Sunday, October 16, 2016

Alms Bowl: Fascinating Story of the Bowl of Buddha.

"Householders and the homeless or charity
in mutual dependence
both reach the true Dhamma...." - [Itivuttaka 4.7]

There was a small country in what is now southern Nepal that was ruled by a clan called the Shakyas. The head of this clan, and the king of this country was named Shuddodhan. His wife was  Mahamaya and she was expecting her first born. She had had a strange dream in which a baby elephant had blessed her with his trunk, which was understood to be a very auspicious sign, to say the least.

As was the custom of the day, when the time came near for Queen Mahamaya to have her child, she traveled to her father's kingdom for the birth in 518 BCE. But during the long journey, her birth pains began. In the small town of Lumbini, she asked her handmaidens to assist her to a nearby grove of trees for privacy. One large tree lowered a branch to her to serve as a support for her delivery.

Queen Mahamaya delivered a boy. They named him Siddhartha, which means "he who has attained his goals." Sadly, Mahamaya died only seven days after the birth. After that Siddhartha was raised by his step mother Gautami, who was his mother’s sister. Thus one of the names of Buddha is Gautam.

One day a monk Asita came into the city Kapilavatthu. King Shuddodhan called him and ordered to tell his sons future. Asita proclaimed that he would be one of two things: He could become a great king, even an emperor. Or he could become a great sage and savior of humanity. The king, eager that his son should become a king like himself, was determined to shield the child from anything that might result in him taking up the religious life. And so Siddhartha was kept in one or another of their three palaces and was prevented from experiencing much of what ordinary folk might consider quite a common place.

As Siddhartha continued living in the luxury of his palaces, he grew increasingly restless and curious about the world beyond the palace walls. He finally demanded that he be permitted to see his people and his lands. The king carefully arranged that Siddhartha should still not see the kind of suffering that he feared would lead him to a religious life, and decried that only young and healthy people should greet the prince.

As he was lead through Kapilavatthu, the capital, he chanced to see a couple of old men who had accidentally wandered near the parade route. Amazed and confused, he chased after them to find out what they were. Then he came across some people who were severely ill. And finally, he came across a funeral ceremony by the side of a river, and for the first time in his life saw death. He asked his friend and squire Chandaka the meaning of all these things, and Chandaka informed him of the simple truths that Siddhartha should have known all along: That all of us get old, sick, and eventually die.

Siddhartha also saw an ascetic, a monk who had renounced all the pleasures of the flesh. The peaceful look on the monk's face would stay with Siddhartha for a long time to come. Later, he would say this about that time:

When ignorant people see someone who is old, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be old some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with youth anymore.

When ignorant people see someone who is sick, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be sick some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with health anymore.

When ignorant people see someone who is dead, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be dead some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with life anymore. (AN III.39)

Siddhartha became thoughtful, the king's adviser advised the king to get him married in order to keep him binding with family bonding. So the king gets him married in 502 BCE when he was only 16 yrs, with a beautiful princess named Yashodhara of a neighbor kingdom.

In the 489 BCE, at the age of 29, Siddhartha came to realize that he could not be happy living as he had been. He wanted to know, how one might overcome suffering. After kissing his sleeping wife and newborn son Rahul, he snuck out of the palace with his friend Chandar and his favorite horse Kanthak. He gave away his royal clothing, cutting his long hair, gave the horse to Chandar and told him to return to the palace. He studied for a while with two famous gurus of the day but found their practices lacking.

He then began to practice the austerities and self-mortifications practiced by a group of five ascetics. For six years, he practiced. The sincerity and intensity of his practice were so astounding that, before long, the five ascetics became followers of Siddhartha. But the answers to his questions were not forthcoming. He redoubled his efforts, refusing food and water until he was in a state of near death.

One day, a peasant girl named Sujata saw this monk and placed a bowl of milk-rice in front of him. Siddhartha then realized that these extreme practices were leading him nowhere, that in fact, it might be better to find some middle way between the extremes of the life and the life of self-mortification. So he ate and drank, and bathed in the river. The five ascetics saw him and concluded that he had given up the ascetic life and taken to the ways of the flesh, and left him.

Who is Sujatha? 
Legendary says, When Buddha came to Urubilba, there lived a pretty young girl named Sujata of a rich peasant family in the nearby village Senani. The girl was dreaming a suitable husband and children for her. But her hope was not fulfilling. People advised her to go to a certain tree-god on the bank of river Niranjana and pray to him. She did so, and soon got married. And after a year when she gave birth a beautiful child, she was very happy and wanted to reward god for these gifts.

