Christian Churches of God

No. B7_7

 

 

 

Mysticism Chapter 7

Buddhism

(Edition 2.0 19900910-20001215-20071010)

 

This chapter takes the Buddhist system from its rise in India to the spread of the Theravadin system and the developments of the subsequent Mahayana and Hinayana systems.

 

 

 

 

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(Copyright  1990, 2000, 2007 Wade Cox)

 

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Buddhism

 


Liberation Theology

 

The Upanishadic view of liberation or the path to Moksha became the ultimate goal of Vedantic meditation. The Upanishadic view was ultimately negative and was further complicated by the now fully-developed belief that there was an endless cycle of existence (Samsara), "of rebirth, redeath and rebirth" (Wolpert, p. 47). "Desire, deeds, ‘action' (Karma) of any sort came now to be considered hindrances, snares, delusory traps in the soul’s search for moksha. The Law of Karma emerges linked to the concept of Samsara as a distinguishing axiom of Indian civilization" (ibid.). The law posited that every action, good and evil, had repercussions or consequences of like kind at some future date. According to Horner:

Good Karma and bad Karma which are at once the result of previous deeds and the causes of new effects; work independently of each other and are not to be balanced the one against the other in any kind of scales"  (I.B. Horner, Buddhism:  The Theravada in The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths ed. R.C. Zaehner, Hutchinson, London, 1959, p. 283).

 

Because of Karma the world revolves and creatures revolve; it keeps them bound to the wheel of Samsara as the axle holds a rolling chariots wheel "(Suttanipata 654, ibid)...If there were no Karma there would be no Samsara:  In a sense it is life, for it operates only where there is volition (ibid.).

 

By the exercise of his own Karma, a man can exercise control, crushing the covetousness, malevolence and harmfulness leading to rebirth.

 

Somehow the Aryan Sat (the real or true) became displaced in the woods of Bihar by a pessimistic view or faith in the "pre-Aryan darkness chaos, or nonbeing, the asat of demonic Vritra which now more closely resembled the ultimate goal of Indian reality, than did either the world of mortals or Gods" (Wolpert, p. 48).

 

Thus the Upanishadic view leads logically and inexorably into that of the Buddhist.

 

The Buddha

 

The Sakyamuni, or the sage of the Sakyas, Sidhartha Guatama the Buddha or ‘enlightened one’, was born around 563 BCE in Kapilavastu into the hill tribe of the Sakyas, who were centred east of Sravasti, capital of the Kosala region near the Himalayan foothills. Magadha, in the Eastern Gangetic Plain, and Kosala, west of Magadha and north of the great river artery of Aryan settlement, were the most powerful of the mahajanapadas, or great tribal regions.

 

The Sakyas were brought into the ambit of the Kosala Aryans and became tributary to them.  Siddhartha was a tribal prince who led a relatively easy life of reasonable wealth within this ‘civilised’ Aryan system, being established in the Kshatriya class, but politically he was faced with the same problem as the Upanishadic teachers who preceded and, no doubt, influenced the philosophical transformation he created and led. The ruler of Magadha, Bimbisara (ca. 540-490 BCE), became the patron of the Buddha. The relative wealth of the area doubtless prompted the acceptance of the more rational and logical Buddhist position.

 

The Buddha was involved in the Upanishadic struggle for Varna primacy. Logically, the only way of immobilising this oppressive system was to attack the notion of the inheritance of piety and the priesthood. This, of itself, has a difficulty in the concept of the law of Karma. The Buddha taught that, "only a person who ‘behaved as a Brahman should’ deserved to be treated like one" (Wolpert, p. 50). The Brahmans exercised a priestly monopoly of wealth and claimed the exercise of magic, in tradition similar to the Shamanic. The Buddha aimed to substitute a faith based around a monastic order exercising virtuous conduct, non-violence and poverty. By bolstering Kshatriya and Vaishya expectations, he launched a peaceful revolution.

 

The Dharma

 

The concept of the Dharma, or the wheel of the law, was introduced in his first sermon about 527 BCE after receiving enlightenment in a deer park in Sarnath.  That sermon on the four noble truths became the philosophic core of the Theravada (Teaching of the Elders) Buddhism. This was later named Hinayana, or the Lesser Vehicle, by the post-Christian era Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhists. The first two of the four noble truths are:

·        Suffering (dukkha), which is bound up in all existence.

