Thursday, December 17, 2009

Burn, Buddha, Burn

Most of us are familiar with the above photograph of a Vietnamese monk burning himself in protest at the treatment of Buddhist peace activists during the Vietnam War. Confronted with the sight of this image a number of reactions might arise in a Buddhist’s mind: admiration, disapproval, amazement, or simply confusion. Perhaps as one’s Buddhist practice deepens, one’s views towards this picture change (all things are impermanent, remember!), or maybe one has a collection of contradictory thoughts on the matter. Such confusion, along with many other reactions to the monk’s suicide, may be the result of a lack of knowledge regarding who he was and his motivations, and his historical context. Perhaps if we explore the origins of both his personal history and the wider history of burning monks, we may be in a better position to understand what was going on.

The monk in question was called Thich Quang Duc, and was about sixty-six years old when he performed his famous act of ‘self-immolation’ – the offering of oneself as a sacrifice, especially by burning. But, why did he do it? At the time, not only was capitalist South Vietnam at war with communist North Vietnam, but in the south there was much dissatisfaction with regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Discontent was rife amongst Buddhists, who not only objected to the government’s perceived aggressive attitude to the North, but also felt that they were treated unfairly by Diem’s pro-Roman Catholic policies. Himself a Catholic, the President was seen to promote Roman Catholicism in predominately Buddhist South Vietnam. This included favoring Catholics in the army, in the distribution of American aid, big business deals, and in religious rights. Diem had dedicated Vietnam to the Virgin Mary in 1959, and whilst Catholics were allowed to fly the Vatican State’s flag, Buddhists were banned from flying theirs. On the 8th May 1963, which was Vesak (or 'BuddhaDay'), a protest was organized by Buddhists against these and other actions of the government, during which Buddhist flags were raised. Soldiers and police fired into the crowd, and even launced grenades at them, killing nine of the protesters.

Thich Quang Duc had been a monk all his adult life, and was highly-respected, holding senior positions in the Buddhist clergy and responsible for overseeing the building of thirty-one new temples. Also, he was a dedicated meditator, having devoted three years as a young monk to solitary practice on a mountain retreat, and continuing to meditate and teach meditation throughout his monastic career. He also spent time in neighboring Cambodia studying Theravada Buddhism (he, along with most Vietnamese Buddhists was of the Mahayana variety). As the war in Vietnam went on, and the South Vietnamese government continued in its often violent anti-Buddhist policies, Thich Quang Duc decided to burn himself alive in protest, his supporters calling for equality for Buddhists and their organizations in the country. So, on the 11th June 1963, this elderly monk sat calmly on the ground in a busy Saigon street, while a colleague poured gasoline over him. Thich Quang Duc then chanted the name of Amitabha Buddha before striking a match and setting himself alight. Eventually, Diem was replaced as President, and later on, the South was deserted by its ally America, left to the invading communists from the North. Thich Quang Duc’s last words were left in a written statement:

“Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.”

Whatever one makes of the above explanation of the monk’s self-immolation, it was not an isolated occurrence. Following his example, other Buddhist monks in South Vietnam did the same thing, in the hope of creating equality for Buddhists and Buddhism in South Vietnam at the time. In fact, monks had been burning themselves for centuries in Vietnam, often to ‘honor’ the Buddha. Nor are such incredible actions isolated to Vietnam. Self-immolation is well-documented in the records of Chinese Buddhism, and also extended to modern times, when a monk self-immolated in the city of Harbin in protest at the mistreatment of Buddhists by Mao Zedong’s communist forces. Not entirely surprising, as Vietnamese Buddhism is essentially imported Chinese Buddhism.

The book ‘Biographies of Famous Monks,’ compiled by Baochang in the sixth century A.D., chronicles many Buddhist monks and nuns who burnt themselves to death. Another Buddhist scholar, Huijiao, considered self-immolation as a bona fide way to propagate Buddhism, considering it to be a selfless act that potentially could improve society by discouraging pride and avarice amongst observers. Auto-cremation was not the only method used to sacrifice oneself, however. In imitation of the Buddha in the famous tale where (in a previous life) he gives his body to a hungry tigress and her cubs, Chinese Buddhists had also fed themselves to tigers. In one story, the Fifth Century monk Tancheng fed himself to a tiger to stop the creature eating the locals. Apparently, it worked.

