Reading the Suttas

I was brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition, and every Sunday we would go to Church. Each week, short passages from the Bible would be read. Even though I was a young boy and didn’t pay too much attention, still there is this memory in my mind of many of the things that are in the Bible. I know about the widow’s two coins, about the flood, about the bread and fishes.

Buddhism lacks this good tradition. Scriptural texts are usually recited in incomprehensible languages. And most of the texts that are studied and recited date from many hundreds, even thousands, of years after the Buddha. In this way the Buddhist tradition loses its sense of genuine connection with what the Buddha actually taught. In every tradition, stories and teachings from much later periods are unquestioningly accepted as the Word of the Buddha. This can lead to great confusion.

Since I started practicing Buddhism, I have found the Suttas to be an invaluable refuge. There is so much wisdom, so many amazing things – they are an inexhaustible trove of Dhamma. I encourage all Buddhists the have the habit of daily, or at least weekly, reading the Suttas.

The Suttas are not immediately striking. They are often repetitive, and can be mundane. But their beauty is a subtle thing. It lies in the balance, the sense of form, the reasonableness, the Buddha’s serenity and wisdom in every imaginable situation.

It’s best to read them a little at a time. One Middle-length Sutta is ideal for one session. Read it slowly, carefully. Notice if there are things that you don’t understand – and beware of what you think you already understand. When you have finished, check any footnotes or other guides to comprehension. Don’t get too analytic about it – try to soak in the whole essence of the teaching. If you read a Sutta before meditation, it can uplift and inspire your mind, and the meaning becomes clear.

Remember you are reading a translation. Don’t get hung up on the specific connotations of terminology – that’s just the choices of the translator. Become familiar, one word at a time, with the Pali/Sanskrit terms that underlie all Buddhist teachings.

Notice your own response to the text: what is inspiring, what is boring, what is dubious. Your responses belong to you, not the text.

Beware of the mind that wants to criticize the text. Even though I myself believe in the importance of text-critical studies, this is after many years of study and reflection. It takes time to get a sense for these things. Have compassion for the text. It was composed in an oral tradition in a far off time and place. It is a miracle that it exists at all, and we should not be put off if some of the modes of expression are alien to us.

Perhaps a bigger problem is the desire to literalize or insist on a particular reading. The Suttas have a word for this: idasaccabhinivesa – the insistence that ‘this alone is the truth’. Any text is open to different readings and emphases. It is easy enough to find cases where modern teachers or traditional schools teach things that differ from the Suttas. It is not so easy, but far more valuable, to understand why these changes came to be made, and to understand what aspect of Dhamma is at stake.

If you are in doubt, remember the poised attitude that the Suttas themselves speak of: ‘Neither accepting nor rejecting, I will inquire about the meaning…’. In Buddhism, we are not expected to believe literally every detail of the scriptures; but if we read them with a fault-finding mind, we will never really get it.

Whatever aspect of Dhamma – whether meditation, philosophy, ethics, or inspiring stories – there’s nothing like the real thing. Take the text, and live it. Try it out and see what it does in your life. I’ve been doing this for 18 years now, and I’ve never been let down. Whatever faults I have, they’re all because of my failing to live up to the Dhamma, not because of the Dhamma itself.

On the interpretation of Buddhist myth

We have had some discussion and different approaches in interpreting Buddhist myth. I started writing a response to one of the comments, but it grew so big that I made it into its own post.

We have seen some readings given for some Buddhist myths that are very beautiful and powerful in their own way. But it is still not how I see the ultimate reach of these tales.

In one way, of course, there are just personal interpretations, and no right way of seeing. But in another sense, from a historical perspective, there seems to me to be a definite direction in mythology.

Take the story of Hārītī, one of many child-devouring monstresses of the early Buddhist tradition. She was the goddess of smallpox, who devoured the children of Rajagaha, untile she was converted by the Buddha. She was raised to a higher level of ethical consciousness by the reflection that the other women were mothers just as she was, and so just as she loved her children, she should not take theirs (= the Golden Rule). From then on her shrine was incorporated in the Buddhist temple, where the people would come and make offerings to her – but she no longer demanded human flesh.

