Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Therefore, I will seek peace and quiet, avoiding always the loud, the noisy and those who wish to argue.
I will strive to restore harmony to those who are at odds.
I will speak without abuse or harshness, gentle always, with words sweet and true.
I will strive to be conciliatory and yielding, and never be a source of conflict for others.
May all who live in turmoil find the peace they long for.
May my heart be free from agitation of defilements.
May my abiding in peace help in the freeing of the heart.
Monday, July 27, 2009
That versatile genius Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1464) built over 50 chain suspension bridges throughout Tibet and Bhutan. Several of his bridges in Tibet were still in use until the middle of the 20th century, and two in Bhutan are still used. Records show that building bridges as a religious practice became very popular in China and Japan. The ‘Technical Skills’ section of the History of Song, mentions a monk named Huaibing who constructed a pontoon bridge moored by eight anchors. Another work, the Sichuan tongzhi, reports a monk saying: ‘At first I thought that the greatest source of merit came from carving wooden statues and clay images of the Buddha. But one day I realized that the true ‘ladder and boat of merit’ was to help other people and other beings’. After this, the monk embarked on a program of building bridges. Chinese sources that refer to bridge construction by monks or devote lay people frequently mention that they did it out of ‘pity for the difficulties of the people’ or out of compassion ‘for people who drowned in boats attempting to cross the river’.
The information about bridge building Chinese monks which I have given here is only some of that mentioned in John Kieschnick’s fascinating The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture published by Princeton University Press, 2003.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
It was considered good for the bride and groom to be the same age (tulyavaya), ideally 16, although the Kama Sutra recommends that the bride be three years younger than the groom. Usually the groom went in procession to the bride's house, bedecked in garlands and accompanied by music and dancing, although sometimes it was the bride who went (A.II,61). The essential feature of the ceremony was when the father of the bride took her left hand and with a pot with his right hand poured water over her hands, a ritual marking the giving away the bride to the groom (A.IV,210; Ja.III,286). In the Jataka the Bodhisattva gives this wedding benediction: ‘May your friendship with your beloved wife never decay’. (Ajeyyau ea tava hotu metti bhariyaya kaccana piyaya saddhim, Ja.VI,323).
In ancient India the bride's family sometimes paid a dowry (dayajja) and at other times they gave her a dower (nahanamula), although such customs seem to have been practiced mainly by the wealthy. Some features of the ancient ceremony still prevail in Theravadin countries, although mixed with local customs. According to the Buddha, monks and nuns should not get involved in ‘the giving or taking in marriage’ and thus they have never been wedding celebrants (D.I,11).
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Last year someone bought me Bart Ehrman’s enthralling Misquoting Jesus – The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Someone (I can’t remember who) asked me for a lend of it which I agreed to, they have never returned and I have lost a very good book. I am not a happy monk. In his book Ehrman not only gives an early history of what is probably the world’s most important book, he also tells of his own journey from Bible-belt certainty, to wavering, through doubt and finally to the abandoning of faith. Anyway, as something of a compensation, someone just sent me a link to a lecture Ehrman gave at Stanford University. Please look at it, you’ll find it absolutely fascinating. Very little he says is new but he says it in a way we laymen (and women) can understand. Some of what he says would apply to the Tipitaka, although to a much less extent. Few Buddhist doctrines are based on a single phrase or word and as the Buddhist scriptures are so large and contain so many repetitions, a mistake in one part can be corrected from another part. Ehrman’s lecture is also interesting from the Buddhist perspective because it pretty much neutralizes the old argument that the Tipitaka must be unreliable because it was not committed to writing for some centuries. Ehrman shows that, at least until the invention of printing, writing things down did not guarantee that they were accurately recorded.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
Buddhist puja meets Nuremburg rally.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Nanda was the Buddha's half brother. In the Tipitaka he is depicted as something of a Buddhist Adonis. He was ‘finely formed, beautiful and handsome’ (A.IV,66) and even after he became a monk `he pressed his robe on both sides, painted his eyes and walked around with a beautiful shiny bowl' (Vin.IV,173). I suppose we would call him a metrosexual nowadays. He was pretty much dragooned into the Sangha but after becoming a monk he could not stop thinking of his lover who had said to him on leaving: ‘Come back soon, young master’. Informed of this problem, the Buddha took Nanda by the arm and transported him up to the a heaven realm ‘where the nymphs have feet like doves’. Pointing to these nymphs, he asked Nanda: ‘Which is more beautiful, these nymphs or your girlfriend?’ ‘Compared to these nymphs my girlfriend is like a mutilated monkey’, Nanda replied. With this new and more beautiful image in his mind Nanda began meditating diligently in the hope of being reborn in the company of these nymphs. When the other monks heard of this, they smirked and laughed at Nanda’s motives, calling him a ‘day labourer’, i.e. someone who works for meagre wages. In Buddhism, seeking rebirth in heaven is considered more lofty than rebirth in purgatory, but decidedly inferior to attaining Nirvana. This teasing made Nanda feel somewhat ashamed of himself but eventually this was replaced by self-respect and the determination to practise for the right reasons. Living diligently and in solitude he eventually became enlightened (Ud.20 ff). So very clearly Nanda did not attain enlightenment by means of lustful desire but rather by being shamed into meditating with the right intentions.
