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Aloka
27 Nov 16, 09:09
I was wondering why Iron Age rituals and superstitious ideas still exist in 21st century Buddhism - and then I looked back at some of Jayarava's previous articles on his website and came upon this one.

Certainly when I was involved with Tibetan Buddhism it was considered very wrong to stretch out one's feet towards a teacher, or towards the shrine in a shrine-room... and this is also the case in Theravada.



Ritual Purity or Rank Superstition?

Many Indian ideas about ritual purity, especially with respect to the body, have made their way into contemporary Buddhism. I want to look at a few examples of this. An examination of the origins of these ideas in Brahminical thought may be cause to re-assess the relevance in contemporary Buddhism.

Feet

A couple of years ago I was showing a friend of a friend (a follower of Tibetan Buddhism) some of my thangka paintings. One of these hung at the foot of my bed so I could see it first/last thing. "You don't sleep with your feet pointed at that do you?" - there was a note of shock in the question. "It's very bad karma" she said. I pondered this for some time before coming to any understanding of it. I knew already that Buddhists were not supposed to point their feet at shrines. But why? Because in India the feet are considered ritual impure. But again why? The feet are ritually impure partly because they are in contact with the earth, and the dirt and shit that cover it. But again why the ritual impurity?

I think it goes back to the famous Purisa hymn in the Rig Veda. In this cosmogonic myth the four social groups - Brahmins, Ksatreyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras - are born from the various parts of Brahma's body. It later versions it is Prajapati's body. The Shudras, serfs, are born from Brahma's feet. The Shudras are not the lowest rung on the Hindu scale, but they are the lowest rung of the people who are not considered outcasts or untouchable.

Continued at the link:

http://jayarava.blogspot.co.uk/2008_01_01_archive.html




Comments?

daverupa
27 Nov 16, 15:00
Good ol' Sutta Nipata (https://suttacentral.net/en/snp5.8):


“I do not say that all ascetics and brahmins, Nanda,” said the Gracious One,
“are enveloped in birth and old age:
whoever here has given up reliance on what is seen,
heard, or sensed, and virtue and practices,
and has also given up all the countless other ways,
who, by fully knowing craving, are pollutant-free—
I say those men have crossed over the flood.”

Here it is again (https://suttacentral.net/en/an10.13), as the third fetter:


“Bhikkhus, there are these ten fetters. What ten? The five lower fetters and the five higher fetters. And what are the five lower fetters? Personal-existence view, doubt, wrong grasp of behavior and observances, sensual desire, and ill will. These are the five lower fetters. And what are the five higher fetters? Lust for form, lust for the formless, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance. These are the five higher fetters. These, bhikkhus, are the ten fetters.”

Not even the Vinaya demands such silliness: it demands social lubrication and a proper atmosphere for training the mind. Not one whit of ritual necessity. Consider the Rains retreat: this wasn't something the Buddha set up on his own, but a response to the wider social circles in which the Sangha moved.

The problem, of course, is enshrining contemporary social demeanor as a sacred thing, a duty.

Bollocks.

McKmike
27 Nov 16, 15:30
Not even the Vinaya demands such silliness: it demands social lubrication and a proper atmosphere for training the mind. Not one whit of ritual necessity. Consider the Rains retreat: this wasn't something the Buddha set up on his own, but a response to the wider social circles in which the Sangha moved.

The problem, of course, is enshrining contemporary social demeanor as a sacred thing, a duty.

Bollocks.

I could not agree more, however, I am curious, why is the "enshrining contemporary social demeanor as a sacred thing, a duty." it has always been thus as far as I can see, what is it about rites and rituals that touch so deeply into the human psyche. ?

What is your view. ?

daverupa
27 Nov 16, 16:54
what is it about rites and rituals that touch so deeply into the human psyche. ?

It's a deep subject (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_religion). I'm loathe to speculate on the specifics.


Paleolithic religions are the set of spiritual beliefs thought to have appeared during the Paleolithic time period. Religious behaviour is thought to have emerged by the Upper Paleolithic, before 30,000 years ago at the latest, but behavioral patterns such as burial rites that one might characterize as religious — or as ancestral to religious behaviour — reach back into the Middle Paleolithic, as early as 300,000 years ago, coinciding with the first appearance of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.

