Amazing & Inspiring

From DailyMirror.lk, thanks to Guptila for passing this on.

Abducted girl gifts children’s hospital to Lanka

MONDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2011 22:30

An Austrian, Natascha Kampusch who hit world headlines in 2006 after she was rescued from a secret cellar where she had been confined for eight years has in an act of benevolence donated a children’s hospital to Sri Lanka built at a cost of Rs.15 million.

She raised the funds to build the hospital at Bulathsinhala by selling books written by her where she depicts the sufferings she underwent in the cellar in Vienna.

The hospital was declared open by Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena last Tuesday.

When asked why she chose Sri Lanka to donate the hospital, she said she loved Buddhism and Sri Lanka.

She was abducted while travelling to school where she was a Grade Four student. Natascha had spent eight years and 176 days as a prisoner and had to survive on a meager ration of food provided by the abductor during her ordeal. She was 18 when she escaped from the celler.

The abductor had told the police that he wanted to marry a girl who pure and untouched by anyone else and therefore had abducted the girl.

Natascha’s book explains her ordeal at the hands of the abductor become a best seller and was translated into several languages including German, French, Russian, Japanese and Chinese.

The Children’s Hospital constructed at Bulathsinghala from the funds provided by her has been named as ‘Natascha Kampusch Children’s Hosspital’.

Natascha is studying Journalism at the Vienna University said her ambition was to serve the children in the world.

Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena presented her with a memento at the opening ceremony of the hospital. (Sandun A. Jayasekera)

Emergence

Religion is, on the face of it, a social movement whose motivation is to inspire the best in humanity. So why does religion make us do the worst? Why, in so many places on so many issues, are the religious forces arrayed on the side of narrow-mindedness, exclusion, and intolerance?

Determined to Survive

I believe the answer lies somewhere in the past. Not in a specific historical event – though these surely color the ways fundamentalism manifests in the present – but in our present relationship with our own deep formative years.

If we look at the various approaches to understanding human nature, we find they all speak in terms of a narrative that depicts a process of change and growth through time. Those narratives take very different forms. In psychology, the narrative is the story of an infant’s growth through formative years to adulthood. In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is the story of the Hebrew people’s encounters with and troubled relationship with their God. In Buddhism, it is the story of an individuals countless past lives, all emparting some lesson, and in the chief example of the Buddha, culminating in the perfection of Awakening.

Each of these narratives is told and retold in countless variations in their own tradition, until they become a background, a way of seeing. They are not so much a sequence of events as a manner of framing understanding.

It seems to me that what these narratives have in common is a notion of ‘troubled emergence’. There is a struggle, a trauma, deeply embedded in our past. This suffering recedes whenever we look too closely; it’s always on the horizon, in the twilight. In the very emergence into consciousness there is a memory of the darkness that came before.

We are creatures emerging from the dark. Caught forever in a moment of transition. We turn our faces to the sun, but in the back of our minds is the thought of the past, a fear mingled with a vague but powerful longing.

This is why I turned my back on the anti-religious atheism that I embraced at age 15, when I discarded the Roman Catholic beliefs of my upbringing. I am all-too familiar with the rationale of the secularist atheists, having espoused it for a decade myself. I’m still an atheist, of course, in the basic sense of not believing in a creator God. But Buddhist atheism is much more accommodating of diverse views and realities than the modern secularists. (That’s another problematic word – I’m a secularist in the sense that I believe society should be organized on a neutral basis with respect to religions, not in the sense that society is better off getting rid of religion.)

But I gradually came to see something suspicious in the idea that we can somehow wipe clean the slate of the past. Start afresh, and rebuild the world from reason. A seductive idea; except unfortunately, we are not made of reason.

What we are made of is the bizarre, unknowable, endlessly complex and fascinating matrix of conditions that have led us to this point. Stop for a moment and just breathe: you are here, and this presence is where your everything has led you.

Religions and other narratives give us a framework for apprehending this numinous reality, this emergence of a vital, living present from the fading obscurities of the past. Religions are complex, contradictory, and troublesome precisely because they honor this complex, contradictory, and troublesome reality.

