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MONASTIC LIFE OF A NOVITIATE AT RAJVANA VIHARA, RANGAMATI, CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS, BANGLADESH

MONASTIC LIFE OF A NOVITIATE AT RAJVANA VIHARA, RANGAMATI, CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS, BANGLADESH[1]

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by Raja Devasish Roy[2]

0.             Contents

1. Rajvana Vihara (1); 2. The Procession (1); 3. Ordination (2); 4. Monastic Rules of Behaviour: The Ten Precepts and the Dhutangas (2); 5. Sutra Recitation (3); 6. Sermons: The Vana Bhante’s Desana (4); 7. Almsround: Pindapata (5); 8. Vipassana Meditation (6); 9. Honouring the Bodhi Tree (7); 10. Cankamana (7); 11. Hilltop Monasteries (8); 12. Serving the Vana Bhante (9); 13. Rajvana Vihara Master Plan (9); 14. The Museum & Library (9); 15. Blessings from Bhikkhus (10); 16. Rajvana Vihara & the Upasikas (10); 17.

Visit of Dhammakaya Foundation Delegation (10); 18. Attending a “Faang” (11); 19. Request from Upasikas to enable Entry into Nunhood (11); 20. De-Ordination (11).

 1.             Rajvana Vihara

The Rajvana Vihara, at the northern fringe of Rangamati town, is the largest Buddhist monastery complex in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and in Bangladesh. It was established in 1974, when the abbot, the Venerable Sadhananda Mahathera, better known simply as the Vana Bhante, the “forest monk”, agreed to shift his residence from Langadu, within Rangamati district, to Rangamati town. An Upasaka-Upasika Parishad manages the secular and admin

istrative affairs. The President-for Life is the Chakma Rajmata, Rani Arati Roy. The recently-elected Senior Vice-President is renowned social leader, Gautam Dewan. The Chakma Raja is, ex-officio, Chief Patron and former CHT Minister Kalpa Ranjan Chakma is Chief Adviser for Life.  Following the ancient Theravada tradition of spending a short period as a novice monk at a monastery, I spent a week at the vihara. I was a novice or samanera[3] (“moisang” or “samini” in Chakma) earlier on at the same monastery, in 1976 or 1977, but the recent experience was far more fulfilling. I wish to share some of my thoughts about it.  

 2.             The Processio

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Ordination ceremonies among the Chakma are far simpler than those in Buddhist-majority Thailand, where there is much fanfare. In my case, as I am the traditional head of the Chakma people, there was some talk of having a procession with an elephant in the lead, but the short time left did not allow us that luxury. Perhaps my grandfather was the last Chakma Raja to do that. Anyway, we settled instead for a mini truck, a ‘pick-up’, with me on a sofa chair at the rear, and my paternal uncle, Rajkumar Nandit – who replaced my parents for the ceremony in providing the parental consent (which is a rule from the Buddha’s days) – beside the driver. The procession actually started from the temporary rajbari, my younger sister, Rajkumari Triveni’s, bungalow, on the Rajbari island (as the main Rajbari was burnt recently). A small congregation had gathered even before I had finished shedding my locks; courtesy of the local barber. It was not yet eight in the morning.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives and fellow Rajdwip islanders sat on the Rajbari’s northern lawn. A Chakma band, playing Dhamma music, led the way to the ghat, where from we crossed over by our engine boat, Sandabi-II. Headmen, elders and members of the Upasaka-Upasika Parishad, led by senior vice-President of the Upasaka-Upasika Parishad, Gautam Dewan, greeted us at the water’s edge, at the tip of the southernmost peninsula of the Rangamati Rajvana Vihara compound, where the weaving for the annual Kathina robe ceremony usually took place. From there the pickup took the lead with the rest following. Meanwhile, six others had joined us, to be ordained at the same time; two members of the Vihar Parishad, a local government leader, an engineer and others from different backgrounds. In this case, most were Chakma, one Barua, and all men (I shall come to the issue of gender later). The sole Barua novice, Subhash Barua, is a former government employee and one of the incumbent vice-chairpersons of Upasaka-Upasika Parishad. His late father, Ambika Charan Barua, was an employee of the Chakma Raj during grandfather, Raja Nalinaksha’s time, and continued through to father, Raja Tridiv’s time.

