Demise of Badri Ratna Bajracharya

The Kathmandu Post reported on October 17, 2016 the demise of “Buddhist scholar Pandit Badri Ratna Bajracharya”. The old teacher died at the age of 84. Pandit Bajr-ācharya belonged to the Newar community of Nepal and passed his knowledge on to young people who wished to become vajr-ācarya in this (hybrid) Buddhist tradition. Among his students were some youth, says the text below, who belonged to the other ethnicity the Sakya (who as an ethnicity do not perform the vajrācarya rituals).

The publication “Revisiting Rituals in a Changing Tibetan World” (Brill, Leiden, 2012, p. 235) has a few words on the deceased:

“In 1979 Badri Ratna Bajracharya (who is the most active and widely respected vajrācārya of present-day Newar Buddhism and since fall 2008 also the head of the Dharmodaya-sabha, a body uniting the principal Buddhist traditions present in the Valley) founded the Vajrācarya-adhyayana-mandala in Kathmandu in order to train vajrācārya youths (a few studens were also Sākyas). This innovative programme was hugely popular and in 1990 led to the institutionalisation at the Mahendra Sanskrit University of a course on bauddha-karmakānanda with its own textbook designed by Badri Ratna Bajracharya (… 1992). In the first year alone there were — according to Astamuni Bajracarya  — 135 students enrolled in the elementary course. These numbers were obviously not sustainable, and nowadays (2012) the courses are no longer taught in this way, but have reverted to their original format and are taught informally at the home of Badri Ratna. Even so, there have been by now, in the words of Naresh Man Bajracarya, a prominent disciple of Badri Ratna, “hundreds” of students who have learnt at least the basics of vajrācarya rituals from the latter.”


Ancient Origins, the August 5, 2016 edition, allows Clyde Winters to dwell on historian Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942) who believed, but could not prove, that there were Buddhist settlements in Egypt during the ‘Persian Period’ (approx. 525 – 405 BC).

Mr. Winters goes on to say that the “Gymnosophists” of Upper-Egypt and the Meroïc Empire were Buddhists too. And he reminds us of the word “Blemmya”.
J. Duncan M. Derrett (1922 – 2012 — “A Blemmya in India”, Numen Vol. 49, No. 4, 2002, pp. 460-474, Leiden) consulted “the” Vinaya of the Buddhists and concluded that the word “Blemmya” that he came across in “Vinaya 60, 146” had to be translated or interpreted as “Africans”.

A little research shows that the word Blemmya does not occur in the Pali Vinaya. This Vinaya has 12 Khanda (sections), not 60, and the longest Khanda has 27 Vagga (books), not 146.
Perhaps Mr. Derrett consulted the Mahāsangika Vínaya, a longish collection of monks’ rules that seems to have remained reasonably intact despite the fact that it has become obsolete, possibly 1000 to 1600 years ago.
And there is the Mūla-sarvastivāda Vínaya as per today used in the Himalayas among the Northern Buddhists. Even if this Mūla-sarvastivāda Vínaya were the source of Mr. Derret’s surmise, it would still not prove the existence of African Buddhists in India, or Buddhists in Africa (Egypt).
There is no extant dictionary or anthology of Buddhist texts that has the word Blemmya, let alone a description of its meaning. If at all to be interpreted or “translated” we would be more inclined to consider the Tamils of the Southernmost part of India as looking the part, that is, black, or in Mr. Derrettt’s thinking: “Blemmya”. The skin colour of the Southernmost Tamils is indeed is just as dark as that of sub-Saharan Africans. We come across these Tamils on the walls and ceiling of the caves at Kizil, along the Silk Road.

For the time being the word Blemmya is intranslatable.

Being yoked and emptiness

Both David J. Kalupahana (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna, Delhi 1991) and Joseph Walser (Nāgārjuna in Context, New York 2005 – don’t waste your money on it) consider Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā to be an implicit reaction on the Pali Scripture the Kaccāyanagottasutta.
The monk Kaccāyana is mentioned in the Mūla, hence the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā has him as addressee, they said. Could be. Let’s not go too far into it and not add to the wild speculations of especially Mr. Walser.

One of the verses in the Mūla, Ch. 24, 14, seems to render Nāgārjuna’s thinking on emptiness most clearly, and at the same time most intricate. David Kalupahana, the only one who bothered to give us the transliteration of the Sanscrit verses (a posthumus thank you to Mr. Kalupahana), made his own translation. Mr. Walser used M. Sprung’s 1967 version (Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way: The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapada of Candrakirti, p.235. London 1967).