Different traditions deal with this in ways that suit their own context. In Buddhism, the language we use is that of karma. Doing our best to leave aside the popular misunderstanding of karma as ‘destiny’, what karma really means is ‘action’. Our past actions have created the reality we inhabit; and our future will be shaped by how we respond to that reality. Our past is infinitely dim. Some, it is believed, have the ability to see something of their past lives. The Buddha is recorded as saying he could remember 91 aeons of past lives. But none of this changes the fundamental fact: no matter how far back we remember we eventually disappear in the twilight. The Buddha, perhaps alone among the world’s great religious teachers, said that it was impossible to know the ultimate beginning of things, the first point of that ‘dark mass of ignorance’.

So religions don’t discard the past, like the atheist secularists. But they run the risk of being trapped in it. The darkness really is dark, and it is no less a part of our deep heritage.

Here’s the thing: all the vital, inspiring religious traditions that we live by were forged in a new relationship with the past. The Buddha was constantly dialoguing with religious figures of his time: arguing, agreeing, adopting, evolving. It is sometimes a dance, sometimes a battle, sometimes a game. But is always real, and it has that edge, that unpredictability of the true inquirer.

There are some fascinating studies of schizophrenia. They talk of the voices that make irrational, sometimes violent demands; of the struggles that people have to resist the commands; and of the disturbing sense of relief that comes with giving in.

The commandments of our religious past have a similar quality. They speak to us, in sometimes arbitrary and often unknowable words, making startling claims and impossible demands. How are we to know when these are the words of a wisdom unfathomable to our deluded thinking; and when they are the growlings of the Beast?

This is the struggle that modern religions undertake. And, clearly, we often get it wrong. The bizarre, cruel, and ignorant rantings that we hear so often in the name of religions are, like it or not, an inescapable part of the modern expression of religion. But we can’t merely dismiss the fundamentalists: we have to listen to them (at least occasionally!)

The reality is, painful as it is to admit it, that they represent a portion of what is found in our religious heritage. Not the whole truth, certainly, and not the useful parts of the truth; but the darkness that they espouse so passionately – the hatred of those of a different sexuality, or the exclusion of those of different gender, or the condemnation of those of a different belief – is a genuine part of all religious traditions. It is that darkness from which we are emerging.

It does no-one any good to simply pretend that the darkness is not real – but that is exactly what I find to be the most common reaction: ‘Oh, but that’s not real Buddhism!’ ‘That’s just a cultural accretion.’ True enough on one level, but not very helpful. All it really says is ‘I am going to make a conceptual distinction that allows me to maintain my idealized conception of my own religion’. It’s a coping mechanism, which is not a bad thing. Coping mechanisms are useful – they help us cope! But they don’t take us much further than that. If we want to go deeper, we have to start by accepting darkness as darkness, not to explain it away, but to understand it; and to truly emerge from it.

What is religion?

‘A life that accords with the highest good.’

There, that’s my answer. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, and it always comes back to this.

As I’ve said earlier, I am uncomfortable with the way that secularists use the word ‘religion’: it confuses me, because it doesn’t seem to relate with what religion means to those who practice it. The secularist, disparaging use seems to means something like ‘irrational dogma and superstition’. Of course, these things are found in religion (as elsewhere) but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any religionist who thought of religion in that way.

In some sense, religion serves to orient our life for what we see as ‘better’, even ‘best’. Our ideas of what is best surely differ: but these are just ideas, not the thing itself.

Perhaps it would be clearer if I expanded the definition:

‘Religion is a relatively organized system that typically includes such things as beliefs, doctrine, scriptures, ritual, contemplation, institutions, and communities, all of which are intended to orient or guide the religious practitioner to live in accord with that religion’s conception of the highest good.’

There you have it, the unanswerable has been answered. What do you think? Is this what religion means for you?

Buddhist text resources

Here’s a list of links submitted by commenter Buddhafolk, with a lot of resources for those interested to study Buddhist scriptures in more detail. I’ve added a couple of extras. If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.

Access to Insight has a vast range of Suttas and other texts well translated in English. A no-nonsense portal into the world of Buddhist scripture.

840000.co is an ambitious new project to translate all the Buddha’s words into English. Finally the effort is being made! Check it out, and see if you want to sponsor a page. No texts are available yet, but they promise they will appear this year.

