Aloka

 LETTERS ON BUDDHISM.

 Appeared in Sri Lankan News Papers - PAGE 1

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There are perhaps 5% of the world population that simply "cannot" think.

There are another 5% who "can", and "do".

The remaining 90% "can" think, but "do not".

- R. A. Heinlein


  LETTERS INDEX Page-1 

 

L1.01   Buddha was no Lord - When we repeatedly hear about Lord Buddha in the press…

L1.02   Saving animals from slaughter - Many letters have appeared in The Island on this topic…

L1.03  Buddhism and the war - Let us not involve the Buddha in our war…

L1.04   Is it ethical for Buddhist monks to eat meat? - What about the cruelty and terror inflicted on…

L1.05   The spiritual and earthly motherhood - Buddha's mother who died seven days after the Bodhisattva's birth...

L1.06   What is so unethical about conversions?: a reply - Mr. BF wants to know what is so unethical about conversions...

L1.07   What is so unethical about conversions?: a reply 2 - In the first place, conversions are unethical because...

L1.08   Demonstrations against banning Anduren Eliyata - Two articles which are of great interest...

L1.09   Anduren Andurata - 1 - The above programme on TV has shot to prominence a parvenu Buddhist monk...

L1.10   What matters primarily is 'Emancipation' as the Buddha taught - A Tamil friend, says that ...

L1.11   Anduren Andurata - 2 - It is known to everybody that the Anduren Eliyata programme ...

L1.12   Buddhism in Sri Lanka at cross roads today - Unlike other religions and faiths, Buddhism has ...

L1.13   Is Soma Thera telling the truth? - Ven Soma Thera telling what a great religion Islam is ...

L1.14   A world of peace on top of a hill - The life we spend as worldlings is full of cravings, aversions...

L1.15   Religious values versus TV ads - Despite my hoisting the flag often for my own religion...

L1.16   A fishy question on meat - It is encouraging to note the protests against...

L1.17   Buddha poojas and not Bodhi poojas - It is perhaps a paradox profoundly true...

L1.18   Are we human? - Article "Save Cattle From Inhuman Treatment" brought back memories of the cattle...

L1.19   The Buddhist Commission - Must conduct public sittings and extend deadline...

L1.20   Survival of greatest brutality - Hinduism, the oldest religion in the world, considers lives...

L1.21   'Meet TV programme butchers': rejoinder  - Buddhism has no connection whatsoever with meat eating...

L1.22   More on animal suffering  - Suffering that is the fate of the animal...

L1.23   A call to the Maha Sangha - Today we are facing a crucial time in our history...

L1.24   Stop victimisation of Buddhist monks - Nefarious activities carried on by NGO funded organizations...

L1.25   Beliefs and practices in relation to the Bo-tree - Buddhists who hold Bodi Pujas instead of Buddha Pujas...

L1.26   'Bodhi' worship vs 'Bodhi puja' - Response to 'Beliefs and practices in relation to the Bo-tree'

L1.27   Buddhism is incomparable - I write with reference to the letter appearing...

L1.28   This is Vesak, not Valentine's Day - Vesak is here. It should depict a most solemn and holy day...

L1.29   Are we true Buddhists? - a reply - I am ashamed as she says we Buddhists do not practice...

L1.30   Of meat eating and compassion - Newspapers give a lot of publicity...

 

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.. Buddha was no Lord   L1.01

We fly Sri Lankan, we love Sri Lankan but it does hurt when we repeatedly hear about Lord Buddha in the press, particularly in connection with Buddhagaya- a place venerated by all Buddhists.

Buddha was a human being who attained supreme status of mind and not a Lord or a God. He said come and see, understand as much as you can and practise where he preached for your own good, for your own relief from pain. He was never a Lord who said that we must love him, obey him or believe in him.

He is known and written about with the title. 'The Buddha' by the most venerated senior journalists. The cub journalists are taught at the very beginning that Buddha is Buddha and not a Lord. Similarly there are no priests in Buddhism. Those followers of Buddha in yellow robes spreading Dhamma are monks and not priests.

A sad Buddhist

 

 

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    Saving Animals From Slaughter   L1.02

Many letters have appeared in The Island on this topic written by many and special mention must be mentioned about Dr. Godamunne of Kandy. Letters highlight the pathetic situation from which these unfortunate animals are rescued.

A broader assessment of the issue will show that these random savings are of little use. Getting down to brass tacks all animals are born free. But domesticated farm animals are destined to be killed sooner or later for man‘s consumption. They form an important source of high quality protein. But it must be clearly understood that man does not need either meat or fish for a healthy existence. The eminent cardiologist Dr. Athukorale has dealt with this aspect adequately.

Basically if man eats fish and meat, the market will supply it, either legally or illegally.

Of the main religions practised in Sri Lanka, it is only Buddhism that has clearly shown that one should not partake of fish or meat. There need not be any controversy about this.

1. First precept prevents any form of killing.

2. Lord Buddha has stated that rearing of animals and fish for killing is not an acceptable form of livelihood. Thus all people who sell fish or meat can consider them to be non-Buddhists.

But in reality Buddhists who form 70 percent of the population go to sleep every night wishing that all living beings well and happy. But as the day dwans the terrible slaughter of animals cemmences. 5000 heads of cattle are slaughtered everyday. This includes very feeble old animals as well as young calves and even the pregnant cows are not spared.

Many thousand goats and pigs too are subject to terrible torture and ultimately killed. Chicken is the top favourite of the Sri Lankans. In fact it’s a prestigious dish served to the Maha Sangha during alms givings. Millions of chicken are slaughtered daily. Boats that left the previous evening returns to the shores with a bountiful harvest from the seas surrounding this fair Isle of ours.

Cattle slaughter is done under very primitive conditions in abattoirs licenced by the local authorities like the Municipal Councils, Urban Councils etc. In fact the tender fee very often helps to sustain these local government institutions! The cattle arrive from distant places like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and even places like Katharagama in the deep south. Transport of these animals is a very cruel exercise. These animals are sold to the butcher mainly by Buddhists.

The pre slaughter and pro slaughter examination is done by P.H.II who represent MOHH (Medical Officers of Health). Isn’t it ridiculous for doctors to be in charge of animal slaughter. It’s really a qualified Vet. surgeon who should be in charge of this procedure. The actual slaughter is done by Muslims according to the Halal method - cruel to say the least.

A large number of Buddhists purchase meat and fish for their daily consumption. Most of the MOHH and PHII are Buddhists. Shouldn’t their conviction prevent them from participating in this activity of supervising animal slaughter. Perhaps the Minister of Buddhist Affairs W. J. M. Lokubandara could give us a clearer view of these government officials performing this terrible act of supervising slaughter of animals.

The government claims that they uphold the Buddhist value structure. Therefore I suggest that all Buddhist officials involved in cattle slaughter should refuse to participate in this utterly unBuddhistic activity.

I am sure the Maha Sangha ‘the Ministry of Buddhism and Buddhist organisations like ACBC, YMBA etc. should support this move.

The cabinet has a Minister for Buddhist Affairs to propagate Buddhist values in this country. It is strange that the cabinet has a Minister in charge of fisheries. Very often this ministry is headed by a Buddhist. Is it not absolute contradiction to have these two ministers in the same cabinet that promises to uphold a Buddhist value structure? Let the people to kill animals or fish if they so desire. But absolute hypocrisy to have ministries of live stock development and fisheries along side a ministry for Buddhism!

When animals are saved from slaughter another one will take it’s place and there is no effective way of saving a life. It’s very simple logic that if animals are to be saved the only way is not to eat them. The Sri Lanka population is largely Buddhists. If they give up eating fish and meat animal slaughter will reduce to a great extent. There are non-Buddhists who are vegetarians.

The Sangha so far have failed miserably to effectively wean off people from meat and fish. As long as people eat meat and fish animals will be killed. Hypocrisy of the majority Buddhist population has largely contributed to the terrible fate animals in Sri Lanka are subjected to before they are killed. Wide spread vegetarianism is the only answer to this very sad state of affairs.

Concerned Sri Lankan - Avissawella

2 11 2002 - The Island

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    Buddhism and the war   L1.03

A reply to Priya and Prem Jayasekera

Let us not involve the Buddha in our war or for that matter in any war. Humans have been notorious throughout history to go to war for some reason or the other. Good, if this attitude could be changed. Buddhism was never spread by war. The invaders with the Buddha’s word came peacefully to this country. Conquered and changed the spiritual beliefs by conviction.

It is beneficial for us to understand what Buddhism is. Buddhism is the true law of nature pertaining to all beings. Buddha did not create it - only discovered it. Law of nature allows one to protect one’s self and one’s own country; hence for a Buddhist, it is not prohibited to become a soldier. It is not a prohibited profession for a Buddhist. Nations would have perished falling into the hands of the enemy if it were not so and natural law would have faulted. Buddhism does not allow being the aggressor.

The Buddha once admonished his disciples - " the dhamma is meant to be used wisely- as one would perish holding a snake by it’s tail and not by it’s head; the same would be the fate of the fool who would thus have wrong understanding of the dhamma."

Buddha’s advice when there was a situation like ours during the Buddha’s time was "make plentiful what humans require." It was achieved and the war receded.

In a later period when a Just King sought the advice of an Arahant when the enemy surrounded the country was, "King, you rule." The job of the King is to protect his subjects and the country. If he is not willing to do so, he should step down and let someone who is prepared to defend the country take over.