·        Ignorance (avidya), which is the basic cause of all suffering and involves an ignorance of the fundamental nature of reality.

 

Differing from the fundamental Upanishasdic sages, he posits a sorrowful, transient (anicca) and soulless (anatta) world. It is the soulless world that differentiates Theravada Buddhism from either idealistic Upanishadic Brahmanism or Jainism. These forms may have been related to other materialist schools, such as the Ajivikas (Non Soul) and Charvaka or Lokayata (Peoples) schools. As we have virtually no surviving teaching of these, comparison is impossible.

 

·        Probably following on from Indian medical thought of the period, which was advanced, was the promise that any "ill" which was understood could in fact be cured.

·        The fourth noble truth was the eightfold path to the elimination of suffering by holding, practicing and following:

·        right views

·        right aspirations

·        right speech

·        right conduct

·        right livelihood

·        right effort

·        right mindfulness and

·        right meditation

 

By correct interpretation of the right function, by carefully following this path, one could reach nirvana, which means, "the blowing out" as of a candle’s flame. Pain and suffering would finally be overcome. Thus Nirvana was the equivalent of Moksha, "a paradise of escape, rather than pleasure" (Wolpert, p. 51).

 

Monasticism in Buddhism

 

Because of the numbers of disciples the Buddha attracted, he established a monastic order (Sangha) which operated throughout the world after his death. The initially all-male Sangha had three vows: chastity (brahmacarya), non-violence (ahimsa), and poverty (aparigrapha). These vows became integral to Hindu concepts of piety. Nuns were admitted to the Sangha shortly before the Buddha died.

 

The Buddha’s attitude to women was summed up in his advice to his disciple, Ananada. He advised him "not to see them" and, if that was unavoidable, "not to speak to them".

 

Anada questioned: "but suppose it was impossible to avoid speaking with them?"

 

“Then keep alert, O Ananda!” The Buddha warned.

 

Through Sila, or right discipline, yogic concentration and thoughtful study, nirvana was pursued.

 

Renunciation of family and goods and the begging of food daily bestowed merit, thus turning a symbol of shame into one of virtue.

 

According to Wolpert, the idea of monasticism achieved such popularity that it attracted religious leaders in other parts of the world, spreading west to the Near East and thence to Europe, wandering north and east to China and Japan. The monastic orders in China and Japan achieved martial power and wealth. In India they became a formidable ideological and political force against Brahmanism.

 

The initial experimentation of the Buddha in establishing the noble path to Nirvana involved a form of rigorous self-denial, which was experimented with by other ascetics. That Buddhism was a product of its time was attested to by another Kshatriya prince of the Jnatrika tribe, Vardhamana Mahavira (ca. 540-468 BCE), who established the Jainas, advocating extreme asceticism, including self-torture and death by starvation as the surest paths to salvation.

 

The Buddha rejected this as devoid of value after some years in experimentation, although suicide is not denied to the Buddhist if correctly motivated. A similar position was developed in the I Ching and commented on by Confucius, as being devoid of worth leading to misfortune. The Jains taught that each individual has an immaterial, immortal soul called jiva.

 

The Aryan disciple recognises that through Karma, deeds do not stay with the doer of them. In a new birth, the doer is not substantially the same as he was, nor totally different, and yet there has been no discontinuity between death and rebirth. The disciple is not himself transmigrating or being reborn. The dependent conditions exist which determine that contingent personalities arise and cease to be.

 

The Denial of Independant Existence

 

The Buddha developed the concept of dependant origination as Dharma. It was "an abstract law of contingency denying independent existence to finite things though not denying their total reality. Such reality, as they have, is conditional on the occurrence of something else that has already taken place and is conditioned by it. There is therefore order in this world of relations and not anarchy" (Horner, ibid., p. 285).

 

This we have seen as Karma and Samsara, within past, present and future. In the past, from ignorance arises the Karmic formations and hence consciousness. From consciousness in the present, we have name and shape conditioning the six sense fields, sharing impact on the senses and hence, feeling. From feeling ensues craving then grasping, resulting in continued becoming.

 

The future then becomes birth and hence old age, dying, grief, sorrow, suffering, limitation and despair and anguish. The four Aryan truths are obtained by wisdom, which prevents the arising of Karmic formations and hence continued being.

