Friday, July 18, 2008

Budh-Hills & Irish Buddhists?

An uncredited aside in this week's earlier post "Green Tara" in my excerpt from Dharmachari Purna commented on "budh-hills in Co. Tyrone & Co. Mayo." Intrigued by this neological supposition, and not wanting to plow through hundreds of pages of John Moriarty's Blakean effusions (however mythopoeically promising they are textually wearying), I googled this phrase. Moriarty, I suspect, has meditated over similar etymologies, mixing caution with enthusiasm in its root sense. I found only one direct hit, if a tangentially loaded one. This toponomic terrain's loaded with traps for hunters.

"The Early Religions of the Irish: Round Tower Creed" opines:
Windele thus expresses his views--"Their Irish names, Tur-aghan or adhan, Feidh-neimhedh and Cileagh, are of themselves conclusive as to their pagan origin, and announce at once a fane devoted to that form of religion, compounded of Sabæism or star-worship and Buddhism of which the sun, represented by fire, was the principal deity."

Buddhism is here a sort of sun-worship, and not aft the teaching of the Founder. However pure the sentiments originally taught, and now professed in Esoteric Buddhist and Theosophy, all travellers admit that ancient pagan ideas have come through to the surface of Buddhism, and largely represent idolatrous action. Yet, they who recognise in the Irish Towers the former presence of Buddhist missionaries, fancy the buildings might have contained relics of Budh. H. O'Brien regards the Sacred Tree of Budh to have been primarily a lingam, and secondarily a tree. He reads in the Irish Budh-gaya an allusion to generativeness. Forlong looks upon the tower as a deposit for lingam articles in secret recesses.

Anna Wilkes in Ireland, Ur of the Chaldees, writes--"There can be no doubt the Towers in the interior of Hindostan bear more than a striking likeness to those remaining in Ireland. These resemblances are to be found in such great quantities in the latter place, that it is impossible but to believe that Ireland was the centre from

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which a great deal of the religion of Budh developed. This will not appear strange when we consider, in connection with the point, that many of the Saints bear Aryan and Semitic names."

The bells, asserted by tradition to have belonged to the Towers, furnish an argument for the advocate of Buddhism, so closely associated with bells.

Glendalough, in its sculptures, appears also to favour this idea. No one can visit St. Kevin's Kitchen there without being struck with such resemblances. Ledwich has pointed out some of these. As among the most ancient structures in Ireland, and singularly allied to the Tower near, St. Kevin's Kitchen peculiarly aroused the attention of the writer. It was not only the position occupied by the serpent, the bulbuls or doves, the tree of life, or Irish Aithair Faodha, or tree of Budh, but the stone roof and the peculiar cement of the walls bore witness to its antiquity.

The Buddhist form of the Crucifixion, so different from anything in early Christian art, is another singular feature. In the Tower of Donoughmore, Meath county, is one of these sculptures; as Brash describes--"very diminutive rude figure with extended arms, and legs crossed."

In Irish we read of the Danaan King, Budh the red; of the Hill of Budh, Cnox Buidhbh, in Tyrone; of other Budh hills in Mayo and Roscommon; and, in the Book of Ballymote, of Fergus of the Fire of Budh. Buddhism was a great power in remote ages; and, as Allanson Picton points out, "not so much in its philosophical conclusions, as the feeling out of the soul towards an unlimited loyalty to the infinite." Still, if Round Towers owe anything to Buddhism, why are they only in Ireland

Good question! As the website explains in introducing this work: Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions by James Bonwick--[1894]. This scholarly, but very readable, book covers what was known about Druids and Irish Paganism at the end of the nineteenth century. It discusses many of the concepts which later would be utilized by the Wiccan movement to construct Celtic Neo-Paganism. It's easy, and fun, to tempt the derision in turn of our progeny a century hence by citing our elders' "fanciful" scholarship. Joseph Lennon's "Irish Orientalism" critique tracks the "Aryan" attempts to connect the Irish West with the Indian East; Mairead Carew's monograph on the British Israelites' eager excavations at today's beleaguered Tara documents not only how one's era's learning turns our era's laughing. It's also a humbling testimony to how we long to find answers and truths in our ancestral origins and spiritual yearnings, however inchaote or insane they appear to professors and historians whom we will never hear.

