Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Institute preserves the Dharma (cartoon)

Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly; Chancellor Ashin Nanissara, S.I.B.A., Burma 

(Bemineto99) Looking down from the Tusita world, the Bodhisat decides to take rebirth on Earth, strive for enlightenment, and establish the Dharma to relieve beings of suffering.
Burmese monastic (Perakman)
Siddhattha Gotama (Sanskrit, Siddhartha Gautama) was born in approximately 623 B.C.E. He achieved buddhahood (maha bodhi) at the age of 35. He freed himself from all rebirth and suffering by attaining final nirvana in 543 B.C.E. at the age of 80. 

During the intervening 45 years he taught, toured the “Middle Land” (Northeastern India) -- expounding the Dharma (Doctrine, sutras, Conventional Teachings), Abhidharma (Ultimate Teachings), and Vinaya (Disciplinary Code) for the benefit of all humans and devas.
Dharma forms the guiding light of daily practice. The Abhidharma is the systematic treatment of Buddhist psychology and physics in language more precise than the discourses. The Monastic Disciplinary Code is a collection of rules, their origin and explanations, etiquette guidelines, and disciplinary (parliamentary, democratic) procedures for monastic living.
Long after the Buddha made an end of suffering, the Dharma, Abhidharma, and Vinaya live on to guide others wishing to also make an end of all suffering. As long as they remain in practice, we to that extent a supremely wise teacher with us. The Buddha taught by extraordinary perception, revealing what he directly saw as helpful and harmful on the path to enlightenment (awakening from delusion) and liberation (nirvana).
This is of great benefit to all humankind and to beings on adjacent superior and inferior planes of existence. To promote the quality of conceptual understanding of sometimes very subtle teachings, he and later commentators taught the Abhidharma, which are the Ultimate Teachings abstracted and systematized from the conventional language of the discourses (sutras).
To help all who would help themselves overcome disappointment and misery and gain satisfaction and peace, the Buddha taught a path-and-practice we now call the Dharma [always capitalized to distinguish it from the multivalent Sanskrit term dharma]. Most of what we know about what the Buddha taught comes from ordinary discourses -- surviving in standardized form appropriate to oral transmission and memorization rather than writing and reading.

BotanischerGarten Hamburg, Germany, KleinFlottbek Buddha (JinxHH/flickr)
These sutras -- recorded in Pali, Sanskrit, and Prakrit (Magadhi) -- often appear to us as stilted, artificial, and redundant tautologies more than actual instructions or natural threads (sutras, sutures, i.e., strings of related ideas). This is because they were never meant to stand alone the way a book might today. They were chanted, explained, and studied; they make sense as shorthand reminders of the teachings, which are much broader and detailed instructions the Buddha and early disciples provided.
The Nuns' Teachings
Most of what the nuns taught does not seem to have survived or been preserved following the lapse of their Monastic Order. (Or it is only temporarily lost to most scholars, hidden away in the origin stories accompanying the Bhikkhuni Vinaya, where few male scholar-monks seem intent to search. Or it may be found in Central Asian storehouses (and treasure troves in and around Afghanistan, formerly Gandhara, Greater India) where Buddhism flourished before moving north and east to China). But there are a few scraps to be found in the Bhikkhuni Samyutta and inspired utterances (Therigatha). 
This is a tragedy because the Buddha designated two chief female disciples, Khema Theri and Uppalavana Theri, who must have taught just as his chief male disciples Sariputra Thera and Maha Moggallana Thera did.
  • The Buddha brought people to the Path, then newly ordained monks were brought to stream entry by Sariputra and arhatship by Maha Moggallana. It then makes sense that the wise nuns Khema and Uppalavana served these functions for female disciples. 
The Vinaya, or Monastic Code of Conduct, was taught for self-discipline and the peaceful coexistence of intensive practitioners on the Path.
These three major collections are known as the “Three Baskets” (Tri-Pitaka). These divisions have, in the absence of the Buddha, been rightly viewed and regarded as teacher, trainer, mentor, and guide to enlightenment (bodhi) and the final end of suffering (nirvana). They may be likened to the invisible presence of the Buddha as a universal teacher existing wherever these three are preserved and put into practice.
Those who esteem the Buddha are therefore well versed in these three main divisions of the teaching.

The Six Buddhist Councils
Studying monk (ChristyB30/flickr)
Three months after the Buddha's final nirvana, the First Buddhist Council was convened in Rajagaha (Rajgir, India). The congress was attended by a large number of monastics, all fully enlightened (arhats) with the additional analytical knowledges (patisambhida). Maha Kassapa led this Council of Elders (theras and theris). He offered three major points:

1) Teachings (Doctrine or Discipline) the Buddha not taught should not be offered by monastics. 2) Those teachings taught by the Buddha should neither be deleted, augmented, nor edited by monastics. 3) Those teachings the Buddha taught should be followed by monastics.

Therefore, the knowledge, belief, and practice of strictly following the historical Buddha's Doctrine and Discipline became known as Theravada (“Teaching or School of the Elders,” the “Elders” being the enlightened monastics of the time. The Noble Sangha is, of course, composed of many accomplished laypeople as well, but these are not considered elders since they have not gone forth into monasticism).
The Second Council was held in 100 B.C.E. in Vesali and was attended by 700 monastics. It was co-led by Sabbakami Thera and Yasa Thera.
The Third Council took place in 236 B.C.E. in Pataliputra (which Dr. Ranajit Pal places much farther to the west) and was attended by 1,000 monastics. It was led by Tissa Thera.
The Buddha, Indonesia (Luxquarta/flickr)
The first, second, and third of these councils were held in greater India and were attended exclusively by enlightened "Indian" monastics. (How far did Greater India extend, did it encompass modern Iran or only come up to its eastern border?)
The Fourth Council was held in Sri Lanka in 540 B.C.E. and was attended by 500 monastics. It was led by Dhammarakkhita Thera. Another significant difference between the previous councils and the fourth one was that up until this time, the monastics had put the Tripitaka (Three Baskets) down in writing on bundled ola palm leaves.
In 240 B.C.E., the Fifth Council was held in Mandalay (Burma) and was attended by 2,400 monastics. It was led by Jagara Thera. The outstanding fact was that there was no Sangayana for 2,000 years between the Fourth and Fifth Councils. During the Fifth Council the three divisions of the Dharma were carved on giant marble slabs, filling 729 of them, each measuring six feet by four feet.

The Fourth Council had been attended only by Sri Lankan monastics. The Fifth was attended only by Burmese monastics.
Most of the modern literature that attempts to explain the Buddha’s teachings is merely the interpretation and inference of respective a author(s). This is a great loss for those who have never tasted the “authentic” teaching.
Consequently, Sitagu International Buddhist Academy (S.I.B.A.) has Romanized and translated the authentic Three Baskets of the Sixth Council, in which learned monastics from five Theravada countries participated along with monastics from some Mahayana countries. This has been done for worldwide dissemination for the benefit of those interested in tasting the essence of the Dharma.

Sabbadanam Dhammdanam Jinati
"May knowledge, belief, and practice of the truth shine forth in every corner of the world!"

S.I.B.A. - Sitagu International Buddhist Academy
S.I.B.A. formed a governing board, a Board of Admonishing Masters, consisting of 15 Burmese monks to provide spiritual guidance: U Sobhita, U Kumara, U Vimalabhivamsa, U Supannindabhivamsa, U Pandita, U Vimalacara, U Acinna (the most venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw), U Janinda, U Agghiya, U Sumangala, U Sajjanabhivamsa, U Samvarabhivamsa, U Narada, U Jotikabhivamsa, and U Kavisara.

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