This story is one of a whole genre of myths that speak of the ethicization of religion. This is, in fact, a major or the major theme of axial age mythology everywhere, and tells of the emergence of a religious consciousness in humanity that is based on compassion. This is an amazing and crucial part of the story of our humanity.

And yet it does not exhaust the story, or plumb its meaning. For it leaves unasked and unexamined the question of who Hariti was, really. We focus on the wondrous power of the Buddha to effect transformation, and do not ask, ‘Who was she before she was tamed, before she became a middle-class, respectable protector of children?’

She was a mother who eats children – and this is a fundamentally horrific and terrifying notion to us, alien to any ethical consciousness. So any attempt to interpret this story in terms of ‘ethics’ and ‘compassion’ as we experience them is going to turn away from this unacceptable reality. And this is, I humbly submit, precisely what we have seen repeatedly from different interpreters.

Like all axial age religions, Buddhism inherited a range of beliefs, ideas, stories, and customs from the culture and history around it, and tried, with general success, to adapt these to its own principles. But in some cases this adaption was only skin deep, and the power of the old taboos lives on. In interpreting stories older than itself – such as many of the Jatakas – modern Buddhists almost always simply continue the process of rationalizing and ethicizing the tales. And for Buddhists in traditional cultures, who are interested to tell good stories so as to inculcate proper values in their children, that’s exactly what they should be doing.

This process is widespread and has been going on for a long time. The Grimms’ fairy tales were progressively watered down and prettied up for a middle class audience. The same tendency happened in the ‘high’ culture of Buddhism; for example, in Borobudur, the panels depict many scenes from the Jatakas and so on, but carefully avoid any of the more lurid and violent content.

But I’m a grown up, and I don’t need the PG version. I know that killing babies is wrong. I know that a mother’s love for her child is a very great thing. And when I look at these stories, and listen to the voices that tell me that that these stories are meant to convey such messages – and nothing else – I am far from satisfied.

If we give up our efforts to ethicize and rationalize – just for a moment! – and look at the images and ideas these stories present, what we are seeing is the presentation of violence and death within a religious parable of compassion and wisdom. This has an impact on the mind, regardless of the context it is in. The end result is the dramatic juxtaposition of elements – murder and compassion, grief and fury, and so on. These all occupy the same narrative ‘space’. If we were to draw them as an image, they would appear side by side, or in sequence.

Whereas an ethical interpretation wants to favor one side and oppose the other – Devadatta is evil! Buddha is good! – on a mythic or existential level these depict equally valid realities. Ethically, death is worse than life; but existentially, they are equally real.

Deep myth depicts this situation, the coextensive existence of death and life, murder and love. It lies prior to and indifferent to our moral judgements. In Hinduism, the goddess of Death is the most compassionate of all deities, since she makes it possible for new life. This is why all so-called ‘primitive’ religions include elements that, to the axial, ethicized mind, seem bizarre, irrational, and cruel.

There is a terrific essay on this by Michael Taussig, called “Transgression”, ch. 20, pg. 349 of Critical terms for religious studies by Mark C. Taylor. You can read most of it thanks to Google books here. We have the book at Santi. He points out that while modern moralizing religions position themselves as opposed to transgression, it is often in specifically religious contexts that the most extreme ‘transgressions’ of ordinary morality take place. This article, by the way, is not for the faint-hearted…

There is a pervasive mytheme that embodies what I am trying to say here. In the story of Hariti, the most crucial aspect is that in the end, a shrine for her is set up in the monastery. This shows that the new order did not reject and destroy the old, but transformed and assimilated it. This idea is found everywhere, for example the head of the Medusa cut off by Perseus later became part of Athena’s shield. The old goddess of death and devouring is assimilated by the new goddess of reason.

