Sunday, 6 November 2011

History of Indian Gods

History of Indian Gods

Throughout the history of India - at least the 4,500 unbroken and documented years since the discovery of the first civilization of the world in 2500 BC., i.e., the Indus Valley Civilisation - India has been called the Poonya Bhoomi, or the Blessed Land. This is so because several rivers crisscrossed it and several rulers made dharma, or righteouness and high moral values, their mantra. It was thus also called the Karma Bhoomi, where each section of society followed the principal of division of labour and the Dharma Bhoomi, where the rule of law and the ruler were the same. In short, India, or Bharatdesha, as it was called in ancient times, was a benevolent place where religion meant leading an orderly life with discipline and morality.

Towards the middle of the tenth century, the invasion from central Asia - Persia to be precise - led to a rule in India by an assortment of slave and tribal rulers, who followed the tenets of Islam. Over two centuries, Islam got assimilated in India and its culmination point was seen in the Mughal emperor Akbar's Din-i-Elahi "religion", in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, however, with the arrival of the Europeans, first for trade and then for political domination, religion was replaced with dogma and the high moral ground of the ruler was lost. These foreigners had themselves fought many a battle under the banner of religious crusades. Under them, India, or Bharatdesha, suffered subjugation for nearly five hundred years; and the moral order, or dharma, on which the society was based, underwent severe and several changes.

It was under such circumstances that the devtas (celestial rulers) and digpalas (celestial guards) and the Bhoodevi (Mother Earth) pleaded to Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, and prayed for deliverance. Their main plea was that for centuries they had ruled piously and looked after the praja (people) of the earth and done their duty - as given by the Lord - properly. But now, due to adharma (loss of moral order) under alien rule, people preferred happiness to duty, wealth to justice, materialism to godliness, and lust to love. They pleaded that unless the Lord manifested himself on earth in some form, there could be utter chaos and breakdown of social order. They further reminded the Lord that as Krishna in his previous incarnation, he had saved mankind and established peace after the Kurukshetra battle. They implored the Lord to manifest again and help mankind.

Lord Vishnu, the ever-kind and sweetly smiling Lord of the Universe, spoke with calm and affection explaining that it was the yuga of Kali, hence Kaliyuga (era of Kali), created by Adishakti itself. As such, He could not do much to change the course set by Adishakti, but as the Preservor of All, he could surely help check the menace. He also elaborated that Kali had visited other parts of the world and left scars of plague and illness on those lands, and that India had to bear with the visit of Kali, created by Adishakti for some purpose. Lord Vishnu added that none could interfere but surely Shiva, the Destroyer of All, could be of help. The assembled devtas, digpalas and Bhoodevi, then went to Lord Shiva and pleaded with him. He promised to come to Earth in the form of Dattatreya and help alleviate the pain and sufferings of human beings.

By another account, Dattatreya was born to Sage Atri and his wife Anasuya. Sage Atri was one of the seven Manasputras born to Brahma (the creator) through his mind. These were Mareechi, Atri, Angirasa, Pulatsya, Pulasa, Karathu and Kashyapa. All seven were great tapasvis (practitioners of austerities) and called the Saptarishis, or the Seven Sages. There is reference to them in the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Saptarishis shine as fixed stars in the universe, and in India this cluster of stars is referred to as Saptarishimandala of the galaxy. Generally, Hindus worship the Saptarishis on important occasions like upanayana (thread ceremony of young boys, mostly Brahmin), upakarma or namakarana (name giving) and other ceremonies.

Atri's wife, Anasuya, was once tested by the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) themselves, when they wished to test her loyalty and devotion to her husband. The three changed form and arrived at her ashram while Atri was away. She welcomed them in traditional manner and offered food, at which they came up with a strange request: that they would partake of her hospitality only if she removed all her clothes and served them. The meddlesome Narada had actually created this mischief in the larger good of all involved (in order that God comes to earth in a new incarnation) and he told the wives of the Trinity - Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati รข€“ that their respective husbands needed to be taught a lesson!

