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September 20, 2013 / sujato

A good day for fans of the Suttas

Two great pieces of news for all of you sutta fans out there.

First, the first part the long-awaited translation of the Madhyama Agama has been released. This translation was sponsored by the Numata Foundation, with principle translators Ven Analayo and Rod Bucknell, and also Marcus Bingenheimer. It consists of the first 71 suttas (out of 222). This is a historic event, and constitutes the first ever translation of a major early Buddhist collection from Chinese into English.

Moreover, the translation has been done by a highly qualified team, and I have no doubt it will serve to establish a “canonical” method of translation of early Buddhist texts from Chinese, much as the work of Venerables Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi has with the Pali texts.

As a monk I am not supposed to tell people what to do with their money, but I can drop hints. So here’s a hint: go here and buy this book. Is that subtle enough? We’ve ordered some copies for Bodhinyana, and can’t wait to see them. So far the book is released in hard copy only; but this is one book you will want to have on your shelves. Numata does a nice hardback, clean and well-produced. Typically they release their translations in pdf form a few years after the original publication.

The second great news: Wisdom Publications has launched their new website. This includes selections from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations. You can access them through here. If you haven’t started with the suttas yet, this is your best introduction.

September 17, 2013 / sujato

No Early Buddhism course 2014

Dear friends,

We had a great response to our early Buddhism course last year, and we were really looking forward to doing something similar next year. We had a number of discussions about it, and there were some excellent ideas.

However, after discussion, Ajahn Brahmali and myself have decided not to run the course or a similar course next year. Not out of lack of interest, but simply out of lack of time. I will be almost constantly travelling from the end of the vassa until March, while Ajahn Brahmali will be starting building new kutis at Bodhinyana. In addition, I am wanting to put my main
energies for the next year or so into SuttaCentral; and as part of that, Ven Brahmali has undertaken a complete revision of the translation of the Pali Vinaya.

Hopefully we will be able to do something the following year, 2015.

I know that many of your were looking forward to the course, so please accept our apologies!

September 12, 2013 / sujato

Walk in the Dhamma—a cool Dhamma song!

Many years ago I was asked to write a Buddhist national anthem for Australia. I came up with the following set of lyrics, to the tune of Waltzing Matilda (which should totally be our real national anthem!). I forgot about these for years, until recently Dana Murty asked for a copy (thanks, Dana!). I though I’d post them here for your enjoyment.

Once a jolly Buddha camped by a running stream
Under the shade of a Bodhi tree
And he sat and meditated ’till his mind was free
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?

Walk in the Dhamma
Walk in the Dhamma
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?
And he sat and meditated ’till his mind was free
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?

He walked that dusty road down to Benares
To see the five monks staying in the Deer Park
And he taught the four noble truths, the Dhamma he himself had seen:
Suffering, its origin, cessation, the path.

Walk in the Dhamma
Walk in the Dhamma
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?
And he taught the four noble truths, the Dhamma he himself had seen
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?

When Kondannya heard about the middle way
The noble eightfold path that leads to peace of mind
The vision of the Dhamma arose within him clear to see
And so the Buddha said: ‘Kondannya understands!’

Walk in the Dhamma
Walk in the Dhamma
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?
The vision of the Dhamma arose within him clear to see
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?

And now the Buddha’s teaching has come to this big empty land
With waratah and wallabies and scribbly-bark trees
And the ghost of the Buddha may be heard inside the monasteries:
‘Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?’

Walk in the Dhamma
Walk in the Dhamma
Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?
And the ghost of the Buddha may be heard inside the monasteries:
‘Who’ll come and walk in the Dhamma with me?’

August 28, 2013 / sujato

Buddhism sprouts in Africa

It’s been pretty gloomy here recently, so here’s some good news! From

Bhikkhu Bodhiraja who is a Congo citizen ordained only just five years ago, yet he has been a huge service to the order of Buddhism in Congo. He was able to build four Buddhist temples in main cities of Kongo due to his dedicated work. Bhikkhu Bodhiraja is acting with the guidance of Ilukpitiye Pannashekara thero who is currently residing in Tanzania.

