Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Buddhism among the Pueblo Indians, USA

Maya, Ashley Wells, Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly; Hendon M. Harris
Eastern Shoshone tribal member Willie LeClair, 72, took his quest to the Vatican for a festival that included Italian Catholic priests and Tibetan Buddhist monks (
In response to Rain Dance (Wisdom Quarterly ceremony) Hendon Harris (author of the article “Were the Anasazi people Buddhists?”) writes in:
QUESTION: How can anyone deny the pre-Columbian connection between Vedic Buddhism and the culture and religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Puebloan people of the Four Corners as well as tribal people all across North America? Google: "Mandalas Mantras Manjis and Monuments." You prove your point, but first allow us to quibble.

Native dancers at Ohkay Owingeh, NM (wiki)
ANSWER: First of all, Hendon, what is "Vedic Buddhism"? The Buddha's Teaching or Dharma is post-Vedic. In past lives the Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be) had been reborn a Brahmin, an expert memorizing and reciting the Vedas (the ancient Indus Valley Civilization and Indian "Knowledge Books" written by the ancient seers and sages). Brahmanism became Hinduism (the Vedic Dharma or Teachings of the Vedas), and Hinduism co-opted Buddhism trying to rein it in saying "Lord" Buddha were just another avatar, an earthly "incarnation" of Hinduism's Lord Vishnu like Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, subsuming the Enlightened One with the trinity of Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
The Buddha (happySUN/
Buddhism is not a continuation of the Vedas and does not follow from it. The Vedas are beautiful and very advanced spiritual knowledge, but they are fraught with assumptions the wandering ascetic Siddhartha overcame by his great enlightenment (maha bodhi), his realization of the ultimate truth. When he realized it, he did not proclaim the Vedas. He proclaimed something very different -- with many superficial similarities but a different goal and many new insights not recorded in those very ancient and updated texts. For one, the central theme of these texts is that of a "soul" (atman) separated in a universe which is an illusion (maya) in the mind of Brahma trying to get back to Brahman (the reality behind the illusion). The Buddha realized that that soul is impersonal, not-self (anatman), and was thereby able to transcend all this. How many Vedic scholars can see, penetrate, or appreciate the Buddha's main insight? It is this crucial insight that distinguishes Buddhism's power to lead to authentic-enlightenment and actual final-liberation. But we're quibbling; there are, as we said, many superficial similarities (karma, dhyana, dukkha, samsara, dharma, yatra, ashtanga, piti, and so on), but the Buddha clarified what these really were from his direct knowledge not his study of the Vedas.

Leaving palace to become a shramana
What was the Shramana Movement? (Sanskrit श्रमण, Pali samaṇa, English root of shaman) was a non-Vedic Indian religious movement of wandering-ascetics rather than temple-priests parallel to but separate from the historical Vedic religion. The shramaṇa tradition gave rise to Buddhism (Alexander P. Svarghese, India: History, Religion, Vision and Contribution to the World, 2008, pp. 259-60), yoga (Geoffrey Samuel, The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, Cambridge University Press, 2008), Jainism, and some later nāstika schools of Hinduism such as Cārvāka and Ājīvika, and also popular concepts in all major Indian religions such as saṃsāra (the cycle of rebirth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle).

Native American pueblo or village in Taos, New Mexico (wiki)
Buddha cave (laka-mankong/flickr)
The Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas and the Brahmins (brahmanas), the temple-priest-caste scholars engaged in empty rituals. The Buddha was a teacher among the wandering ascetics (shramanas). 

What "enlightenment" (bodhi) and liberation (moksha) are in Hinduism -- at the time of the Buddha as today -- is not the same as what the Buddha found. Buddhism defines enlightenment as fully penetrating the Four Noble Truths, which leads to glimpsing nirvana. And nirvana (even though the same word came to be used by different traditions all over India) is not rebirth with Brahma, melting into Brahman, or a separate self merging with a great collective self. These are all beautiful ideas, wonderful "spiritual" experiences but not what the Buddha taught was the ultimate liberation from ALL suffering. And even though Mahayana Buddhism was greatly influenced by these Hindu ideas, the Vedas, tantra, and other Brahminical teachings, the Vedas should not be confounded with the Buddha Dharma. Perhaps, Hendon, you were referring to the Vedic Sanskrit of early Mahayana Buddhist texts in Gandhara/Afghanistan, Greece, and China (Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit)?

Native American Buddhism
Laguna Pueblo Indians (wiki)
Now who were the Native Americans, those nations destroyed by marauding bands of European invaders and settlers in what is now America? Even prior to Columbus this area, now the USA, was FULL of people. They were displaced and killed (in what could only be described as a genocide, but we can't describe it that way because European Americans might get offended the way Turks can't stand that Armenians use the word).

It is excellent, Hendon, excellent that you have seen the clear connections between ancient Buddhists and Native Americans in key components of spirituality -- mandalas, mantras, manjis, and more! Anasazi/Hopi traditions are so similar to Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism and general shramanic/shamanic movement themes that it cannot be a coincidence.

Mandalas, Mantras, Manjis, Medicine Men (Shields-Circles), Monuments (Carved in Stone), Buffalo Horns, and Yamantaka
Hendon Harris (
In [a] recent reading on ancient religious symbols and deities in Buddhism, I have been puzzled by the North American Bison horn configuration on the top of Yamantaka’s (Vajrabhairava) head. 
Horn configurations on the heads of different animals have a distinct pattern that tie those horns back to a specific species. This is why I have been puzzled as to why the horns on the head of Tibetan Buddhism’s favorite deity Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka) are the horn set of an animal indigenous to our continent -- the North American Bison. More

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