 

3.             Ordination

The Venerable Vana Bhante graciously presided over the function, despite his frailties at the age of 92. We recited Pali sutras, made offerings to the Holy Order of the Sangha, and handed over a robe to our most respected and enlightened guru, who passed it on to one of his senior disciples. Then the nonagenarian softly touched a razor blade to my head as a sign of acceptance of my farewell to my lay status. I then left the congregation for a few moments, along with my new brothers-in-robes, to change from my white dhoti and kurta (“Punjabi”) into the saffron-coloured tricivar, the petticoat-like undergarment, a sleeveless vest, and the longer robe, one end of which went under the right arm, and the other slung over the left shoulder, worn over the other garments. We of course needed help from a senior brother-to-be, in wearing our new robes in the right manner; there were different styles for praying and for ordinary use. We then took the final vows of the ten precepts or moral rules; the first five are shared also with lay Buddhists, on abstinence from (i) taking life, (ii) stealing (not taking anything unless given, in the case of monks), (iii) sexual misconduct (total “chastity” in the case of monks), (iv) lying and (v) clouding the mind with intoxicants. The remaining five are added on, in the case of monks: (vi) abstinence from eating after midday, (vii) dancing, singing, music and shows, (viii) using garlands, scent, ornaments and other adornments, (ix) luxurious beds and seats (x) and using gold and silver.[4]

 

The vows of the ten precepts had to be taken while squatting on the floor, whereas all other rituals were performed while sitting with the knees bent in one direction, and towards the rear, except in meditation, when one sat cross-legged, with a straight back, preferably with open palms lightly resting, one atop another, usually known as the “lotus” position. One other seemingly strange difference: when taking the precepts, unlike laypeople, novice monks replaced the “ng” sounds with “m”, apparently to avoid a certain species of non-humans from posing as humans and undertaking monkhood, as they were believed to be incapable of pronouncing the “m” sound. All seven of us were believed to be full-blooded humans, as far as we know….. We were soon afterwards led away to our new sleeping and living quarters, which overlooked the Karnafuli reservoir (“Kaptai lake”) to the east and Rajbari island to the southeast, below a sharp drop of a cliff-like slope, capped by the distant hill ranges of Bandukbhanga, Kandobosora and Barkal. At our first dusk, we were greeted by a near full moon, which was to soon grow into the brightest moon for the next two decades: an eclipse of sorts called …

 

4.             Monastic Rules of Behaviour: The Ten Precepts and the Dhutangas

The most important thing about monastic life is the rules of living, sleeping, eating, drinking, praying and so forth that had to be followed. During the ordination ceremony, the Ven’ble Vana Bhante advised us to follow the booklet on “Sramon Kortoby”, authored by the Late Rajguru Aggavamsa Mahathera.[5] At the simplest and minimal level are the ten precepts that had to be followed. However, at Rajvana Vihara and its branch monasteries, several of the monks also take the additional vows of dhutanga, although such practices are uncommon in other viharas of Bangladesh.[6] This is meant to cleanse or wash off the defilements or kilesa, of which there are ten, including greed (lobha), hate (dosa), delusion (moha) and conceit (mana). There are references to 13 dhutangas, which are: (i) paµsukúlaor pamsukulik’anga[7];wearing patched-up or abandoned robes, (ii) tecívarikaor tecivarik’anga; wearing only three robes, (iii) pišðapátaor pindapatik’anga; eating food only from almsround, (iv) sapadánacárika or sapadanik’anga; taking care to not only go to houses with tasty food, and avoiding other houses, whilst on almsround, (v) ekásanikaor ekasanik’anga; eating at one sitting, (vi) pattapišðika or pattapindik’anga; eating only measured food, or only from the alms-bowl, (vii) khalupacchábhattikaor khalu-paccha-bhattik’anga; refusing additional or further offerings of food after beginning to eat, (viii) áraññika or arannik’anga; living in a forest, (ix) rukkhamúlaor rukkha-mulik’anga; living under a tree,  (x) abbhokásika or abbhokasik’anga; living in the open air, (xi) susánika or susanik’anga; living within a cemetery; (xii) yathásantatika or yatha-santhatik’anga;  (being satisfied with simple dwelling house especially while travelling); and (xiii) nesajjikaor nesajjik’anga; (always sitting and not lying down) – this is the austerity of not sleeping stretched out; sleeping in a sitting position, and never lying down.

 

The Ven’ble Vana Bhante has probably observed every one of the above dhutangas, and still observes several of them. He is the only known bhikkhu to observe the last-mentioned dhutanga on sleeping without lying down (and sleeping only a very little). The monks living in the remoter branch viharas observe more of the dhutangas than those in the town areas. I observed a few dhutangas on one of the days I was at Rajvana vihara (dhutangas numbered iii, v and vi above, pindapatik’anga, ekasanik’anga and pattapindik’anga). The Patimokkha, containing the disciplinary code of the monks’ rules, is supposed to be recited at an assembly of fully ordained monks (bhikkhus: “thagur” in Chakma) on full moon or new moon days called uposathas. Normally, the sittings are held at the Bhikkhu Sima, which is regarded as holy territory, on tax-free land. So that it is not burdened with any earthly liabilities. This did not happen during our stay at Rajvana Vihar.

