Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Western Paradise (as Afghanistan)

Dhr. Seven, Ven. Chandananda Thero, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly
The Buddha and Shakyans were from the "Middle Country," skirting borders East and West
The "West," the rich Silk Route crossroads of the ancient Shakyan territory (janapada headed by Kapilavastu), now Bamiyan, Afghanistan (Afghanistan Matters, Netherlands)
Chinese Mahayana Buddhists often speak of the "Great Western Paradise," a Pure Land (suddhavasa, "Pure Abode"), a mythical Atzlan or faraway Afghan land. They are likely referring to rebirth in the space-deva-worlds of the Four Great Sky Kings. But why the Western World? Was King Virūpakkha, Regent of the Dragons (nagas), who sits facing east, particularly inviting? Or was it the historical fact that the Dharma had come from the West -- from India, considered the "holy land" by Chinese Buddhists, who were cloistered in their great walled empire? Did it refer to a future when everyone would want to "go west" for economic advantage? We suggest that because the Buddha came from the West (Northwest India, Gandhara, Afghanistan), as seen from the East and Far East, it was to the West that one would naturally want to go.

The Buddha (SDhammika/Barakat)
The Buddha came from the West.

What is the meaning of this shocking statement? Surely, the Buddha came from the East! That is, indeed, true. But at that time the "West" was the lands and cultures west of India, which is what we now call the Sacred East.

The river that divided the once great empire of India (Maha Bharat) was not the Ganges, which runs southeast down from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal (now "Bangladesh" as a result of Partition in 1947).

The Sindhu of the Indus and Hindus (W)
The Indus/Sindhu river (fed by the now defunct Saraswati river, whose historical existence has now been confirmed by satellite data) came down from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea to create a natural boundary between "West" and "East" in the Indian imagination. Siddhartha came from West to East and began teaching near the holy Indian city of Varanasi (Benares) on the Ganges.

MAP: Indus Valley Civilization
His extended family, however, got the message and began an almost simultaneous practice of the Dharma. His former wife (called Yasodhara, Bimba-devi, Rahula-mata) was already following as best she could eventually to become the fiercest enlightened disputant Bhadda kaccānā; his son (Rahula) would be the youngest to ordain; his cousins became great disciples; his father (Suddhodana) the king became enlightened; his mothers (Maya and Pajapati) were both helped, one in space, one on Earth, the latter becoming the world's first Buddhist nun; his half-sister (Sundari Nanda) and half-brother (Nanda) becoming enlightened disciples; his close cousin (Ananda) becoming his longtime attendant memorizing the sutras for all posterity; and other Shakyan princes and princesses also ordaining, creating a great need for massive Buddhist temple monastic complexes exactly like those found in Afghan archeological sites like Bamiyan, massive Mes Aynak ("Copper Well"), Tepe Narenj (near Kabul). 

The very first Buddhist temple complexes were likely built in Afghanistan and Indo-Pakistan (previously called Gandhara on the northwestern frontier of anything still called "India" at the time).

Moving over the western expanse beyond the remains of India (Afghanistan Matters/flickr)
The lands influenced by Vedic India extend back in time to the Indus Valley Civilization. They were to become India, Persia (particularly Seistan-Baluchistan), ancient Greek/Hellenized Bactria (the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom), and other empires (Shakyan, Sogdiana, Seleucid, etc.), what is now Central Asia and, by our American reckoning, parts of the geopolitical Middle East (Kurdistan, Iran, Afghanistan, a future-Pashtun'istan, and Hazar-istan in Buddhist Bamiyan, etc.), and lands formerly within the Soviet sphere of influence -- Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and China (Uygur Xinjiang), and Pakistan/Baltistan (a country which didn't exist except as a state in India until 1947's Partition of India by the British). 

Gandhara-style Buddha
Imagining Kapilavastu or the Shakyan janapada (territory) in Nepal or India, as we customarily do, obscures the real and more amazing history of Buddhism. It conceals facts brought to light by ancient textual (e.g., the oldest Buddhist texts being from Gandhara/Afghanistan) and modern archeological evidence (e.g., the oldest Buddhist monasteries and art being from Gandhara/Afghanistan) and by critically reviewing haphazard and politically-influenced history concocted by early British and German Orientalists. 

(See Ranajit Pal, who makes the stronger claim that evidence for Nepal was intentionally falsified).
The Sinhalese recension of the Anagatavamsa, translated into English for the first time, is one of several texts forming a genre of Buddhist apocalyptic literature.

It was generated by the [messianic] cult of Maitreya in South and Southeast Asia.
The marvels of Mes Aynak to be lost
It is a prophetic text revealing a rich religious imagination focused on the advent of the next-Buddha (not a "second coming" but a new person to fill the post) in a time when those who have long persevered in the religious quest will gain an opportunity to realize the highest spiritual attainment. More

Looking "West" from Mes Aynak ("Copper Well") stupa, a Buddhist burial mound encased in stone, Afghanistan, west of India (
Looking farther "West" to the beyond to Eurasia, the Caucasus, and Europe after the vast expanses of Central Asia, ruins of Mes Aynak or "Copper Well" mine and Buddhist monastic complex archeological site (

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