Sanskaras are learned
We find that most spiritual systems seem to be trying to decrease the attraction or greed as well as repulsion, hatred, dislike towards things (Dharmas), but simply arriving at a state which is neutral to these two only lands us squarely into Moha. But most spiritual traditions are not even aware of this and thus instruct people to cultivate this neutral state (Tathasthata), which in effect is Moha. That is why simply remaining in awareness in a neutral state, no matter what name you give that awareness like Choice-less Awareness, Sakchi (witness), Drasta (Watcher), Gyata (Knower), Pure Awareness by itself (Chin matra), Atman (Self), etc. etc. does not free one from the neutral state of Moha. This is so even if that so called Awareness is without thoughts and concepts and non-dual.
Going back to Nagarjuna, we have already mentioned that he has said Karma Klesha Cchayaan Mokcha or liberation is attained when Karma and Klesha (emotional defilements) are pacified etc. He goes on to say in his Magnum Opus, the Mula Madhyamicakarika (Tsa Uma) that Karma Klesha Vikalpata or Karma and Klesha (emotional defilement ) arises from Vikalpa (Vikalpa as we have seen is verbal conceptual thinking). So what this means is that it is our conceptual thinking pattern which create our Karma and our Kleshas (emotional defilements).
Let's analyze this a little more on the basis of all that we have covered so far. When I see a rose, emotions of my liking it, etc. etc. are stirred up in me, which is Kama Cchanda or desire, attraction, liking. Now, this is heavily based on my conceptual thinking acquired through my upbringing etc. that that is a rose and a rose is 'beautiful', a rose is nice, a rose is a rose is a rose by whatever name you call it, etc. etc. Well, to an untrained un-sanskarita, not yet conditioned child, a rose and a lump of shit are the same. All this is not to say that Buddhism vouschaffes for the state of mind when a rose and lump of shit are the same as that is what we have been explaining as Moha (confusion or dullness). However, the point here is that those conceptual frameworks in us that tells us that the rose is beautiful and the lump of shit is yuck also binds us to the fact that they arise merely from learned concepts to such an extent that we are ready to murder strike or even go to war for those concepts forgetting that they are acquired conceptual frameworks through which we are supposed to experience the world aesthetically.
Concepts and meditation techniques
Conceptual frameworks in us that tell us that the rose is beautiful and the lump of shit is yucky (example from previous article) and that bind us to the fact that they arise merely from learned concepts to such an extent that we are ready to murder, strike or even go to war for those concepts, forgetting that they are acquired conceptual frameworks through which we are supposed to experience the world aesthetically.
Therefore, merely stopping conceptual thinking by stopping thoughts through various methods is not enough. As first of all, these concepts remain latent and come out with a vengeance once allowed to appear. Even if they are suppressed through various kinds of methods like Nirvikalpa Samadhi for many Kalpas, they would just remain latent and remain ready to pop their heads up as soon as the Samadhi ends. That is why going into various Samatha-style Samadhis or just remaining thoughtless or non-conceptual does not really free us from Karma and Kleshas (emotional defilements) which bind us. We do not become liberated or free from Karma and Klesha (emotional defilements) by just practicing remaining in some kind of a thoughtless or concept-less state.
Within Buddhism, there are two major categories of meditations. One is the group of meditational techniques which help calm down the mind by decreasing thoughts and concepts. There are many kinds of meditations which can achieve this and Buddhism by no means is the only repository of this kind of meditation which helps to calm down the mind of thoughts and concepts. Various meditation techniques from within Hinduism or even Sufism or Christianity or Jainism all belong to this category. In Buddhist technical language this form of meditation is called Samatha. 'Sama' means to remain in the 'same or unchanged' state, which means quiet without changing with new thoughts etc. every second, and 'stha' means to remain. So Samatha means to remain the same or quietened or tranquil or pacified free from thoughts and concepts. All the various types of meditation found within the Indian subcontinent today followed by various schools of Hinduism and Jainism and even new schools of thoughts like Rajneeshism or Krishnamurtiism all fall within this category of meditation called Samatha.
True, it is that Krisnamurti claimed he had no method as all methods are conditioned wrong, etc. etc. but in spite of his claim of a pathless path and following no methods, he did advocate remaining choice-lessly aware moment to moment. Well, that is a method and it is a type of meditation which comes under the category of Samatha meditation.
Samatha meditation in detail
Krisnamurti claimed he had no method as all methods are conditioned wrong, etc. etc. but in spite of his claim of a pathless path and following no methods, he did advocate remaining choice-lessly aware moment to moment. Well, that is a method and it is a type of meditation which comes under the category of Samatha meditation and has been used by both Buddhism and Kashmiri Shaivism for thousands of years. It is definitely not new as Krishnamurti seems to imply, and within Buddhism just remaining choice-lessly aware of whatever happens is only a kind of mindful mediation and in itself does not automatically liberate us from Karma and Klesha, and thus does not liberate us from the conditioned mind (to put it in Krisnamurti's own words).
No Samatha type meditational methods will liberate us and remaining merely in awareness certainly is not a new, fresh method discovered by Krisnamurti. Various methods of dropping thought so that only a kind of pure awareness by itself remains (chin-matra or Awareness only or Drasta-matra, watcher alone etc. etc.) no matter what method is used and no matter what name is given to that method like Kundalini yoga, Dynamic meditation, etc. etc. are all plain and simple Samatha methods. And as we have said often and again it is a very basic tenet of Buddhism that there is no freedom from Karma and Klesha emotional defilement, which means there is no liberation (Mokcha, Mukti, Tharpa in Tibetan) and thus no enlightenments by practicing only Samatha types of meditation.
Why? Very Simple. All such types of meditation only stop thoughts and concepts temporarily by blocking them (Viskhambana) or suppressing them. But even while they are blocked, they continue to remain latent in the mind ready to pop their head up as soon as the person comes out of the Samatha or Samadhi. Samatha or Samadhi only push or block the emotional defilements temporarily, like suppressing them into the unconscious. When the person is in the Samatha-Samadhi, all such Kleshas or emotional defilements are blocked, so the person appears to be free from them but since nothing has been done to cut their roots and thus really destroy them, they will pop their head up as soon as the person comes out of their Samatha and the causes and conditions for them to appear arise. Thus, we have stories of ancient cities being destroyed by Rishis or Seers in spite or in anger even though they had the capacity to remain in Samadhi for long periods.
Samatha meditation in detail II
Let me make it clear that every type of meditational practice found within all non-Buddhist systems can all be subsumed under Samatha type meditation, no matter what their name and how exotic they may appear. Let us again try to understand Samatha. Samatha is an important aspect of the Buddhist meditation. It is mainly about cultivating the capacity to remain one-pointed on any object. As the classical definition goes: Samadhir Upaparichaya Vastuni Chittasaik Agrata.
Samadhi is the one-pointed concentration of the mind on the object of its investigation. Of course, there are many levels of one-pointed concentration on the object of its investigation and only one pointed concentration beyond a certain level can be called Samadhi. There are many levels of Samadhi. In the Buddhist categorization, there are four or five levels of Samadhi depending on the categorizing method used. These four are called: First Dhyana, Second Dhyana, Third Dhyana and Fourth Dhayan respectively as one achieves higher and higher levels of Samadhis.
Samadhis create various Siddhis such as abilities to read others' mind and future and past, etc. etc., but such abilities have nothing to do with enlightenment or liberation (Mukti/Moksha). Such abilities are developed through the practice of Samatha type of meditation and we have already said that such types of meditations only block Kleshas (emotional defilements) temporarily and do not really uproot them. As the Kleshas (emotional defilements) are not uprooted, they cannot be free us from Dukha/suffering as Karma and Klesha are the root causes of Dukha. As practitioners of samatha type samadhis are not liberated or freed from Dukha/suffering yet, they cannot be called liberated (Mukta) even though they seem to posses all sorts of fantastic super normal powers called Siddhi-Riddhi.