It is interesting how half understood, second or third hand versions of stories or sayings from the Buddhist scriptures are used to justify all sorts of odd-ball ideas. NO did not do this; he merely mis-remembered the story. But I have certainly heard Nanda’s story told in such a way as to justify the idea that lust and desire can lead to enlightenment. The motto of the story? Go back to primary sources!
Incidentally, a new translation of Asvaghosa’s delightful retelling of the Nanda story, the Saundaranandakavya, has been published in the Clay Sanskrit Library. It is a beautiful little hardback volume with the Sanskrit text and the translation on opposite pages. A treat to read.
The picture shows is of a Gandhara sculpture showing Nanda looking back at his girlfriend as he is lead away by the Buddha.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
There is a growing body of literature by Western Buddhists anxious to convince us that the more nooky you can manage to get, the more likely you are to attain enlightenment. I haven’t read Mark Epstein’s Open to Desire – Embracing a Lust for Life yet, but the title suggests it might be in this genera.(Why do we always have to ‘embrace’ the subject under discussion?) Jeffrey Hopkins’ The Tibetan Arts of Love - Sex Orgasm and Sexual Healing, certainly is. The fascinating thing about such books is that they focus almost entirely on a minority movement within Buddhism, tantra, and even fail to mention that the dominant Tibetan sect, the Gelupa, teach an attitude to sex almost identical to that of early Buddhism, Theravada and mainline Mahayana. But of course, as the advertising industry learned long ago, there is nothing like sex to attract the attention.
Completely against the majority opinion, some ascetics during the Buddha’s time thought it consistent with the ascetics’ to indulged in sex with ‘those female ascetics who wear their hair in a topknot’. They would say ‘What future disadvantage do these good monks and priests see in sensual pleasures so that they speak about understanding and renouncing them? The velvety-soft arms of a female ascetic are pleasant indeed’. The Buddha contradicted this view in the strongest terms (M.I,35). When a monk named Arittha got it into his head that ‘those things (i.e. sensual pleasures) the Lord calls obstructions are not really obstructions to someone who indulges in them’ (M.I,130), the Buddha was quick to both rebuke and to correct him. ‘Foolish man! Have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma like that? Foolish man! In many talks have I not stated that sensual pleasures are obstructions that obstruct the one who indulges in them? I have always taught that sensual pleasures give meager gratification, much trouble and frustration and embody great danger’ (M.I,132).