Suttacentral is a comprehensive database of the texts in the four Pali Nikayas, together with their corresponding texts in Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and other languages. It includes detailed references for the text correspondences, as well as links to the original texts and, where available, modern translations.

The Buddhist Literary Heritage Project

The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism has many links a valuable resource for translators and students of Buddhism

Wikipedia has a list of the contents but has no links per line, there are resources tho’

Columbia University

Relevant Resources of Chinese Classical Studies at Princeton

Sacred Texts Archives -Buddhism

Siddham

Fodian Net

International Dunhuang Project

Buddhanet.net has a large pdf collection of all the traditions sutras and many short courses for self-study.

Translations of Gampo Abbey

Free Dharma Texts from Budaedu in Taiwan (you pay the postage they list that’s all) – note all schools listed and most Chinese temples have them all in their librarys and to give away.

Early Buddhists Manuscript Project

An absolutely huge collection of various masters works translated into english – explore others on the sidebar besides Han Shan’s poetry.

Mahayana Sutras in English

Numata Center

Alphonses Taisho Tripitaka index in english and chinese

Tibetan and Himalayan library

Is the Lotus Sutra authentic?

One of our commenters asked about whether the Lotus Sutra was considered authentic according to the Theravadin view.

To answer this from the traditional Theravadin point of view, all the Mahayana Sutras are inauthentic in the sense that they were not spoken by the Buddha. Historically, Theravada has tended to take a dim view of Mahayana, regarding it as a mere degeneration of the pure teachings.

That the Lotus Sutra and other Mahayana Sutras were not spoken by the Buddha is unanimously supported by modern scholarship. I don’t know of a single academic in the last 150 years who has argued otherwise. The basic historical background is given in Wikipedia. The upshot is that the Lotus Sutra was composed over a period of time, or in a number of stages. The oldest sources probably stem from a little before the common era, and it was finalized around 200 CE. This makes it one of the earliest Mahayana Sutras (and it is even argued that the earliest form of the sutra may not have even been Mahayana).

So there is no doubt that the Lotus Suta and other Mahayana sutras are historically late, dating from many centuries after the Buddha. When reading them as historical documents, rather than seeing them as spoken by the Buddha, we should see them as the response and articulation by Buddhists of the past to the conditions that they were in. They were addressing matters of concern for them, asking how the Dhamma is to be applied in these situations. Of course the same is true of many Theravdin texts, although in the case of the early Suttas and Vinaya there is still a core that probably stems from the Buddha himself.

Why were the Mahayana Sutras phrased as if spoken literally by the Buddha? This is a difficult question, and there is unlikely to be one answer. Partly it was just how the literary form evolved. But I suspect, given the visionary nature of many Mahayanist texts, that they often stemmed from meditation experiences; visions of the Buddha, memories of ‘teachings’ received while in samadhi. Perhaps the authors of these texts believed that the Buddha was really present to them in some sense – and this is indeed the theme of many Mahayana sutras. Or perhaps they more humbly believed that they had gained insight into the Dhamma in some direct way.

Is violence in decline?

Steven Pinker has just published a book on the long-term decline of violence in human society. It’s a fascinating thesis he’s been developing for the past several years. Here’s a review plus interview on the Guardian; a rebuttal by John Gray; and more in-depth charts and analysis on edge.org.

I must admit, I have a lot of sympathy for his ideas. In the early Buddhist texts, there are casual descriptions of tortures and brutal punishments that would horrify anyone today. For adultery, for example, a woman has her hands and feet cut off and she is left to bleed to death on the charnel ground. This cultural background makes the Buddha’s non-violence and compassionate approach to discipline seem all the more extraordinary.

Are the Buddha’s views permanent?

This post started out as a reply to a question originally raised by Glenn Wallis, and raised to my attention again by Buddhadhamma. Thanks for bringing it up once more. There are a lot of questions raised here, and I try my best, but don’t always get to answer them all. Time moves on, and sometimes I overlook or forget things. So if you have raised a question and I haven’t answered it, please do remind me.