In the Indian Subcontinent (Bharat Vasha), there are two meanings of the word Siddha, which is often not distinguished by the average layman. The word means 'achieved' or 'attained'. So the person who has achieved or attained liberation is called a Siddha or Mahasiddha as the famous eighty four Mahasiddhas are called. However, there are many Yogis who have achieved super normal powers through rigorous practice of Samtha type of Samadhis and since such super normal powers are called Siddhi-Riddhi, such people are also called Siddhas. However, such people have not attained liberation (Mokcha/mukti) and thus are not Siddhas in that sense. Very often these two meanings are hopelessly mixed up in the psyche of the people of the Indian subcontinent. So this has to be cleared up. The Buddha was very emphatic that the two types are not the same.
Use of miraculous powers in Buddhism
Just because a person has miraculous powers (Siddhi Riddhis) does not guarantee that the person's also liberated (Mukta) or enlightened (Bodha Prapta), but an enlightened person will have some extraordinary powers. However, many enlightened persons normally do not display them throughout their life except in exceptional cases. This is a rule of law by Buddhist Masters as it was the command of the Buddha himself not to display one's miraculous powers (Siddha Riddhia) in the public.
There is a story of Bharadwaj Pindola, a bhikchu and a disciple of the Buddha himself who had miraculous powers. One day while returning from his alms taking round, he saw a competition being held in a public arena. Atop a tall poll was a fish and it was announced that whoever could bring that fish down without touching it,it would prove that his Master was the greatest Master alive. Many people tried all sorts of tricks but failed to bring the fish down. When Pindola Bharadwaj heard this, he felt I could easily fly up and bring the fish down. Why not use my power to prove to the world that my Master is the greatest living Master right now?
So he flew up to the top of the pole and picked the fish up and came down. He was of course applauded and his Master Gautama, the Buddha, was declared the greatest Master. Pindola Bharadwaj was very happy that he had helped declare the Buddha as the greatest Master with the help of his miraculous powers. He was sure the Buddha would pat him on the back and appreciate it. However, when the Buddha heard this episode, he called Pindola Bharadwaj and chastised him in front of all the monks and said - let it be known that whoever displays miracles (Siddhis) like this, that this is a sign that, that person is not my follower.
Although Maudgalayayana, Aniruddha and Sagatha, many other disciples and the Buddha himself did continue to use miracles, they were always in a very specific context, always as part of the Dharma and never as an ego display. And in later centuries too in India, Tibet, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, etc. etc., great Masters continued to use miracles when appropriate but never as some sort of display or ego play. In Buddhism, the Dharma (teaching) is more important than the personality of the Guru. It is the Dharma (teaching) that is primary, not the person and his siddhis for quite often people with siddhis do not have any liberating teachings to give to their disciples. The patanjala sutra of the Hindus says "Janma ausadha mantra tapa Samadhi ja siddhayor" ie- siddhis are born from birth (some have it at birth itself), medicinal drugs, mantras, austerities and from samadhis (here it means samatha-samadhis as explained before). And many Buddhist text say to the same effect. So a person can have siddhis-riddhis (miraculous powers and not be enlightened and not have authentic teachings that can help liberate others through her/his teachings.
Use of miraculous powers in Buddhism II
In Buddhism, it is the Dharma (teaching) that is primary, not the person. Miracles are displayed to attract people to the charismatic personality and miracles are also displayed to attract people to the liberating teaching which will help them. There is a fine dividing line between these two which is sometimes muddled up by the average layman but to distinguish between the two is paramount to Buddhist culture.
Whereas one develops a personality cult which always in the long run leaves the followers empty handed once the personality is gone, except perhaps with fond memories of the charismatic person. In the second, besides the charismatic personality who is always secondary to the teaching (Dharma), the followers have a liberating Dharma to help them continue their way to liberation after the charismatic personality is gone, in the form of the lineage which has other enlightened beings or advanced beings who will continue to propagate the Dharma, and in the form of the Sad Dharma (authentic Dharma) on which people can rely (with the help of the enlightened lineage Masters of course) to continue their path to liberation and enlightenment. In the case of the personality culture, there is only the fond memory of the personality to worship and no Dharma or enlightenment lineage to continue the practices.
This is why in Buddhism the greatest miracle that the Buddha performed is considered the miracle of the Dharma because for over two thousand five hundred years, this Dharma (teaching) has liberated people from generation to generation. The Dharma includes the theoretical aspects related to the practice and the practical aspects. What is normally considered as miraculous powers are not really miraculous after all the best it does is make the people become interested in the entertainment it provides. They do not per se contribute to the alleviation of suffering (Dukha) of sentient beings. But the Sad Dharma contributes to helping sentient beings free themselves from the suffering if applied. And through that Sad Dharma contributes to societies as a whole.
If a Dharma (teaching) does not produce enlightened, liberated persons from generation to generation who can pass on the knowledge to the next generation the knowledge of the possibility of liberation and the knowledge of the technology through teachings and example, then it is not a Sad Dharma (authentic Dharma). If in the name of Dharma, man is made into only a blind slave to some ideologies or Sanskaras (conditioning) for which s/he is even willing to blindly kill others or die for it with no sight of any genuine authentic means to free oneself from the oppression of deep-rooted suffering in the here and now (and not merely a promise of happy future in some heaven after death, etc.), then according to Buddhism that is not a Sad Dharma, or an authentic, genuine and true Dharma as it does not alleviate my suffering in the here and now.
Importance of learning from an authentic master
It can be said without contradiction that the only true miracle is the miracle of the Sad Dharma, which liberates you in the here and now or helps us liberate or helps start the process of liberation in the here and now which by the way are and should be experiential, not merely intellectual. Mere intellectual-conceptual understanding of the Dharma is very important as it provides the road map or compass but such knowledge of the Dharma doesn't in itself liberate. However, it is part of the process of liberation. If there is no proper compass or road map, the person doesn't even know where s/he is headed. It is like a blind man walking down a road without knowing where he is going and why he is going. That is why just sitting down to do this or that meditation without any road map at all is not conducive to liberation. Such meditation can relieve stress and relax the person if done properly but such experiences do not automatically produce liberation automatically. One does not need to be a Pandit but one does need a road map or compass before starting out on the journey. That is why such methods are not the Buddhist ways.
Within Buddhism itself, there are many ways a Master or a lineage provides you the road map. The most common and well known throughout the Buddhist world is to study under a qualified Master until at least the development of Srutamayi Pragya/Wisdom arisen from listening.
Srutamayi Pragya means wisdom developed through listening to the Master by hearing his teachings, etc. In ancient times, books were not so easily available as it is today. However, it must be said that books do not and cannot replace a living Master's teaching. Books are not primary but rather can be at the most only secondary sources of developing the Srutamaya Pragya for many reasons.
These reasons are, first and foremost, books do not have the energetic connection that you get when you are sitting at the foot of any authentic Master. The energetic connection (called blessing) is an integral part of the process of understanding the liberating Dharma at this beginner's level. Books can never provide that. That's why many seekers have found that difficult part becomes easy to understand when in the presence of an authentic Master. And I'm not talking about the skill in teaching the Dharma which comes naturally to a Master who by virtue of having travelled the path herself can easily understand where you are at or where you come from, from your very questions. All these will be missing in books of course.
Development of shrutamaya pragya with authentic master
The second problem with trying to develop Srutamaya Pragya from mere books alone is that you cannot ask questions to confirm if your personal interpretation or understanding is correct and in accordance with the unbroken, enlightened lineages. That is why a so-called self-acclaimed Master who has not really studied and practiced under at least one lineage Master belonging to an unbroken, enlightened lineage cannot be considered an authentic Master (Sad- Guru) within the Buddhist culture.