The Buddha talked about sex within two contexts – the Precepts and celibacy (brahmacariya). Following the third Precept assists the preliminary stages of the Noble Eightfold Path, as do the other Precepts. (On the third Precept see my post of August 12th 2008) Thich Naht Hanh’s expansion of the third Precept is helpful in suggesting how sex within the bounds of the third Precept can help one’s spiritual growth. ‘Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, family, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct’. But even lay practitioners are encouraged to abstain from sex on certain days, i.e. full moon days, in preparation for gradually freeing oneself from sexual desire. Monks and nuns, whose lifestyle is designed to ‘fast lane’ spiritual realization, undertake celibacy because it helps greatly in this endeavor. The Buddha taught that a person can attain the first stage of enlightenment (sotapati) while being married and having normal sexual relations. Attaining the second stage (sakadagami) requires sexual restraint and probably for many people, celibacy. To progress beyond this point to full enlightenment in the present life, requires a complete detachment from all sensual desire. Or perhaps it might be more correct to say that one will attain full enlightenment when all sensual desire has faded away. ‘Sexual intercourse must be transcended, the Lord has spoken of breaking down the bridge of sexual intercourse’ (Methunasambhuto ayam bhagini kayo methuno ca setu ghato vutto Bhagavata, A.II,145). The fading of passions (viraga) precedes freedom (vimutti, S.II,30). This is the position of all schools of Indian Buddhism until the emergence of the tantric movement, which, it should be noted, was always a minority movement and one strongly criticized by all other Buddhist schools.
While mentioning tantra, I might offer a brief reflection on the origins of this movement within Buddhism. It is a complex and difficult problem, some areas of which are dealt with brilliantly by Ronald Davidson in his Indian Esoteric Buddhism - A Social History of the Tantric Movement and David Snellgrove in his Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, but I suspect that the betrayal of monastic celibacy in some quarters had at least something to do with it. When the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang was in Sindh in the 7th century he noticed that the monks there were ‘mostly indolent and with corrupt characters’ and that the few good monks kept apart from them, living in the forest. The people ‘shave their heads and ware the robes of monks, whom the resemble outwardly, while they engage themselves in ordinary life’. Reading between the lines we can get some idea of what went on in Sindh. As religious fervor declined, some monks began cohabiting with woman, probably in secret at first, but as such behavior became more widespread and ‘acceptable’ they started to do so openly. Their sons inherited the monasteries and their attached lands and supplemented their incomes conducting pujas and doing ceremonies for ‘ordinary’ people. Of course, it would have been necessary to justify such compromises and a body of literature grew up which did just that. We know of similar cases of monks gradually evolving into married priests – the Kandyian Kingdom in the 15th/16th centuries and in Japan in the 19th century.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
"Long Live! Year of Saka 822, month of Vesak, according to Jyotisha. The fourth day of the waning moon, Monday. On this occasion, Lady Angkatan, and her brother whose name is Bukah, the children of the Honourable Namwaran, were awarded a document of complete pardon from the Commander in Chief of Tundun [modern day Tondo in Manila], represented by the Lord Minister of Pailah [Paila, Bulacan], Jayadewa. By this order, through the scribe, the Honourable Namwaran has been forgiven of all and is released from his debts and arrears of 1 Katî and 8 Suwarna before the Honourable Lord Minister of Puliran [Pulilan, Pampanga or Pulilan, Angat, Bulacan], Kasumuran, by the authority of the Lord Minister of Pailah. Because of his faithful service as a subject of the Chief, the Honourable and widely renowned Lord Minister of Binwangan [Binwagan, Pampanga] recognized all the living relatives of Namwaran who were claimed by the Chief of Dewata, represented by the Chief of Medang. Yes, therefore the living descendants of the Honourable Namwaran are forgiven, indeed, of any and all debts of the Honourable Namwaran to the Chief of Dewata. This, in any case, shall declare to whomever henceforth that on some future day should there be a man who claims that no release from the debt of the Honourable..."
Vesak is the Buddhist name of the month - though now it’s shortened to a single day - which celebrates Buddha’s birthday and enlightenment. Vesak or Vesakha (in Pali) is the holiest month in the Buddhist calendar and is usually the time when debts are forgiven and festivals held. Swasti is also a very traditional Sanskrit-Buddhist greeting (similar to the modern Thai, sawatdee). The Laguna copper plate therefore indicates that the areas mentioned - Pampanga, Tondo and Bulacan - had already adopted Buddhism.