 

For there to be being, there are five Khandha or aggregates. The body (rupa) is composed of the four primaries, symbolically represented as earth, water, heat and wind. The non-material parts (or nama) of being are feeling, perception, the volitional activities or habitual tendencies, and consciousness. Thus the being of the nama rupa.

 

These five Khandha comprise a group, which is self- and pleasure-seeking, grasping and speculation, rite and symbolism, and the theory of a persistent self. These act as fetters confining the being to the wheel of birth, arising over time as varying, contingent personalities.

 

Some parts, such as those within the Puggalavadin, such as the Vajjiputtakas and the Sammitiyas, "held in distinction to the Theravadins; that a ‘person’ (puggala) was a real and ultimate fact without positing which, though it was neither the same as the Khandha nor different from them, rebirth was incomprehensible." (Horner, ibid., p. 287). The Sautrantikas held that the puggala is a subtle Khandha among the five Khandhas and it is this that is reborn. "The fact of rebirth after dying was accepted by all the Buddhist sects. They only differed in their attitudes as to how it took place" (ibid.).

 

The release from the recurrent wheel of birth and death is achieved by attaining the final stage of nirvana or freedom. This profound knowledge (the attainment of Dharma that is the mark of Arhantship) is accomplished only by a gradual process of discipline. "There is no sudden attainment except for a few isolated instances, which, as recorded in the Pali Canon, no doubt betoken sustained resolution and energy in anterior births” (ibid., p. 289).

 

There are five cardinal virtues in Buddhism: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and even-mindedness. These form the five powers so that virtue becomes power. In this concept, Buddhism differs from Christianity only in that the spirit confers power through faith.

 

Bhakti as Faith and Infallibility

 

The concept of faith is initially within the Guru-cela, or master-student, relationship and in this respect is merely an extension of the earlier Aryan thought. However, it is claimed that this is not bhakti (or devotion to a person). By hearing Dharma, or truth from his master, he must test it and prove it and then by personal resolution within the processes listed above, he may realise Dharma. The concept of testing and proving is arguably a process of agreement rather than actually proving all things, and is all too common in religious mentality. Within Buddhism, the concept of faith (Suaddha) is really a conception that the teachings of the Buddha are true, before the believer has had the chance to test them himself. The concept of teaching as an indoctrination was developed into a formal system within the Indo-Aryans and, as examined elsewhere, it was found throughout the Brahmanic and Bhakti cults. It is also endemic in modern cultic reasoning. The concept of unquestioning faith or belief found in the guru-cela relationship and developed to the proposition that the teachings of the Buddha are true even before the adherent has had the opportunity to test them himself – has been examined by B.G.Gokhale in 'Bhakti in Early Buddhism' in Lele, J. (ed.) Tradition and Modernity in Bhakti Movements.

 

It is difficult to see how modern scholars can salvage the concept of Bhakti in Buddhism from the identification of syncretic fusion with the earlier Animistic Shamanism. Indeed, the attempts that have been made to isolate the concepts seem to run in the compartmentalist school (identified by Terwiel and referred to elsewhere, which include Wales, Amyyot Rabibhadana and Bunnag) and have quite aggressive and peculiar support in some Australian Universities. It is arguable that the guru-cela relationship, whether in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian sects, later Islamic Sufism, or the primary or syncretic forms of Shamanism, is of itself an enslaving and limiting exercise.

 

The conception that the teachings of the Buddha are true, before the believer has had a chance to test them himself: develop from the premise that the Buddha or Tathagata has eliminated all confusion and delusion, hence achieving truth as, "truth is Dharma" (Samyutta - Nikaya 1:169) and "truth is one, there is not a second" (Suttanipatas 884). The Tathagata, fully self-realised to the might of his para nirvana in the element of nirvana, in which none of the groups for existence remains, becomes truth "in that interval all that he spoke, declared and explained is exactly so and not otherwise". (Dighe - Nikaya iii 135) (I. B. Horner, 'Buddhism: the Theravade' in The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths, ed. R. C. Zaehner, Hutchinson, London, p. 283).

 

Hence, infallibility is an attribute of the Buddha. Incoherence is merely an inadequacy on the part of the student, not of the fully enlightened Guru, the Tathagata or Buddha. The absoluteness of the guru-cela relationship developed because Bhakti, or adoration, is essential to overcome the incoherence of the system.