So, in that more generous spirit, sharing what makes today's Neo-Pagans, druids, re-enactors, theosophists, versifiers, anthropologists, and Celticists uneasy bedfellows in this quest, here's another segment from Bonwick. He, no less than our Old & Middle Irish experts, archeologists, geneticists, and post-colonial historiographers, must make educated guesses from the footnotes of others, the scraps of manuscripts, and the bits of lore that come our way through Google and his way came from diligent searches in musty archives.

As the population of Ireland is, perhaps, the most mixed, in racial descent, of any in the world, it is not surprising that this Island should exhibit a greater variety of religions, several of which have left their traces in the traditions and superstitions of out-of-the-way localities.

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That Buddhism should have found a foothold there is not surprising, since Buddhist missionaries at one era had spread over much of the Northern hemisphere. Though the reader may find in this work, under the heading of "Round Towers," references to this Oriental faith, some other information may be here required.

Whenever it came, and however introduced, Buddhism, as it was taught in its early purity, was a distinct advance upon previously existing dogmas of belief. It was a vast improvement upon Baal worship, Hero worship, or Nature worship, as it carried with it a lofty ethical tone, and the principle of universal brotherhood. Though there is linguistic as well as other evidence of its presence in Ireland, it may be doubted if the labours of the foreign missionaries had much acceptance with the rude Islanders.

Cnox Buidhbh, Budh's hill, is in Tyrone. A goddess of the Tuatha was called Badhha. Budhbh, the Red, was a chief of the Danaans. Buddhist symbols are found upon stones in Ireland. There are Hills of Budh in Mayo and Roscommon. Fergus Budh or Bod was a prince of Brejea. He was Fergus of the fire of Budh. Budh or Fiodh was the sacred tree.

Vallencey, the fanciful Irish philologist, was a believer in the story of Buddhist visitations. He found that Budh in Irish and Sanscrit was wise; that Dia Tait was Thursday, and the day between the fasts (Wednesday and Friday), Wednesday being a sacred day in honour of Budh in India, showing that "they observed Budhday after Christianity was introduced." La Nollad Aois, or La Nollad Mithr, December 24th, was sacred to Mithras the Sun; to which he quotes Ezek. iv. 14. Eire aros a Niorgul alluded to the crowing of Nargal, the cock of Aurora, which was sacrificed on December 25th, in honour of the birth of Mithras, the Sun.

p. 153

He further shows that the Oin-id lamentation for the Dead was kept in Ireland on the eve of La Saman, the day of Saman, the Pluto or Judge of Hell, November 1st (All Saints), as in several other heathen lands of antiquity. He sees a new reckoning on Mathair Oidhehe, the eve before La Nollah Mithr. The Sab-oide, or festival of Sab, the Sun, was held on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 23rd of the month, as with the Sabbaths of the Persian Magi. He was not then aware that Sabbath, day of rest, was an old Chaldæan word. He recognizes Christmas Eve in Madra nect, or Mother night.

Buddhism abolished caste and sacrifices. The Tripitaka, or Bible, contains 592,000 verses. The last Buddhist council was held 251 B.C.

Dr. Kenealy observes, in his Book of God, "The Irish hieratic language was called Ogham (pronounced owm), which is the same as the Buddhist and the Brahmin Aum, and the Magian and Mexican horn, or ineffable name of God. This last, the Greek changed into A O M, Α Ω, or Alpha and Omega." W. Anderson Smith, in Lewisiana, reluctantly acknowledges, "We must accept the possibility of a Buddhist race passing north from Ireland." Thus he and others must trace the relics of Buddhism in Scotland and the Hebrides through Ireland. Truly, as Fergusson writes, "Buddhism, in some shape or other, or under some name that may be lost, did exist in Britain before the conversion of the inhabitants to Christianity."

Hanloy, Chinese interpreter at San Francisco, who claims the discovery of America for his countrymen, that left written descriptions of the strange land, has this additional information--"About 500 years before Christ, Buddhist priests repaired there, and brought back the news that they had met with Buddhist idols and religious writings in the country already. Their descriptions, in

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many respects, resemble those of the Spaniards a thousand years after."

In the vaulted stone building at Knockmoy, Galway Co., assumed by some to have been a temple of the Tuatha, and next which sacred spot an abbey was subsequently erected, is a figure, taken for Apollo, bound to a tree, pierced with arrows, yet slaying the Python with his dart. Other three figures represent, in their crowns and costume, Eastern divinities, before whom another person is approaching. These have been conjectured to be the three, Chanchasm, Gonagom, and Gaspa, who obtained the perfect state of Nirvana before the birth of Godama, founder of Buddhism.

