Recently I had been reading an e book that I had downloaded a while ago. The sweet dew of chan, if I remember the title correctly. Many things sounded familiar. The author gave instructional talks on various meditations. All of those meditations are known in the Theravada as well as in the Mahayana traditions. Although there are some significant difference in the interpretation of one and the same thing. The way he introduced vipassana meditation, as visualisation, sounded strange and certainly different from the Theravada interpretation but in the end, this and most of the rest of the book it seemed that Mahayana and Theravada have more in common than not.
One chapter only was really disturbing and since the book was from the 1980ties, I hope such misunderstanding or misinterpretation has been cleared out by now. There I read that the path of the Arahants is the lowest path of three paths, the Arahant-, the Bodhisattva- and the Buddha path. The author said that those who retire into the forest to practice meditation for their own benefit of becoming Arahant, are selfish and ridden by their tempers.
The Bodhisattva path was presented as the one and only path for a person who claims to be Buddhist wheras the Buddha path was depicted as too high and unreachable for a common human being.
As I am one who has gone into the forest and one who is determined to become an Arahanta (not sure when on this lifestream it will happen, though), I found that the description of the Arahant path is incorrect, that for one who seriously strives for becoming an Arahant, what the author wrote about the Buddha way is what one strives for when on the path to Arahantship. That is, from the limited understanding and perspective of one who is just at the beginning of that path. For me it is true, yes, I retired from the world and behind my kuti is nothing but forest, and I do have tempers, although I learned not to have fits)
It seems in old China some people who were not Arahants claimed to be one but were still selfish and tempered and so the whole picture about what an Arahant is or would be like, got out of frame.
Lately I happened to communicate with friends on the Bodhisattva path. For first, a dear friend, a most diligent lay person meditator, acknowledged that he is on the Bodhisattva path. I fully trust that it is really so and rejoiced, because this makes the world better. Then the wife of a wonderful couple I know told me her husband wants to be a Bodhisattva. And finally I was in a discussion about the differences between Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana. One of the main differences is that in Theravada the yogi strives for becoming an Arahant, a fully enlightened one, such as the Buddha’s many fully enlightened disciples like Ananda, Sariputta and thousends more.
In Mahayana Buddhism one might take the Bodhisattva vows along with the precepts or ordination. It is not mandatory to take the Bodhisattva vows but you are kind of a wimp when you don’t, to my knowledge. The vows are:
I vow to rescue the boundless living beings from suffering; I vow to put an end to the infinite afflictions of living beings; I vow to learn the measureless Dharma-doors; I vow to realise the unsurpassed path of the Buddha.
This is very beautiful, very strong. Germans have a tendency to take vows and promises serious…
When I was young and full of enthusiasm about Buddhism and had seen enough problems in childhood and enough difficulties in adolescence to acknowledge the presence of suffering, so some vows like this just came in right. It resonated with my grandmother’s (and mom’s): ‘Noble be a person, helpful and good.’ This, and the paramies, like unconditional love, compassion, empathy, seemed doable to me. They seemed to dispel the darkness of the first noble truth that there is suffering, a truth of which I didn’t want to hear at that time.
So I took the vows. And it started auspicious. But after a while I came to know – I can’t do it. This is far too big for the little girl and was somewhat disheartened. I saw things pretty much black and white at the younger age, no grey scale. No ‘I will try and do my best’. No room for failure. So I gave up the vows.
A Zen priest explained to me that one don’t have to take the vows by the letter, it is rather for the encouragement to do good and not to give up.
As for my part, I rather would take vows that I am able to keep. This is personal. I highly respect people who earnestly take the bodhisattva vows and I wholeheartedly rejoice with everyone who undertakes them. It does make a difference in the world, certainly, to have people who try their best to be a Bodhisattva. Just for this nun here it is too much. One day, when I looked at the ants, termites, critters, there are thousands in a square meter, so many flies, mosquitoes, moths at night, living beings in water… So, one silly nun decided to help the bodhisattvas and get herself out by herself so that they have one being less to care for. :)
Another and even more weighty reason for me not to take the vows is, the Buddha was a Bodhisattva for many, many lifetimes and neither as a Bodhisattva nor when he finally was the Buddha, he saved all beings. How would I dare then to claim that I could do it, then? The Buddha and earlier, when he was still an unellightened bodhisattva, saved those beings whom he was able to save. He did it without vows. The ultimate saving beings according to the Buddha is to teach them the Dhamma and help them to see clearly. That is doable – even for me to a certain extend.
