BSQ Tracts on Buddhism No. 11

Western Buddhism and a
Theravâda Heterodoxy

An Inquiry into a Practice Propagated as
Theravâda Buddhism

by Dr V. A. Gunasekara
First Published: May 1993
Revised Edition: June 1994

  1. Introduction A Heterodoxy in Theravâda; Consequences for Western Buddhism; Ethnic and cult aspects
  2. General Characteristics of the Heterodoxy Principal Traits; Relationship to Theravâda and Mahayana; An Austere Buddhism? Forest Buddhism
  3. The Origins of the Heterodoxy Pre-Buddhist Roots; The Legacy of Devadatta; The Buddha's Refutation of Devadatta; Devadatta and the heterodoxy
  4. The Use and Misuse of "Meditation" What is meditation; Origins of Meditation; The Satip.t.tâna Sutta; Meditation Subjects; Modern Innovations in Meditation
  5. The View of "Body as the World" The Buddhist view of the world; The textual evidence and its Implications
  6. Some Final CommentsDangers of the Heterodoxy; the Heterodoxy as a Cult; Buddhism as a balanced path

1. Introduction

1.1 A Heterodoxy in Theravâda

Throughout its long history Buddhism has had to deal with schismatic movements, and in this sense it has been no different from other religious movements. But Buddhism has been able to deal with such developments without generating the intolerance or committing the crimes of most other religions in dealing with dissident opinion. Indeed despite significant differences on the interpretation of the word of the Buddha Buddhists of different persuasions had coexisted peacefully as is attested by the testimony of ancient Chinese pilgrims who have reported on the common habitation of Theravâda and Mahayana monks in the same monasteries. We are concerned in this work with one such tendency within the broad framework of Theravâda Buddhism that has in a sense existed from the earliest days, but which has assumed a new importance in connection with the spread of Buddhism to the West. As it is based on an interpretation of sections of the Pali Canon that runs counter to the spirit of orthodox Theravâda we shall call it a heterodoxy within the Theravâda stream.[1]

The first task is to find a suitable name for this heterodox tendency. Two terms which are widely used to designate Buddhist movements which share characteristics with this tendency are "Forest Buddhism" and "tâpasa Buddhism". Neither term is quite adequate for the task, and both are to some extent misnomers. Those who claim to belong to the tâpasa sects do not necessarily practice greater austerity than others, and the connection with the real forest of the "Forest monks" is often very tenuous. Because of this terminological difficulty the tendency concerned will be simply referred to as a Theravâda heterodoxy but the descriptive terms of tâpasa Buddhism and Forest Buddhism too will be used where appropriate. The salient characteristics of the heterodoxy concerned will be identified in the second section of this work.For many centuries after Buddhism died out in India Sri Lanka became the repository of Theravâda Buddhism. While several Buddhist traditions have been established in Sri Lanka at various times it is the orthodox Theravâda which has been dominant there.

The heterodox Buddhist movement we are concerned with too has existed in Sri Lanka, and in the few instances where it has been introduced to the West it has come mainly from Sri Lanka. Similar movements can be identified in other Asian Buddhist countries as well [2]. As in Theravâda generally monks play a leading role in this movement and are supported by lay persons for the Theravâda Sangha cannot exist without lay support. In Sri Lanka the monks who belong to this persuasion constitute small sects outside the main Sangha movement. In the few instances where this tendency has been exported to the West, it has even assumed the character of a Cult.

Our concern here is to examine the dominant characteristics and traits of this movement, and consider its validity within Theravâda Buddhism. In doing so we must keep in mind the aforementioned character of Buddhism in dealing with divergent tendencies within its fold. It must be remembered that while Buddhists have been tolerant as far as the practices of different groups of persons are concerned Buddhism has a well established tradition of subjecting different views and doctrines to minute scrutiny, and tolerance does not mean that the views tolerated are necessarily correct or beneficial, or must not be controverted.

1.2 Consequences for Western Buddhism

An examination of this heterodoxy within Theravâda is particularly opportune at the present time in view of its adoption by certain Buddhist neophytes in the West. It has a great potential to affect adversely the spread of the Dhamma in the West, certainly greater than the mere numbers practicing it. This is because this aspect is given great prominence in the popular media which wants to present Buddhism in as unfavourable a light as possible. It is this potential for damage to the Buddhist cause in the West which has been one of the main motives in raising this issue at the present time.

It is now well over a century since Buddhism became known in the West. Moreover it was the Theravâda form of Buddhism, in a more or less correct version, that first came to the attention of the West. Indeed by the early decades of this Century the principal texts of the Pali Canon, both in Pali itself and in English and German translations, had been published. The initial interest this evoked does not seem to have been kept up.

We have now entered the final decade of the Century, and despite all these decades of contact with Buddhism it cannot be said that Buddhism has made any worthwhile progress in the West. Indeed there has been some retrogression, and there is the real danger that Buddhism will be classed amongst the many religious cults that seem to proliferate now. This is taking place at a time when proselytization by the theistic religions, particularly Islam and Christianity, has reached new heights and new levels of sophistication even in Asian countries which had traditionally been the strongholds of Buddhism in the past. It may well be that Buddhism will lose the debate, despite the fact that it is only Buddhist principles that will enable mankind to meet the momentous challenges that confront it in the next century.

1.3 Ethnic and Cult Aspects

In recent years the prospects of Buddhism in the West have been affected by two developments that superficially considered should have given it great momentum. One is the large-scale migration of Asian Buddhists into Western countries since the 1970s. This has helped to give a higher profile to Buddhism in the West, greatly increased the number of Buddhists in Census counts, and has raised such issues as the legal recognition of Buddhism as a religion. These Asian Buddhists have brought along with them not only the liberating message of the Buddha but also a lot of cultural baggage that has nothing to do with Buddhism, but which tends to be passed on together with basic principles as an essential constituent of the Dhamma. The present writer has called this tendency "ethnic Buddhism". The spread of ethnic Buddhism has the potential of moving Buddhism from the forefront of society into the many ethnic ghettos that now proliferate in Western countries. This cannot be to the advantage of Buddhism and those with a real concern for the spread of the Buddha's enlightening message in its own right must be concerned with this development. This matter however will not be dealt with here.

Our focus of attention is on the other development, which fortunately has still not assumed significant proportions. Nonetheless it has the potential to side-track Buddhism from the mainstream of life in the West, and must be examined in its still incipient stages. This development is what we have called the Theravâda heterodoxy which includes tâpasa Buddhism and some kinds of "forest" Buddhism. It presents Buddhism as a world- denying, misanthropic system where the "practitioners" have to retreat into a "forest" and engage in arcane practices that are passed off as authentic "Buddhist practice and meditation". Such a version of Buddhism would no doubt be welcomed by those who do not like to see Buddhism as an active force shaping personal and social conduct for a significant section of people. This version of Buddhism has been created by exaggerating some aspects of Buddhism that had some relevance to the historical context in which it arose, and which have little relevance to the modern age. Moreover even in that early stage the Buddha adequately warned his followers of the pitfalls of following this kind of interpretation.

