Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Chanting of Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta: Reverberation of the Dhamma in Kurū Land

International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), the Light of the Buddha Dhamma Foundation International (LBDFI) and School of Buddhist Studies and Civilisation, Gautama Buddha University together organised a one-day chanting event on 5th November, 2017 at Gautama Buddha University titled “Chanting of Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta (The Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness)”. The event constituted of chanting by a group of sixty (60) venerable monks and nuns from the Theravada tradition interspersed with talks by seven speakers listed namely:

- Venerable Bhikkhu Sanghasena (Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre, Devachan, Leh- Ladakh)
- Venerable Dr. Dhammapiya, Chairman of the Bahujana Hitaya Educational Trust and Dhamma Dipa Foundation
- Dr. Prabhat Kumar, the Vice Chancellor, Gautama Buddha University, Greater Noida
- Dr Ravindra Panth, IBC
- Ms. Wanmgo Dixey, LBDFI
- P L Dhar, Retired Professor, IIT Delhi
- Mathieu Boisvert, Professor, l’Université du Québec à Montréal

Chanting — or collectively reciting aloud the sermons of Buddha — is a very ancient Buddhist tradition practiced till today in Buddhist monasteries all over the world. Before the sermons of Buddha were written down in the Pāli canon in Sri Lanka in the 1st BCE, the sermons were preserved as oral tradition for more than five centuries. Chanting constituted an important exercise in maintaining the oral tradition because it helped monks in memorising long texts.

Moreover, by chanting in groups, monks could at once become aware if they had gone wrong in their memorialisation. The practice of collective chanting played an extremely important role in preserving Buddha’s discourses and transmitting them from one generation to the next.

The Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta has been described as the most important discourse ever given by the Buddha on mental development. It is highly revered by Buddhist sects, but holds special importance for the followers of Theravada Buddhism. This discourse opens with Buddha declaring: There is, monks, this way that leads only to the purification of beings, to the overcoming of sorrow and distress, to the disappearance of pain and sadness, to the gaining of the right path, to the realization of Nirvana—that is to say the four foundations of mindfulness. According to Buddhist source Buddha delivered this discourse in Kammāsadhamma, a township in the ancient kingdom of Kurū. Ancient Kurū comprises of present-day region of Delhi- Kurūkeshetra-Ambala and its immediate neighbourhood.

According to Buddhist tradition, the Kurū Kingdom was ruled by kings belonging to the Yuddhitthila gotta i.e. the family of Yudhishthira (of the Mahābhārata epic). The capital of the Kurū was Indapatta (Indaprastha) in the outskirts of modern Delhi. In Buddha’s time, Kurū was a minor state ruled by a chieftain named Koravya. It is said of this country that its people were wise and had good roots (supporting conditions for the achievement of the noble Dhamma).

They were capable of penetrating a deep Dhamma talk. This reputation is mentioned as the reason for the Buddha having delivered some of his most profound discourses to the Kurūs. Pāli texts particularly mentions about the township Kammāsadhamma which was frequently visited by the Buddha where he gave some of the deepest and subtlest sermons on causation and inner exploration like Mahasatipatthana Sutta, Māgandiya Sutta and Mahānidāna Sutta.

Chinese monk scholar Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang, 7th CE) visited Sthāneśvar and Śrughna in the (Kurū) region. Xuanzang saw stūpas to mark visit of the Buddha in this area. Xuanzang mentions about hundreds of Buddhist monasteries flourishing in Śrughna. This is also revealed in discovery of numerous Buddhist monastic remains in Chaneti, Shug, Asandh and other places in this region.
Map depicting Ancient Kurū 

Besides stūpas and Buddhist monasteries importance of this region is also reflected from the fact that Emperor Ashoka (3rd BCE) installed Dhamma Pillars at Topra and Meerut. Installation of two Dhamma pillars in this region reflects deep connection of Kurū with the Buddha and his teachings. The Ashokan pillars were transferred to Delhi by Sultan Firoz Shah Tuglaq (1309-1388) as trophies. The Meerut Pillar is currently installed at Delhi ridge opposite the entrance of Bara Hindu Rao Hospital, close to the Delhi University campus while the Topra Pillar is in the grounds of Feroz Shah Kotla.

Presently, the Buddhist pilgrimage is limited to Eight Great Places i.e. Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnatha, Kushinagara, Sravasti, Sankashya, Rajgir and Vaishali but in ancient times all the places associated with life and events associated with the Buddha including Buddhist sites of Kurū region were part of the Buddhist pilgrimage. At present, IBC is working towards the integration of the Buddhist heritage sites of ancient Kurū region with other important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and facilitate creation of a larger ‘The Sublime Wandering of the Buddha’ Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. IBC hopes to organize events to highlight the tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage of Kurū region.
 Saṅghādana to venerable monks offered by Mr. Thi Ha, Mr. Myo Naing Soe, Daw Khin Aye Mu of Kokotoke Company 

Lighting of the lamp by dignitaries (Ms Wangmo Dixey in pic)
Chanting of Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta

Ven. Dhammapiya sharing his views

Dr. Panth sharing his views

Prof Mathieu Boisvert sharing his views

Team GBU (School of Buddhist Studies and Civilisation, Gautama Buddha University) that made this event possible

Special Thanks to Aparajita Goswami

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