Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Entering Buddhist Caves (photos)

Marten Lagendijk (Donmarty/; Seven, Kasan, Dev, Wisdom Quarterly
A fanciful depiction of the Buddha in Maha Kassapa's Pipphali Cave, Rajgir (Yuttadhammo)

Indian women behold Ajanta cave complex in the distance; inside cave (Donmarty/flickr)
A darkened nook and lit shrine in the Ajanta complex (Martenlagendijk/Donmarty/flickr)
Chiang Dao (Peter Apflauer/
The best ascetics (shamans, shramans) are minted in caves. Everyone must know that by now.
Long, long ago the Bodhisat retreated to the Himalayan foothills extending from Afghanistan's Hindu Kush through Nepal's secluded climes to India's northeastern hinterlands
That region includes the modern states of Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland, and Arunchal Pradesh north of Bhutan (the world's last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom).

Why enter caves?
Ajanta Cave (Donmarty/
As meditation worsens, we want louder, brighter, more chaotic stimuli to keep us distracted and entertained or at least not bored. As meditation progresses, we want quieter, dimmer, stiller stimuli to keep us concentrated and serene as we experience more internal stimuli than we can usually handle.

What comes from successful meditation is so gorgeous, brilliant, overwhelming, and sublime that putting it into words falls flat. We are reduced to platitudes.

The first phase of meditation is serenity or tranquility (samatha, samadhi, dhyana) that becomes absorption. This needs withdrawal and mental seclusion -- separation from sense-distractions, craving, and lust/thirst.
Ajanta cave art (Paroxysmal30/flickr)
"But I like lust!" we say. Of course. In this world, in our ordinary state, we came here to try to feed our endless cravings for sensual delights. And there are many, most of them illusory. There is only one abyss, and that is the mouth. No matter what we put in it, it is never full for long. It is an endlessly hollow hole to be filled.
Ajanta (Nevilzaveri/flickr)
So we retreat to another hollow hole and do not attempt to fill it. Instead, we see what there is to see when we are not distracted.
Like Plato's Allegory of the Cave, we begin to distinguish forms from shadows, the real thing from the tinsel we've been getting by on.

Udayagiri, Khandagiri, Orissa (Aisamit/flickr)
The second stage of meditation needs, or strongly yearns for, more silence, stillness, and solitude -- all the things that s*ck when we have little internal to rely on. This is because real insight meditation (not the rote mental noting that skips the cultivation of foundational concentration that gives the heart/mind penetrating energy) is much more subtle and sublime than the amazing bliss of the first stage (eight phases) of meditation.
Caves of Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan near the real Kapilavastu with Hindu Kush (part of the Himalayan range) in background (Wiki commons)

There are two ways to understand that "Buddh-ISM" began in caves. The first way is to remember how often the Buddha-to-be or Bodhisatta (Sanskrit, Bodhisattva)
Many "Birth Tales" (jatakas) place the individual striving for buddhahood in caves along the foothills of the Himalayas.  
Sattapanni Cave, India (
What were once the tallest Buddha sculptures in the world are carved into cliffs dotted with many caves used by Buddhist monastics and practitioners, many being Shakyans from (the real) Kapilavastu. Now Bamiyan, "Copper Well" (Mes Aynak), "Golden Mound" (Tillya Tepe), and other Afghan archeological sites.

Of course, the Buddha-Dharma -- the message and mission/ministry (buddha-sasana) of the Enlightened or Awakened One -- began in the wild forest under caring trees among wilderness devas or "sprites" (elementals, fairies, funloving spirits).

Buddha surrounded by devas (Donmarty)
But the -ism, the religion, the formal institution began after the Buddha's final nirvana in Sattapanni, Saptaparni, or Srataparna Cave on the first of seven hills surrounding Magadha's enclosed royal city of Rajagriha, India, where the Buddha spent much of his life after the great enlightenment. 
Maha Kassapa, a Brahmin arhat and prominent disciple of the Buddha who lived in the nearby Pipphali Cave when his teacher dwelled on another hill called Vulture Peak and Veluvana Monastery just outside the royal city's gate, called for the First Council that led to the formation of a standardized "religion. 

The unimaginable magnificence of the Ajanta Buddhist cave complex, India (Donmarty)
Now there are "Buddhist caves" all over the world -- India (Ajanta, Ellora), Central Asia (the -Stans), Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan (which was part of India until 1947), China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Java, Singapore, Malaysia, Mongolia, Siberia, Russia, and Europe's Kalmykia.

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