Tâpasa Buddhism and Forest Buddhism have existed in Asian Buddhist countries from early times, but as mentioned earlier it has been a minority movement eschewed by the bulk of the established Sangha. The really committed lay following for this form of Buddhism too is very small both in Asian countries like Sri Lanka and now in the West. The generally tolerant attitude of Buddhists, the respect shown to the yellow robe of the monks, and material support in the form of alms and robes shown to monks, have ensured the continued survival of this movement, and even given it a higher profile that it really enjoys. The tendency has now been imported into the West by a few Western disciples of the Asian gurus belonging to the sect. Some of these Western followers even fail to separate the essential principles of Buddhism from cultural factors they had encountered in Asian countries, and in their ignorance have also imported these cultural aspects along with the tâpasa ideology they had acquired. Within these practitioners the two problematical trends of Buddhism we have identified, viz. ethnic Buddhism and tâpasa Buddhism seem to be inextricably intertwined. Their position seems to be little different from the large numbers of Westerners who flock to ashrams in India to follow various cult leaders. There is no lack of demand for this kind of thing in the West, and it is important that seekers after Buddhism in the West are made aware that Buddhism has never been such a cult.

2. General Characteristics of the Heterodoxy

2.1 Principal Traits

The Theravâda heterodoxy we are concerned with is best identified in terms of its dominant features. In this section we shall identify these principal characteristics, relate them to some issues in the Theravâda-Mahayana debate, and consider its relationship to tâpasa Buddhism and Forest Buddhism. The chiefs traits of this heterodoxy could be listed as follows:
  1. Buddhism is regarded as a system of withdrawal from the real world into simplicity of the forest, the charnel ground or the cemetery. These are regarded as the perfect arenas for the "practice" of the Dhamma.
  2. Persons who do not undertake to follow the full rules of the Vinaya (i.e. become bhikkhus) are considered incapable of realising the Buddhist goal, and it is even claimed that ordinary living cannot be done in substantial conformity to the Dhamma.
  3. The principal route to emancipation is considered to be "Meditation" by which is understood the performance over long periods of time of certain highly stylised (even ritualised) actions. Even lesser levels of attainment cannot be reached without engaging in long periods of such activity under the "guidance" of a suitable monk of the "right" persuasion.
  4. An anti-intellectual attitude is taken that derides the intensive study of the Dhamma, and its application to those areas of knowledge which are constantly been opened up by scientific and philosophical investigations.
  5. The efforts of Buddhist philosophers and scholars down the ages who have sought to grapple with the complexities of the Dhamma is scorned with the claim that "everything is clearly stated in the Suttas".
  6. A false dichotomy is created between "theory" and "practice" which has no basis in Buddhist thinking. This is particularly true of Western followers of this tendency and in their case is a survival of the Aristotelian thinking which they had imbibed as part of their Christian upbringing from which they have never really liberated themselves.
  7. A literalist approach is taken to selected passages from the Pali Canon without any consideration of the context in which the discourses were originally given by the Buddha, and with little attempt to place the individual suttas within the broad framework of the Buddha's teaching as a whole. In the case of some Western followers this literalism is combined with basic ignorance of Pali (except for basic chants) and exclusive reliance is placed on translations which are regarded as gospel.
  8. The literalist interpretation of the Dhamma is extended even to incidents recorded in the Canon which are largely mythic and symbolic but which are looked upon as literally true statements.
  9. A "pulpit style" of sermonising is adopted which is sometimes taken to absurd lengths of insisting that while the "heterodox" monk takes his pontifical seat above the listeners the latter should squat on the floor!
  10. The insistence that under the pretext of "showing respect" all manner of obeisance be performed by the cult following to the guru in order to stamp the proper hierarchical order which is a characteristic of most cult movements. [3]
  11. A general condemnation of the practices and teaching of the generality of the established Sangha in traditional Buddhist countries. They are accused of leading lives prone to luxury, and of teaching lay persons that Nibbana cannot easily be achieved.
  12. A sectarian interpretation of Theravâda Buddhism, and the use of use of terms like "Mahayana" in a pejorative sense to characterise the teaching of those who question the validity of the tâpasa doctrines.
It is not suggested that all exponents of the heterodoxy we are dealing with (or all Tapasa and "Forest" monks) subscribe to each one of these positions. There is a considerable variety within them, as also between the Eastern gurus and their Western followers which provide interesting differences. Some are well-intentioned if somewhat deluded persons. But in general there is sufficient agreement on those who subscribe to this version of Buddhism to set it apart from the broad currents of Buddhism as it is practiced both in the East and the West.

2.2 Relationship to Theravâda and Mahayana

The kind of Buddhism identified here is almost entirely an affliction within the Theravâda movement. But it has some relevance to the great debate between Theravâda and Mahayana. Of the many points of difference between Mahayana and Theravâda two are of special relevance in the present context.

One of the criticisms, perhaps their principal one, of the Mahayana philosophers of what they regarded as the "Hinayana" was that the latter was intensely individualistic and concerned only with the salvation of the practitioner with a general lack of compassion towards other beings suffering in sasâra. Against this they posited the "Bodhisattva ideal" of the being who is primarily concerned with the welfare and salvation of other beings. Of course this was a caricature of the doctrines of those who were described as Hinayanists, and many Theravâda exponents have exposed the fallacy of this view. However it must be admitted that some "Theravâdins" appear to conform to this stereotype. It is however the monks belonging to the heterodox tendency we are considering who have given validity to this Mahayanist critique. They appear to consider that the self-cantered exercises they engage in qualifies them to emancipation, and seem to be little concerned with the fate of others. [4] As against this view the real Theravâdin is steeped in the compassion of the Buddha no less than any Mahayanist. The retreat into the forest of the tâpasa monk is a symbolic severance of links with other beings in samsâra marks a distinct departure from Theravâda and Buddhist ideals.

The second point relates to the role of lay-persons in Buddhism. The Mahayana argued that Theravâda conceded an inferior position to lay persons. A modern exponent of Mahayana has stated this as follows: "The Hinayana therefore insists upon the necessity of the monastic life, with which, indeed, it tends to identify the spiritual life altogether. The laity simply observe the more elementary precepts, worship the relics of the Buddha, and support the monks, by which means merit is accumulated and rebirth in heaven is assured". [5] Once again this is a grossly simplified position and while it may be true of simple peasants in Asian countries it is not true of the bulk of educated persons even in those countries. Yet this Mahayana view of Theravâda is subscribed to by the monks of the tendency we are considering. Hence their attitude to the laity who are considered little more than a cult following, and over whom in true cult fashion they try to exert their authority.