 

5.             Sutra Recitation

In Buddhism, there is no praying to any being, as there is no concept of a Supreme Being or creator that controls phenomena. Instead, one recites: wholesome events from the Buddha’s days that show the way towards liberation and enlightenment, sermons of the Buddha to the monks or to lay persons, vows or promises taken by monks, samaneras and laypeople, and so forth. In Theravada countries – Bangladesh, Myanmar (former Burma), Sri Lanka, Nepal (partly), India, Thailand. Laos and Cambodia – followers of the Buddha go back to the scriptures believed to have been uttered during the Buddha’s’ days, checked and revised at one or more of the Sanghiti, or councils. The first one took place in 543 BC in Rajgir (Rajgriha), India, under the presidency of Kasyapa the Elder (Mahakasyapa).[8] and last and sixth one took place in Myanmar in 1954-56. The last council was attended, among others, by the Late Rajguru Aggavamsa Mahathera, abbot of Rajvihara, Rangamati, and Chakma Raja Tridiv Roy.[9]  

 

Monks and samaneras at Rajvana Vihara recite sutras at least on two occasions: at 4 am, and then again around 4 pm. These include, in addition to the ten precepts, (i) homage to the Triple Gems (the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha), (ii) to the Shibali Mahathera (also known as Shibali Buddha), (iii) to the Upagupta Mahathera (also known as Upagupta Buddha), (iv) to the Vana Bhante, (v) Metta Bhavna,  and, “Protyobekkhon”: seeking forgiveness for any deviation from the monastic rules on eating, drinking, sleeping and so forth. While the “past” prottobekkhon” was to seek forgiveness for wrongs, the “present: prottonbekkhon had to be uttered before eating, drinking, sleeping, and so forth. For example, before eating, one uttered the vow or observation of eating “ not for sport, not for strength for fighting, not for beautification and entertainment”, but merely to keep off hunger and to have enough energy and strength to survive as a human being and observe the holy life.[10] Most of the sutra sessions were led by a diminutive, but dignified samanera known as Jinahito Sraman. His pleasant voice reciting the Pali words on the justification of wearing the robes, to protect against the heat cold and wind, reptiles, mosquitoes and for modesty….” will ring in my ears for years to come: “Patisangkha, Yanisho Civarang Patisewami, Yawadewa Sitassa Patigathaya, Unnassa Patigathaya Dangsa-Makassa-Batatapa-Siringsapa Samphassanang Patigathyaya, Yawadewa Hirikopinang Patichchha Danattang…”

 

6.             Sermons: The Vana Bhante’s Desana

Several of the sermons of the Ven’ble Vana Bhante have been reduced to writing, in Bengali, and published. There are numerous video and audio recordings of his sermons; kept by Bhikkhus, samanaeras and upasaka-upasikas. I need hardly mention that we need to preserve these in appropriate formats: print, disk and tape, for posterity and for future followers of the Vana Bhante to have at least a reasonable opportunity of learning of the things the Bhante has and had to say for the benefit of humanity and all sentient beings. I reproduce below, in capsule form, some key lessons he imparted to us during our stay at the Rajvana Vihara.

            

    • To be a Buddha is to be wise, without needs and wants, supremely happy, without shame”.

 

    • Nibbana is not only inexpensive, it is free”.

 

    • “Arahats are liberated. They do not feel hungry.”

 

    • “Arahats are without restlessness, laziness, sleep and extreme emotion”.

 

    • “In order to attain arahatship, one must be rid of three things: arrogance, conceit and ego. One is not greater than, lesser than, or even equal to, the greatest, the most lesser being, or the mediocre.”

 

    • “It is not good to live in comfortable housing (“buildings”) except when one is an arahat.”

 

    • “When the Vana Bhante first came to Rajvana Vihara, there were no buildings. He needed no special protection”.

 

    • “Dayakas and Bhikkhus should sleep for a minimum amount of time.”

 

    • “It is far better to conquer oneself, than to conquer others.”

 

    • “Monkhood to women (nuns) will only be appropriate if: (i) their numbers are large enough; (ii) if they have their own physicians, nurses and seamstresses; (iii) if they are educated.”

 

There are several other sermons I have heard from the Vana Bhante and several other lessons I have learnt. I will not discuss these now. However, the most important things about the Dhamma that I have learnt from the Bhante is as follows:

 

    • To cultivate non-attachment;

 

    • To practice non-attachment;

 

    • To see things “as they are”, without any baggage of ego, attachment, desire, wants, needs, unnecessary fears, absence of shame, etc.