With the advent of Spanish colonialism in the 16th century, the Philippines became a closed colony and cultural contacts with other Southeast Asian countries were restricted. In 1481, the Spanish Inquisition commenced with the permission of Pope Sixtus IV and all non-Catholics within the Spanish empire were to be expelled or to be “put to the question” (tortured until they renounced their previous faith). With the refounding of Manila in 1571, the Philippines became subject to Spanish law and the Archbishop of New Galicia (Mexico) became the Grand Inquisitor of the Faithful in Mexico and the Philippines. In 1595, the newly appointed Archbishop of Manila became the Inquisitor-General of the Spanish East Indies (the Philippines, Guam, and Micronesia) and until 1898, the Spanish Inquisition was active against Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. As was the case in Latin America and Africa, forced conversions were not uncommon and any attempt to resist the authority of the Roman Catholic Church was seen as both rebellion against the Pope and sedition against the Spanish King, and was punishable by death. Buddhist practices, festivals and iconography had to be converted and adopted to Catholicism if they were to survive Spanish persecution. A good example of this was is the saniculas biscuit of Pampanga that has its roots in Buddhism. Syncretism (the blending indigenous religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism and indigenous folk religions) became necessary. This can be seen instantly with statues of the Virgin Mary, including the depiction of the halo, hand poses, and rainbow-arches, look almost identical to statues of Tara especially in Binondo and other areas.
• dukha "one who suffers" from Sanskrit dukkha
• guro "teacher" from Sanskrit guru
• sampalataya "faith" from Sanskrit sampratyaya
• mukha "face" from Sanskrit mukha
• laho "eclipse" from Sanskrit rahu
• kalma "fate" from Sanskrit kama
• damla "divine law" from Sanskrit dharma
• mantala "magic formulas" from Sanskrit mantra
• upaya "power" from Sanskrit upaya
• lupa "face" from Sanskrit rupa
• sabla "every" from Sanskrit sarva
• lawu "eclipse" from Sanskrit rahu
• galura "giant eagle (a surname)" from Sanskrit garuda
• laksina "south (a surname)" from Sanskrit dakshin
• laksamana "admiral (a surname)" from Sanskrit lakshmana
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
After I read these last two entries I started to think that perhaps it is just as well that Buddhism is not mentioned very much in Wikipedia. But it has also made me think what can be done to improve and expand Buddhism’s presence on this otherwise excellent, widely read and, I assume, increasingly influential resource. Two things came to mind. (1) Continue with my www.buddhismatoz.com (which will soon be corrected and enlarged) and forget about Wikipedia. (2) Organize a group of well-informed and energetic Buddhists to write better entries and submit them to Wikipedia. This second option would require some discussion of the required structure and form of the proposed entries. Just off the top of my head here are a few of the things I feel should be considered.
(A) All articles should aim to present the Dhamma as a viable, practical and all-embracing philosophy of life perfectly relevant to the modern world.
(B) All articles should be founded on scriptural material and give references.
(C) Every subject that Buddhism has something relevant to say about, no mater how brief, should be dealt with. For example, the Wikipedia on ‘Body Piercing’ has a section on Religion which includes a Christian and the Mormon perspective on the subject. Why shouldn’t there be something on what Buddhism might have to say on this subject?
(D) A historical-chronological approach should be taken, distinguishing between early material and later developments.
I would consider the two entries ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Luminous Mind’ in Wikipedia to be good examples of articles based on the principles I am suggesting. Both are well-written, accurate and detailed. Am I correct in saying that both these articles have been written by Bhikkhu Thanissaro?
The problem with this second of the two option I was considering would be of course, trying to overcome ‘Buddhist indifference’. What do you think?
Monday, July 13, 2009
However, the Buddha certainly recommended lay Buddhists use these holidays to ‘purify the soiled mind in the right way’ (upakkilittassa cittassa upakkamena pariyodapana, A.I,207). He encouraged them to pay homage to their parents on such days, to do good works, spend time in quiet contemplation and abide by the eight Precepts (A.I,143; 207). To use the uposatha for such activities was, he said, like polishing a tarnished mirror with oil, ash and a hair brush (A,I,209). He praised reserving the uposatha days for such activities in these words: ‘Pearl, crystal, beryl and gold are not worth a sixteenth of the uposatha made whole with the eight Precepts. Nor is it outshined by the moon and the celestial bodies’ (A.I,215).