Both translations differ in the rendering of the words “yujyate” and “sūnyatā/ sūnyam”.

Here are the two lines:

Sarvam ca yujyate tasya sūnyatā yasya yujyate,
sarvam na yujyate tasya sūnyam yasya na yujyate.

David J. Kalupahana translated them with:

“Everything is pertinent for whom emptiness is proper. Everything is not pertinent for whom the empty is not proper.”

M.Sprung offered the translation:

“All things make sense (yujyate) for him for whom the absence of being (sunyatā) makes sense. Nothing makes sense for him for whom the absence of being does not make sense.”

Yujyate – derived from the stem yuj. We see here how one translator used “(being) pertinent”, and the other choose “make (making) sense”.

In Sanskrit the stem “yuj” is applied in many ways, such as in -yujya: to yoke, to fix, to charge, to concentrate, to join, etc.
In Pali things seem to be a lot simpler. We come across “anuyoga” [Sk. Anu + yuj] which stands for application, devotion to, execution, and practice of.

To a Buddhist mind the word sūnyatā appears to be a lot less complicated. The Pali interpretation is indeed “absence of self” (atta), by Mr. Sprung understood as “absence of being”.
The Mahāyāna Sanscritic interpretation of sūnyatā goes beyond the discussion of the self and implies the ultimate ens-lessness of beings and things, the lack of enduring essence in whatever there might be in the universe.

So we might be tempted to amalgamate both translations of the two lines and conclude that, as “yuj” is intrically linked with the meditative mind that is totally absorbed in the subject, the text ought to be understood as

“As long as your (meditative) mind is totally yoked (yuj-) to (the concept of) utter lack of essence (sunya-) in everything, the ens-less makes sense.
But so long as your (non-meditative) mind is not totally yoked (yuj-) to (the concept of) of utter lack of essence (sunya-), the (abstract concept of) ens-less does not make sense, does not speak to you.”

Mahayana and Hinayana ordination

In “Nāgārjuna in Context” (New York, 2005) Joseph Walser attempts to give the monk-scholar Nāgārjuna a place in time and space. Whether he has been successful is not the subject of this short remark.
What is of interest here is the opinion among academics that there is something called Mahāyāna ordination and something called Hīnayāna ordination for Buddhist monks in the orthodox sense of the word.
Mr. Walser quotes Gregory Schopen with “…., for ordained Mahāyānists, ‘early Mahāyāna in India was a small isolated … group …”.

“Ordained Mahāyānists” needs to be clarified:
There are no Mahāyāna ordinations, and there have never been Mahāyāna ordinations. All orthodox Mahāyāna Schools employ, and employed, the Hīnayāna sets of rules. As such, or, as far as ordination goes, Hīnayāna is part of Mahāyāna.

As of unknown date Mahāyānists could and can enhance or “upgrade” their Hīnayāna ordination by taking on a number of Bodhisattva rules. Taking the Bodhisattva rules is optional. The ceremonies by which Bodhisattva rules are taken follow after the taking of Higher Ordination (upasampadá). Some of these rules repeat some rules of Lower Ordination (in the Hīnayāna sense of the word), some others are add-ons.

See also Buddhism, some aspects

Laozi in translation

It occurred to me that he most striking difference in translation of the last century is probably that between a translation of a section of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) by the late Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaiï, Chung-yuan Chang, and that of Étiemble (Gallimard 1967).

In Prof. Chung-yuan Chang the first four lines of chapter 59 run as follows:

In guiding people and working according to nature,
It is best to follow renunciation.
Following renunciation means returning soon.
Returning soon means accumulating attainment.

In Étiemble’s translation we read:

Pour gouverner les hommes et pour servir le ciel,
rien ne vaut la modération,
car seul celui qui pratique la modération
se soumettra de bonne heure au Tao.

(Étiemble’s translation goes on with:
Qui se soumet de bonne heure au Tao
aura double réserve de vertu;
qui a double réserve de vertu
triomphera en tout.
Qui triomphe en tout
ne connaîtra pas de limites à son pouvoir.
Qui ne connaît pas ces limite
peut posséder un royaume
peut le garder longtemps.
Qui possède la mère du royaume
peut le garder longtemps.
Voilà ce qu’on apelle :
la voie de la racine profonde,
de la souche solide,
de la longue et de la vision durable.)

