The Life of a Buddhist Monk

Buddhist monk statue holding alms bowl

Click to view the Buddhist monk statue holding alms bowl

In the Far East, it is considered a high honor for one to leave their family in order to delve deeper in ones Buddhist practice.  This may seem strange to westerners to think of valuing ones children to leave home in order to become a practicing monk.  But in Asia, delving one’s life completely into Buddhist practices is very highly regarded.  These monks or nuns devote their lives to their faith and helping others in their personal quests.  They live very simple and pure lives with others of similar values.  Within the monasteries, although they are there to serve and practice, they are not completely torn from their previous lives and families.  They are allowed to venture back in the case of illness or death of a family member.  Otherwise their lives are spent in simple meditation and practice.

Within a monastery, the typical life of a monk is one of devote prayer and meditation within the temple.  They have specific tasks allotted to them around the monetary so that they may collectively take part in upkeep and daily living.  Everyone works with kindness and respect for one another.  Some may teach outside the monastery in order to spread the Dharma to devotees.  They are very much devoted to not only personal development, but the development of others.  Monks need to conduct themselves in the up most regard, living with integrity and deep-rooted principles.

Most of the time monks have very few possessions.  A few simple robes and an offering bowl.  Most shave their heads in order to shed the desire for outward beauty focusing solely on their internal beauty.  Although they have an offering bowl, they rely on the contribution of others.  They do not beg for food by take what is given to them in humble graciousness.  The robes are typically simple and made of cotton with no adornments.

In every way the life of a monk is one of simple devotion and intrigue.  This is the way that the Buddha lived his on his path to enlightenment and the way he believes will produce the most uncluttered way to enlightenment.  With spirituality being of the up most calling, Buddhist across Asia strive to live a life of such simplicity.

What is the Buddhist & Hindu Concept of Dharma?

Many people wonder about the Buddhist and Hindu word Dharma and what it signifies.  Dharma is one of the core concepts within both Buddhism and Hinduism.  When capitalized and referred to as the Dharma, the word means the collective teaching of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, or the Enlightened Buddha.  Much the same way Christians study Jesus’s teachings within the Bible, Buddhists study and worship the Dharma.  Simply put, the Dharma is the Buddha’s Teachings.

Thai style Buddha statue

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When presented in a lowercase form as dharma, the word translates to mean simply ‘the way things are’.  Just as the Taoists follow the Tao, or the Way as they call it, dharma represents the laws of nature or why things are the way they are.   It is thought to be our ultimate aim in life to realize the dharma or understand the ways of the universe.  Dharma is thought to an unchanging universal law just as gravity is an unchanging presence in the universe.

The first writings about dharma can be found within the Vedas among various ancient writings.  At the time it was thought that knowledge of dharma could only be passed on from Sages.  Later on, however, it was thought that through ritual practices or duties one could achieve ultimate understandings, the dharma.

Although the dharma was referenced in the Vedas it was never clear how a lay person really could achieve it.

Within Buddhism, the dharma was the main focus of the Buddha’s meditations.  Dharma was thought to be infinite containing both material and immaterial elements of the world.  It is believed to become a sense in just the same way one can smell a flower they can develop the sense of dharma.  Dharma carries goodness and it is thought to be a person’s duty to seek it out.  Through his meditations, the Buddha sought the dharma, or the ultimate meaning to life.  It was underneath the Bodhi tree in which the Buddha ultimately attained it.

What’s your dharma?

Symbols Surrounding Lord Brahma

Hindu God Lord Brahma symboliism

Bronze Meditating Lord Brahma Statue

When one comes across statues of the Hindu God Brahma, the God of Creation, he is dripping in symbolism.   Brahma is unique in that he has four faces and four hands.  He often carries a book and prayer beads.  In all Hindu sculpture the things the gods carry; weapons, books, bowls, the amount of faces and arms the god has, how they wear their clothes, the crown or jewelry they wear each have symbolic meaning going back centuries to the origins of Hinduism.  Lord Brahma the creator is no different.  Here we will outline some basic symbols of Brahma.

