Archive for August, 2008

Where is the Buddhist Bible?

Or: There IS a Buddhist Bible. An invitation to read:

When was the last time you read a book? How many pages did you gobble up during a weekend? 400? 200? 800? What if someone tells you that, after reading the equivalent of 12 such novels you would be acquainted with 90% of what the Buddha ever taught in his 45 years of teaching. Impossible?

A common perception of the Pali Canon and the Buddhist Scriptures in general is that they resemble a vast ocean which you do not even dare to enter, let alone cross… However, it seems questionable to prefer relying on secondary information on the Buddha’s teaching (like this blog) without having at least some sort of reference to the most authentic information – besides one’s own experience, that is 😉

It is a fact that the Pali Canon embodies the most authentic and reliable version of the original teachings of the Buddha. Codified in 300 B.C only one or two hundred years after the Buddhas parinibbana, written down in 80 B.C. in a dialect (pali) which, if not spoken by the Buddha himself, comes as close to it as American English to British.

It is a fact that within the Pali Canon the Sutta Pitaka (discourses) and core Vinaya (monastic) texts are the most ancient parts. Not the commentaries, not the Abhidhamma.

It is a fact that within the Sutta Pitaka, the 4 great collections make up the bulk of all teachings which were delivered by the Buddha and his most advanced students. These texts make up 70% of the entire Canon or 100% in essence.

It is astonishing to know, that hardly any Buddhist read those texts – not even once – in his life (hardly anyone partially), although we are talking about 12 Books. 7000 pages. Not more. A black hole of theoretical knowledge on the Dhamma, which gets filled with hundreds of modern books on Buddhism each month in the West and Christian missionary arguments in the East.

Consider reading the Buddhist Bible instead:

How many books do people read in a year? How many magazines? Newspapers? Internet blogs and news? How many “Buddhist books” line up in their bookshelves?

Buddhism is a pragmatic philosophy. The Buddha says:

Though few of the sacred texts he chant
in Dhamma does his practice run,
clear of delusion, lust and hate,
wisdom perfected, with heart well-freed. Dhp. 20

It is funny though, that people, because even though they might practice giving, virtues and meditation will still continue to read books. And magazines. And newspapers. This beautiful Dhammapada verse states, that it does not matter how much we know, theoretically, if only we put into practice what we did learn. This, of course, implies that we know, what it is, that is helpful in our practice.

The following quotation, also found in the Pali Canon, is less often cited:

I do not say that the attainment of insight is all at once. Rather, the attainment of insight is after gradual training, gradual action, gradual practice. And how is there the attainment of insight after gradual training, gradual action, gradual practice? There is the case where, when faith has arisen, one visits a teacher. Having visited, one grows close. Having grown close, one lends ear. Having lent ear, one hears the Dhamma. Having heard the Dhamma, one remembers it. Remembering, one penetrates the meaning of the teachings. Penetrating the meaning, one comes to an agreement through pondering the teachings. There being an agreement through pondering the teachings, desire arises. When desire has arisen, one is willing. When one is willing, one contemplates. Having contemplated, one makes an exertion. Having made an exertion, one realizes with the body the ultimate truth and, having penetrated it with discernment, sees it. MN 70 (pali)

In ancient times, in the first few centuries after the Buddhas Enlightenment, many monk, nuns AND lay people were known as “Petaki” as “carriers of the pitaka” or “pacanekayiko, knower of the 5 collections”. The Anguttara Nikaya shows us plenty of examples where lay devotees are described as having memorized parts of the Buddha’s sermons and getting up early in the morning they would chant them regularly. Trying to put them into practice, obviously.

If you do not know where to start, this is a very good anthology, which can help dipping into the ocean:-)

In the Buddha’s Words
An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (512pp) $15.16 $12.89


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Chanting in the 6th century

Just recently i came across this fascinating story, which is especially valuable to those among you who read or chant pali texts:

Dhammaruwan Story :

Dhammaruwan was born in a small village near Kandy , Sri Lanka in November, 1968. From the age of about two, before he could read or write , he spontaneously started to chant the ancient Buddhist scriptures in the original pali language , known only to a few scholar monks.

Each day, somewhere around two o’clock in the morning, after sitting in meditation with his adopted and devoted Buddhist foster father for about twenty to forty minutes, he would spontaneously start to chant pali suttas. On the Poya or lunar Observance day, he would sometimes chant for two hours.

Dhammaruwan’s foster father started making amateur recording of the chanting and invited prominent scholar monk to listen. The monk verified that it was indeed the ancient pali language and the boy were chanting it in an ancient style which no longer existed in world.