This short reply is to the point and hope P and P sees it that way. This is not to instigate war but to show that invasions/wars have to be handled according to it’s own merits/demerits. Most of all the solution to the war is to do what Buddha recommended, satisfying the basic human needs. To make abundance of food, clothing, shelter, health needs, jobs, etc.

Metta to all, including P and P.

G. Kalyananda

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    Is it ethical for Buddhist monks to eat meat?   L1.04

I refer to Bhikku C. Mahinda’s article entitled "Meat Eating and Buddhism". Ven. Mahinda justifies meat eating by Buddhists by saying that Jeewaka Sutta permits you to eat meat if you are sure that the animal whose flesh you are eating has not been strictly slaughtered for you.

What about the cruelty and terror inflicted on the poor dumb animals whom you eat, when these animals are slaughtered. Those Buddhists including Buddhist monks who eat flesh should be reminded about the Vanijja Sutta which says meat trade is banned for true Buddhists. Are we not encouraging bloody meat trade when we eat flesh as these animals are killed for those who eat the flesh.

Meat eaters should be reminded about Dhammika Sutta which says "Kill not nor get others to kill and approve it not when others do kill". When a person eats flesh is he not approving killing of animals although he does not kill them?

When a Buddhist monk writes to newspapers about the "justification" of eating animal flesh, there may be thousands of other Buddhists who may follow him. Bhikku Mahinda also talks about meditation in his article. Can a Buddhist monk meditate with the stomach full of flesh? How can a person have compassion and love to animals as long as he eats them. Buddhist monks who peach "Dhamma" can in no way accept flesh for "dana" without going into a state of mental conflict with "Ahimsa".

According to Dhamma-padaya "All beings fear before danger. life is dear to all. When a man considers this he does not kill or cause to kill". Surely when a dayakaya buys flesh from the meat stall to be offered as alms to a flesh eating monk, the latter is encouraging the slaughter of animals although one may say that eating such flesh is all right according to Jeewaka Sutta.

Buddhist monks by virtue of their training and strength of character are different from lay people and are better able to resist the pleasures of senses to which ordinary people succumb. A monk can surely resist the temptation of eating flesh and inform his "dayakayas" not to serve flesh when they invite the monk for the almsgiving.

I think the prevention of suffering of living creatures by not using flesh to satisfy our taste buds is the minimum expression of compassion we as Buddhists can offer, although according to of quoted Jeewaka Sutta, eating flesh of animals which are not strictly slaughtered for you does not cause "Akusala Kamma". One should consider the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of slaughtering animals and abstain from flesh eating. It is just by not killing with your body that you observe the first precept. If in your thinking you allow the killing to go on you also break the first precept. According to Buddhism mind is the base of all actions.

Dr. D. P. Atukorale

Colombo 7 

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    The spiritual and earthly motherhood   L1.05

In "The Island" of Friday, September 21st, an unnamed "student of Buddhism" has a "poser for Professor Obeysekere" with information he learned from Dhamma school, high school and university, namely, how is it that the Buddha's mother who died seven days after the Bodhisattva's birth could possibly have joined the Buddhist order? I want to apologize to him (or her) for assuming that the Buddha had two mothers but your correspondent has convinced me that this is biologically impossible, given European notions of biological motherhood, which I assume has entered into his knowledge of the Dhamma. Nevertheless, I owe it to your readers as to how I came to hold these erroneous assumptions.

1. In the Accariyabhuthadhamma Sutta and other texts the Buddha's mother, Mahamaya, conceives the Bodhisattva when she is observing the precept on chastity and while she was abstaining from sexual intercourse with her husband. The Bodhisattva descends from the Tusita heaven and enters the mother's womb from the right side without hurting her; the mother sees the Bodhisattva in her womb like a beryl or a crystal; her womb is pure and the child is unpolluted by blood or mucus. Devas attend on the mother and she delivers the baby in an upright position. None of this is, of course biologically possible and because the authors of Buddhist texts were not idiots, I assumed that they were not expecting us to take any of this literally. They were trying to convey a profound symbolic message, namely, to highlight the spiritual motherhood of Maya (whose name incidentally fits such an idea). Right through in Buddhist texts Maya consistently maintains this almost other-worldly or spiritual ("mythic") character.

2. When the Bodhisattva was seven days old he was brought up by his mother's younger sister and cowife of Suddhodana, Mahaprajapati Gotami, the second mother of my mishappen thinking. Western scholars, including I.B. Horner, refer to this woman as the Bodhisattva's "aunt" which might make sense to modern bourgeois Buddhists who use this term but it did not make sense to the Sakyans whose system of reckoning relationships was close to the Sinhalas (and Tamils). A person's mother's sister "or father's bother's wife) would also be called "mother," either "big mother" or "little mother" (loku or punchi amma).

The convention among nobles of the time was to give someone like the infant Bodhisattva for nurses to suckle but Gotami instead gave her own infant Nanda to nurses and she herself nursed the Bodhisattva. I assumed that any child who was raised by a woman seven days after birth would call that woman "mother", particular if she actually suckled the child of her sister who would be called "son" in any case in the Sakyan (and our) kinship terminology. Right through in Buddhist texts this woman maintains a truly human and humane notion of motherhood as opposed to the purely spiritual motherhood of Maya. Prajapati's name also, etymologically speaking, nicely fits her role as one who raised the Bodhisathva.

In my erroneous thinking Mahaprajapati Gotami is the second mother to Gotama or, as some translators say, the "foster mother" (who by any token is a mother).

by Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere

The Island - 30 Sep 01

 

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..What is so unethical about conversions? - a reply   L1.06

Mr. BF wants to know what is so unethical about conversions ("The Island", 03.05.2001). Well, the whole concept of conversion in Christianity - whatever the variety may be - is unethical. Christians always imposed their beliefs on others. That is why one of Europe's greatest thinkers Friedrich Nietzche once said that nobody walked into Christianity. On the top of this they established a think police which made it impossible for anyone to question the basic concepts underlining their beliefs. Arrogantly they assert without any proof, "the Bible the word of God? And we are expected to work on that premise. For several hundred centuries people who questioned this assumption were tortured most cruelly and burnt at the stake. They suffered much more than Jesus Christ did simply because they stood for truth as they understood it.

Mr. Fernandez cannot justify his case by quoting the Bible. Bible was the excuse for the holy inquisition, for the torture and burning of witches, for robbing orphans and widows. The Bible has caused more hate and persecution than any other book, more suffering than any other disease. The Bible has been used to obstruct human progress, and was often the enemy of science, of culture and reaming. Morality, liberty and justice in the world had to fight its way against it.

Christians call the Bible "the word of God" and themselves moral and charitable. Mr. Basil Fernandez's assumption that Charity is a characteristic of Christians, of Christian organisations and Churches cannot be accepted. Christian institutions collect billions of dollars each year by way of taxes and contributions. No accounts are shown or kept. they are the super rich of the world. Take the case of Maria Teresa. In a recent book by Christopher Hitchens ("The Missionary Position - Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice" Verso, 1995) the author details the nature and limits of one woman's mission to the world's poor. He probes the source of the heroic status bestowed upon an Albanian nun whose only declared wish is to serve God. He asks whether Mother Teresa's good works answer any higher purpose than the need of the world's privileged to see someone, somewhere, doing something for the third world. He unmasks pseudo-miracles, questions Mother Teresa's fitness to adjudicate on matters of sex and reproduction, and reports on a version of saintly ubiquity which affords genial relations with dictators, corrupt tycoons and convicted frauds. During the 'Dark Ages' of Europe when Christianity held sway over every aspect of life, that continent was steeped in the greatest poverty, ignorance, oppression and superstition. There was never a more evil and immoral age in the whole of human history. Charity was absent in Christianity then as now.  

In South America, the Christian intrusion was the cause of the death of over 16 million "natives". The economic and the social conditions of the Indians remain the same as after the time of the subjugation of these peoples by Christian Conquistadors. The so-called Christian charity has only contributed to the destruction of their once flowering cultures, genocide and occupation of their lands by Christians. The search for "unreached peoples" goes on there still. An evangelical group calling themselves "The Summer Institute of Linguistics" has been chased out of Venezuela recently for: (1) Psychological terror (2) mental and physical cruelty (3) instigating panic (4) division of society by favouritism extended to converts and (5) monopolising native handicrafts for the missionaries' commercial benefit.

Christian charity is not extended to people who are hooked on to the system. When converts reach the stage of addicted believers, charity stops. From thereon they will have to continue in the same old poverty and penury with an additional cultural load. To understand the real nature of these charity-wahllahs one should read "The Missionaries, God against the Indians" by Norman Lewis (Arena, 1989). It will make you angry. It is about genocide, practiced today, against helpless people in the name of God. It also gives an account of how the Pacific Islands were Christianised using bribery, treachery, war and most immoral methods. They made alcoholics out of chiefs, supplied them arms and made them fight against each other. In this vast ocean, the islanders were rudderless and were subject to missionary onslaughts converting these once happy peoples to the position of Victorian labour class. 

