The Urban Dharma Newsletter - August, 2009

In This Issue: Bits and Pieces

The glory of Gandhara …Qasim Ali Moini
The Questions of King Milinda



This newsletter has a little bit of everything… My new class at LMU, Buddhist stories with Rev. Heng Sure and a new movie playing in LA and NYC and more… Enjoy.

Peace… Kusala

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Fall 2009 / Loyola Marymount University

The Questions of King Milinda: An Introduction to Buddhist Thought and Practice

Instructor: Ven. Kusala Bhikshu

LMU Course Number: YGPX 871.10
Thursdays / September 10 – October 8, 2009 / 7:00 – 9:00 pm
LMU Web Page:

Today the encounter between Buddhism and Western civilization has been hailed as a cultural event of far-reaching significance, promising to exercise a major impact on both partners to the meeting. However, the first encounter between Buddhism and the West took place long ago, in Northwest India during the age of Alexander the Great, and it resulted in one of the most sublime works of Buddhist literature, The Questions of King Milinda. In simple everyday language this course will explore The Questions of King Milinda, a wonderful introduction to Buddhist thought and practice. The topics covered include most of those questions commonly asked by Westerners such as “If there is no soul, what is it that is reborn?” and “If there is no soul, who is talking to you now?”

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Buddhist Stories for Awakening


Yesterday was the release of Buddhist Stories for Awakening - a CD that I recorded last year with my good friends, the inimitable musical Buddhist monk Rev. Heng Sure, and Gamera-loving guitar pioneer Henry Kaiser. This CD showcases some of the earliest tales of the elder Buddhist monks and nuns - seekers of truth and liberation who lived at the time of the Buddha and wrote about their experiences of awakening more than 2500 years ago. These stories are immediate and powerful and expertly told by Rev. Heng Sure. Henry Kaiser contributes two stories from the Zen tradition.

I composed a good deal of the musical skeleton-settings for the stories, playing guitar, banjo and clawhammer-style ukulele. Henry plays 6 string ukulele, baritone guitar and his own incomparable style of improvisational guitar. Rev. Heng Sure plays clawhammer guitar on one track and breaths modern life into these timeless tales.

The entire CD was recorded, mixed and mastered in 4 hours; live and with no overdubbing. It was recorded at Fantasy Studios by head engineer (and our good friend) Stephen Hart. The beautiful artwork was done by the very wonderful Martha Lewis. www.marthalewis.com

You can download a copy of the new CD from iTunes and from CDBaby, CDbaby.com.To get a copy of Rev. Heng Sure's first CD "Paramita," of original songs that I co-produced with Henry, go to www.dharmaradio.org.

***You can listen to and buy this CD also at:


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“Saint Misbehavin”

Just got this email today and wanted to share... Here is the LA info link:

"Saint Misbehavin' reveals the true story of cultural phenomenon Wavy Gravy, a man whose commitment to making the world a better place has never wavered. Wavy Gravy is known as the MC of the Woodstock Festival, a hippie icon, a clown and even a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor. In Saint Misbehavin' we meet a true servant to humanity, who carries his message through humor and compassion. The film weaves together intimate vérité footage, reflections from an array of cultural and counter-cultural peers, and never-before-seen archival footage to tell a story that is bigger than the man himself."


Peace... Kusala

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Aloha Dear Ones,

The film I’ve been talking about for years, 'Saint Misbehavin’ is finally done and playing at Docuweek in LA (and NYC) right now. There are three more days/nights of screenings. This film is funny, inspiring and amazing.

Please share this with friends and family. I promise they’ll be so glad you did if they go.

With aloha from Kauai,


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MORE on the film and screening info:

See the film that Indiewire called “Perfectly executed and hugely entertaining” and Michael Moore described as "Wonderful...a moving tribute to a man who today lives his life at the service of others. Everyone at my film festival loved this movie!"