As for a specific tale relating to self-immolation, there is the story of Sengming, a monk that had buly a temple atop a mountain that he named ‘The Heavenly Palace of Maitreya’ – Maitreya being the prophesied future Buddha. After spending many years reciting the Lotus Sutra, which makes reference to self-immolation itself, he was given permission by the emperor of China to burn himself. Following his auto-cremation, many miracles were recorded, such as healing, spontaneously blooming flowers, and a moving statue. Such actions were considered good practice, and as valid as meditating, chanting sutras, or building temples. Indeed, Pure Land Buddhists believed that it was a way to be reborn in Amitabha Buddha’s heavenly realm.

This view of self-immolation as a ‘holy’ act which could result in a fortuitous rebirth or even a giant step towards enlightenment seems to have some parallels with modern Islamic suicide bombers. Both Buddhist self-immolators and Muslim suicide attackers believe their self-destructive actions are of spiritual benefit, leading to an exulted state of being. The big difference being that the Buddhists in question never killed other people when taking their own lives, whereas the Muslim terrorist very much intends to destroy others. It’s interesting that in both types of religious suicide, supernatural beliefs in an afterlife appear to be a central element in the belief systems involved.

Thich Quang Duc is nowadays considered a bodhisattva by many Vietnamese Buddhists, and his picture remains an iconic and disturbing image of self-immolation for the benefit of others. But, considering the long history of self-immolation in Buddhism, going all the way back to the Buddha himself, his action cannot be considered in isolation, if we are to fully understand it. It is part of a continuing tradition of self-sacrifice in Buddhism, and as such, is something that all Buddhists might do well to reflect on. Could you, dear reader, ‘do a Duc’ and burn yourself to death for the sake of others? Do you even consider it a valid expression of Buddhist practice, or is it in direct contradiction to your understanding of basic Buddhist principles? Please leave your thoughts by clicking on the comments function below.


Arun said...

I had learned about Thich Quang Duc in the context of a more specific chain of events than mere promotion of "anti-Buddhist policies" in 1963--such as the nine Buddhists killed on May 8, 1963 or the chemical attacks against 67 Buddhists on June 3, 1963.

G said...

Thank you for the input, Arun. I will amend the article to include a reference this aspect of the situation in South Vietnam in the build-up to the monk's self-immolation.
What of the act itself, Arun? Do you consider it a valid expression of Buddhist practice, and if so, could you envisage circumstances in which you would do the same?

Arun said...

It’s hard for me to judge others’ actions, especially in such divergent circumstances—separated by so much distance, time, culture, age and so many other factors. Today, I can say with vehemence that I would never so actively sacrifice my own life in any form for any cause—but in the context of an emotional and politically volatile chain of events, such as that which Thich Quang Duc found himself in, who knows if I would act any differently.

G said...

Thank you for the honest answer, Arun.
Yes, in some ways it would be easy to judge Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation from the distance of time & space, but this may well involve attachment to doctrinal beliefs and cultural influences that differ to those at work on the Vietnamese monk.

As to burning for Buddhism, circumstances differ individually also. Thich Quang Duc was a monk with his main responsibilities being towards the Sangha, whereas for those of us with families, a different set of priorities may exist. So, from this perspective, auto-cremation isn't for me, either.

Gladstone said...

While it was quite a spectacle for the media, as someone probably made a nice bonus from this photo, it was nothing at all to do with what The Buddha taught, even though it may be regarded locally as an expression of Buddhism and being a bodhisattva, etc.

What such things really show is that some Buddhist monks became involved in local politics and tried to save the world by committing an act of violence against their own being; a serious breach of the precept of not respecting life.

If he didn't like the President why didn't he just go and shoot him. Sure it's not Buddhist but the end result would have been far more effective. How on earth can committing suicide change anything other than your own present material form?

When people have wisdom then they realize that there are situations where they are unable to to anything at all. Thus, they act wisely and do nothing.

To state it plainly, burning your self alive is not polite.

G said...

Actually, this event sparked many similar protests across South Vietnam, which lead to the ousting of President Diem, so perhaps Thich Guang Duc was successful in his aims - and in the process slightly more "polite" than killing the President, Gladstone!