When Christian nations invaded our shores they were very charitable to Buddhists, demolishing all the Buddhist temples including the famous ones at Kelaniya, Totagamuwa and Devundera. Don Duan Dharmapala became extremely charitable after his conversion to Christianity by handing over the temple properties to the Franciscans. When the Spanish and the Portuguese demolished the ancient civilisations of Mexico and South America charity flew across the Atlantic Ocean filling the coffers of the Pope and gilding up the rococo churches there. The Vatican is one of the largest financial institutions of the world. This is wealth collected and amassed during many centuries. There is no sign that this wealth would be available to the poor and needy Christians of the world.

Apparently, Mr. BF is well informed how Christians were made during Portuguese times. To quote his own words, they were "brought into churches held by the scuff of their necks and led by their ears and forcibly dipped (baptised) in a pool of water". Thanks to the relentless debunking of Christian beliefs and practices by free thinkers and universal acceptance of the rights of man Christianity has been made to take a back seat. But those people who did such things are coming back with the might dollar. Under the guise of "charity", Christians are only repeating their historic aggressions since violence is no longer acceptable.

There are now over 130 missionary bodies registered as companies. On the top of this there are over 80 NGOs engaged in missionary activity. Their work is already causing social disruption as is amply indicated in Dr. Sasanka Perera's thesis. A newly converted Christian stabbed a Buddhist monk who opposed conversions in Nuwarawatte, Hingurakgoda. Some people have died by seeking God's help, where rational medical attention was urgently needed. The government press, which is now practically a Christian press doing Christian propaganda, tried to present it as a land dispute. But the people of Hingurakgoda know the truth of the case. Our government is either oblivious to the havoc caused by the missionary bodies who register themselves as companies, or they are seeking the mighty dollar. Every week we read on the average two such companies applying for registration. There are now over 130 missionary bodies registered as companies. On the top of this, there are over 80 NGOs engaged in missionary activity.

Already in the villages where the missionary NGOs have converted and favoured some there is hate and dissension. Those interested to see how conversion works should visit Rathugala on the Bibile-Inginiyagala Road. There a Tamil man called Joseph from Negombo has set up a missionary station with a fifteen-acre farm. He has also set up a school for the purpose of conversion. Now the village has been split into two or rather three fractions.  

There is the converted lot who has received "aid", elegant dresses and jobs on the farm. Korean tourists bringing the goodies are regularly visiting them. The second lot though not baptised lives in close liaison with Joseph's establishment. A third group stays loyal to their traditional religion. This type of social disruption has to stop immediately.

Mr. BF suggestion that Buddhists are confused cannot be accepted. The present upsurge in missionary activity is an international phenomenon. The Pope has declared that he hopes to convert Asia in this millennium. Christianity has become anathema to most Europeans and Americans. The pews are falling apart. So he thinks, while keeping himself at a safe distance from the Muslims that he could bag in the Hindus and Buddhists.

B. A. Aryatilake, Maharagama

The Island - 18 May 2001

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..What is so unethical about conversions? - a reply 2   L1.07

I had somehow missed Basil Fernandez's letter of 03/05 and read it only after a few replies appeared in the paper.

In the first place, conversions are unethical because they are done covertly by offering inducements such as food, clothing, etc., or by force and not because the convert is convinced that the new religion is superior to the one he had been professing and Buddhists are certainly angered both by the conversions and the manner it is done.

It is admitted that all religious organisations or individual places of worship receive foreign assistance but all such donations to Buddhists organisations/temples are given and accepted openly unlike the millions of dollars paid by foreign NGOs to evangelist groups operating in Sri Lanka.

It is the height of absurdity for BF to think that there is confusion in the minds of Buddhists about Buddhism. As in every religion, there are certain intricate matters that all Buddhists do not understand but it is not essential to know all the abhidhamma to practise the religion. And anybody who has any doubts is free to go to a learned monk and get an explanation because in Buddhism anybody is free to question monks and clear their doubts. There are also TV and radio panel discussions that answer listeners' questions. Anyway, what does it matter to BF if Buddhist prelates are lethargic and do not look into the corporal needs of the laity? Why should he poke his finger into other people's affairs without looking after the needs of the Christians? He also talks of Christian charity but charity is not the monopoly of Christians. Buddhists and Muslims practise charity in far more magnificent ways.

It is wrong to believe that Buddhists need BF's advice to mend their fences, or to look after their affairs. It is he who has to be told to look after his own affairs and to consult a psychiatrist.

No Buddhist or Buddhist organisation has ever accused the Christian church of unethical conversions carried out by evangelists who thrive on the misery of poor Buddhists, in remote areas and, mind you, not in areas where they are likely to get exposed and we have only to believe that BF is one of their agents.

BF has also to remember that nobody is converted to Buddhism by the offer of inducements nor are they brought to temples by the scruff of their necks or led by the ears. The principle or the formula is "Come (and) See, ehi passiko, and if your are convinced accept it."

For BF's information, I would like to mention that I am in possession of some articles written by Westerners describing the murder and mayhem created by evangelists in various countries in the past, but not likely to be published in the local press because of the religious tolerance practised here, and that the Indian Supreme Court has turned down a plea by evangelists that conversions are an "extension of God's grace" and ruled that they would impinge on the freedom of conscience, disturb community life and amount to disturbing public order.

I do hope that as in India, some Buddhist organisations in Sri Lanka will challenge the unethical conversions, so that there will be an end to them and the mercenaries will have to stop their covert activities, pack up and leave the Sri Lankan shores.

S. A. Abeywickrama, Nugegoda

The Island - 24 May 01

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..Demonstrations against banning Anduren Eliyata   L1.08

‘The Island’ recently carried two articles which are of great interest to me and should be to all Buddhists in Sri Lanka. There was a picture of demonstrators outside the Buddha Sasana Ministry. They are not there to reduce their weight or get a tan but to protest against the banning or cancelling of the Ven. Soma Thera from the TV programme that he appeared on every Monday &emdash; Anduren Eliyata.

They are not paid goons or on orders from a political party, or temple or church. The demonstrators have one thing in common and that is disappointment. Just imagine, in this freedom loving democratic paradise he who speaks the truth is silenced. In this regard all blame should not be bestowed on the Al Haj Ashraff, there are trustees and organisers both in robes and without who would like to get rid of Soma Thera. I repeat that not only Ashraff’s supporters but many a Buddhist Sinhala lay and clergy men would like to see the end of "this turbulent" monk. (history repeats itself?). And this in a predominantly Buddhist country. Anyway the Good Thera is out and likely to remain so. It is a sorry state, when a government that is supposed to back Buddhism castrates the speakers of the truth.

The Minister for Buddha Sasana should resign forthwith followed by this snivelling government. Come election time, people will demand explanations before voting.

Where are the Buddhist Organisations like the Seven (07) famous or infamous ones who wanted the Minister for Buddha Sasana and the Speaker not to entertain the Anglicans wanting to change their Constitution. The Seven Organisations were quixotic in their attempts. There are very many worthwhile issues and causes but the office-bearers are silent. This grabbing or stealing of land from the Deegavapi is far more important than anything else, for here could be the beginning, the thin edge of the wedge. If anyone exposes any racket against the Buddhists he will get the same treatment. What about the Diyawadana Nilame, why is he so silent?

The second article is the letter by Mr. T. B. Basnayaka of Colombo 6. He does not seem to have heard a single sermon of Ven. Soma or is there a ghost writer involved? If not how can Mr. Basnayaka say that the Good Thera has digressed and come down to political polemics. Is it wrong for Buddhists to say that someone has filched this or that? After all, take over of temple land is like taking over someone elses’ property but more so because temple land cannot be taken. This is high handed act and unless it is opposed at the inception, there will be no more temple lands. The mistake here is the exposure.Now that the good Thera has conclusively proved and now even challenged the Minister, he has to counter their arguments. Is this Mr. Basnayaka’s sense of fairplay or actually is it politics? What does it matter if the land is fallow, Mudu Bim or Waste Lands Ordinance does not apply to temples land be they Vihara or Dewalagam. If the Minister feels that these lands can be made productive as they kept fallow let the Minister work out a scheme of improvement and cultivation and production with the consent of the chief priest. After all monks are just human and anyone else and they will not object to development on agreed lines but with their consent and perhaps with the consent of the Dayakas.

No one, no right thinking Buddhist will agree with Mr. Basnayaka. It was not a prudent act to knock the Thera but an unkind act and done to cover up a lot of sin and taking over and distribution of land, temple land.

Isn’t this racism? If a Sinhala or Buddhist says or does something, it is chauvinism but when others do in the interests of furtherance of their cause, no one calls them expansionists.

Milroy A. P. Bulathsinhalage, Colombo 5

The Island, 30 Aug 99 

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..Anduren Andurata - 1   L1.09

The above programme on TV has shot to prominence a parvenu Buddhist monk as a result of his lucid but non conformist exposition of the Dhamma, much to the dismay of tradition bound monks and laymen who have for centuries worshipped Hindu gods under cover of Buddhism. One cannot find fault with him for exercising his constitutional right of expression of his views on Buddhism.

However, when the venerable priest recently digressed from his discourses on the Dhamma and descended to the level of political polemics and sectarian animosity against the actual or proposed distribution of lands to landless Muslims who, it would appear, have been living on or in the vicinity of the lands owned by the Digavapi temple, it dawned on some discerning viewers that the monk was subverting the programme to uses not at all intended by its sponsors. On grounds of prudence alone, the stoppage of this programme could be justified. Buddhism, proper, rests on boundless compassion towards others, whoever they may be and whatever their races or religions. Boundless compassion entails boundless tolerance of even the worst forms of religious or racial bigotry that other sinners may direct at Buddhists and others. Nominal Buddhists who fail to be consistently compassionate are in the majority; look at the leaders in business, politics and religion and the state of the country today to realise the truth of this statement. The intolerance of nominal Buddhists begets the intolerance of others; intolerance is a two-way street.

