Monday, May 18, 2015

The Wisdom of Emotions

Extract from a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Sundara

Our emotions can be triggered by something very small: a physical sensation, a passing thought, a sense contact, a feeling. In the context of Dhamma we begin to notice that in fact emotions are constructs: amalgams of thought, feeling, perceptions, past conditioning, trauma, family stories; all these things come together to generate emotions. Sometimes we are in a situation where for no apparent reason we start crying, or we become angry or confused. When we search for a reason but can’t find one, we may think there is something wrong with us, that it’s our fault. We make ourselves miserable because we don’t understand that there is a bigger picture. Being human is like that.

Modern psychology has not been able to define emotion. Decades of brain research have failed to pin down what an emotion is. It fluctuates constantly; it is indefinable. So we may be sitting calmly in meditation, surrounded by a lot of other people, but when somebody else comes into the room our sense of calm changes. We are aware of a new feeling tone, perhaps an emotional charge in the body and we soon realize that letting go of it requires more than just awareness and willingness to let go. It also calls for wisdom, for understanding, so as to see deeply its true characteristics of anicca-dukkha-anattā – that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not-self.

Monday, May 11, 2015

“We must get back to the real roots of our Buddhist culture”

An interview with Ven. Bodhicitta by Raymond Lam

Ven. Bodhicitta
In March, Buddhistdoor International published an editorial about the era of simultaneous crisis and opportunity for the Theravada sangha across the traditional Buddhist world. The problems for the sangha, while always influenced by politics, social forces, and shifting economic dynamics, are largely internal: nationalism, sexism (and in some cases institutional gynophobia) and a lack of education form a triple-pronged threat to the Theravada sangha’s moral authority (and for some critics, outright relevance). Yet the other face of crisis is opportunity:  In both Asia and the West, watchers and commentators of Buddhism’s story in the globalizing world are noticing several hotspots where events may well reverberate across Asia and influence social justice movements positively.

Take, for example, the recent establishment of a Buddhist college for nuns in Sri Lanka. Regardless of the politics (and monks are always political in Sri Lanka), it is difficult to disagree that this is a millennial milestone for the country’s Buddhist community, and it is one example of turning the crisis of women’s lack of opportunity to practice into a chance to strengthen and reform the sangha – something that all Buddhists surely agree is a good thing.

One of the nuns bearing witness to these changes is Ven. Bodhicitta, founder of the Nisala Arana in Molkawa. Like many pro-bhikkhuni teachers across the world, Ven. Bodhicitta believes that traditional Buddhist values were never patriarchal, androcentric, misogynistic or sexist to begin with. She therefore does not accept the a priori fusion of the Buddhist story with the male experience, and like many feminists, seeks to entangle social conditioning from reality. “Most traditional societies have been conservative, but I don’t think this is the issue. The problem in places like Thailand is more to do with an overarching patriarchy,” she says. “Men are seen as leaders and promoted to positions of authority in patriarchal society, whereas women always have to take a second place, a subordinated place, in society.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 7

Ardhanārīśvarī Ken Dedes & Gender in Ancient Indonesian Buddhism

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī

In this seventh post in our “History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia” series, we continue to look at a topic about which questions have been raised in Part 6 - the subject of the compassionate manifestations of gender in Buddhism and its harmonious associations with Hinduism, in ancient Indonesian Buddhism. For, in Part 6, we encountered the Amoghapaśa form of the highly popular bodhisattva mahāsattva Avalokiteśvara (अवलोकितेश्वर), commonly known as Kwan Yin, 觀音, 觀世音 or 觀自在 菩薩摩诃萨埵 in Chinese, or Chenrezig, སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་ in Tibetan. This bodhisattva is well known not only in Mahāyāna Buddhism, but amidst the Theravāda Buddhists of Southeast Asia as well.

Originally, in India, Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva is known for having appeared in male form, as also in Indonesia, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Korea, but then for later having appeared in female form as Kwan Yin in China, to many contemporary observers’ wonder and curiosity. How and why did s/he do so? And, was this orthodox and legit? I’ve been asked these questions more than a few times... 

In our last post, we saw how, in India, in the Amoghapāśa Sādhana meditation text authored by 12th century Kashmiri monk Sakyaśrībhadra and in the highly popular earlier Hevajra Tantra, Avalokiteśvara appeared with both male and female emanations, the two primary female emanations being Green Tārā who represented the manifestation of karuṇā—the compassion, and Bhrikuti who manifested the prajñā—the wisdom of the bodhisattva. Thus, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama--himself widely thought to be an incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara--speaks about appearing in female incarnation, or when the Gyalwang Karmapa says it would be no problem in Dharma for the Karmapa to appear as a woman, they may not actually be saying anything strange or unorthodox at all.  Actually, the very high level of bodhisattva that Avalokiteśvara is, is taught to be basically androgynous, and to be able to appear in any form, as needed--and to have no trouble at all with appearing in either male or female form.