Anasuya knew through her spiritual powers that the gods were testing her, so she acquiesced. She sprinkled some water on the Trinity, which turned them into toddlers and thus she, as a mother, could reveal her natural form to these infants and feed them!

When Sage Atri returned, he saw the three great gods, the Trinity, lying in the cradle as toddlers! When he heard from Anasuya what had transpired, he could only laugh. The divine consorts by now feared that their husbands would forever be reduced to babies, and so they pleaded with Anasuya to transform the toddlers into their original form. Anasuya washed her husband's feet with water, and sprinkled the water, thus sanctified, on the three babies who attained their original form. Pleased with her devotion to her husband and happy at her ingenuity, the Trinity granted her a boon. It was at this point that she asked that the three be born to her as her real babies! And they were: Brahma as Chandra (Moon), Vishnu as Dattatreya, and Shiva as Durvasa.

Thus, Dattatreya was born to such an important sage, who lived with his wife in an ashram near Sucheendram, near Kanyakumari, at the southern tip of India. A temple honouring Dattatreya stands near the ashram. When they grew up, Chandra went to Chandralok to live and shine, Durvasa went to the forests to meditate, while Dattatreya stayed back and looked after his parents. As Dattatreya was born of a boon granted by the Trinity, he is often depicted as one with three heads representing Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Dattatreya served his parents selflessly and was later born as an avatar purush (holy incarnation), considered to be the Sai Baba of Shirdi.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Buddhist Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness

In the Buddha's great discourse on the practice of mindfulness, the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta, both the object and the means of attaining it are clearly set forth. Attentiveness to the movements of the body, to the ever-changing states of the mind, is to be cultivated in order that their real nature should be known. Instead of identifying these physical and mental phenomena with the false concept of "self," we are to see them as they really are: movements of a physical body, an aggregate of the four elements, ('mahabhutas') subject to physical laws of causality on the one hand, and on the other, a flux of successive phases of consciousness arising and passing away in response to external stimuli. They are to be viewed objectively, as though they were processes not associated with ourselves but belonging to another order of phenomena.

Buddhist Meditation : true self

From what can selfishness and egotism proceed if not from the concept of "self" ('sakkayaditthi')? If the practice of any form of meditation leaves selfishness or egotism unabated, it has not been successful. A tree is judged by its fruits and a man by his actions; there is no other criterion. Particularly is this true in Buddhist psychology, because the man 'is' his actions. In the truest sense they, or the continuity of kamma and 'vipaka' which they represent, are the only claim he can make to any persistent identity, not only through the different phases of this life but also from one life to another. Attentiveness with regard to body and mind serves to break down the illusion of self; and not only that, it also cuts off craving and attachment to external objects, so that ultimately there is neither the "self" that craves nor any object of craving. It is a long and arduous discipline, and one that can only be undertaken in retirement from the world and its cares. Yet even a temporary retirement, a temporary course of this discipline, can bear good results in that it establishes an attitude of mind which can be applied to some degree in the ordinary situations of life.

Buddhist Meditations: Detachment & Concentration

Detachment, objectivity, is an invaluable aid to clear thinking; it enables a man to sum up a given situation without bias, personal or otherwise, and to act in that situation with courage and discretion. Another gift it bestows is that of concentration -- the ability to focus the mind and keep it steadily fixed on a single point ('ekaggata', or one-pointedness), and this is the great secret of success in any undertaking. The mind is hard to tame; it roams here and there restlessly as the wind, or like an untamed horse, but when it is fully under control, it is the most powerful instrument in the whole universe. He who has mastered his own mind is indeed master of the Three Worlds.

