Saturday, October 31, 2009

Buddhism, Halloween, and Ghosts

Seven Jaini and Ashley Wells (Wisdom Quarterly)
Jackolantern with brilliant Buddha carving (

Buddhists certainly have ghost stories. These restless or "hungry ghosts" (pretas) have an entire section of the ancient texts devoted to them called the Petavatthu. These ghost stories (a counterpart to stories of celestial planes called the Vimanavatthu) tell tales of karma and its result. They will be recognizable to the Western as rewards and punishments for well and ill done deeds.
A peta is a person who has been reborn on the ghost plane, an unfortunate subhuman destination. Ghosts are not technically "disembodied"; they have subtle bodies varying in transparency and density. While they may be creepy, grieving, and clingy, they are not generally "evil." They are hungry and desperate. This is because when they died, they were very confused as happens when the death is untimely, unfair, sudden, or violent. Furthermore, excessive attachment to relationships or property leads to rebirth on a plane not far removed from this one. They are not adapting to the loss. Most significantly, violating one or more of the Five Precepts is karma (action) that, if it ripens at death, leads to an unfortunate rebirth.

Mara on the "Day of the Dead," LA 2007

Rather than coping with what has been lost, hungry ghosts are clinging to the past. Much like humans who live as hungry ghosts, they find themselves stuck in spite of wishing to move on to a better state. Grasping at and clinging to lost treasure, a lost loved one, or unfinished business keeps them stuck, no longer human but lingering here. The Buddha found the Indian term peta (Sanskrit, preta) appropriate. For although hungry ghosts have departed, they linger and loiter around the perimeter of houses, outside the walls, at thresholds, gates, and doorposts waiting. They are neither fully in the human world nor completely separated from it. Yet, while they lack the karma to participate in it, they can be helped by humans.

Japanese depiction of a wretched "hungry ghost" with a large empty belly, naked, thirsty, voracious, and miserable (

How to Help the Departed
The danger of making contact with ghosts is that they are very needy and clingy, even parasitic. To interact with them is somewhat like feeding a cat and expecting it to go away afterwards. To help, as for example to benefit lost relatives one misses and worries about, an offering may be made in their name. This skillful karma is the doer's alone. However, if the ghost approves and applauds the act, that very act of approval is a mental deed that benefits the doer, that is to say, the ghost.

If the deed is very good -- such as giving to the Sangha or feeding and clothing many people -- the approving, lauding, and praising of it will be very profitable, very karmically beneficial. It is as simple as exclaiming "Well done!" ("Saddhu!") In some cases, such approval will be enough to immediately liberate them from their miserable state. In any case, it will certainly benefit the doer. It even has the potential to profit other unseen beings (such as devas) who, aware of the wholesome deed, make the mental karma of approving of it. This is why Buddhist ceremonies and group meditations end with the "sharing of merits." It gives other beings the opportunity to share in the good karma. Far from costing those who share merit, it compounds the benefits.

Profitable karma -- specifically, keeping the Five Precepts -- ripens either in the human or lower celestial planes. Unskillful deeds that come to fruition do so in the animal, ghost, titan, and unspeakably woeful destinations. Hungry ghosts do not come from planes we would call "hell" (naraka) nor are they "demons." They can nevertheless be unpleasant, "unclean," upset poltergeists, who are noisy, disruptive, and terrifying. While potentially more active around Halloween, their activity depends on human activity. (Not only ghosts, but inimical earthbound devas -- corresponding to wood nymphs, faeries, elemental spirits, and entities in Western lore -- may not necessarily want humans interrupting their sporting ways, celebrations, and play).

That having been said, for the most part exonerating ghosts, there are malevolent beings:

  • Ogres/beasts (yakkhas)
  • Reptilians/serpents (nagas)
  • Dwarfs/gnomes (kumbandas)
  • "Killers"/demons (maras; Scandinavian, Mares)
  • Titans (asuras or former devas, "angels" who were cast out of the Tavatimsa celestial world or "heaven," whose general antagonism is towards the remaining devas and their king-of-kings Sakka rather than humans).