Bhikkhu Bodhiraja could gain considerable amount of attention of the Cong people and many who seek spiritual development have become devoted Buddhists already. A Bodhi tree also has been planted in Congo , which is a branch of the bodhi tree in Tanzania planted in 1920.

We wish all the blessings of triple gems, the protection of Devas, physical and mental happiness to be with Bhikkhu Bodhiraja to spread the peace message of the Gauthama Buddha to as much as intelligent living beings.

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

Buddhism in Congo

August 28, 2013 / sujato

Do not go to war

The Syrian government has, to all appearances, launched a major gas attack on its own people. It seems the death toll is around 300, with 1000 more suffering severe symptoms of poison gas. This is a monstrosity, and any government that commits such an act has no right to rule.

This act crossed the “red line” that the US has drawn in the sand about intervention in Syria. The attack is inevitable, and only days away. Australia will support the US, as always.

I’m here to say no. Someone has to.

I think it’s likely that the weapons were in fact used by the Syrian government. Maybe we’re just being lied to, like we were with Iraq. But then, the US really wanted to go to war and needed to invent an excuse. Now I don’t think anyone actually wants war. So let’s assume that we’re being told the truth (for once).

The US and allies will decide on a course of action in a few days. This will, in all probability, involve a limited strike with cruise missiles and the like. It’s unlikely that troops will be landed.

So why not go to war?

  • Killing is wrong.
  • Syria has not attacked the US or anyone else, so this action is not self-defense.
  • It will accomplish nothing except killing and destruction. The Syrian government has withstood a long, vicious civil war, and will not be seriously impacted by a few bombs. In fact, fear of an external enemy may have the effect of uniting Syrians.
  • It will breed a new generation of terrorists and haters of the west.
  • The guilty will not suffer. Anonymous workers at the sites attacked will suffer and die.
  • While chemical weapons are abhorrent, they are no more abhorrent than anything else that kills and maims. Over a million people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guns and bombs are the real weapons of mass destruction.
  • There is no strategic outcome. The US is not looking effect regime change, as there is no regime candidate that is remotely acceptable.
  • No-one knows who ordered the gas attack. In the chaos of Syria, it could be a rogue officer or an official policy. The US and allies want to punish without knowing who is guilty.
  • Any attack, even a limited one, will cost billions of dollars, and will send the message, once again, that the world’s most “advanced” nations endorse violence.

So what to do? Just sit there and do nothing? Actually, in some cases that is all we can do. No-one, no country, no army, is omnipotent. A wise person chooses where their action can be used most effectively. Of course, we should condemn the use of chemical weapons. And we should see if anything can be done that is peaceful, that will not result in anyone getting killed, and that has an likelihood of accomplishing something worthwhile. If not, then we simply have to admit that there are limits to our power, and that we are not responsible for things we have no control over. Ultimately, the Syrians will be masters of their own fate.

August 27, 2013 / sujato

Less blame, more responsibility

We’ve all heard some pretty terrible things from the mouths of so-called religious teachers, but this is a new low. Sheikh Sharif Hussein, an Islamic preacher and imam, used his platform during Friday prayers at the then Allenby Gardens headquarters on March 22 to call for the death of all Buddhists and Hindus, as well as issuing vile, hate-filled diatribes against the Jews, Australian soldiers, and others. The speech was published in an edited form by the US thinktank, MEMRI TV. Please watch this if you haven’t already. Among other despicable rantings, Hussein said this:

Oh Allah, count the Buddhists and the Hindus one by one. Oh Allah, count them and kill them to the very last one.

He has issued a call for the death of all Buddhists and Hindus. Hate speech does not get any worse than this. It is time for the Islamic community in Australia to stop apologizing for such people, blaming media bias and the West, and start accepting responsibility for the actions of their community.

The Adelaide press has reported the matter, and there have been responses from several community representatives, including the Federation of Australian Buddhist Council through its president, Kim Hollows.