In the first place he is without fear. Fear arises because we associate mind and body ('nama-rupa') with "self"; consequently any harm to either is considered to be harm done to oneself. But he who has broken down this illusion by realizing that the five 'khandha' process is merely the manifestation of cause and effect, does not fear death or misfortune. He remains equable alike in success and failure, unaffected by praise or blame. The only thing he fears is demeritorious action, because he knows that no thing or person in the world can harm him except himself, and as his detachment increases, he becomes less and less liable to demeritorious deeds. Unwholesome action comes of an unwholesome mind, and as the mind becomes purified with Meditation, healed of its disorders, bad kamma ceases to accumulate. He comes to have a horror of wrong action and to take greater and greater delight in those deeds that are rooted in 'alobha', 'adosa', and 'amoha' -- generosity, benevolence and wisdom.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tibetan Buddhists in India Rally Behind Leader

Thousands of followers of Tibetan Buddhism's third most important leader marched Wednesday to show their support after authorities questioned the source of more than a million dollars at his headquarters in northern India.

Police and revenue officials have twice interviewed Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, and his aides about the source of the $1.35 million in a range of foreign currencies found at the Gyuto Tantric Monastery last weekend.

Representatives of the Karmapa — seen as one of the Dalai Lama's potential successors — say the money was part of donations his followers offer when they visit the monastery to seek his blessings. The amount of cash, however, concerned police, who thought the sums were too large to be merely from donations.

The raids are unprecedented and particularly surprising since the Karmapa is revered by Tibetans and Buddhists across India. India has gone to great lengths to provide asylum to the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders who have fled Tibet.

Hundreds of Tibetan monks and nuns in their traditional maroon robes were joined in their march by ordinary Tibetans carrying Buddhist flags and portraits of the Karmapa. Softly chanting slogans, they walked solemnly through the streets of the northern Indian town of Dharmsala, carrying signs that read, "Karmapa is innocent. Let truth prevail."

FILE - In this July 6, 2007 file photo, Ugyen... View Full Caption
FILE - In this July 6, 2007 file photo, Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa and Tibetan Buddhism's third most important leader, looks on at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharmsala, India. An official of Gyuto Tantric Monastery, home of the karmapa, said Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011, Indian revenue officials are questioning office staff of the Karmapa after recovering more than a million dollars from his headquarters in northern India. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia, File) CloseThe Karmapa addressed his supporters, and told them not to worry.

"All these troubles will be solved in due course in accordance with legal procedures," he said.

The 24-year-old Karmapa a member of a different religious order from the Dalai Lama but it is widely thought he will succeed the 75-year-old leader.

The probe has put the Kermapa on the defensive and left his aides scrambling to protest his innocence of any wrongdoing.

Aides of the Karmapa tried Wednesday to distance the young spiritual leader from the monetary and administrative functions of his office.

"The office manages all the worldly affairs of His Holiness the Karmapa, including handling the donations and administering the finances," Karma Topden, a spokesman, said in a statement.

Indian media had initially carried reports that the Karmapa could be a Chinese agent sent to India to become a leader of exiled Tibetan Buddhists who have made their home there. Around $130,000 of the money found at the monastery was in Chinese yuan.

The Karmapa escaped from Tibet in 2000 — as the Dalai Lama did decades earlier. Since then, he has been living in the monastery in Sidhbari, just outside of Dharmsala.

China's government reviles the Dalai Lama, accusing him of pushing for independence for Tibet and sowing trouble there. A boy named by the Dalai Lama as the second-highest Tibetan spiritual leader, or the Panchen Lama, disappeared in 1995, shortly afterward and China selected another boy.

Topden said the Chinese currency seized by police included notes ranging from 1 yuan to larger denominations, "proving that they have come from multiple individual sources."

Dharmsala has been the headquarters of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile since the Dalai Lama fled the Himalayan region in 1959.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Origin of Buddhism

Siddharta Gautama, founder of Buddhism, came from Shakya clan. He was born at Lumbini in the southern Nepal at the beginning of the Mgadh Period (546-324 BCE). His father Suddodhana being the ruler of Kapilvastu, Siddharta spent the early years of his life in utmost luxury. Before long, he got in touch with the life outside. He was deeply grieved at the sights he saw. He later concluded that rel life was all about inescapable grief and sorrow. He then chose to become an ascetic. But ascetism asceticism too seemed to be meaningless. It was then that he decided to lead moderation and not to engross himself in penance and self mortification. He sat under a fig tree, the Bodhi Tree (as it is famous now) and decided to seek truth. He vowed not to leave the place until he got the answers to the worldly troubles. At the age of 35, he gained enlightenment and became popular as Lord Buddha.