I think modernist Buddhism has forgotten this old wisdom. I think we have become so caught up the idea of Buddhism as a rational, compassionate religion, that we deny and try to pretend that irrational, uncompassionate things could ever be a part of ‘real Buddhism’. And in doing so, we render ourselves incapable of any interesting or useful way of understanding or dealing with the demonstrably irrational forces that we find, for example in the objections to bhikkhuni ordination.

So, for example, in interpreting the story of Mahapajapati, we find two basic approaches. One is the apologist approach, to try to explain that its not really sexist, but things that might appear unfair were in fact meant as a test, or were culturally necessary. The second approach is to dismiss the text as inauthentic, a later interpolation by misogynist monks. In both cases we avoid dealing with the distressing and disturbing imagery of the text itself, which says that the entry of women into the Sangha will destroy Buddhism, like a flood, or like a disease on the crops.

What I would say is this: such imagery is shared in common with a whole spectrum of ideas and associations of the feminine across practically all cultures and times. To assume that these associations have nothing to do with the meaning of this text is the least plausible interpretation I can imagine. On the contrary, it is clear that this passage expresses a highly ambivalent response to the presence of women, and this response is found widely across all societies, and is present in very strong form in the current Theravadin Sangha.

A close reading of the passage, preserving all its ambivalence, shows that it forms part of a developmental history, a spiritual biography of Mahapajapati. In that story arc, she appears as an initially ambivalent character, who, like Hariti, is transformed and accepted within the Sangha. This arc mirrors both the process of individual spiritual development, and the evolution of religions as a whole.

To deny the negative and problematic aspects of this arc is to render a human being back into a two-dimensional fantasy. And to deny the archetypal significance of her role as the ambivalent mother is to cut Buddhism off from one of the deepest and most important of all religious and psychological themes.

In such approaches, we leach meaning from our texts, and end up with a Buddhism that is idealized and unrealistic. It becomes like the imagined birth of the Buddha: without pain, without blood, without humanity.

Bhante or Ajahn?

You may have noticed that i usually call myself Bhante, whereas most of the monks who come from the Thai tradition call themselves Ajahn. Why one or the other?

Here’s a little history of the word ‘Ajahn’.

It’s a Thai word, derived from the Sanskrit ācārya, which is equivalent to the Pali ācariya. The root is car, which means conduct, so ācariya is literally ‘conductor’, although obvioulsy not used in the same sense. In Pali, ācariya is used of a person in a specific teaching capacity. For example, an ācariya has a student, antevāsī. An ācariya need not be a monastic. Ācariya is never used as a general title or term of address for monks. The nuns, of course, have their own version, ācarinī, which is used in a similar way.

In Thailand, Ajahn is used as a general title for a ‘teacher’, especially one with some seniority, such as a college professor. It is not commonly used by itself as a title for monks. The normal title for monks is ‘phra’ or ‘tahn’. When Ajahn is used of a monk, it is usually prefixed to become ‘Phra Ajahn’ or ‘Tahn Ajahn’. These titles are usually used for senior monks. In all of these cases, however, there is considerable variation in different regions, so that it’s not really possible to point to a ‘correct’ Thai usage.

Just as a little point of detail, the Thai spelling, which is derived from the Sanskrit rather than Pali, uses two identical long ‘a’s. So, depending how you want to depict a long ‘a’ in Roman transliteration, it should be spelled ‘Aajaan’ or ‘Ahjahn’ or ‘Arjarn’. These look pretty weird, though, so mostly we use something like Ajahn.

It is sometimes said that a monk becomes an Ajahn after ten vassa. This stems from a misunderstanding of the Vinaya contexts. In some of the places where a monk acts as an ācariya, he must be ten vassa. But in other cases this does not apply. In any case, the restriction as to vassa refers to the role that he plays, not to the use of a title.

This misunderstanding, while being neither Vinaya nor ‘Thai culture’, has become normalized in Western monasteries. The convention has become to use the title ‘Ajahn’ of a monk or nun when they reach ten vassa, as if it’s a privilege or promotion.