 

    • To cultivate metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha towards all beings;

 

    • To be grateful;

 

    • To be wise: by living a frugal life, without attachment to intoxicants, sensual desires, ego, luxury and so forth;

 

o    To attain nibbana; to be free, without fetters and chains; to be wise; to be enlightened.

 

7.             Almsround: Pindapata

Pindapata (“pindochoron” in Bengali; “Tudong” in Thai), going on almsround, is a crucial part of a monk’s activities in a vihara. As in the case of the other dhutangas, most monasteries in Bangladesh not affiliated with the Rajvana Vihar seldom observe this practice, as also the rule of eating only from the bowl. In fact, eating from the bowl is related to at least three important dhutangas that a monk or novice monk observes, in order to help rid himself of his defilements (‘kilesa’). At the Rajvana Vihara, the practice of pre-selected localities or clusters of localities – including from outside the CHT – taking the responsibility of providing cooked meals to the resident monks and novices at Rajvana Vihara, Rangamati, has now taken the form of tradition. This was initiated by the Upasaka-Upasika Parishad’s President for Life, Rajmata Rani Arati Roy and then Senior Vice President, Samar Bijoy Chakma. Therefore, there is usually no shortage of food, and almsround is not necessary for the sake of obtaining food. However, the Ven’ble Vana Bhante still insists on keeping this practice alive.   

 

8.             Vipassana Meditation

Meditation at the Rangamati Rajvana Vihar is mainly meant for the bhikkhus, rather than novices and lay people. Around eight pm, a small number of bhikkhus, and perhaps a very few samanera, sit at the main Desana Ghar or Sermon Hall to meditate. I joined on two occasions, accompanied on each occasion by one or two of my fellow new novices. Salutations to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha preceded the meditation. Then started the Vipassana meditation, drawing directly from the Mahasatipatthana Sutta.[11] Given in market town of Kammasadhamma (of the Kuru people) to bhikkhus by the Buddha, the sutta “gives practical guidance for cultivation of mindfulness. It describes the Four Methods of Steadfast Mindfulness, namely, contemplating the body, contemplating sensation, contemplating the mind, and contemplating the dhamma as the one and only way for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the complete destruction of pain and distress, for the attainment of the Noble Magga, and for the realization of Nibbana.”[12]  The Four Methods are made up of fourteen ways of contemplating the body, nine ways of contemplating sensation, sixteen ways of contemplating the mind, and five ways of contemplating the dhamma.[13] Following the sutta, the presiding bhikkhu advised the assembly to concentrate on breathing in and breathing out while following the movement of the abdomen known as Anapanasati.[14]

 

The sutta advises that, while contemplating the body, the monk should be fully aware of the bodily postures, whether walking, sitting, standing or lying down, without attachment: “clinging to nothing in the world”.[15] The body should be viewed as a collection of organs and secretions (skin, flesh, bones, excreta, sweat, phlegm, saliva, etc).[16]

 

9.             Honouring the Bodhi Tree

At the western edge of the Rajvana Vihar premises there are two Bodhi or Bo trees (in the Sinhala language). The trees are located immediately to the west of the Bhikkhu Sima, or “Ghyang” as Chakmas, Tanchangyas and Marmas call it. The Bo tree is a sacred Fig tree (Ficus religiosa), underneath which the Buddha attained enlightenment after partaking of a rice meal offered by the upasika Sujata. The tree has heart-shaped and larger than usual-sized leaves, and it is said to take more than 100 years, at the very least, for a Bodhi tree to stop growing.[17] The one on the left was presented as a sapling by the Government of Sri Lanka in the late 1970s, through the then High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Bangladesh, Mr. Charita Ranasinha. The surrounding grounds were developed by the children of the late Sushil Jiban Chakma, a senior government official. The one on the right was brought as a sapling from Bodh Gaya. It is believed that the Anuradhapura tree was taken to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta (Sanghmitra in Sanskrit), daughter of Emperor Asoka. It has become a ritual nowadays, every afternoon, a little before sunset, for monks, samaneras and upasaka-upasikas to water the two trees, utter a homage to the tree, and meditate while sitting in front of it. Watering a Bo tree is a sacred duty of Buddhists, and it is a Chakma custom in some places to provide watering of a Bo tree as a penance for social misdemeanor.[18]

 

10.          Cankamana

Just opposite the main temple at Rajvana Vihara, at the eastern edge of the complex, abutting the Ven’ble Vana Bhante’s residential quarters, is the Cankamana Kutir. At one time, the Vana Bhante used to do his walking exercises of cankamana (“chongkromon” in Bengali) there, as per Buddhist tradition.[19] It is a matter of regret that this practice has discontinued and nowadays the kutir is used as sleeping quarters for monks and samaneras. In order to keep in good physical condition, cankamana is crucial for monks and samaneras. I need hardly mention that the Upasaka-Upasika Parishad needs to provide adequate sleeping quarters so that this kutir is used for its original purpose. Apart from the Rajvana Viharas, it is rare to see Cankamana Kutirs and Cankamana practices in Bangladesh.