At the end of our last post, we saw Avalokiteśvara popularly partnered with Green Tārā and Bhrikutī in Buddhism, and Śiva (Shiva) popularly partnered with Parvati in the co-contemporary Hinduism, in the context of non-dualism within manifest dualities and pluralities.

Image 1: Double exposure photo from the Surabaya, East Java opera Ken Dedes Wanita Dibalik Tahta ("Ken Dedes: The Women Behind the Throne")

In this 7th post, we take one step closer, and look at one 13th century living woman, Ken Dedes, the daughter of a Buddhist monk, who, in a way, represented all these, both the unity and the dualities. And how as such, she became the progenitor and founder of two dynasties and a transcendent legend, remembered and immortalized now in Indonesian Buddhist culture as the Prajñāpāramitā, the Perfection of Wisdom and Mother of All Buddhas herself.

I hope that this sharing of history or herstory or an embracing “our-story,” may give some clue as to a part of our Buddhist heritage of compassion--karunā, wisdom--prajñā and skilfull means--upāya, with regards gender, love for the world, and the Buddhist vision of humanity that shares in all these qualities.

Ardhanārīśvarī Ken Dedes & Gender in Ancient Indonesian Buddhism

Continued from Part 6

Image 2: Portrayal of Queen Ken Dedes

The union of Śiva & Parvati with which we ended Part 6, brings us to 1222 CE, and the legendary foundation of the Eastern Javanese Singhasari Dynasty that built the Candi Jago monument mentioned in the previous post.

The woman credited with giving birth to the dynasty was Ken Dedes, the daughter of Mpu Purwa, a renowned Buddhist monk. Kidnapped while her father was away practicing asceticism in the forest, she was married to a tyrannical despotic local governor (a small local territorial ruler and relative of the former king) and became pregnant. Being compassionate, she despaired of the way her husband ruled the people, and had thoughts that better could be done. When three months pregnant and on an outing, as she was stepping down from her conveyance, the wind blew up and opened her sarong, and in a flash, Ken Arok, a man in her husband’s employ, caught a glimpse of her pubic area which appeared to be shining radiant (rahim emasnya),[1] a sign imbued with powerful significance in ancient Javanese culture.

Image 3: English narrative ballet Hungkara Pradnya Paramita (Skt: Ahaṃkārā Prajñāpāramitā) of Ken Dedes with Ken Arok performance live onsite at the ancient Singasari Dynasty temple Candi Jago in Maleng, East Java

In awe, Ken Arok inquired with a brahmin about the meaning, who told him that such a sign surely meant the woman was an ardhanārīśwari; and that such a woman was a Strī Nareśwarī (“Lady Lord of Humanity”), who had the power to found a royal dynasty, with her husband becoming a rājādhirāja, a king of kings. Ardhanārīśvaras (Skt: अर्धनारीश्वर) or ardhanārīśwarīs are a long-standing and popular ritual deity form that contains both Śiva and Parvati, male and female, king and queen, god and goddess, together in one body. This form was known in Northwestern India to date back to the Kushan period of the 1st century CE. We know from statuary remains that the form was also popular in South Indian and Western Indian art in the 12th century, in the time directly preceding and leading into Ken Dedes' lifetime.

Image 4: Ancient form of Ardhanārīśwarī aka Ardhanārī from the Elephanta Caves off India’s west coast.  In this form, the body of the diety is portrayed as half-male and half-female, often with the viewer's right appearing female and the viewer's left appearing male, but sometimes the opposite.

Image 5: Contemporary painting of Ardhanārīśwarī, here illustrating “the relationship between Kundalini, Tantra and the sacred weaving, the 'Divine Marriage' and the role of the 'Divine Feminine',” to which is ascribed “power and potential of fertility, creation and re-creation.”

Overcome by a sense of destiny, Ken Arok killed Ken Dedes’ former husband,[2] married her, and a new dynasty was founded. Ken Dedes came to be known as a seminal figure in Javanese history, as she is considered not only the first queen/ruler of the Singasari dynasty, but the matriarchal ancestor from whom the next several centuries of Singasari and Majapahit rulers would descend,[3] out of which would emerge “Nusantara,” the “string of pearls” that is the modern Indonesian archipelago.

Image 6: Ascendent: Ken Dedes, Paramīśvarī of Singasari, ascends the throne of Tunggul Amatung, in a historical theatrical performance of producer Enny Sulistyowati’s “Ken Dedes — The Woman Behind the Throne,” intended to redefine feminism through the lens of local wisdom and to illustrate that feminist values are not only present among recent generations.

