Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Question of the Week - Buddhist Trifecta, Part III

This week, we’ll wrap up the Buddhist Trifecta with three more questions:

1. What is the Nakhon Pathom Pagoda or the Phra Pathom Chedi?
2. Why do monks throw rice during ceremonies?
What are mudras?

Bonus: Who is the Tai Citu? (Hint: its not the star in the Constellation Cetus)

1. The Nakhon Pathom Pagoda (also known as the Phra Pathom Chedi) is the largest stupa in the world, standing 127m or 417ft. It is located in Nakhon Pathom province of Southern Thailand and was built around 350 A.D./C.E. In 2005, the monument was nominated to UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

2. The throwing of rice by monks is symbolic of one of these ritual functions, depending on the type of ceremony: 1) Spreading the Dharma, 2) Offering flowers to deities, 3) Dissolving wrathful deities into the sky.

3. Mudras are hand gestures performed during Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies, signifying the offering of prayers to the deities.

Bonus: The Tai Citu is one of the oldest Tulku lineages in Tibetan Buddhism, going back to 1407. Again, Tulkus are reincarnated Buddhist Masters. Chokyi Gyaltsen was the first incarnation to bear the name Tai Situ, a title given to him by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty in China. Gyaltsen became a close disciple of the Fifth Karmapa. As there is a close affinity between Master and Disciple, that allows Buddhists to be reincarnated with the same group of individuals, so do the reincarnations of the Karmapa and the Tai Situ follow. We see the same reincarnation patterns with His Holiness the Karmapa and HE Kalu Rinpoche, as well as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and HE Panchen Lama.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Buddhist Trifecta, Part II

Continuing the Buddhist Trifecta . .

  1. What is Saranth?
  2. What is a Prayer wheel?
  3. What is Theravada Buddhism?

1. Saranth is the place where Gautauma Buddha first began his teaching of the Dharma or the Path. About 5 weeks after his Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, Gautauma Buddha was traveling to meet some friends. On the way, he came across the unpassable Ganges. The local chieftain disliked traveling philosophers and would not allow Buddha use of the boat ferry. Gautauma Buddha gathered his energy, meditated, with in a single focused act, was able to jump across the entire span. He soon gained followers on the opposite bank, near Saranth and started teaching the Way or Do of the Dharma. The followers now became the Sangha or Buddhist community.

When you hear monks say, “I seek refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,” they are saying, “I look to the Master, the Teachings, and the Community” for assistance on my journey to achieve Enlightenment for the benefit of all Sentient beings.

2. A prayer wheel can be large or small, and contains individual slips of paper upon which are written unique prayers. The prayer wheel is hollow and usually shaped like a cylinder, placed on an axis from which to spin the wheel. When the wheel is spun, the individual slips of paper in the drum move around and the prayers are lifted towards the heavens. When illiteracy was common, prayer wheels were a way for the community to send forth written prayers, without having to read the prayer.

3. Theravada Buddhism is the type of Buddhism practiced in Southeast Asian countries to include Singapore, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand. Theravada is the original form of Buddhism that developed shortly after the Buddhist diaspora led by Sidhartha Gautauma Buddha. The basis of Theravada is rooted in analysis, and the understanding of external and internal factors that ultimately either lead towards, or away from Enlightenment. The cause of suffering is craving and delusion. By letting go of delusion, one no longer has the craving (attachment). Moreover, it is up to the individual adherent to formulate a path to Enlightenment. The pantheon of deities is not responsible for an individual’s self-realization or Enlightenment. Rather, it is up to the individual to achieve self-realization, the escape from samsara, and the liberation of the consciousness.

“General Chang, You cannot liberate me. I can only liberate myself.”

- His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lhasa, Buddhist Trifecta

Its been a tragic week for the people of Tibet, with the demonstrations in Lhasa. His Holiness, the 14thDalai Lama has always advocated a non-violent approach to address the issues of Tibet Autonomy and independence from China.

What we think of as China is actually a myth. China consists of over 19 major ethnic groups within its borders. The more widely-known ethnic groups are the majority Han ethnic group in the Southern and Central regions of China, the Manchu ethnic group in the Northeast, the Mongol peoples of the North, and the Tibetans of the West. The Tibetans are a totally distinct people, with different genetic characteristics, from a different ethnolinguistic group, and different cultural traditions than the Han Chinese. The Han Chinese are a beautiful people with a rich culture and tradition, but we must honor all cultures and not advocate the subjugation of one culture by another. We hope and pray that cooler heads prevail to address the issues raised by the Tibetan people.

That being said, this week’s late post will feature a Buddhist Trifecta – identifying significant Buddhist sites from around the World, to highlight the preservation of culture.


