Monday, April 18, 2011

What is over-taxing the people in Buddhism?

Wisdom Quarterly
It may seem unfair to pick on mild mannered Obama's views on war and taxes. But by continuing Bush/Cheney-era policies while dressed as a democrat, he has betrayed the people who voted for him and even angered those who did not. The only ones who are happy are the clandestine services and business interests that got him (s)elected.

Taxes are an old money-raising scheme. Buddhism makes reference to them in numerous places. Why should this be so? The breadth of topics the Buddha covered is astounding leading Bhikkhu Bodhi to comment on the astonishing modernity of the information.

The Buddha knew as much as the number of leaves in a forest while only revealing in detail a handful. This was his own simile, explaining that his focus was enlightenment and extending the duration of the Dharma (the teaching of the path-practice that leads to enlightenment) in the world.

It is because of the latter that we have pearls of wisdom regarding many topics embedded in the discourses or sutras. Lay followers are guided to a good life, one not aiming at nirvana but at worldly success here and fortunate future rebirths hereafter, in the "Advice to Householders" (DN 31). It includes advice on Buddhist money management.

Ananda's Former Lives

Wisdom Quarterly explanation from Hellmuth Hecker, Ananda: The Guardian of the Dhamma (BPS)
A summary of Ananda's former lives shows that he was only seldom a deva, seldom an animal, but most often a human. One can see that his most important aspect was as a human, whereas his exemplary and infamous brothers, Anuruddha and Devadatta, had almost always been a deva and very often an animal, respectively.

Ananda's extraordinarily close connection to the Buddha is revealed by the fact that he was often his brother in former lives. The examples of former lives given here will be mainly those which exemplify that he, too, had to exert himself to attain virtue.

Hypocrisy is to be expected when the US figurehead is follow orders from unseen movers and shakers (the military-industrial complex with help from big pharmaceuticals and the entertainment arm of public relations. It's not the "change" we voted for, but it is the Brave New World Order we expected.

Birth Story (Jataka) 498. Ananda and the Bodhisatta (the Buddha-to-be) were born as cousins among the outcasts called candalas. Their job was the fumigation of malodorous places [or possibly sweepers]. In order to escape the contempt they were held in, they disguised themselves as young brahmin caste men who together went to the University at Takkasila (Taxila) to study and escape their low caste.

After the Bodhisatta became a great success and Ananda lagged behind in his studies, their deception was discovered. They were beaten by their fellow students and chased out of college. But a wise and kindly brahmin ordered the brahmin students to stop and advised the outcasts to become ascetics, the only upwardly mobile avenue open to them in ancient Indo-Afghanistan/Pakistan (a region in the western frontier of ancient India called Gandhara).

They followed this advice, and in due course passed away. They were reborn together as animals [some say as a karmic result or "punishment" for their deception, but this is highly speculative since karma works in mysterious ways], namely as offspring of a doe. They were inseparable and died together with by the single arrow of a hunter. In the next life [which the Bodhisatta remembered and the Buddha recounted in this birth tale] they were sea hawks and again died together at the hands of a hunter.

With this, their existences below the fortunate human level came to an end. Ananda was born as the son of a king and the Bodhisatta as the son of the priest at court. While Ananda held the higher position in a worldly sense, the Bodhisatta had more inner abilities. For one thing, he could remember all three of their former lives, whereas Ananda could only remember his former human life as an outcast in college. At the age of 16, the Bodhisatta became a sincerely striving ascetic, while Ananda assumed the throne.

Many years later when the time was right and the king amenable to advice, the Bodhisatta visited him. He praised the happiness born of asceticism and explained the unsatisfactoriness of the world of the senses. Ananda admitted that he realized this, but confessed that he could not let go of his desires. He was held fast like an elephant in a muddy watering hole.

Then the Bodhisatta advised him that even as a king he could practice virtue -- such as not levying unjust taxes, and supporting wandering ascetics and brahmin priests. He also taught him that when hot passions arose in him, he could remember his mother. He could recall how he had been completely helpless as a baby, and if his mother had not brought him up, he would never have become king. Thereupon Ananda resolved to become an ascetic; both attained to the brahma (divine) realm.

Mahamuni ("Great Sage") statue created by extraterrestrial devas.

What are Unjust Taxes?

But what are unjust levels of taxation for a ruler? One answer comes from Burmese Theravadan work. This translation was compiled by Roger Bischoff in Buddhism in Myanmar: A Short History:

The Visit to Arakan

In Dhannavati, whose walls are still partially visible today, the Mahamuni temple is located on the Sirigutta hill. In this temple, for over two millennia, the Mahamuni image was enshrined and worshipped. The story of the Mahamuni image, at one time one of the most revered shrines of Buddhism, is told in the Sappadanapakarana, a work of a local historian.

King Candrasuriya, who ruled Dhannavati, on hearing that a Buddha had arisen in India, desired to go there to learn the Dharma. The Buddha, aware of his intention, said to Ananda: "The king will have to pass through forests dangerous to travelers; wide rivers will impede his journey; he must cross a sea full of monsters. It will be an act of charity if we go to his dominion [modern Burma], so that he may pay [his respects] without risking his life."

So the Buddha went there and was received with great pomp by King Candrasuriya and his people. The Buddha then taught the Five and Eight Precepts and instructed the king in the ten kingly duties, namely:

  1. universal beneficence
  2. daily paying respect
  3. showing mercy
  4. taxes of not more than a tenth part of the produce
  5. justice
  6. punishment without anger
  7. the support of his subjects as the Earth supports them
  8. the employment of prudent commanders
  9. the taking of good counsel
  10. avoiding pride.

The Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay, Burma housing the magnificent figure.

The Buddha remained for a week. And on preparing for his departure, the king requested that he leave an image of himself so they could pay honor to him even in his absence. The Buddha consented to this and Sakka, King of the [near-Earth extraterrestrial] Devas, himself formed the image with the metals collected by the king and his people.

It was completed in one week. And when the Buddha breathed onto it, the people exclaimed that now there were indeed two Buddhas, so alike was the image to the great sage. Then the Buddha made a prophecy addressing the image: "I shall pass into nirvana in my 80th year, but you will live for 5,000 years, which I have foreseen as the duration of my Teaching (Dharma)."

[This puts us a little past the halfway mark because the Buddha passed into nirvana sometime between 2,600 to 3,000 years ago. This year, 2011, marks the 2,600th year since his enlightenment.]

Bush understood the revenue generating potential of war. It provides an excuse for endless taxation and fewer services that people fear to argue with. Peace is rebellious because we have been convinced by a PR campaign that war is "patriotic." Pres. Obama now apes and adopts all the same postures and platforms as Bush infuriated everyone by doing.