Due to her tremendous beauty, power, and strength, Ken Dedes was not only named as the founder of the Singhasari and Majapahit dynasties, but has been associated with one of the most famous Buddhist works of art in the world, which is thought to have been found at a temple dedicated to her, although the records of this are now lost. It is a statue portraiture which appears to radiate all of these qualities, the Javanese Prajñāpāramitā, rediscovered in 1818 CE in Singhasari territory.[4]

Image 7: “Ken Dedes: Birth of Singasari” 2007 Exhibition of the ancient Singasari (or Majapahit) Prajñāpāramitā image, now returned from the Netherlands to Indonesia and on display at the National Museum in Jakarta.
Image 8: Contemporary Indonesian image of
Ken Dedes portrayed as Prajñāpāramitā for sale.
Image 9: Contemporary Prajñāpāramitā image at
Ken Dedes Memorial Park, Singosari District
of Maleng City, East Java.

Festivals, operas, books and movies have all been made on her life in modern times; she is very much remembered, her life celebrated.

Image 10: “Festival of 1000 Ken Dedes,” Malang, East Java

Image 11: Participant in the Ken Dedes festival parade in Malang, East Java sits on lotus throne displaying Prajñāpāramitā mudra.

As a last note however, the dynasty that followed upon Singasari was not bereft of great Buddhist women leaders. Ken Dedes was not the only leading woman to display such qualities.  And she is not the woman who the Old Javanese historical chronicle, the Nagarakṛtāgama,[5] implies as the Prajñāpāramitā. In fact, the Prajñāpāramitā, in life, may not only have been an extremely eminent Buddhist woman leader, but also a bhikkhunī. It appears that the tradition of the ancient shaven-headed patchwork robe-wearing women ascetic renunciates had not yet disappeared from Indonesia. More on this to follow, in the next post.

Other posts of the "History of Women in Buddhism" series: 
4. Part 4: International Buddhist Networking, Bhikkhunīs and Women’s Leadership in the 5th-7th Century Indonesian South Seas
5. Part 5: 
The Mystery Story of Devi Kili Suci ~ the 11th Century Vanishing Crown Princess Bhikkhunī Hermit & Her Selomangleng Goa Cave
6. Part 6: Bhrikutī & the Appearance of New Non-Bhikkhunī Forms of Women’s Asceticism in Buddhism

Image Credit: 
Image 1: courtesy of Risyal Photo, web: https://risyalphoto.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/ken-dedes/
Image 2: Photo courtesy of: Adisuryanti in Photomorphosis, web: http://shadowness.com/adisuryanta/indonesian-kendedes
Image 3: Photo courtesy of Surya Images, web: http://www.suryaonline.co/images/pentas-sendratari-di-candi-jago/#.VUgwmZTF_UI
Image 4: courtesy of Ricardo Martins via Wikipedia Commons, web: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ardhanari@_Elephanta_Caves.jpg
Image 5: courtesy of , web: http://www.transpersonal.com.au/kundalini/divine-marriage.htm.
Image 6: courtesy of The Jakarta Post, web: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/02/06/the-tricky-beauty-ken-dedes.html.
Image 7: courtesy of Mirelsa at Deviant Art, web: http://mirelsa.deviantart.com/art/Ken-Dedes-Poster-75756809.
Image 8: courtesy of Surabaya Indonetwork, web: http://surabaya.indonetwork.co.id/Mojopahit_Art/2902179/arca-ken-dedes.htm
Image 9: courtesy of Ahrentis on Deviant Art, web: http://ahrentis.deviantart.com/art/Kendedes-134412206.
Image 10: courtesy of DHEA Elvita’s, web: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-BQczA3P5vzA/Tpq1Mkse1yI/AAAAAAAAADs/VxcRn4KSxSs/s1600/kendedes6.jpg.
Image 11: courtesy of: Newstime 007, web: https://newstime007.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/img_2003.jpg.

[1] See Barbara Watson Andaya’s The Flaming Womb for more on this theme.
[2] At that time the law of the land was such that if anyone was able to kill a king, they had right to the throne. This action however is said to have cursed the next several generations of male kings to death by kris--the sword-.
[3] See: Violence and Serenity (69)
[4]The statuary image of Prajñāpāramitā from Candi Jago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prajnaparamita#mediaviewer/File:Prajnaparamita_Java_Side_Detail.JPG. Together with many others, the statue was taken to the Netherlands. It has now been returned to  Indonesia where it has been placed in the National Museum in Jakarta.
[5]Also spelled Nagarakretagama (Wikipedia) and Kakawin Nagarakertagama (Balinese Digital Library) and Nāgarakṛtāgama (Encylopædia Britannica). Alternate title: Desawarnana, Desawarñana or Desavarnana.
article last edited: 5 May 2015

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhuī (sans diacritics Ayya Tathaaloka)

