Tag Archives: theravada

Rice Bags and Singhalese Celibates: Part Two

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?

Rice Bags and Singhalese Celibates: Part One

This article was first published in Values Magazine, way back in the 1970s, and written by Shri Shri 108 Mahendranathji Avadhoot. It gives an interesting perspective on Buddhism. From personal experience, I can say that when I’ve been in Candy, Sri Lanka, Pali is comprehensible to anyone who, like me, has a mere smattering of Sanskrit.  Around the famous “tooth of the Buddha” are many Hindu shrines, including ones to Gorakhnath,

For an experience of sheer ecstatic amusement and perspicuous joyful humour, a visit to Ceylon is unequalled. There we find the Singhalese or the Lion Race, the most superior race of people on the whole of the earth. This is seriously explained to you and to many facetious people it may be the first laugh. Colombo may be your first port of call. Hurry through the swarms of beggars and ulcerous products of the Lion people into the more refined areas as soon as possible. It is here you will find the swarms of Theravada bhikkus popping in and out of ships to spend the money which their rules forbid them to touch, and not among the beggars. The word bhikku means a beggar but they are beggars of a superior stratum and wear fine tailored yellow robes. They do not have the lean hungry look of the beggars at the port. There was a time when even bhikkus made the robes from cast-off rags but that old-fashioned time has long disappeared.

A bhikku is supposed to be one who has renounced the worldly life to seek a life of meditation and attain realization. The visitor, however, should refrain from asking the bhikkus why they became bhikkus as the question can be embarrassing. One might tell you he is in the racket to get a free education, but most will confess they came from poor parents and were pushed into the Buddhist monk life when about ten years old, and being a monk was superior to working as a labourer. What about enlightenment, arahantship, liberation, you may ask?  That, you will be told, is impossible these days and monks have more important duties to fulfil. It is an odd world and has similar counterparts in Burma and Thailand. It soon becomes obvious that the big problem in these Theravada countries today is not against their religion or a reasonable sized community of sincere bhikkus, but rather how to get rid of the vast, enormous army of yellow-robed droneswho do nothing but suck the substance from poor people. It is not unusual even to meet a young bhikku who will admit he is the bastard son of a celibate high priest of a Buddhist temple or monastery and he has to become a bhikku to inherit the temple property from his illegitimate father. An amusing crowd. Nobody says anything, for how could any Singhalese say anything to debase another of the Lion Race and destroy the superior image?

Indian people find it hard to understand why Protestants and Catholics, both claiming to be Christian, are fighting each other in North Ireland. Uet the perfumed Orient of the Buddhist world is also not without its internal antagonisms.  The hatred of the Theravadins for all and every other aspect of Buddhism is something one has to see to believe.  It is not written about in Buddhist literature, published in the Western world. Fortunately, it is one sided and has nothing comparable among the many schools of Mahayana Buddhism. Theravadins may shoot the Prime Minister or push their way into politics but they have not yet gone so far as to destroy other Buddhist opponents. Abuse and insult has (sic) been regarded as sufficient. Western nosy-pokers into Theravada are generally appalled at this open hatred and most get over Theravada very quickly and gratuate to Mahayana Buddhism. The tiny majority of Westerners who remain in Theravada are mostly the backward types. If they had stayed in Christianity they would have ended up as Church or Monastery sweepers. Few of these would have the depth of understanding required by Mahayana anyway.

In many ways it is a divine blessing that Zen or Tantric Buddhism have never gone to Ceylon*. In its rules of conduct, Theravada is very close to Christianity and Zen could never be understood even remotely by the proud pride of lions. The ordinary people would love to turn Kwan-yin or Pu-tai into a money goddess or god. They pray to the Buddha for money, of course, but he has not proved to be so very generous. A good Zen Master with a heavy stick might perform wonders among the Theravada rice-bags/

One of the oldest and loveable characters among all the monks of Ceylon was Nyanatiloka Thera.  He first went to Ceylon in 1911 and took ordination. He was a German by birth and not a Singhalese. He passed away only a few years ago, and the latter part of his most innocent life had been made miserable by slanders, intrigues and jealousies.  Today, in Ceylon, the Theravadins, conditioned by works of European and American scholars, have no come to accept the Pali word Anatta as meaning no soul. But this is a comparatively new idea and not found in Burma or Thailand, where nobody dares to express an opinion. However Sri Nyanatiloka revealed that when he came to Ceylon in 1911 the current and generally accepted idea of Anatta meant No Ego and only implied that the personality was not a permanent thing. He believed that foreign scholars had made the error of comparing Anatta with the Sanaskirt Anatman, which could mean no soul. Buddhism, he explained, originally did not deny a soulr self. Apart from his information, Ceylon does present an amusing picture where so many monks are going to so much trouble to disprove something which they claim does not exist. Surely, it would be better to remain silent and let the matter find its own level. Like Christians, they worry too much about what other people should or should not believe, instead of developing proper understanding and wisdom within themselves.