The monk did not make it clear to interested viewers whether the large extent of lands owned by the Digavapi temple are, today, richly cultivated or lie fallow or, have lain fallow for years. If the lands are richly cultivated the income from the produce of the lands ought to have been used for the effective upkeep and maintenance of the temple, so that it could not have been reduced to rack and ruin. Has the allegedly ruined structure been bulldozed to construct a road for the benefit of the settlers? If so, with whose permission and under whose authority? These are issues that must be clarified without delay by the government and the lay authorities without leaving matters to the priestly flights of sectarian rhetoric.

If the lands in question had lain fallow and remained unoccupied for long the temple authorities ought to have got the LRC to take over the lands and divest them among the landless of the area in an equitable manner, be they Sinhala or Muslims. Why cry wolf! When someone steps in and attempts to do something constructive with the lands in question for the benefit of the landless in the area. Buddhist compassion is not confined to a rarefied feeling in the head! It must be translated into practice. As I have said, it is hard to practice, especially in the face of bigotry and the intolerance of others, but practice it we must. Perhaps, the monk in his religious discourses failed to mention this central point in the Buddhist doctrine; may be an inadvertence after all.

T. B. Basnayake, Colombo 6

The Island, 24 Sept 99

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..What matters primarily is 'Emancipation' as the Buddha taught   L1.10

    A reply to 'Sinhalese are Dravidians' letter

In response to two of my letters to the Editor, 'The Island', a Tamil friend, in a private letter to me, says that

(1) the Sinhalese are Dravidians

(2) 99.99 percent of the Sinhala Buddhist requests are fulfilled by Hindu Gods

(3) Lord Buddha was born a Hindu

(4) I speak as a good Buddhist.

Since it is a reply that refers to certain matters raised in the journal, I think, for the benefit of many who may share similar views but do not wish to express, I prefer to comment on the above observations through 'The Island' itself.

It concerns me the least whether one is an Aryan or a Dravidian. I think one's nationality is more by accident than by design. If somebody says the Sinhalese are Dravidians, what does it matter either way? What I am concerned is the purity of the mind and not the purity of race. Better left to the racists of so-called Aryan and Dravidian origin to argue out to a finish. Instead of quarrelling over the riddles of ancestry, man has to find a way out of suffering in this world consequent to his greed and clinging.

I do not think that it is correct to say that 99.99 per cent of the Buddhist request are fulfilled by Hindu Gods. A good Buddhist has only to conduct himself in the Dhamma and he is looked after by gods, if necessary. All humans, according to Buddhism, are potentially above Gods?

It is only those who do not justify a righteous living seek favours from Hindu Gods who work for a fee, offer or prayer. Buddha is not there to provide the daily bread, find a partner or to get a job. He leads us on a path that gives us a just life, content and happy. All Gods fall at His feet for discovering the reality of life and the solution to its unending suffering.

It was Prince Siddhartha and not the Buddha who was born a Hindu. He could not help it as he couldn't have been born a Buddhist. Similarly Christ or Mohammed were not born Christian or Muslim. What is important is that He discovered the truth and proved the falsity of existing beliefs. The greatness of His teachings is gaining credibility by the day, all over the world.

It is un-Buddhistic to identify oneself as a good Buddhist. It is specially so, as I am still a wondering in the Sansara. Since this is not the last chance for a Buddhist as for all non-Buddhists, I have many more births before me, before I realise total emancipation. In the meantime, I have been currently profoundly influenced by three basic Buddhist principles. (1) Impermanence (all component things are subject to decay) (2) Middle-path (to eschew treading the extremes in life) and (3) self-reliance (one is one's own master and saviour).

Buddha Himself preached that the process of emancipation has to be gradual and slow, it can never be done in a hurry as if in fear of one being dragged into a permanent hell the following day. A Buddhist cannot be whipped into pray or rushed in fear of an external being. That is why the Buddhists, of all faiths, are the most tolerant and the least violent. It is this quality in His religion had made the others to prey upon him throughout the history of Buddhism.

E. M. G. Edirisinghe, Dehiwela

The Island, 23 Aug 99

 

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..Anduren Andurata - 2   L1.11

It is known to everybody that the Anduren Eliyata programme was the most popular, famous and beneficial programme that the ITN ever produced during the last 12 months. However it ended up due to venomous action of minority politics.

Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera revealed through one of these programmes the real and pathetic situation prevailing at the premises of Digavapi temple. It is the duty of a real Buddha Putra to inform the Sinhala Buddhists when damage is done to heritages of Buddhism. But the revelation of truth was not digestible for the Minister who was responsible for this damage.

Following this incident the ITN carried out a follow-up action. This was to hide the truth. This crew behaved as psychotics. The ITN telecast the following day a programme called ' Anduren Eliyata Pasu Wadana ' to hide the truth from the viewers. They depicted scenes at the Deegavapiya and influenced two 'responsible (?) ' government officers and the priest at this particular temple to tell the viewers bear-faced lies. It is a shame that 'responsible (?)' government officers make fabricated statements through the power of politicians. Shame! Shame! The power of palming oil!

Now it is commonly known to the people of Sri Lanka that they have been cheated not only by politicians, but also by 'responsible (?)' government officers and the ITN. At the new programme on TNL ' Nena Pahana ' Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera proved the truthfulness of his assertions to the viewers with documentary proof.

The lame excuse put forward by the ITN about the suspension of Ven. Thera from this programme is that this particular programme has been continuing for nearly one year and that therefore they intend doing a new programme. A week before ITN announced that Ven. Soma Thera had been invited for a debate with the Minister and that if the Thera did not accept the invitation they would suspend the programme. However the Thera accepted the invitation as he was sure that he spoke the truth and he had documentary proof whereas the ITN had to force people to talk the untruth. The ITN had no other alternative but had to suspend the programme with the Ven. Thera as they had no way of accepting the truth. Nevertheless we know that this particular programme was aired last Monday at the usual time with new participants. It will be rather impossible replacement and an impractical expectation that the listeners would react to it in the same manner as to Ven. Thera's discussions.

With regard to Poya day programme on Rupavahini too we learn that there are some objections from the Buddhist Advisory Council of the Ministry of Media. I wonder whether this particular Council is worried only about Ven. Soma Thera participating at these Dhamma discussions? What is this Council doing when teledramas are telecast on Rupavahini depicting scenes where ordinary laymen are acting as Lord Buddha and when ITN displays programmes hiding devastation and misappropriation of the sacred precincts of the Buddhists?

The punishment for disclosing the truth about Digavapiya has fallen on the Sinhala Buddhist people. The government including the Minister in charge of Media and of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction has hit the Sinhala Buddhist people a disgusting blow.

Funds collected for rehabilitation and reconstruction by the so-called democratic government mainly out of the pockets of the Buddhists, who are the majority of the population of the island, have been used by the Government and its Minister Ashroff to deface, desecrate, destroy and misappropriate the ancient lands of the Deegapaviya, sacred to the Buddhists over centuries.

The Buddhists are debarred from crying a halt to these acts of barbarism and vandalism. The so-called media freedom that this government is swaggering about is it the 'inability to disclose the truth to the people who brought them into power'?

Manjari Peiris, Maharagama

The Island, 21 Sep 99

 

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..Buddhism in Sri Lanka at cross roads today   L1.12

Time and history has proved that whenever there was a dispute among the Sangha the ancient Kings paved way to a Dharma Sangayanawa. Unlike other religions and faiths, Buddhism has its unique character for free debate and analysis of doctrinal philosophy. Again in Sri Lanka we witness another debate on the fundamentals of the Buddhist philosophy.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka is in cross roads today. It has to face the modern technological advances and try to preserve its doctrinal purity. It can only do this by debate and discussion. It is appreciating how this freedom of discussion co-exist with the religion without leading to excommunication of monks as in other faiths.

This freedom of thought has given Buddhist philosophy to remain a strong force in the long history of times. It is timely that the Mahanayakes come-forward with a proper vision to settle these misconceptions and lay out a programme to educate the Buddhist public. Buddhism is a way of life. It is timely that text such as 'What the Buddha taught' by Ven. Sri Rahula be translated and broadcast in the media at a critical time like this. This should also be a task for the Buddha Sasana Ministry. Even Christians do practice a Buddhist way of life in Sri Lanka.

Christian, Ratmalana

The Island, 21 Sep 99 

 

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..Is Soma Thera telling the truth?   L1.13

The Muslims of Sri Lanka are thankful to Ven Gangodawila Soma Thera for telling the people of Sri Lanka what a great religion Islam is and requesting the Buddhist to take a leaf of the life lead by the Muslims of Sri Lanka. Islam is a religion which teaches the way of life. There are no missionaries in Sri Lanka who propagate Islam with vigour and no enticement granted to the converts. The Muslims lead an exemplary life as preached in the Quoran.