In the original texts, bhikkhus are referred to as āyasmā and bhikkhunis as ayyā. These are from the root āyu (life, long life), and so we translate them as ‘venerable’. The terms are not entirely consistent in the early texts. Sometimes bhikkhus are referred to as ayya, and sometimes the bhikkhus refer to lay people as āyasmā.

But nowhere do we find any system of titles or promotion. The most senior bhikkhus, such as Sāriputta and Moggallāna, are called āyasmā, and the most respected bhikkhunis, such as Uppalavaṇṇā and Khemā, are called ayyā.

These days, we often refer to the bhikkhunis as ayyā. Logically, we should call the bhikkhus āyasmā, but it sounds a little weird and hasn’t taken off. Instead, it has become a common convention to use bhante as a title for bhikkhus.

Bhante is used very widely in the early texts as a form of address for monks. The monks and laypeople use it referring to the monks, and the monks use it speaking to the Buddha. It is a vocative, and so is not normally used as a title. Mostly it is used by itself as a vocative, but in the Milindapañha it is used together with the vocative form of the monk’s name: ‘Bhante Nāgasena’.

So the use ‘Bhante Sujato’ is a bit of a stretch of the original usage, but not too much. (If we’re going to get picky about grammar, then it would be better to use ‘Sujata’ rather than ‘Sujato’, but that’s a lost battle…)

Bhante is not used as a title for monks in contemporary Buddhist cultures, all of which have evolved their own complex system of titles and forms of address. It has, however, been adopted in new Buddhist contexts, such as India, Malaysia, Indonesia – and Australia.

When I arrived in Sydney, most of the well-known Theravadin monks were being referred to as ‘Bhante’. I like it because it’s simple, authentic, and cross-cultures.

If someone wants to call me Ajahn, that’s fine. But I really don’t like this thing of promoting monastics just because they get to a certain seniority. The Pali texts are remarkably free from the sense of hierarchy and status that stains so much modern monasticism. Away with it all! Monastics are just monastics. If someone is respectful enough to call me ‘Bhante’, this is already a huge thing, and a great responsibility for me to live up to. There’s no need for anything else.

And, this being Australia, if someone wants to call me ‘dude’ or ‘mate’ – which happens! – then I’m cool with that.

Blood politics

You’ve probably read of the ongoing blood protests in Thailand. The ‘Red Shirt’ Thaksin supporters have collected blood from their supporters to pour on the parliament. It’s all symbolic, but no-one seems to quite know what its symbolic of.

You can read it as ‘the blood of the people’, and so on. But, ahem, Thaksin himself spilt quite a lot of that when he was in power, so that may not be such a good idea. A better bet are the various black magic theories, which were the subject of a TV debate in Thailand. (See here and here.)

The blood pouring ceremony was headed by a Hindu Brahmin and a man carrying a statue of the Buddha. Mantras and so on were muttered, which shows that, at the very least, there’s more to it than just a symbol of political protest. Of course, last time it was the Yellow Shirts who used blood in their protests: they gathered the used sanitary products from their women supporters and placed them around a ‘powerful’ monument in Bangkok to undo the supposed magic of the Red Shirts.

As usual, monks have been at the forefront, both in giving blood and attending the rallies.

So who to support? Thaksin, a known criminal who raised corruption and nepotism to new levels in his term as PM, but who keeps getting elected because of his populist policies? Or the anti-democratic yellow Shirts, who avowedly want to undo the limited success of Thailand’s democracy, returning power where it belongs: the Bangkok elite? After such progress during the 90s, i feel so sad for Thailand that they are faced with this miserable choice.

Update and Questions?

I’ve been a bit slow in blogging recently, for which I have various excuses. Not many ideas I wanted to write about. Also I’ve been working on my long-term project, a book called White Bones, Red Rot, Black Snakes. I might publish some excerpts from that here if any strike me as being suitable.