 

Arhants and the Mystical Ascent

 

There are thirty-seven constituents of Arhantship (or 31 if the eightfold way is counted as one and adding purity in ethical behaviour, etc.).

 

After mastering the four jhana of the material plane, he then breaks through to as many as five meditations on the immaterial planes. The final stage of having no further volition allows the Arhant to break away and the remainder of his actions generate no more Karma.

 

Thus, by faith he ascends the nine (or seven) heavens of meditation, achieving Arhantship and, hence, potentially either to the Brahma worlds where like this world nothing is permanent, or to Nirvana.

 

Conviction by faith endows resolution, thereby developing powers of meditation. Like Christianity, Buddhism sees faith as a seed (Suttanipata 77) from which further growth will spring. However, this is not on election; indeed, the Buddha has rebuked disciples for failing to instruct to the potential of the mind spoken to.

 

The Samgha or community stands as an example of the faith to inspire lesser mortals to emulate and thus develop their faith.

 

Within the Theravada scheme, the ritual of the temple is symbolic of impermanency in the flowers and lights displayed. The words uttered are not prayers but reminders of the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Samgha (ibid., p. 293).

 

The gradual approach to find attainment is applied by all, even certain Arhants.

 

The earlier concepts of Hell are replaced within Buddhism as Niraya Hell on a level as a sorrowful state, with birth as an animal, a departed one, or a demon (asura).

 

Through unwavering confidence, the faithful will not commit heinous offences (which rank creating a schism in the order with patricide/matricide or killing an Arhant or wounding a Buddha – they cannot be killed).

 

At most, the faithful adherent will be born seven times as a man before he wins Nirvana. Prior to his final birth, he is born as a sakadagamin.

 

In his final birth, he is an anagamin, having destroyed the five fetters. After his death he becomes a denizen of one of the highest deva worlds and attains Nirvana there, when the residual karma that led to his deva birth has expended itself.

 

The fourth stage is to become Arhant, who by his efforts on this Earth has achieved freedom of mind and freedom through intuitive wisdom, and has done what is necessary to shed the burden of self, exhausting his Karma while he still lives and achieving final liberation involving no future state.

 

BUDDHISM IN ASIA

 

The Revolution

 

The Hinayana tradition was to develop into eighteen schools, seventeen of which were wiped out by Islam when it swept into Northern India. The Theravada tradition became the sect of the South as the national religion of Ceylon, Burma and Siam.

 

The North, including Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan is nearly all Mahayanist. The Mahayana "revolution" was brought about not only by further non-Indian Syncretism, but also by the weakness in Theravada in its relationship with the laity. The faith seems to have suffered from a decline in the spiritual calibre of the monks and their capacity to produce acknowledged Arhants. These people, venerated as a form of saint, fitted well into the animistic system. When the production of Arhants was seen to be in decline, it was replaced by the Bodhisattva ideal. Primarily, the theological revolution was precipitated by an arrogant, seemingly dissipated clergy. The Mahayana re-developed the faith to give the layman more importance in the system and forced the clergy into more socially useful positions, which more closely follow the animistic practices and beliefs that formed the base religion of the mass.

 

Monks in the north were to become involved in professions serving the people "as astrologers, exorcizers, weather makers, physicians etc., (they) inserted themselves into the magical side of their lives" (E. Conze - Buddhism The Mahayana, Zaehner, ibid., p. 297).

 

Thus, the monks assumed the positions of the Shamans in the animistic system they had refined in the south, after inheriting it from the same source as these northern tribes. The main contributions they were to make were the non-violent ideal with the Bodhisattva, or enlightened being, expanding and preaching compassion and wisdom. Motivated by the desire to win full enlightenment and become a Buddha, he selflessly postpones entry to Nirvana to help suffering creatures.

 

The system holds that others are aided by the gift of the Dharma and contemplation. Thus Mahayana and Buddhist countries generally fall far short of productive social and material welfare, because the technical organisation of a modern society made spiritual life impossible and therefore was often disregarded. A great deal can be said about the reasons for the failure to care for the society’s needs, but what should be considered is the effect of supra-rational thought processes generated by animistic Shamanism that were coupled with the law of Karma, which, of itself, stifles compassion for others.

