Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

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Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Sep 15, 2012 6:18 pm

It seems that Śākyamuni Buddha as a śramaṇa was chiefly concerned with practices aimed at liberation and as such taught such a path to his disciples. Initially the Buddhist community did not engage in divination or rites connected with magic, spirit evocation and protective functions. It seems that in the Buddha's time such things while respected were not part of the job description of a śramaṇa (Brahmans on the other hand had sophisticated forms of magic which eventually enabled them to hold power in courts and enforce their social model of caste on the Indian sub-continent). The Buddha is on record as having discussions with devas, and of course he taught a cosmology where such beings all have their real substantial place (i.e., they're independent beings with their own agendas, some benevolent and others not so much). However, in the early sangha it was just a matter of respecting such beings like any other, and not actively engaging with them.

Over time, however, perhaps largely with the development of the Mahāyāna, this changed. Some early Mahāyāna scriptures forbid practitioners from engaging in various forms of magic such as divination and so on (which indicates it was probably going on ... a lot). Later we see protective rites and a whole number of guardian deities with their places in the cosmos maintaining order and peace. For instance, Virūpākṣa in the west who rules over nāgas and pūtanas, as seen at Tōdai-ji in Nara, Japan:

Image

There is also Vaiśravaṇa, guardian of the north who rules over yakṣas and rākṣasas:

Image

The two dharma guardians present in the temple are two of the four celestial kings (caturmahārājakāyikāḥ) charged with protecting the six heavens of the desire realm.

One might argue this was all just a cultural development and irrelevant to the Buddha's original ideas. However, if you see the cosmos how ancients in India and East Asia did, maintaining order in the cosmos, primary in the way of placating malevolent forces, was a pressing concern for the fear that if such order was not ensured chaos would ensue creating a hell on earth. The divine cord undone many wrathful forces would be unleashed. Some actually believe this is what we are seeing today.

But it still begs the question: is it necessary for one's practice to summon guardian spirits or engage in other forms of magic? From a utilitarian point of view having such protective forces is no different than taking the necessary precautions in the physical world to ensure your personal safety from harm. On the other hand, it seems in the Buddha's time śramaṇas in the Buddhist community did not directly appeal to such forces, and instead focused on their meditative practices.

From another perspective, possessing such magic in hand was politically useful. Throughout history some magician Buddhist monks are credited with summoning rain. This is still practised today actually. Such practical applications of magic no doubt would help in being directly supported by state powers, which was useful if you were running a large institution requiring social and material support. In Buddhist history one can see a lot of concern with worldly-benefiting rites and magic as practised by Buddhist clerics of some sort or another (lay or monastic). Arguably, much of Mahāyāna Buddhism in history has been concerned with such worldly magic, liberation practices coming second. This is why monks historically were rites masters and fields of merit with a minority actively pursuing scholarship and then a smaller minority liberation.

Still, there are benefits to such an arrangement if we think of things from their cosmology and vision of the universe. Was it necessary for liberation? Not necessarily immediately, but in terms of operating an institution in the real world AND hopefully benefiting many beings, such magic had its uses (like summoning rain during a drought or placating wrathful spirits).
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Malcolm » Sat Sep 15, 2012 6:32 pm

On the other hand, it seems in the Buddha's time śramaṇas in the Buddhist community did not directly appeal to such forces, and instead focused on their meditative practices.


The Atanatiya Sutta contradicts this perception.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Sep 15, 2012 6:42 pm

Malcolm wrote:
On the other hand, it seems in the Buddha's time śramaṇas in the Buddhist community did not directly appeal to such forces, and instead focused on their meditative practices.


The Atanatiya Sutta contradicts this perception.


Interesting. I didn't know about this before.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .piya.html

Interesting that the Buddha is offered this rather than teaching it:

"Bhante, may the Blessed One learn the Atanata[4] protection so that the displeased Yakkhas may be pleased, so that the monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen, may be at ease, guarded, protected and unharmed."