Until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in most Buddhist countries, the uposathas were public holidays. In Sinhalese they are called poya, in Burmese ubot nei, and in Japanese roku sainichi. Monks and nuns use the full and half moon uopsathas to chant the Patimokkha in congragation.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
When he was addressing his disciples he did speak of how he felt that it should be. In the Sigalovada Sutta the Buddha speaks about the duties a husband and wife should have towards each other. ‘He should honor her, not disparage her, not be unfaithful to her, give her authority, and provide her with adornments…She should organize her work properly, be kind to the servants, not be unfaithful, protect the family wealth and be skillful and diligent in all she does’ (D.III,190). I think the two most important things here are that both should be faithful (naticariya) to each other and that the husband should give authority (issariya vossaggena) to his wife. In the Buddha’s day that probably meant authority within the household. I think it would not be at all unreasonable to interpret this as applying to many more areas of life. When Nakulapita was critically ill his wife Nakulamata nursed him with great devotion and kept up his spirits with constant encouragement and . when the Buddha came to know about this he said to Nakulapita, ‘It is a gain, a great gain for you in having Nakulamata full of compassion for you (anukampika), full of love for you (atthakama), as your mentor (ovadika) and teacher (anusasika, A.III,298). For someone to mentor and teach you, they have to be your equal or superior, at least in some areas. You need to be open enough to take their advice and they need to be confident enough to give it. Again this does not suggest a woman being in a passive or subservient position. In the Anguttara Nikaya the Buddha speaks of four things whereby a family prospers and endures. One of them is that they put in authority a virtuous woman or man (silavantam itthim va purisam va adhipacce thapenti, A.II,248).
The word adhipacca which I have here translated as ‘authority’ means, according to the PTS Dictionary, being overlord, supreme rule, lordship, sovereignty, power. The only thing I can find that the Buddha said suggesting that a wife should be subservient in at least some way to her husband is in the discourse where he talks about the seven types of wives, the last four of which he seems to approve of. These four are the mother-like wife, the sister-like wife, the companion-like wife and the slave-like wife (A.IV,). One of the qualities that the fourth of these should have is that she is ‘obedient to her husband’(bhattu = husband, vasa = under, anuvattana = comply with, go according to).
Friday, July 10, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Did you also notice that during the memorial concert and in the thousands of cards people wrote and left at the hall where it was preformed, that MJ was constantly addressed as if he were present. ‘We love you’, ‘We will always remember you’, ‘You enriched our lives’, instead of ‘We loved him’, We will always remember him’, etc. I find this sort of thing, very common in funerals nowadays, rather weird. And this is not just a matter of the proper use of language. It grows out of and reinforces a sort of pseudo-mysticism in which a vague sentimentality replaces more thoughtful idea about death and the after-life.
Another interesting thing about MJ’s passing is how quickly the recent deep concern and even disgust about aspects of his private life has been elbowed aside by an avalanche of accolades, A genuine and meaningful eulogy to him would include mention of his very real talents in some areas, his great generosity, but also the fact that he apparently made a mess of his life. On several occasions I read of or heard people say things like ‘His message will live forever’, as if he was some great prophet or spiritual teacher. I must say, I find this sort of thing to be the height of vulgarity. It also obscures an extremely important point. If MJ’s life conveys any ‘message’ it would have to be that talent, celebrity and unimaginable wealth do not guarantee happiness. The Buddha said, ‘Truly dire are gains, honor and fame. They are serious and difficult obstacle in the way of attaining true safety’ (S.II,226)
Monday, July 6, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Countless are those who cannot speak or hear what is spoken to them, who cannot see to read and who lack the power to reason and ponder. I have been born with all limbs and faculties complete.
Many are those who dwell in lands of strife and conflict and who are deprived of security and safety. I am living in a land that is at peace.
Incalculable are those forced to toil without end and who are driven by hunger and want. I have wealth to sustain the body and time to give it rest.
Numerous are those whose bodies and minds are in bonds, who are not their own masters, unable to go where they wish, unable to think as they like, I enjoy great freedom.
Without number are those who abide in regions where the light of the Dhamma shines not, or where its message is not heard above the racket of false doctrines. I have heard and understood the good Dhamma.