Yesterday I went to a funeral in the valley village, family of one of our villagers here died. There were 2 funerals actually but I could only attend one. In the monastery down there was A.D’s dog. The good fellow had followed his boss down one day and then had been bitten almost to death by a pack of other dogs. I tried to arrange that someone would take him to see the veterinarian and someone to gather some money to pay the bill, but I could not do much more because the car was leaving and the other passangers gave me through looks to understand that I cannot take the dog. When I came down I found him locked in, in a garden of a home, screaming. A woman explained with a disgust in her face that is because his wounds are stinking. Which is true, his ear is kind of fouling off. Several people saw the dog not leaving my side and mentioned: The dog needs medicine, but none offered medicine or help. I was at the edge of tears when we left the monastery and I could not do much but have someone else promise to care.
When Termites wanted to move into my kuti the other day, I swept them away as carefully as possible and then kept the place where they wanted to enter wet, that helped but I again was close to tears because most probably I had hurt termites, my stomach jolts when I see someone injured etc. etc. There are far too many beings in suffering, in fact, all is suffering, indeed.
So the truth why I gave up the bodhisattva vows is, I am a wimp. :)
About 2500 years ago, at the time of the Buddha a girl was born into the family of untachables. Her name was Miganda. The family was very poor and had many children to support, sometimes they were starving. As soon as the children could they too had to do some work to increase the income of the family.
Miganda happened to be extremely beautiful. Her hair was almost black but had a red shimmer and when it was not bound into a knot and she stood in the sun, it fell in large red sparkeling waves over her shoulers. Her eyes were uncommonly green, drak green as some of the soft moss in the wonderful cool shade by the pond. Her laughter was like a small stream in a creek, gurgling and chuckling cheerfully.
When she was 5 years old, she was given to a small temple to learn temple dance and serve as templedancer. In old times that had been a holy duty but at Migandas time, it already had been perverted and so the job included having sex with the men of the village who come to the temple. But still it was not the worst business for a girl from the outcast class, commonly they were quite good supported and Miganda’s beauty would grant that she would have a good income.
She learned to dance and to serve and already she was shown how to please men, although she didn’t have to have intercourse yet, not before she was seven years old.
In beauty and grace she surpassed all other girls. One brahmin had seen her and he was immideately infatuated with her beauty, with the way she moved when dancing and with her voice when she sang. He had no family on his own so he decided to take Miganda, care for her and marry her when she would come into age.
He loved her deeply and dearly. She continued to dance, she loved dancing and singing but now she would only do it for him or for his guests. He used to prayse her in front of the guests after each performance. ‘She has fallen out of the skies just for me. She is like a heavenly nymph. See her face, see her eyes. Watch her simle! Isn’t her song even more beautiful than the song of a nightingale? Oh what a grace, every move is just wonderful. Things like this he often said. With every day he becamemore infatuated. She too liked him and was grateful, he was her benefactor and her hero. He had everything a poor girl would want, and more than that. He did not only give her what she needed, soon she found that he would also give her what she wanted. She learned to get what she liked by just one glance of her eyes. He was proud of her like a father and observed her jealously like a husband. When people saw them together they would wonder how this brahmin could have such a beautiful child, since he was not looking particularly good.
One day the Buddha had come to town. The brahmin decided to go and see him, to pay respects, he had met him on an earlier occasionand had been deeply moved and impressed.Of course he would take Miganda and he was shure that even the Buddha would notice her beauty and would possibly comment on it. He was shure the Buddha too would love her, every body did.
When he approached the Buddha, he introduced himself and then Miganda, mentioning that she must have fallen out of the skies just for him. He observed the Buddha’s face when he introduced Miganda and there was, to his surprise, no sign of any liking or any emotion towrds her rather than total impartiallity, total peace and calm.