So one day she sent some of her servants to clean surrounding the tree and she began to cook Milk-rice. When she has finished cooking the milk-rice, one of her servants rushed to her and said, "Our Matriarch, how fortunate you are! the Tree-god himself is present there to receive your gift."

So, Sujatha rushed to go there with excitement, bow down peacefully and placed the bowl of milk-rice in front of him silently. She does not know that he was not Tree-god, but Prince Gautam himself. However, Gautam, divided that milk-rice into 49 portions, for a portion each day, until he received enlightenment.

In the 49th day when Buddha awakens from his meditation, he eats the last part of his meal and then he went to bath in the river Niranjana. He threw the valuable gold  bowl in the river and said, "If I'm the Buddha, let this bowl float against the stream, and if I'm not, let the bowl drowned." - The bowl remains floating and move against the stream.

Bowl of Buddha, Kabul Museum.
It is said that after taking a bath, when Buddha was sited under a fig tree in the nearby forest, the Guardians of the Four Quarters, Indra, Yama, Varuna and Kubera each of them gave him a gold Alms Bowl each thinking that to meet the needs of live, what gods will give him as gift, without a bowl he would not able to accept them. 

The story of the Buddha's Alms-bowl has been carved in numerous Gandhara sculptures. It is told that when the Guardians of the Four Quarters present the bowls to Buddha, he refused to take the gifts as those were precious. Later they brought less precious than Gold one by one. But Buddha refused all of them except when they brought stone bowls. He takes all the 4 bowls and made 4 of them to 1.

It is said, Buddha holds his bowl in his hand, either in a seating or standing position. Sometimes, it is placed on a throne under a canopy and the worshipers adore it.

Though the Begging Bow or alms bowl is just a simple bowl, yet it is very important thing for a Buddist Monk in their daily Life. The Bowl along with the robes- is a necessary requisite to be eligible for ordination. Its primary use is to collect food and as such, it is a very powerful reminder, for monastics and laity alike, of the renunciation taken up in pursuit of the holy life. The Vinaya Says that monastics don't keep food beyond midday so every day begins anew and there is no certainty that food will be offered.

The motives behind giving the play an important role in developing spiritual qualities. The suttas record various motives for exercising generosity. For example, the Anguttara Nikaya (A.iv,236) enumerates the following eight motives:

  1. In Disgust: Gives with annoyance, or as a way of offending or insulting the recipient.
  2. In fear: Fear also can motivate a person to make an offering.
  3. In return: One gives in return for a favor done to oneself in the past.
  4. With a hope: One also may give with the hope of getting a similar favor for oneself in the future.
  5. As it is good: One gives because giving is considered good.
  6. With an altruistic motive: They do not cook, so it is proper to give those do not cook."
  7. For a reputation: Some give alms to gain a good reputation.
  8. To beautify mind: Still, others give alms to adorn and beautify the mind.
According to the Pali canon: Of all gifts [alms], the gift of Dhamma is the highest.— Dhp. XXIV v. 354)
Now we back to the bowl.

Bowls can be made of either clay or iron (now includes stainless steel). Both of these would be 'fired'. In the time of Buddha, a clay bowl was fired twice to make sure it was properly hard. Iron bowls were fired five times to build up a carbon coating to prevent them from rusting. Although stainless steel bowls won't rust they are still fired (usually only once to 'discolor' them) and for a monk-to-be firing, the bowl is part of the ordination rite-of-passage. This is often the occasion for an informal celebration at the fire with one's peers. Because of the delicacy (and replacement expense) of the early bowls, there are many Vinaya rules to ensure that they are well cared for [e.g. not scraping, banging or chipping them]. In some traditions, junior monks will be given a clay bowl for their first five years to practically establish the care required and engender respect for the bowl as a symbol of the holy life.

The Vinaya specifies that bowls may not be made of: wood (it splits and will hold food - and disease), gold, silver, pearl, beryl, crystal, bronze (as these are all expensive materials), glass (expensive and splinters kill), lead or copper (toxic materials - this now also includes aluminium).

During Buddha, a monk lost his bowl but found a human skull so thought that he would use that instead. But a monk informed it to Buddha who said: 'No skulls!'