And finally, the idea that you can get everything out of a book and you do not really need a living Master to help you is only a form of intellectual hubris which is highly detrimental to the spiritual path. After all, this is the display of an ego that due to her own psychological insecurity is afraid to surrender her ego to somebody else. As the whole purpose of all forms of spiritualism in general and specifically Buddhism is to let go of the ego, insisting on only truly understanding solely through the help of books and avoiding commitments to a living Master (Guru) is counterproductive to any spiritual endeavour, to say the least. And by living Master, we have to exclude so called visionary Masters based solely on their own visions or those who base themselves only on one's own intuitive ideas or channels or media etc. etc., as until one is fully purified or at least purified to a great extent through proper methods learnt from a living Master which in the Buddhist context includes a living linage, all such methods are only stooges of one's own ego therefore still counterproductive especially to Buddhist spirituality.
Then there is what is called the "Pith Instruction" from a living Master which can boycott long periods of study. However, that still requires continuous and long periods of validating with the Master over and over again as all such short path instruction by virtue of being skeletal- bare and short are more prone to misunderstanding or misinterpretations than not. In the case of untrained people, they can veer off at a tangent and land in places (interpretations) which can be quite contradictory to what the Master of the pith instructions means or intends. Words are not as simple as most people believe. Words are charged with intellectual and emotional connotations and innuendos and thus the more pithy the instructions are, the more liable to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. This automatically demands easy access to the Master to verify and validate and confirm one's understanding again and again from various angles and such a thing cannot be done merely through books. So this is the development of what is traditionally called Srutamaya Pragya/wisdom developed through listening, the first step in Buddhism.
Importance of investigating the path for yourself
Even in the system of Pith instruction, the Pragya (wisdom) is not eschewed but rather the bare essentials are presented by the Master. The disciple still has to listen to the Master's Pith instructions, etc. In the Burmese and many Thai traditions, it is considered that one must study the Abhidhamma before embarking on the practice of Vipassana/Vipashayana. However, just listening to a Master (Guru) is not enough to complete the Path.
Buddhism does not believe in blind faith, just acceptance, or what the Buddha said or what the Master (Guru) said. It is paramount to investigate whether what he taught is true or correct or valid. Buddhism does not believe in accepting whatever the Buddha said. That is not the teaching of the Buddha and it is certainly not the Buddhist culture. One must investigate, analyze and find out for oneself whether those teachings are true, correct or valid. And this is done not only conceptually or intellectually but more importantly through experience, where it is applicable. This in the Buddhist technical language is called Chintamaya Pragya or wisdom arising from deliberation of what was taught. It is very important to confirm for oneself that what was taught is valid, authentic and correct. That is why it is called Chintamaya Pragya, i.e. Pragya (wisdom) based on cognition and contemplation. This is where you put the teachings to the test, where you investigate through various means to conclude finally for oneself that the teachings (Dharma) are true, authentic, correct, valid, etc. etc. Once one has understood, at least intellectually first, and then experimentally the concepts, views and ideas of the teachings (Dharma), then one needs to see for oneself if they are valid, correct or true.
Many people believe that if you can experience it, it is true; but one can experience a snake in a rope but that is false, so just experience alone is not enough. One needs to validate whether that experience is true or false, whether that experience is in accordance with the Dharma or not, where the experience helps liberate us or binds us more into the chains of Samsara. That is why there are right views and wrong views, right Samadis and wrong Samadhis correct paths and false paths. Most laymen believe that if a person can go into Samadhi that's the litmus test he/she is a Yogi worth the salt, and we can learn from him how to liberate oneself. That is simply an over simplified and rather naive idea according to Buddhism.
Investigating the path to move forward
The Buddha himself warned that there are Mithya Samadhis (false Samadhis). If a person can go into any Samadhi, even a false Samadhi, it is an experience. Therefore, just experiences are not enough and are not a litmus test for the teachings. It is the contemplative wisdom (Chintamaya Pragya) that distinguishes all these fine points and gets us on the right track. But just thinking alone too is not enough as there are straight, correct thinking and distorted and wrong thinking. Even in straight correct thinking, there are many kinds of thinking, like linear thinking, like analytical mathematical thinking, like non-linear, circular thinking, and metaphorical thinking. And one may not be trained properly to think in sophisticated ways. That is why we need a Master who can help us by answering our questions. That is why at this stage, it is necessary to ask questions, even challenge the concept of the Dharma to make one's own view sharp and correct. Just blindly accepting what the Master says is detrimental to the development of Chintamaya Pragya, even if the Master is a Great Master. This is where Buddhism encourages each person to find out for themselves whether what the Buddha taught is valid or not.
And this can be done only be investigating, analyzing and asking questions. It is very important to clarify any doubt one has by asking questions to the Master or whoever is qualified and not politely accepting whatever is said as that will not help clarify one's confusions about the views etc., although one has to go beyond doubts and should not remain a Doubting Tom forever, otherwise there is no progress. This also does not mean that these doubts should be suppressed or waived aside or politely swallowed but rather clarified by asking questions. At this stage, it is very important to doubt and ask questions to clarify the doubts and not accept things simply because the Buddha said it or the Master (Guru) said it or it is written in the texts or it is helped by the lineage (Parampara) etc.
In Kalam Sutta, the Buddha has said very clearly that: "Don't go by reports, by legends, by logical conjecture, by probabilities, by tradition, etc. etc., but find out for yourself (with the help of wise ones, meaning qualified Masters) whether that is true or not, especially find out from your own and the wise ones' experiences" (extracted from Thanissaro Bhikhu�s translation).
Importance of investigating the path with a master
In Kalam Sutta, the Buddha has said very clearly that: "Don't go by reports, by legends, by logical conjecture, by probabilities, by tradition, etc. etc., but find out for yourself (with the help of wise ones, meaning qualified Masters) whether that is true or not, especially find out from your own and the wise ones experiences"(extracted from Thanissaro Bhikhus translation). And among the list in the Kalama Sutta, which the Buddha told to the Kalamas was, "Do not accept it simple because it was said by person who happen to be your Guru but Kalama when you yourself know, these things are good (conducive to my progress) these things are blamable, these things are praised by the wise, understood and observed; these things lead to benefit and happiness, enter on and abide in them."
So we need to find out for oneself with the help of the wise ones (Master or Masters) whether or not these things are valid. One needs to be convinced fully first and then accept them and move on (enter and abide in them, as the Sutta or Sutra says). Sutta in Pali is Sutra in Sanskrit are the words of the Buddha himself.
This Kalama Sutra is found in both Pali and Sanskrit literatures and not only in the Pali Theravadin literature as some Nepalese Theravadin's new fangled followers imagine. Some new Modernist interpreters interpret it as if the Buddha himself taught not to believe in anybody but to find out solely by oneself (somewhat similar to J. Krisnamurti's ideas), but this kind of interpretation would contradict what is said in the Sutra itself and many other Suttras like Majjihima Nikaya 961,95; Anguttara Nikaya 7.79 and 8.53, Majjihima Nikaya 110, Anguttara Nikaya 4.192 and 8.54.
So it is not correct in Buddhism to believe blindly or accept simply on faith to anything within Buddhism and you are required to vigorously think, contemplate and ask questions, verify, clarify for yourself whatever has been taught until you yourself see for yourself, at least conceptually if not experimentally that what has been taught is valid, true, correct, fruitful, factual, etc. etc.. However, such thinking, cogitating, contemplating, analyzing, etc. etc., does not mean to not depend on anybody else, just find out for yourself. This is not possible. It would be like saying do not depend on any scientists but to find out for yourself if whether, whatever science says is true, fact, real and correct or not. Such an idea is absurd, yet many self-styled modern Theravadins of Sri Lanka and their followers in Nepal stricken by out-dated Modernism go around parading this quaint nonsensical thinking as the Buddha's teachings in spite of the fact that the Buddha himself has in many other Suttas said very clearly to the contrary.