It is unfortunate to note that majority of the followers of the great religions and philosophies do not follow the teachings of the great religious leaders. I am open to teaching of all religions, which I believe propagate the way to lead a peaceful life. As a person who have listened to the sermons on Christianity, Dhamma Deshana of the Buddhist clergy and Hindu priest for over fifty years over the Radio and Television conclude Buddhism is a great religion. If followed truthfully, Sri Lanka would be heaven to live in.

The twenty eighth of June 1999, Poson Poya day, the day after prophet Muhammed’s birth anniversary, Ven Soma there appeared over the ITN and instilled fear psychosis among the Buddhist that they would be in the minority in Sri Lanka in twenty five to fifty years. Because they practice family planning and the Muslim, Catholic and Hindus do not.

Mathematically and historically, today minority religion will not be a majority in the future. Muslims of Sri Lanka were only 6% in 1948, fifty one years later it is only 7%. The one percent increase is because of the exodus of the Sri Lankan Burghers after 1956, repatriation of the Indian Tamil under the Indo-Ceylon Agreement, exodus of the Sinhala Buddhist and Sinhala Christians to greener pastures. There is no exodus of the Muslims even though there are Muslim countries around the globe.

Sinhala race and Buddhism have lasted for over 2500 years and would survive for another 2500 years. It also survived 300 years of foreign domination. The Ven Thera prophesise that there will be inter communal disharmony in Sri Lanka in the near future. It is the learned men who instill the fear and create chaos the world over.

With exception of the middle east countries, Buddhism is being spread the world over including the western nations and where Muslims are in the majority like Pakistan, Bangladesh (Where Wesak is a holiday), Malaysia and Indonesia.

It is hypocritical, When Ven Thera, who propagates Buddhism in Australia is antagonistic against other religion openly in his home country. He may have picked it from Mrs. Hansons party which has been rejected by the Australians themselves.

Buddhism would thrive in Sri Lanka by not only propagating the precepts of Buddhism, but also concentrating on the social upliftment of the Buddhist. We appreciate the endeavour of the Venerable Thera to improve the quality of life of the Buddhist in Sri Lanka through his discourses.

M. F. Hamid, Moratuwa

The Island, 13 Aug 99

 

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      A world of peace on top of a hill   L1.14

The life we spend as worldlings is full of cravings, aversions, petty jealousies, im patience, and stress. I took a break to find a way out of all these miseries and got myself 'deposited' at a retreat on top of a beautiful hill, almost like heaven, to follow a course in Vipassana Bhavana (meditation).

We were awakened to the calm pealing of the brass gong hung in front of the dining hall; the time was 4 a.m. When the rest of the world was quiet and the lights of Sri Pada visible from my kuti door, the novices (experienced meditators as well) washed and dressed in clean garb and walked towards the meditation hall. Males entered from the left and females from the right. There I saw rows of mats with individually placed numbered meditation cushions, so clean and orderly, that at once I felt happy and pleased at my 10 days ahead at the retreat.

Morning meditation starts at 4.30 a.m. We listened to chantings by the Master; then had meditation, meditation and more meditation and wound up the day with an out of this world sermon by Goenka Ji which went on past 9 p.m. The prospective Jhana laabhis then walked back to their kutis, washed and slept.

The kutis are very simple and clean; there's no furniture except for a bed and a clothes' horse. We swept and cleaned our kutis, three to a room, washed and cleaned the toilets and bathroom. All of us benefited from drinking unchlorinated water for 10 days! The meditators are expected to bathe everyday, wear clean clothes and most of all not have any dialogue with anybody except the teacher with whom we discussed our progress. In other words, we observed noble silence.

Our meals were well balanced and extremely clean, served onto our plates by the retreat staff. It was an early breakfast at 6.30 a.m. and an early lunch at 11 a.m., biscuits and fruit at 5 p.m., for those who did not observe the eight precepts. After meals we were expected to wash our plates and cups and wipe them with the dish-cloth provided.

Food and board being looked after, the task ahead was only to meditate, to progress on the path according to one's ability. The path is not so rosy. Being seated on the cushion for at least an hour was killing me. It was impossible to sit for more than 15 minutes; and a lower back pain got the better of me- Master says people like Angulimala, KisaGothami or even Patachara trod on this very same path. So why can't I?

Respiratory meditation was a mere impossibility. Previously I could breathe only thrice without losing concentration, but with advice from the teacher our concentration improved and towards the end of the course, most of us could feel happy that difficulty in concentrating was a thing of the past.

The meditation technique was so beautifully planned that we were taught something new each day. We were left to ourselves (observing noble silence) to progress on the path which is the best thing that could ever have happened. Starting off with respiration meditation we ended up with Vipassana.

Well, everything good must come to an end. On the final day the meditators, most with plus marks were saddened to leave the retreat, but were taught to look at all sensations with equanimi ty. We went home on the 11th day with a lot of home work. Everybody gave a donation to the Trust to anable them to conduct the next course.

I recommend it to everyone. So much so I wish I had been able to attend a course 30 years ago! The experience I gained was wonderful and helped to make a big change in my attitude to life! Share the wonder with me - "Ehi Passiko".

By Ira Perera

26 05 2002 - Sunday Times

 

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  Religious values versus TV ads   L1.15

Despite my hoisting the flag often for my own religion (though my participation in its boosting is pure voluntary) I have a wide circle of non - Buddhist acquaintances including Roman Catholic priests who are very curious about Buddhism. One of them once remarked:

"Your religion seems to have the Theory of Impermanence as its nucleus. Does that mean Buddhism too would cease to exist in the future?" "Yes" I said though not on solid ground "In fact the Buddha himself has said words to that effect" (Frankly speaking I was not sure of the stipulated period i.e. the span of this faith and did not wish to elaborate on the point).

"That is sad" he said "It is such a great and profound religion. And believe me, a pristine white Buddha statue seated in the so - called Samadhi posture brings so much of mental peace to the beholder."

The exponent of this remark was none other than Dr. Baptist Croos, an eminent Roman Catholic priest, when he handed me for review a highly enlightening book written by him, "Reaching for the Stars" in his office in the church overlooking the picturesque delta of Modera and fringed by the buildings of De La Salle College that I visited when I was in the Education Ministry.

Anyway none of them ever asked me to list the causes for the possible disappearance of Buddhism which not only fervent Buddhists but even non - Buddhists who admire it do not wish to envisage.

Had I been asked to list them I may stammer out factors like the growth of an over - consumerist society, the demon of bickering politics that has seeped into lower levels too and the phenomenon of TV ads that erode almost directly noble Buddhist values, cum certain values of other religions too.

That this erosion takes place on the glamorous TV screen in front of which my families now sit and roost and "Ah! and Ooh!" at all the gimmicks going on, makes the destructive process more formidable.

The defilements of envy and greed are inculcated in many a TV ad. Take for instance the TV ad that appeared some years ago when a couple watching with grudging envy the neighbouring family unload a whole heap of electric gadgets.

The female contrives to find out how they have become so prosperous overnight and learns about the God - send, a highly advertised loan scheme.

It matters not whether they need those same gadgets, the only end is competition and they are back the next day, victory flushing their faces, with the same assortment of goods. Outdoing the Jones, no, the Punchi Appuhamys and Rosa Nonas next door and elevating themselves into the status of glorious debtors.

Then there was the hilarious ad where a female gazes enviously at the drawing room suite of her neighbour and throwing all self-respect away, when she is informed that some visitors would be arriving she negotiates with this neighbour and removes her drawing room suite and drags in that of hers.

This is openly flaunting the practice of deceit but those furniture dealers just thrived on this ad. Of course the ad could not have been the only factor, persistence and luck too playing their part. What is evil here is that the ads directly work against religious teachings, be they Buddhist, Catholic, Moslem or Hindu that cry foul against deceit and vain glory.

I wonder whether any other country in the world has TV channels that begin in the morning with religions sermons delivered by savants of all the religions flourishing in that country. We have almost set a record here and then these TV ads come on the screen to counter all that like buckets with holes that filter away all the fresh water gathered from dawn rains.

They show children who lick their fingers after eating, wipe all the slush after walloping on a crunchy chocolate or cone of ice cream or some such stuff.

Then they tell the gaping audience in whose tummies sometimes worms cry due to hunger, that unless you feed the child on a particular kind of cheese that he or she can never grow up properly or attend to studies. For balanced growth and sound education a certain kind of butter or margarine is essential the children are told.

I read the other day that the education Ministry on the initiative of the new and enterprising Commissioner of Examinations is planning a symposium to find out causes for poor exam results.

Let the advertisers too participate for they contribute enough for the devastation. What easy excuses the TV supplies the children to discourage them from studying but encourage them to fritter away their time before the great liar arisen out of modern technology.

A certain publishing house of long standing has now begun a campaign that unless exercise books with their brand name are used that the children can never go ahead. This is open lying. "Thou shalt not lie". It also can lead to domestic squabbles when children begin demanding from parents the purchase of this particular brand of exercise book or a writing pen, if they are to go ahead.

There was once a TV ad where both father and son in turn steal from a bottle of jam.

They get into corners of the house away from the prying eyes of the overbearing female of the house and finish the stuff in stealth. Greed and unhealthy overeating are directly encouraged and the ad flouts the Panchaseela and the Christian teaching, "Thou shalt not steal and similar taboos of other religions".

Some ads simply do not make any sense.