But, on a separate issue to do with your comment, how do you - or anybody else for that matter - know what the Buddha taught? None of the scriptures in existence (Pali, Chinese, or Tibetan) were written by the Buddha, and the earliest accounts we have of actually recorded scripture dates from several hundred years after he lived. Surely the point of the Buddhist teachings is not to take them as historical fact or dogmas to cling to, but as skillful tools to help realize the living Dharma.

If we object to the actions of a self-immolating monk because it goes against this principle of being a skillful way to awakening, then that's in keeping with the central aim of Buddhism; enlightenment. If we can argue that it is in no way compassionate, then that's another argument to consider. But to claim that it isn't in line with our concepts of what the Buddha may or may not have taught is attaching to views, isn't it?

As to the argument regarding the precept against harming life, there are several accounts in Theravada & Mahayana scriptures of arahants & bodhisattvas committing suicide. Now, again, we might challenge the validity of these pieces of scripture, but then we might as well challenge the whole lot as being literal truth (which many of us Buddhists do, of course). And then, as above, we are left not relying on written records as infallible doctrines, but as tools for reflection...

When you write that self-immolation is unwise, this presents a more potent challenge, Gladstone, and yet, according to historical accounts, Thich Quang Duc's suicide did help to influence change, so your specific argument in this instance seems untenable. The general point about self-immolation being unwise is worth investigating further, however, so how else would you (or any other readers) display that his actions were not wise?

No disrespect, Gladstone; the Middle Way has many expressions, and we all walk this Path in the manner we see fit. And, discussing such issues as wisdom & orthodoxy seem important subjects for reflection in a world were different traditions and scriptures mix in the modern global society. I look forward to any replies.

Robbie C said...

My humble view of Thich Quang Duc and his self-immolation is that, if he wished to return his physical body to the four elements, and make a statement to stir the minds of the people, it was a courageous thing to do! Knowing his awarenesss of the rarity and preciousness of this human life, his actions spoke very loudly regarding his compassion and motivation!

Could I do such a thing? I doubt I could get past the idea of all the physical pain and/or generate the immense compassion to go through with such an act. I'm currently more of a - strong letter of condemnation - person.

G said...

Thank you for your view on Thich Quang Duc's incredible action - incredible whether one condones or condemns it. As to being a person, we're all one of those...and more! Buddhism isn't about denying our humanity, as such, is it? It's more about seeing it in context; the context of everything & no thing. Perhaps Thich Quang Duc was well aware of this no thing at the heart of life, along with everything that fills it. In that sense, his self-immolation can be seen as "courageous" & selfless.

Gladstone said...

This photo represents the particular monk who got the photo credit, and the glory, if you like, but he was simply one of quite a few monks who did the same at this time. Despite the religious overtones it was simply a staged publicity stunt.

As for the President, he wasn't ousted, he was shot, in a military coup, which would have happened whether Buddhist monks were setting themselves on fire or not.

He was considered a lackey of the US and the other generals in South Vietnam were going to replace him anyway. He was however, the first democratically elected President of Vietnam, whatever that was worth.

As for the idea of Buddhist monks committing suicide, I think that it is pathetic, a disgrace. No doubt not a popular opinion due to the somewhat mediocre emotional attachments that come with such displays of so-called religious devotion.

Gladstone said...

It is also worth noting that interference by foreign governments, which is basically what this photo is all about, has been common throughout the world, and such interference has usually included religious and cultural values.

In Thailand, for example, it is much easier for a foreign missionary to obtain a visa than it is for a foreign Buddhist monk, because missionary visas are a prerequisite for a lot of the aid and technical cooperation (In god we trust, and all that).

The US has also long had a bug up its backside regarding local flora in Asia. Thus, thanks to this a lot of the city street kids are now becoming zombies by sniffing paint thinner or swallowing the latest designer chemical, whereas their predecessors would smoke dope, eat ice cream, and laugh themselves silly.

This is the way of the world, what else would you expect in Samsara.

G said...