Ven. Tathālokā Bhikkhunī is an American-born Theravada bikkhunī, Buddhist monastic scholar and teacher. She is the co-founder of the non-profit NGO Dhammadharini (Women Upholding the Dhamma), the North American Bhikkhuni Association and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, as well as a senior monastic advisor to Sakyadhita USA and the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. She was a recipient of the 2006 Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award and a presenting scholar at the 2007 International Congress on Buddhist Women's Role in the Sangha on her special areas of scholarship: Bhikkhuni Sangha History and Bhikkhuni Vinaya.  Ayyā Tathālokā served as preceptor for the historically significant bhikkhuni ordinations held in Western Australia and in Northern California between 2009 and 2014. She is currently working with the Dhammadharini support foundation to establish a permanent monastery/vihara for the Dhammadharini Bhikkhuni Sangha in Northern California north of the San Francisco Bay Area (see dhammadharini.net).

Monday, April 27, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 6

Bhrikutī & the Appearance of New Non-Bhikkhunī Forms of Women’s Asceticism in Buddhism

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī

Image 1: Bhrikutī Devī, Nepal
In this sixth post in our “History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia” series, we pick up a topic that is only hinted at being possible in Part 5 - the subject of the appearance of non-bhikkhunī/bhikṣuṇī forms of women’s (and men’s) ascetic/spiritual ideals (and practices) in Buddhism.  It is a time in history or her-story when both royal blood and ascetic spiritual power and mastery appear to have become an essential qualification of the deification of the fe/male rulers of the land, often united with or balanced by their co-appearance as either awesome likenesses or living embodiments of the bodhisattvas and buddhas of Mantranāya and Tantrayāna Buddhism, which has been spreading and developing in Java now for a period of more than 500 years (from the 7th-13th century). We look at one such example in the image of Bhrikutī, an apparently royal female ascetic of spiritual power, who appears very close to the most exemplary Śaivite royal female ascetic and consort, Parvatī, and yet is a manifestation of both the Buddhist wisdom of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, and the fierce form of compassion of the savioress, Bhagavātī Aryā Tārā.
This post is specially dedicated to all those affected by the 25 April 2015 earthquakes in Nepal and the surrounding areas, to all those in need, and to all those who are helping. 
Extracted from Ayyā Tathālokā’s paper “Light of the Kilis: Our Indonesian Bhikkhunī Ancestors,” this is the sixth part in our “Women in Buddhism - Indonesia” mini-series leading up to the 14th Sakyadhita Conference in Borobudur, Indonesia.

Bhrikutī & the Appearance of New Non-Bhikkhunī Forms of Women’s Asceticism in Buddhism

We now move on, following birth and death through the centuries, to the Singasari (Singosari) Kingdom of East Java and to the great Candi Jago (aka Candi Jajagyu) temple at Melang. Singasari succeeded the kingdom of Kederi in eastern Java featured in Part 5.

The great Candi Jago rock temple originally had five peaks above like the Mt. Meru (Sumeru, Kailash) of the Indian continent which was famous from both Buddhist and Hindu texts, as well as from both the five-peaked natural Mt. Meru of Central Java and the five pinnacles of the human-made "Vihāra Mountain" Borobudur. Candi Jago has dark lower chambers unique to Java that are thought reminiscent of the mountain meditation caves mentioned above used by Buddhist and Hindu hermits.

Image 2: Licchavi/Nepalese Princess Bhrikutī
Devi —known to Tibetans as Bal-mo-bza'
Khri-btsun, Bhelsa Tritsun credited with
bringing Buddhism to Tibet

Images from the Amoghapāśa Sādhana meditation text authored by 12th century Kashmiri monk Sakyaśrībhadra [1]depict a new type of ascetic woman who has entered into the Buddhist world (or perhaps an old type who is now manifesting in new ways).  She does not appear as a bhikkhunī/bhikṣuṇī. She is named Bhrikutī (or more proper Sanskrit: Bhṛkutī).

The famed 7th century Nepalese princess who became the first Tibetan Buddhist queen shares her name—the association between the two not yet entirely clear. As with her great co-contemporary 7th century supporter of Buddhist scholarship, Queen Shima (Simha) of the Javanese kingdom of Kalinga, and the appearance of bhikṣuṇī kalyāṇamitrā Simhavijṛmbhitā “lady of the lion’s roar”in the Gandavyūha or “Entry into the Dharma Realm” text (mentioned in Part 4), one may wonder whether great and leading “real life” kalyāṇamitras and bodhisattvas are being immortalized in Buddhist practice texts as well as images and/or whether it was believed that through the greatness of their sainthood and practice vows, they continued to be accessible.