And we’re into our study period here at Santi! This is an idea we started last year. Just as we have the three months vassa for a meditation retreat, we have a three month study period. During this time we have classes on most days. Our program this year is:

Monday: Pali; Vinaya (working from the Uposathakkhandhaka to begin)
Tuesday: Suttas (We’re doing a detailed study of the Samaññaphala Sutta, which should take the whole three months)
Wednesday: Dhamma/meditation talk
Thursday: Buddhist history (Last year we went from the origins of history up to the Abhidhamma. This year we’re looking at the post-canonical Buddhist developments, starting with the Milindapañha)
Sunday: TED video and discussion (last week we looked at a presentation on the psychology of decision making)

Anyway, this is just to let you know what’s been going on.

Meanwhile, how about another open question post. What’s been on your mind?

Email hacks

There’s been a scam going for maybe a year or so now, with people hacking into email accounts and sending distress messages. I received one myself just today. Here it is, with the names removed, so you get an idea what’s what.

Hope you get this on time? Sorry I didn’t inform you about my trip to Uk  for a program, I am presently in Surrey and am having some difficulties here because i misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel where my money and other valuable things were. presently my passport and my things are been held down by the hotel management pending when i make payment.
I need you to help me with a loan of (1,850 pounds= $2,900)  to pay my hotel bills and to get myself back home. I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist me with, I will refund the money back to you as soon as i return, let me know if you can be of any help? ASAP.  I don’t have a phone where i can be reached. I am so confused right now.  please let me know immediately

Your help is much appreciated,
Thank you very much,

From XXXXX

The emails are all very much of the same form, though the wording changes. They’ve all been from supposed monastics stranded in England for some reason. Just after I first posted this, I received yet another one, this time from Bhikkhu Bodhi. If you google some of the phrases in the message you’ll find other examples.

Anyway, if you get an email like this from ‘me’ or any other monastic, best to ignore it. You can reply if you like to let them know their account has been hacked. But remember that the hacker will see your email…

In my original post, I said that my email had been hacked. I just found out this was a mistake, sorry for the confusion. But the issue is still real…

Buddhism & the supernatural

You might be forgiven for wondering about whether Buddhism is a religion. After all, there are plenty of people who say that “Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion”. When I say plenty, that’s 73,300 on a google for the exact phrase. Personally i think this is just a piece of modernist sloganeering. Buddhism obviously fills most of the same roles in Buddhists’ lives that other religions fulfill, and in every practical sense it is regarded as a religion everywhere. Of course, it’s a different kind of religion than theistic ones, which necessitates rethinking what we mean by a religion.

But if we take this seriously, Buddhism would not fall under the status of a religion for charity purposes in Australia (and many other places). The relevant Australian definition says there is:

… no reason to move away from the decision made by the High Court in the Scientology case, that a religion must have two characteristics: belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and that there is an acceptance of canons of conduct that give effect to that belief by some part of the community. No submission suggested a different definition of religion.

This is curious to me on a number of levels. First up, i wonder whether Buddhism should fall under this definition. In fact, I would say that I definitely think Buddhism does not believe in the supernatural as it is normally understood – a statement which, however, needs some clarification.

The other curious thing is, why on earth does believing in a Supernatural being justify getting special consideration? I am sympathetic to the radical atheist view, which could argue that, since belief in the supernatural is manifestly irrational, money given to believers is rewarding irrationality.

Of course, religious people do good things, such as giving to charities. But that is not the issue here. Secular organizations can give to charities just as well, and the government can award them charitable status for their good works, not because of a belief in the ‘Supernatural’.

This problem could have very practical implications. Buddhist who applied for charitable status might not get it; or, conceivably, Buddhism could be attacked by hostile forces on these legal grounds.

What does ‘Supernatural’ mean? One definition says ‘not existing in nature or subject to explanation according to natural laws’, which seems fair enough to me. When people use the word ‘supernatural’, they usually mean things like psychic powers, ghosts, other realms of existence, and so on. It’s obvious that Buddhists believe in these things just as much as any religion.

It’s true that there are a few Buddhists, who we might call ‘naturalist’, who deny the reality of these phenomena. But there are also a minority of Christians or others who would take a similar line.Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to meaningfully interpret the Buddha’s teachings in a way that excludes rebirth; however, I would not want to say that someone who denies rebirth cannot be a Buddhist.