 

The Bodhisattvas were able to more prolifically satisfy the animistic necessity for saints as objects of reverence or intercession. This was to become common to all forms of Buddhism.

 

The Development of Mystical Thought in Buddhism

 

The Diamond and Matrix Systems

 

From the Diamond Sutra:

“The past mind is unattainable, the future mind is unattainable and the present mind is unattainable.  If so what is the mind which you wish to punctuate" (i.e., t'ien-hian (refreshments) literally means to punctuate the mind). (Question to Te-shan (790-865) the Chinese Buddhist Sage by a Teahouse Keeper as recounted by D.T. Suzuki, Mysticism Christian and Buddhist, p. 75).

 

The unattainable is something that remains after every possible negation. Horner’s explanation of crossing to the island of Nirvana is misleading in that "those who do not know how to transcend time will naturally find it difficult to attain Nirvana, which is eternity" (ibid., p. 76). This posed a problem for the west also within the soul doctrine and, for this reason, Hegel struggled with the negation of the negation and Heidegger finally gave expression to the concept from Hegel's falling into time. Einstein expressed this scientifically in the concept of energy, matter, space, time and gravity, being equivalent expressions of a single fundamental essence. This theory was foreshadowed by the problem that successive ostensions, which provide samples over the spatial spread, inevitably consume time and make space and time inseparable. (This difficult concept is exclusively a philosophical problem, which is analysed in Creation: From Anthropomorphic Theology to Theomorphic Anthropology (No. B5).)

 

The immediate knowing of the early Zen masters was only a reaction, in part, to the concept of negation. The development of the sects in the North was a reaction to the philosophical problems of this negation.

 

Thus, the Shingon doctrines (which became a form of Buddhist Gnosticism) distinguish an exoteric and an esoteric teaching, where "by way of the latter it is possible even in this earthly body composed of the six elements to attain the absolute knowledge which is Nirvana, or in other words, to become Buddha" (G.F. Moore, History of Religions, vol. 1, p. 127).

 

In this system, the supreme being of the Dharmakaya is Vairocana, one of the Dhyani (Contemplative) Buddhas of the Mahayana.

"He is the great sun around whom are grouped four other Dhyani Buddhas; each of these Buddhas has as sattelites a group of Bodhisattvas; these in turn have their satellites and so on in infinitum."  (ibid.) 

 

Shaka (Sakyamuni) is wholly subordinate to the sun being, as is Amida, the only one of the four Buddhas of the diamond world to reappear in the matrix system.

 

In the matrix system there are eight emanations from the sun Buddha, Vairocana. These form the petals of a lotus. This nine-fold system is the repetition of the nine-fold system of the Shamans again appearing. 

"To attain the supreme enlightenment it is necessary to ascend step by step ten rounds of a ladder of thought, which, originally corresponding to different classes of beings, was adopted by Kobo to the various sects, the highest; the stage of mystic enlightenment in which man recognises for the first time the source of his own thought and while still in the body becomes Buddha, being attained only by the followers of the Shingon. The practical methods of achieving the great end are an adaptation and development of the Indian Yoga, as on its speculative side the doctrine returns to a pantheistic type of Brahmanism" (ibid.).

 

This sect is a return to the animistic demon- (now Buddha-) controlled world of the Shamans.

 

This is opposed by the Tendai sect (founded by Chi K'ai, d.597) which claims:

"that all beings are capable of becoming supreme Buddhas, because they are all partakers of the Buddha nature" (ibid., p. 129).

 

The Buddha is eternal, and the historical Buddha is only one of the innumerable incarnations of this entity. His death was only a device to lead men to obedience. In his own words (from the Saddharma Pundarika):

"I am the father of the world, the self existent, the healer, the protector of all creatures".  (ibid.)

 

Thus, the Buddha claimed to be The Brahman, The All Father, The Self Existent. By this, he was not just contemporaneous with the creation, he was the creator. We have returned full circle to the doctrine of the Babylonians with the pantheon of gods renamed, with the eternal spirit, creator and protector from the Sun figure in the former system, and the external cosmos in the latter. From this system, men are immortal as part of the eternal spirit. Promotion is by repetition of ritual within mystical contemplation.