It would be wrong to suggest that Theravada finds no support in the West, but all too often it attracts on the basis of its “respectability”. One would imagine that his contact with Christian respectability would make them suspect new traps and dogmas, but this is not also so. Generally speaking, Australians are not a spirital people and are rarely capable of deep understanding, but around 1950 a tiny group began to take an interest in Theravada. The Australian Buddhists explained that Theravada was the true pure teachings of the Buddha and all other forms of Buddhism were perversions. They were all amateurs and none had the authority to really make this claim. In fact, none of the tiny minority even knew the first thing about Mahayana Buddhism except they had heard their priests sometimes married and they lacked strict rules about sex.  An amusing approach as rules for priest or bhikku relating to sex could hardly concern students living thousands of miles away in Australia.  They never realized anything for themselves, but it was only their minds reverting to the Chrsitian brain-washing of their own earlier days.  Outwardly, they were interested in Buddhism but inwardly the ghost of Christianity was still sitting undisturbed on their shoulders. One gallant old knight of the bar-room completely rejected Zen because he heard some priests in charge of temples were married men with families. In his own odd crusty way he rejected the bloom of real wisdom because he did not like the colour of the leaves. It would never occur to these people that the internal organization of Buddhism was the affair of the Zen people themselves and not of the Australians.

In what was East Pakistan, especially in the Chittagong hill-tracts, the minority Theravadins worked hard to maintain a superior status. They utilized a little cunning and designated all saddhus and sannyasins as Mahayana Buddhists. This was done to impress the hill people that Buddhism was the early religion in these parts, but always giving to themselves the superior status.  Eventually the Muslims chased them out to imprint their own religion in the area. Needless to say when Muslim aggression began, the Theravada monks were the first to desert the people they claimed they were trying to save.

There can never be a true orthodox school of Buddhism claiming its authority from the Buddha or any sect which claims it has the real authentic teachings as they dropped from Gautama’s mouth. He never wrote anything himself and nothing he taught was taken down in writing. Nobody today can truly stand up and proclaim they know the teaching of the Buddha. All we have today is the teachings of Buddhism and that is  a very different matter.

When Buddhism was exported, it tended to flourish in some foreign countries but failed in others. In the land of it sbirth it died a natural death. In India it had constantly to find an unending battle with the established beliefs and patterns of Hinduism but in foreign lands it was free to take on new patterns and even fulfilled a need and desire among the people. Much depended on the vigour and personality of the early missionaries, but mostly on acceptance by foreign rulers. Where they did not get the patronage of royalty, it did not take root. Political factors might have played a part in the same way as the acceptance of Christianity by Constantine to unite his people by means of a new religious fervour. In China and Ceylon this was undoubtedly an important factor. In Tibet it was quickly absorbed and swallowed into the national Lamaism. In Sumatra it tok some root, but only because the Buddha was accepted as being a form of the Lord Shiva. Here too it died and was deluged by Islam.

India always presented some difficulty to Buddhism when it tried to establish itself as a completely separate religion. Since all its ideas and concepts were ancient by Hindu standards, its separate position was difficult to establish. Unlike the Jains, it never enjoyed the support of large or separate communities. The Indians would respect Gautama as a guru figure and always freely gave support to all saddhus, irrespective of their sect.  Kings and wealthy people supported all religions and drew no line of distinction. Gautama, as a guru, probably stressed Dukka, frustration. Gurus did not differ so much, but there was always the tendency for each guru to stress certain aspects.  Dukka was well known, understood and experienced by everyone. One did not have to reach the stage of enlightment to see or understand it.

Foreign scholars have too often fallen into the pitfalls and traps which the Theravadins have presented. Too often, Theravada lengs have been accepted as untarnishedhistory. They accepted without question or investigation the Theravada claim of the Pali canon being the earliest and “pristine pure” teachings of Gautama, not to mention the spurious history of King Asoka being a Buddhist.

The Pali canon owes its origin to the translation of Buddhist writings into a language known as Pali. This was done by a Brahmin straggler who called himself Buddhaghosa, the Voice of the Buddha.  Probably he thought he was. This event took place towards the time of the final collapse of Buddhism in India. Since he had to go to Ceylon to find and obtain the bulk of the literature which became the Pali Canon, it is not unreasonable to suppose that much if it originated in Ceylon.  This is unquestionably true for most of the Vinaya Pitaka, a compilation of the many rules which a monk is supposed to observe.

Pali means “text” and is used to mean the “language of the texts”. It gave Ceylon Buddhism a sacred language of its own. It was never a spoken language at any time but was a language compiled by substituting sounds and spellings from Sanskrit. This was Buddhagosa’s big curtain-raising act, though in practice much simpler than it sounds. Pali has no alphabet of its own. In Ceylon they use the Singhalese alphabet and Burma, Thailand also both use their own alphabets.  A Buddhist monk cannot read the Pali of another Theravada country unless he first learns their alphabet. There is no evidence to show that Pali ever existed in India at any time in the past. If written in Devanagari it would automatically become Sanskrit and who in India would know the Singhalese alphabet?  Theravadins admit the role of Buddhagosa although it contradicts many of their own claims. Sometimes we can find a sutra in the Pali Canon which is also contained among the scriptures of the Jains. Who is cheating whom?

Buddhaghosa’s sincerity as a Buddhist may be quite above dispute but this in itself would not make him the final authority he has actually become. He may not always have been aware that a sutra belonged to another religion or had the depth of understanding to detect errors. If the Theravadins claim that he converted into Pali every word and sentence of the Pali Canon, it means that that the entire compilation of Theravada scripture passed through the censorship of only one man before it emerged as the Pali Canon. How then can they know what changes might have taken place at his hand? Let us take the case of the Te-Vijja sutra. It proclaims clearly and beyond dispute, time and time again, the ultimate goal is to attain union with Brahman. This is true as an Upanishad concept but the Theravada school would hardly agree with this teaching which is found in their own Pali Canon. All very pristine and the pure word of the Buddha.