Investigating the path does not mean not trusting anyone
Many self-styled modern Theravadins of Sri Lanka and their followers in Nepal stricken by out-dated Modernism go around parading this quaint nonsense thinking they are being Modern and scientific, whereas such a notion not only contradicts the scientific mode of thinking but also is outmoded and not modern at all in this post-modern age. And furthermore, the Anguttara Nikaya, Kalama Sutta does not say do not trust or accept or depend on tradition, wise ones, logic at all. It says very clearly, it intends very clearly do not accept merely on the basis of the fact that it is tradition, or it is in our Pitaka (Dharma texts) etc. etc., but find out for yourself. Here the intention is very clearly not to eschew all traditions, Masters, Dharma texts and try to re-invent the wheel on one's own self in every generation; but rather not to accept any of them blindly but to see for oneself whether what they say is true or not, in short as the Buddha himself said "Ehi Passiko"-ie- come and see for yourself. To see for yourself here does not mean do not take any help from anybody else but rather see in one's own experience whether it is true or not, valid or not. This point is made very clearly in the commentary called the Atthakatha. If the meaning was simply not to accept anybody else and to find out only by oneself alone as some Modernistic Theravadins have tried to interpret, then we would come to the absurd conclusion to not accept this Kalam Sutta also as it is 'our Dharma text' too. This is where Chintamayi Pragya comes in. It is an integral part of the process and means wisdom arisen from the contemplation process of liberation. That is why it is said by most Theravadin Masters of Vipassana that you cannot really practice Vipassana without first studying the Abhidharma/Abhidhamma. And many Theravadin Vipassana Masters say the Vipassana without first thoroughly studying the Abhidharma is not so fruitful. Even according to the Tibetan system, the Abhidharma is considered as the top of the mountain from where you can see and observe and understand Buddhism as a whole and get the correct Buddhist view/samyag drishti. Without the Abhidharma, one does not really understand Buddhism. It is only after the foregone first two steps viz- 1. Srutamyi Pragya, which we have said is wisdom arisen through listening to an authentic lineage Master and we can add now-a-days through studying and reading etc.also, 2. Chintamayi Pragya, which is wisdom arisen from investigating, analyzing, reasoning, seeing for oneself whether what was said is valid or not, that the third type of Pragya called Bhavanmayi Pragya, which could be translated as wisdom arisen from meditation has any meaning. So vipassana/Vipashyana cannot really be called authentic vipassana/Vipashyana if a person without the correct view just sits and watches his mind or sensation or body etc etc. That would be a kind of samatha, not vipassana/vipashyana by correct Buddhist standards. It would contradict the Buddha's own teachings in the Theravadin suttas themselves, let alone Mahayana sutras.
Vipashyana practices in different schools of Buddhism
This last stage of development of Pragya or Wisdom (Bhavanmayi Pragya) is what is meant by Vipashyana is Sanksrit and Vipassana in the Theravada in Pali tradition. Vipashayana is by no means the sole property of the Theravadin school of Buddhism as is often claimed by half baked Theravadin practitioners and Assistant Acharyas (Assistant Masters) of Nepal. Vipashayana or Vipassana has always been the main practice, the central practice of all forms of schools of Buddhism, be it the different types of Pramitayana practiced all over China, Korea, Japana, Vietnam, etc, etc., or Vajrayana practiced in Tibet, Mongolia, the entire Himalayan belt and many parts of Central Asia and to some extent in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam too.
The Tibetan word 'Lhag Thong' is the accurate translation of Vipashyana. Lhag means 'Vi; which means special, total, holistic, etc. etc, and Thong means 'pashyana', which is rooted in the word "seeing" in Sanskrit. The word Vi Passana is just a Pali version of the Sanskrit Buddhist word. In a similar way, the Chinese word Kuan and its derivatives like Kan in Japanese, Kwan in Korean, etc. etc., all are translations of the word Vipashayana. So it is historically a completely false concept to believe that somehow Vipassana exists only in the Theravadin systems or even that somehow Vipassana survived only in the Theravadin tradition of Burma.
Vipashayana not only survived but also exists fully active in the Vajrayana tradition of Tibet and in the various traditions of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. And even the Theravadin Vipassana tradition not only survived but also is alive and healthy in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia as is witnessed by great Masters like Ajhan Jha, Ajhan Mun and many, many others, some of whom like Ajhan Jha were even considered as Arhats, etc. etc.. There is another point that needs to be clarified in the context of Nepal or Nepalese Vipassana history.
1. The form of Vipassana taught by the Venerable Sri Goenkaji is neither the one and only form of Vipassana taught by the Buddha, as can been seen clearly by anybody who reads and studies the Theravadin Nikayas and Suttas.
2. Nor is that specific form of Vipassana anymore pure or correct than any other forms of Vipassana taught in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc. etc.
3. Nor is the Satipatthana type of Vipassana the only type or form of Vipassana that the Buddha taught even according to the Theravadin Suttas themselves.
Refuting the existence of Vipashyana only in Ven. Goenkaji's Theravada practice
There are many other kinds of Vipashayana that the Buddha taught and one good example is the Anguttara Nikaya, Unuttariya Vagga, Udayai Sutta of the Theravada itself, where the Buddha himself enlists a series of various methods through which 'yana dassan labhaya ti ti', as the Buddha himself mentions. By the way, even though all the methods like Diwa Sangya Ratri Sangya Pabhassar Chitta, etc., are mentioned in this Theravadin Sutta itself as ways to 'yana dassana/Gyana darshana', meaning enlightenment in laymen's terminology, and therefore automatically are various modes of Vipashyana as taught by the Buddha himself, many of them are not found within any Therevadin lineages so far, unless available in the hidden caves of Laos and Thai monasteries. But they are still available fully and practiced fully in the Tibetan Vajrayana traditions.
Devanussati or Devanusmriti is only mentioned in the Theravadin text but no one uses it and how Devanussati can be used for both Samatha and Vipashyana is not available in the Theravadin tradition (as far as I know). But a detailed method and practice not only exists in texts but is fully alive and fully practiced in the Tibetan Vajrayana traditions.
The reason why I have mentioned all these is not to criticize the methods of Venerable Sri Goenka but to refute the false idea propagated by the Acharyas of Sri Goenkaji in Nepal that his and only his method of Vipashyana is the one and only true and pure teaching of the Buddha and all other methods(even Theravadin methods) are either impure, or created by later acharyas or methods not taught by the Buddha. And that there is no Vipahsyana in Mahayana which the Ven. Sri Goenkaji himself seems to have propagated by having falsely said so much, as reported by many who heard him say it to vipassana groups in which they were present. Well, in that case an Acharya of the Mahayana tradition has every right to clarify or refute this false statement.
It is also very important to understand that refutation is not the same thing as criticism. Refutation is part of the Dharmic culture of Buddhism specifically, and the Indian Dharma culture generally. It began with the Buddha himself who has said very clearly in the Anguttara Nikaya that one should refute what should be refuted and praise what should be praised. And the Tathagata (the Buddha) himself went to debate with mendicants and famous Gurus of the time when he found out they had come to the city where he was or were staying in a nearby forest.
Importance of refuting in all Buddhist traditions
It was customary for the Tathagata himself to go to meet mendicants and famous Gurus of the time of other traditions and discuss with them. In fact, most of the Buddha's disciples were such Gurus and mendicants who were defeated in such discussions and realized their mistakes as was the cultural tradition of India in those days of very open and authentic search for the truth. They often immediately took refuge in the Buddha. It is historically incorrect to claim that:
1. Vipashayana exists only in the Theravada tradition
2. That Mahayana does not have Vipashayana
3. That Vedanasmriti or Vedanannssati is the one and only form of true Buddhist Vipashayana
4. That the pure Buddhist mediation called Vipashayana or Vipassana survived somehow only in Burma
5. That the Buddha spoke in Pali, therefore, Pali Suttas only are the words that came straight out of the Buddha's mouth and all others are late inventions of later Acharyas
These are all false premises that I have refuted. I have given historical, linguistic and in-text proof from the Pali Suttas themselves to prove my point. If any scholar can refute my points, I welcome them to try to refute using historical, linguistic and in-text sources not just through their own personal ideas and interpretations. However, I want to make it very clear once and for all that refuting the points mentioned above is not a criticism of any form of Vipashyana including Burmese Sukhaa Vipassana styles or a criticism of any Theravada Acharyas, including Sri Goenkaji as a whole.