Whereas later schools often simplify Buddhist cosmology down to six worlds (depicted in this Tibetan thangka), the Buddha in fact detailed 31 Planes of Existence.

That all of this echoes Christian themes is in no way an accident or coincidence; these ancient Eastern mythologies may very well be the root of the descriptions found in European lore. Greek culture and mythology, which marks the beginning of "Western" civilization, was strongly influenced by its contact with India (see Bactria). And all of the mythological and hybrid creatures mentioned in Buddhist cosmology are pre-Buddhist Indian legends.

In Buddhism the difference (and this is a central yet woefully neglected point that non-meditating scholars fail to appreciate) is that this pantheon of "mythological" creatures is verifiable. The same is true of entities in Buddhist physics and psychology (Abhidharma), such as:

How? With the power of jhana one turns attention toward them and the unseen becomes visible. Because these things are so far removed from normal awareness, however, they are hard to believe in. Therefore many scholars and most Western Buddhists choose to regard all such things as quaint myths and philosophical speculations rather than real and literal things that can be known directly.

Pagans and Pegabus observe solstices and other pre-Christian celebrations like All Hallow's Eve (AP).

Anyone who refuses to believe in "ghosts" and hair raising things that go bump in the night might consider visiting a farm house, a haunted house, or weakening one's natural defenses by consuming sugar from artificially colored goop to commercial chocolate to alcohol. If one wishes to be frightened at Halloween, there are unseen beings to frighten one. But sugar, which is visible and ubiquitous, cripples the body, weakens the aura around it, and exposes the subtle bodies and fields, making one susceptible to all manner of harm. While the immune system is knocked out for hours at a time whenever sugar is ingested, it seems Halloween calls for inordinate consumption of candy and spirits.

Asia has Obon, a tradition of expressing filial piety by remembering the dead. Similarly, Latin America observes a holiday called the Day of the Dead. It is wonderful that North America has at least one night a year to acknowledge death, darkness, and discomfort. So step out of the comfort zone and address what's in the closet. It's not likely to be nearly as scary as it is while it rattles around in there ignored.

On the other hand, (attention Goths) anyone morbidly obsessed with sadness, suffering, loss, or pessimism would do well to avoid wallowing in negativity for a day to dress up as a bright faerie, a loving bodhisattva, or even a repugnant Teletubby.

Halloween has become an all-American celebration expressing our:
  • fetishes
  • anxieties
  • impulses
  • shadows
  • trickiness (when we don't get treats)
  • obsession with celebrity
  • fear of disease and death

But Halloween is actually nothing more than the eve before the ancient Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos, November 1st). It may be nothing more than a chance to vent and grapple with issues most of us would rather not deal with but which impinge on our consciousness anyway:
  • war
  • crime
  • sex symbols
  • social transgressions
  • wild revelry
Not coincidentally, these five all-American obsessions correspond to Buddhism's Five Precepts we otherwise live by when we refrain from:
  1. killing (even under the banner of war)
  2. stealing (defrauding people and institutions)
  3. sexually misconducting ourselves
  4. lying/slandering/perjuring or speaking harshly/divisively/idly
  5. intoxicants that abuse the body and lead to negligence
Halloween has morphed from a childish pastime to a sexy and psychologically significant adult event. So play dress up and pretend. Don a costume of whatever you dream or dread you might become -- and get out there. This is the best soon-to-be-holiday on the calendar next to Vesak, which is still the coolest.

Frightening landscape in of the Great Waste, a euphemism for the many woeful but impermanent planes of existence beneath the human realm.

Bigfoot hunters in rugged W.Va. wilderness

Bigfoot hunters turn to rugged W.Va. wilderness

(AP) ELKINS, West Virginia — A team of Bigfoot enthusiasts is hoping to find the legendary creature in the bogs and barrens of a West Virginia wilderness area. Members of Sasquatch Watch of Virginia went camping in the rugged Allegheny Mountain highlands of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area with GPS navigators, cameras, voice recorders and plaster of Paris to make casts of huge footprints.

