Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The "13 Sane Ascetic Practices" (video)

Ven. Nyanatiloka (Buddhist Dictionary); Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
(Journeyman) Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei, Japan. Saying they'll resort to suicide if they fail to complete the journey, and often dying en route, these extremist monks undertake an [extra-canonical] perilous quest for enlightenment.
Buddhist monastic, wandering ascetic, recluse, hermit, Yarchen Car (Exposureddd/flickr)
Taming the mind like a wild elephant
Dhutānga [literally, a "means of shaking off (the defilements)"]: "means of purification," [profitable, beneficial] ascetic or austere practices. 

These are strict observances recommended by the Buddha to monastics as a help to cultivate contentedness, renunciation, energy, and other beneficial qualities. One or more of them -- but rarely if ever all of them -- may be observed for a shorter or longer period of time.
  • EDITORIAL NOTE: These practices are usually only undertaken with the guidance and direction of a meditation master. Otherwise one faces the very real danger of aggravating one's "personality type" (greed/faith, hate/wisdom, delusion/speculation) or predominant disposition rather than balancing/eliminating it.
"The monastic training in morality (sila, virtue) should take upon oneself means of purification, in order to gain those virtues through which the purity of morality will become accomplished, to wit: fewness of needs, contentedness, austerity, detachment, energy, moderation, and so on" (The Path of Purification, Vis.M. II).

The Path of Purification (Vis.M. II) describes 13 "austere practices" or dhutangas, consisting of the vows of:
  1. wearing only patched-up robes: pamsukūlik'anga
  2. wearing only three robes: tecīvarik'anga
  3. going on almsround: pindapātik'anga
  4. not omitting any house while going for alms: sapadānikanga
  5. eating at one sitting: ekāsanik'anga
  6. eating only from the alms-bowl: pattapindik'anga
  7. refusing all further food: khalu-pacchā-bhattik'anga
  8. living in the forest: āraññik'anga
  9. living under a tree: rukkha-mūlik'anga
  10. living in the open air: abbhokāsik'anga
  11. living in a charnal ground: susānik'anga
  12. being satisfied with whatever dwelling: yathā-santhatik'anga
  13. sleeping in the sitting position (and never lying down): nesajjik'anga.
These 13 exercises are all, without exception, mentioned in the old sutra texts (e.g., MN 5, 113; A.V., 181-90), but never together in one and the same place.
"Without doubt, O meditators, it is a great advantage to live in the forest as a hermit, to collect one's alms, to make one's robes from picked-up rags, to be satisfied with three robes" (A.I, 30).
The vow, for example of Number 1, is taken in the words: "I reject robes offered to me by householders," or "I take upon myself the vow of wearing only [patchwork] robes made from picked-up rags." Some of the exercises may also be observed by the lay-adherent [during times of intensive meditation practice such as when on retreat to counter bad habit, tendencies, impediments, hindrances to practice].
Here it may be mentioned that each newly ordained monastic, immediately after being admitted to the Monastic Order (Sangha), is advised to be satisfied with whatever robes, alms-food, dwelling, and medicine One gets:

"The life of the monastics depends on the collected alms as food...on the root of a tree as dwelling...on robes made from patched-up rags...on stale cow's urine [cultured, fermented to the point of becoming like raw apple cider vinegar, an ancient pre-Buddhist practice of using urea/uric acid as is commonly done in American cosmetics] as medicine. May you train yourself therein all your life."
Because the moral (karmic) quality of any action depends entirely upon the accompanying intention and volition, this is also the case with these ascetic practices, as is expressly stated in The Path of Purification (Vis.M.)

Thus, the mere external performance is not the real exercise, as it is said (Pug. 275-84):

"Someone might be going for alms and so on out of stupidity and foolishness -- or with harmful intention and filled with desires -- or out of insanity and mental derangement -- or because such practice had been praised by the noble ones...." These exercises are, however properly observed "if they are taken up only for the sake of frugality, of contentedness, of purity, and so on" (Appendix).
  • On dhutanga practice in modern Thailand, see With Robes and Bowl by Bhikkhu Khantipalo (Wheel 82/83).

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