Buddhism and the Cross

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| AryaSangha.org

| Swami Gauribala

| Henry Steel Olcott

| Murugan Bhakti

| Living Heritage

Buddhism and the Cross
The Island (Colombo) Tuesday 11th August, 1992 by Manik Sandrasagra

Book-taught, urbanised, Olcott and Dharmapala inspired bhikkus have recently objected
to a symbol, namely, the cross being displayed at a Buddhist shrine on the grounds it is incompatible with Buddhism. When some members of the Buddhist clergy publicly display their ignorance it is a disgrace for the entire Bhikku Sangha and for the Sasana as it is practiced and preserved in Sri Lanka. Since the Kandalama controversy has been expanded from a domestic environmental issue to a media, political and religious issue, this matter is no longer private but has become a national debate. Public, pronouncements therefore became important since they give emphasis to varying viewpoints. When a Buddhist Monk makes a statement, if it is at variance with the doctrine and practice that he is part of, .he brings ridicule and compromises his Teacher (The Buddha), the Teaching (The Dhamma) and the Community of Monks (The Sangha).

Is the cross incompatible with Buddhism? Is it alien to Lankan culture? Is it a Christian symbol? When did this symbol first make its appearance in Lanka? What does it signify? Buddhism or, for that matter every religion, is a combination of both wisdom and method — doctrine and practice. This knowledge is embodied in the culture that preserves it. Without practice, theory is just a sealed book and culture itself an extension of certain beliefs. The very word ‘culture’ is related to words like ‘cult’, ‘cultivate’ and ‘agriculture’, with tree worship being the original form. In this context a symbol is also a language. It predates written script. It is also an ideogram. Although rock inscriptions and paintings have been likened to doodling by some anthropologists, this urge to express in a more permanent form is the evidence historians and archaeologists use in interpreting and dating a story, a style or an idea. The living tradition however like fences, weaving, postures illustrate an oral tradition that still exists. In all these traditions we see evidence of the cross. In the oldest fence; in weaves in both cloth and mats; in 3rd century B.C. pre-Brahmi inscriptions; in most of our temple paintings, the cross symbol is in evidence. We must therefore assume that the cross which predates both the historical Buddha and Christ is an intricate part of our expression as a culture. As to its meaning, I quote here below from J. C. Coopers’ book The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols



Ignorance Considering the above it becomes obvious that only ignorance can promote the assumption that Christianity alone is symbolised by the cross. it is also a symbol of universal. Search Therefore in their search for relevance the environment has become the buzz-word for http://aryasangha. the Supreme Identity”. the vertical line is the celestial. It is also formed by four rivers of Paradise flowing from the root of the Tree of Life. thus sharing the symbolism of the cosmic tree. pillar. capable of infinite and harmonious expansion on both the horizontal and vertical planes. The cross is also associate with the Sacred Ganges and with the crossed fire sticks of Agni”. the Centre. rational. while the horizontal is the earthly. the whole cross forming the primordial androgyne. As it has been said “You cannot teach the Dhamma to a man who has an empty stomach”. As capable of infinite expansion in every direction it denotes eternal life. It is dualism in nature and the union of opposites and represents spiritual union and the integration of man’s soul in . it is the cosmic symbol par excellence. All of the above concerns the symbolism of the cross. and negative and female.org/buddhism-and-cross. Cosmologically the upwards and downwards are the Zenith and Nadir. Politicians. active and male. the four elements of the world united at the fifth point. the expansion of being. The cross is the figure of man at full stretch. in Islam. horizontal and vertical expansion. the North-South axis is the solstitial axis and the East-West is the equinoctial axis. mountain. and.Buddhism and the Cross Page 2 of 3 (Thames and Hudson 1978): Cross: A universal symbol from the most remote times. ladder etc. In our own country if we are to further quote Cooper: the Buddhists used it to illustrate “The axis of The Wheel of the Law and of the Round of Existence” The Hindus. both in ‘amplitude’ and ‘exaltation’. the quincunx. This is especially important when the old idea has no longer the ability to focus the collective attention or devotion of supporters. passive. it is the Supreme Identity. People need projects and ideas to focus their attention. other issue irrelevant. celestial states of being.the horizontal-vertical aspects necessary to full life. “Perfect communion of all states of being. “The rajas. spiritual and intellectual. positive. while the horizontal is the tamas or lower earthly states. the vertical represents the sattvas or higher. Media and the Clergy all share a common problem. with the problems of living making every. readership or congregation. the cross represents. It comprises the cardinal axes. A general lack of interest. The cross represents the Tree of Life and the Tree of Nourishment. but let us return for a moment to Kandalama. also the descent of spirit into matter. It is a world centre and therefore a point of communication between heaven and earth and a cosmic axis.htm 3/30/2009 . the quaternary under its dynamic aspects. archetypal man.

Let us therefore hope in conclusion that the Nuns who sat beneath the cross at Dambulla in meditation experience the emptiness that nor-. thus we know that all things are impermanent (anicca) including the Kandalama environment.. The Dhamma alone remains like a beacon pointing the way.htm 3/30/2009 . but a mass mediated protest with urban sanction and funds hence its success. As a puranagama villagers in the neighbourhood told me: “We don’t sit around and meditate having picked a time and place with some issue focused in our minds with cameras photographing us.. Politicians. organisation and time — all unaffordable to subsistence farmers. an emptiness from which all things arise including the mind. Media. peasants being like pawns on a chessboard. the modern clergy and the NGO community are no exception to this rule. Therefore a centralised urban input is vital if the protest is to be successful.org/buddhism-and-cross. In other words this Sinhala peasant is describing the now-here. avoiding the extremes there is no suffering (Dukkha)”.. This word can polarise diverse interest groups. frustration and suffering. where AT-ONE-MENT is accomplished and the battle won. Protest of this sort naturally costs money. Thus what we are confronting as regards Kandalama is not a peasants uprising. in the middle. In the centre. which is ironically the real meaning of the cross— a meaning that transcends both time and religion. and let us pray that this experience fills their daily life instead of the demon of ignorance re-surfacing in their minds in the form of anger. and subsistence farmers can’t afford the luxury or time to join such protests. Our entire life is one long meditation. Powerful lobbies alone can make Governments listen. http://aryasangha. All the main participants were outsiders who themselves pollute the environment in several ways through their voracious growth oriented consumption patterns. This is what happened at Dambulla.. mally engulfs the mediator.Buddhism and the Cross Page 3 of 3 politicians media and the clergy.

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