The man is deranged. No surprise there; there are always crazy people in our world. What makes him more than just a loon waving a placard is that he has people backing him, and people listening to him. He has a platform, and that platform is supported by an institutional and community basis. This is why the most disturbing aspect of the event is not that such speech exists—which is disturbing enough—but that it is defended and apologized for by institutions in the Islamic community. The center where he gave the talk, the Islamic Da’wah Centre of South Australia (IDCSA) has, unbelievably, issued an actual defense of the speech. The Islamic society of South Australia has not gone so far, but has avoided making any real condemnation.

Imagine if I were to give a speech in the Dhammaloka Buddhist Center, calling for “Death to all Muslims and Christians!” What would happen? Well, firstly, the audience would not believe their ears. That a spiritual leader could say such a thing is so outside their sphere of comprehension, it would take a few moments to sink in. But when it did sink in, there would be an uproar. People would get up, leave, call out in protest. Quickly, the PA would be shut down and I would be firmly asked to leave the premises, and if I didn’t the police would be called. I would be immediately banned from the place, expelled from membership, and the BSWA would issue a statement condemning my statement and totally dissociating themselves from me and my views.

Well, that is what Hussein did, and none of this happened. The audience sat there, apparently quiet and acquiescent during the talk. No-one called out or protested. He was not cut off, but allowed to continue. The talk was recorded by the IDCSA and published by them on their Youtube channel. (The IDCSA still has a video of Hussein giving a talk at their center. Apparently lacking any irony, the talk is on “forgiveness”. Unfortunately the video is private so we can’t see what Hussein thinks about that highly relevant topic.) Again, presumably without any special comment or discussion in their community, this has been current since March. Their community has done nothing about this, but continues to receive “teachings” from this man. Only when MEMRI.TV published the edited clip did anyone say anything.

Now the IDCSA has issued a response. What exactly do they say? Here’s some points:

IDCSA do not necessarily hold the same views/positions of the video

Not necessarily hold the same views?! So they might possibly hold the same views, but maybe not. Well that clears that up then. It’s good to know that the people running this pillar of society do not necessarily wish death on a couple billion innocent people. As inadequate as these weasel words are, they are only the start. They go on to say:

we believe that the Sheikh’s words were clearly taken out of context and put together in a suggestive manner

Let me state this as plainly as I can: there is no context that can justify a call for the murder of billions of innocent people. To even suggest that this statement could be contextualized is nonsense. The man called for genocide. The only moral response is to condemn it.

But it gets worse. What is the context they allege is lacking?

The sheikh presented in his speech some of the war crimes directed against Muslims around the world, something that was completely ignored in the video. While addressing the mass rape cases in Iraq, the Sheikh was emotional and used strong words in addressing those who committed these crimes.

If you have seen the video, you know that this is simply false. The video, while obviously edited from a longer talk (who wants to listen to more of this stuff?), clearly presents Hussein’s allegations about mass rape and the like. The alleged missing context is right there in the video. This means that the IDCSA has either not watched the video (unlikely), or they are lying. Since they are defending a call to genocide, lying seems a good bet. Do they imagine we are all so stupid?

And the statement goes on:

some media organisations are trying to present this video as hate speech while ignoring the fact that denouncing a criminal act is a social right which falls under the general category of ‘freedom of speech’.

Yes, I know, the irony of fundamentalists relying on the free speech argument. Once again, it seems there is a need to spell out something very simple: denouncing what you think is wrong is not hate speech. Calling for the death of billions of innocents is hate speech.

This is obvious, but underlying it is something deeper. There is, concealed in this statement, a basic misunderstanding of what free speech means in a liberal society. Truly free speech is courageous and open. It does not hide behind closed doors, and resort to blame and hypocrisy when it is criticized.

Free speech happens in connection, in a multitude of voices contending, dissenting, arguing. So it only has meaning if there is someone listening. It is not free speech if you just rant and never listen to other points of view. Really listen, with compassion and understanding.