Glenn Wallis’s original question was:

Do you not believe, furthermore, that the Buddha’s–or Gotama’s–views changed over time, even after his “awakening”? Does anicca apply to everything in the universe but the Buddha’s cognition?

If I remember the context rightly, I had asked Glenn whether his views had changed, because in some places he wrote about ‘A Buddhist Manifesto’, while elsewhere he wrote about ‘speculative non-Buddhism’.

Anyway, regardless of the original context, the question is an interesting one, and I’d like to discuss it from a few angles.

Well, now the vassa of 2011 is over. It’s over now, it will be over tomorrow, and it will always be over. The state of “having ended” is, if you like, a permanent state. But that doesn’t mean that my cognition of that state is permanent. Sometimes I think of the ending of the vassa, sometimes I remember it, and sometimes I don’t.

It seems to me that the same applies to Nibbana. At its simplest, this just means the cessation of greed, hatred, and delusion. For the Buddha, or any arahant, these have ended. Tomorrow they will still be ended, and they always will be ended. So in this sense Nibbana is “permanent” – although this isn’t quite what we normally mean by the word “permanent”. However, the Buddha doesn’t always think of Nibbana. Sometimes he does, sometimes he thinks or reflects or remembers or is aware of other things. So the Buddha’s cognition is changing – which is to say, for the Buddha or any other arahant, this life is still a conditioned process of the five aggregates.

So to speak of Nibbana as “permanent” in this sense is not problematic, it seems to me. It only becomes problematic when we conceive of Nibbana as some kind of existing “state”: an unconditioned reality or consciousness. But, as I have discussed in earlier posts, I don’t subscribe to such a view.

As to whether the Buddha’s views change, we have to carefully distinguish what we mean here. A “view” is a somewhat abstract notion, and it is not always, or perhaps ever, actually present in consciousness. What is present is a specific thought or idea that is representative of that view.

For example, I am of the view that 2 + 2 = 4. I have held that view for a long time, and will, in all probability hold that view for the rest of my life. It’s possible, I suppose, that something might come along and convince me otherwise, but apart from some exotic context in advanced mathematics or physics, this is so unlikely that we can rule it out. So this view is, for practical purposes, “permanent”.

But this statement needs to be held lightly – hence my pomo “quote marks”. It is not permanent in the sense that it is an existing structure that stays forever without any change. It’s permanent in the much more limited and vague sense of being a pattern that recurs in recognisably similar ways that are reasonably consistent and predictable over time.

Of course, the actual manifestation of the view will change. I know that 4 people will fit in a car that has 2 lots of 2 seats. I know that 2 train tickets of $2 will cost $4. Each time I think of this, the exact thoughts will be different. But the pattern is the same, and it is that pattern of thought and idea and so on that we call a “view”.

This is why some schools of Buddhism argued that “concepts” (pannatti) are permanent or unconditioned. Even the Theravadins, usually so strict in such doctrinal matters, wavered a little on this position, sometimes suggesting that concepts were in some sense not impermanent. The actual manifestation of a concept is of course impermanent, but the concept itself is just an abstraction so it does not really “exist” and so cannot be impermanent.

It is in this sense that I would say the Buddha’s views on important matters of Dhamma are “permanent”. He has arrived at his profound insight into the truth, and the view will only change if the truth turns out to be something other. But, as the Buddha’s insight was actually correct, there is no need to change his view, just as I have no need to change my view that 2 + 2 = 4.

This is not to say that he wouldn’t have changed his views on things that are not intrinsic to the Dhamma. On the contrary, the early texts record him changing his mind many times. Take for example the case when he initially decided not to teach the Dhamma, but was persuaded to change his mind by Brahma. Leaving aside the question of the historicity of that passage, it certainly records that the early Buddhist tradition thought that the Buddha could change his mind. But this was not on a fundamental question of Dhamma. It was on a pragmatic point: will attempts to teach Dhamma actually be effective?

Is this really a change in view? Well, maybe, or maybe not. It really depends on what we are referring to when we speak of views. While this can have a much lighter or more vague sense in everyday language, in the Buddhist context, it usually refers to the fundamental conceptual framework of the Dhamma.