I personally believe that the Theravada school is a genuine Sravakayana school as taught by the Buddha himself, but it is not the one and only school that the Buddha taught nor is it more pure than other forms of Buddhism,in spite of the claims of Theravadins, and thus I have immense respect for it, as I have for all things related to the Buddha. I have great respect for Theravada Vipassana Teachers like Achan Jha and Achan Dhamadharo and Acham Naeb (all of them from Thailand) as teachers who have transcended the narrow bounds of one school. To loosely claim such things like Mahayana has no vipashyana, that all the things found in Mahayana were created by later Acharyas and really not the words of the Buddha is not only unfair but also slandering the teachings of the Buddha himself because there is no such proofs that the teachings of the Mahayana are not the teachings of the Buddha. To the contrary it can be proven using Theravada Suttas themselves that every principle and practice taught within the Mahayana is in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha and specially the Abhidharmic teachings of the Buddha. Therefore I challenge those Acharyas and Asst Acharyas who go around mouthing that Mahayana doesn't have Vipashyana and that the teachings of the Mahayana are not the teachings of the Buddha himself but rather the distortions of later Acharyas to prove it using Pali and Mahayana Sutras- not their own personal ideas and beliefs.
What are Buddhist Sutras and Sastras
So with that said and done, let us turn back to our main topic. We were talking about Samatha and Vipashyana (Vipassana), and we said that according to the teachings of the Buddha himself, he has clearly laid out three clear steps in the development of Vipashayana. They are:
i) Srutamayi Pragya
ii) Chintamayi Pragya
iii) Bhavanamayi Prgaya
It is this step by step development of Pragya that is called Vipashyana (Vipassana). Just sitting down to meditate to watch the Vedana (feeling, sensation), Kaya (body) and chitta (mind) without any background study, etc., to build the Samyag Dristi (correct view) at all is not correct in Vipashyana (Vipassana) even according to the Buddha's own words. That is why in almost all Buddhist traditions, including Theravda traditions of Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, it is often said you cannot do proper Vipashyana without first studying the Abhidharma (Abhidamma). This is also the general idea in Tibetan Buddhism.
Some half-baked people may think that Zen Buddhism does not require the study of scriptures. That is simply not true. It is a clear misunderstanding of the Zen style. First of all, the Koan system (called Kung an in Chinese and Kong an in Korean) itself introduces you to the deep philosophical contexts of the Sutras in its own unique way. But in most schools that use Koans, there are specific Koans that ask questions related to quotes from Sutras, etc., too. It is also good for those of you who think that you can practice genuine authentic Buddhist meditation without having the correct view (Samyag Dristi), which needless to say require thorough study of the scriptures) and who use Zen as an excuse - to know that amongst all the Buddhist Masters of the far east, the Zen Masters are renowned to be the most well studied and well versed in the Sutras and Sastras and the Abhidharmas.
For those of you who are only used to the Hindu meaning of Sutras and Sastras, that within Buddhism, Sutras (Suttas in Pali) mean always and only the words of the Buddha himself, and the Sastras mean the commentaries on the Buddha's words by later Masters or independent writings of the later Masters (Acharyas). Sastra in the Buddhist context does not mean all Dharma texts, as within the Hindu context, but commentaries and writings of the Buddhist Acharyas like Nagarjuna, Asanga, etc. etc.. Besides the Sutras (and the Sastras which are intimately related to the Sutras), we have the Abhidharma (Abhidhamma), which is the special philosophical analytical teachings of the Buddha.
Buddhist pure traditions of Mahayana and Theravada
The Abhidharma (Abhidhamma) is the special philosophical analytical teachings of the Buddha, and without studying the Abhidharma, no Vipashyana can be called authentic. And as I have said before studying can mean pith instructions from a qualified Master.
The Vinaya are the rules or codes of conducts laid down by the Buddha himself to the monks and nuns. Of the Vinaya for the nuns, the unbroken lineage in all but one school in Taiwan has been broken. There seems to be some confusion amongst the Theravada Bhantes of Nepal that the Vinaya vows taken by Mahayana monks are the special Vinaya of the Bodhisatvayana. But all Vianayas are Sravakayana vows like Mahasangikas, Mulasarvastivadins, etc. etc., which are all Sravakayana Nikayas like the Theravada itself. And Huen Tsang, the Great Chinese Guru, who came to India to study Buddhism, has mentioned in his travelogue that there were many monasteries in India where the monks took the Theravada Bhikchu Upasampada and were practicing Mahayanist practices. And even today, there are Theravadin Theras and Bhikhus of Laos and Thailand who are studying and practicing Mahayana and Vajrayana with me.
It seems to be the special over zealousness of Nepali Theravadins, be they Bhikus or Vipasssana practitioners, who falsely think that only their Nikya or Vipassana is specially pure and that Mahayana in all its forms are distortions and therefore should not be even looked at etc.. This is somewhat like the extremist style of Catholics in the Philippines whose priests tell their followers to close their ears when passing by Protestant churches. Such views and style and such methods of being faithful to Theravada is totally non-Buddhist to say the least.
We Mahayanist encourage our practitioners to study Sravakaya (from ancient times) and meet Sravakayana teachers like Sravaka Bhantes because we are confident that Mahayana does not contradict any Theravada teachings. So I challenge all those Acharyas and assistant Acharyas of Sri Goenkaji in Nepal and all neo-Theravadin enthusiasts to prove that what they go around saying all over Nepal to either prove their statements or stop saying such utterly false and incorrect notions, and just teach their own teachings as per orthodox Theravada. Not to lie is one of the five Shila that the Theravadins also take like all Buddhists. To go around saying things about Mahayana which they do not know because they have not studied and which they themselves know very well that they have not studied properly is to lie.
Buddhist pure traditions of Mahayana and Theravada II
If I go around saying something which I do not really know and I myself know that I do not really know much about that point, but nevertheless go around saying it even when I myself know that what I'm saying is not fully validated, but nevertheless I continue to say it because it serves my own purpose, ideas or beliefs, then such statements are plain and simple lies and is a breakage of the Shila of not to lie(mrishavada). And this would amount to those very people who go around mouthing that Mayananist do not keep their Shilas, breaking their own Shilas without the slightest hesitation. So they should either prove their statements historically, scripturally using Suttas (Sutras) etc., or stop lying to innocent Nepalese public who have no knowledge about these issues or stop calling yourselves the followers of the Buddha.
These kinds of statements coming out of neo-Theravadins of Nepal are no different than statements made by Hindus who have not studied the facts but nevertheless go around saying Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism etc etc.I have not refuted Theravada per se which I consider true Buddhism as much as Sarvastivada or Mahayana/Vajrayana. I want to make it clear that I'm refuting those Neo-Theravadins of Nepal, who go around preaching that only Theravada is pure Buddhism and that Mahayana is a distorted version of Buddhism created by latter day Acharyas and that only Theravada has Vipasssana/Vipashyana and Mahayana doesn't have Vipassana/Vipashyana and that Mahayanists do not have shila but only Theravadins have shila that Mahayana doesn't have the Dwadas nidana/the twelve link of interdependent origination and many more such blatant lies and stuff that have been spread by educated Theravadins directly or indirectly through gossip,talks, lecture or books written in Nepali certified by Theravadin Theras and Mahatheras who should have known better, since the last fifty or so years to Nepalese public, who do not know the details, all over Nepal. I do not believe Theravada is purer than Mahayana and Vajrayana as there is no historical or scriptural or hermenuetical proof of such a statement. Some Theravadins think I'm critical of Sri Goenkaji or Theravada. But I'm just refuting what they themselves have said. If Theravadin Acharyas and Theras and their disciple spread wrong views about Mahayana, these same people have no right to say I'm critical of them when I refute their ideas and lectures. Either they should accept what I say or be able to properly refute what I say, if they claim to be true Buddhists.