 

11.          The Hilltop Monasteries

On the third day of my samanera week, in the company of some senior monks, including Ven’ble Gyanaprioyo Bhikkhu, Ven’ble Dharmabodhi Bhikkhu and Ven’ble Saurajagat Bhikkhu, and six of my fellow samaneras, I visited the Kadasori Vana Vihar, situated on a three hundred metre high hilltop, near Kadasori village, accessible from the Rangamati-Mahalchari-Khagrachari highway. The abbot is the Ven’ble Indragupta Mahathera, who welcomed us at the vihara and took us around the 40 hectare-plus monastery grounds. There are a number of meditation cottages sprinkled about the different hillocks, many of which have trees planted some years ago. It is secluded and is considered ideal for meditation by many. In fact, the monks are known to go on meditation retreats quite often, and occasionally, a few upasakas and upasikas also meditate there. The Bhante showed us around the small meditation platforms used by the monks. In some of them, they practice walking meditation. A practitioner of Buddhist meditation explained walking meditation thus:

 

            Walking meditation is taught in six stages. In each stage the simple act of

raising the foot, moving it forward and lowering it is broken down into

progressively more movements. Each movement made is mentally acknowledged

with a word or group of words that describe the movement. For example, when

moving the foot prior to moving it forward, we acknowledge lifting. When moving

it forward, we acknowledge moving. When lowering the foot to the floor, we

acknowledge lowering. In later exercises the movements are broken down even

further.”[20]

 

While at the vihara, we discussed possibilities of opening up the meditation course to a larger number of upasakas and upasikas, and also non-Buddhist visitors from the cities, including from abroad.

 

On the fifth day, we visited the Furamone Hilltop monastery, located at a little less than six hundred metres above sea level. On clear days, the Bay of Bengal to its west can be seen from it. And on clear evenings, the lights of Mizoram State, India, to the east, are visible. The abbot of the vihara is the Ven’ble Bhrigu Mahathera. We visited the little temple at the summit, where a Buddha image presented by the Dhammakaya Foundation of Thailand is located. We also visited some of the surrounding areas where the monks did meditation. About one hundred hectares have been set aside for the monastery and meditation centre, following customary law principles, endorsed by the mauza headmen of four mauzas (Ghagra, Kachukhali, Sapchari and Sugarchari), the Chakma Chief, and formally endorsed by the Hill District Council, Rangamati. A committee on the Furamone International Forest Monastery was formed some years ago with myself as the chairperson and including senior social leaders of Rangamati town and the surrounding villages. It is the nearby villagers who manage the monastery and offer food to the monks and samaneras at the monastery, with women playing a large role in such matters. There are plans to open the centre to foreign and Bangladeshi visitors and meditation groups. Another ongoing project is the construction of a twenty-metre high cement statue of the Buddha next to the Rangamati-Chittagong Highway near the Joutha Khamar (collective farm) of Sapchari, which is to start soon. We discussed possibilities of doing combined meditation courses at Kadasori and Furamone monasteries a few times a year.  

 

12.          Serving the Vana Bhante

One of the primary purposes of becoming a samanera at Rajvana Vihara was to obtain an opportunity to serve the Ven’ble Vana Bhante, from close, as one of the members of the Sangha. Laypersons do not have the opportunity to serve the Bhante in several ways that monks and samaneras have. While at the vihara, I had the rare privilege of fanning the Bhante, feeding him and bathing him, which is not possible for a layperson. I will be forever grateful for such an opportunity. Enlightened beings like the Vana Bhante are not born often. And millions of people the world over have not had the opportunity to serve the Bhante, even if they are alive during the time that the Bhante is in this world. People who lived before the time of the Vana Bhante, and those that will be born after the time of the Vana Bhante, will never get that opportunity.

 

At close quarters I could see how the Bhante never lay down, except when ill (so I am told). He hardly sleeps. He eats very little. He has to be bathed everyday, which is quite a strain on his body. We discussed ways and means to make the bathing safer and less painful, by putting rubber mats on the floor (to prevent slipping), to make the bathing stool more comfortable, and so forth.