Lloyd Pye on Hominoids (Buddhist yakkhas or rakshasas) and proof of alien intervention, 2005

Billy Willard, founder of the group, says they're looking in places where people have reported sightings. He says he has never seen Bigfoot himself. Bruce Harrington, the group's self-described skeptical member, says he has yet to see convincing proof that the creature exists. The group took plaster casts of suspicious prints but didn't spot the creature during the expedition last weekend.

Ghosts in Buddhist Literature

Serinity Young (Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative)

For brief but good general discussion of karma along with excellent bibliographies, see Nancy Auer Falk, "Karma, in EOW, Vol. I, 560-61; and Mizuno Kogen, "Karma: Buddhist Concepts," in EOR, Vol. 8, 266-68. Warren, Buddhism in Translation, Chp. III, has excerpts from Buddhist texts on karma, 209-79.

Two Pali texts, the Vimanavatthu and the Petavatthu, contain brief stories about the acts that earned individuals an extended stay in heaven or hell [realms not to be confused with Christian lore]. B. C. Law has translated some of these in The Buddhist Conception of Spirits, 2nd ed. (1923, Delhi: Pilgrims Book Pvt. Ltd: 2007).

See also the Maha-karma-vibhanga and J. Gonda's discussion of its representation at Borobodur, "Karman and Retributive Justice in Ancient Java," in J. Gonda, Selected Studies, Vol. IV (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), 337-49.
  • See also Wheel of Life, 31 Planes of Existence (Rebirth) by Egerton C. Baptist

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hungry Ghosts Outside the Walls

Wisdom Quarterly translation (Tirokudda Kanda, Petavatthu 1.5)

Beyond the walls they wait and at crossroads
They stand at doorposts returning to their old homes
Long forgotten when fine meals are laid out
The fruits of their karma being borne out

But who sympathizes with departed relatives
Timely offering of wholesome food gives:
"For our ancestors may this be!
May they be well and happy!"

Those ghosts who gather round,
Assembled from the village and town,
With gratitude exclaim "Well done!"
Bless and bring blessings on:

"May our kith and kin live long,
Who provide the gain we've won!
We have been remembered, honored
And donors also gain a great reward!"

From whence they hail there is no harvesting
No cattle, no commerce, no trading
They subsist on what is offered here,
These hungry ghosts who now live in fear

Rainwater rushing down sloping hills
Flows below until the valley fills,
Just so what is donated to the dead
Goes when offered to their benefit instead

As rivers full of water fill the ocean full,
Even so these donations pool
And benefit departed recipients
With great alacrity and expedience

"She gave to me! He acted on my behalf!
My kith, my kin, companions, friends!" --
Offerings should be given for those who've passed
When grateful one reflects on the past

For neither weeping, wailing, nor lament
Benefits those who came and went
Yet well-placed is an offering to the saffron-wreathed,
Which long serves to benefit the deceased

Our dharma, our duty, to them is shown
Greatly honored they we call our own
And the Order has been given strength
No small merit for what is spent

"Buddhist Halloween"

Should Buddhists celebrate the ancient Celtic Druid festival of Halloween? What is the con-nection between this pre-Christian Druid festival and Buddhism?

Buddhism teaches that the mind is not a physical entity [but an interdependent one between name and form, nama and rupa]. Consequently physical factors can neither create nor destroy it. The mind exists before conception and [the process continues] after death to be reborn into another [physical or more subtle form].

The Druids were ancient Celtic priests [and priestesses] who shared the Buddhists' belief in rebirth and the indestructibility of the mind. They regarded the seasons of the year as being a metaphor for the death and rebirth of the human being. Halloween represented the death of the old year and was believed to be the time of year when the veil separating the human and ghost [preta] realms was at its thinnest.

Yule (the winter solstice) was the time of conception of the coming year and Imbolc (Candlemas) was the actual birth of the New Year, with the appearance of the first lambs and green shoots. The period between Yule and Candlemas was the gestational period when the new animal and plant life, though growing and stirring, was still hidden in the body of its mother, or in the case of vegetation within the body of Mother Earth.