As to the specifics of the self-immolation of Thch Guang Duc & its aftermath, here's a view contrary to yours, Gladstone:

"After the self-immolation, the U.S. put more pressure on Diệm to re-open negotiations on the faltering agreement. Diệm had scheduled an emergency cabinet meeting at 11:30 on 11 June to discuss the Buddhist crisis which he believed to be winding down. Following Thích Quảng Đức's death, Diệm cancelled the meeting and met individually with his ministers. Acting U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam William Trueheart warned Nguyen Dinh Thuan, Diệm's Secretary of State, of the desperate need for an agreement, saying that the situation was "dangerously near breaking point" and expected that Diệm would meet the Buddhists' five-point manifesto. United States Secretary of State Dean Rusk warned the Saigon embassy that the White House would publicly announce that it would no longer "associate itself" with the regime if this did not occur.[26] The Joint Communique and concessions to the Buddhists were signed on 16 June.[27]

15 June was set as the date for the funeral of Thích Quảng Đức, and on that day 4,000 people gathered outside Xa Loi Pagoda, only for the ceremony to be postponed. On 19 June, his remains were carried out of Xa Loi to a cemetery 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of the city for a re-cremation and funeral ceremony. Following the signing of the Joint Communique, attendance was limited by agreement between Buddhist leaders and police to approximately 400 monks.[27]"
(From the Wikipedia entry on Thich Guang Duc)

From this perspective, the monk's suicide did have positive consequences in South Vietnam at the time. And, the actions of the monk & other protesting Buddhists were intertwined (interdependent) with other political & military events during this time, which led to the violent ousting of President Diem, so to deny any link would seem to be clinging to a dogmatic position, perhaps fueled by a negative view of the action itself.

All this is academic, however, for these are merely views & opinions, which the Buddhadharma encourages us not to attach to, anyway. Talking of the Buddhadharma, Gladstone, in the last comment addressed to you, you were asked how you know exactly what the Buddha did or didn't teach. You appear to have overlooked or ignored this somewhat important question. Care to enlighten us? :-)

Gladstone said...

The main aspect of Buddhist teachings has already been mentioned, respect for life, and that begins with one's own.

The middle path is just that, away from attaching to either ends of extremism. Burning yourself alive for any reason is idiotic, but doing it over a local politician is complete insanity.

What about Pol Pot taking over Cambodia, was he any less corrupt than the Vietnamese President? The monks in Cambodia did the smart thing and moved to Thailand.

The monks are dead and Vietnam is now a communist country, so apart from the publicity their actions were pointless.

G said...

Good reply, Gladstone, bringing the dialogue to where it needs to be centered: the Middle Way. Buddhist teachings do indeed direct us to lead a life that avoids extremes, but are such extremes consistent in all societies at all times, no matter what the particular conditions may be? Buddhist history would suggest otherwise, for the Buddhism practiced today in a country like Thailand has evolved from the one represented in the Pali scriptures. Similarly, Japanese Buddhism has developed in many ways from the forms it adopted from China. The exact nature of the Middle Way depends on what we view as extreme beliefs & practices to be begin with, and this alters due to time & place.

The specifics of the self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc & its aftermath have been dealt with, don't you think? And that example was only a starting point for reflection, so that we might consider the issues and their implications in both a broader context and, conversely, a personal one. Gladstone, you previously referred specifically to having knowledge of what the Buddha taught - and by implication, what he didn't - and there's still no indication as to where this knowledge might come from. Any thoughts?

Gladstone said...

Buddhism is all about the cessation of suffering, and you begin with the four noble truths and end with a pure mind.

There are many views within society, and society inevitably influences certain parts of The Sangha, wherever it may be.

You can see this in Thailand today with all the superstitious practices, but when The Sangha is large enough then there remains the opportunity for a few monks to follow the original teachings (or close enough) and just devote themselves to the practice off in some quiet corner of the country and eventually become Arahants.

Nevermind those who are not doing this, they are obviously not ready in terms of polishing their rough diamonds (minds).

However, as long as a few do succeed then Buddhism is still alive and the rest of us have someone to listen to for correct guidance.

Arahants are never going to be the most popular monks because many people are very primitive in nature, and would rather have lottery numbers and lucky charms and someone who cracks jokes all of the time rather than being told the details of correct practice day in and day out.

Thus, you can more or less guarantee that many would not have liked The Buddha himself due to their own unfounded opinions of what was important in life,

G said...

You write as if these are indisputable facts, Gladstone: But how do you know all this? What is your source of knowledge? Tradition? Scripture? Philosophy? Thinking? Hearsay? Monks? Or experience (enlightenment)?

Gladstone said...

My source is the people I hang around with from time to time; monks who could not be greedy, angry or deluded to save their lives.