All the basics of Buddhism that the Theravada boasts of like the Five shila, The Bikshu Upasampada, the pancha skandha, the dwadas ayatana, the astadasha dhatu, the 37 Bodipakshika Dharmas, the sapta bodhyanga, the dwadas nidana, the Four Arya Satya, samatha and vipshyana and their details like kama dhatu/mahadgat dhatu/arupa dhatu and the various levels of samadhis like first dhyana, second dhyana, third dhyana, fourth dhyana or fifth dhyana and their instructions and the kartsnyas/kasinas related to them, the smritypasthana sutras, the four smrityupasthana/four sattipathan like kayagatanusmriti/kayagatanussati, and vedananusmriti/ vedananussati and chittanusmriti/chittanussati and dharmanusmriti/dhammanussati and all the instructions related to them and the manifold ways of doing them, the lokadhatus, the principle of karma-phala and all that is related to it, punarbhava, dukha-anitya-anatma,sunyata/dukha, anicca, anatta, sunyato, the tripitaka, the abhidharma/abhidhamma, udaya-vyaya,the principle of pratityasmutpada/paticcasammuppada, the principle of hetu-pratya/causes and conditions, nirvana or nibbandhatu/chittadhatu/dharmadhatu, sadgati and everything related to it, and everything else that the Theravada boasts of are clearly found in Mahayana and are still being taught by authentic Mahayana/Vajrayana Masters/Acharyas.
So how is Theravada a purer form of Buddhism than Mahayana? All those neo-Theravadins and their disciples of Nepal who have spread these lies for the last forty or so years about Mahayana/Vajrayana need to justify their position by using Sutta/Sutra, abhidhamma/Abhidharma and the later commenteries of Theravadin and Mahayana Acharyas and critical analysis/pramana-yukti to prove their points and not use their own personal ideas and beliefs as such nonsense do not count in a debate. And if they cannot do it then they should stop slandering Mahyana directly or indirectly, if they are true Buddhists.
Continuing with Dwadas nidan
Now, with that (how Mahayana is equally as pure as Theravada tradition) in the background, let us continue with the Dwadas Nidana (the twelve links of chains of interdependent origination), which is indeed one of the most important tenets within Buddhism. We had already said that there are two different meanings to this or two different ways this is understood within Buddhism, although the two different ways are aspects of the same point. One way of looking at it is the twelve links or chains which is what the Buddha saw clearly (another meaning of Vipashyana/seeing clearly) on the morning of his full enlightenment. And this is what we have been explaining and will continue to do so, a little later. And the second meaning of Pratithaya Samutpad (Paticca Sammuppad) is the fact that all Dharmas are Partitatya Samutpanna, or interdependently arisen, which means they arise through causes and conditions (Hetu Pratya). This second meaning is the more profound meaning which literally colors the whole of Buddhism and we shall deal with it later after we finish the twelve chains (Dwadas Nidan).
Now in the Dwadas Nidan, we finished Avidhya, which conditions Sanskaras and we were talking about Sanskaras (conditionings), which conditions Vigyan (consciousness). Since it has been a long time we mentioned the twelve chains for those who are new and do not have the twelve chains at the fingertips, here are the twelve chains (Dwadas Nidana) again.
1. Avidhya Pratyaya or conditions
2. Sanskara Pratyaya or conditions
3. Vigyan Prataya or conditions
4. Nama Rupa (mind and form) Pratyaya or conditions
5. Sadayatana (six senses) Pratyaya or conditions
6. Sparsha (contact) Pratyaya or conditions
7. Vedana (sensation) Pratyaya or conditions
8. Trishna (craving) Pratyaya or conditions
9. Upadana (grasping) Pratyaya or conditions
10. Bhava (becoming) Pratyaya or conditions
11. Jati (birth) Pratyaya or conditions
12. Jaramarana (aging and death) Pratyaya or conditions Soka (sorrow), Parideva (lamentation), Dukha (pain), Darumanassya (grief) and Upayas (grief), which can all be summed up in Dukka (suffering).
The word Dukha can vary in both the meaning as suffering which includes Soka, Parideva, Dukha in the sense of pain, Daurmanassya and Upayas and also can mean pain depending upon the context and that is how it is used in Nepali and other Indic languages too. This chain is also known as the wheel of Becoming (Bhava Chakra) or the Wheel of Samsara. This is how Samsara (the flow of the world system) continue like a wheel with no beginning in sight (meaning no beginning) and no end without being created by One Universal First Cause or God (Ishwar).
Continuing with Dwadas nidan II
If you understand the principle of how Samsara (the flow of the world system) continues like a wheel with no beginning in sight (meaning no beginning) and no end without being created by One Universal First Cause or God (Ishwar), it is easy to understand why Buddhism does not believe in a First Principle or a First Cause or a Creator God called Ishwor in Hinduism, even though it does believe in the existence of gods and goddesses or Dieties, who live in the heavenly realms called Deva Lokas or Swargas. But the concept of Devi-Devatas in Buddhism has an important difference from Hinduism. Within Hinduism, gods and goddesses are more or less eternal beings who live up there and are always gods. But like all things within Hinduism which is normally a conglomeration of millions of elements, even the concept of gods and goddesses are not homogeneous but manifold and sometimes even contradictory. Nonetheless, we can safely say that as a whole the average concept of gods and goddesses within Hinduism is that they are eternally existing powerful beings who will always remain as gods and goddesses who are manifestations of the One and only God. They are not beings(pranis/satvas) like us who too will die and be reborn like us). But it must be said that in some places within Hinduism, the idea that these gods and goddesses come and go does exist; however, that notion is not the common understanding of gods and goddesses within Hinduism. So there is one Brahma, one Vishnu and one Shiva called Mahadeva nowadays although many other deities are called Mahadevas in the Vedic system. These three are the Creator, the Sustainer and the Destroyer of the world and are three aspects of the eternal God, therefore they themselves are eternal. I would like to repeat that this is what has been commonly accepted as the Hindu view of gods and goddesses for the last century or so, but like all concepts within Hinduism, they are by no means the only notions about gods and goddesses found within all forms of Hinduism.
There are texts which will contradict this notion and texts which will validate this notion and many more as, after all Hinduism is a mixture of every kind of religious notion that grew within the Indian Subcontinent (Bharat Varsha), which extended beyond Afganistan to Burma, once upon a time. And this includes Buddhist and other Shramanic concepts too taken in by Hinduism through the century besides the Brahmanis-Vedic concepts and later additions and transformations of the Brahmanic-Vedic systems called puranas and Tantras. So it is not so surprising that many contradictory concepts about gods and goddesses are found within what is called Hinduism today. We can observe in the famous 19th century debate between the famous founder of the Arya Samaj, Swami Dayananda versus two hundred or so pundits of Benaras that even the concept of Allah being a Vedic concept had already been integrated within the Hindu system and there was already an Allopanishad extant to validate it. If Swami Dayananda had not refuted that as a non-vedic concept, by today we can safely assume Hindus would have included Allah as one of their gods, and the average layman would proudly announce that Islam is a branch of Hinduism. Exactly the same type of logic is used by Hindus today to prove that Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism. It is also interesting to note that according to Swami Dayananda in that debate, there are no gods and goddesses existing up the true purport of the Vedas. Now this concept is exactly the antithesis of what popular Hinduism holds today regarding gods and goddesses/ devi-devatas. So whenever we compare Hinduism, we need to understand this variegation within Hinduism, and can only discuss what is the most popularly held notions at that point in history.