Brahma’s Four Hands:  Brahmas four hands symbolize each of the four Vedas: Rk, Sama, Yajuh, and Atharva.  The Vedas are a body of ancient Sanskrit texts originating in India.

Brahma’s Four Faces:  Brahma has four faces that point in the four main directions north, south, east, and west.  In a more figurative sense they represent the more virtuous qualities of the mind, intellect, ego, and self-confidence.

Book:  Brahma often holds with one of his hands a book which symbolizes knowledge in the world.

Swan:  Brahma is often seen riding a swan, his sacred vehicle for which he travels upon.  The swan is a supposed to symbolize grace.  The kind of grace fitting of the great Creator.

Crown:  Brahma wears a crown which symbolizes his supreme authority over the world as the God of Creation.

Lotus Flower:  Brahma is often depicted with a lotus flower.  The lotus flower represents nature and the all-encompassing energy of creation.  The lotus is more commonly associated with the Hindu Goddess of wealth Lakshmi.

Gold: Brahma’s golden face and adornments represent his most active role in the creation of the universe:

Prayer Beads:  Prayer beads symbolize all the substances that go into the creating the universe.

The Vedas: Ancient Sanskrit Works of India

Sarswati holding the vedas

Bronze Meditating Saraswati Holding the Hindu Holy book, the Vedas

For those of you unfamiliar, the Vedas are the most sacred books of India, thought to be some of the earliest written works of their kind.  Much like the Bible within the Christian religion, the Vedas hold the earliest religious writings of the Hindu religion.  They are said to contain spiritual knowledge encompassing all aspects of living; a guide to Hindu thought and teachings.  The word ‘Veda” translates to mean wisdom with their contents acting like a river of Hindu thought.  Many believe that the writings are the language of the Hindu Gods, translated into words of human understanding.  The laws within hold precedence and regulate Hindu society in social, domestic, legal, and religious matters still to this day.

Many wonder of the origin of the Vedas.  We can only speculate as to when they first came into existence it was so long ago, however, by some they are thought to be the earliest works of human kind.  Many believe that they were not written by humans at all, but by sages receiving sacred knowledge directly from the Gods themselves.  Others believe that sages became enlightened with the ideas to write in the books through sacred transference of the Gods.  Whether the Gods actually spoke to the sages or not, the knowledge within the Vedas is not only sacred, but still holds its magnificent power to this day.

The Vedas themselves are broken down into four main sections: hymns for singing, rituals for practice, theological thought, and philosophies.  Although they are not widely read by followers in present days, the principles within are strictly followed.

In Hindu sculpture the Hindu goddess of Wisdom, Saraswati is often shown holding a copy of vedas.  This is an apt book for the goddess of wisdom to carry as it holds the spiritual knowledge encompassing all aspects of living!

Avatars of Hindu God Vishnu

Yoga Narasimha, avatar of hindu god vishnu

Bronze Narasimha statue, 4th avatar of Lord Vishnu

When most people think of Avatars they think of the recent Blockbuster hit by James Cameron.  But the original concept of Avatars stems from the Hindu Religion and is most widely associated with Hindu God Vishnu.  Within Hinduism, Avatars are thought to be descendants of Hindu deity’s, deliberately placed upon earth.  The reason Hindu God Vishnu, the Preserver, is most closely associated with this concept is because he is thought to have many, each with a specific aim or purpose in existence.

 

Within the Bhagavad Gita there is a passage that describes the purpose of these destined Avatars of Vishnu as bringing about dharma back to the social order of the world:

 

 

 “Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.  For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil, and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being age after age.”

 

Another reason for the close association with Vishnu and his Avatars is because his descendants are thought to be integral to his teachings.  Other deities do not have such close ties to their descendants.

Although there are thought to be countless descendants of Vishnu in some respects, there are 10 main avatars that are often referred to as Dasavatara.  Krishna and Rama are the most widely known of Vishnu’s 10 avatars.

The other 8 are as follows:

1)      Matsya- fish avatar

2)      Kurma- tortoise avatar

3)      Varaha- boar avatar

4)      Narasimha- half man-half lion avatar

5)      Vamana -dwarf avatar

6)      Parashurama- sage avatar

7)      Gautama Buddha

8)      Kaliki- who has yet to come