If we look at the Buddha’s actual Dhamma teachings, I can’t see any particular evidence that he changed what he taught over time in any fundamental way. There have been various attempts to show that he did, most famously based on the notion that the Atthakavagga of the Suttanipata represents a specially early strata of the Buddhist literature. But I am not persuaded by those arguments, both because I don’t think the Atthakavagga is any earlier than many of the mainstream prose Suttas, and because I don’t think it teaches a substantially different doctrine.

What is likely to have happened is that the Buddha changed the way he taught. This would be quite appropriate given the rapid change and development of his following over the years. In the early times there was a small group of dedicated, attained followers, while in later years you had many less dedicated, less intelligent followers. In addition the seniors had already learnt the basics thoroughly and wanted more detailed teachings (e.g. the Mahanidana Sutta); and there was increasing specialisation in different areas like Vinaya, systematic analysis (proto-Abhidhamma), or lay teaching. Unfortunately, while it seems almost inevitable that such changes would have happened, the lack of any internal chronology in the Suttas makes it difficult to evaluate just how or when this took place.

So to sum all this up, I think we can speak of the Awakened experience as “permanent” in a at least couple of senses. It is “permanent” in the sense that there is a permanent cessation of greed, hatred, and delusion. And it is “permanent” in the sense that it forms a view of reality that is essentially correct and does not need to change over time.

However, neither of these senses of “permanent” are really what we mean when we speak of permanence. There are plenty of ordinary things around us that are “permanent” in the same sense. This is not a permanence of existent things.

This is a difficult question in Buddhist philosophy, which has been raised and discussed many times over the years. I hope this little post helps makes things a little clearer.

Sujato’s back

Greetings to all inhabitants of the internet. Vassa is over for another year (insert sad face icon here) and life starts another round. I’ll get back into posting and curating this blog on a more regular basis. Meanwhile, as usual I say ‘no’ to almost all requests in the vassa, which means there’s a lot of ‘yessing’ to catch up with. For your information, here’s a list of my upcoming events. I hope I can see some of you there! These notes are very brief, please just ask if you want more info on any details. The first two events have already happened, so if you weren’t there you’ve missed out, unless you’re a neutrino or a Sarvastivadin.

 

Multi-faith Forum on Environmental Ethics

Sunday 9/10/2011

University of Western Sydney, Parramatta Campus
 

University of Sydney Interfaith week, Women and Religion panel.

Tuesday 11/10/2011

 

The Good Life – Buddhist meditation and teachings

Friday, October 14, 7.30pm

Well-Aware-Ness Center, 14 Ridge St, North Sydney (weekly).
 

Kagyu Mon Lam Opening Ceremony.

Saturday October 15, 9-11am.

Badgery Pavillion, Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush.
 

Dhamma Talk and Meditation.

Saturday October 15, 7-9pm.

Girl Guides Centre, Crestwood Reserve, Peel Road (near the corner of Leumeah St.) Baulkham Hills.
 

Dana and talk at Indonesian Buddhist Society.

Sunday October 16.

 

Dhamma talk at Blue Gum Sangha.

Tuesday October 18, 7pm.

Well-Aware-Ness Center, 14 Ridge St, North Sydney.
 

Australian Association of Buddhist Studies seminar: The Insatiable Desires of Women. An unexpected twist on a story-telling trope in Buddhist Jataka stories.

Wednesday October 19, 5-7.30pm.

University of Sydney – Wooley Common Room.

 

The Good Life – Buddhist meditation and teachings

Friday, October 21, 7.30pm

Well-Aware-Ness Center, 14 Ridge St, North Sydney (weekly).
 

Metta Meditation.

Saturday October 22, 4-6pm.

Gloria Jeans, 103 George Street (corner Charles Street), Parramatta.
 

Faith Ecology Network Enrichment day. A day of bushwalking and interfaith dialogue at Santi FM.

Sunday, October 23, 9am – 3pm.

 

The Good Life – Buddhist meditation and teachings,

Friday, October 28, 7.30pm

Well-Aware-Ness Center, 14 Ridge St, North Sydney (weekly).
 

Kathina at Santi FM. Annual end-of-vassa robe and requisite offering ceremony.

Sunday October 30, The kathina ceremony will be held after the 11am dana.