There is the young lady seated with others at a table loaded with all the mouth watering calories filled stuff. Suddenly she slyly looks at others," steals" a fat sausage, gets into a corner and gorges on it. Returns, takes another one and repeats the performance.

Actually there is no taboo for her to fill her tummy at the table with the sausages but the advertising agency that designed the ad wishes to stress the delicacy of it and brings in this torrid drama of a young lady openly stealing food. Well dressed and extremely attractive she is the heroine of the piece and the young audience just relish her acts.

How nauseating is the ad where mother boasts how with the aid of her children a fowl was powdered to make sausages at home.

What a Pinkama where the whole family partakes! Compare this with a piece in a Readers Digest magazine where children of a family in England cry on bed the whole of the Christmas night at the memory of the goose they had been playing with, roasted and made the centrepiece of the dining table! Where are the true Buddhist? Here in the repository of Theravada Buddhism or in Christian Europe?

As if all this is not enough, recently the change of programmes on a certain channel is signalled by the gong of temple bells and the blossoming out of a lotus.

It is all very well if the programme to follow is a Dhamma discussion or a song recital by children or some such item but imagine the sacrilege when it is followed by a food demonstration where on a lavish table a fat roasted cock is displayed to be sliced or decorated with flowers stuck on its lifeless beak and other body parts.

Remember the famous politician who ceremoniously began to slice a young roasted pig at a sumptuous party and then went on to fix a lime on its snout for convenient use of those about to feast. The Feast proved his undoing in a Buddhist country as photographs of the little pig and the politician flashed on all the newspapers. There was no TV then.

Are we in a similar fashion to allow the uninhibited use of evilly designed TV ads to hasten the disappearance of our great religion? I am only posing a question. Or have I exaggerated the situation?

Padama Edirisinghe

13 06 2007 – Daily News

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  A fishy question on meat   L1.16

It is encouraging to note the protests against the proposed slaughterhouse. While this is commendable, this protest is rather an indirect way of responding to the issue. The primary emphasis should be made on stopping, abolishing and terminating all slaughter, in fact, all killing. It is unfortunate that all those who talk about animal slaughter some how restrict themselves to the slaughter of cows. This is clearly a result of Hindu influence, which deifies the cow. On the contrary, we must strive to put an end to all types of killing.

In our current way of protesting against animal slaughter that is fashionable today, other types of killing are conveniently overlooked. We must remember that ultimately all kinds of killing destroy life. There is no way we could give more value to a life that is housed in a physically larger mass of flesh. If we go on this basis, all those sumo warriors would be considered more valuable than Citizen Silva. However, as far as I can feel, this is the perception held by many Buddhists. A person thinking nothing about eating small fish, will be horrified at the death of a stranded whale, or at cattle slaughter. Unconsciously, he has linked the value of life to physical mass. To this day I could not verify to my satisfaction whether this line of thinking has any support in Buddhist philosophy. Whether this is so or not, I am sure that the Buddhist public at large entertains this view.

Once in a while, you come across the odd individual who has grappled this problem and has come to his own conclusions about it. Thus you find the Buddhist who has logically decided that the value of life has nothing to do with the size of the physical body. I heard of one who proudly announced that he prefers beef to fish as a Buddhist, as the former involves destroying one life that can satisfy the food requirements of many, whereas the latter option, i.e. eating fish involves destroying a large number of lives.

This man has recognised the problem for what it is worth: there is no escape from destroying lives; therefore, better kill the minimum to the maximum benefit rather than destroying a large number and becoming more sinful. Talking of sin, if destroying life is essential, how come it is a sin? In other words, why is something that is part and parcel of nature considered sinful? Are all the big fish that gobble down smaller fish, or the carnivorous animals that have to kill for food if they are to survive, all sinful? But I am wondering from the point.

The fact is that the sooner we can find a convincing answer to this question whether life-value is linked to body-mass or not, we can approach the issue in its proper perspective. If the answer is 'Yes, life value is related to body-mass,' then we can maintain the protest against killing larger species, the intensity of protest, too, being kept at par with the mass of the species involved, while ignoring, in a way, the killing of smaller forms of life such as fish and poultry. But the exact criteria to be exercised are somewhat vague at the moment. I mean whether we should link the importance of life only to the weight of the animal involved, only to the size, or to both, that is to the mass (scientific meaning intended,) or we should also take into account other factors such as the level of usefulness to man, the animal belonging to an endangered species, it being a harmful animal, etc. These fine points are left to experts, but the sooner we can clear this matter up the better it is for the future Buddhist generations.

On the other hand, if the Buddhist principle is found to be that life-value has nothing to do with the mass etc. of the animal, the outcome would be that all life is of equal importance irrespective of the size. In this case, we have a massive task at hand. Judged from this stand, cattle slaughter pales in to insignificance in front of the enormity of killing fish in their thousands, and mosquitoes in their millions. I really am at a loss to understand how we can tackle the implications of this stand. All of us who are appalled at bovine slaughter would have to get involved in the more serious task of protesting against the fishing industry, in a much more intense manner.

In an effort to dissuade the fish-eating public, we will have to come up with dramatic write- ups on how the fish is lured towards the net or the hook as the case may be, how it gets hooked, how the sharp iron hook pierces through its body cutting the intestines in to pieces, in fact all the gory details to the point it is served on the table. Coming to think of it, killing fish is done in a crueler manner than bovine slaughter. We may even opt to explore ways to make fishing humane. Anyhow, there is a lot to be done, but the start would be to resolve the question I stated above, i.e. whether the value of life is related to the body-mass of animal.

Anura Kuruppu - Narahenpita

The Island - 20 Feb 02

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  Buddha poojas and not Bodhi poojas   L1.17

It is perhaps a paradox profoundly true that in a world seething with joy and hatred some people tend to believe anything and everything on face value without analysing them logically. Even what appears to be palpably false is accepted as the truth without any examination. It may sometimes be a strange quirk of human nature. In this regard, I quote below Lord Buddhas advise to Prince Kalama.  

"Prince Kalama do not believe what I said, thinking that it is correct because I said it. Do not believe anything because it is an age-old belief coming down from generation to generation. Do not believe anything, thinking that it was said by ancient religious teachers. Do not believe anything because it is stated in the Tripitaka. Do not believe anything said by your teacher because he is Bhikku." 

"Examine what you heard thoughtfully and think carefully whether it is correct, whether it is of some benefit for the human being and whether it has been said thoughtfully with purity of mind and after you have examined and understood it clearly that it will be of benefit to you and to the others as well then only should you accept it."

Sometime ago the erudite monk Dr. Walpola Rahula lamented that Buddhists have Bodhi poojas instead of Buddha poojas thus relegating Lord Buddha to second place and giving pride of place to the Bo tree which is a thoughtless member of the plant kingdom. Buddhists have Bodhi poojas expecting relief from disasters etc. as if a tree is capable of granting relief to human beings in distress; which is itself a thoughtless act. If you ponder upon it carefully and intelligently you will not believe in such fantasy.

Being a member of the plant kingdom it is only sensitive to external stimuli and cannot do more. To believe that it is capable of granting relief from distress is being apish. Unlike in the case of Buddha pooja no merit is accrued to the devotee for offering poojas to a thoughtless tree.

When an offering is made to a Buddha however, it is not only for that particular Buddha, but it is intended for all past, present and future Buddhas and the merit accrued from it is said to be immense. Lord Buddha has never told his disciples to worship the Bo tree but the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha only. The tripe gem. In fact he has said that after his death his Dhamma should be considered as supreme and has never mentioned the Bo tree for any religious consideration.

The advocates of Bodhi poojas adduce the argument that in gratitude for providing shelter from sun, wind and rain the Buddha spent his first week after enlightenment gazing at the Bo tree without batting an eyelid, and that we too in turn should worship the Bo tree.

This is a complete distortion of facts and a departure from the truth. Bodhisatvas or aspirants to Buddhahood sit under large trees having canopies which provide some protection in a limited form from the sun, wind and rain. They sit under them in mediation.

However there is no sanctity attached to such trees. In fact, all previous Bodhisatvas also sat under large trees -- not only Bo trees but other types of trees too. None of those trees have been venerated. After they reached enlightenment such trees were a forgotten lot. They were never venerated or considered holy. This is a fact which cannot be disputed.

Such trees grow in the wild like the Bo tree in question, and the Bodhisatva just sat under it. To prove my argument, I would like to refer to the book titled Bauddha Dharshanaya Saha Sanscrutyhiya written by professors Chandima Wijebandara who appears often on T.V. Buddhist panel discussions, and H.M.M. Moratuwegama.

They are two eminent persons well versed in the Dhamma and who has written this book after a perusal of numerous Buddhist texts. In page 13 of this book it is stated that the Buddha spent only four weeks after he attained enlightenment in peaceful serenity. The first week he has spent under the Bo tree in the same posture with his back to it contemplating on his valuable discourse the Patticchcha Samupadaya or the doctrine of dependent origination in ascending and descending order. He was not gazing at the Bo tree without batting an eyelid as mistakenly believed.

The second week has been under the Ajapal Nuga tree, the third week under the Muchalinda alias Midella tree and the fourth week under a Kiripalu tree.

The authors say that the Buddha spent only four weeks under the said trees and that someone had later interpolated another three weeks to say that the Buddha spent seven weeks in peaceful contemplation. It is therefore crystal clear that the Buddha never sat gazing at the Bo tree as mistakenly believed or made to believe.