Truly precious is this human life and great are the blessings I enjoy. I here and now before the Buddha contemplate my own good fortune and resolve to use this rare opportunity to work for my own good and the good of others. With strong determination I will overcome all obstacles both great and small.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
(1) An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support. John Buchan
(2) Calling atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color. Don Hirschberg
(3) Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned. Anonymous
(4) The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike. Delos B. McKown
(5) I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious ideas of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal god. So far as religion of the day is concerned, it is a damned fake… Religion is all bunk. Thomas Edison
(6) I’m a polyatheist - there are many gods I don’t believe in. Dan Fouts
(7) The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality. George Bernard Shaw
(8) Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? Douglas Adams
(9) With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. Steven Weinberg
(10) Atheism is a non-prophet organization. George Carlin
(11) I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. Richard Dawkins
(12) Faith means not wanting to know what is true. Friedrich Nietzsche
(13) I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. Frank Lloyd Wright
(14) What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. Christopher Hitchens
Friday, July 3, 2009
Anyway, when the first sculptors made Buddha statues they tried to depict at least some of the 32 signs. It is thought that the first Buddha statues were made in Gandhara under Greek influence, and in Mathura, in around the 1st/2nd centuries CE. Greek or Greek-influenced sculptors in Gandhara, perhaps more rooted in reality, depicted the Buddha’s hair naturalistically as, not exactly curling to the right, but waving to the right. The first Mathura-manafactured Buddhas show him with a single bun spiraling to the right, something like a Mr. Whippy ice cream. The Gandhara style never penetrated into India proper and eventually died out. The spiraling Mathura style eventually evolved into many spiraled curls and the Buddha’s hair has been depicted in that manner ever since.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Across a wide, fertile plain to the north, the black mountains of Malakand Division, including Swat, stretch across the horizon. There, ruins of another sort are a dominant feature—the products of weeks of war that have gripped the Swat Valley and its environs. But up in the hilltop monastery in Takht-i-Bahi, none of that seems particularly relevant. Here, young couples, otherwise forbidden from even speaking to one another, huddle conspiratorially in the shadows of meditation halls, or walk casually through what were once monks’ residences. None of them can tell you much about the prolific history of Buddhism in Pakistan and the role Buddhism once played in bringing peace to a region now perennially beset by violence. They can tell you little about Asoka , the 3rd century BCE emperor of the Mauryan dynasty, who, after witnessing first hand the killing fields of his army’s expansionist campaigns, converted to Buddhism, gave up war, and spent the rest of his life actively promoting a Buddhist-inspired program of peace and brotherhood. His story reads like a life lesson in pacifism. The prosperity his empire enjoyed after his conversion is legendary. Some of that legacy remains in Takht-i-Bahi, in the quiet, contemplative moods of people like Ali who come there to clear their minds.
The sites, however, remain exposed. Pakistani officials don’t know how badly, if at all, ruins similar to Takht-i-Bahi have been damaged during the Swat offensive—the region is still too dangerous for any assessment. Any loss would be a grave blow, not only to the world’s Buddhist heritage, but, according to some Pakistanis, to the identity of Pakistan itself. “This is something from the past, and the Quran tells us the past is important to Muslims,” says Rafaqat Baig, a guide at the Dharmarajika complex in Taxila, 30 km north of the capital Islamabad, where some of the Buddha’s ashes were placed by Emperor Ashoka. “There are many prophets who came before the Prophet Muhammad. Some people here believe Buddha was one of those. He speaks of equality between men, so does Islam. He speaks about love, so does Islam.”
For Muslims like Baig, paying tribute to Buddha in no way contradicts their faith. But even he admits he would not speak openly to others about his beliefs: “You never know who might be listening.” His caution is understandable. Even though the Taliban are on the run in Swat, it’s not inconceivable that one day Dharmarajika and Takht-i-Bahi’s meditative slopes could be occupied by gun-toting Islamic radicals.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Some scientists have expressed concern with the Dalai Lama’s association with the proposed centre. Several years ago, he gave a keynote address at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, amid criticism from some members of the society. More than 1000 people signed an on-line petition questioning his credentials, though some of the opposition was probably tied to his views on Tibetan independence rather than his religious status.