Free speech always tends towards reason and moderation, which is why fundamentalists cannot meaningfully take part in any broader dialogue in society. They can only imagine themselves as the outsiders, as the oppressed. If they actually listened to a voice of reason, they might learn something. Perhaps they might be able to contribute. Perhaps they might be able to join with the very many Australians who opposed the invasion of Iraq, and who turned out in their hundreds of thousands to peacefully protest the war.

And the statement from the IDCSA continues with more lies:

no part of that clip contain any call towards violence and/or friction between the non-Muslims and Muslims or multicultural communities in Australia. The lectures were delivered in relation to the Burmese Buddhist massacre of the Rohingya minority Muslims

No doubt the massacre of Rohingyas in Burma was one of the reasons the Buddhists got called in here. But the video is quite clearly calling for death to all Buddhists.

I remember a little story from when I was in grade 7 at Aquinas College in Perth. Our teacher, Brother McMahon, taught us all a particular way of ruling a page. He asked that we rule all out pages like that in future. The next day he was checking our homework, and saw that one of the students, James Toop, had not complied. He grabbed Toop, pulled him up to the front of class, and started whacking him with his strap. Toop started crying, and tried to talk, but couldn’t get a word in. When it was finished, he explained that he had been absent because sick the day before. Even while sick, he had called a friend to get the homework, and had done it all, but he didn’t know about the page ruling thing.

Terrible, right? So, we all thought Brother McMahon was a dickhead. But we knew well enough that this didn’t mean that all other teachers were dickheads. In primary school, we had learnt the basic moral lesson that if someone does something wrong, they are to blame for that, not everyone who is similar to them in some way.

But when hate burns like a wildfire, when reason exits and dogma reigns unchallenged, such elementary moral distinctions evaporate. Hussein and the IDCSA exhibit a moral consciousness that is more primitive than that of a primary school child. Thus the fact that some people who are Buddhists in Burma have done some dreadful things provokes a call for the death of all Buddhists (and Hindus and Jews and whoever else).

Finally, the inevitable blaming of media bias:

we would like to bring into question the reliability, independence and veracity of a media organisation like MEMRI TV, which has served as a mouthpiece for islamophobes

The IDCSA conveniently supply some links to back their claims up. I followed the links, and here is what they say.

The first link is to a page of the American radical political scholar Norman Finkelstein. The article says that MEMRI doctored a video interview to give the impression Finkelstein was a holocaust denier. A transcript is given, which shows which parts of the interview were kept and which were deleted. Check for yourself, but I can’t find anything in the deleted portions that would somehow construe Finkelstein as a holocaust denier. In fact, in the portion that was not deleted, he clearly says, “my parents passed through the Nazi holocaust. Every member of their families was exterminated during the war and I felt it was important to accurately represent what happened to them during the Nazi holocaust.”

Next there is an intelligent article in the Guardian, which discusses the political bias of MEMRI. The suggestion is essentially that MEMRI does not represent the full spectrum of political discourse in Arab countries, and should not be relied on as a sole source of information for Arab political discourse. There is no allegation that the videos themselves are untrustworthy; in fact at the bottom of the article they say that in the case in point—an allegation that Saddam Hussein cut the ears off deserters—there was independent confirmation.

Then there is a page on Sourcewatch. While repeating the criticism of biased selection, and various other specific criticisms, this also shows that MEMRI’s videos are widely cited.

The next link points to the Wikipedia page for MEMRI’s founder, Yigal Carmon. I am not sure what this aims to prove. Perhaps the fact that he is a Jew who has criticized jihadi extremists is, in the eyes of the IDCSA, sufficient to prove he cannot be trusted.

Next is a page on Counterpunch, where the author says regarding MEMRI: “Thus I specifically retract my allegation that the organization’s translations are questionable, and I apologize for my error.” He repeats the accusation of selective quoting. However, it seems even their critics acknowledge that the translations are correct. (The translation of the talk in Adelaide was independently confirmed by the Adelaide Advertiser.)