He sat with her to one side, other people had been there before and more were coming. The Buddha did not look around into his audience but still, the brahmin had the feeling, the Buddha waslooking right into his heart. Miganda had been fairly uninterested while she was introduced, She hummed a bit and danced a bit, absentmindely. But once she had seen the Buddha, once he had looked at her, she dropped dead silent and did not turn her eyes away from him during the entire visit. She just stared at the exalted one as if she was hypnotised.
The Buddha started speaking. The girl moved her face forward and her mouth stood a bit open, she was absolutely entranced by the voice. To the brahmin’s displeasure nobody of the monks and visiting lay people took notice of Miganda. And although it seemed that the Buddha was speaking directly too him, he didn’t like much what he said. The Buddha was speaking about impermanence. How everything is impermanent, the body, the feelings, the mind, that even beauty vanishes through old age sickness and death. He said that what is impermanent is bound to suffering and thatone should not regard anything as I or mine or ashaving a self.
The brahim was disturbed, although he understood to some extendwhat the Buddha ment – this wasnot what he wanted to hear. Miganda also understood something about what the Buddha had said, she had lived in poverty the first 5 years of her life. She knew suffering, she loved impermanence because it had brought an end to her suffering of poverty and now she wanted that this new life would never end. She had seen the Buddha and loved him.
At home Miganda told the brahmin, that she would like to marry the Buddha when she was older. This and the Buddha’s speech about impermanence cause that the brahmin got depressed and even Miganda’s dancing and singing could not cheer him up for some days. Miganda was troubled, only seven years old she understood the situation was delicate and that she needs to do something to establish the former happyness and generosity in her benefactor. She cared for him, massaged him as she had learned from the temple dancers and told hm that she would, of course marry him, the brahmin and never anyone else. This relaxed the situation and they agreed to wait until Mignda’s eleventh birthday and then get married.
The 3 and a half years until her eleventh birthday passed quickly. She received male and female teacher to learn to run a household, to handle servants, to calculate, to please her future husband and she learned everything eagerly quickly. To everyones amazement she needed to hear a text or song only once or twice and could already repeat it almost without errors. Her mind was brilliant and redy to receive everything that would ensure her a comfortable life.
She had seen enough sickness and death in her family, she understood it would come to her too but until then she was determened to live happy and healthy in comfort. The brahmin had made several journeys and had gathered and increased wealth and also was determened to make this love, this beauty, this harmony, the wealth, all in his life with Miganda last forever and if possible even beyond this lifetime. Nothing should part them, nothing should harm or displease her. He still had the greatest respect for the Buddha’s teaching and would always give when one of his disciples came to his house for alms. But he denied impermanence, shall it do what it wants but not with him and Miganda. So the two had the same aim although for different reasons.
Not long after Miganda’s eleveth birthday a big wedding ceremony was celebrated. Miganda was a gordious looking young lady, she charmed everyone and walked through the cereminies and her life garcefully, delightfully.
Their wealth increased and their loving relationship was stable, they were beloved by friends and respected by most people. But even in such a wonderful relationship suffering sneaked in and impermanence made it clear that it cannot be denied.
They had had 8 children, of which only 3 survived, 2 sons and a daughter. Although the daughter looked more than her father than the mother, she was lovely and charming and later was married to a wealthy brahmin. Of the two sons, one was quite slow in learning but he was soft and goodhearted, always content and a cheerful companion, the other was endowed with a sharp analytical mind and the beauty of his mother but sometimes he could be short tempered with his less intelligent and less beautiful siblings. Although 5 children of the couple died and the 3 remaining were difficult to handle at times, Miganda and the brahmin perceived their life as happy.
The daughter was the first to leave the parental home to live in the family of her husband. The sons both went forth under the Buddha. Life went on. Miganda often thought of the Buddha and she always thought of him with love, a love stained by lust though. She learned a lot about the Buddha’s teaching through teachings she received of her sons. She knew there never was a single thought of love for her in the Buddha’s mind. She had great respect for his teachings and enough restrained to not think of him in a lustful way. But she also knew he was the only man she ever loved and would love in future. There was no hope for this love and her husband the life that he gave her, the love and devotion he showed her even now when she was older and her beauty was declining – she would not want to lose all this. On the other hand, holding on to all this had a flavourless taste, it was vapid and her formerly smiling mouth had a slight linement of bitterness.