After he departed from the place Lord Buddha has never revisited the Bo tree and neither did he ask his disciples or followers to pay homage to the Bo tree.  

Now let us examine the life style of the Buddha. It is said that he slept for only two hours a day and the rest of the day was spent on the moral befuddlement of the people His aim was to see that people attained nirvana through meditation. To say such a Buddha wasted one week gazing at the Bo tree is unbelievable. It is sheer baloney I would say.

Another practice among Buddhists is to wrap a yellow robe around the branch of a Bo tree. The Buddha himself designed the yellow robe to be worn only by himself and his disciples. Is the Bo tree equal to the Buddha to be draped by a yellow robe? At Sunday schools it is taught that the Bo tree is enlightenment by saying Bodiya num Budubavai.

There is nothing in this world which can be compared to the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha as stated by the Buddha himself. Yang Kinchi Rathang Loke Vijjathi Vivida Putu Rathana Buddha Samang Naththi Thasma Sotti Bavantu Te, the meaning of which is that there nothing in this world which can be compared to the Buddha. So how can you equate a thoughtless Bo tree to enlightenment or Buddhahood? Lord Buddha possessed great wisdom or Gnas as they are called including the Dasa Bala Gna or the ten great wisdoms. He also possessed the Mahakarunasamaptti Gan which only a buddha has.

All this great wisdom is a part and parcel of enlightenment and is therefore a part and parcel of the Buddha himself. Now to equate a thoughtless Bo tree to Lord Buddha and enlightenment is utter nonsense. The Bo tree being a member of the plant kingdom can respond to external stimuli affecting its growth but it can do nothing beyond it. It is a sad sate of affairs to see Bo trees that spring from the droppings of crows being venerated and Bodhi poojas offered to it. Can you call such trees sacred?

Lord Buddha is the only religious teacher who said that people of other faiths who lead meritorious lives would be reborn in low spiritual planes or higher spiritual pains depending on the merit gained by them. The beings on low spiritual planes often take refuge in Bo trees. When people offer Bodhi poojas to such Bo trees they offer merit to beings in the Bo trees. These beings accept the merit offered to them and get elevated in the spiritual world. It may be that some of them are capable of granting relief to persons in distress who offer Bodhi poojas to the Bo tree seeking relief.

Unlike Buddhists in Sri Lanka, their counterparts in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Nepal appeal directly to the Buddha for relief and favours. They do not pray to gods or offer Bodhi Poojas in the firm belief that all Buddhas after their sojourn in this world take refuge in a "Buddhas realm" and that they could therefore assist humankind.  

This seems to have some relevance to an age-old belief among Buddhists that just before the end of the world Buddha relics all over the world would unite to form the living Buddha who would deliver his last sermon.

I cannot understand why a Bo tree is referred to as "Bodinvahansa". The word "Vahansa" is a very highly respected form of address to the King and Queen when they are addressed as "Devayanvahansa," Lord Buddha as "Budurajananvahansa" and the member of the Maha Sanga as "Swaminvahansa". They are all human beings except for Lord Buddha who is superhuman, being above all men and gods.

However all chaityas, some with Buddha and arahath relics enshrined in them, are commonly referred to as "chaityarajaya". The Ruanweli maha chaitya, the most sacred of all chaityas since it has a Buddha relic enshrined in it, is referred to as Ruanaweli maha chaitya, but a thoughtless Bo tree is referred to as Bodinvahansa. Here pride of place has been given to a Bo tree ignoring the chaityas most of which contain relics.

In order to buttress my arguments I would like to quote two verses from the Dhammapada - Buddha Vaggo, verse 10.

Bahu ve Sranga Yanthi, Pabbathani Vanananicha

Arma - Rukha Chetiyani, Manussa Bhaya Tajjita. 

This literally means, "People afflicted by fear seek the protection of rocks, woods, animals trees and chaityas."

 Verse 11:

Nethang ko saranang kehamnag, Nethan saranamuttaman

Nethan sarana magamma, Sabba dukka pamuchchati

This means: "But this does not give any assistance to man, it does not help him to overcome his suffering or fear."

These two verses prove beyond any doubt that Lord Buddha never advocated the worship of trees. As such, how could one say that Lord Buddha spent the first week after enlightenment gazing at the Bo tree in gratitude without even battering an eyelid?

By George Tillekeratne

Sunday Leader - 27 Jan 02

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  Are we human?   L1.18

Mr. Godwin Withana's article "Save Cattle From Inhuman Treatment" (The Island, Saturday, November 03, 2001) brought back memories of the cattle my colleagues and I rescued in 1996 and 1997.

Back then, when my friends Shanka Manawadu, Niranka Perera and I were young boys of 14, it was considered quite an odd thing to do by our friends. I still remember the taunts and jeers of a few schoolmates who thought we were beyond the realm of sanity to go around saving cows. "Save it from what, machan?," they would ask during the recess whilst munching on beef toasties their mothers had so lovingly prepared for them. And the answer to that is exactly what I wish to share with all those who have a taste for beef today.

We used to love it. Beef, for us, was a gastronomic delight. We never gave a sliver of thought for how exactly it ended up so tender and succulent on our dinner plate, until one day, quite by chance we overheard a sermon by Ven. Thalgaswawe Seelananda of Parama Dhamma Chetiya Pirivena, Ratmalana.  

This happened when the three of us decided to obtain sil for Vesak, albeit for dubiously boyish reasons better best left unsaid! The thero's message was simple, his method direct. He told us, very systematically, of how exactly a cow would be slaughtered. He didn't miss a single detail. Truly a sermon like no other.

Most of us eat meat with gusto, but how many of us, if any at all have stopped to think of what pain and suffering an animal would have endured to end up as chops? The agony of being transported to an abattoir in overcrowded lorries without adequate space to even breathe, the anticipation and mortal horror of not only waiting for death but the torture beforehand... the list goes on. Often have I heard people argue that bovine intelligence is not so advanced as to know it is about to be killed or to fear death. But any one of us who has passed by the suburbs of Negombo or Panadura in the early hours of the day would disagree. For, many of us have seen the hapless cattle being mercilessly dragged to the slaughter-houses which are rampant in these areas.

It's a heart-rending sight. Yet, a vast majority of us would turn our heads and pass by undisturbed.

How can we call ourselves human?

What sets us apart from the other creatures as the most advanced species? Is it not our ability to think or our capability of comprehending the difference between right and wrong?

We as humans, abhor suffering. We try our utmost to insulate ourselves from pain. But we are not worried about the suffering of other beings.

My appeal to one and all is to refrain from consuming meat that has been butchered inhumanely, and at least to spare a thought for the animal before consuming it.

That alone would be a simple but meaningful start to a gradual deviation from our food which seem to be simply saturated with meat in present times.  

Suneth Rajawasan

The Island

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  The Buddhist Commission must conduct public sittings and extend deadline   L1.19

 

The establishment of a Presidential Commission on Buddha Sasana comprising learned members of the Maha Sangha, accomplished scholars and experienced administrators to inquire into a wide range of matters bearing on the well-being and long-term survival of the Buddha Sasana, is most welcome. It is a sensible step particularly in view of the new challenges confronting the traditional status of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the need to formulate strategies to overcome them.

Sri Lanka has been nourished for over twenty-three centuries, with the quintessence of human thought, the sublime teachings of the Sambuddha. Buddhism, more than other ideology or religion, has played a singular role in creating a unique civilization and shaping the destinies of this country. It falls on the current generation therefore to ensure that Buddhism continues to flourish in Sri Lanka, and that the State performs its historic public duty, as enshrined in the National Constitution, to extend patronage, protection and foster Buddhism both within and outside the country.

However there are a few considerations involving the format of the inquiry on which we have some reservations and misgivings. They are as follows:

1.It is an incontrovertible fact that Sinhala Buddhists see around them forebodings of a disastrous turn of events that, if allowed to continue unchecked, may reduce them to a marginalized status as has happened to Buddhists in South Korea in the last few decades. This perception of such a future disaster has little force unless it receives articulation through a reasoned presentation of facts and arguments.

This is not an easy task given that the Buddhists of Sri Lanka do not have, relatively speaking, the kind of 'Think Tanks' and other sophisticated institutional devices dedicated to safeguarding their interests. The Buddhist public who try to make good this deficiency need considerable time to prepare a well-thought out analysis of the state of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the remedial measures that require to be taken.

2.The issue of the viability of Buddhism in Sri Lanka - its continued existence as the dominant moral and spiritual force in this country - has become inextricably mixed with extraneous issues involving politics and ethnicity. The highly adversarial nature of the latter makes a dispassionate analysis of the claims of the Buddhist majority of Sri Lanka difficult to examine. This moment i.e., during a General Election campaign, is inopportune. The attention of the public is diverted to the larger political scene. Further, the general authoritarian framework within which we are compelled to operate is also unlikely to be helpful in addressing matters that require long and careful study.

3.In contrast to the frail defenses of the Buddhist nation, there is arrayed against the Buddhist majority, a formidable consortium - both local and foreign - that has made an industry of the business of belittling Buddhist claims. For long decades, these institutions have had the kindly ear of governments installed in power.