Thus of all the sources referred to by the IDCSA, none of them substantially show that MEMRI’s output is inaccurate. For an organization that disseminates information on such a controversial topic, some criticism is to be expected, and no doubt some is warranted. To leap from an accusation of selective quoting to try to argue away the incitement to genocide that was, quite clearly, spoken by Hussein in Adelaide, is utterly disingenuous.

So what is to be done? The shameful truth is that the answer to this is, not much. A principled and meaningful response by the Muslim community simply requires a consistent rejection of this kind of speech.

It seems that Hussein was kicked out of his former base, the Marion Mosque, because of his hate speech. Good on them. The IDCSA should follow this example. And if their leaders do not, the members should call a Special General Meeting, and have the sheikh and his supporters kicked out. This is what any Buddhist community in Australia would do. It is not too much to ask. If they do not do so, they should have their charitable status revoked, and to the fullest extent permissible by law, the SA and Federal Governments should shut them down.

And good on the principled Muslims like Director of the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding Professor Pal Ahluwalia, who clearly and unambiguously slammed Hussein, saying

“The Sheikh has done his Muslim brothers and sisters no favours by preaching hate. Extremism in all of its forms is the natural enemy of truth – so every time this kind of extreme preaching makes headlines it obscures the reality of the strong, ethical, law-abiding, engaged and contributing Muslim Australians who are our neighbours and work colleagues, our class mates and friends. There are extreme groups across all religions and cultures and there are individuals who advocate violence and aggression for their own agendas. What people must remember is that just as Geert Wilders is not representative of all Dutch people or the Army of God does not speak for all Christians, so the extreme rants of one Sheikh do not reflect the views of all Muslims.”

Sadly, though, this voice is isolated. I have tried to find articulate responses from the more progressive of Australia’s Islamic community, and there is nothing here, here, here , here, or here. Perhaps I have missed things; if so, please let me know in the comments.

It is not hard to be honest. We must simply admit that some things done by people who adhere to our religion are bad. Here’s how to do it. There was a Buddhist mob in Burma a few days ago that attacked a police station and went on a rampage, led by three monks. They alleged that a Muslim man had raped a Buddhist woman. Their response was wrong. They should have supported the rule of law. The monks who led the mob should be disrobed, and criminal charges should be laid against them. In addition, the Burmese Sangha needs to give a clear and consistent message of harmony and understanding of difference.

See? Not that hard. I can do it, and so can the voices of the Islamic community. Bloggers, Imams, teachers, leaders, activists, scholars, humans with a voice: where is there someone who has the guts to stop blaming non-Muslims, and start taking responsibility for the acts of Muslims?

August 16, 2013 / sujato

SuttaCentral update

We’ve just gone live with the new update for SuttaCentral. Check it out!

For this edition you won’t notice much change on the front end. But that is as planned. When we finished the newly designed site, our IT monks said, “Actually, now we know how to do it properly…” They (being Vens Jhanarato and Nandiya) found working with the previous incarnation, written in PHP, to be cumbersome, and they love Python. So once we finished, they started rewriting the whole thing in Python 3. This was a fantastic contribution, as it means the whole site is streamlined and optimized under the skin to a far greater degree. Running benchmarks on the full Samyutta Nikaya parallels table, we rendered the entire page on the old version in 38 seconds, while the new version stomps in at 1.5 seconds.

But it’s not just about speed. Python is the preferred language for natural language processing (NLP), and is heavily used by Google for that reason. This has already allowed us to create a fantastic, rich search engine: check it out! We already have title search, multiple full text searches, dictionary lookup, and even, for place names, automatic generation of locations on Google Maps. This is only the beginning of some powerful tools for analysis and comprehension of the texts.

More prosaically, we have resolved the former problems with Vietnamese fonts, and in fact have sponsored the design of a special version of Skolar font for Vietnamese. I’ve worked with the font designer, David Březina, to create the special Vietnamese diacritical marks. This is part of our push to use the highest possible standards of web typography in the demanding, multi-language environment of Buddhist texts. These are the words of the Buddha, and they deserve the best.