In its original usage the term "Sangha" was used to denote persons who had reached a certain level of attainment whether this was done within a monastic order or outside of it. Later the term came to be restricted to monks in one or other of the established nikâyas. It is true that there is a tradition which considered the higher doctrine of the Buddha as something that would not be understood by lay-persons. This may have been true in ancient times when there was no provision for public education and literacy and other skills could only be developed by those in monasteries. Today this is no longer true and the Dhamma is accessible to all on equal terms, so many enlightened Theravâda monks have relaxed the old interpretation and regarded lay persons as equally capable of spiritual attainment as those who have taken monastic orders. The tâpasa and forest monks have sought to undo this progressive development, and close the doors of full spiritual progress to those engaged who are not fully-fledged monks. In doing this they are once again validating a stock Mahayana critique of Theravâda.

Thus while much of Mahayana criticisms of Theravâda miss their mark, they may have relevance to what the heterodox monks are doing. This probably explains the vehemence of their denouncement of Mahayana. Of course there are other aspects of Mahayana (such as the deification of the Bodhisattavas, the addiction to rite and ritual, and in some cases even the relaxation of the basic rules of the Vinaya which deserve the censure of the true Buddhist.

2.3 An Austere Form of Buddhism?

Some monks belonging to the tendency we are concerned with claim to live more austerely than conventional monks, calling themselves tâpasa monks. The word comes from the Sanskrit and Pali term tapas that is generally translated as "austerities". It is an essential element of Hindu and Jain practices, and was generally regarded as a valid means of salvation even before the Buddha's time. The austerities practiced in the name of spiritual liberation may range from relatively mild abstinences to the most horrific tortures. In Hinduism in particular the more extreme forms of tapas are still being practiced.

Compared to their Hindu and Jain counterparts, the "austerities" of the tâpasa monks are decidedly mild. In fact many of them do not really practice any austerities at all and indulge in all the "comforts" they accuse the mainstream monks of enjoying. Their "austerities" are often no more than a literalist observance of relatively inconsequential articles in the Vinaya code which are elevated into rules of great import. In fact it is these very "minor rules" which the Buddha authorised the monks to change if they no longer suited the changing times. The Sangha has not used this dispensation given by the Buddha, but it is the tâpasa and forest monks who have elevated these inconsequential rules into some kind of passport to Nibbâna. The potential danger of this tendency lies not so much in the "austerities" indulged in, but in the theories which are used to justify these "practices", and the misinterpretation of crucial passages in the Canon. The tâpasa practitioners also criticise the more "established" monks for incorrect interpretations of the Dhamma, a criticism that is rather strange given their own interpretations. [6]

2.4 Forest Buddhism

There is some overlap between the heterodoxy we have identified and what is usually referred to as "Forest Buddhism". This term seems to have become fashionable, and many Theravâda monks now call themselves "Forest Monks" even though they live for the most part far removed from any forest in any real sense. Even in the best of circumstances the term "Forest Monk" is a misnomer in Buddhism. It is impossible for a monk to live completely in a forest and still observe the Vinaya rules. At least for the purpose of the obtaining the daily meal these monks will have to come out of the forest (or encourage their lay devotees to bring the food to them). Either of these will destroy the myth of forest isolation. Nor are such monks bereft of fixed accommodation in the "Forest", accommodation which in some instances is far from modest. With the urban congestion now taking place in the world the diminishing forest is becoming an increasingly attractive venue for habitation now sought at great expense by urban dwellers for purposes of recreation. Indeed in many countries admission to forests is increasingly restricted to preserve these diminishing eco- systems for future generations. Whatever the merit of forest dwelling may have been in the past to claim that it is a desirable venue for the "practice" of Buddhism in the modern world is to go against the increasing trend towards the conservation of the endangered forest. Many of the "forest monks" seek what they consider to be the "forest" as a sheer escapism from the problems which they are not capable of putting aside by proper methods of mental development in the real world.

3. The Origins of the Heterodoxy

3.1 The Pre-Buddhist Roots

The roots of Tâpasa-"forest" heterodoxy go back to the Buddha's time, and is to be found in the practices that were current in the religious traditions of his day. The Buddha himself tried these practices in the period of his striving for enlightenment, but had to give it mx when he found that it was not the path out of samsâra, nor a course conducive to the cessation of suffering, and full enlightenment.

A measure of austerity was implicit in the samana life-style which the Buddha adopted during the period of his search. Some of the teachers that he consulted as well as most of his fellow-seekers were all devoted to the practice of tapas. The Buddha's efforts in this area are recorded in the Buddhist texts, as well as his final decision to abandon the practice of austerities. It was this decision that earned him the displeasure of his erstwhile companions, but which ultimately created the condition for this great discovery.

The Buddha's own life after his Enlightenment provides an adequate example of the importance Buddhists attach to living in the real world as against life in a simplistic environment such as the forest. Most of the Buddha's career after the Sambodhi was spent in the major urban communities of his day. Even the majority of the rain retreats which are recorded in the Canon have been spent in settled monasteries located in the important cities of North-Eastern India rather than in some remote forest location. Of course the Buddha during his wanderings would have had to spend much time in the forest, but this was more out of necessity than choice. The sparse population at the time and rudimentary state of communications where major routes ran for the most part through the forest meant that an inveterate traveller like the Buddha had to spend much time in the forest. The Buddha had to seek out the urban centres to spread the message and for this purpose had to traverse through the forest. In his injunctions to his monks to spread the Dhamma he did not ask them to seek out the forest, but to seek out people to whom the enlightening message could be delivered. The Buddha did give instructions to individual monks to seek the forest, but this was not a general prescription but one which suited certain particular temperaments of the monks concerned.