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award - Woods Hole Film Festival
Winner of the Spirit in Cinema Audience Award - Maui Film Festival
Audience Award runner-up - Traverse City Film Festival

Official Selection of SXSW -- Full Frame -- Santa Cruz -- High Falls -- Mill Valley

Arclight Hollywood
6360 W. Sunset Blvd.

Mon 8/17 2:00pm, 7:50pm
Tue 8/18 3:50pm, 9:45pm
Wed 8/19 12 noon, 5:50pm
Thu 8/20 12 noon, 5:50pm

Michelle Esrick (director) will be at the LA Evening screenings on 8/18 and 8/19 for Q & A.

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1. The glory of Gandhara By Qasim Ali Moini


KARACHI: Ancient Gandhara was a cosmopolitan confluence of cultures where East met West and where, thanks to the network of monasteries, stupas and temples as well as state patronage, the Buddhist faith experienced a golden age, exemplified by the relics of Gandharan art that survive to this day.

This view was expressed by Mahmood-ul-Hasan Shah, assistant director in the federal government’s directorate-general of archaeology and museums, while delivering a virtual presentation on Gandhara at the Goethe-Institut here on Monday.

The presentation was based on an exhibition titled ‘Gandhara – The Buddhist heritage of Pakistan: legends, monasteries and paradise’. The exhibition was on display for 10 months in the German cities of Bonn and Berlin. Mr Shah represented Pakistan during the exhibition in Germany.

Mr Shah initially gave a historical background of the area known in antiquity as Gandhara, consisting of parts of modern Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan.

Buddhism was patronised by the area’s Kushan rulers – who had originally come from Central Asia – and experienced its golden age from the first to the fifth century AD, when it was ‘dealt a death blow’, as Mr Shah put it, by the White Huns, who practised Hinduism.

He described the people of Gandhara as ‘totally cosmopolitan’, adding that the art that emerged from the area was influenced by indigenous cultures as well as Greco-Roman culture.

Mr Shah used slides that depicted the major sites associated with the Gandhara culture as well as examples of Gandharan art. He said it was the British that started excavating the Gandhara sights in the nineteenth century, adding that ‘the Peshawar valley and Mardan were the heart of Gandhara.’ He said though Taxila was outside the Gandhara region, it was very much linked to it culturally.

Notable sites included Bhir Mound, described as the first city of Taxila, founded in 600BC by the Achaemenians, Sirkap, which featured both Buddhist and Jain temples as well as Sirsukh, the ‘third capital of Taxila’, founded by Kushan ruler, Kanishka.

Interestingly, the remains of a Zoroastrian fire temple were shown from Jandial, said to have been built by the Indo-Parthians.

Several stupas were shown, said to be built by Maurya ruler Ashoka, such as the Dharmarajika stupa as well as the Butkara stupa at Saidu Sharif. The Shinger Dar stupa is said to contain a relic of the Buddha from amongst those distributed by Ashoka among the tribes of the region.

Coming to Gandharan art, Mr Shah started with slides of Macedonian ruler Alexander, moving on to Greek deities Athena and Aphrodite, who were also worshipped in Gandhara. Evidence of considerable Greek influence on local art included Corinthian pillars shown in sculptures as well as a Bodhisattva – the Buddha to be – with Greek features. Mr Shah pointed out that the image of Buddha commonly found in Gandharan art was actually that of Greek deity Apollo, which was adopted by local artisans to depict the Buddha.

Various specimens of Gandharan art traced the journey of the Buddha from birth, to enlightenment, to death. One image showed the baby Bodhisattva being bathed by deities Indra and Brahma, while a footprint of Buddha is shown with swastikas and the dharma chakra contained within. In another image, Mr Shah said the monastic robe the Buddha is wearing was typically Greek, as the style in India was to keep one shoulder uncovered, while the image had both shoulders covered.

Mr Shah ended the presentation by showing a picture of the now hollow giant alcoves of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, where the Buddhas once looked out across the Afghan landscape, before they were destroyed by the Taliban. ‘We must not let this happen again’.