 

The Medieval Systems

 

During the eleventh to the thirteenth century, the older monastic orders were in decline in Buddhism. In Europe the Church fell into perversion, avarice and cruelty during the Albigensian crusade and the attendant Inquisition, and saw the consolidation of the monastic orders. The reformation that took place in Buddhism saw new sects develop. These included the Zen (Dhyona) founded by Eisai about 1187, and various sects emanated from this.

 

The Jodo sects founded in 1175 by Genku, and the Shin founded by Genku’s disciple Shinran about 1224, are quite different to the types of schools dealt with previously. This school teaches that salvation is "not achieved by man’s own striving in the ‘Holy Way’, but is bestowed by the Grace of Amida Buddha on those who call upon him in faith." (ibid., p. 123).

 

Thus, Amida Buddha is differentiated from the Sakyamuni Buddha, and on him is conferred a power in faith, similar to Christ. This is an important step in the development of Buddhism and may well be a syncretic adaption from the Nestorians. This sect created vigorous opposition in Japan and provoked Nichiren to found, in 1252, the most reactionary and intolerant of all the sects. This was the equivalent of the counter-reformation.

 

Through all the new sects the abbots became great feudal lords, some with whole provinces, and "one of them could even dream of making himself master of all Japan" (ibid.). Nobunaga was to crush them because of their worldliness and degeneracy.

 

The reappearance of the Buddha as the Maitreya, was foreshadowed by Sakyamuni, probably from the Brahman teachings of the reincarnation of Vishnu in the last age of Kali. The reappearance of the Buddha Maitreya is visualised as different from the evil incarnation, which comes as the destroyer of the Earth. The Messianic destruction of the nations, foreshadowed in Revelation, might well have been seen as the incarnation of Kali. The Maitreya would be a seductive influence indeed against this background.

 

The Intrusion of the Mother-Goddess Cult into Buddhism and the Development of Animistic Practices

 

Tara

The cult of the Goddess Tara had developed from a goddess of the Hindu Pantheon. In Assam (Kama rupa), the Saviouress Ugratara was one of the ten Mahavidya goddesses (G. Sarma, Mother Goddess Kamrupa Kamakhye, Gauhati, Gauhati University Press, 1978, p. 29).

 

There is little doubt that Tara, the Sakti of Avolokitesvara, was known in the sixth century Nalanda. Her cult soon spread from Eastern India to Western India and the Deccan (M. Gosh, Development of Buddhist Iconography in Eastern India A Study of Tara, Prajnes of Five Tathagates and Bhrikut, New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1980, p. 31).

 

According to B. J. Terweil, who delivered a paper (entitled The Goddess Tara and Early Ahom Religion) to the seminar on Minorities in Buddhist Polities (at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, on 24-28 June 1985), she may be seen as the East Indian Buddhist version of the Chinese Guanyin (Kuan-yin), or the Hindu Goddess Durga, both of whom preceded her in time (p. 20). What is of note is that she is a development of the Mother-Goddess figure as saviouress within Buddhism. Tara's later dominance in Assam, within Ahom religion, may be a logical extension or adaption to the original cult there of Durga, especially in her aspect of the Buffalo-demon killer, Mahisasuramardini (again a Bull-Slaying divinity). The only bronze Tara found there, five miles south of Gauhati, appears to have been imported from Bengal or Bihar.

 

The Tara cult spread from India via Buddhism. Her image is found in votive tablets in early Pyu sites of Sri Koetra, possibly dating from the seventh century CE. Luce reports three sculptures of the goddess in Burma dating from the eighth, ten/eleventh centuries. (P. G. A. Luce, Old Burma - Early Pagan, vol. 1, New York, JJ Augustin, 1969, p. 15 and pp. 197-198).

 

From a picture and description of the Javanese dated image published in H. Sastri, (The Origin and Cult of Tara, Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, No. 20, Calcutta: Government of India, Central Publication Branch, 1924, Plate iv and pages 11 and 19), the goddess cult had taken root in Java during the later part of the eighth century. These Javanese artists appear to have made or inspired the making of the ninth and tenth century Tara image now in the Songkla National Museum in Peninsular Thailand. Also, according to Terwiel, another Tara image dated to the tenth century, “may have had East Bengal provenance" (Terweil, p. 22).