Now taking that as a backdrop for comparison, let us go into the Buddhist notion of gods and goddesses. Like the accepted form of Hinduism, Buddhism accepts that there are gods and goddesses living in the heavenly realms and the majority of the deities found within Buddhism are the same as those found in the Vedic systems- Indra, Yama, Varuna, Vishnu, Brahma, Rudra etc etc. However, they are just pranis/satvas who have accumulated a lot of punya/virtuous merits and their karma has propelled them to be reborn in one of the higher realms especially the Devalokas/heavenly realms often called Swargas. Humans or pranis/satvas/sentient beings who have accumulated a vast amount of punya/virtuous merit will die as humans or even in the lower realms like the hungry-ghost realms/Pretaloka or hell realms/Niraya gati or Natraka; and also can be reborn as devas/gods- even as an Indra a Vishnu or a Shiva. These Shivas and Vishnus live their life in their respective Devalokas, as per their punya/virtuous merit, and even though during that period they are very powerful beings by virtue of their punya/virtuous merits, their life too will end, albeit compared to human lives they are unimaginably long-lived, and when they ultimately die, they could be reborn anywhere in the various realms of existence, in accordance with their karmic accumulation. And there are thousands of Indras, Shivas, Vishnus not just one of them. Of course this concept of thousands of Shivas and Vishnus are also found within nooks and crannies of Hinduism too, if one were to search for it; however, that is not the normally accepted concepts of Vishnu and Shiva and Brahma. These gods and goddesses when propitiated can help to some extent but unlike the present day Hindu concept, they are not Omnipotent as they too are not free from their karmas and thus cannot help us free from suffering/dukha ultimately.
Then within Buddhism, many of these Brahmas and Shivas and Indras and Vishnus took refuge with the Buddha himself or with later day Arhats and Mahasiddhas and so today they are accepted as Dharmapalas/Protectors of the Dharma and propitiated thus. Some of them are still worldly gods/deities/devas and some having practiced the Dharma have become Aryas at various levels of the bodhisattva Bhumis and are highly revered within Buddhism as bodhisattvas. In these groups of Dharmapalas are also local deities of whatever place Buddhism spread who also took refuge with the then Mahasiddhas or Gurus at that time. Thus we have many local Tibetan gods included in the list of Dharmapalas. There probably were many local dharmapalas of Central Asia, the silk route etc etc who had also promised the various Gurus to protect the Dharma but since these areas were all Islamized, they are lost to history. Then within Buddhism especially Mahayana- there are the bodhisattvas like Manjusri, Tara (again here is a good example of how Hindu Tantra has appropriated Tara and made her their goddess in a theistic sense), Vajrapani, Samantabhadra, Avalokiteshwara, Akashgarbha, Kshitigarbha, Nivaranavikshambhi etc. who are often mistaken as gods by non-Buddhists, as the Buddhists worship them somewhat in a similar manner as the theistic systems like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism worship their God or gods. However, it is a rather gross misunderstanding to imagine that they are gods in the theistic sense or even representative of some God or aspect of some single God. They are bodhisattvas, which means again they are sentient beings just like us who have achieved very high levels of spiritual achievements on the Bodhisatva path- not some other path, to be sure.
Concept of Creator in Hinduism and Buddhism Part II
In the Indian subcontinent, Buddhist and other Shramanic concepts too was taken in by Hinduism throughout the centuries besides the Brahmanis-Vedic concepts, and later additions and transformations of the Brahmanic-Vedic systems called Puranas and Tantras. So it is not so surprising that many contradictory concepts about Gods and Goddesses are found within what is called Hinduism today.
We can observe in the famous 19th century debate between the famous founder of the Arya Samaj, Swami Dayananda verses two hundred or so pundits of Benaras, that even the concept of Allah being a Vedic concept had already been integrated within the Hindu system and there was already an Allopanishad extant to validate it. If Swami Dayananda had not refuted that as a non Vedic concept, by today we can safely assume Hindus would have included Allah as one of their Gods, and the average layman would proudly announce that Islam is a branch of Hinduism. Exactly the same type of logic is used by Hindus today to prove that Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism. It is also interesting to note that according to Swami Dayananda in that debate, there are no Gods and Goddesses existing up the true purport of the Vedas. Now, this concept is exactly the antithesis of what popular Hinduism holds today regarding Gods and Goddesses (Devi Devatas). So whenever we compare Hinduism, we need to understand this variegation within Hinduism, and can only discuss what are the most popularly held notions at that point in history.
Now, taking that as a backdrop for comparison, let us go into the Buddhist notion of Gods and Goddesses. Like the accepted form of Hinduism, Buddhism accepts that there are Gods and Goddesses living in the heavenly realms and the majority of the Deities found within Buddhism are the same as those found in the Vedic systems- Indra, Yama, Varuna, Vishnu, Brahma, Rudra etc. etc.. However, they are just Pranis of Satvas, who have accumulated a lot of Punya (virtuous merits) and their Karma has propelled them to be reborn in one of the higher realms especially the Devalokas (heavenly realms) often called Swargas.
Humans or Pranis of Satvas (sentient beings) who have accumulated a vast amount of Punya (virtuous merit) will die to be reborn as humans or even in the lower realms like the hungry-ghost realms (Pretaloka) or hell realms (Niraya gati or Natraka); and also can be reborn as Devas (Gods) - even as an Indra, a Vishnu or a Shiva.
Concept of Creator in Hinduism and Buddhism Part II
According to Buddhism, the Shivas and Vishnus in heavenly realms live their lives in their respective Devalokas as per their Punya (virtuous merit), and even though during this period they are very powerful beings by virtue of their Punya (virtuous merits). But their life too will end, albeit compared with human lives they are unimaginably long-lived. When they ultimately die, they could be reborn anywhere in the various realms of existence, in accordance with their karmic accumulation. There are thousands of Indras, Shivas, Vishnus not just one of them.
This concept of thousands of Shivas and Vishnus are also found within nooks and crannies of Hinduism too, if one were to search for it. However, that is not the normally accepted concepts of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. These Gods and Goddesses when propitiated can help to some extant but unlike the present day Hindu concept, they are not Omnipotent, as they too are not free from their Karmas and thus cannot help us free from suffering (Dukha) ultimately.
Then within Buddhism, many of these Brahmas, Shivas, Indras and Vishnus took refuge with the Buddha himself or with later day Arhats and Mahasiddhas. So today they are accepted as Dharmapala (Protectors) of the Dharma and propitiated thus. Some of them are still worldly Gods (Deities or Devas) and some having practiced the Dharma have become Aryas at various levels of the Bodhisattva Bhumis and they are highly revered within Buddhism as Bodhisattvas. These groups of Dharmapalas also include local Deities whatever Buddhism spread as these local Deities also took refuge with the then Mahasiddhas or Gurus of that time. Thus, we have many local Tibetan Gods included in the list of Dharmapalas. There probably were many local Dharmapalas in Central Asia, the silk routes etc. etc., who had also promised the various Gurus to protect the Dharma but since these areas were all Islamized, they are lost to history.
Then within Buddhism especially Mahayana- there are the Bodhisattvas like Manjusri, Tara (again here is a good example of how Hindu Tantra has appropriated Tara and made her their Goddess in a theistic sense), Vajrapani , Samantabhadra, Avalokiteshwara, Akashgarbha, Kshitigarbha, Nivaranavikshambhi etc., who are often mistaken as Gods by non-Buddhists, as the Buddhists worship them somewhat in a similar manner as the theistic systems like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism worship their Gods. However, it is a rather gross misunderstanding to imagine that they are Gods in the theistic sense or even representative of some God or aspect of some single God. They are Bodhisattvas, which mean again they are sentient beings just like us who have achieved very high levels of spiritual achievements on the Bodhisatva path - not some other path, to be sure.
