked why he then thinks it is possible to make himself into a Buddha by sitting on a meditation cushion. To become a Buddha, Huairang avers, simply act as a Buddha. Epistemological worries are potentially endless detours of often fervently justified disengagement—detours predicated on the separating out of a questioning subject and a questioned object or environment.
Seeing from the Chan path is seeing completely. From the perspective of Chan practice, the merits of cutting off conceptual craving and calculation are immediately evident. But claiming no-thought and unquestioning participation as norms can be seen as promoting unreflective and potentially uncaring and unjust actions, as well as generating liabilities for authoritarian abuse. Given that ethics seemingly requires reasoned reflection on how to realize the good life as persons and as communities, is Chan finally un-ethical or anti-ethical?
If there is really nothing to seek or attain, as so many Chan masters have averred, and if enlightenment is not so much a substantive change as it is a gestalt shift, is this not to simply leave untreated and likely worsening all of the ills and injustices plaguing us? There is little in Chan literature that could plausibly warrant positioning Chan wholly within any one of the standard Western categories of consequentialist, deontological and virtue ethics, or, for that matter, within such alternatives as communitarian or care ethics.
Chan literature is notoriously silent about the kinds of questions to which ethics typically offers answers. The mainstream of Western ethics takes the individual, decision-making agent as the basic unit of concern, and a primary concern is to develop a universally applicable method of arbitrating among the often disparate interests of individual agents, establishing rationally-guided means to determining and practically realizing the meaning of the good life. Chan nonduality shifts concern from individual agents to relationality, and in particular to the kind of relationality that fully manifests our original Buddha-nature.
In this sense, the basic method of Chan ethics might be thought to be emulation—a method of deliberately acting as the Buddha did. As the example of Zhu Di and his attendant makes strikingly evident, the method of Chan is not to imitate or mimic the behavior of either past or present exemplars. Rather, it is to exemplify ourselves the dramatic clarity and relational virtuosity of bodhisattvas who are able, in any situation whatsoever to bring about a liberating inflection of ongoing relational dynamics. If Chan ethics involves emulation, it is emulation of something like an improvisational style rather than mastery of a specific deliberative or behavioral repertoire.
It can be said, then, that freedom is a primary ethical value in Chan. But Chan freedom is not identified with the exercise of control or choice; neither is it rooted in rational determinations of whether a given course of action is good or will have good results. That is, freedom is not associated with independence which is imaginable only in ignorance of the interdependence and interpenetration of all things , nor is it conceived essentially as a property of individual agency.
In keeping with the bodhisattva ideal, freedom consists in embodying superlative capacities-for and commitments-to realizing the conditions for relating freely : the improvisational expression of relational virtuosity oriented toward the resolution of conflict, trouble and suffering.
Chan ethics is not a function of living in accord with predetermined means-to and meanings-of the good, but rather of improvisational genius—a creative marriage of fluid vigilance and unwavering care: an ethics of ever-intensifying appreciative and contributory virtuosity. This, of course, is a distillation of Chan ideals.
Extant evidence is that life within Chan monastic communities was conducted in adherence with the disciplining precepts of Buddhist ordination, and that interactions with the lay community were for the most part consistent with prevailing moral and social norms. Chan rhetoric notwithstanding, Chan practice seems to have been more norm-respecting rather than norm-eliding.
Yet, when Niaokou extols sharing the good, he is not referring to some fixed or predetermined ideal or attribute. Chan ethics is thus not a knowing-that something is or will be good, but rather knowing-how to extend the horizons of virtuosity in ways deemed valuable by others on this distinction, see Varela And this knowing-how is not an intellectually-attained method, but rather the result of embodied, relationship-attuning practice.
With this in mind, it is interesting to note that among its signal achievements Chan came to include the Chan Rules of Purity Chan jinggui , attributed to Baizhang — , which established a comprehensive code of conduct for Chan monastics. Even in the radical Hongzhou lineage, living in accordance with these rules was seen as essential to holding open the circuit of mutual contribution that made the privilege of monastic life possible. Guishan Lingyou — , for example, explicitly urges monks in his community gratefully and with a lofty and peaceful spirit to repay the kindnesses of their parents, their donors, the emperor and the Buddha, without whose offerings they would not have the opportunity to realize Chan awakening Guishan jingce , T.
The emphasis on bodily comportment is crucial. As the Pali and Sanskrit texts of the Vinaya division of the Buddhist canon make clear, the norms of Buddhist monastic life were not arrived at in an a priori or purely rational fashion, but rather in situated response to tensions arising within the early monastic community and in its interactions with the rest of society. This situational approach to the development of norms for conduct and demeanor resonated well with indigenous Chinese approaches to ethics. These standards are, of course, behavioral. But more importantly, these standards are also qualitative—standards of intention, attitude and energy as they pertain to relational enhancement.
Ethics is ultimately inseparable from aesthetics. Understood in this context, monastic discipline provides a basic grammar for living as persons-in-Buddhist-community. An intimation of what this means is presented in this beautifully crafted passage in the discourse records of Mazu. Buddhas are capable of authoritative personhood ren. Having realized kind wisdom and the excellent nature of opportunities and dangers, you can break through the net of doubts snaring all sentient beings. Not leaving behind any obstructing traces, they are like phrases written on water. But given its affirmation of Buddhist teachings about karma and the role of values and intentionality in shaping experience, Chan might just as well be seen as constructivist.
Philosophically, Chan presents itself as an enigma. At the same time, Chan had profound impacts culturally. In China, Chan ideals of personal vitality and responsive virtuosity found ongoing visual expression in calligraphy and painting, and literary expression in poetry. And as Chan spread to other parts of East Asia, these ideals came also to be infused into the performance arts of music, tea ceremony and drama. The distinctive ways in which Chan wedded nonduality or metaphysical ambiguity with a moral aesthetics of improvisation opened real possibilities for imagining presence as already liberating.
The nature of the relationship between the enigmas that Chan presents philosophically and the cultural productivity of its personal and aesthetic ideals remains open. In East Asia, exploring that openness historically proved to be a powerful means of addressing the predicament of culture and the discomforts of cultural difference. In this new global context, engaging in philosophical conversation with Chan signals distinctive opportunities for exploring the means-to and meanings-of truly intercultural philosophy.
Introduction 2. History 3.