It is striking that Prof. Chung-yuan Chang, who knew his mother tongue best, choose the word “nature“, whereas Étiemble gives “ciel” (heaven[s]).
Moreover, Prof. Chung-yuan Chang gave “renunciation“, where Étiemble chose “modération” (moderation).

I cannot cut this cake; my Chinese is no longer what it used to be. I would like to see how the Professor solved the word-problems that follow after these first four lines, but it appears that the book in which we might find this particular translation is no longer available. A Buddhist overseas reproduced these four lines after wading through his library no doubt. It would be interesting to see the rest of Prof. Chung-yuan Chang’s rendering of Laozi’s (Lao Tse) poem or aphorism.

Stupa worship

On June 30, 2016 Owen Jarus, contributor of Live Science ( reported on a saríra container found under a stūpa in the Chinese city of Nanjing. He writes that “… [a] stūpa, [is] a Buddhist shrine used for meditation.”

In 1963 Akira Hirakawa publishes his book “The Rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Its Relationship to the Worship of Stūpas”. On the basis of his research in canonical and monastic literature Mr. Hirakawa surmises that the early Mahāyāna scriptures recommend the worship of stūpas. To reach this conclusion he mystifies both Sukhāvati Sūtras (the “Small” and the “Larger” one) and says that the physical structure of the stūpa resembles the structure (the build-up) of both sūtras. However, the word stūpa is nowhere to be found in these manuscripts. Mr. Hirakawa furthermore points to passages in the Mahāsángika vínaya, the monastic rules of a late Small Vehicle School. Of this School nothing more is heard after the seventh century AD when itinerant monks report on settlements and monasteries outside China. Mr. Hirakawa’s research was mainly about Chinese Buddhism.

The Lotus Sūtra, unlike the two Sukhāvati Sūtras, dedicates an entire chapter to the stūpa. In Hendrik Kern’s translation — about which I have my hesitations(1) –- chapter 11 has the passage: “At the sight of that great Stūpa of precious substances, that meteoric phenomenon in the sky, the four classes of hearers were filled with gladness, delight, satisfaction and joy. Instantly they rose from their seats, stretched out their joined hands, and remained standing in that position.

These hearers did not rise from their seats out of veneration for the stūpa but rather for Buddha’s voice that resounded from within this edifice. The voice reminded the audience of the universality of Buddha’s Teachings -– that is, the universality of the teaching of the Lotus Sūtra –- and about the imperative to hold, guard and disseminate this teaching.

In his “Nāgārjuna in Context” (2005, pp.18/19) Joseph Walser states that Mr. Hirakawa’s “view [on stūpa worship] remains a classic forty years even after it was written”. That is to say: Buddhists worship stūpas. This is and was the opinion among a certain number of academics, not all of them. Learned monks from outside this group would smile at the thought of song and dance performed by the laity as an expression of stūpa worship. However, his pointing to Hirakawa’s research shows us why and from where Owen Jarus had his “… [a] stūpa, [is] a Buddhist shrine used for meditation.”

In 2015 we witnessed how bone-splinters attributed to Sakyamuni Buddha were transferred from one country to another as a gift of one Buddhist monastic community to another.
In the case of emperor Zhenzong it was a senior monk with the name of Deming who made the offering. Master Deming functioned as abbot of the Chengtian-temple, and he was “Holder of the Purple Robe”. Either abbot Deming brought his saríra, the physical relic, with him after travelling far and wide, or he obtained it from an itinerant monk, or he purchased it from an equally itinerant businessman. “Holder of the Purple Robe” means that this elder was entitled to the 24-stroke kasáya robe, the jia-sha in Chinese, worn by seniors who preside over large ceremonies. “Purple Robe” is not an indication of belonging to this or that (sub-)School.
Unlike the standard procedure in which relics are placed inside the stūpa, it appears that the Bao’en temple had underground rooms. It is said that the saríra mentioned in this piece were placed in one of these rooms. Hence Mr. Jarus’ use of the word “shrine” may be correct.

To this day there are several Chengtian-temples in China. Abbot Deming and his supporters had the saríra-holder made, and on July 21, 1011 the holder and its content was brought to the stūpa/pagoda, and as stated above it was placed in one of these underground rooms, i.e. “shrines” which, to repeat, is very unusual.