The good news: others as I figured must have pursued the labyrinthine Tara thread, so to speak, between two minotaurs, Irish and Sanskrit. The bad news, as I anticipated, was that such earnest folks as Vallancey led the way into such investigations. Can't blame them, and later scholars find at least a trail blazed if rather carelessly kindled. He did, for all his blundering about Ériu as if a fox with a brand tied to his tail, spark what John Waddell's "Foundation Myths: The Origin of Irish Archaeology" investigates, half-arson, half-illumination, within the recent past. You can read my review of this book here: Epona 2(2007): 1-6 "Rooted in the Body, Hidden in the Ground: Searching for the Celt." Or you could, as the link's down, so I gave the URL. Try the Wayback Machine to retrieve the dormant website.

Here's "Buddhists and Druids in pre-Christian Britain and Ireland" that exists a few places on the Net; I cannot identify its writer, but it originates from a site promoting the Lake District charms of Ulverston, near Furness. It makes a pithy comparison from the scanty evidence we must accept. Non-essentialist "process" philosophy, perhaps, ghosted in Eriugena faintly, an assertion of Caesar, missionaries from King Asoka, or a startling quote. "Origen's statement that Buddhists and Druids co-existed in pre-Christian Britain"; this is footnoted "Mackenzie, Donald A. (1928), Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain" with links to somewhat less-related websites.

There's, as I also predicted silently would come to transpire in my investigation, Celtic Buddhism founded by none other than crazy wisdom Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's "butler" (with his memoir for sale) who worked at least a biblical seven year span for the notoriously free-spirited (to say the least) master. John Riley Perks in Letterkenny and his associates in Maine have founded what they call a "lineage." This resembles the laying on of hands from one teacher to another of the dharma, a sort of Buddhist confirmation of episcopacy! This apostolic succession, the practitioners explain, comes now from Tibet to Ireland. Perks served his evidently demanding apprenticeship under the same guru to whom his student Francesca Fremantle with more reticence dedicates the "Luminous Emptiness" commentary on the "Tibetan Book on the Dead" I'm finally finishing. As long as it took me to labor over "The Satanic Verses"-- ten days! Almost the total bardo passage, for the unliberated blockheads we all evidently descend from, trapped in the samsaric same-old same-old.

Examine some intriguing exercises in a Celtic thangka on this small site. These blend, our versions artistically as "fanciful" as Vallancey's conjectures of another distant realm, at least perceived from our mortal perspective. A later cautionary tale: once-Father Matthew Fox in his "Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen" conjectured Hopi iconography making its way to 12c. Disibodenberg by some long navigation in immram fashion. ("Bo" at the linked blog "The Expvlsion of the Blatant Beast" has an typically incisive appraisal on Hildegard & Fox . "Bo" responded wisely there when I quoted Fox's Hopi hope: Poor MF. An intelligent and well-meaning man who has made himself stupid by a titanic effort of will.)

Brendan's pre-Columbian perigrinatio aside into liminal lysergia if not peyote-fueled visions himself, it's perhaps a first expression of Tibetan and Celtic styles mingling as the line of arcane blessing attenuates and alters. My favorite-- my choice bolstered by Fremantle's clear explanation of what "wrathful deities" represent about our own self-display, our own buddha-nature made visible-- is here: Vayrayogini Thangka . They ask that these images not be copied without permission, so I honor their wishes.

The site where I found the Druid-Buddhist link features the provocative, Blakean conundrum: "Did the Wheel of Dharma turn in Ancient Celtic lands?" Here's information under this picture of the triskele, three-legged symbol of the Isle of Man, Sardinia, and, I found, the Buddha's conies.
Buddha's bunnies - the three hares symbol. In the beautiful three hares triskelion, the aspect of motion is especially apparent, emphasising that all phenomena arise from the three dependencies and are thus inevitably impermanent and devoid of any essence. This symbol was originally Buddhist, but is believed to have travelled westwards along the silk routes and can be found in medieval church ornamentation (See photos by Chris Chapman), where it probably symbolised a mystical interpretation of the Holy Trinity.

Photo via Ulverston-linked site. The Laskey Wheel Triskelion, Isle of Man. But it could adorn a stupa from Bhutan, lacking any caption to indicate otherwise.

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