3.2 The Legacy of Devadatta

The formal initiation of the tâpasa and forest traditions of Buddhism can be "credited" not to the Buddha but to his antagonist (and cousin) Devadatta. Devadatta is recorded as having resorted to many stratagems to displace the Buddha and place himself at the head of the Sangha including plots to kill the Buddha. But his ideological contribution to the Dhamma consisted of the five rules that he proposed for Bhikkhus. The Cullavagga of the Vinaya Pi.taka records these five points with which Devadatta confronted the Buddha and which marked the final break between the Buddha and his schismatic cousin. These five rules also mark the formal commencement of the "Forest Tradition" within Buddhism. They were:
  1. Bhikkhus should live almost exclusively in the forest (bhikkhû yâvajva âraññakâ assu).
  2. They subsist entirely on alms they "beg" (yâvajva pinapâtikâ assu ), i.e decline all invitations by householders for meals.
  3. They should wear robes made of rags and discarded material (pasuklikâ assu) and decline robes offered by householders;
  4. They should live "at the root of a tree" (rukkhamlikâ assu) spurning all offers of covered shelter.
  5. They should be vegetarians (maccamasa na khâdeyyu).
These rules proposed by Devadatta are not, of course, identical to the views and practices we have identified as characteristic of the modern tâpasa and "forest" monks belonging to the heterodoxy we have identified. But Devadatta's revisions of the Dhamma bear the same relationship to the practices of the Buddha and his principal disciples that the ideas of the heterodox monks bear to the orthodox Theravâda of modern times. It is in this sense that the tâpasa and "forest" monks could be regarded as the spiritual heirs of Devadatta. The "dharma" that they uphold is Devadatta's dharma if not to the letter at least in spirit.

3.3 The Buddha's Refutation of Devadatta

The Buddha's reply to Devadatta is another example of the gentle tolerance of the Buddha which the followers of the Devadatta (and their modern-day counterparts) sadly lack. The Buddha is recorded as saying:
Whoever so wishes may live in the forest; whoever so wishes may dwell in a settled community; whoever so wishes may beg for alms; whoever so wishes may accept an invitation; whoever so wishes may wear rags; whoever so wishes may accept robes from a householder; ... fish and flesh pure on three grounds, not seen, heard or suspected (are allowed). yo icchati âraññako hotu, yo icchati gâmante viharatu, yo icchati piñ.dapâtiko hotu, yo icchanti minantana.m sâdiyatu, yo icchati pa.msukûliko hotu, yo icchati gahapatichivaram sâdiyatu ... tiko.tiparishuddha.m macchama.msa.m adi.t.ta.m, asuta.m, aparisañkitan ti. 
                       &nbs p; &nbs p;            &n bsp;            & nbsp;                          [Cullavagga VII, 3, 14]
This gives each Bhikkhu the freedom to adopt that life style which suits his temperament best. Some would have chosen the path of the recluse because of the circumstances of the time which we have mentioned. But even in those early days many would have rejected it, and as we have seen, the Buddha himself, unlike the Jain munis, did not choose to be too much of a recluse.

The real refutation of the views of Devadatta is not contained in such explicit statements such as the one we have referred to here, but in the broad thrust of the Dhamma as proclaimed by the Buddha. Unfortunately this cannot be accomplished in a short tract like the present one.

A clear statement of the Buddha's position on this question is also contained in the Dhammapada. In the chapter on "The Buddha" (Buddhavaggo) which is one of the important doctrinal statements in whole of this marvellous text, we encounter the following stanzas:

To many a refuge they go 
To the forest and the mountain           
To sacred trees and shrines 
Men who by fear are driven 
bahu.m ve sarana.m yanti 
pabbatâni vannâni ca 
manussâ bhayatajjitâ
These provide no safe refuge 
Nor one that's among the best 
They who seek such havens 
Leave not their troubles behind
n'eta.m kho sarana.m khema.m 
n'eta.m sarana.m uttama.m 
n'eta.m sarana.m âgamma 
sabbadukkhâ pamuccati 
                       &nbs p;     Dhammapada, vv 188-189 (Translated by the author)
These verses state very succinctly the problem posed by the "forest monks". They seek the seclusion of the forest and mountain because they are driven by certain psychological phobias ("fears"), but by doing so they cannot escape from what they are fleeing. Rather than confront the root cause of their fears and phobias they are seeking solace in a false sense of security, one that as the stanza states is not necessarily the most appropriate one. Then as now retreat to the forest was often sheer escapism, an escape that will not exorcise the fundamental fears of the person choosing that route. In the modern world such persons may be more in need of psychological counselling rather than the therapy of the forest! The Buddha's dhamma is not some kind of therapy for psychologically disturbed persons.

3.4 Devadatta and the modern heterodoxy

As we have said Devadatta is the spiritual guru of the heterodox tendency which includes forest and tâpasa monks. Devadatta's chief motive was to assume for himself the leadership of the Sangha, by giving the impression that he could out do the Buddha. The criticism of the established Sangha by some of these heterodox monks have a similarity to Devadatta's critique of Buddha and his disciples. The fate that befell Devadatta is recorded in the Canon with dramatic exaggeration. It is not suggested that this will also be the fate of those who in the modern day follow in the footsteps of Devadatta. But what can be said is that they may be deluding themselves, as well as their cult following, if they promise "instant nirvana" in this very life by following their simplistic formulas and exercises.

The ideas of Devadatta did not completely vanish from the Buddhist scene with the exit of Devadatta, and have recurred periodically in Buddhist history. Ascetic practices (dhûtângas) persisted within the Sangha community. Buddhaghosa records 13 such practices which were advocated in his day.[7] Some of these practices are no longer relevant, and even tâpasa monks do not advocate them any longer. The real significance of Devadatta in Buddhist history is not merely his advocacy of austerities but that he attempted to bring Buddhism back into the Brahmanical fold from which it had broken away. This involved a return to the method of "meditation" which to the Upanishadic seer was the only way to moksha.[8] It is this aspect of Devadatta's thinking that survives in the heterodox tradition. Devadatta also attempted to make the Bhikkhu the equivalent of the Brahmanical priest, and this aspect too has some similarity with some of the traits of the Heterodoxy we are dealing with.

However the main activity now recommended by the advocates of this heterodoxy is the prolonged conduct of what they regard as "meditation". To them this is the chief (if not the only) vehicle of salvation and escape from samsara. Meditation certainly has many uses, but not that which the heterodox practitioners assign to it. There is both the proper use as well as the misuse of Meditation. For the most part the heterodox practitioners misuse meditation; it is to this misuse of meditation that we must now turn.


4. The Use and Misuse of Meditation

4.1 What is Meditation?

In recent years there has been a great deal of interest shown in meditation in the West and in the East. There has been a tremendous proliferation of groups, techniques and teachers, many of them proclaiming contradictory views. Many Buddhist teachers have immersed themselves almost totally in this burgeoning meditation movement in the West with the result the revolutionary ideas of the Buddha stand in danger of being lost in the nostrums advanced by "meditation teachers". It is important to consider the place of "meditation" in Buddhism if only to make the Teaching of the Buddha central to the whole activity of man, not merely as a therapy to secure some degree of mental sanity and calm. In the West there is a tendency to regard meditation as a minor therapy similar to yoga or callisthenics, capable of doing a limited good. The Dhamma is certainly not this. We cannot do full justice to the subject of meditation in Buddhism, and only a few aspects will be dealt with here.