The significance of Halloween to Buddhists now becomes clear. In the Druid system the period of seven weeks between Halloween and Yule is the gap between death of the old and conception of the new year. This corresponds to the 49 days of the bardo [temporary limbo after death in Tibetan Buddhism].

Halloween thus symbolizes the entry of the disembodied consciousness [a continuing process, not an entity] into the intermediate state between leaving one [physical] body and occupying another. In traditional [Tibetan and Mahayana] Buddhist beliefs the bardo-consciousness will experience hideous apparitions -- ghosts, demons, and so on.

If the mind reacts with panic then a samsaric rebirth, possibly in unpleasant realms, is inevitable. However, if the bardo-being recognizes these apparitions as hallucinations -- projections and reflections of its own negative karma resulting from [unskillful] actions -- then liberation remains possible.

The reasons for the Druidic custom of dressing up as ghosts, demons, and so on may be to symbolize that these scary bardo apparitions are in fact nothing other than aspects or appearances of the person's own self. Source

All-American "Halloween" Song

Jello Biafra

WARNING: May offend some listeners

So it's Halloween, and you feel like dancin', and you feel like shinin', and you feel like letting loose. Whatcha gonna be? Babe, you better know! And you better plan, better plan all day, better plan all week, better plan all month, better plan all year. You're dressed up like a clown, putting on your act. It's the only time all year you'll ever admit that! I can see your eyes. I can see your brain. Baby, nothing's changed because you're hiding in a mask. You take your fun seriously. No, don't blow this year's chance! Tomorrow your mold goes back on, after Halloween.

You go to work today. You'll go to work tomorrow. Scrunch-faced tonight, you'll brag about it for months. Remember what I did, remember what I was back on Halloween? But what's in between? Where are your ideas? You sit around and dream for next Halloween. Why not everyday? Are you so afraid? What will people say? What will people say, after Halloween?

Because your role is planned for you, there's nothing you can do, but stop and think it through. But what will the boss say to you? And what will your girlfriend say to you? And the people out on the street they might glare at you! And whad'ya know, you're pretty self-conscious too! So you run back and stuff yourselves in rigid business costumes. Only at night to score is your leather uniform exhumed. Why don't you take your social regulations and scrunch 'em up like grass...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Science: The Power of Thought

(Kent Healy) This video explores the scientific approach to explaining the power of thought. We have all heard it before: "Your thoughts create your reality." Now new research in quantum physics supports this statement. Studies show that the mind can influence the behavior of subatomic particles and physical matter.

The Acceleration of Consciousness

(GoldRing) June 2007 to December 2012 is the completion cycle of the Mayan calendar. The compression of time-space energy fields increases the intensity of conscious awareness like an ocean wave moving onshore. From an individual's perspective everything is speeding up because we are vibratory beings. In actuality the space wherein one's vibration manifests is disappearing as time compresses into the omni-centric singularities. Space and Time are inseparable and integral energies that allow forms to become physical, actual, and interpreted by particularized consciousness. The metamorphosis, transition, or "ascension" can be understood with an analogy to the event horizon of a black hole. One is entering the zero point and preparing to move through the vortex of the singularity. The result is that past and future are compressed into the fullness of the eternal now.

Money Matters, Cosmos, American Mood, FOX

Consensus Reality at a Glance by Ashley Wells
E-Sangha provides a forum for sharing your views, opinions, and questions related to Buddhism. What topics are being discussed? "Unmistaken Child": a study of Tibetan faith

One is a mystery, the other is Top Secret
Amelia Earhart's fate and the Air Force's secret space plane — people want answers online. What clues reveal - Earhart's vanishing - Plane's maiden voyage

What Americans are thinking
Nearly a year after the presidential election, the national mood takes a turn, a poll shows. Jobs, health care, war - Gas prices, supply up - New-home sales slide - Find economic indicators

Worst recession since 1930s hits end
Key indicators show that the biggest downturn since the Great Depression is over. How experts can tell - Pain is "alive and acute" - Jobless claims drop - Definition of recovery

How people will look in 10 generations
Survival no longer drives evolution, but a study says our average height and weight are changing. Role of fertility - Galileo upended science - Cleanliness and morality? -Darwin's theory

