This is the second part of an article first printed in Values magazine in the mid 1970s. The first part is here. You can find more details of the colourful Mahendranath, here. ♦
All this leaves one bewildered but the Vinaya Pitaka is Theravada’s greatest imposture. It is not easy to understand how Buddhists who claim loyalty to Gautama the Buddha can pervert his memory by putting into his mouth such a vast collection of petty and meaningless rules [There are 227 rules of conduct – Editor (John Spiers)]. Would Gautama have wasted so much time in such useless activity? The Theravadins overlook the fact that it is only bad, delinquent and perverted rascals, parading in the yellow robes of Buddhist monks, who require so many rules to be made. Why was the Buddhist monk communty so corrupt that so many rules were required? For more than 5,000 years of known history Indian sadhus and sannyasins of many sects have lived entirely without rules and regulations. Why were Buddhist bhikkus unable to do so and cannot do so, even today? It can only mean that Hindus renounced the world with a deep sincerity to live a certain life and attain something, yet Buddhists must have lacked the sincerity and so the Vinaya had to be introduced.
If the Buddha was really an enlightened or realised soul, he would have known what rules were necessary without the Theravadins inventing them and putting them into his mouth in the meanest way. Some of the rules in the Vinaya were due to naughty bhikkhus doing naughty things. Apparently one of the prime occupations of Buddhist monks was to spend their time spying on each other. When they detected something which they thought ought not to be done, they wheedled their way into the presence of Gautama and made a secret report. Then the Buddha had to make yet another rule. One could imagine that the Buddha would have reminded the spies that their duty as bhikkus was to watch their own conduct and strive for the goal instead of watching other monks. But the Theravadins needed rules and this is how they claim to have obtained them.
The Vinaya of the Theravadins also makes it clear that although Gautama attained the highest state of enlightenment, he seems to have also had the highest record for collecting perverts in his following. The Indian public always gave freely to sadhus of all sects, but among Gautama’s boys there were a few wags who wanted bed with their breakfast. They preyed on the simple housewives by telling them that giving sexual intercourse to bhikkhus obtained the highest merit and good karma. It is quite evident from the Vinaya that some bhikkhus preferred bedrooms to meditation rooms. Then bang, into the Vinaya goes a number of rules to abate the nuisance. Do rules ever stop misdeeds? The Theravadins do not credit the Buddha with much intelligence to suggest he imagined that bad monks and backsliders could be made good by making laws and rules.
The Vinaya Pataka does not make pretty reading and some day the Theravada monks will wake up and burn this epitome of entanglements and meaningless ideas. A sincere person, striving towards a spiritual goal, does not need it. If it has any need, it can only be among those people who should never take to the life or pose as renunciates. But few in Theravada today can see the difference between polished head piety and the real goal.
To suggest that poor old Gautama really had any relationship with the Theravada mob can only be an act of disrespect and a slander against one of the world’s outstanding do-gooders. If he were alive today, he would see very little relationship between the horde of yellow-robed indolents playing hide and seek all day in their myriad temples, and the ideals he tried to teach. Ceylon, Burma and Thailand would either break his heart or cause him to roll on the ground with uncontrollable laughter. Truth does not wear a mask of piety and real renunciation does not wear a robe.
Theravada tradition tells us that the Buddha renounced his home and family and wandered naked for about six years. At the end of this period and resulting from the sincerity of his modesy life, he attained enlightenment. If tradition believes this was true of the Buddha, why do not the Theravadins try the same thing, at least for the same period? What meaning can their theories have if they are never put into practice? Today, Gautama and the Buddhist religion of Theravada stand poles apart. To accept one requires us to reject the other.
Although Theravada thinks it has moved so far away and beyond its Hindu origins, there is nothing taught in these teachings which have real meaning, which will not be found in Hindu scriptures also. The Theravadins tell us that Moksha is Hindu but Nirvana is Buddhist. But Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, uses the world Nirvana in Ch. vi.15 as being the goal of yoga. Theravada tells us that when the Buddha was asked about the Absolute, he refused to answer. The Upanishads and other texts do exactly the same thing. Nowhere will we find an attempt to define or describe the Supreme Reality. The Buddha believed in ghosts, devatas and spirits. He abhorred magic display of psychic powers. The two great contemporaries of the Buddha, and often themselves known as Buddas, were the Jain leader Mahavira and Gosala who founded the Ajivika sect. Both were completely naked and so were their sadhu disciples. The Buddha Gautama was most likely naked also for it was a day and age where those who renounced the world renounced the services of tailors also. It was a period of naked saints and little respect could be expected from the public by one who posed as a renunciate and wore clothes. Surely it is only a fool who would want to wear clothes when it was publically accepted and did not deny any convention to enjoy the freedom of nakedness.