In addition, there are several new translations online, including additions to the Digha Nikaya and Samyukta Agama. However, our in-house translations are still limited. I hope to complete the corpus of original language texts this year, including Vinaya and Abhidhamma in all versions. Once this is done we can focus on gathering the translations.

August 15, 2013 / sujato

Interfaith forum

Last night I attended an interfaith forum hosted at UWA, and put on by the Uniting Church and others. You can see the details on the website, and hopefully there will be some video of the event up soon. Then you can check out what they had to say themselves; meanwhile I’ll give just a couple of comments below.

The purpose of the event was to raise the tone of political dialogue by seeking direct and meaningful responses from politicians on issues regarded as of urgent importance by religious communities.

Each religious representative was asked to give two questions, which the politicians responded to. The questions covered a broad range of issues, including, as one would expect, climate change and asylum seekers, but also questions such as religious vilification, the homeless, and wealth inequality.

The pollies present were Sen Scott Ludlam for The Greens, and Ms Alannah McTiernan, Labor Party candidate for Perth. The Libs were absent.

Unfortunately there was no chance for dialogue, it was a pretty much straight question-answer affair. Still, this did give the chance to hear some reasonably coherent and rational presentations of the issues.

Here are the two questions I asked.

Question 1

In the past year we have seen multiple incidents of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims. Nearly every country in our region has been involved: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia. On 7th July the most sacred site for Buddhists, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment in Bodhgaya, India, was struck by 9 home made bombs. As I write, the culprits have not been identified, but it is suspected that this is a reprisal for the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. And on 4 August a bomb was set off at a Buddhist temple in Jakarta, also apparently reacting to the repression of the Rohingyas. What is your party doing to promote harmony between Buddhism and Islam, quell the sources of sectarian conflict, and in particular, to promote Australia’s successful example of multi-faith cooperation?

To this question Sen Ludlum responded by confirming that Australia had a respected role to play in countries such as Burma, particularly due to our large aid contributions. Ms McTiernan, on the other hand, gave what I thought was a rather astonishing non-answer, which ranged from the lack of European culpability in creating the world’s problems (!) to asserting that I should be asking the religious leaders to look after this issue. Which, considering that I was actually invite to ask questions of Australian politicians, was weird.

Thankfully, this non-answer was entirely different from the response I got from Bob Carr when I asked him the same question a month or so ago. He responded by saying that he was going to Rakhine state to raise the profile of the issue, to assert Australia’s support for Rohingya citizenship, and also emphatically re-asserted his support for the ongoing series of Regional Interfaith Dialogues, which have been sponsored over the past several years by DFAT.

At least by asking the question I hope to put the issue on notice, and to affirm that the Australian Buddhist community is not interested in a partisan slution, but in genuine lasting harmony. I do believe that the Australian Government has a role to play in this, and can do more to highlight the success of our multifaith society. Nevertheless, the important work is to be done at the grass roots, by you and me. Don’t let the dialogue of hate gain traction among your family, friends, and colleagues!

Question 2

For the last several years the Australian Buddhist community, with the leadership of the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils, has strongly expressed its support for legalization of same-sex marriage. Past months have been a watershed for this issue internationally, with major shifts in both public opinion and legislation in the US and many other countries. What are you and your party doing to finally bring an end to the social and legislative discrimination against persons of diverse sexualities and genders?

In this case both pollies expressed their support for same sex marriage. Obviously the Greens have been pushing the issue for years.

As it happens, it was only a couple of days after I submitted the question that Kevin Rudd announced he would allow a conscience vote if he is reelected. The politicians did offer different opinions on this: Sen Ludlum wondered whether that was a purely cynical move, knowing that such a vote would fail. But Ms McTiernen, interestingly, said that she was very confident that a vote on the issue in the next few months would succeed. Time will tell.