Oldest object ever seen in the universe
It took 13 billion years for the light from this violent event to reach Earth. Glimpse of the "cosmic dark ages" - NASA satellite Swift - New moon rocket tested - Pseudo black hole created

"Avatar" plot revealed
An avatar is a Hindu incarnation of a deva. James Cameron's upcoming sci-fi epic has been lauded for its special effects. Now learn its story. Exclusive trailer - "Avatar" photos

Lutheran Church elects 1st female leader

Protestantism moves forward, at least in Germany, while Buddhism and other traditions continue to be sexist to their own detriment. And it wasn't always this way. In fact, the Buddha did not consider his dispensation complete until he had ordained female disciples. Talk of his hesitation is misconstrued to this day. Yet, although there are again nuns in every Buddhist tradition, they are not treated as equals. The lesson to be learned? Elevating women elevates everyone.

BERLIN (Oct. 28, 2009) – Germany's Lutheran Church has elected a woman to lead the nation's Protestants for the first time in its history. Margot Kaessmann (once described as "a cross between Mother Teresa and Demi Moore" as seen in this AFP/DDP/file photo) was overwhelmingly voted into the church's top position on Wednesday. The 51-year-old bishop holds a doctorate in theology and has four grown children. She is one of only two women to serve as bishop in Germany's Protestant church. She was ordained in 1985 and has held many offices within the church. Kaessmann is viewed as being politically active and media savvy. Source

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cheerleader Crippled by Flu Vaccine

Wisdom Quarterly Editorial

(WQ) Avoid vaccinations. The FDA's website lists the Swine Flu H1N1 vaccine's ingredients. It contains mercury, an extraordinarily toxic heavy metal which leads to neurological damage including autism spectrum disorder and, apparently, dystonia. (See video). It also contains formaldehyde (embalming fluid), a known carcinogen). It is cultured in animal ingredients. Having understood the known side effects, and understanding how limited any potential benefit or "protection" is offered, many medical professionals refuse to be vaccinated.

The pharmaceutical industry and others have successfully lobbied for immunity from prosecution for damage or negligence resulting even from the proper, prescribed use of their product. Caveat emptor, consumer beware, as we clamor for exposure to more environmental toxins. Women and children first, pregnant women before that.

Doctors, hospitals, and clinics are all paid for every "free" inoculation. So when they are pitching sales in the media as part of a powerfully orchestrated PR campaign (in collusion with outlets across the spectrum from FOX "News" to public radio) touting outlandishly biased studies funded by the vaccine makers themselves, they are not engaged in unbiased public health work. Corporate stock and easy money directly benefiting their own practices is on the line.

What we find is fear-mongering and panic-by-design, not public discourse. The excuse for embracing these tragedies seems always the same nowadays: "In the fog of war, we rushed to judgment and didn't have time to consider all of the ramifications of what we were doing." So we paid whatever it cost (at taxpayer expense), dismissed history and anything told to us to the contrary, trusted those who said they knew best...and here we are. It was all smoke and mirrors, a planned non-event, and we can always say how "terrified" we were for our children -- it's for the children!

Thalidomide, Iraq oil invasion, Afghan war, Spanish flu, stated income loan traps, they all come with a PR campaign, and we buy in. "People die from the vaccines, not the flu" (Ron Paul). We will even demand heavy metal toxicity (mercury) and embalming fluid (formaldehyde) be directly injected in our veins. That is the power of fear, and the pharmaceutical-industrial complex knows it. Education, it's priceless.

The Buddha's Funeral

Dharmachari (WQ) and Susan Elbaum Jootla (WQ edit)

The "Final Passing"
Nirvana is not death, for death entails rebirth. Nor is it annihilation, which entails a being or essence to annihilate. Just as enlightenment expels all ignorance, so nirvana entails the end of all suffering. Suffering is intimately connected to birth, old age, sickness, and death of all kinds. Nirvana is a literal [there is no equivalent word for it as it is neither thing, nor place, nor state]. It is not merely the absence of suffering. Nirvana is to be experienced. Interestingly, it is not a noun (person, place, or thing) at all. Rather it is a verb inasmuch as one is "nirvanered" (nibbuti, cooled, calmed, quenched, cleansed). Just as there are phenomena in the world of daily experience, nirvana is the "unconditioned" and "deathless" element.