 

A late tenth- or early eleventh-century depiction of the goddess beneath Avalokitesvara carved at Lopburi, indicates that Mahayana Buddhism was known in some circles in Dvaravati times, early in the 11th century, however, although indicative that she was known in the Chao Phraya lowlands, there is no real evidence of a proper cult being established there by that time (Terwiel, p. 23, from M. C. Subhadradis Diskul, Three Carved Stone Slabs of Lopburie Style in the Bangkok National Museum in Art and Archaeology in Thailand Bangkok, Fine Arts Dept., 1975, pp. 27-35).

 

The Goddess and Tantric Mysticism in South-East Asia

 

These examples indicate that Tara had spread throughout South-East Asia in a relatively minor way and was not "accepted there as the Supreme goddess as was the case in Vajrayana Buddhism" (Terwiel, p. 23).

 

What does appear, however, is the persistence of the mother-goddess figure, even as the goddess of storms and sea, and hence the princess of the Southern Ocean. This aspect of the deity was known in the west as Stella Maris, who was the star Sirius (associated with the cult of Isis) and which transferred itself to Christianity in Mariolatry through the Mystery Cults there. The same syncretic fusion, which established Mariolatry in Christianity, adopted the little tradition goddesses, expressed in varying forms in Hinduism, into Buddhism with similar roles. Thus, the ancient concepts of faith were superimposed on the Buddhist system.

 

The invasion of India by the Muslims saw a persecution of ferocious zeal of Tantric specialists at the end of the 12th century. These tantric monks and specialists fled north to Tibet and Kashmir and, according to the Tibetan Historian Taranatha, into Burma and Cambodia (Terwiel, p. 25).

 

According to Than Tun, a Buddhist movement spread down the Chindwin River valley from Upper Burma to Pagan during the first half of the 13th century. This movement was characterised by ritual sacrifices of buffaloes, oxen, pigs, goats, and deer, as well as by the ritual consumption of amounts of alcoholic beverages. These rites clearly indicate that this was Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism (Than Tun, "Religion in Burma, AD 1000 - 1300, Journal of the Burma Research Society, Vol. 24, December 1959, pp. 47-69 and Than Tun, Mahakasapa and his Tradition, Journal of the Burma Research Society, vol. 42, December 1959, pp. 99-118).

 

The drinking of rice beer and the sacrifice of animals were essential to pre-Buddhist Tai Religion. (B. J. Terwiel, Laopani and Ahom Identity; An Etho Historical Exercise, a paper presented to the 31st International Congress of Human Sciences in Asia and North Africa, Tokyo-Kyoto, 31 August-7 September 1983, and Terwiel, The Tai of Assam and Ancient Tai Ritual, Vol. II). Orthodox Theravada Buddhism disallows both these practices and would therefore have been much more alien to the Ahom, who were residing at that time in the Hukawng Valley in the upper reaches of the Chindwin River. It can be seen that Tantric Buddhism was much more akin – and indeed was probably a syncretic adaptation of the mother-goddess religion – to the Buddhist system. This Tantric system entered South-East Asia from Java to China and, because of its animistic basis, was adopted by the mass. 

 

Thus, two separate concepts developed and indeed became two faiths. In his work, A Model for the Study of Thai Buddhism (Journal of Asian Studies, vol. xxxv, No. 3, May 1976), B. J. Terwiel presents an analysis of the magico-mystical base of the religion and the animistic order of the system at Wadsaancaw, the monastery and area of study. The use of protective amulets and holy relics with the animistic spirit cosmology is similar to that found in Java and elsewhere in Indonesia and South-East Asia. From page 403 he shows two distinct types of view. Firstly, the syncretist, which incorporates Buddhist concepts and beliefs into the animistic world view. This system is found amongst the lower wage earners, farmers, fishermen, servants and unskilled workers. Secondly, the compartmentalists, where the upper-class bureaucrats, church dignitaries and the wealthy, see Buddhism as superior to the animistic, and tend to compartmentalise religion. However, these are the minority. Terwiel acknowledges that the model is incomplete, however, the diversity of conceptions also explains the disparity of approach between scholars such as the Syncretists (de Young, Ingersold, Anuman Rajadhan and Wright).

 

"Compartmentalists such as Wales, Amyyot Rabibhadana and Bunnag may well have had access to quite different sections of the population, and reflect the position of the Buddhist elite in their works" (Terwiel, p. 403).

 

The basic structure of the Buddhist system is modified by the wholesale influence of Shamanism and its mystical derivatives.

 


 

 


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