When Miganda was 46 years old, her husband died at the age of 83. He was happy that one of his sons was with him when he died and again he heard speaking of impermanence, of old age sickness and death. His heart would not let go of this life easy, too much attached was he with his belongings of which one was Miganda whom he still observed with jealousy. Even in his eighties on his deathbed he was deeply attached to his wife. She promised him not to take any other husband after his death and to take care of the wealth. Then he died.
She knew how to run a household, how to deal with the servants, she could keep the family shrine, she could even do all the chants and perform the duties at the shrine, she was not wastfull with the money that her husband left behind for her. She made donations to the Buddha and often invited recluses in hopes her sons would be among them. Her life had become quite lonely and boring. She felt ages old but still to young to die. After the death of her husband she had started to eat more and had put on some weight. She tried to find any meaning in life but could not think of anything but comfort and wealth that would give her what she was looking for. Life just went on.
At her 50th birthday she had invited some neighbours and friends and expected her daughter to come for a few days. She had her servants prepare large amounts of rice and curry to offer it to the monastery and to serve for any ascetic who would stop at the house to ask for alms. She hoped her sons would come but she hadn’t seen them for a while and did not know whether they were in town.
Early in the morning she had put on a golden dress which she had obtained just a few weeks ago especially for this day. It had fitted perfectly when the tailor made it, now it was almost too small and could burst at hasty or large movements. She sat in this dress in the entrance hall of her house which had a semi floor through half of the hall. She sat at a desk and was counting money that she would donate to the Buddhist monastery and pay to the servants as a special bonus. She tried to prentend she was happy, that she would anticipate with joy the visit of her daughter but in fact, she was miserable. Her common charm that she even had now on good days, was gone.
Through a window she could see a recluse approaching from far, the food wason a golden plate and though she did not shine anymore, at least her golden dress would spread some glory and splendour when the morning sun fell on it. She decended and went to the door of the hall to await the recluse, It had not been possible to see who it was but her motherly intuition told her it would not be her son, which diminished the joy of giving slightly.
A servant opened the door so that she could step out, a ray of morning sun fell on her dress and it glittered when she breathed in and her chest moved up. The servant stood next to her with the tray full of fine foods. It had been raining in the early morning hours so the ground was wet and muddy. If she had to go out tothe approaching recluse a single step more, she would ruin her delicate slippers in the mud.
Miganda was occupied with trying to hold the breath so that she would not look fat and the dress would not burst and with finding the correct position for her to stand and wait for the ascetic to come, – she would not go down on her knees into the mud – when she looked up and he had silently already arrived. She felt his presence, the peace. She did not dare to look into his eyes but she knew it was the Buddha standing there in front of her. He had been a young man when she saw him last. Now he must be in his late seventies. She felt a flash of heat shooting up, her face reddened and her heart beat faster.
Pictures of her in her youth, her seeing the Buddha, feelings of her love for him which was tainted by desire, the wanting of comfort more than anything else, the try to deny of impermanence although it was so obvious, all this passed quickly through her mind. She ws abashed, ashame, without thinking she went down on her knees in the mud. Tears rolled down her cheeks, they were tears of embaressment as much a tears of joy. She looked at the Buddha now from below, through the tears she could see his old calm face, watching her without any judgment. She did not know how much time passedshe could not think clearly a massive storm of thoughts about her attachment, desire, lust, about her life and its meaninglessness, the gratitude for the Buddha to appear at her door on her birthday, embaressment and somewhat anguish devastated her ability to think or act.
The servant lowered the tray with the foods and she took one package after the other and put it into the Buddha’s alms bowl until it was full and he pulled the bowl away. He seemed to say ‘It is enough, young sister.’ but she was not shure whether he really had spoken. He didn’t mean the food, this was clear. The state of her mind changed, it was blank now and somehow refreshed. Now the tears that flow were tears of rapture. She felt blessed beyond words. The Buddha walked away.
After this surprising meeting with the Buddha, she went back inside the house, telling the servant do offer the remaining food to the recluses to come. She went into her rooms, took off her golden dress, alone, without calling a maid. She went to the room where she stored all her clothes and searched for the simplest clothing she could find, it was a white cloth that commonly would be used to cover things when guests and recluses came to visit. She kept wearing these simple kind of clothes for the rest of her life, stopped praying to the devas and instead venerated the Buddha in the shrine room. Her son taught her to sit and quieten the mind, he spoke to her about impermanence suffering and nonself and she opened her mind to accept it little by little.