However, from a legal point of view, if one was a Buddhist who denied the reality of, say, rebirth, or other aspects of Buddhism that are not scientifically verifiable, could one be said to be following a ‘religion’ in this sense?

The problem is, it seems to me, deeper than this. The very notion of ‘Supernatural’ is one that, it seems to me, arises from Western philosophical assumptions. the basic idea is that there is ‘this world’, which is rational and subject to explanation according to the laws of physics, and the ‘other world’, which operates according to a quite different set of principles, and where the laws of physics no longer apply.

In Buddhism, however, the essential description of the world is not provided by the laws of physics, or other material phenomena. The most important ‘laws’ are the three characteristics – impermanence, suffering, not-self. And these describe any other state of being just as well as they describe ours. For theistic religions, ‘heaven’ is eternal – that is, not subject to conditions, and independent from Time. But for Buddhists, heaven is just as temporary as anything else.

The Sri Lankan philosopher David Kalupahana has developed this idea in detail. he argues that Buddhism is empirical through and through; that even those aspects of Buddhist belief that seem to invoke the ‘supernatural’ in fact merely involve a refining and extension of ordinary sensory capacities. Thus the ability to see beings in other realms is the ‘Divine Eye’, which results, not from the intervention of a force beyond nature, but from the refinement of the mind through the practice of jhana.

In fact, the translation ‘Divine Eye’ is maybe a bit misleading in this context, as there is no notion of divine intervention. The Pali is dibbacakkhu, where dibba is an adjective related to deva, or deity, hence the rendering. But the root meaning of all these terms, still felt very strongly in the Pali, is to ‘shine’, related to the word ‘day’. So it would perhaps be better to think of this power as ‘clarified vision’ – which is exactly the English ‘clairvoyance’.

So, while many of the things that are called ‘supernatural’ do form a part of regular Buddhist belief, I don’t think the word ‘supernatural’ is an appropriate description of these things from a Buddhist point of view. This is more than a semantic issue, for the very Buddhist critique of the ‘supernatural’ forms an integral part of our soteriology. We may believe in these things, but we don’t regard them as being essential or important for our religious path, precisely because they fall within the realm of birth, ageing, and death; that is, they are natural.

The problem is a historical one: definitions of religion in Western law are not supposed to be philosophically precise, but pragmatically effective. They are supposed to deal with the legacy situation that governments are supposed to offer various kinds of support for religions for the common good, and to deal with upstarts like Scientology, who quite cynically try to leverage this support for their own advantage.

Which brings us to the question: why on earth should governments be interested in giving tax breaks or other support to religions anyway? It seems to me there are two main reasons. From the government’s point of view, the interest is in ‘social cohesion’. Religions help keep the fabric of society together. There is an ancient strain, which, depending on your point of view, might be called either pragmatism or cynicism, which runs back to the Greco-Roman days, where people who don’t really believe in the gods still insist that the cults and the festivals be upheld. This is a perfectly legitimate interest that government has, and if the people in government believe that religion does, on the whole, help keep society harmonious, then it is perfectly rational for even atheists to support religion.

From inside the religion itself, however, while social cohesion would be a valued part of religion’s contribution, it does not capture the critical point. Religions believe that they offer something that has a value that transcends anything found on this mortal coil. The benefits offered by religion are not just charity and social harmony, but an eternity of transcendence. And it is this special value that religionists believe sets them apart from any secular philosophy, not matter how good its social ethics may be.

This assumption of transcendant value is impossible to accommodate within secular discourse. How do you weigh up a saved soul against improved health care? And there is the ticklish problem that most religions understanding of the transcendent excludes followers of other religions… But we should not forget that a majority of the people in government actually believe in some such doctrine as this, whether or not it influence their decisions.

Come back to the root meaning of ‘supernature': literally, ‘above or beyond what is born’. There is only one thing that might fit this description in Buddhism, and that is Nibbana. Nibbana is quite literally ‘beyond birth’. It is not ‘supernatural’ in the everyday understanding of the word, but it is supernatural according to the root meaning.