This is a deep and profound statement not amenable to intellectual investigation. Fortunately, it will admit of direct experience. Those nevertheless wishing to approach the matter through intellect will find Bhikkhu Bodhi's exhaustive treatment of the subject of nirvana in "The Buddha's Teaching: As It Is" very helpful. (Bhikkhu Bodhi is the greatest Buddhist scholar alive today; the audio CD may be purchased or is available free from

  • "The Buddha's Teaching As It Is" by Bhikkhu Bodhi (MP3)
    (BuddhaNet) Ten audio lectures on the fundamentals of the Buddha's Teaching by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American Buddhist scholar-monk. Lecture 6: "Nibbana (Nirvana)."

Nirvana is a reality that may be seen and touched. To glimpse it is to attain stream-entry, the first stage of enlightenment. The consummation is full enlightenment, but that takes two forms. The first is "with remainder"; the second, "without remainder." That is, one attains nirvana and the Five Aggregates continue. One is alive as before, experiencing the results and fruits (vipaka and phala) of karma without clinging to experience or identifying with it. Eventually, karma is exhausted, then at that point there is parinirvana, or liberation without remainder, without aggregates, without any further coming to be. English hardly has words for it. But it may be understood by many positive analogies given by the Buddha, which are not applicable to death. For example, nirvana is the unsurpassable:

  • peace
  • happiness
  • bliss
  • refuge (sarana)
  • safety

When the Buddha Passed Away

Susan Elbaum Jootla (excerpts from Teacher of the Devas, BPS)

Devas and brahmas were active at several phases of the Great Passing — the Buddha's final entrance into nirvana away at Kusinara (modern Kushinagar, India) — as recorded in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta (DN 16). This event was not just the demise of a greatly revered being but it also represented the personal consummation of his teachings. It was the utter, permanent cessation of the aggregates of the one who discovered and taught the way to the end of suffering.

A short while before the Buddha attained final nirvana, he lay down to rest between two sal-trees. They began flowering profusely, out of season. After some time, the Buddha dismissed the monk who had been fanning. Then the Venerable Ananda, his devoted attendant [and cousin], asked him why he asked the monk to go. The Buddha replied:

"Ananda, the devas from ten world-spheres have gathered to see the Tathagata. For a distance of twelve yojanas around the Mallas' sal-grove near Kusinara there is not a space you could touch with the point of a hair that is not filled with mighty devas, and they are grumbling, 'We have come a long way to see the Tathagata. It is rare for a Tathagata, a fully enlightened Buddha, to arise in the world, and tonight in the last watch the Tathagata will attain final nirvana, and this mighty monk is standing in front of the Venerable One, preventing us from getting a last glimpse of the Tathagata!'" (DN 16.5.5)

Ananda, who had standing permission to ask the Buddha anything, next wanted to know what kinds of devas were around them. The Buddha said he saw lower devas who are "weeping and tearing their hair" in distress, moaning, "All too soon the Blessed One is passing away, all too soon the Well-Farer is passing away, all too soon the Eye of the World is disappearing!" But there were also devas "free from craving" (i.e., enlightened) who endured this patiently, saying. "All compounded things are impermanent — what is the use of this?" (DN 16.5.6).

After passing through the eight meditative absorptions (jhanas), the Buddha finally expired, attaining parinirvana, the immutable cessation of rebirth. At that moment the Earth quaked, as it does whenever buddhas pass away. The brahma Sahampati, who had entreated the Buddha to teach forty-five years earlier, spoke a verse as a short eulogy:

"All beings in the world, all bodies must break up:
Even the Teacher, peerless in the human world,
The mighty Venerable and perfect Buddha has expired."

Sakka repeated a verse of the Buddha's on the theme of impermanence. While Sahampati used conventional speech in adoration of the deceased Buddha, Sakka spoke in impersonal and universal terms. His verse makes an excellent theme for meditation and is often chanted at Buddhist funerals:

"Impermanent are compounded things, prone to rise and fall,
Having risen, they're destroyed, their passing is truest bliss" (DN 16.6.10).