Centuries of Theravada Buddhism have never produced a realized soul or an Arahat. In Burma, every family claims to have produced a living Buddhist saint of various degrees. A Burmense gentleman, in Rangood, spoke up frankly about this.
“Mahatma,” he said, “do not believe all these false claims which families are making about their having great saints now alive. I can assure these claims are entirely false.” He moved his face closer to mind and then said in a half whisper, “But as it happens we do have an Arahat in our family.”
Like Old Mother Hubbard, a peep in the Theravada larder will not even find an old bone which would make an authentic holy relic. Gautama was much of a pagan while Theravada compares mostly more with Christian puritanism. If Gautama was a typical guru of his age we can be sure he would encourage men to search within and not to take his word as the final authority. He would have been the last to suggest that his way was the only and most perfect way. We can be quite certain that a chaste or celibate life crept into Theravada from sources other than that of Gautama. If Gautama stressed the importance of meditation we must remember that all other gurus did so too. The word buddha comes from intelligence and means an awakened one. In itself it does not mean or imply complete enlightenment. But as a courtesy title many gurus and saints of India were known as Bauddhas or Buddhas in those days, and probably as common as modern sannyasins display their doctor degrees.
Generally speaking, waggish Westerners are welcome in most Theravada countries and generally encouraged to “have a go”. Only be careful and don’t take the whole thing too seriously. You can do a great many things so long as you do it in secret and not in the view of temple supporters. If you meditate too much you will be asked to leave and the welcome mat quickly rolled up. Monks will tell you, you are setting a bad example to the public, who start hinting that they should do the same. But how can they? They have school to attend, examinations to prepare for, degrees to obtain, and relatives to visit. How can a bhikku allow meditation to interfere with such important duties? The goal of Nirvana is no longer the real goal of Theravada.
Discussions generally bring forward an emphatic denial that they believe in God or a god. A few minutes later you will be told that the Buddha is himself God and rules in the Buddha Heaven. This explains why bhikkus accept a teaching whereby Gautama entered his final Nirvana, and had no further existence either material or spiritual. Since they deny that anybody, including Gautama, has a soul, this would not be existing either. This only leads to a final conclusion that nothing which was Gautama existed after his death. But those who affirm this annihilation on all levels, will tell you he is the Great God living in the Highest Heaven. So they pray to the Compassion Buddha for all things, but not, of course, for Nirvana. But not all bhikkhus go to heaven.
Most modern people have now grown out of the threadbare delusion that all religions teach the same truth or that all goals and gods are the same. Yet there are more comparisons to be made with Christianity and Theravada Buddhism than any other two religions. They are both soul and happiness abnegating. Both hold as a virtue the unnatural perversion of chastity and abstention from sexual pleasures. One can jump from Christianity into Buddhism with the greatest of ease and vice versa.
Both are prepared to bury and stifle you under an enormous pile of rules, regulations and restrictions. Both are relative and dualistic from start to finish. Smiling, pleasure and happiness is tolerated but never encouraged. A Buddhist monk is forbidden to sing or dance and both seem to be designated as evil. They do ignore the rule about not handling money but they do abide by the rule against joy and rhythm.
If Theravada has been unable to produce a single Buddha in centuries, it is time they began to re-estimate their whole system. When any religion or pattern of priestcraft has outlived its purpose, it is time to pull the chain. The Absolute will do this in good time and perhaps free the Lion Race from their miserable existence, no better than a tribe of monkeys. If left-wing poltics have made big inroads into Ceylon’s political life, it is the Theravada priestcraft which has mostly helped the process.
Though Buddhism developed great and brilliant intellects in the Mahayana patterns, Theravadins degenerated only into ricebags and not a single new intellectual concept has been permitted to appear since it first took root in Ceylon. The brilliant awakening of Ch’an and Zen has gone completely unnoticed except when an opportunity avails itself to revile it. Can Theravada ever hope to boast of the vast parade of Patriarchs and Masters which China and Japan have seen, and what, in a thousand years, have they added to the world’s store of wisdom?