Image 3: Bhrikutī image from the
Museum of Patan in Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepalese Licchavi Princess Bhrikutī Devī (भृकुटी)—known to Tibetans as Bal-mo-bza' Khri-btsun (བལ་མོ་བཟའ་ཁྲི་བ), Bhelsa Tritsun ('Nepali consort') or, simply, Khri bTsun ("Royal Lady”)—is credited with bringing Buddhism and the tradition of Buddhist bhasa (Nepal: पौभा) aka thangka (Tibetan: ཐང་ཀ་) sacred scroll painting to Tibet in the 7th century, when she married the first Tibetan king Songsten Gampo (srong btsan sgam po) in 632 CE. She and her Nepali craftsmen also built the first form of the Red Palace (now the Potala Palace) and the famous Jokhang Temple in the heart of Lhasa.

In Tibetan, she also may be called Bhrikutī-Tārā, the wrathful or frowning form of Tārā, as “bhrikutī” literally means “wrinkled” of “frowning brow”.

In the Singhasari East Java image of Bhrikutī from Candi Jago, she appears as in this Amoghapāśa Sādhana meditation text. Her image is an interesting mix. She has all of what we now consider to be the “classical Indian ascetic implements:” matted dreadlocks piled atop her head, loincloth, tridaṇḍa ascetics’ staff, kalaśa water container and mālā rosary. She is often depicted with her right hand raised up at face or chest height, open palm outwards in the varada-mudrā gesture of bestowing religious blessings.
Image 4: Bhrikutī standing between two lotus plants
Candi Jago, Malang, East Java

Image 5: Sudhana-kumāra standing between 
two lotus plants Candi Jago, Malang, East Java
In the Candi Jago image; however, she is also wearing an elaborate crown and other full regalia—perhaps signifying the highly popular combination of royalty and asceticism, or the deifying of ascetics.[2] Her image is visually very similar, almost a twin, to that of Sudhana-kumāra, who may be familiar to us from the upper Gandhavyūha level of Borobudur; she as he is also, an idealized (male) seeker on the Path who does not become a bhikkhu/bhikṣu.
Image 6: Candi Jago Amoghapāśa form of Avalokiteśvara
dedicated to King Wisnuwardhana
holds virtually identical implements to Bhrikutī,
who is a female emanation
But here Bhrikutī’s image is also perhaps far more similar in appearance to the main Candi Jago image consecrated as “Jina Buddha Vairocana.”  The statuary Candi Jago Vairocana image is portrayed as a manifestation of Śiva-Buddha, that is, a Buddhist Vairocana image that is also holding Indian ascetic implements, the rosary and flywhisk of Śiva.

The famous and important native Javanese poem Kuñjarakarṇa Dharmakathana, translated and published by Teeuw and Robson as Liberation Through the Law of Buddha, is portrayed in stone on Candi Jago walls.  In it, Kuñjakarṇa is a yakṣa who purifies himself through practicing asceticism and receives instruction from Jina Buddha Vairocana. In his instruction, the Buddha and Śiva and other Buddhist and Hindu figures are explicitly co-identified in ultimate reality.

The Vairocana image here is one of two buddha images originally enshrined at Candi Jago that are dedicated to King Wisnuwardhana.  The first statue, already mentioned, is the Śiva-Buddha image. The second, housed in a hidden sanctum at the central peak of the temple later struck by lightning, lost and now found again, was of the Amoghapāśa form of Avalokiteśvara, who also holds ascetic impliments.

At Candi Jago, Bhrikutī’s companions in the Amoghapaśa Sadhana were also found: Green Tārā and Sudhana-kumara on the one hand, with Bhrikutī and Hayagrīva on the other—a pentad to go with the five sacred peaks.  It is unknown whether the Candi Jago Bhrikutī image above is a portrait image of King Śrī Jaya Wishnuwardhana’s queen consort Waning Hyun, regnal name Śrī Jayawardhanī. It was through her that Singasari received the royal lineage of her grandmother Ken Dedes (to be explored in the next post) which was passed on through their heirs from Singasari to the glorious Majapahit Dynasty which followed. Considering Wishnuwardhana’s strong association with the Amoghapāśa form of Avalokiteśvara, it would follow that his queen Jayawardhanī would either have been portrayed as Bhrikutī or as Green Tārā.

In the older Hevajra Tantra Bhrikutī appears in a triad as a companion to some form of Avalokiteśvara (here Amoghapāśa) who stands in the center, and Green Tārā, who stands on the other hand.  In this tantra, Tārā represents the manifestation of the karuṇā—the compassion, and Bhrikuti the prajñā—the wisdom of Avalokiteśvara.

Image 7: Hevajra Tantra Avalokiteśvara, Green Tārā, Bhrikutī triad from the Central Java period

Image 8: Candi Jago female dhyāni buddha Malakī

This is a distinction between the representation in the Hevajra Tantra, and in the Amoghapāśa Sādhana, where Bhrikutī and Hayagrīva represent the ferocious side of compassion as balance to its softness. As a pentad, they are surrounded by the five dhyāni buddhas in both their male and female forms.