In the West the term meditation originally meant little more that quiet reflection, and it was certainly not looked upon as a major form of religious exercise. The more contemplative Christian and Muslim sects had developed non-verbal forms of prayer to their God, and this is still the basis of meditation practiced by many Westerners even though they may put an Eastern gloss to it.

With the spread of Eastern religions the term began to acquire something of the meaning which was given to it by the Indian seers who are the true authors of many currently used meditation techniques. Almost all the religions which originated in India have advocated various kinds of mental concentration, and this is what the term medication has now come to mean.

The use of the same term to denote the Buddhist practice involved is unsatisfactory, and is best avoided. The Buddhist terms translated as "meditation" are bhâvanâ, samâdhi and jhâna. These terms do not all mean the same thing, and the use of the polyglot term "meditation" indiscriminately to translate these terms should be avoided. The first of these terms has the meanings of growth, development and evolution, and of course refers to the growth of the individual in the Dhamma, not merely the growth of "mental culture" which is a common translation of this term. The second term is usually translated as "concentration", and this usage may be appropriate, but it is to be understood that "meditation" is not necessarily the only means of mental concentration. The last term is the most difficult to translate, and usually means an altered state of consciousness. Such alterations can come from many sources including the use of hypnosis and drugs. In view of the diversity of the concepts involved the term "meditation" is best left out altogether when applied to the Dhamma. However the long-standing usage may not make this practicable, but if the term is used appropriate qualifications should be used to bring out the precise meaning involved in the context in which it is used.

4.2 The Origins of Meditation

The origins of Meditation lie in the Brahmanical religion of India which later congealed as "Hinduism". The earliest texts describing meditation are the upanishads (some of them like the Chândogya Upanishad being pre-Buddhist). The Buddha himself sought the established meditation teachers of the day, and mastered their techniques of meditation, as is recorded in the Canon.

However the Buddha felt that these meditation techniques did not lead to the release from sa.msâra that he was seeking. It was for this very reason that he left his teachers and fellow-seekers and started on his own quest. This is not to say that the Buddha rejected completely what he had learned from the meditation teachers of his day. Indeed it was very useful to him, and he continued to practice these techniques even right up to his last moments as is recorded in the Mahâ Parinibbâna Sutta.

But to say that the Buddha used certain techniques is not to say that they constitute the essence of his teaching or his unique discovery. As is well-known the Buddha's path involves eight elements of which only one could be regarded as falling within the ambit of meditation (and that too only partially). This is the element of sammâ samâdhi or "right concentration" and even here the emphasis is on the qualifying adjective "right". There can be many wrong methods of mental concentration, and one must be careful that meditation teachers do not pass off these wrong techniques as the correct ones.

In the conventional classification of the elements of the path, two other elements, right effort (sammâ vâyâma) and right mindfulness (sammâ sati) are also linked with right concentration as forming the category of bhavanâ ("meditation" in the most popular mistranslation). This is a misinterpretation of Buddhaghosa's Commentary and in any case it is non-Canonical. While Buddhaghosa made many valuable contributions to the understanding of the Pali Canon it is not obligatory for Theravâdins to accept all of Buddhaghosa's interpretations, and at least in this respect a rethinking of basic Buddhism is appropriate. Of course it is quite possible for mindfulness and effort to be applied to concentration - and this is perhaps what Buddhaghosa really meant - but it could also be applied to many other actions which would not pass the test of right Buddhist conduct.[9] Mindfulness and effort are qualities that could be cultivated by any person, whether a Buddhist or not, and directed to many objectives Buddhist as well as non-Buddhist. Right effort is probably more important in non-meditational activities than in meditation. The effort needed to accomplish some of the non-meditational elements of the Buddhist path are often more difficult than the effort needed to engage in meditational exercises. The same is also true of mindfulness. Here the qualification right is extremely important. Right mindfulness, like right effort, must apply to all activities not only those actions undertaken in the stylised exercises recommended by the meditation teacher.

4.3 The Satipa.t.tâna Sutta

The association of mindfulness with meditation comes from popular interpretations of the Satipa.t.tâna Sutta perhaps the best-known of all the "meditation" texts in the Pali Canon, some people even considering it to be the most-important of the Buddha's discourses.[10] It is contained in both the Majjhima (No. 10) and D gha (No. 22) Nikâyas and it is worth special consideration. The commonly held interpretation of this Sutta comes from Buddhaghosa's exegesis. The four foundations identified in the Sutta (with their translations as given by Ven ñânamoli) are: kâyânupassanâ (contemplation of body) vedanânupassnâ (contemplation of feeling), cittânupassanâ (contemplation of mind), and dhammânupassanâ (contemplation of dhammas). These four foundations are ranged in order of increasing importance, but modern meditation practice seems to have inverted the order of their importance with most attention paid to the first. The four elements could be briefly considered as follows:

The contemplation of the body, with the initial focus on the breath, was already a classic meditation exercise in the Buddha's time. Prâna in the meaning of breathing is a recurring term in the Vedânta literature and some Upanishadic seers had already recommended this procedure. The Buddha used it purely as the starting point of his sequence of contemplations, and he even recommends the "lotus position" in which to undertake the contemplation which is a classic yogic stance. The Buddha extended the traditional Vedic meditation concerns by extending the contemplation to other physical postures and awareness of other bodily actions, and finally to the contemplation of the foulness of the body in the sense of its internal composition. The bodily contemplations end with the charnel-ground contemplations. Many modern teachers have not understood the preliminary nature of these contemplations of the body and often treat them as the most important.

The second and third foundations (those on "feeling" and "mind") are treated extremely briefly each containing only two stanzas (out of the 47 in the Sutta). The mind contemplations (sometimes mistranslated as contemplation of "consciousness") is the more important of the two. The extreme brevity of these sections of the Sutta have given plenty of opportunity for meditation teachers to improvise. These intensely psychological contemplations have to be done on an extremely personal basis, and it is doubtful even if an astute meditation teacher can be of much help in this area. As will be shown there is no place for congregational meditation in Buddhism, and it is almost impossible in this area.

The heart of the Satipa.t.tâna lies in last foundation to which nearly two-thirds of the Sutta is devoted. The first three foundations deal with relatively easier, subjective topics and are merely the prelude to this fourth foundation. Yet this foundation is the one that is the most neglected. The translation of the term dhammâ presents great difficulty. Some people translate this as "mind-objects" which is not a correct translation as what is included here cannot be comprehended purely as subjectively generated mind objects. Ven ñânamoli leaves it untranslated. What is meant by the term becomes clear when we took at the constituent items that fall into this section. The contemplations mentioned are the 5 hindrances, the 5 aggregates, the 6 sense bases, the 7 factors of enlightenment, and finally the 4 Noble Truths (including the 8 elements of the Path). It will be seen that these contemplations include the most important of the doctrinal statements in the Dhamma. These cannot be simply converted into simple subjective dispositions capable of subjective contemplation. A good deal of discursive study must preceded the undertaking of this particular foundation of mindfulness; it is not something that can be accomplished by solitary efforts in any given meditation posture.