1. What is Bodhgaya?

2. Where is the Reclining Buddha?

3. What is the Emerald Buddha?

1. Bodhgaya is located in Eastern India, and is where Gautama Buddha obtained Enlightenment. The site has several important structures, including temples, prayer mounds, and the Bodhi tree. It is unknown whether this is the actual tree (or a sapling from the tree) where Buddha meditated, however archaeological digs have revealed artifacts left from 200 A.D./C.E. These artifacts include coins, gold effigies, and other ritual items. The actual city is in the Gaya district of the India state of Bihar. The site is also known as Bodhimanga and contains the Mahabodhi temple, which is also considered an Axis-mundi or cosmic center of the universe.

2. The Reclining Buddha finds its home in the Wat Pho temple complex in Bangkok, Thailand. The Reclining Buddha is relatively new, constructed in 1824 as a part of King Rama III’s restoration efforts. The effigy is gilded wood, with Mother-of-Pearl inlays on its feet. The 108 inlays of its feet are told to represent the personality characteristics/ mythemes of a true Buddha. The Wat Pho temple complex is next to the Grand Palace (ceremonial residence of the King of Thailand) and the Phra Nakhon (home of the Emerald Buddha).

3. The Emerald Buddha is a statue housed on the grounds of the Phra Naknon temple complex in Bangkok, Thailand. The statue is actually Jadeite, not Emerald, but provides an auspicious connection between the Thai monarchy and the ancestral spirits of the Thai people. The origin of the Emerald Buddha is unknown, however legend says it was discovered in 1434, when a bolt of lightning struck a temple and revealed a curious jade figure under a layer of stucco. The monks discovered that the stucco hid the Emerald Buddha. Thereafter, the Emerald Buddha spent time in various provinces of Thailand and then founds its home in Laos. In 1778, the future king of Thailand, Rama I quelled an uprising in Laos and captured the Emerald Buddha. Returning it to Thailand, he vowed that he would honor the statue, to ensure the longevity of the monarchy and the Thai nation. All succeeding Thai Kings have been devout in the veneration and care of the statue. Three times a year, during an elaborate ceremony, the King of Thailand changes the garments of the Emerald Buddha.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Question of the Week - Tulkus

This week’s QOTW deals with Tibetan Buddhism, and specifically Tulkus. Tulkus are the reincarnated forms of realized lamas, that have chosen to be reborn and continue their path of the Dharma. The Tulku, usually a young boy, will be recognized as the departed master through a series of tests. Once recognized as the legitimate manifestation body, or Nirmanakaya, the Tulku will be honored, taught, and then receive their respective thrones when they turn 18 years of age.

The most-widely known Tulku lineage is that of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama is the recognized manifestation of Chenrezig or Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The feminine form of the Bodhisattva of Compassion is Quan Yin. Now, the lineage goes back 13 reincarnations. When the current Dalai Lama was born, several auspicious signs appeared at his parents’ home in Takser, Tibet. There were a pair of ravens or Dharmapala (protector deities) that appeared at the topmost section of the barn. His father was deathly ill, then recovered quickly, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama was born. His Holiness correctly identified his previous ritual tools, among various sets of prayer wheels and vajras, when he was questioned by the monks searching for the reincarnation. And at the summer palace, His Holiness (as a young boy) knew the secret location of his false teeth that he wore in his previous form as the 13th Dalai Lama.

Now, there is another lineage of Tulkus that is older that the Dalai Lama lineage. This would be the Karmapa of the Kagyupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The current Karmapa, His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa, is the 17th lineage holder. Another Tulku lineage is that of Kalu Rinpoche. The current Kalu Rinpoche, His Eminence Karma Ngedön Tenpay Gyaltsen, is the third lineage holder, and is 17 years old.

Usually Buddhist masters have the capability to be reincarnated and maintain most of their knowledge. In other words, their consciousness is diverted before it returns to the Universal Source, and sent back whole or almost whole. However, Tulkus are special because they are recognized as reincarnated forms, and are then allowed to resume their activities relating to their previous thrones. Moreover, there must be a desire on the part of the Tulku, and on the part of the disciples, for the reincarnated form to appear. Both must achieve a high level of consciousness or consciousness-energy to facilitate this miraculous rebirth.

Other cultures around the world, including the Egyptian, Ancient Chinese, and Inca have attempted to gain immortality. However, the Tibetans are the only ones to have mastered the subtle art of Transmigration of the Soul.

"The exposition and practice of teachings are the heart of Buddha’s Dharma;

The infallible path of the victorious ones leads to the pure
perfection and peace of complete awakening.

In order to bring your disciples to the full maturation of their
resolve to travel this path,

King of nagas, may you swiftly return.”

- Prayer for the Swift Return of Kalu Rinpoche,
His Eminence Tai Situ