The Blessed One gave consent by his silence. Then the great King Vessavana, knowing that the Blessed One had consented, recited the Atanatiya protection:
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Mr. G » Sat Sep 15, 2012 7:07 pm

Malcolm wrote:
On the other hand, it seems in the Buddha's time śramaṇas in the Buddhist community did not directly appeal to such forces, and instead focused on their meditative practices.


The Atanatiya Sutta contradicts this perception.


Interesting. Do you know of a form of protection in a sutta that covers all classes of beings? Like a swiss army knife of protection?
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Malcolm » Sat Sep 15, 2012 7:13 pm

Huseng wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
On the other hand, it seems in the Buddha's time śramaṇas in the Buddhist community did not directly appeal to such forces, and instead focused on their meditative practices.


The Atanatiya Sutta contradicts this perception.


Interesting. I didn't know about this before.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .piya.html

Interesting that the Buddha is offered this rather than teaching it:

"Bhante, may the Blessed One learn the Atanata[4] protection so that the displeased Yakkhas may be pleased, so that the monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen, may be at ease, guarded, protected and unharmed."

The Blessed One gave consent by his silence. Then the great King Vessavana, knowing that the Blessed One had consented, recited the Atanatiya protection:



When the night had passed the Blessed One addressed the monks: (The Buddha related to the monks word for word what has been said by the great King Vessavana, see above.) "Learn by heart, monks, the Atanata protection, constantly make use of it, bear it in mind. This Atanata protection, monks, pertains to your welfare, and by virtue of it, monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen may live at ease, guarded, protected, and unharmed."


The Buddha did teach it, that is why it is a sutta.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Tarpa » Sun Sep 16, 2012 4:48 am

I would never say any of that is necessary, but can be helpful, or harmful, such is magick. A lot of people have an aversion to magick or even the very word, I respect that, though I don't understand why it's so surprising when one finds it within Buddhism, as every single religion on earth can be considered occultic in that they all deal with the unseen, or so called hidden knowledge, knowledge not apparent, and every religion does indeed include magickal rites within it, in fact quite a lot, including the catholic church and the jews. Certainly not in the mainstream, not the goal of such systems, and generally not practiced within the community except by a minority, it is there if one wishes to use it, if not that's fine too.
Buddhism is no different in that respect, especially vajrayana, it is there by the truckload in the root tantras, but of course it would be. I'm into that sort of thing but I would never suggest it was essential in any way, but it is there.
It's to do with worldly concerns, but then a lot of our daily lives are to do with worldly concerns, we lock our doors and protect our houses from theft, etc., there are simply esoteric ways of basically helping with these same sort of concerns, of course these sort of things have nothing to do with soteriological concerns, as our mundane daily workaday lives have nothing to do with soteriological concerns, that doesn't mean these concerns are superflous, they are simply necessary common sense concerns of daily life. If we are out in the wilderness etc. Yes these are some beings homes, and not just the beings we can see, really as long as one has respect for these places and the beings inhabiting them one is generally fine, however yes there are also malevolent beings, just as there are malevolent humans, and protective rites have their purpose regarding such things, as the police have their purpose regarding malevolent humans. Just as we probably would not go walk around in strange bad neighborhoods in the middle of the night without protection, in the same way there are precautions taken in the esoteric neighborhoods if you will, wich of course coexist with the aspects of the world we can see. There's nothing necessarily wrong with fundamental worldly concerns, breathing is a worldly concern, eating is a worldly concern, paying the bills is a worldly concern, etc.
The nonexistence of the transcendence of suffering
is what the protector of the world has taught as the transcendence
of suffering.
Knots tied on space
are untied by space itself.

May I never be seperated from perfect masters in all lives,
and delightfully experiencing the magnificent dharma,
completing all qualities of the stages of the paths
may I quickly attain the state of Vajradhara
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Sep 17, 2012 5:37 am

Malcolm wrote:The Buddha did teach it, that is why it is a sutta.


Well he relayed and taught what he was offered.