Certainly one may have doubts about the authenticity of abbot Deming’s saríra. A commentary accompanying Mr. Jarus’ article suggested that a DNA-test may be conducted against “DNA from the living Shakya clan, and also with the cremated bone material held by the Thai royal family and originally found at Priprahwa …” However, I doubt whether today’s Nepalese Sakya clan is the successor in straight line of the Sakya clan that lived 2600 years ago, and as far as the “Priprahwa” (must be Pipraháwa) relics go, there are but few who believe that these are Buddha’s relics.

Buddhist media outside China spent but a minimum of attention to the discovery under the Grand Bao’en in Nanjing (Bao’en means “Paying a Debt of Gratitude”). One not only doubts the authenticity of this relic, but there is furthermore the teaching about the transiency of all things, even of Buddha’s bones. Another teaching says that Buddha advised his followers/monks to not venerate his physical form but rather live according to his advice; this would be the only and true veneration of Buddha.

So here we have the mind-boggling situation of Buddhists approaching a stūpa or a temple with folded hands. They do not worship the stūpa or the temple as such, they show respect towards the content, towards what this content stands for, or to what it should stand for. Do they dance and sing around the stūpa? I’ve never seen it or heard of it. Certainly, monks in Chiang Mai used to circumambulate the stūpa on the grounds of their vihāra. They however did not worship the stūpa, but recited the Vessántara Játaka, the “Birth Story” that tells of Prince Vessántara, and how he eventually gave his wife and children away — and received them back because his offering was pure and without regret or anger. (As for the Chiang Mai stūpa: Now you have a 14th cent. stūpa on your wat (temple complex), showing a rather interesting architectural style, so you incorporate it in some way in your annual calendar of events.)

To illustrate it further: you may light a candle for your deceased family members. Do you worship the candle?

1. A Sanskrit dictionary says that varāh is the word for “meteor”, but I’m quite certain that Hendrik Kern’s manuscript did not contain this varāh. I’m afraid we will have to do with something like bhavaketu, phenomenon in the sky.

Fu Hui – assembling and harmonizing

The term Fu Hui has proven to be an expression that slipped out of today’s Chinese-English dictionaries, even out of that of Lin Yutang who gave religious terminology a little bit more attention and space than e-editions such as Yabla.

It appears that the term Fu Hui occurs in both Buddhist and Taoist parlance, it might even have been used by Confucianists , but this is a guess on my part and by no means certain.

To give a brief summary of the use of the term: A new Taoist temple somewhere in Malaysia opened in 2010 its doors with a “fu hui vegetarian dinner”.
A “ch’ih fu-hui” (Wade-Giles transliteration) is a lay supporter who in Buddhist ceremonies occupies a place of honour.
The Buddhist Jing’an Temple in Shanghai has a more than 10 metres high “Fu Hui Baoding” in its inner courtyard (see picture). A “baoding” is a tripod that serves as incense vessel.

jing'an fu hui baoding

In his “The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons” (edition Columbia Univ. Press 1959) Liu Xie (Wade-Giles Liu Hsieh, approx. ca. 465-522) explains it thus:
“What is the meaning of fu-hui? It means a comprehensive view of a literary piece as a whole with respect to both its language and its ideas; it provides an underlying principle to unify all its parts, it defines the conditions governing what should be included and what excluded, and works elements from all the various fields into harmony; in short, it organizes the whole piece in such a way that, though composed of a variety of elements, it will not as a whole fall short of the proper standard.”

One would say that here are the words of a Confucianist. However, Liu Xie spent more than ten years in the company of a Buddhist monk like Sengyu who had his temple on Lushan. Once in the capital the Wu emperor saw to it that Liu Xie re-edited a number of Buddhist texts. At the end of his career as a scribe Liu Xie became a monk and received the Dharma name Huidi (Hui-ti in Wade-Giles transliteration).

We might therefore summarize the extended meaning of Fu Hui with “assembling and harmonizing of disperate parts”.

In her “Early Buddhist Art of China and Central Asia” (Vol.3) Marylin M. Rhie remembers us of the fact that it was the monk Sengyu who in the last days of his life demanded that the “assembly of monks chanted the Wu Liang Shou Jing”, the Sutra of Eternal Life [Sanskrit: Sukhāvati-vyuha, or Amitayus Sutra. Hence Liu Xie had been educated into the Pure Land tradition and definitely, at the behest of the emperor who must have been intent on amalgamating religious strands that seemed useful in his reigning, incorporated Confucianist notions into his editions of Sutras and other texts such as the above “The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons”.