That a young boy shows signs of having been a Buddhist monk in his former live is not that unusual by itself. See related past-life memories captured in these scientific studies.

But this boy remembered a life from the 6th century, during a phase in medieval Sri Lanka where Buddhism florished and pali learning and scholarship reached a peak:

At the age of three in “Kelstan” Kandy he started to chant a certain verse of “Dammacca Sutta” (“Chakkukarani Nayanakarani….”). Ever since that day he has been chanting suttas from the tripitaka (Pali Canon) with little or no mistakes.

The chanting style of these suttas are his own and nowhere else to be found or trace back to. As the child grew in age and was able to speak more, he related where he learnt this particular style of chanting the suttas and how he was able to chant such deep and profound suttas, which even an adult find difficult to chant precisely. He has said that in 6th century A.C. he together with few monks accompanied the scholar Monk, Bhadanthachariya Buddhagosa to Sri Lanka. He has said that including him (Mudithagosa) the others were monks who had by-hearted the tripitaka or part of it. He says it is from this memory that he chants the suttas by recollecting that life. Until the age of 10 he was able to chant the suttas. The earliest recorded chanting was at the age of three.

If you like to listen to his chantings here is a beautiful website which provides the chantings for download or online listening: www.pirith.org

Here a sample which is my favorite

If you know some pali you will quickly recognize that this young boy’s stress and intonation goes according to the meaning of the texts. Even scholars reading the suttas sometimes will put in stops where – according to the meaning – you need to continue and vice versa. Not so this three year old boy. Chanting the Dhammacakka sutta like he does, in my opinion, could only be done, if you

  1. learnt the text by heart
  2. know pali very well so as to know the meaning while chanting
  3. chanted the text a million times.

Anyway, the chanting style he uses is definitely closer to the texts as something like this which is the current style of chanting in Sri Lanka and sounds more like a mixture of Tibetan monks meeting in a mosque 🙂

So, what happened to Dhammaruwan? I was curious to find out more about him, expecting him to have become a monk in this life too. Almost 🙂 These days Dhammaruwan is an experienced meditator and founded a very support-worthy meditation center in central Sri Lanka (called “Nirodha” – good choice).

If you like to find out more, here is the link.

>>Invitation to Meditate<<

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A story from the pali canon:

“The wise teachers of old, however, used manual work to break strong obsessions. This is how the story goes:

A young monk called “Tissa” lived together with his preceptor in the Tissamahavihara monastery. It was in his eighth year as a monk that he became discontented. He started to wash and color his robes, repaired his bowl and shaved his hair. But whatever he tried, he still felt discontented with his monastic life. One day, while he was paying respect to his preceptor, his teacher said:

“Tissa, your ways are those of one who is discontented.”

“It is true, Sir, i am discontented with my life as a monk and i don’t know what to do about it.”

Tissa’s teacher, looking at his pupil and recognizing his potential to realize Nirvana, out of compassion, addressed his student thus:

“In this monastery it is hard to get a hold on water for a bath. Take me on your back to the Cittala mountain range”.

Tissa, who had always carried out his teachers requests, followed his old teacher’s wish and took him to the Cittala mountain.

Once they arrived at the mountain, his teacher said:

“I am very old now, Tissa. I would like you to build me a dwelling place next to the fountains in this mountain range. While you are busy working, you don’t need to sweep the paths at our monastery.

However, i want you to keep your mind always on your meditation object even at work and once in a while you should attend to the development of the fire element meditation

“Yes, i will do so, Sir”, replied Tissa and started working on a cave dwelling after spotting a suitable location. Together with his work on the cave, he started learning the Samyutta Nikaya by heart and gradually developed his meditation object.

When the cave was cleaned, plastered and a window and door had been set up he finished memorizing the Samyutta and was able to attain to the full concentration on his meditation topic.

Having accomplished all three, he went to his teacher, paid respect and invited his preceptor to move into the new dwelling. His teacher said:

“Brother, you have accomplished a very hard task. Tonight that place is yours. Stay there this night.”

“Very well, Sir”, answered Tissa venerating his teacher. He returned to the cave, washed his feet, sat down on a mat crossing his legs and concentrated on his meditation object. The thought “i have created a pleasant abode for my venerable teacher” occurred to him and he experienced great joy.

As his discontent completely vanished he turned his mind to vipassana and – in that very night – realizing Arahantship, he passed away.

MN-Atth I. 218
AN-Atth I. 16

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