In any case, I didn't know this was in the Pali canon.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Sep 17, 2012 5:55 am

Tarpa wrote:I would never say any of that is necessary, but can be helpful, or harmful, such is magick. A lot of people have an aversion to magick or even the very word, I respect that, though I don't understand why it's so surprising when one finds it within Buddhism, as every single religion on earth can be considered occultic in that they all deal with the unseen, or so called hidden knowledge, knowledge not apparent, and every religion does indeed include magickal rites within it, in fact quite a lot, including the catholic church and the jews.


Buddhism as it is understood in the English speaking world is quite different from how it is understood by peoples in Asia.

For example, relic worship, magic, protective amulets and long life pujas are known, but not really seen as key by most Buddhists in the anglosphere (I can't speak for the west as a whole). We like to meditate and contemplate philosophy, but doing pujas with the express intent of placating wrathful spirits is really only seen among Tibetan Buddhists and even then a small minority perhaps.


Certainly not in the mainstream, not the goal of such systems, and generally not practiced within the community except by a minority, it is there if one wishes to use it, if not that's fine too.


Is there not a danger of demonic obstacles if one is not suitably prepared? This is a concern throughout various traditions of Buddhism where "Māra obstacles" in the form of not just mental problems but external forces as well are a problem to be dealt with.

It's to do with worldly concerns, but then a lot of our daily lives are to do with worldly concerns, we lock our doors and protect our houses from theft, etc., there are simply esoteric ways of basically helping with these same sort of concerns, of course these sort of things have nothing to do with soteriological concerns, as our mundane daily workaday lives have nothing to do with soteriological concerns, that doesn't mean these concerns are superflous, they are simply necessary common sense concerns of daily life. If we are out in the wilderness etc.


Well, eating is a mundane concern, but if you don't eat you'll die.

I've come to wonder if not doing protective pujas will render your practice somewhat limited given the propensity of unseen forces to hinder yogis. This is well-documented in any number of religions. Māras "whisper" thoughts that can heavily influence someone in a negative way, especially if they are already emotionally compromised. Some people assume this means it is your own "ego" whispering such thoughts, but that's not necessarily always the case.

In western occult traditions the vocabulary is all different, but the ideas are essentially the same. Spirits, as it were, influence people the same way Māras do in Buddhism. The western occult practitioner (such as the Golden Dawn) has to be aware of the signs of an attack from spirits and appropriately deal with it (it isn't necessarily possession, but external influences on your thought patterns). The same idea is present in Buddhist traditions, though it seldom seems to be emphasized in English.

I've been reading about western occult magic and see a lot of parallels with Indic and even Chinese traditions. It really is pan-cultural and every tradition has their unique ways of dealing with the same problems.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Sherlock » Mon Sep 17, 2012 5:56 am

According to Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, the Buddha offered Trapusa and Bhallika, his first lay disciples, a list of deities to request protection and prosperity from, although there were no references provided. Apparently this is in the Vinaya according to other sources?
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Sep 17, 2012 6:00 am

Sherlock wrote:According to Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, the Buddha offered Trapusa and Bhallika, his first lay disciples, a list of deities to request protection and prosperity from, although there were no references provided. Apparently this is in the Vinaya according to other sources?


Which Vinaya is this? Does he specify?

A number of "Hindu" deities like Ganesha are said to be patron guardians of the Buddhadharma. He's even seen in Shingon in Japan. See the following:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangiten

Image

The whole idea of "Hindu" anyways is problem because it is a catch-all for all of Indian polytheism and a relatively recent construction by Europeans.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Sherlock » Mon Sep 17, 2012 6:42 am

He didn't provide any sources, but the story Pali Vinaya doesn't include any list. I emailed him to ask, I'll post back if he replies.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Astus » Mon Sep 17, 2012 3:40 pm

Some thoughts I've gathered on the subject while I was unable to access the site: Buddhist Magic
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Will » Mon Sep 17, 2012 4:19 pm

Huseng: is it necessary for one's practice to summon guardian spirits


No - is my understanding of Master Hua's view. If a cultivator is sincere and pure of motive, then the guardians or protectors will do their job. If one lacks sincerity & purity of motive they will ignore you and other negative forces may pester you. In short, asking, praying or using 'magic' is not needed and may cause problems in time.