There is an explicit balancing of male and female on both sides, with representatives of both genders portrayed as tenderly and fiercely compassionate.
Image 9: Bhrikutī depicted seated on lotus in
“royal ease” posture at Ellora’s Cave 10
Returning to Bhrikutī—curious about the entry of this non-bhikkhunī woman ascetic into Buddhism, and interested in how she changed over time—we may look back at Bhrikutī’s historical development in India. The famous rock-cut cave temple of Ellora in western India proves to be an ideal place.  Cave 6 at Ellora represents the earliest type of Bhrikutī, in which she stands alone or in a mediating position with regards to the grouping of figures at a Buddhist shrine, and she is represented purely as an ascetic. This type of representation appears in and does not persist beyond the 7th century CE, the same century that the Nepalese princess Brikhutī Devi came to Tibet, as mentioned above.

In the second type of image found at Ellora—as in the Hevajra Tantra and Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa—together with Green Tārā,[3] she has become companion and assistant to, and an emanation of, the compassion of Avalokiteśvara.  In a way, it seems that she, once a non-Buddhist ascetic or alternative form of Buddhist ascetic, has been welcomed in and “converted” or assimilated into mainstream Buddhism.  In another way, in her form as the Nepalese Tibetan queen consort, it was she who did the introducing and converting to the form of Buddhism with which she was familiar. Either way, she serves as a form of medium and mediator.  This second form, appearing at Nālanda[4], Sarnath and Orissa (Odisha)[5], persists into the 8th century at Ellora.

Image 10: Bhrikutī image (viewer’s left) dressed in Tibetan royal silks seated next Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (center) and Chinese princess Wengchen (right)
Over time, she shifts from the viewer’s left to the right. Note that in classical Indian iconography, normally the right-hand position (at the viewer's’ left) is of the foremost rank or importance, so this could indicate a relative increase in the historical/political importance of Wencheng (文成公主), the Tibetan king’s Chinese second queen consort and their relationship, or an increase in the popularity and importance of the form of Tārā with whom Wencheng was associated.

Image 11: Bhrikutī at Ellora’s Cave 12 depicted seated to the viewer’s right (at the
 left hand) of the central Avalokiteśvara on double lotus in “royal ease” posture

By Cave 11, Bhrikutī is fully ornamented as a queen or goddess, as if the convention of portraying her as an ascetic is nearly forgotten (or perhaps it is the sense of her ascetic fierceness that has passed). By Ellora’s Cave 12, she has become just one of a complete set of twelve female deities flanking the antechamber of the shrine, although to the left of the central aisle, she is again depicted in triad. In her antechamber image, she still holds her ascetic implements, but she also wears an elaborate headdress and complete set of jewels.  It is this final form of Bhrikutī that we have seen in the Javanese Candi Jago images. Scholars speculate that Parvati’s asceticism in association with Śiva could have carried over into the Buddhist representation of Bhrikutī.[6]

Image 12: Parvati depicted as a meditating ascetic
Image 13: Parvati depicted as an ascetic queen with her sons Ganesh and Kartikeya

There is an open question of how much these images represent a transformation in the actual practiced forms of women’s asceticism in Buddhism along the lines of those developed in Śaivism. A further question is whether the practices related with such images were largely or exclusively for royalty, or were more mainstream. As we continue, we may gain clues to the answer.

Further reading on Bhrikutī:

Image Credit:
Image 1: Courtesy of Photographer Jeremy Villasis, web: jeremyvillasis.com
Image 2: Courtesy of Chinese Buddhism Encyclopedia, web: http://www.chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com/en/index.php/Bhrikuti
Image 3: Courtesy of "Sur les traces du sacré", à la rencontre de Bhrikuti, web: http://www.paulo-grobel.com/05_expes/Fiches_PDF/mustang/blog_tirawa/blog_mustang_bhrikuti.htm
Image 4: Courtesy of the Museum Volkenkunde, web: http://volkenkunde.nl/en/node/1417
Image 5: Courtesy of the Museum Volkenkunde, web: http://singosari.info/en/node/1386
Image 6: Courtesy of Singosari Info, web: http://singosari.info/sites/default/files/09a-RMV-2630-1-photo-RMV_0.jpg
Image 7: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, web: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/39036
Image 8: Courtesy of Jononmac46 on Wikipedia, web:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jago_Temple#mediaviewer/File:Chandi_Jago_Goddess_(BM).JPG
Image 9: Courtesy of paulo-grobel.com, web: http://www.paulo-grobel.com/05_expes/Fiches_PDF/mustang/blog_tirawa/blog_mustang_bhrikuti.htm
Image 10: Courtesy of Wikipedia, web: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhrikuti#/media/File:SongstenGampoandwives.jpg
Image 11: Courtesy of elloracaves.org, web: http://elloracaves.org/caves.php?cmd=search&words=&cave_ID=12&plan_floor=2&image_ID=381
Image 12: Courtesy of Lotus Sculpture, web: http://www.lotussculpture.com/8bc9.html.
Image 13: Courtesy of Fæ on Wikipedia, web: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parvati#mediaviewer/File:Lalita_statue.jpg.