2. The Questions of King Milinda / Translation by Edward Conze, from Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin Classics, 1959)


The Venerable Nagasena stayed at the Sankheyya hermitage together with 80,000 monks. King Milinda, accompanied by a retinue of 500 Greeks, went up to where he was, gave him a friendly and courteous greeting, and sat on one side. Nagasena returned his greetings, and his courtesy pleased the king’s heart.

The Doctrine of Not-Self

2a. The Chariot

And King Milinda asked him: “How is your Reverence known, and what is your name, Sir?”

Nagasena: “As Nagasena I am known, O great king, and as Nagasena do my fellow religious habitually address me. But although parents give such names as Nagasena … nevertheless this word ‘Nagasena’ is just a denomination, a designation, a conceptual term, a current appellation, a mere name. For no real person can here be apprehended.”

Milinda: (addressing the assembly) “Now listen, you 500 Greeks and 80,000 monks, this Nagasena tells me that he is not a real person. How can I be expected to agree with that?” (Turns to Nagasena) “If, most reverend Nagasena, no person can be apprehended in reality, who, then, I ask you, gives you what you require by way of robes, food, lodging, and medicines? What is it that consumes them? Who is it that guards morality, [and] practices meditation? Who is it that kills living beings, takes what is not given, commits sexual misconduct, tells lies, drinks intoxicants? Who is it that commits the Five Deadly Sins? For, if there were no person, there could be no merit or demerit; no doer of meritorious or demeritorious deeds, and no agent behind them; … and no reward or punishment for them. If someone should kill you, O Venerable Nagasena, he would not commit any murder…. What then is this ‘Nagasena’? Are perhaps the hairs of the head ‘Nagasena’?”

Nagasena: “No, great king!”

Milinda: “Or perhaps the hairs of the body?”

Nagasena: “No, great king!”

Milinda: “Or perhaps the nails, teeth, skin, muscles, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, serous membranes, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, stomach, excrement, the bile, phlegm, pus, blood, grease, fat, tears, sweat, spittle, snot, fluid of the joints, urine, or the brain in the skull – are they this ‘Nagasena’?”

Nagasena: “No, great king!”

Milinda: “Or is form this ‘Nagasena,’ or feeling, or perceptions, or impulses, or consciousness?”

Nagasena: “No, great king!”

Milinda: “Then is it the combination of form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness?”

Nagasena: “No, great king!”

Milinda: “Then is it outside the combination of form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness?”

Nagasena: “No, great king!”

Milinda: “Then, ask as I may, I can discover no Nagasena at all. Just a mere sound is this ‘Nagasena,’ but who is the real Nagasena? Your Reverence has told a lie, has spoken a falsehood! There really is no Nagasena!”

Nagasena: “As a king you have been brought up in great refinement and you avoid roughness of any kind. If you would walk at midday on this hot, burning, and sandy ground, then your feet would have to tread on the rough and gritty gravel and pebbles, and they would hurt you, your body would get tired, your mind impaired, and your awareness of your body would be associated with pain. How, then did you come: on foot, or on a mount?”

Milinda: “I did not come, Sir, on foot, but on a chariot.”

Nagasena: “If you have come on a chariot, then please explain to me what a chariot is. Is the pole the chariot?”

Milinda: “No, reverend Sir!”

Nagasena: “Is then the axle the chariot?”

Milinda: “No, reverend Sir!”

Nagasena: “Is it then the wheels, or the framework, or the flag-staff, or the yoke, or the reins, or the goadstick?”

Milinda: “No, reverend Sir!”

Nagasena: “Then is it the combination of pole, axle, wheels, framework, flag-staff, yoke, reins, and goad?”

Milinda: “No, reverend Sir!”

Nagasena: “Then is this ‘chariot’ outside the combination of pole, axle, wheels, framework, flag-staff, yoke, reins, and goad?”

Milinda: “No, reverend Sir!”