One of them points out that to do harm to yourself in such a way is an expression of ill-will, anger, due to attachment, even though on the surface he may have appeared to be a nice person. He suspects that he may also have been attached to the idea of being a bodhisattva, which he points out has really nothing to do with Buddhism.

He said that although the idea of not becoming enlightened until everyone else does sounds very noble there are enough beings existing in one day (all the insects for example) to keep one busy for a trillion lifetimes, what with waiting for them to evolve and perhaps later finding out that most of them don't want to be enlightened anyway. On top of that, in his own next life he will have completely forgotten about being a bodhisattva, so in the end it is all nonsense.

G said...

With your indulgence, Gladstone, perhaps we might delve into these issues a little deeper: How do you know that these monks couldn't be greedy, angry, or deluded to save their lives? Have they declared themselves to be enlightened (which is the complete absence of greed, anger, and delusion)?

Whatever our sources for the particular form(s) of Buddhism that we practice, surely it's in the examination of the teachings we receive that true wisdom will arise: all else is hearsay. As you've probably gathered, Gladstone, in previous comments you were being encouraged to reveal the source(s) of your apparent belief that you know exactly what the Buddha did or didn't teach, which appears to be the criteria by which you judge other people's actions, such as those of Thich Quang Duc. It appears now that the sources are these monks, who may well be enlightened; but do you know that they are so? Also, how do you know that what they teach you is what the Buddha actually taught or not?

So many Buddhists seem to think that they know what the historical Buddha really taught, when in truth, upon reflection, it is revealed that they know nothing of the sort, because what they know is inherited from another source, and not the wisdom that rises from within, with the assistance of certain upaya (skillful means). Using the Buddhist teachings & practices to realize the living Dharma is surely better than adopting them as a set of doctrines to cling to as 'absolute truths' that only 'heretics' and 'unbelievers' reject?

Do we actually know that the 'historical' Buddha lived at all? Even if he did, we have no way of knowing exactly what he did or didn't do, nor what he did or didn't teach - unless we have a time machine to travel back through the centuries and check things out for ourselves! (Now, there's a thought!) Perhaps the Buddha is the personification of Buddhist ideals that we can aspire to. And, this in no way diminishes the Eightfold Path, for it is in walking the Path, and reaping its rewards, that we can truly know 'the Buddha's teachings,' not by attaching to certain sectarian views of what he may have taught. Thank you for your thought-provoking contributions to this blog, Gladstone...

Gladstone said...

Examination of The Buddha's teachings will get you nowhere fast, because as long as you have an ignorant mind then it doesn't matter what you think, say, or do (other than practice); and as you point out, who is to say what The Buddha really taught.

Scholars, and some lay people, spend their lives examining and it doesn't make them enlightened, although they may certainly become somewhat wiser.

The only way to see and understand our predicament is to get a completely detached view, an outside view, and that is only possible through the development of pannya in meditation, which is not just a mystical word but an increase in awareness, and of course, adjusting to the consequences.

As for what The Buddha taught, monks realize what The Buddha taught and what he didn't teach from what works. They also reap the benefits of a long established Sangha, in that there is a lineage of knowledge (not of monks or sect but an understanding of correct knowledge). They also get beyond subjective opinions by association and meeting with each other (and in this it comes down to yahn, path knowledges, not words or arguments). Thus, although what true enlightenment really is may not be apparent in society (including the majority of monks for that matter) it is apparent in a large circle of monks, even though only a small percentage of these may be fully enlightened.

It is not possible for anyone to judge who is enlightened, except for someone on the same level. However, it is possible for ordinary people to recognize the existence of yahn, path knowledge, if one meets such a noble being, but what level cannot be determined except perhaps by another noble being.

For example a sotappanna can recognize ordinary people, other beings on his level, and recognize that someone is on a higher level but not which one exactly, whereas a fully enlightened being can recognize all.

There are also some specific peculiarities. All Arahants are capable of expressing a certain kind of consciousness, which in the past I have had passed on to me on several occasions, and Arahants and some Anagamis are capable of sitting in nirvana (Jhahn Sammapat).

Generally, monks never say that they are enlightened, at any level, although it has been acknowledged on occasion when they become very old. Noble beings are not like ordinary people (which some ordinary people often find disconcerting) and they have only one interest, the pure mind (and not the mountain of books on Buddhism that has accumulated over the centuries).

Was there really an historical Buddha? If there wasn't then no one would be enlightened today as he was the original source; not so much what he did or did not say but his state of puremindedness.