This is still not ideal, and is a stretch of Western theistic ideas into a context where they fit uncomfortably. If this ruling were to be reviewed, i would suggest using a word such as ‘Deathless’, or ‘Unconditioned’, which would suit Nibbana just as it would a theistic God.

It is more problematic to describe Nibbana as a ‘Being, Thing or Principle’. Nevertheless, while philosophically we might quibble, these words are obviously meant to be so general as to encompass just about anything, so in this context I think we could let them pass.

So in the end I think Buddhist scrapes by: it is a religion under Australian law. I understand that this is not the case in some other countries; perhaps some of you have some knowledge of this.

Now on Twitter and Facebook

If I’ve done it right, this blog will now automatically update to facebook and twitter accounts I’ve set up as ‘sujato’. I don’t use either of those apps, so I’m not really sure if it works yet. This is just for the convenience of anyone who does use them – obviously, lots of you. I won’t be following or checking either of these places regularly, so if you want to join the conversation, here’s still the place.

On the Dirgha Agama…

A little while ago there was some discussion about the Sarvāstivādin Dīrgha Āgama manuscript, which has come into the hands of scholars in the past ten years or so, and which is slowly being edited for publication. In 2004 Jens-Uwe Hartmann published a paper that discussed and detailed the structure of the Sarv DA.

I contacted Prof. Hartmann to see what had happened since then. He said that there has been no major developments in the past couple of years. One sutra, the Bodhasutra, has been edited but not yet published. And one problem raised in the 2004 paper has been apparently nearly solved: both the Prasadika- and Prasadaniya-sutras are contained in the ms., contrary to the 2004 paper.

Prof. Hartmann has given permission for me to upload a copy of the 2004 paper “Contents and Structure of the Dirghagama of the (Mula) Sarvastivadins“, Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University 7, 2004, 119-137.

You will notice that this paper refers to the Catusparisat Sutra, which we have discussed in previous threads. The text that Kloppenborg’s translation was made from was that reconstructed by Waldschmidt from texts unearthed in the early 20th century. With the more recent discovery of the larger part of the entire DA, that version, like the versions of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, etc., will need revision. Since all these texts are in ancient fragments, it’s a huge task to produce a readable text. Now that such a large body of text is available, the task is to re-edit and translate the entire thing. Hopefully in our lifetimes…

helping to care for sick bhikkhus

One of my good Dhamma friends, Ramya Panagoda, sent me this article some time ago. unfortunatley i let it languish, but now I’d like to share it with you. It’s about the work done by one bhikkhu to help care for the sick monks. If you’d like to help, leave a comment and I’ll follow up.

Services provided at this temple.

Attending the sick and debilitated Bikkhus

Ven. Amilasiri in his modest manner explained how he single handed cooks their meals, helps the sick monks to clean themselves and feeds them, when they are unable to do it themselves. He has been providing this noble service for more than ten years, without much help from benefactors, often with his bare hands both metaphorically and literally.

The information about this temple and the services the venerable provides has spread to other areas and it appears that often sick and debilitated monks are brought to the temple and left in the vicinity under the cover of darkness. This simply indicates the need of such services in the country and the Ven. Amilasiri’s willingness and the ability of providing this service.

Upasthana for the sick is one of the noblest of activities which Buddha has valued so much as mentioned in the well known stanza in the Dhammapada.

Providing a haven for the young Saamaneras

In addition the temple accommodates about twenty young Saamaneras who have taken refuge in the Sasana and are being educated in the Dhamma by attending classes in the Pirivenas on a daily basis. All these Saamaneras have been orphans or unfortunate children who had come in to conflict with the law. Ven. Amilasiri is doing a yeoman service in this regard by getting the youth who had gone astray, on to the path of righteousness and spiritual upliftment.

How is it managed at present ?

Although the Dayakas of the temple appreciate and encourage him on these wholesome deeds the assistance that could be provided by them is very much limited and he at present depends mostly on random ad hoc donations from well wishers who happen to hear about this temple.