Just one final comment. Something that stuck in my mind was a remark by Sen Ludlum about climate change. He was, incidentally, a very impressive speaker, soft spoken, well informed, with an intelligent and reflective perspective on every question. He remarked, almost in passing, that one of the reasons he stood for re-election was that he was terrified by the prospect of a bunch of climate change denialists getting into power. Australia has introduced a number of meaningful reforms, and these are having an effect: our carbon emissions are down this year. If we were to dismantle this architecture, we would be put back a decade in addressing a problem which will determine the survival and nature of human civilization in the coming centuries. We can’t expect to look after our precious, fragile, limited planet, if our policies are determined by people whose ideology is disconnected from such a plain reality.

August 15, 2013 / sujato

Sensing Disability in Buddhism

Dear friends,

Please see below the upcoming forum regarding Buddhism and disabilities. If you are in Sydney, take the chance to go along and learn something about the relation between Buddhism and disability.

Sensing Disability in Buddhism: A Reading Against the Grain

Australasian Association of Buddhist Studies Seminar Series
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
5.30pm – 7.00pm
N208, Woolley Building, University of Sydney.

Popular Buddhist narratives and iconography abounds with images of bad physicians who become blind or disfigured monks, lepers who put the Buddha in trouble, menstruating nuns who shame the Sangha and a perfect Tathāgatha who embodies the 32 marks of moral perfection. “Dwarf” Arahants, overworked doctors, Vedic notions of pollution and Buddha’s chronic illnesses are often left out of the picture. This presentation will explore themes surrounding constitutional, legal and normative paradigms of inclusion and exclusion embodied in and enforced by Buddhist hermeneutics of the body, karmic multi-life commentaries and hegemonic readings of the Vinaya.

In the first section of my presentation, I will discuss the ideal of moral or virtuous bodies in Buddhism, including the Buddha’s body. It will present contradictions and disruptions in selected Karmic multi-life narratives in the Dhammapada Atthakatha and Thera Apadana. These inter-textual inconsistencies will be contrasted with Buddhist concepts of inter-subjectivity and multi-conditional embodiment in Suttas like Sukkamala Sutta, Upajjhatthana Sutta, Sivaka Sutta and Girimananda Sutta. This section also explores how resorting to explanatory frameworks of multi-life karmic causality to understand exceptional bodies and events can lead to karmic social hierarchies and marginality. This has significant implications for Buddhist ethics in contemporary society.

In the second half of my presentation, I will examine codes relating to bodies “out of order” in the Vinaya; particularly Mahavagga 1.39 – Mahavagga 1.71 and its attendant commentaries and sub-commentaries. I will shed light on how textual modalities of differentiation, notification, prioritization and ranking are adopted to create an elusive monastic ideal of embodied virtue in relation to exterior embodiments (‘deformed’, criminal, female, intersex etc.) which are negated or granted provisional subjectivity. Drawing on narratives of a “dwarf” Arahant, a serial killer and celebrity monks on youtube, this presentation will highlight how such provisional subjectivity both affirms and disrupts karmic and monastic normative ideals.


Niuka Gunawardena is a Doctoral candidate at the Law School at Griffith University. She has a long standing commitment to Disability rights and Dhamma practice. She has been working on a campaign to make all major Buddhist religious sites of worship in Sri Lanka accessible for all. The recent pledge to provide ramp access to Ruvanveliseya in Anuradhapura was a major collective achievement in this regard. She is also a passionate educator and has worked in secondary schools in USA and Sri Lanka. She is dedicated to helping children understand disability, diversity and marginality in a framework of compassionate, inter-subjective Buddhist Ethics.

August 8, 2013 / sujato

Seeking an editor

Dear friends,

For the past few years I’ve been involved with the group AABCAP, who have run a wonderful course on Buddhism and Psychotherapy. We’ve planned to make a book based on the course, and have interest from a publisher. However, we need an editor. We don’t have any funds available, so I’m afraid it is strictly a volunteer job. If there’s anyone with the skills and time, and of course interest, to help out with this, we’d love to hear from you.


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