All the "compounded things," which make up everyone and everything in all the world, come into being and perish. Only when they cease utterly never to re-arise ("their passing") can there be the perfect bliss, nirvana. These stanzas by the renowned brahma and the king of the devas show how a few beings existing on higher planes applied their insight into impermanence and suffering, even to the parinirvana of their teacher.

The Funeral
After they had honored the Buddha's body for a full week, the Mallas of Kusinara decided it was time for the funeral. They began to prepare for the cremation but could not lift the body and carry it out the southern gate of the city. Puzzled, they asked the Venerable Anuruddha what was wrong.

This great elder (or thera), renowned for his "divine eye," told the devotees that the devas had their own ideas of how to arrange the funeral. The deities, he said, planned first to pay "homage to the Buddha's body with celestial dance and song" and then take it in procession through the city of Kusinara to the cremation site. The devas intended the cremation to be at the Mallas' shrine known as Makuta-Bandhana. The Mallas were happy to accommodate their plans and proceeded unhindered to arrange the funeral as the devas wished.

Out of respect the devas participated in all phases of the funerary proceedings. It is said that "even the sewers and rubbish-heaps of Kusinara were covered knee-high with [celestial] coral tree flowers. And the devas as well as the Mallas... honored the Buddha's body with divine and human dancing and song."

They transported the body to the Makuta-Bandhana shrine and placed it there. They wrapped it many times in layers of fine muslin cloth, built the pyre of fragrant sandalwood, and placed the bier bearing the Buddha's body on top. But when the men tried to light the fire, it would not ignite. Again the reason lay with the devas.

Anuruddha explained that the devas would not allow the pyre to be lit until the Venerable Maha Kassapa arrived for the cremation. Once Maha Kassapa and the group of monks traveling with him had arrived and paid their last respects, the pyre blazed up spontaneously, burning until nothing but relics remained behind (DN 16.6.22-23).

Site of the Great Passing with a stupa (reliquary mound) and a tubular building housing a very large reclining Buddha statue, Kushinagar, India. The Buddha chose out-of-the-way Kusinara because it had been a significant site in prehistory. Through the efforts of the worldwide Relics Tour, Tibetan Buddhists hope to make it the most important Buddhist site in the world.

A Verb for Nirvana

Ven. Thanissaro (American monk Geoffrey DeGraff, Abbot of Metta Forest Monastery)
Wisdom Quarterly: The problem is tanha (craving, the cause of suffering, literally "thirst"). The solution is nirvana (extinguishing suffering, metaphorically "going out").

Back in the days of the Buddha, nirvana (Pali, nibbana) had a verb of its own: nibbuti. It meant to "go out," like a flame.

Because fire was thought to be in a state of entrapment as it burned — both clinging to and trapped by the fuel on which it fed — its going out was seen as an unbinding. To go out was to be unbound. Sometimes another verb was used — parinibbuti — with the "pari-" meaning total or all-around, to indicate that the person unbound, unlike fire unbound, would never again be trapped.

Now that nirvana has become an English word, it should have its own English verb to convey the sense of "being unbound" as well. At present, we say that a person "reaches" nirvana or "enters" nirvana, implying that nibbana is a place where you can go.

But nirvana is most emphatically not a place. It is realized only when the mind stops defining itself in terms of place: of here, or there, or between the two.

This may seem like a word-chopper's problem. (What can a verb or two do to your practice?) But the idea of nirvana as a place has created severe misunderstandings in the past, and it could easily create misunderstandings now.

If the solution is nirvana (quenching, slaking, or "going out"), what goes out? It is simply ignorance and clinging to the Five Aggregates of Clinging with the end of craving (tanha or "thirst").

There was a time when some philosophers in India reasoned that if nirvana is one place and samsara another, then entering into nirvana leaves you stuck: You have limited your range of movement, for you cannot get back to samsara. Thus to solve this problem, they invented what they thought was a new kind of nirvana: an unestablished nirvana, in which one could be in both places — nirvana and samsara — at once.