Challenges for Ven. Amilasiri to provide this service.

I have prioritized them and listed below.

1. Lack of regular and established means of providing food and medication for the inmates both sick Bikkhus and Saamaneras.
2. Lack of consumable items such as soap, bedding, towels etc.
3. Lack of funds to cover the funeral rites of bikkhus who pass away.
4. Lack of personnel to help Ven. Amilasiri in cooking and tending the sick.
5. Lack of educational resources for Saamanera monks
6. Lack of adequate space and infrastructure to accommodate the sick Bikkhus.

Opportunities for us to help to provide this service

As a way of short term assistance to this meritorious activity, we perceive the following as means of helping Ven. Amilasiri

1. Volunteering to sponsor cost of providing food and medicine on a particular day or days. According to Ven. Amilasiri the cost incurred for one day is Rs.4,000/= (app.40U.S.$) inclusive of the cost of medical care. It is important to pledge the assistance and make the money available to him early so that he would not have to look for other resources and could concentrate on caring for the monks.

2. Making donations of consumable items such as soap, robes, Towels, bed sheets, etc… as and when we can.

3. Volunteering to sponsor the cost of funeral rites of the Bikkhus who pass away. Ven. Amilasiri has spent on average of Rs. 18,000/= for each of the monk who passed away during the last 6 months. If a list of volunteers could be developed he could contact them as and when the need arises.

4. Volunteering to pay for a person/ persons to help Ven. in cooking and other works (arrangements have been made to pay for 1 person for the year 2010)
Additional assistance needed could be identified by discussing with Ven. Amilasiri.

5. Further discussions with Ven. Amilasiri and Saamaneras are needed to plan out the necessities to improve the educational facilities

6. It is desirable to form a group of volunteers who could support Ven. Amilasiri to develop and implement plans for improving the infrastructure.

We are submitting this information for your perusal and if you would like to join us in any of the proposed activity please get back to us with your comments as soon as possible.

(the following letter was included from a supporter)

Dear friends,

Two weeks ago I have visited a 150 year old temple in a village named Wallawe in Polgahawela. The chief incumbent of this temple is Ven. Amilasiri who is doing a noble, unique service to the sasana in silence. He is accommodating 12 old debilitated destitute priests who have been abandoned as there is no one to care for them in their old age. Ven. Amilasiri gets very little help from the village due to poverty, and he depends on the occasional donations he gets.

The very ill priests are housed in a separate building. The beds in this building are in a very dilapidated condition. The mattresses are all very dirty and some don’t even have bed sheets. Some priests cannot walk to the toilets and urinate on the bed itself.

In addition there are 23 samanera monks. All of whom are children who have been abandoned by their parents for various reasons. When they reach the correct age they are sent to pirivenas for their education.

Ven. Amilasiri has been attending to washing and cleaning the sick priests and their soiled clothes personally. He never allowed the young samaneras to get involved lest they get disgusted of the monastic life.

He wakes up at 3am to cook the dane for the rest of the priests.

After visiting and seeing the challenging work done by Ven. Amilasiri we as Buddhists realized that we need to support him to carry on with his noble work.

On inquiring we learnt that he needs to cook 8 kilograms of rice per day. On Sundays he goes on pindapathe with 3 other samanera monks and collects the rations.

So let us get together to help Ven. Amilasiri to do this noble work.

Instructions for the Temple
If you wish to visit his temple it is situated in a village called Wallawe which is 4 1/2 km from Polgahawela junction on Kurunegala Road. There are 2 approaches one is a road on the right side after the 18th km post soon after you pass the petrol filling station and a bridge. The other is after the 19th km post, the first turn to the right. If you take the first turn always keep to the right, and if you take the 2nd turn always keep to the left. You drive about 2 1/2 km down to come to the name board Sri Bodhirukkarama temple on the right. Turn here and drive down the path which ends in the temple.

Ven. Amilasiri can be contacted on 0779853518 or 0716269713