The Bowl is not small, by any means. The solid stone hemisphere, made of greenish-gray granite weighs about 400 kg. It is about 5.7 feet in diameter and its rim is 18cm thick on an average. It's thicker in the middle and at the base. It has no cracks or abrasions, except for a palm-size area that has flaked away near the rim. The base is a delicately chiseled lotus, attesting to its Buddhist past. Inscribed in beautiful large Calligraphic Script along the rim of the bowl are six rows of verses from the Qur'an. Traces of similar calligraphic script are visible on the inside of the bowl as well.

24 lotus petals, six of which remain unscathed, indicating that they were of an earlier period. These untouched petals evidently revealed that the original bowl had plain petals. Seen from the side, it seems a single bowl, but if you look on top, you will notice a clear mark of the presence of the other three. The Buddhist resorting it with high respect for over a thousand years after Buddha's Mahaparinirvana or death.

The design of Lotus in the bowl not to beautify it, but used as a significant religious symbol. In Buddism, a full blossom Lotus refers to the complete purification of body, speech and mind, and the blossoming of wholesome deeds in liberation.

The lotus also refers to many aspects of the path, as it grows from the mud (samsara), up through muddy water it appears clean on the surface (purification), and finally, produces a beautiful flower (enlightenment). The white blossom represents purity, the stem stands for the practice of Buddhist teachings which raise the mind above the (mud of) worldly existence and gives rise to purity of mind. An open blossom signifies full enlightenment; a closed blossom signifies the potential for enlightenment.

The contention over the bowl rose because of six lines of Persian inscription on its outer wall. The inscriptions, probably, verses from the Qur'an, led to the belief that the artifact could be of Islamic origin. But a closer scrutiny revealed that the inscriptions were of a later period. 

Buddha attained Parinirvana in 483 BCE and for six centuries after that, until the first century CE, the bowl was a prized possession of Vaishali. Celebrated Chinese travelers Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang [Xuan Zang] and British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham referred to Begging Bowl in their writings.

In his Report of Tours in the north and south Bihar in CE 1880-81, Major General A Cunningham wrote about this begging bowl. According to him, Buddha had given his alms-bowl to the people of the Republic of Lichchhavis, when he took final leave of them at the old city on their northern frontier, which Cunningham identified with Kesariya, 30 miles to the north-west of Vaishali. Buddha was traveling to Kushinara where he died afterward and this bowl was gifted to the people of Vaishali who had long been following the Buddha everywhere.

Chinese travelers and Buddhist scholars Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang have also made a mention of this giant bowl which has many mythological stories revolving around its origin. The bowl was placed in a monastery in Vaishali where farmers and fruit growers placed their first fruits of the season. It stayed here for the next five centuries. 

The sixteenth century Tibetan Buddhist monk and major scholar Taranath has mentioned the attack of Kushan king Kanishka on Pataliputra in first century CE. It is said that Kanishka defeated the king of Pataliputra but left the city on the king's agreeing to part with the famous Buddhist scholar and dialectician Ashvagosha and the Buddha's alms-bowl. Kanishka took both to his capital Purushpur (modern-day Peshawar in Pakistan) where he placed the sacred alms-bowl in a monastery and made Ashvagosh his spiritual instructor. A string of Chinese pilgrims reported seeing the giant bowl in Purushpur between the 3rd and the 9th centuries CE.

As the wheel of time kept turning over, Islam replaced Buddhism on the land and somehow Quranic verses came to be inscribed on the bowl, perhaps around the time of Mahmud Ghazni in the 11th century. The verses saved the artifact from any further damage in all future religious wars. All through the rule of Muslim rulers on the land, the Quranic verses saved the bowl and it was treated by the people with respect. Until a few decades ago, it was kept at the Jamia Mosque in Kandahar and used for storing water and ablution (washing oneself as ritual purification

In the late CE 1980's during Afghanistan's civil war President Najibullah had taken the bowl to Kabul National Museum. When the Taliban came to power, then on February 26, CE 2001, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mulla Muhammad Omar, decreed as -

"Based on the verdict of the clergymen and the decision of the supreme court of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) all the statues around Afghanistan must be destroyed."

The Taliban ordered to destroy all the Buddhist Artefacts of the national museum,
Kabul, but the bowl remained untouched, because of the Quranic inscriptions. Today the bowl is displayed at the entrance of the National Museum, Kabul- "as a reflection of its Islamic continuum and its status through the ages as an object of special religious interest".