Even calling on bodhisattvas for personal, worldly reasons is not needed - they are always helping as much as karma permits, so leave them alone.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Astus » Mon Sep 17, 2012 4:26 pm

From Ven. Sheng-yen (in "Chan Practice and Faith"): "Practicing Chan depending solely on one's own efforts without believing in the power of the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Dharma-protecting deities cannot be considered practicing Buddhism at all."

Issue raised previously here: Practice and Faith
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Tarpa » Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:53 pm

I think this part of Buddhist culture, and I do see it as part of Buddhist culture itself, not ethno geographical cultural baggage, may be de-emphasised in transition to the west so as to make Buddhism more palatable to western acceptance, as I feel vajrayana in some aspects in general has been made a bit more palatable and window shopping friendly beginning with the monastic inclusion of vajrayana to the present as it is presented more in a religious way.
I also think that as is usually the case when a new religion on the block presents itself to the rural population that the rural or " folk " population are never too hasty to abandon their dieties wich they have relied on for a long time, therefore many dieties and folk traditions, even symbols, are incorporated into the new religion and usually slightly changed to fit a more religious framework, for instance the catholic church were pagan plagiarists to a great degree having absorbed many of its symbols, the cross being one, festivals, and female dieties wich were cloaked as the mother mary or any of the " our lady of so and so " female saints, the pagan population wich worshipped these dieties now were able to continue to worship them in safe ways, seemingly as christians to the watchful eye of the church but secretly still as their original dieties, these female saints are originally connected to female or moon pagan dieties such as Diana.

Also since some people are put off by magick and since it isn't the goal of sociological systems it isn't emphasised in the mainstream, it will always be the art of a minority within the tradition, though of course lamas are trained in ritual, and even if the system itself can be viewed in many ways as a magickal system with primarily soteriological goals, as I personally do view vajrayana to be concerning praxis, and being familiar with western magickal systems and praxis, as well as practicing within both.

The key to magick is universal, the 5 elements are the key, and visualization / concentration, add a Buddhists understanding / experience of shunyata, and or mastery of the space and air element and you have the perfect magician, a superwitch, lol. vajrayana is the most complete and deepest magickal system on the planet.

As far as necessity, as I said I would never suggest it was essential generally, personally I feel it depends on what one is practicing, When we visualize, self generate, we become visible to many non human beings, at that point we have essentially enter an " esoteric " neighborhood, we draw attention to ourselves and many will wonder who the new kid on the block is, entering vajrayana itself is entering this neighborhood, some beings will be attracted to us like a bug light attracts bugs, enter the dharmapalas. And of course we tantrikas also cast a protective circle as preliminary to sadhana practice do we not, 3 concentric circles in fact, vajra wall, spears etc., fire wall, and of course ground and tent.

" when we self generate we become visible to many beings and attract attention and so precautions are taken such as protector practice " - verbal communication Zachoeje Rinpoche

The malevolent beings aren't the biggest prob, these days we have very powerful beings wich are basically collective thoughtforms of all the negativity and negative energy in the world, these are basically kind of like tulpas, when people say that the demons are our negativities, our afflictions, hate, desire, etc. they are speaking the truth, it is these that really hinder our spiritual progress, and of course we have left the inner / outer dichotomy behind when discussing these things.
The nonexistence of the transcendence of suffering
is what the protector of the world has taught as the transcendence
of suffering.
Knots tied on space
are untied by space itself.