Puremindedness is paramount in Buddhism, and although I obviously cannot claim to be an expert I can recognize it in some beings at least, and that remains my guide.

G said...

You can recognize what you think or feel - 'sense' - to be puremindedness in some beings, Gladstone, for as you have admitted, you are not what you classify as an Arahant, so you cannot know for sure. Therefore, as you also point out, it is in the walking of the Path that we benefit from Buddhism, not believing in this or that doctrine, not believing in this or that sect, and not believing in this or that monk.

A central element in the Path is meditation, which you also mention, out of which develops wisdom. And, in meditation, there are no scriptures, monks, arahants, bodhisattvas, buddhas, or anything else to assit us - it's down to individual practice in the present moment.

As to knowing what the historical Buddha taught, Gladstone, your argument seems to be getting clouded. First, you indicate that nobody knows what he taught, when you write, "who is to say what the Buddha really taught," but then write that, "monks realize what The Buddha taught and what he didn't teach from what works." But, why the emphasis on monks, Gladstone? Because they tell you that they are the only ones who can realize full enlightenment, or because you've read it in a book? Or have you been unfortunate and not met any wise laypeople? (It's convenient for many laypeople to think that only monks can awaken, because it takes the pressure off themselves - your words indicate that you're not like this, Gladstone.)

You like to write of arahants but not of bodhisattvas, which suggests a preference - as many things you write do - for Theravada Buddhism - you are a Theravada Buddhist, Gladstone? I've met many excellent practitioners of the Way who use the Theravada teachings as tools to awaken with. I've also met many people who cling to the Theravada teachings as 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.' Which are you? (I've also met Mahayana Buddhists that fit both above descriptions, as well, of course.)

As to the 'historical' Buddha having lived or not lived: who can say? None of the monks you mention met him - unless in a previous life, of course! No one living in the past two-and-a-half millennia has met him - so no one knows whether he existed or not. And, if he did exist, we don't know what he was like, nor what he taught. To think we know what he was like or what he taught is a matter of belief, not knowledge.

We can know the living Buddha, however. Which is the Buddha that exists in all of us, which is that capacity to know, to be awake, to be enlightened. Meditation enables us to let go of the false identification with the temporal ego, and recognize the unborn. This is not the historical Buddha, but the ever-present, ever awakened Buddha in us all. And, this Buddha is more valuable than all ideas of monks, scriptures, arahants, bodhisattvas, temples, ceremonies, chanting, and whatever else we can concoct to assist (or avoid) awakening. They are conditioned tools; the Buddha is unconditioned reality, realizable through living the teachings, not clinging to them as doctrines. Which Buddha do we wish to know - the historical one or the living one?

Gladstone said...

No doubt there are some wise lay people, just as there are people who know a lot about medicine yet are not qualified doctors.

The most obvious thing about monks is that it is the purest profession, they don't recieve a salary and they don't have the burdens of ordinary people like families and having to pay bills. Thus, they are free to devote themselves to the practice full time, so the level of advancement by some, not all, is generally way beyond what even the wisest lay people can imagine.

As for the living Buddha you spoke of, very nice, and I would not like to criticize the idea too much because it happens to be the foundation of saddha for many people. However, I would say that someone who has already completed the path, and is thus qualified, is also a living Buddha, albeit temporarily.

Such living Buddhas are generally a better source than an ignorant mind any time.

I don't think that the monks who are enlightened think in terms of Theravada or Mahayahn, as they recognize that there have been enlightened people from Mahayahn sects, Hinduism, and perhaps other Indian based religions providing that the same method is used.

However, the idea of someone going on from life to life as a bodhisattva would only be possible if there was a 'self'. My own being has probably said many things in previous lives and made many promises but I don't remember a single word of it, as there is no 'self' going on from life to life.

G said...

Thanks for more stimulating thoughts, Gladstone.

In Buddhism, rebirth is taught as happening despite there being no self to be reborn, as such, so the intent or mental clinging that would involve the commitment to being a bodhisattva wouldn't necessarily need remembering with the conscious mind to take place. Also, the Buddha is said in the Pali Canon to have made such a commitment many, many lifetimes before he eventually was reborn as Siddhartha Gautama and became the Buddha, which is essentially the same thing that Mahayana Buddhists aspire to, and which you are refuting as involving the life-to-life rebirth of a self. Just goes to show: you can't trust what you read or are taught, whether it's Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, or whatever!

