Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Buddhist Ash Wednesday: LENT begins

Pat Macpherson, Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly
Ashes to ashes, monk to monkey, we know Major Tom's a... (Irish Culture Customs)
Yogi "holymen" (sadhus) rub pyre-ashes over their bodies concentrating on forehead tilaks as a religious observance bringing them closer to Brahman (DavidEarlotti/
Buddha the Yogi Sage (vgonzalezortiz/flickr)
Buddha the Yogi Sage (vgonzalezortiz/flickr)
After the decadence, debauchery, and fattening up of Carnival (the "Goodbye to Meat") and Mardi Gras (Pancake Day) comes the guilt: Ash Wednesday (Ireland's National No Smoking Day) and LENT. It is time to repent of sensuality, excess, and "missing the mark" (Greek sin).
So cover the breasts and expose the forehead. Recollecting an ancient Hindu tradition, ashes will be rubbed on it. 

Hindu OM symbol (tizzyhyatt/flickr)
These sacred ashes or vibhuti signify mortality and death as well as the fierceness to play/work against negative forces, obstacles to rebirth in the heavens (sagga) and liberation by ending rebirth and ALL suffering (nirvana).

Vedic (or Vedantic, which refers to the "best of the Vedas") Hinduism has many practices of abstinence. The Buddha contributed various restraints and observations to Indian culture but enjoined them principally on monastics and intensive lay-practitioners.

Catholicism borrowed more from Hinduism -- particularly its tantric Vajrayana arm in Tibet with all its pomp, circumstance, and "pope" -- than any other of the many traditions it has borrowed from. Jesus may even have been a tulku among Tibetan Buddhist lamas who were the actual Three Wise Men from the East who came looking for him when he was reborn from the heavenly plane to Earth. Jesus remembered and later went to India.
Shiva's forehead: sacred ashes
Lent, like pilgrimages (yatra-yatra) and other Indian spiritual practices, spread far beyond the subcontinent. People adopted compassionate vegetarianism, ascetic fasting, periods of silence and reflection all to come closer to the Ultimate Reality (Brahman) behind the Illusion (Maya). No formal religion has taken more from other religions and spiritual traditions than Roman Catholicism -- itself an amalgamation of misappropriated beliefs, relics, and remnants. 

Sin on Wed. (
"Christ" is a composite character of many great teachers and their teachings all rolled into one bigger-than-life superhero. Religious scholar Prof. Reza Aslan was exactly right to distinguish Jesus of Nazareth, the person, from Jesus the Christ, the mythical figure. The Buddha was christus (xριστός) -- in that he was born an "anointed" kshatriya-caste royal, who spoke of the Maitreya (Messiah), the "spiritual friend," to come. A buddha is the best of all friends.

Catholicism became the biggest religion in the world, dwarfing the more than billion Buddhists (most of them uncounted in officially atheist/communist China), by appropriating all of these ideas and melding them into one Great Vehicle for all, one universal-congregation or super-religion. This all happened in ancient Buddhist Greece, but the ideas were taken from the wisdom of the East and applied to the nascent "West."
"Take that, [you Brahmin] temple priest!" (
"Buddhist Lent"
Vajrayana Buddhas (Buddhist Train Tour)
The period known as "Buddhist Lent" (Vas or Vassa) actually applies directly to monastics and only indirectly to lay Buddhists. It is the three-month "Rains Retreat." In ancient India, the monsoon season was such that it made travel difficult and dangerous to the life of insects, amphibians, fish (spawning in flooded farm fields), seedlings, and sprouts wriggling all over the wet earth. So the Buddha was asked to rein in his followers and have them not travel about. The Buddha agreed and declared a discipline of remaining in one location for a time of intensive practice, study, and teaching.

Buddha Maitreya in Diskit, Ladakh, Himalayan Buddhist India (PaPa_KiLo/
Agni chakra, third-eye on ashen yogi, India
Devout "hearers" (dayakas and sāvakas) of the Dharma, themselves lay Buddhists, took advantage of this situation accruing merit by bring food and other requisites for nuns and monks to utilize the remainder of the year then hanging around, hearing the Dharma, and practicing it intensively. For the day, people would adopt Eight Precepts over the normal five. And they might remain in the temple complexes (viharas) overnight memorizing, chanting, and undertaking walking and sitting meditation. 

Buddhist altar (Piyushkumar1/flickr)
It was a great time to access the wandering ascetics, have questions answered, doubts allayed, and great metaphysical matters discussed. Many people flocked to see the Buddha, few of them "Buddhists." But they would return again and again, and when he would travel on as the itinerant teacher he was, he would leave behind ascetics to help and comfort the people.
Mardi Gras has Pagan roots
International Business Times
Mardi Gras, New Orleans (Kosmic Frenchmen)
Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is a Christian holiday-cum-pop culture phenomenon that dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites. Also known as Carnival, it’s celebrated in several nations across the globe -- predominantly those with large Roman Catholic populations -- on the day before the religious season of Lent [the 40 day run up to Pagan Easter]. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate some pagan traditions like the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia [worshiping the God Saturn] and Lupercalia into the new faith -- a far easier task than abolishing them outright. As a result, the debauchery and excess of Carnival season became a prelude to the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. More

Remember, sinners, ye are dust and to dust ye shall return! lol (

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