Pillar with Naga Muchalinda over the throne of the Buddha
Dear Community, this evening our Dhammadharini bhikkhunīs' community is having blessing chanting for entering into our 2024 Winter Retreat "Practicing for Stream Entry" from Jan 20 to Mar 30. This year we are blessed to have retreat teachings from three senior bhikkhunī teachers, Ayyā Sobhanā, Ayyā Suvijjānā and Ayya Brahmavara. I'm planning on taking a break from teaching this winter.*
Seeing photos from the "Tree & Serpent" exhibition of Early Buddhist art and the book of like name, i was charmed by the ever so gracious and benevolent demeanor not only of the two kind persons attending with hands before their hearts in añjalī, but also that of the here-depicted as five-headed Maṅgala Nāga Mucalinda, who is remembered as having covered and guarded the Buddha, the Blessed One, during a particularly long and fierce rainstorm while he was still sitting on the awakening seat beneath the Bodhi tree, immersed in post-awakening rapture and bliss.
These images are from the 2nd to 1st centuries BCE in the Mauryan period in India from the great stupa at Pauni, back when they really knew how to carve sublime kindness and reverence. Mangala means "blessings" and nāgas are various things, mostly living beings, but also with a strong life in the imagination. Humans, snakes, dragons, elephants, buddhas — here as guardians and protectors of the awakening seat. I send my thoughts of blessings now to the seats of all who will be joining us during this retreat time, from far and near, in these monastery walls and grounds, the surrounding neighborhood, our forest hermitage, all the beings of the earth: land, water, and skies — to all beings and forms of life of all directions and dimensions.
This image of the kindly protective Mangala nāga Mucilinda with five hoods is and especially meaningful emblem for me as we are entering the Lunar New Year this coming New Moon, in the Year of the Green Wood Dragon.
Green Wood Dragon seems especially propitious for us forest dwellers. And for me the five hoods represent not only our five fingers and toes, but also our five faculties, our five sense organs, the sense bases, their objects, and their correlated consciousnesses. In this central image, the branches of the Bodhi Tree, draw together down into the trunk and to the roots of Bodhi upon which rests the awakening seat. Here lies the sixth sense, the mind, the man'indriya, and all dhammas, all Dhamma. May we guard our faculties of mind well, together with all of our sense faculties, internal and external. With all benevolence, love and care for ourselves, our world, and each other. Guarding and protecting our sīlā, our morality and our ethics, and guarding and protecting our six sense faculties is deeply foundational in laying the step by step path of awakening taught by the Buddha in the early Buddhist teachings. On that foundation, and that of generosity, kindness and benevolence, we can build our meditation in a way that is solid and can support deep insights and the growth of wisdom.
*I wrote above that i'm planning on taking a break from teaching this winter, but i won't only be in seclusion. I have some medical things to follow up with, which will be bringing me regularly out into our local area in the North Bay, and down into to the San Francisco Bay area. I hope it will be possible to have a good period of silent, secluded retreat as well, but it's time for me to give priority to caring for medical. In between and also during the medical things, i'd like to keep the retreat atmosphere as much as possible myself, and to disturb other's retreat as little as possible.
I'd also like to acknowledge that while there have been many things asked of me that i've been clear i cannot do or offer now, there are a couple of small things sincerely requested of me, that i can do, and am interested in quietly, slowly and mindfully working on offering them, as my Sanghadana 'yogi job', during the first period the retreat. For two of those things, you may see me post something as Sanghadana here if i am able, but otherwise not. Please don't be surprised when you see me here, and don't be surprised when you don't see me here!
I reflect, and would also like to say how immensely precious it is to have such time, to be supported in such retreat time, and to be a part of offering such retreat time. It is such a great relief. It is such a great blessing.
May the conditions that bless and protect and support seats of awakening being present in our world continue to appear to our eyes, our hearts, our minds. May we be both cultivator and donor, wise receiver and wise user, of such fortunate conditions.
May we see and know them for what they are, step into the path, plunge into the noble stream, drink the pure draught of ambrosial Dhamma, and be nourished in the way that ends all craving, heals all wounds, rights all wrongs, and profoundly reorients us to seeing clearly without confusion and delusion, ending all the sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair that stems from these.
As a training, may we train in such a way. As a practice, may we practice in such a way. As an awakening, may we so awaken, taking our seats on our own Bodhi pallanke.
Jayanto bodhiyā mūle
Evaṁ tvam vijayo hohi
Victorious at the foot of the Bodhi tree,
'twas he who increased the Sakyans’ delight.
May you have the same sort of victory.
May you win victory blessings.
Dukkhappattā ca niddukkhā
Bhayappattā ca nibbhayā
Sokappattā ca nissokā
Hontu sabbe’pi pāṇino.
who have fallen into suffering be free from suffering,
who have fallen into fear be free from fear,
who have fallen into sorrow be free from sorrow —
so too may all beings be.
Sabbe Buddhā balappattā
Paccekānañ-ca yaṁ balaṁ
Rakkhaṁ bandhāmi sabbaso.
By the power of all the Buddhas,
by the power of all the silent sages,
and the strength of the arahants,
I bind this protection all around.
Idaṁ no puññaṁ āsavakkhayā hotu.
Idaṁ no puññaṁ magga-phala ñāṇassa hotu.
Idaṁ no puññaṁ nibbāna paccayo hotu.
May these merits serve towards ending all afflictions,
the knowledge of Path & Fruits,
and as supporting conditions for the realization of Nibbāna,
- for both self and others.
May all beings benefit and share in the merits we have made.
Sādhu Sādhu Sādhu
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Wikipedia Commons Image: Pillar with Naga Muchalinda over the throne of the Buddha. Pauni (Bhandara District). Railing pillar from Jagannath Tekri. 2nd-1st century BCE.jpg
Appreciation and blessings to the photographer, Gary Lee Todd PhD, who so kindly offered this work to the public domain and made it available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Puññā anumodana.