Yes, someone who has recognized the unborn, and lives from 'it' is the living Buddha. The difference between such a person and most folk is that he or she sees & lives this truth, whilst others are still caught up in playing the role of being this or that self.

As to monks, in theory it is not a profession, Gladstone, because a profession, by definition, is a paid occupation! However, in practice, most monks appear to be professional priests, both in the Theravada & Mahayana branches of Buddhism. Here in Thailand, whenever Theravada monks perform ceremonies for a specific family, that family pays them a fee ('donation') in an envelop, one of which is handed personally to each monk. Depending on the attitude of the head monk, this money may be shared out between the monks, or kept for personal expenses. (Such personal expenses include electronic goods, books, magazines, etc. Monks with wads of money are a common sight in the shops of Thailand.) De facto, many or most monks in this country constitute a profession, impure by your definition, Gladstone.

Having written this, there are great monks around, and I've had the privilege of meeting some of them, as well as conversing with some great laypeople. Taking advice from those that appear to live the Buddhadharma is indeed a wise way course of action, as long as we do not attach to their teachings as dogmas (which prevents letting go), and test out what they say and write for ourselves. This is the beauty of the Buddhadharma, when compared to many teachings in the world that demand blind faith & obedience, is it not?

Yan Charette said...

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. - Socrates

G said...

Thank you, Yan. To know that

1) "I am the wisest man alive"

2) "I know one thing"

3) "I know nothing"

is to know three things, not one thing, and certainly not nothing - and is therefore a contradiction in terms!

Socrates may well have been the wisest man in ancient Athens, but he seems to have been no buddha! ;-)

Yan Charette said...

Haha you know that ?

G said...

I know what seems to be the case, Yan - more than this would appear to be Socratic Sophism!

Yan Charette said...

Well , you touch the limit of my intellectual understanding of Socrates in your last post and i prefer avoiding any deepening on the subject , Far from my intention to start a debate , Since to futility of the debate i was trying to point hehe . I should have stay quiet my friend.

G said...

As far as I was aware, Yan, there was no debate; just two friends sharing a joke. And you right, of course, as regards the ultimate futility of debating on these matters. That's the problem with this medium - we can't see each other smile, nor hear each other laugh!

:-) :-) :-)

Yan Charette said...

Aah well said , Joke is something i can share !

You know, I think i am about to start any post i make on the web with -you are right- . I am sure it will be hard sometimes but ... It will benefit us Human on the web !

If somebody is still reading these comments , ( Considering that Mister G wrote 4 new blog posts now ) If you posted or ... feel like posting something , Well my friend , You are right !

P.s I wrote this with a funny tone but with absolutely no sarcasm .

G said...

According to Buddhism, Yan, there's no one reading these posts anyway, just these illusory selves - so there's no worries in the end, is there? ;-)

ludicman said...

I have nothing but respect for all of these men. I have honored all of them from the very first time I saw this picture when I was 13 years old. Some of my Buddhists friends don't agree with this sort of sacrifice and I understand but to me it's not at all like the other historic acts. This incident was in the proper context as it used the modern camera to point to the tragedy of the American mistake and the human error that was Vietnam. These men were more than Buddhists, they were as brave as courage allows in this dimension. Nothing has ever affected me more and that says it all.

G said...

Thank you for the heartfelt comments, lucidman.
Whether people agree with the actions of Thich Quang Duc & other self-immolating monks during the Vietnam War or not, the pictures are certainly very powerful, as the comments on this blog show.

Buku said...

The tens of millions of pacific Buddhists in India and elsewhere who were slaughtered at the hands of the Muslims and Hindus, refusing to take up arms to protect themselves, are no less respectworthy? delusional? than Thich Quang Duc. The Mahayana Nirvana Sutra was preached in response to the Buddhist irrationality of absolute pacifism in the face of the Three Poisons and the violent non-Buddhist devils.

G said...

As a Buddhist, Buku, I would not condemn anyone as a 'devil.' To think such thoughts and then verbalize them are evidence of the three poisons themselves.

We can act towards the world with wisdom & compassion or nescience & hatred: the choice is ours. The latter, however, are not Buddhist qualities; the former are the very expression of awakening.

May all beings be awake & content.