 

13.          Rajvana Vihara Master Plan

On the fifth day I had an opportunity to discuss with architect Bira Chakma and a renowned town planner from Chittagong, the details of the Master Plan for the Rajvana Vihara complex. A number of senior Bhikkhus and senior leaders of the Upasaka-Upasika Parishad were also there. The plan envisages two major and distinctly demarcated areas: one on the eastern side of the entrance road, and including the monastery’s main buildings and other structures, which will be the monks’ area, to which entry of laypeople will be restricted, depending upon the time of the day. The other area will be public space, which will have little or no restrictions. An understanding has been reached that future structures must (i) respect the ecological surrounding and environmental and climatic needs; (ii) draw upon, as appropriate to the context, Buddhist architectural traditions from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar (former Burma), Thailand and other countries; (iii) draw upon the cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, among others. The Bhikkhus agreed that when adequate arrangements are made for the residential needs of Bhikkhus and Samaneras, the Guest House on the southwest and the Visakha Bhavan on the west could be handed over to the Upasaka-Upasikas for their use related to the vihara. Ideas on possible changes to the façade and roof of the main shrine house to the west of the Vana Bhante’s quarters (the first building that was built in the complex) and on demolishing the present entrance stairways and building (presently used as the office of the Uapasaka-Upasika Parishad) and replacing it with another new grand entrance stairs without blocking the view of the main vihara complex from the south, were exchanged. Ideas on constructing a new Bain Ghar, for the annual Kathin Civar weaving and spinning rituals were also discussed. Emphasis was put on adequate space for accommodating a larger number of weavers and spectators, with a jetty to enable boats to moor on different sides of the Bain Ghar peninsula. In addition, plans for installing a Reclining Buddha statue and a hundred foot long Buddha statue were also discussed.

 

14.          The Museum & Library

The present museum of the vihara, called a memorial, and situated below the Audience Hall of the residential quarters of the Vana Bhante, is bare, inadequately lit and aired, and only contains photographs and posters of the Ven’ble Vana Bhante. I feel that we should have a larger and grander museum-cum-archives, which would preserve and display documents (paper & in disk), photographic material (video & still, on tape and disk), books and other publications, items used by the Ven’ble Bhante (robes, hair relics, sandals, handkerchiefs, etc).

 

The library is located at the eastern end of the Vana Bhante’s residential quarters. It is also a dimly lit room with little air. We need to have a proper inventory and catalogue of all the books and other materials of historical and functional value. Copies of an English version of the Tripitaka (Pali: Tipitaka) are preserved there.[21] The Tripitaka is supplemented by the Atthakatha[22] and Tika. While at the vihara, with the cooperation of the Ven’ble Ananda Mitra Thera, borrowed a few volumes from the Sutta Pitaka to read, particularly the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, concerning Vipassana meditation.  

 

15.          Blessings from Bhikkhus

During the ordination ceremony, we new samaneras were gratified by the blessings, including with gifts, from bhikkhus and upasakas and upasikas from other viharas. This included a gift of robes through the Ven’ble Visudhananda Mahathera, abbot of Ratnankur Vana Vihara at Nanyachar, Rangamati, and another through the Ven’ble Silopala Thera, abbot of Rajvihara, Rangamati.

 

16.          Rajvana Vihara & the Upasikas

While at the vihara, several upasakas and upasikas came to meet us, to enquire after our welfare, to offer food and drinks, and to discuss ways on how to better provide facilities to the upasakas and upasikas. We passed on the request of upasikas for logistical support from the Upasaka Parishad during the observance of the eight precepts (Attasila) by upasikas and for arrangements to enable upasakas and upasikas outside of the scheduled pinda dana communities to offer cooked food to the Sangha. On earlier occasions, I had asked the Ven’ble Vana Bhante to consider ordaining women as well, which I have also discussed briefly at paragraphs 6, 18 and 19. The public relations section of the Parishad needs to be strengthened to handle lay affairs in a more efficient and coordinated manner.

 

17.          Visit of Dhammakaya Foundation Delegation

During the third or fourth day of the week, a delegation of the Dhammakaya Foundation, consisting of the Deputy Abbot and the monk in charge of their international section, the Ven’ble Pasura Dantamano, visited the vihara.  The bhikkhus and Thai upasakas and upasikas met the ven’ble Vana Bhante and partook of lunch at the vihara. An understanding was reached with the delegation on cooperation to observe the Vana Bhante’s 93rd birthday, on 8 January, 2012, by offering pinda to at least 1,094 bhikkhus and samaneras, and to send teenage samaneras on scholarships to study at the Foundation’s headquarters in Bangkok within 2011.


 

18.          Attending a “Faang”

On the seventh and last day of samanerahood, we joined several monks and samaneras of Rajvana Vihara, Raj Vihara, Ananda Vihara, Moitri Vihara and Sangharam Vihara, to attend the seventh day rites of the lately departed karbari of Digholibak village, the Late Kamala Kanta Karbari. This was in response to an invitation, which in Chakma is known as “faang”. There were sutras, sermons and pinda (food) offerings. Along with some senior monks, I also addressed the assembly, consisting of family members of the karbari, local villagers and guests from Rangamati town.