Nagasena: “Then, ask as I may, I can discover no chariot at all. Just a mere sound is this ‘chariot’. But what is the real chariot? Your Majesty has told a lie, has spoken a falsehood! There really is no chariot! Your Majesty is the greatest king in the whole of India. Of whom then are you afraid, that you do not speak the truth?”

(To Assembly) “Now listen, you 500 Greeks, and 80,000 monks, this king Milinda tells me he has come in a chariot. But when asked to explain to me what a chariot is, he cannot establish its existence. How can one possibly approve of that?”

The five hundred Greeks thereupon applauded the Venerable Nagasena and said to King Milinda: “Now let your Majesty get out of this if you can!”

Milinda: “I have not, Nagasena, spoken a falsehood. For it is in dependence on the pole, the axle, the wheels, the framework, the flag-staff, etc., that there takes place this denomination ‘chariot,’ this designation, this conceptual term, a current appellation, and a mere name.”

Nagasena: “Your Majesty has spoken well about the chariot. It is just so with me. In dependence on the thirty-two parts of the body and the five Skandhas there takes place this denomination ‘Nagasena,’ this designation, this conceptual term, a current appellation, and a mere name. In ultimate reality, however, this person cannot be apprehended.”

Milinda: “It is wonderful, Nagasena, it is astonishing, Nagasena! Most brilliantly have these questions been answered! Were the Buddha himself here, he would approve what you have said. Well spoken, Nagasena, well spoken!”

2b. Personal Identity and Rebirth

Milinda: “When someone is reborn, Venerable Nagasena, is he the same as the one who just died, or is he another?”

Nagasena: “He is neither the same nor another.”

Milinda: “Give me an illustration!”

Nagasena: “What do you think, great king: when you were a tiny infant, newly born and quite soft, were you then the same as the one who is now grown up?”

Milinda: “No, that infant was one; I, now grown up, am another.”

Nagasena: “If that is so, great king, you have had no mother, no father, no teaching, and no schooling! Do we then take it that there is one mother for the embryo in the first stage, another for the second stage, another for the third, another for the fourth, another for the baby, another for the grown-up man? Is the schoolboy one person, and the one who has finished school another? Does one commit a crime, but the hands and feet of another are cut off?”

Milinda: “Certainly not! But what would you say, Reverend Sir, to all that?”

Nagasena: “I was neither the tiny infant, newly born and quite soft, nor am I now the grown-up man; but these comprise one unit depending on this very body.”

Milinda: “Give me a simile!”

Nagasena: “If a man were to light a lamp, could it give light throughout the whole night?”

Milinda: “Yes, it could.”

Nagasena: “Is not the flame which burns in the first watch of the night the same as the one which burns in the second?”

Milinda: “It is not the same.”

Nagasena: “Or is the flame that burns in the second watch the same as the one which burns in the last one?”

Milinda: “It is not the same.”

Nagasena: “Even so must we understand the collocation of a series of successive dharmas. At rebirth one dharma arises, while another stops; but the two processes take place almost simultaneously (i.e., they are continuous). Therefore the first act of consciousness in the new
existence is neither the same as the last act of consciousness in the previous existence, nor is it another.”

Milinda: “Give me another simile!”

Nagasena: “Milk, once the milking is done, turns after some time into curds; from curds it turns into fresh butter, and from fresh butter into ghee. Would it now be correct to say that the milk is the same thing as the curds, or the fresh butter, or the ghee?”

Milinda: “No, it would not. But they have been produced because of it.”

Nagasena: “Just so must be understood the collocation of a series of successive dharmas.”

NOTE: The use of “Dharma” here is meaningful. “Dharma” often means something like “duty”, the right thing to do, or the law. But it is more: the word comes from Sanskrit for “to hold together” or “to bear, support, or sustain”. Dharma is the universal cosmic law that holds things together. Dharma is how things are held together; there is no right or wrong way for things to be, since dharma is lawful and controls change, and causes things to unfold the way the do. One dharma is the law of karma. Another is the unity of all sentient beings.

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