[1] The sādhana is based on a vision of Sakyaśrībhadra’s when he visited Bodhgaya. Schoterman has suggested that during the exodus of Buddhist monks at the end of the thirteenth century the Amoghapāśa Sādhana was taken to Java, where it was used by sculptors there. Reichle (2007:116, f 34).
[2] Or perhaps an assimilation/amalgamation of Nepalese-Tibetan Princess-Queen Bhrikutī Devi into herself.
[3] This unique entirely feminine 8th century Indian Madhya Pradesh Bhrikutī triad attributed to Kumaradeva features Green Tārā in the center, with Bhrikutī and White Tārā attending on either hand: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), web: http://collections.lacma.org/node/248694
[4] Nalanda image here at the Henan Museum: http://english.chnmus.net/Exhibitions/2007-02/14/content_52690.htm
[5] Ghantasala image here on right: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/dpv5ZPLLb_g/0.jpg.
[6] Hockfield’s Unfolding A Mandala: The Buddhist Cave temples from Ellora (1993: 93-95)


Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhuī (sans diacritics Ayya Tathaaloka)

Ven. Tathālokā Bhikkhunī is an American-born Theravada bikkhunī, Buddhist monastic scholar and teacher. She is the co-founder of the non-profit NGO Dhammadharini (Women Upholding the Dhamma), the North American Bhikkhuni Association and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, as well as a senior monastic advisor to Sakyadhita USA and the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. She was a recipient of the 2006 Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award and a presenting scholar at the 2007 International Congress on Buddhist Women's Role in the Sangha on her special areas of scholarship: Bhikkhuni Sangha History and Bhikkhuni Vinaya.  Ayyā Tathālokā served as preceptor for the historically significant bhikkhuni ordinations held in Western Australia and in Northern California between 2009 and 2014. She is currently working with the Dhammadharini support foundation to establish a permanent monastery/vihara for the Dhammadharini Bhikkhuni Sangha in Northern California north of the San Francisco Bay Area (see dhammadharini.net).

Monday, April 20, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 5

The Mystery Story of Devi Kili Suci ~ the 11th Century Vanishing Crown Princess Bhikkhunī Hermit & Her Selomangleng Goa Cave

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī

Image 1: Putrī Sanggramawijaya/
Devi Kili Suci
In this fifth post in our “History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia” series, we skip over the Borobudur period ahead in time to the 11th century, to a time when royals’ renunciation of the throne for monastic life appears almost commonplace, and the Indonesian mountain hermitages and grottos are frequented by both male and female hermit ascetics of various faiths. Mantranāya/Vajrayāna Buddhism has been spreading in Java since at least the end of the seventh century and has grown strong. We explore the still-popular legendary story of one crown princess turned kili/wiksuni/bhikkhunī/mahāsiddhā, and visit the cave where she lived, practiced, and mysteriously vanished from corporeal existence.

Extracted from Ayyā Tathālokā’s paper “Light of the Kilis: Our Indonesian Bhikkhunī Ancestors,” this is the fifth part in our mini-series leading up to the 14th Sakyadhita Conference in Borobudur, Indonesia.

The Mystery Story of Devi Kili Suci ~ the 11th Century Vanishing Crown Princess Bhikkhunī Hermit & Her Selomangleng Goa Cave

Although records of Buddhist women renunciates become scarce in India after the 8th century, and rare in Sri Lanka after the 10th century, they continue to be found in 11th century Indonesia.

Image 2:The Pucangan aka
“Calcutta stone”inscription 
in Old Javanese and Sanskrit.
Born of a dynastic marriage between Bali and the Eastern Javanese Isyana Dynasty kingdom of Medang, Airlangga—“He Who Crosses the Waters,” was raised by the Queen Mother of Bali, and returned as a teenager to Java, where his wedding had been arranged. The “Calcutta Stone” inscription records that at age sixteen, on his wedding day, during the wedding itself, his mother’s brother the Medang king Dharmawamśa and his entire family were attacked by surprise and killed, the palace sacked and burned. Somehow he escaped unharmed. He spent several years in retreat at Vanagiri Forest Hermitage, and then emerged to make peace with Śrīvijāya and found a new Javanese kingdom named Kahuripan.

Airlangga married a Śrīvijāyan princess who had escaped to East Java after her father was taken prisoner and their kingdom raided by the Indian Cholas . According to the Baru inscription, he named her to the role of Parameśwari—Premier Queen Consort.