 

19.          Request from Upasikas to enable Entry into Nunhood

On the seventh and last day, a number of upasikas, including Barua Buddhists from Chittagong district, requested the Ven’ble Vana Bhante to permit upasikas to be ordained as nuns. The Ven’ble Bhante felt the time was not suitable yet. However, he did not say “no”. We added our voice to the prayer and pleaded that if in the Buddha’s time women could be ordained as full nuns, in today’s age of equal rights for women, we should consider such a prayer as just and reasonable. Otherwise, we would be doing a disservice to upasikas and depriving them of an equal opportunity to lead the holy life. The Vana Bhante always reminds us that several women had attained arhatship, during the Buddha’s time and later, being called Arahanti  (Arahat for men).

 

20.          De-Ordination

On the last day of my samanerahood, we congregated in the main Audience Hall in front of the Vana Bhante. Three of the departing samaneras offered Attaparikkhara Dana (which can be done by upasaka-upasikas as well as by monks and samaneras) to the Sangha. We then recited sutras to withdraw our ten precepts and took the five precepts of lay Buddhists. After we changed into lay dress, we met relatives, elders, and well-wishers, and bid goodbye to our remaining three samanera former colleagues, by paying homage to them through bandana. After partaking of tea with senior members of the Upasaka-Upasika Parishad, the three of us   returned to our respective homes, feeling sad to leave the vihara, but enriched beyond our expectations.

 


[1] This article was published in Sharanika, 2011, published by Rajvana Vihar Upasak Upasika Parishad, Rajvana Vihar, Rangamati at page 17-28, see also: www.chakmaraj.com

 

[2] The writer is the Chakma Raja and Chief of Chakma of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. He is also an advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh (a Barrister-at-Law) and currently a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Basic information about the Chakma Raja and Chakma royal family can be obtained from the website: www.chakmaraj.com

[3]In Buddhist context, a samanera (Pali: sāmaera, Sanskrit: śrāmaera, Bumese: shin thamanei) can be translated as novice monk. It literally means ‘small samana’, or small renunciate, where ‘small’ has the meaning of boy or girl. In the Vinaya (monastic discipline), a man under the age of 20 cannot ordain as a bhikkhu, but can ordain as a samanera. The female counterpart of the samanera is the samaneri. Samaneras and samaneris keep the ten precepts as their code of behaviour, and are devoted to the Buddhist religious life” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samanera). Wherever there is a specific Pali term without adequate translation, I have used the Pali term. In other cases, I have used terms as they are used ordinarily, in English, Bengali, Chakma, Thai or Sinhala.

[4] For nuns or bhikkhuni, “The Bhikkhunī Patimokkha contains 311 rules. Of these, 181 are shared with the Bhikkhu Patimokkha: four Parajikas, seven Sanghadisesas, 18 Nissaggiya Pacittiyas (NP), 70 Pacittiyas, all 75 Sekhiyas, and all seven Adhikaraa-samatha rules. In addition, the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha contains 13 Pācittiya rules that are identical to rules for bhikkhus that are contained in the Khandhakas…”: BhikkhunīPatimokkha: The Bhikkhunis’ Code of Discipline, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, copyright, 2007-2011, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/vin/sv/bhikkhuni-pati.html


[5] (Translator) Ven’ble Aggavamsa Mahathera (Rajguru), Rajvihara, Rangamati, Sraamon Kortobyo, published by Ven’ble Vinmalananda Thera, Rajvana Vihara, Rangamati, 2007.

 

[6] Among the well-known Buddhist monks who practiced dhutanga are Ven’ble Bodhinayanathera (Ajahn Chah) and his disciples; see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajahn_Chah

 

[7] Of the two versions, the first-named comes from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhutanga, and the second-named comes from Nayantiloka, Buddhist Dictionary: A Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre, 1991, pp. 49-51.

 

[8] Raja Tridiv Roy, The Departed Melody (Memoirs), PPA Publications, Islamabad, 2003, p. 164. “The Suttas were recited by Ananda, and the Vinaya was recited by Upali. According to some sources, the Abhidhamma Pitaka, or its matika, was also included. Also the Sangha made the unanimous decision to keep all the rules of the Vinaya, even the lesser and minor rules”: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_councils).

 

[9] According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_councils) the councils were as follows: first (543 BC), second (c. 4th century, BCE), third (c. 250 BCE), fourth (two councils, undated) fifth (Theravada Buddhist Council, 1871) and sixth (Theravada Buddhist Council, 1954).

 

[10] (Translator) Ven’ble Aggavamsa Mahathera (Rajguru), Rajvihara, Rangamati, Sraamon Kortobyo, published by Ven’bl’e Vinmalananda Thera, Rajvana Vihara, Rangamati, 2007, pp. 11, 12.