Though Buddha was immensely accepted during his lifetime and the number of adherents continued to grow, it was only during the royal patronages of kings and rulers that added up to its domain. A number of Buddhist councils were held in different parts of the country. The First Buddhist Council was held during the 5th century at Rajgaha under the noble support of King Ajatasattu. The Second Buddhist Council was organised at Vaisali a hundred year later.

It was only during the reign of Maurya ruler Ashoka the great that Buddhism came to be established at the national level. Ashoka, after being greatly shocked at the bloody sight of Kalinga, had a change of heart. He later followed Buddhism and decided to lead a peaceful life. He set up a number of monuments and stupas all around the country. These pillars and stupas bore the noble teachings of the Buddhist faith. He even sent emissaries to far off countries to spread the message of Lord Buddha.

King Kanishka, during the 2nd century BC, organised the Fourth Buddhist Council at Kashmir. It was during this council that the Sanskrit cannon of the scriptures are said to have been fixed. This happened due to the two schisms that were formed - Mahayana and Hinayana. After this, Kanishka also applied numerous changes. The ancient Buddhist relics came to be worshipped. Images of Lord Buddha were set up and treated with utmost respect. Local residents were also allowed to visit the monasteries. And before long, an exotic cult transformed into a well-accepted religion. By the end of the 7th century, Buddhism had fairly spread throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia.

Later on, the Indian royalty and merchants immensely supported the religion and set up a number of monasteries and stupas all over the country. The most important was the monastery complex at Nalanda in Bihar. It served as a major Buddhist centre to the whole world. The Turkic invaders, however, devastated and destroyed many of the monasteries in the country and Buddhism became less intense. In countries like Bhutan and Sikkim, independent Himalayan kingdoms, Buddhism survived. The tribal in the Norteast India still practised the faith. Sri Lanka too was among the upholders of the Buddhist tradtions. One of the reasons for a sudden decline of Buddhism could be the royal patronage that shifted from Buddhist to Hindu intellectual schools.

During the early 20th century, Indian witnessed the rise of Buddhism. The European antiquarian and dedicated activities of Indian devotees specially owe the credit. The foundation of the Mahabodhi Society in the year 1891 helped immensely to popularize the philosophy of Buddhism. The Himalayan communities and the Tibetan refugees practise vajrayana that came into existence from the Mahayana sect of Buddhism. Vajrayana emphasises the intercession of Bodhisattvas, the enlightened beings who take birth to guide the people on earth along the path of the truth. In the Himalayan kingdoms, a hierarchy of monks is established and Buddhists held them in high regard.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Buddhism in India

Buddhism flourished during the reign of King Ashoka (274 - 232 B.C.).

In the 2nd cent. before Christ King Kanishka sponsored a fourth religious council at Kashmir, at which the Sanskrit canon of the scriptures is said to have been fixed. This fixation was demanded by the new schism that broke between two radically different concepts of Buddhism, to become known as Mahayana (great vehicle) and Hinayana (small vehicle).

Kanishka promoted other changes. The relics of Buddhist saints came to be worshipped, images of Buddha were made objects of popular veneration, monasteries were opened to temporary residents and students who were taught secular subjects, and, in general, Buddhism was further transformed from an exotic cult to a religion of the many.

Until the rise of the Gupta dynasty around 320 A.D., Buddhism fairly held its own in India. But under the Guptas Hinduism became dominant. In spite of several brilliant representatives, the Buddhist religion declined on Indian soil -partly by absorption into the Hindu tradition which made Buddha an incarnation of its god Vishnu, partly by the Moslem invasion which was intolerant of Buddhist anthropocentrism, and partly by the exportation of the valid Buddhist spirit into Tibet, Mongolia, China, Java, and Japan.

Two types of Buddhism are easily recognized: the Mahayana in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and Nepal; the Hinayana in Thailand, Burma, Ceylon, Cambodia, India and Indonesia.