This analysis of the Satipa.t.tâna shows that most meditation exponents who concentrate on the bodily contemplations (particularly the more morbid ones) and neglecting the all important dhammâ are actually turning the sutta upside down.

We may conclude the consideration of this Sutta by noting some facts about the conduct of meditation as outlined in this Sutta:

  1. This Sutta should be undertaken by persons "having overcome in this world covetousness and discontent" (vineyya loke abhijjâ domanassa.m). In actual practice many persons seem to look upon the simplified presentation of this Sutta by the meditation teacher as a substitute for overcoming covetousness and other worldly evils. After having done their daily or weekly quota of the "contemplation of the body" they go right back to their old "covetous" ways!
  2. The contemplations in the Sutta can only be done in an empty room (suññâgâra), or if people prefer the outdoors in the forest or at a root of a tree. This rules out communal meditation, a subject to which we shall return again.
  3. (3) No time duration is given and the same fruits are said to be capable of being realised whether the Satip.t.tâna is observed for seven years or seven days.12

4.4 Meditation Subjects

It is generally held that those who meditate must meditate on something. Theists usually meditate on God. It could be argued that ideally Buddhists should meditate on emptyness (sunyâtâ) but except for a heroic attempt by some Zen meditators this is not usually attempted. Theravâda Buddhism recognises 40 subjects of meditation (kamma.t.tâna). [11] These are: Clearly this list is derived from practices prevailing in ancient times; it is necessary to consider their suitability for the modern day.

Items 1 to 10 are derived from mental exercises indulged in by recluses (Buddhist and non-Buddhist). They may have some use if certain mental states are to be obtained, but their relevance to the Buddha's path is extremely tenuous. The objects listed appear to be derived from the limited scientific knowledge of the day. There seems to be rationale in the four colours included (red, blue, yellow and white) which are not even the primary colours recognised by modern science. Concentration on objects of this type may induce states of self-hypnosis, but yield little enlightenment. Kasina meditation has limited use for ordinary Buddhists, and few meditation teachers recommend it.

Items 11 - 20 refer to contemplation of corpses in stages of decomposition. There are almost no opportunity for its exercise now, but some modern "teachers" seeking to maintain a semblance of literalism replace the corpses with anatomical charts! There are better ways of comprehending the unsatisfactoriness of existence without this kind of morbid contemplation.

Items 21 - 30 deal with the following ten reflections: The Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, Virtue, Liberality, the Devas, Peace, Death, Mindfulness of Body, and Awareness of Breath. Certainly some of these are very worthy objects of meditation, particularly the three jewels of Buddhism, and the positive virtues listed. The relevance of some may be questioned (e.g. of the Devas). The last two items are from the first foundation of mindfulness and has been considered earlier. This list could be supplemented by including positive virtues listed elsewhere in the Canon. One such item is investigation (vima.msâ) which is one of the means to psychic power.

The four Sublime States (items 31 to 34) are also worthy objects of contemplation. Of these States there is a tendency to give undue importance to Metta, and to do consider it purely as a contemplative state (see Note 4 above). Meditation on these states alone is not sufficient. Real action should be undertaken on the basis of awareness of these states.

Item 35 is designed to evoke some degree of loathsomeness in relation to food. It may be inapplicable today just as meditation of rotting corpses is inapplicable. Item 36 is derived from the rudimentary scientific knowledge of the day which recognised four elements (earth, water, fire, air) sometimes interpreted as the basic qualities of extension, cohesion, heat and motion. There is no reason why modern physical notions (e.g. relativity, entropy, etc.) should not be substituted to these listed physical items if the nature of the real world is to be comprehended in a scientific way.

The last four items relate to the formless jhânas traditionally listed as Infinity of Space, Infinity of Consciousness, Nothingness and Neither-Perception-nor-non-Perception. While the jhânas are supposed to contribute to psychic power their direct contribution to progress on the Buddhist path may be exaggerated. Buddhist meditation teachers who seem to be uncertain how these jhânas could be realised, and various kinds of self-hypnotic procedures are indulged in the name of these jhânas. In addition 4 or 5 rûpa jhânas are also listed in the Abhidhamma literature. Jhânas of either kind are neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for liberation in the Buddhist sense.

This consideration of the traditional objects of meditation shows their limited applicability to the modern day. Given this fact, and the fact shown earlier that meditation was not the central discovery of the Buddha it is something of a mystery why many Buddhist teachers of the heterodox tendency we are concerned with has put so much reliance on meditation as the path. It is true that a bulk of the people in the West have deep-lying neuroses. Much of this is created by the fundamental belief system such as the theistic religions to which they subscribe. A proper therapy for their malady is not to follow the nostrums the heterodox meditation teachers, but to root out their fundamental misconceptions about themselves, their God, and their view of the world by adopting the correct Dhamma positions.

We may conclude this section on the subjects of meditation with a few words on vipassanâ (insight), and samatha (tranquillity). These are sometimes presented exclusively as meditation procedures. Of course it is possible to "meditate" on these subjects as on many other Buddhist concepts. But they are not primarily or even largely meditation subjects. The gaining of insight is nothing other than the realisation of the existence of the three signata (dukkha, anicca, and anatta) in all phenomena not necessarily mental concepts. This realisation could be done in many ways than pure meditation activity. The same statement applies to the realisation of a state of mental calm although in this case meditation may have some uses. Insight and Calmness, together with the practice of the s las, form the essence of Buddhism. To consider them merely as meditation subjects is to diminish their centrality to Buddhism in general.

4.5 Modern Innovations in Meditation

Given the fact that some of the traditional subjects of meditation are inappropriate or difficult, many modern meditation teachers, especially those of the heterodox persuasion, have taken several liberties of their own and manufactured several stylised activities which are passed off as "Buddhist meditation". They are based on a misapplication of the first foundation identified in the Satipa.t.tâna Sutta. We may comment on a few of these innovations.

The first is the so-called "walking meditation" to which great importance is attached, particularly in the Sri Lankan mode of meditation. Walking figures in two contexts in the Satipa.t.tâna. The first is as a posture where it is mentioned alongside sitting, standing and lying down. The second is under awareness where there is mention of "clear comprehension in walking". But in neither context is there any special emphasis placed on walking per se so as to convert it into a special kind of meditation. [12] Thus there is also the statement that "in defecating and in urinating (uccâra passâva kammo) is a person practicing clear comprehension". Yet we not see modern meditation teachers making a stylised ritual of these bodily activities comparable to what they are making out of walking. True bodily awareness is the awareness of things as they happen, not the ritualised and congregational performance of simplified bodily activities under the regimental baton of a "meditation teacher".