May I never be seperated from perfect masters in all lives,
and delightfully experiencing the magnificent dharma,
completing all qualities of the stages of the paths
may I quickly attain the state of Vajradhara
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 17, 2012 9:43 pm

Tarpa wrote:I think this part of Buddhist culture, and I do see it as part of Buddhist culture itself, not ethno geographical cultural baggage, may be de-emphasised in transition to the west so as to make Buddhism more palatable to western acceptance, as I feel vajrayana in some aspects in general has been made a bit more palatable and window shopping friendly beginning with the monastic inclusion of vajrayana to the present as it is presented more in a religious way.



Yes, more palatable to the Western Anti-Hindu colonial morays.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 18, 2012 12:57 am

Astus wrote:From Ven. Sheng-yen (in "Chan Practice and Faith"): "Practicing Chan depending solely on one's own efforts without believing in the power of the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Dharma-protecting deities cannot be considered practicing Buddhism at all."

Issue raised previously here: Practice and Faith


I think his idea was solely relying on them for your liberation. This is not practising Buddhism.

Elsewhere he is clear about Dharma protecting deities having a significant role to play.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Sep 18, 2012 1:11 am

Tarpa wrote:I think this part of Buddhist culture, and I do see it as part of Buddhist culture itself, not ethno geographical cultural baggage, may be de-emphasised in transition to the west so as to make Buddhism more palatable to western acceptance, as I feel vajrayana in some aspects in general has been made a bit more palatable and window shopping friendly beginning with the monastic inclusion of vajrayana to the present as it is presented more in a religious way.



A lot of that "cultural baggage", as you would put it, actually has a role to play. Dharma protectors and so on are not so easily dismissed in the source traditions. The costumes and decorations are all secondary and this changes organically anyway.


I also think that as is usually the case when a new religion on the block presents itself to the rural population that the rural or " folk " population are never too hasty to abandon their dieties wich they have relied on for a long time, therefore many dieties and folk traditions, even symbols, are incorporated into the new religion and usually slightly changed to fit a more religious framework,



Buddhism thrived in polytheist societies specifically because it did not reject the existence of local deities. Unlike Christianity, Judaism or Islam, most native Asian religions are fine with the existence of a myriad of deities.


Also since some people are put off by magick and since it isn't the goal of sociological systems it isn't emphasised in the mainstream, it will always be the art of a minority within the tradition, though of course lamas are trained in ritual, and even if the system itself can be viewed in many ways as a magickal system with primarily soteriological goals, as I personally do view vajrayana to be concerning praxis, and being familiar with western magickal systems and praxis, as well as practicing within both.


This ignores that most Buddhist traditions throughout history have operated as institutions primarily for worldly benefit, whether it was acting as a community center, the sangha being a 'field of merit' or doing pujas with more or less worldly aims in mind. This is how historically most Buddhist institutions justified their existence altogether. Yogis meditating on emptiness seldom gain much support from people.

In reality while we might like to emphasize soteriological aims in our vision of Buddhism(s), but I personally just see this as prescriptive rather than descriptive.

The mainstream has mostly always been about magic. It still largely is in any modern Buddhist culture.



The malevolent beings aren't the biggest prob, these days we have very powerful beings wich are basically collective thoughtforms of all the negativity and negative energy in the world, these are basically kind of like tulpas, when people say that the demons are our negativities, our afflictions, hate, desire, etc. they are speaking the truth, it is these that really hinder our spiritual progress, and of course we have left the inner / outer dichotomy behind when discussing these things.


My earlier point though was that malevolent spirits actually exist and there is likely a need to deal with that, though many western Buddhists ignore this or write it off as some fairy tale.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby ylee111 » Tue Sep 18, 2012 1:54 am

Are there any good academic books on this subject of Dharma and magic in a cross-cultural context? I know Donald Lopez's Buddhism in Practice had some good sections on the subject.
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Re: Dharma and Magic: is the latter necessary?

Postby viniketa » Tue Sep 18, 2012 1:55 am

Huseng wrote:
Tarpa wrote:I think this part of Buddhist culture, and I do see it as part of Buddhist culture itself, not ethno geographical cultural baggage...



A lot of that "cultural baggage", as you would put it...


To be fair, if you look closely, this does not seem to be the way Tarpa puts it...

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