Religious behaviour may combine (for example) ritual, spirituality, mythology and magical thinking or animism — aspects that may have had separate histories of development during the Middle Paleolithic before combining into "religion proper" of behavioral modernity.

Aloka
27 Nov 16, 17:13
what is it about rites and rituals that touch so deeply into the human psyche ?


Perhaps its because for some, taking part in woo brings comfort, imagined purpose, and even a satisfying temporary buzz ?

McKmike
27 Nov 16, 19:08
Perhaps its because for some, taking part in woo brings comfort, imagined purpose, and even a satisfying temporary buzz ?

Hi Aloka

I have heard that before, I think it ranks alongside "you need religion to have a moral code"

They are both ideas that do not stand up to scrutiny, in my own experience weddings are a civil contract and excuse for family get together (no particular comfort there for some), funerals have a supposed value in creating a finality, however for those closest to the deceased only time seems to bring comfort.

All the other religious rites and rituals appear to be socially driven to a greater degree, there is as much stress in them as comfort and in the modern age easily replaced by other social activities.

And yet history has shown that people are willing to kill and die for Religious rites ? It goes on today !
I am missing something fundamental here I think, it must be in the imagined purpose and satisfying temporary buzz maybe.

Aloka
27 Nov 16, 20:06
The psychological effects of the group rituals & ceremonies of some Buddhist schools/ traditions can change some people quite noticeably , - and that includes the adoption of weird beliefs and superstitions. I'm not talking about weddings or funerals, or mundane social activities, either. However, I'll say no more.

One has to take care to use one's discernment in order to avoid getting brainwashed, whatever the religion or 'spiritual beliefs'.

SilentStream
28 Nov 16, 23:35
I know in Romans the apostle Paul said that what might be sin to one man might not be too another . It's your home if your happy with you area of pictures I would leave it since you never had a problem with it,in the future I would not show it to someone else who might be offended,just my thoughts.

Aloka
29 Nov 16, 02:30
I particularly liked Jayarava's conclusion in the article referenced in #1:




Buddha was quite critical of superstition (mangalikā) and we can read for instance the Mangala Sutta as a critique of superstition and a call to just practice the Dharma - i.e. to make yourself pure by good behaviour, not through rituals; have good fortune (also mangala) through reaping the benefits of good behaviour, not through omens, divination, or other superstitions and/or rituals.

Let us not turn back the clock on the age of reason in adopting this ancient religion, let us investigate the origins of superstitions and decide whether they are still relevant, and move on if they are not.





I think its so important to step out of the dark ages and move away from the arising of unnecessary fear and superstition. In general, filling one's head with woo isn't going to be helpful for the develoment of sustained mental clarity and peace.

:hands:

McKmike
29 Nov 16, 08:51
I think its so important to step out of the dark ages and move away from the arising of unnecessary fear and superstition. In general, filling one's head with woo isn't going to be helpful for the development of sustained mental clarity and peace.

:hands:

I could not agree more.

McKmike

binocular
03 May 17, 18:37
I was wondering why Iron Age rituals and superstitious ideas still exist in 21st century Buddhism - and then I looked back at some of Jayarava's previous articles on his website and came upon this one.

Certainly when I was involved with Tibetan Buddhism it was considered very wrong to stretch out one's feet towards a teacher, or towards the shrine in a shrine-room... and this is also the case in Theravada.
Is it superstitious to wash one's hands before one eats?
Extrapolate this logic to other cases that sometimes get considered "rituals" and "superstition," and they suddenly make sense.
Additionally, when people come to visit you, surely you want them to act in your home according to your rules and expectations. Why wouldn't religions be the same?

A person's bodily actions are expressions of their attitudes and values, and there are socially and individually agreed upon or implied expectations, rules, and meanings ascribed to those actions.

binocular
03 May 17, 19:31
I could not agree more, however, I am curious, why is the "enshrining contemporary social demeanor as a sacred thing, a duty." it has always been thus as far as I can see, what is it about rites and rituals that touch so deeply into the human psyche. ?