Worship of Bodhisattvas and Gurus in Buddhism vis-a-vis worship of Gods in other religions
We said that non-Buddhists often mistake the Bodhisattvas like Manjushri, Tara, Vajrapani etc. etc., as something like their Gods, as the Buddhists seem to worship them somewhat in a similar manner as the theistic systems like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism worship their Gods. This needs to be clarified.
When we humans worship or pay respect to or venerate anybody, the format used all over the world is archetypal. Therefore, they can appear to be very similar in many ways than one. We can respect the CEO of a big company and we can respect a father or a mother and we can respect a God or as a Buddhist we can have deep respect for a Bodhisattva or a Guru. In Sanskrit, the word 'puja' is used interchangeably for both respect and worship. And the way we respect can appear very similar all over the world, meaning the rituals can appear to be very similar since as humans we tend to have the same kind of or similar archetypal patterns in our unconscious mind. However, the attitude which is the essence of all worship/respect can be worlds apart.
There is a saying found also in the Hindu Tantra which clarifies very beautifully this point. It goes: 'Bhaavohi chumbitaa kaantaa bhaavohi duhitaananam'- which means that we kiss our wives and we kiss our daughters and the ritual of kissing is the same but there is a great difference between the two due to the inner feeling attitude/emotional tone which is an integral part of the kissing. It is this emotional tone that is the essence of the kissing and defines the meaning of the kissing and not the mere physical ritual alone.
One might add here one kisses one's dog as much in the same way but no one ever equates the kissing of his dog with the kissing of his wife even though the modus operandi isn't really different. Therefore, it is wrong to equate the worship done by Buddhists to their Bodhisattvas and even their Dharmapalas (Protector Deities), who are in effect Gods and Goddesses (Devi & Devatas) simply because the modus operandi appears to be similar. Of course, they will be similar just as the act of kissing a dog, a lover and a daughter is similar too. But nobody would be so confused that they would proclaim that those three acts of kissing have exactly the same meaning and thus are they same even though they are all related to love.
Worship in different religious systems
As we mentioned before, there is a great difference between the forms of worship in different religions even though they are all related to some form of respect. Let me elaborate the differences and the feeling tone/emotional tones related to Buddhist worship of what appears to be substitutes for the Gods and Goddesses or the One and only God of the theistic systems.
First of all, the God is some all mighty eternal being up there who created the universe and us and thus. I'm just a slave eternally and it is not my choice that I'm his/her slave and I shall remain his/her slave (Daas) forever, for all eternity. Some systems have Gods and Goddesses but in the more sophisticated systems these Gods and Goddesses are all aspects of or incarnations of the same One and only God. And the rest of the attitude, emotional-feeling tone towards those particular Gods is the same as towards the one and only God.
In some theistic mystical systems, we often begin with the attitude of I am the slave (Daasoham) and as the mystical experience deepens, we begin to experience oneness with that omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God until we merge completely with him and that is called 'I'm-one-with him' stage (Soham). Finally, I dissolve so completely with Him, the omnipotent-omnipresent-omniscient one that there is only Him and no more this little me/No-me stage (Naaham). Worship of Him/Her changes with these stages but the feeling tone towards Him being the Almighty One is still the same even if He and I are one or only He remains.
These levels are found one way or the other in all theistic mystical systems. For example, within the Hindu system we have as mentioned earlier on:
1. Dasoham: which means I am the slave of that particular God/Goddess and I meditate/pray to that Almighty God who is my Master/Lord etc. If I practice properly according to proper methods with deep devotion to my Master, gradually I will begin to feel one with that Master (some systems do not allow this and call this heresy). However, in proper theistic mystical schools, one is encouraged to be one with the Master and this is called:
2. Soham: which means I am that. There are also Shivoham/I am Shiva (which has deteriorated to BOM BOM which is common with many Sadhus), Bhairovoham/I am Bhairava, Saham/I am her in the case of Mother goddess worshippers like Kali/Tara/Sundari etc.. Finally, if the meditator continues on the path s/he will start vanishing into the Master, and this stage is:
3. Naham/ No I Am: which means there is no me anymore and only the Supreme Master/Lord/God.
Worship in different religious systems II
The same stages, more or less, can be found in the Vedantic system even if it is not a devotional system. Pragyanam Brahman (This awareness) is Brahman, and Ayam Atman Brahman (This Self) is Brahman are closer to the Dasoham stage, where the little self is identifying itself with Brahman but there is the sense of the little self trying to identify itself with the Brahman, although there is no sense of being a slave here.
Then, Tat Tvam Asi (that thou art) is akin to Soham, which also means I am that and Aham brahmasmi (I am the Brahman), which again is not very different from saying Shivoham (I am Shiva). And finally, Sarvam Khalva idam Brahman (All this is verily Brahman) which would imply there is only Brahman and no me. The only difference here between these two is that there is no personal God and Goddess like Shiva or Vishnu but rather an impersonal abstract God- The Brahman. This kind of experience seems universal to all theistic systems as we have more or less the same kind of format in other theistic systems too.
Although, not as well categorized in the Christian Mystical system as within Hinduism, the Christian-mystical system does begin with surrender to The Christ who is the Lord and Master (Dasoham - I am the slave). The famous nineteenth century Christian Mystic says the more I know Christ the more I become Christ, which could be counted as the Soham (I am him) stage very easily. And finally, the twelfth century Christian Mystic Meister Eckhart says when there is no me there is no Christ meaning there is only that One God and no me. This could easily be categorized close to the Naham (no me stage). But these have to be read and are not as clear cut as the three stages of 1) Dasoham, 2) Soham, 3) Naham within the Hindu system. However, it must also be said that, by no means, all forms of Hinduism subscribe to the idea that such a grading to the higher levels is the truth.
Like orthodox Christianity, many forms of Hinduism like the Madvacharya school, prescribe to Dasoham (I am the slave) stage as the only true and correct form and the other two are aberrances. Then again we have a very similar categorization within Sufism of Islam.
Worship in different religious systems III
In Sufism of Islam, Hu al Haque (I am the slave of Truth) is the beginning stage and obviously akin to Dasoham (I am the slave of that God), then once the Sufi meditates on that Haque (truth), which is another name for Allah, gradually he begins to feel one with that Haque/truth/Allah. We can easily see that this is not really different from the Soham (I am that God) or Shivoham (I am Shiva) or Aham Brahmasm (I am Brahman), or the more I know Christ the more I become Christ.
It is in essence the same type of mystical experience with only the object of meditation/devotion different. And finally in Sufism, we have Haque (The truth) alone, which would mean I have vanished and there is no me anymore but only the Haque (Truth), and this can easily be seen as equivalent to Naham (No Me) stage. Again, like some forms of Hinduism and orthodox Christianity, orthodox Islam doesn't agree fully to these levels and experiences and say that Allah is always the Master and we are always the Slaves.
What we have seen above are the similarities and universality of the experiences within theistic types of meditational systems. What is important to understand is that the Buddhist meditational system does not have equivalent to the above three stages of the theistic mystical meditational systems as the Buddhist system is a paradigmatic shift from any kind of Theistic system- personal Deity or impersonal abstract Deity like the Brahman. This is what most scholars influenced by theistic cultures, including Hindu scholars from the very ancient times till today seem to completely miss out and constantly attempt to categorize Buddhism within theistic Hindu concepts.
Let us take some examples. Buddhist Vajrayana has Tara while Hindu Tantra has Tara. Now this becomes a rich field for misunderstanding and seeing the two as the same with a few minor differences. But let us check and see if they are essentially the same with only some minor outer trappings different or are they essentially different with some minor outer trappings similar.