However, these philosophers misunderstood two important points about the Buddha's teachings. The first was that neither samsara nor nirvana is a place. Samsara is a process of creating places, even whole worlds (called becoming) and then wandering through them (called birth). Nirvana is the end of this process.

You may be able to be in two places at once — or even develop a sense of self so infinite that you can occupy all places at once — but you can not feed a process and experience its end at the same time. You are either feeding samsara or you are not. If you feel the need to course freely through both samsara and nirvana, you are simply engaging in more samsara-ing [samsaric wandering] and keeping yourself trapped.

The second point is that nirvana, from the very beginning, was realized through unestablished consciousness — one that neither comes, nor goes, nor stays in place. There is no way that anything unestablished can get stuck anywhere at all, for it is not only non-localized but also undefined [and undefinable]. More>>

"A Verb for Nirvana" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Access to Insight, June 7, 2009,

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

14 y.o. Dutch girl to sail around globe

Dutch teenager postpones plan to sail the globe
AMSTERDAM – Laura Dekker, a 14-year-old Dutch girl who hopes to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe solo, said she will wait until the school year ends before starting her attempt. She is awaiting a court's decision on whether she can go or whether it would be too risky for a girl her age.
The Utrecht court temporarily blocked her departure in August out of concern for her safety. The decision sparked a worldwide debate on how much authorities and parents should limit children's freedom to undertake risky adventures. "Before I made the plan I didn't expect (so much publicity) but now I'm trying to make the best of it," she told NOS television in an interview Monday.

"It's probably the most prudent if I just finish this school year" which ends in May, she said, citing the arrival of winter weather and a need for preparations before she departs on her 26-foot (8-meter) boat named "Guppy." More>>

Scientology convicted of fraud

Church of Scientology convicted of fraud in France
A Paris court convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud and fined it more than euro 600,000 ($900,000) on Tuesday, but stopped short of banning the group's activities. More>>

Fear of the Flu?

(WQ) Fear, the media demands it. It fans the flames in the guise of good science when the research bias is built into the process. In spite of all other evidence, fear rules. One worries, and it is by fear and worry that one does things certain to cause harm in the hopes of escaping possible harm. Who would purposely inject toxins like mercury (Thimerosal or Thiomersal) and substances likely to induce autistic spectrum disorder in children, pregnant women, or anyone? A fearful person would. Vaccines -- not as a concept but as they are practiced by the pharmaceutical industry -- will harm those who ingest them. While doing little if any good, harm is guaranteed. Unfortunately, mass panic makes vaccination demand a social phenomenon. However, as an individual decision, it is possible to avoid harm.

The medium of the vaccine is animal-based. No version of it is vegetarian. Whether one is ingesting a live virus (attenuated) as a mist or by injection, the body is being burdened by toxins that will not prevent contracting the disease and are likely to lead to the disease. The harm is called iatrogenic. An incomprehensible amount of harm is caused by pharmaceutical products prescribed and used as directed. It is not an accident, it is not misuse. Education and non-fear, keeping oneself sane and balanced in spite of a panic or media frenzy, is the solution. This is neither the first campaign nor will it be the last. This is how wars are sold to the public, how people accept the loss of civil rights, and how we hand over our health. It will happen again. Politicians are complicit, and trusted voices in public health and the university follow along. Look into it, beyond the scare tactics, or be afraid, very afraid. An example of the immediate harm brought on by worry is the harmful use of "hand sanitizers."

Worries about hand sanitizer overuse
A surge in the use of germ-killing gels as a substitute for hand washing raises safety concerns. What to watch for

Flogging for sex talk show

King scraps Saudi woman flogging for sex talk show
Donna Abu-nasr (AP, Oct 26, 2009)
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia's king waived a flogging sentence on a female journalist charged for involvement in a risque TV show, the second such pardoning of such a high profile case by the monarch in recent years. King Abdullah's decision to waive 22-year-old journalist Rozanna al-Yami's sentence of 60 lashes by a judge in Jiddah follows intense international media attention. More>>