Monday, April 13, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 4

International Buddhist Networking, Bhikkhunīs and Women’s Leadership in the 5th-7th Century Indonesian South Seas 

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī

This fourth post in our "History of Women in Buddhism" series examines the International Buddhist networks that became well established between India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and China. 

This post specially coincides with Songkran/Saṃkrānti--the South and Southeast Asian Solar New Year in April, a time in which the sun appears to reach its zenith in the sky and maximum strength. We cover a time period when Buddhism rose in Indonesia, and International Buddhist networks and scholarship rose to a point of fluorescence. Powerful women leaders patronized Buddhist scholarship and the Bhikkhunī Sangha was widespread and well-established. 

Extracted from Ayyā Tathālokā’s paper “Light of the Kilis: Our Indonesian Bhikkhuni Ancestors,” it is the fourth part of the series leading up to the 14th Sakyadhita Conference in Borobudur, Indonesia. [Also: read about worthy historical places to visit, the ancient terminology, and the journey of an Indian nun ]

International Buddhist Networking, Bhikkhunīs and Women’s Leadership in the 5th-7th Century Indonesian South Seas 

Although it is extremely likely that both Buddhist teachings and monastics reached the Indonesian islands up to nearly 1000 years earlier given the active Maritime Silk Road and known Buddhist monastic travels along these routes by sea, it is not until the second to fifth centuries of the Common Era that we find visual evidence of this in the Indonesian statuary and archaeological remains which still exist today.

Image 1: Bronze Buddha from Western
Celebes in the Amaravati or 
Anuradhapura style, 2nd-5th century. 
Second to fifth century statuary bronze Buddha images have been discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes) which are considered to be of either Indian Amaravati or Sri Lankan Anuradhapura style.

These images further illustrate early Indonesian connections with South India and Sri Lanka, as mentioned earlier in the legendary story shared in the previous post here, “Bhikkhunī Manimekalai Travels to Java.” As known at a glance when looking at Maritime Silk Road maps, Indonesia had active maritime connections with South, Western and Northeastern India, Sri Lanka, China and Korea.

According to his memoirs, when the Chinese bhiksu pilgrim Fa-hsien (Fǎxiǎn, 法顯/法显) visited an island somewhere in the Indonesian archipelago when his ship was blown off course traveling between Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and China in the early fifth century, he was only able to see a few Buddhists, although there were some. It is not known surely which island he landed on, but thought perhaps to be somewhere on Jawa-dwipa—the big island of Java.  He may have missed an encounter with the 3rd to 5th century Javanese kingdom of Tarumanegara (Dharmanagara)[1] at Batujaya (east of Jakarta), where stupa-shaped structures and Buddhist votive tablets have been found.[2]

Monday, April 6, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 3

South Indian Bhikkhunī Manimekalai Travels to Java

Article author: Āyyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī
Introduction to this segment: Tathālokā Bhikkhunī and Ādhimuttā Bhikkhunī 

Image 1: Manimekalai distributing food to the needy
with her magic bowl. In contemporary South Indian 
paintings, of which there are many as she continues 
to be a legendary folk hero, she is almost always 
depicted more in appearance like a modern Hindu 
sannyāsinī than a Buddhist monastic.
This third post in our "History of Women in Buddhism" series records the dramatic and inspiring life story of a Buddhist woman saint, Manimekalai, second century South India’s Buddhist Mother Theresa.[1] It examines marks of the status and the mobility of ancient South and Southeast Asian Buddhist women monastics, their environmental and social justice ethics, their rights of self-determination, relationship with politics, and how Buddhism was proactively compared with regards gender issues and women’s rights to other faiths, doctrines and religions of the period. 

This post especially coincides with the Sri Lankan Buddhist observance of Bak Poya on the full moon of April, the commemorative date of the Buddha’s visit to the Isle of Manipallavam aka Nagadipa, which figures so prominently in the life story of Manimekalai.  

Extracted from Ayyā Tathālokā’s paper “Light of the Kilis: Our Indonesian Bhikkhuni Ancestors,” it is part of the series leading up to the 14th Sakyadhita Conference in Borobudur, Indonesia. [Also: read the worthy historical places to visit and about the ancient terminology]

Part 3: South Indian Bhikkhuṇī Manimekalai Travels to Java

Image 2: Manimekalai book cover
Manimekalai (Maṇimēkalai, Tamil: மணிமேகலை), a highly-revered Tamil-Language Buddhist epic poem, is one of the five great epics of Tamil Literature, and the only one of the formerly-glorious collection of Tamil Buddhist writings of the period to survive.

The venerable Manimekalai’s life story was recorded and popularized between the second and third centuries CE.  From it, we recognize not only the international freedom of mobility of the early south Indian and island nations’ Buddhist bhikkhunīs (Skt: bhikṣuṇīs), but also the esteem which the greats among them held as leading monastic teachers, realized practitioners and saints.