The second innovation is the conversion of the Buddhist activity described as meditation into a congregational or communal activity. We have already seen that in the Satipa.t.tâna there are explicit instructions against it. This is also true of all other Buddhist activities which are generally considered to fall under "meditation". In fact real meditation cannot be done congregationally. Even in other forms of Indian meditation communal meditation is rare, but it was the Hindu gurus who introduced this trend, especially in the West. From there communal meditation has been re-exported to the East, where it is becoming something a fad in certain countries like Sri Lanka. Of Buddhist groups it is only Zen Buddhism which has made a practice of communal meditation (but even in this case the meditators face a blank wall in imitation of Bodhidharma's meditational technique).

Another innovation which some modern-day Buddhist teachers have copied from their Hinduism is the giving of secret instruction to individual meditators. In Transcendental Meditation the guru gives an unique mantra to each meditator. A similar practice in Zen Buddhist is the use of koans or cryptic sayings whose meaning the meditator is asked to divine. With the heterodox Theravâda meditation teachers the practice if more akin to Hindu procedures than Zen. Its purpose seems to be to develop a psychological dependence of the meditator on the teacher, an essential feature of the cult potentialities of this kind of meditation.


5. The View of "Body as the World" [13]

5.1 The World and the Body

A misconception of the Dhamma, on which the heterodoxy we are considering is based, could be summarised in the view that the "world is in the body" and therefore the contemplation of the body is a sufficient substitute for the contemplation of the world. Central to this question is the Buddhist view of the world (loko).

Two alternative views of the world are one which considers it as existing outside of the observing individual, and the other which considers it completely subjective to the observer, and dominated by the characteristics of emptiness, illusoriness and non-existence in real terms. A logical way of reconciling these views it to recognise the external world as real in an objective sense, while individuals have an subjective view of this external world. This commonsense view seems to be that contained in the Dhamma but this view has to be defended both against theory of some Buddhist philosophers (mainly of Mahayana persuasion) and against the "practice" of the heterodox Theravâdins we are considering who seek to retreat into an inner world. We shall not consider the former here, but make a few comments on the latter.

5.2 The Rohitassa Sutta and its implications

The main textual support for this view seems to come from the Rohitassa Sutta of the Sa.myutta Nikâya (I, ii, 3.6). The deva Rohito asks the Buddha: "Now where, Lord, does one not get born, nor grow old, nor die, nor leave one's sphere for another, nor get reborn? How is one able, Lord, by walking to come to know the end of the world (lokassa anta.m), or to see it, or to get there? ". In the course of his reply the Buddha says:
But neither do I say, friend, that by not having got to the end of the world is the end
of ill to be accomplished. It is in this fathom-long carcass, friend, with its impressions
and its ideas that, I declare, lies the world and the cause of the world and the course
of action that leads to the cessation of the world.

na kho panâham âvuso appatvâ lokassa anta.m dukkhassa
antakiriya.m vadâmi. api khvâham âvuso imasmiññeva
vyâmatte kalevare saññimhi samanake loka.m ca pañ- ñâpemi loka
samudaya.m ca lokanirodha.m ca loknirodhagâmini.m ca pa.tipadan"

When the context is examined it is clear that the Buddha is here not denying the reality of the external world, but only speaking of a particular kind of world. Buddhaghosa in his commentary on this sutta was quite clear on this point when he insisted that the word "world" was used in this sutta in the sense of sattasankhâraloka, i.e. the conditioned world as perceived by sentient beings. This is very much in line with the commonsense approach referred to earlier. However some modern exponents of the Dhamma wrench the phrase "in this fathom-long body lies the world" from its context to foist on the Buddha a view he does not hold. It is significant that throughout this dialogue there is reference to knowing the world "by walking" (gâmanena), i.e. by a physical activity as against pure contemplation. It is clear that Rohito had in mind the physical world of Indian cosmology (cakkavâla), and when the Buddha utters the stanza
"gâmanena na pattabo lokassa anta.m kudâcana.m
na ca appatvâ lokanta.m dukkhâ atti pamochana.m

Never may world's end by won by walking there
Nor if you win are you not freed from ill"

he is in fact refuting the notion of a finite universe that could be stridden by the devaputta's magic boots.

It is the practical implications of these abstract views about the world that are of utmost importance. The subjective view of the world tends to encourage an attitude of world negation, of renunciation from the world, while the opposite view would entail a greater involvement with the world, the sentient beings who comprise it, and the environment in which they operate. It is important that Buddhists do not lose touch with reality, and are ever prepared to apply the Dhamma creatively to devise practical solutions to the problems confronting the world. Whether these be political, economic, social, educational, environmental, technological or other matters, there is hardly an area where the insights of the Dhamma cannot fail to make a contribution.

The view of Buddhists as those who retreat into the simplicity of an inner world leaving the turmoil of the world into the cares of others is one that is carefully propagated especially by the mass media. As we have seen this view is not disowned by the monks of the heterodox tendency we are dealing with. This view must be combated and the true Buddhist perspective on the matter proclaimed. The world within may be the only world accessible to the recluse and the meditator. But the true Buddhist should neither be an exclusive recluse nor one engaged in the "meditation" all the time. Buddhists should direct their attention to the problems around them; it is then that the world without comes into a true Buddhist focus.


6. Some Final Comments

6.1 Dangers of the Heterodoxy

The Theravâda heterodoxy we have considered has fortunately never assumed a significant position and in the West is still in its incipient stages. Hopefully may never grow up. It should therefore not be considered as in itself presenting an immediate danger to Buddhism. The greatest danger which Buddhism faces today are the activities of the militant theistic religions who are employing immense effort in converting Buddhist populations even in Asia, and in undermining Buddhism in general. These activities are helped by the inactivity of many traditional Buddhists who have failed to engage the resurgent theistic movements in an active dialogue. The views and actions of the heterodox movement we have considered have also facilitated those who are campaigning against the Buddhist way of life. This is the aspect of this heterodoxy which poses the greatest dangers. The popular media have used the ideas propagated by the heterodox movement to present Buddhism as a world denying, nihilistic, pessimistic and even morbid religious movement. This caricature of Buddhism must be vigorously opposed, and to do so Buddhists must disown some of the doctrines propounded by the heterodox movement.