Before she died she gave half of the wealth and the business to her daughter, and the other half of the wealth plus some gardens to the recluses of the Buddha’s disciplin.
During the vassa, when A. D. was gone, I had to perform the ceremony of the uposatha day. I am a bit shy about doing it and have a book with the chants with me. Although I rarely really need to look into the book because I know giving precepts and the blessings I feel safer with the book when I have to do the ceremony alone.
Not many people had come, it was only a quater moon ceremony. That morning I had given the 5 precepts without piking into the book and Ui Naan and another regular monastery visitor who do know that I feel insecure to hold the ceremony by myself, gave thumbs up for the precepts.
Funny that I feel at unease , I was actress and should be doing these ceremonies easily. When living in Europe, I would have given a darn and just have done it. It is monks, mens domain? Who cares? Possibly I would have done it all wrong but wholehearted and with charm. Now after being a nun and living since years in male dominated monasteries, I start to feel shy like a girl when entering a mens domain. That feels wrong.
Anyway. That the two lay men had given thumbs up was a very nice gesture.
Then, suddenly just when I wanted to start to chant the parittas, a woman came in. She is the tallest person in the village and quite a character. She is a very tender and softhearted person, too soft for this world. So she tries to make it up with being overly rough at other times. Once I saw her watching dogs and chickens at feeding time and the chickens chased the little puppy dogs away and stole their food. She almost cried. She is also the same person who said the devas will not protect the village when I chant, also she was the one who came and took away the eight puppies that her dog had given birth in my kuti (remember the post? The dog ripped the mosquito screens of the kuti to get inside while I was away.) (I can’t say it was she who killed 7 of the eight puppies, nor that she broke the leg and tail of the surviving one, nor that she killed the mother dog, nor that she throw boiling water over two dogs. I was not present when those things happened.) She came in with 3 trays full of food to offer. One for all devas and two for departed relatives. Luckily I had the book where I had written down the northern Thai language blessing chant that is given in such an occasion of offering. Luckily the departed ones had simple names so that I could even read them myself. Luckily I got through the chant without stuttering. As if the devas came to support, when we looked each other in the eyes after the chant in some seconds of understanding and forgiving silence, the cold wind stopped to blow, the sun came out and the vihara was full of delight.
The rest of the ceremony went well.
Some thoughts on the Sangha disesa 10 of the Bhikkhuni patimokkha
Several times I heard it say, ‘a Bhikkhuni cannot disrobe’, or a Bhikkhuni can only disrobe by committing a parajika offence’ or ‘a Bhikkhuni disrobes by putting on lay peoples clothes and live like a layperson for longer than 7 days’. (to wear lay peoples clothes is allowed for monastics up to 7 days when in danger)
All these above considerations were made, because different from the Bhikkhu’s rules, Bhikkhunis have a rule which says (version of the Santipada edition): Should any Bhikkhuni, angry and displeased say: ‘I repudiate the Buddha, I repudiate the Dhamma, I repudiate the Sangha, I repudiate the training. Since when when were the Sakyan daughter contemplatives the only contemplatives. There are other contemplatives etc.’ If she says so, the other Bhikkhunis should admonish her up to three times, if she still persists in her anger saying the above, she commits a Sanghadisesa offence.
Not that I had really seriously considered disrobing but at a point in my monastic life I was so disillusioned that I flirted with the thought, every monastic does, I was told.
Women do express their anger different than men. In a men’s community they might beat their noses bloody and then every one goes their way – but women, when angry and displeased either harm others or themselves rather verbally than with fists. And they keep nagging if no satisfactory change occurs.
So, yes such a rule as Sanghadisesa 10 which is the one I am just pondering about, is helpful in the Bhikkhuni’s set of rules. It is more than fair to give the angry sister warning admonishments to calm down, before it actually comes to the real breach of the rule.