N.B: Buddha's begging bowl — one of Buddhism's most prized relics that currently finds pride of place at Kabul's National Museum — is authentic, a team of experts from Archaeological Survey of India has concluded.-[Times of India,
Jul 3, 2014]

The End.
Not Yet Verified.

# Someone asked, "Bro, Why Buddha says, 'No skulls?' when it will split not, not expensive, nor toxic?".

@ I said, "Consider it simply- Buddha may think that the Skull Bowl may freak some people out. Or he may think that after his death the monks may fight each other for his skull to make one's "Buddha bowl". Ha, Ha, Ha...
Let me tell you a Story".

A King had an ancient treasure, a bowl made from the skull of a revered Buddhist master. Whenever he drank any drinks from the delicate polished skull, he felt at one with the wisdom of the ages. It was his "Buddha Bowl."

One day a nun from the nearby monastery was serving the king his drinks. The nun was a rather dreamy Buddha and, on this particular day, she spilled a few drops of tea on the kings' hand. The hot liquid burned. The bowl fell, shattering into a number of pieces. The nun stared at the white bone bits on the black stone floor. "Like stars strewn through the night" she mused. Then she heard the kings shouting: "My precious Buddha bowl, gone, because of your clumsiness!"

The nun looked up and met the king's eyes. "You must find me another," he warned, "or I will have your skull!" Kicking aside the bits of broken skull, the King stormed out.

The nun returned to her monastery, approached her teacher's door, knocked three times as prescribed, and soon heard the answering bell admitting her. She bowed. Then she told of her predicament.
They two sat in silence. Then Zen teacher spoke a koan for the nun:

    "Find your great self.
    The Buddha bowl of the stars
    Shall appear for you to use at will."

The nun left but the koan rang in her ears. As she repeated it, the words echoed within her skull. They reverberated through her bones.

The kings' official drinks party was to be held at the next full moon. When nun went into the monastery garden, she saw the white sliver of the new moon appear in the west as the sun set. She sat zazen into the night until even the dimmest stars appeared. Each evening for the next twelve days, nun practiced zazen in the monastery garden, breathing her koan into her bones.

By day the nun was assigned by her teacher to work in the little Zen garden. There she raked patterns into the sand around the carefully placed rocks. Sunlight glinted off the myriad bits of quartz — of silica — at her feet. "Daytime stars," thought the nun.

Each evening the nun watched the stars appear and scatter themselves into deep space. Breathing in the dark, sitting without end, she surrendered herself to the koan. It was taking her deeper and deeper into the emptiness of space, to the time before the light of stars was born.

    "Body and mind dropping off into astonishing Radiance . . .
    Everything arising together out of that Radiance . . .
    The Starburst breaking open the wonder of the Universe."

The nun herself became this Vastness. She became Vastness watching Itself unfold. The nun was light and air and water and earth. She became the Universe of stones and bones, sunshine and sand.

On full moon day, the nun shaved her head. She softly touched her smooth round skull. She whispered her koan: "Find your Great Self. The Buddha Bowl of the stars shall appear for you to use at will." It was time to return to King's palace and prepare for the tea ceremony. The sun was setting.

The King appeared in his finest silks, welcomed his noble guests, and took his seat. He held out his hand, waiting for the new Buddha Bowl.

The nun stood before him, her hands clenched at her sides. Suddenly she flung open her fingers. Sand scattered across the floor. At that moment the light of the full moon shone through the eastern window on to the black stone floor. The sand glistened as brightly as stars in the night sky.
"Receive the Buddha Bowl of the stars," Spoke the nun.

    "Know it as your very Self.
    Star, Sand, Stone, Bone —
    All take refuge in the one Being of the Universe.
    Will you take refuge in the Self
    which is not separate, but is one?"

The nun bowed deeply. She waited until she heard the rustling of silks. When she rose, the King was there, serving her a drink. -[Earth Light magazine, Winter 2002 issue].

When I finished, he said, "Bro, a skull bowl may not be broken into pieces."
I said, "I know, that's why it's a story."

Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. by Alexander Cunningham, Volume 1. (1877)
The Stupa of Bharhut: A Buddhist Monument Ornamented with Numerous Sculptures Illustrative of Buddhist Legend and History in the Third Century BC. by Alexander Cunningham, (1879)
Earth Light magazine, Winter 2002 issue

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