6.2 The Heterodoxy as a Cult

There is also another danger posed by this heterodoxy. It has the potential to degenerate into a cult, particularly in its Western manifestation. The question of religious cults is one which is causing concern in Western countries. Most of the modern cults are fundamentalist Christian cults based on interpretations of the Bible. But cult practice is also common in other theistic religions such as Judaism, Islam and even some forms of Hinduism. Buddhism has generally been free from cults mainly because of its rationalist character, its questioning of blind faith, and because Buddhist teachers have never adopted the "closed fist" of the esoteric teacher. This has made it difficult for cult movements to arise within Buddhism.

It is not always easy to separate cults from "genuine" religious movements. The main features of a cult are:

  1. The recognition of a particular individual as the leader with special powers and dispensations not given to others in the movement.
  2. The use of a narrow interpretation of few basic texts, the interpretation being made by the leader.
  3. The existence of a cult following willing to do the bidding of the teacher without question, with questions being actually discouraged.
  4. The employment of certain psychological techniques by the cult leader to inculcate feelings of dependence on his following. These include the performance of ritualised acts under his direction.
As we have seen the heterodox tendency in Buddhism in its Western incarnation shares some of these features. The question is whether these aspects are developed to the extent to qualify it as a cult. But there can be little doubt that as practiced by certain teachers it is at least a quasi-cult.

6.3 Buddhism as a Balanced Path

The criticism of these extreme practices of heterodox Buddhists should not be considered as a criticism of the practices of the bulk of Buddhists and their teachers. For the most part Buddhists follow the Middle Path recommended by the Buddha. The essential aspect of the middle path is that it is a balanced path. The right conduct of Buddhism is to wean oneself from the three roots of attachment viz. greed, hatred (or aversion) and delusion. There is no doubt that many Buddhist practices such as meditation in the way it is recommended in the Satipa.t.tâna Sutta, using subjects of meditation which have contemporary relevance, has the potential of developing an individual in the Buddhist path. But it must be remembered that this path consists of Eight elements every one of which is as important as the others. To get fixated on a narrow interpretation of "meditation" as the heterodox version of Buddhism requires could increase, not reduce, delusion.

The fate of Buddhism is the West is still an open question. The traditional approaches have not succeeded. It is time that Buddhists question whether they are propagating the right aspects of Buddhism, or even the right Dhamma at all.


 1. It is, of course, difficult to speak about "orthodoxy" in Theravada. What we mean by orthodox Theravada is either the "Basic Buddhism" as proclaimed by the Buddha and which could be reconstructed from the Pali and other "Hinayana" Canons, or the doctrines of the leading nikâyas in modern Theravada countries like Sri Lanka. There are some differences between these two, but both present a considerable contrast to the "heterodoxy" we are concerned with. On "Basic Buddhism" see the author's Basic Buddhism published by the Buddhist Society of Queensland.  Return to Text 

 2. The best known "Forest" Buddhist movement in the West is that which emanates from Thailand. This movement is not considered specifically in this work because of a lack of information. This movement has established several monasteries in the West particularly in the U.K. and to a lesser extent in Australia. However some of the comments made here, particularly the place accorded to "meditation" and the propagation of the myth of the Forest may be appropriate. Return to Text 

 3. The last two is particularly true of those who have failed to separate ethnic traits from Buddhism and have not been able to achieve some degree of reduction in their own ego- feeling. Return to Text 

 4. An example that could be cited is the conventional practice of mettâ (loving- kindness) meditation in Theravada. For many Theravadins the practice of mettâ is almost entirely confined to meditation. Their teachers rarely dispel the view that mettâ should not be a mere cerebral activity and must be manifested in actual actions towards real persons as against imaginary ones. Some teaches give this advice, but in a very perfunctory way with little conviction, and most meditators rarely carry their mett â practice beyond the meditation mat. The Mahayanist emphasis on karunâ which is not confined to cerebral activity is something that Theravadins could adopt in their own "practice" of mettâ. The general question of the misuse of meditation will be dealt with later. Return to Text 

 5. Ven Sangharakshita A Survey of Buddhism. London, Tharpa Publications, 1987, p.21. Return to Text 

 6. Many of the Western followers of the heterodoxy we are concerned with have a close resemblance to fundamentalist Christian preachers. They share a similar unshaken faith in their dogmatic beliefs, resort to the same kind of literalism, promote the same kind of cult following, and have the same anti-intellectualist sentiment.Return to Text 

 7. They bear an uncanny resemblance to Devadatta's rules. They include various kinds of austerities all relating to food, clothing and shelter. Whatever relevance they may have had to the practices of Devadatta's day they had become outmoded by the time Buddhaghosa. Return to Text 

 8. Very little is recorded in the Canon of Devadatta's views on meditation. The Canon records a curious request by Devadatta to the Buddha: "Lord attend calmly to the delightful meditation of the Law and entrust the Sangha to my keeping..." (Vinaya, II). Naturally the Buddha rejected this request, but the use made by Devadatta of "meditation" for questionable purposes is not very different from the use of this by some of the modern-day followers of Devadatta! Return to Text 

 9. When a Muslim slaughters an animal either as sacrifice or for consumption he is expected to exercise utmost mindfulness and concentration to the task with minute attention paid to the smallest details of the execution. Few would call this a proper exercise of mindfulness. Some of the acts recommended by some meditation teachers (as in the so-called "walking meditation"), though not as grave as the instance mentioned here, are quite futile as a method of advancing on the Buddha's path. Return to Text 

 10. The tendency to exaggerate the importance of this Sutta is due to mistranslating the term ekâyano maggo used in it to describe this Sutta. This is sometimes rendered as "the only way" to the "purification of beings," etc. However the only way in Buddhism is the Eightfold Path, and even though the contemplation of the Path is included in the Sutta, this is something different from actually accomplishing the Path. There are other techniques described in the Sutta, and they could be useful, but they do not constitute the "only" way to Nibbana. Budhaghosa was quite aware of this and gives two other meanings to this term. One is the meaning that it refers to "one way" (meaning that others also exist). This interpretation is adopted by translators like Ven. Ñânamoli and Maurice Walsh (whose translation of the Dîgha Nikâya is preferable to that of the Pali Text Society). I prefer Buddhaghosa's second interpretation, viz. that it is a way that does not involve companionship of others. Return to Text 

 11. This list follows Ven Narada Maha Thera, The Buddha and his Teaching, p.519. There is no texual justification for the commonly held view that the longer the time devoted to meditation the better the results. Here quality counts for more than quantity. Note that the claim that Satipa.t.tâna will deliver the fruit of Arahantship is true only if all the preconditions are met.Return to Text 

 12. The stylised activity of "walking meditation" is similar to the funeral march of regimental bands, and has no necessary connection with the "practice" of the Dhamma! Walking of course is a very commendable activity, and even if not done mindfully may have beneficial effects.Return to Text 

 13. For a fuller discussin see the writer's article "The World Within and the World Without", Vima.msâ April 1984 Return to Text