 

[11] This sutta appears, in identical form, both in the Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses of the Buddha) and in the Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of the Medium Length Discourses of the Buddha).

 

[12] Sayagyi U Ko Lay, Guide to Tipitaka, Selangor Buddhist Vipassana Meditation Society, Selangor, Malaysia, 2000, p. 44.

 

[13] Sayagyi U Ko Lay, Guide to Tipitaka, Selangor Buddhist Vipassana Meditation Society, Selangor, Malaysia, 2000,  p. 35.

 

[14] For a practical guide to meditation, I have found the following useful: Phra Peter Pannapdipo, One Step at a Time: Buddhist meditation for Absolute Beginners, Bamboo Sinfonia (www.bamboosinfonia.com), Bangkok, 1997. I have not read, but have been referred to the following also as a good guide to Anapanasati: Mindfulness of Breathing – Anapanasati: Buddhist Texts from the Pali Canon and from the Pali Commentaries, translated by Nanamoli Thera and publ. by the Buddhist Publication Society, P.O.BOX 61 Kandy, Sri Lanka.

 

[15] Phra Peter Pannapdipo, One Step at a Time: Buddhist Meditation for Absolute Beginners, Bamboo Sinfonia (www.bamboosinfonia.com), Bangkok, 1997, p. 40.

 

[16] Phra Peter Pannapdipo, One Step at a Time: Buddhist Meditation for Absolute Beginners, Bamboo Sinfonia (www.bamboosinfonia.com), Bangkok, 1997, pp. 40, 41.

               

[17] Wikiopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhi_Tree.

 

[18] Dr. Mrinal K Chakma of Kolkata, India, recently told me, during a conversation in Kolkata, that Chakma communities in Tripura state practice this custom. It is worthy of note that the Buddha was perhaps the first known ecologist. In the same vein, the Buddha may also be regarded as one of the first democrats, for promoting democratic norms in decision-making within the Sangha. Similarly, he was one of the first spiritual leaders to shun gender, when he allowed the entrance of women into the Sangha, as fully ordained monks, as women could attain arahatship as much as men could. It is unfortunate that the Theravada Buddhist world is yet to allow fully ordained women monks.

 

[19]When he finds his mind to be like a fountain bubbling up ideas, phantasies, memories, anticipations and so forth, he sits firmly upon his seat unmoving employing mindfulness (satipatthana) until the mind becomes quiet. But when sleepiness creeps into his mind and interferes with his bodily posture, then he gets up and practices his meditation while walking up and down. If he is settled for some time in a cave or in the forest, he will have made his walking place (cankamana) even, and neither too long nor too short. Pacing steadily up and down, sleepiness leaves both the mind and body and after some time, with the mind made one-pointed, he may try standing practice. After bringing the mind to a fully quiet and one-pointed condition in this position, he may return to fruitful practice sitting-down.”: Excerpts from Bhikkhu Khantipalo, “With Robes and Bowl: Glimpses of the Thudong Bhikkhu Life”; http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/khantipalo/wheel083.html

 

[20] Phra Peter Pannapdipo, One Step at a Time: Buddhist Meditation for Absolute Beginners, Bamboo Sinfonia (www.bamboosinfonia.com), Bangkok, 1997, p. 70.

[21] The Tripitaka mainly consists of (i) Vinaya Pitaka (containing the rules governing the monastic community); (ii) the Sutta Pitaka (a collection of scriptures recording the teachings of the Buddha)the ; and (iii) the Abhidhamma Pitaka (a collection of Buddhist philosophical writings). Each of the above are supplemented by the Atthakatha and Tika. The main sections of the Vinaya Pitaka are: (i) Parajika; (ii) Sanghadisesa; (iii) Pacittiya; (iv) Bhikkhuni Vinaya’ (v) Mahavagga; (vi) Cullavagga; (vii) Parivara; and (viii) Patimokkha. The main sections of the Sutta Pitaka are:  (i) Digha Nikaya; (ii) Majjhima Nikaya; (iii) Samyutta Nikaya; (iv) Anguttara Nikaya; and (v) Khuddaka Nikaya. The main sections of the Abhidhamma Piataka are: (i) Dhammasanganippakarana; (ii) Vibhangappakarana; (iii) Kathavatthuppakarana; (iv) Dhatukathappakarana; (vi) Puggalapannatti; (vii) Yamapakkakarana; and (viii) Patthanappakarana.

 

[22] The Atthakatha (Pali for explanation, commentary) refers to Pali-language Theravadin Buddhist commentaries to the canonical Theravadin Tipitaka. These commentaries give the traditional interpretations of the scriptures (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atthakatha).

 

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