Why do we have dictionaries? Because we prefer that words have a relatively stable meaning, as opposed to living in a world full of Humpty Dumptys where words mean whatever anyone wants them to mean.
As it is with words, it is similar with standardized bodily actions.

Here's something well-formulated that daverupa said elsewhere, but it is pertinent here as well:


1. The motive to adhere to the precepts is something for the beginning of the Path. As things proceed, the precepts start to look like smart choices, rather than religious injunctions, and their proper scope comes into view.
https://www.buddhismwithoutboundaries.com/showthread.php?6623-Precept-on-intoxication&p=74596#post74596

Like words, rites and rituals do have their meaning. And just like one can go about precepts as religious injunctions, one can go about rites and rituals also as religious injunctions. One can, however, also see them as standardized expressions that one can engage in as smart choices.

Aloka
03 May 17, 19:52
Is it superstitious to wash one's hands before one eats?

Extrapolate this logic to other cases that sometimes get considered "rituals" and "superstition," and they suddenly make sense.

It makes sense to wash one's hands - maybe after a visit to the lavatory - before one eats, or prepares food for others, because of the likely presence of bacteria which can cause illness, rather than it just being a superstitous ritual.

However, if one accidentally drops a Buddhist book, or ritual object on the floor and then is expected to place it on the top of one's head and say a prayer (which happens at Tibetan Buddhist centres) as if its somehow been contaminated, then personally I don't see any logical reason for it other than superstition. Yes, of course people with certain beliefs have explanations for such rituals, but it doesn't mean that I think they're rational, or that I want to do it myself, even if I have great respect for the contents of a book or whatever.




One can, however, also see them as standardized expressions that one can engage in as smart choices.


I certainly wouldn't describe rituals performed on women's bodies in some parts of the world as " smart choices" but as its not connected to Buddhism I've no intention of going off at a tangent into the details.

Thank you for the chat and perhaps someone else would like to continue with the discussion as I 'm busy with other things right now.

:peace:

binocular
04 May 17, 07:49
However, if one accidentally drops a Buddhist book, or ritual object on the floor and then is expected to place it on the top of one's head and say a prayer (which happens at Tibetan Buddhist centres) as if its somehow been contaminated, then personally I don't see any logical reason for it other than superstition. Yes, of course people with certain beliefs have explanations for such rituals, but it doesn't mean that I think they're rational, or that I want to do it myself, even if I have great respect for the contents of a book or whatever.
I myself do that, and not just with Buddhist books etc., but also with ordinary things, like cups or food or clothes, and I don't do it for any religious reason. I do it to remind myself that things have value, that I must look after them because I rely on them.
To me, it is perfectly rational to have reminders (such as things or bodily actions), given that as a human, I am prone to forgetfulness, and knowing that forgetfulness tends to produce a lot of trouble.

philg
04 May 17, 09:58
It is interesting to speculate how such things came to be. I'm starting to think that before civilizations rose and people lived in ever larger communities, most people would have spent a lot of time just sitting and thinking, when not required to be hunting or gathering and so on. So it may be that many were meditating without understanding that that's what they were doing. They would have varying degrees of insight, but no Buddha to explain what they meant.

Maybe our far ancestors' experiences began to get hijacked by others, and developed into codes and practices which were more about holding communities together than explaining what was really going on. They could use fears and superstitions, feelings that can arise from meditation experiences sometimes, as a means of control. As time went by those fears and superstitions became reified to explain a puzzling world and to keep societies together. So I think, for us, it's safe to let them go now.

binocular
01 Aug 17, 05:17
I certainly wouldn't describe rituals performed on women's bodies in some parts of the world as " smart choices" but as its not connected to Buddhism I've no intention of going off at a tangent into the details.
If you insist on putting all things that anyone has ever called "religious ritual" into the same category ... Critical thinking indeed!

Aloka
01 Aug 17, 05:36
If you insist on putting all things that anyone has ever called "religious ritual" into the same category ... Critical thinking indeed!

To quote your own response to a poster in another topic....




*sigh*