The phrase: ‘I repudiate the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and give up the training’ is to my knowledge exactly that which a monk has to say when he wants to disrobe. Whether he says it angry and displeased, lustful because a woman is waiting for him to get out of the robes or out of careful considerations with good intentions (there was the case of a monk who did disrobe to care for his mother but he kept living like a monk) is not relevant, when he says the formula in front of a witness it is valid and he is no longer a monk (correct me if I’m wrong, it is long since I read the monks rules and commentaries). Hence our brethren came to think that if we are Sanghadisesa when we say the phrase, then we can actually not disrobe.
This is of course not entirely wrong, but it leaves the ‘angry and displeased’ part out of consideration. Also it does not consider the words: ‘Since when were the Sakyan daughter contemplatives the only contemplatives. There are other contemplatives who are conscientious, scrupulous and desirous of training. I will practice the holy life in their company!’
A younger woman, not in her menopause yet might say something like this quite easily, when angry and displeased, not really meaning it, just being 3 days before her period. They need some attention, want to know that they do well and they should stay. Monks, especially who ordained early do not have enough experience with women to understand this.
To my understanding of this rule, should a Bhikkhuni be angry and displeased when she says it, just (a Bhikkhuni sister) give her a hug tell her she should sleep on it for some nights. If she keeps saying it, give her time to talk, just listen. She might change her mind.
But then, when a Bhikkhuni is calm and fully conscious of what she is saying and doing, she can disrobe with the same formula as the monks do.
Well, that’s what I think about it. May there be no reasons for Bhikkhunis to disrobe and may we all overcome our anger.
A long time ago in a country now called America 3 friends were living . They were what we now call Indians or native Americans. They lived with their tribe. The people themselves did not use this name to refer to themselves, only the intruders gave them these names. The different tribes had names like Navayo, Sioux, Apache… They all were strong skilled and proud people who lived a life in harmony with nature. They were nomads and roamed through a large area where they would find food, depending of the time of the year.
The different tribes lived wide spread in this large country and fights among the different groups were rare. Some tribes were more aggressive and would attack another group but most of the tribes were peaceful and not fighting if not necessary.
Yet every young man learned to fight and to hunt. To hunt was essential for the survival of the entire tribe. Young men would test their strength and have competitions. Often these tests and competitions were friendly, could be bloody but nobody would be killed, though sometimes it happened that the young men were so ambitious that a fight in friendship turned into a serious fight.
The 3 friends of this story grew up together, were born in different families but grew up like brothers. They were about the same age and had never spend a day without meeting each other. They played together when the mothers sat or worked together and often the games were about training the skills in hunting and fighting. As much as they could not be without each other, they would start to quarrel. Two of them always got into fight and the third was always the peacemaker, the judge. He was intelligent and sensitive and to get him into a fight was almost impossible. He could turn every anger of others in peace and friendship, that was his gift.
One day, the 3 friends had already grown into young men of about 16 years of age, when their tribe was attacked in a summer with little water. The 3 had been in the hills at the coast out of the redwood forest on a lofty hill overgrown with grass. They had been in a competition fight. The two who always fought were trying to beat each other in throwing knifes at each other and escape from the knife that the other had thrown at the same time. The third had been the observer and judge. He was a spiritual boy and could see and speak with the spirits. He would become either the seer or the medicine man of the clan.
Suddenly they heard the screaming in the village and ran to their horses to ride to help their people. They shouted toward each other, half in play half in being alert that the village might have been attacked, ‘we meet here again’. They didn’t set time and date because they expected it to be the next day as always. Then, just when they were about to ride toward the village they were attacked by worriers of another tribe and all 3 were killed.
The two of the young men who had been fighters had been reborn in the same place in several different forms. Always as creatures which were quarreling and fighting against each other. Large and small, always together for several hundred years. The third one had been reborn in a far away country and continued his spiritual growth as a human being.
Then one day it happened that the third, now in a new form as a human woman, had returned to America and had come to the same spot where the friends had been killed with the open appointment to meet here again. Standing there looking and wondering why she had to come here, suddenly two flies came to the very same place. The flies came from different directions and flew straight toward each other as if they would attack the other but then just before hitting they changed directions and flew around her head for a while. There was something joyful in this meeting, as if 3 friends meet again after a long time. She watched the flies smiling and thought of this story. After the meeting the two friends buzzed off together over the meadow and she walked her way.