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Thread: Ritual Purity

  1. #1

    Ritual Purity

    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?

  2. #2
    Forums Member daverupa's Avatar
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    Good ol' Sutta Nipata:

    “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, 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.
    Last edited by daverupa; 27 Nov 16 at 16:05.

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    Quote Originally Posted by daverupa View Post

    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. ?

  4. #4
    Forums Member daverupa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by McKmike View Post
    what is it about rites and rituals that touch so deeply into the human psyche. ?
    It's a deep subject. 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.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by mcKmike
    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 ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    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.

  7. #7
    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'.

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    Forums Member SilentStream's Avatar
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    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.

  9. #9
    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.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    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.

    I could not agree more.

    McKmike

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