Not only must the Buddhists present their case - they are faced with the more formidable task of turning the tide that has been running against them for some time. This tide of anti-Buddhist sentiment flourishes in some key public institutions in this country - notably in the state-controlled Media. There is, thus, a huge imbalance in the 'ideological warfare' currently being waged and it would be a near-impossible task to redress matters by quick presentations or position papers delivered to a quick-fix inquiring authority. The background needs to be explored with great thoroughness.

4.A Buddhist Commission should work ideally with the people through its direct mandate. The existence of short-term deadlines (November 30, 2001) and time frames violates this principle. Time frames, if any, ought to be determined by the scope of the investigation and the ability of the people involved to see through the salient issues. Not by the expediency of a fast-evolving political scenario. We state this regretfully because it must not reflect in any way on the goodness and integrity of those called upon to function as Commissioners.

In this context it, must be noted that the Buddhist Committee of Inquiry established by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress in 1954 (later popularly known as the Buddhist Commission) took nearly two years to complete its work. This Commission held sittings throughout the length and breadth of the country, beginning in Ratnapura on June 26, 1954 and concluding in Anuradhapura on May 22, 1955. This Commission travelled approximately 6,300 miles and heard evidence from organisations and individuals representing all sections of Buddhist society, both laity and Sangha.

In recent times, other Public Commissions e.g., The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into involuntary removal and disappearances of certain persons, was given a tenure of two years (through extensions) to submit its findings.  

5.The scope of investigation by this Presidential Commission on Buddha Sasana should not be confined to the acceptance of only written submissions. There should be public sittings (like in the Truth Commission) to entertain verbal submissions from any aggrieved sectors of the Buddhist public.

Therefore, we call upon the Government as a preliminary measure to take the following steps:

1)Allocate a period of six months for written submissions. Extend the deadline to April 30, 2002.

2)Conduct public sittings in Colombo and outstations. 

3)Make available to the public the Reports of the:

 a) The Buddhist Committee of Inquiry (published in 1956), and

 b) The Buddha Sasana Commission Report (published in 1959).

These Reports provide a well-researched historical background and empirical data that are yet relevant to the understanding of the various issues and challenges confronting Buddhism in contemporary Sri Lanka.

By Senaka Weeraratna: Secretary - German Dharmaduta Society

The Island

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  Survival of greatest brutality   L1.20

Hinduism, the oldest religion in the world, considers lives of all beings as sacred. It upholds that every living being, big or small, experiences feelings of pleasure and pain, and postulates the doctrine of compassion, mercy and kindness to ants, worms, birds, animals etc. The tenet "don't kill, don't eat the flesh of living beings", finds a place in the pages of the religious works of the Hindus. Generations and generations of Hindus have been and are vegetarians to this day. Hindus adore and worship the cow as second mother.

Lord Buddha who came after the ancient Rishis, realising that the people of his time would not accept his Dhamma if it was as rigid as those of the Rishis, relaxed the maxim viz: "Don't kill, don't desire to eat flesh of animals, but if offered, eat".

Buddha does not make any speciality to eating the flesh of living beings because only killing, or aiding and a betting in the act, is prohibited.

Lord Jesus Christ who came next, relaxed the law further, viz. "Thou shalt not kill in vain, but if need be, kill and eat. The gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 15, on the return of the prodigal son, says. When Jesus heard that the prodigal son had returned, he was so over-joyed (that, his son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found) he ordered, "let us kill the fattest calf and feast on his flesh".

Prophet Mohamed, the last in the line of law-givers appears to have given a blank cheque on the matter of killing living beings for food. "Animals and plants are created for man - the cattle, the sheep, the camel, the birds etc. He had given man, for food". During the past several hundreds of years millions of dumb creatures have been slaughtered mercilessly in the Holy City of Mecca during Haj. One of the purposes of going to Mecca is to reduce animal population which otherwise, would increase four-fold more than human population.

If one section of the community could live a long and healthy life eating only non-animal food, it is strange that another section should deem it of paramount importance to kill and eat flesh of living beings for its existence and sustenance. It is also unfortunate that while one section reveres the cow as second mother, another section should consider the meat of the cow as the most delicious of all meat. While the words, mercy, kindness and compassion are boldly and indelibly printed on the pages of the scriptures of the Hindus and Buddhists, it is strange that other religious leaders had failed to plead with their followers to show feelings of mercy and compassion on dumb animals, and to abstain from eating their flesh.

The omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient, knows the degree of faith each person has in him. A practical test to assess the faith of an individual is therefore not necessary. Does god consider the life of a human as more precious than that of a worm, bird or human?

As religious leaders hold divergent views on killing and eating the flesh of living beings, one wonders whether there is more than one God governing the universe. Many enlightened members of the Sri Lankan society, irrespective of the faith they follow, have given up eating the flesh of animals and birds and are happy that they are pure vegetarians.  

1."Let not the living, nourish the living". - Emperor Asoka

2."If animals could talk, would we then dare to kill and eat them". - Voltaire

3."The time will come when men will look on the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of humans". - Leonardo de Vinci

4."Meat eating is a survival of the greatest brutality. The change to vegetarianism is the first natural consequence of enlightenment". - Tolstoy

5."What wickedness to swallow flesh into our own flesh to fatten our greedy bodies by cramming in other bodies, to have one living creature fed by the death of another". (Ovid 43-17 B.C.)

By Dr. S. K. Vadivale 

The Island - 22 Nov 01

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  'Meet TV programme butchers' - rejoinder   L1.21

I wish to state quite categorically that Buddhism has no connection whatsoever with meat eating. A follower of the Buddha's teaching is free to eat or not to eat meat as he chooses subject to the guidelines laid down.

In one discourse the Buddha gives several reasons why he is held in such high esteem. Two of the reasons are extremely significant. They are (a) he does not accept uncooked grain and (b) he does not accept uncooked meat. Since cooked grain was accepted by the Buddha the obvious implication is that he accepted cooked meat.

Furthermore the controversy that arose as to his last meal viz. whether it was pork or mushroom, could never have arisen, if it had been well-known that he was a vegetarian.  

Buddhist priests have been offered and have accepted cooked meat and fish for centuries. Buddhists in other countries too eat meat. Vegetarians and animal lovers should stand on their own feet without invoking Buddhism to their aid.

The animal kingdom is one of the four hells mentioned in Buddhism. The Buddha has declared that few human beings will be reborn as human beings in their next birth.

The implication undoubtedly is that the vast majority will be reborn in one of the four hells. We need not be surprised at this because we see the sins, crimes and high-handed acts committed by human beings even when there is no election around the corner. Hell is a place of suffering.

The bull attracts the butcher's knife not because a Buddhist eats beef but because it has been born to suffer in various ways for its sins in the past. Even pampered animals are unfortunate creatures.

They are the slaves of their masters who can restrict their freedom or kill them at will. Animals in the wild are always in danger of death or injury and suffer through man, predator and the forces of nature.

(1) Though animals and man inhabit the same planet and see each other, they are on two different planes of existence.

(2) The animal world is one of the four hells mentioned in Buddhism and therefore it is natural that animals "should" suffer in various ways.

(3) Rebirth in any of the four hells is due to grave sins committed in past lives.

(4) Those who shorten the lives of others (man or animal) will find their own lives shortened in subsequent births and that those who cause suffering to others will suffer in turn in various ways through incurable diseases, attacks by animals, meeting with accidents etc. Once all this is understood a Buddhist can watch the TV programmes without his mind being affected by it in anyway.

Bhikkhu C. Mahinda - Makola

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  More on animal suffering   L1.22

Bhikku C. Mahinda ("The Island" 14.11.2001) seems to think that suffering that is the fate of the animal - inevitable, unavoidable, being the results of various sins committed in the past, not by the animal itself, but presumably in a previous human existence. One might then conclude that all suffering, even of human beings, is justly deserved, and does not deserve any sympathy or practical help to alleviate such suffering.

In any case animals are not accountable for their actions either good or bad. In other words, their actions are not volitional. Therefore, on taking an animal embodiment one's so-called karma should be exhausted, and there need not be a further incarnation.

The question of human suffering is certainly not ignored by theistic religions that do not seek to explain suffering by promulgating the doctrine of karma and rebirth. The three so-called revealed religions, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, besides Zoroastrianism do not teach reincarnation based on karmic actions.

Nevertheless the question of undeserved suffering of the righteous and the undeserved prosperity of the wicked occupied the thinking of the writers of the Old Testament. Partial solutions of the problem are offered. (1) The wicked may prosper in this life, but their "latter end" will be terrible; (2) Their sins will be visited on their posterity; (3) The righteous may suffer by way of moral discipline; (4) Suffering of the righteous may have a vicarious value.

The most direct treatment of the whole problem is found in the Book of Job. Here the orthodox doctrine is expounded with persuasive eloquence, only to be decisively rejected as untrue to the facts of life. Traditional theology is thus in ruins, and no theory is offered to replace it. (Prof. C. H. Dodd: The Authority of the Bible p. 175)

R. C. Peries - Wellawatte

The Island - 22 Nov 01

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  A call to the Maha Sangha   L1.23

Today we are facing a crucial time in our history. Our economy is in the doldrums. Governance has completely broken down in our country. The law and order situation is getting worse day by day, with murders, robberies, rapes and assaults becoming a daily habit. Our moral environment is deteriorating unbelievably fast. Our cultural traditions and values are disappearing so fast that our younger generations may not be aware of them at all. How can we rescue our nation from the abyss to which it is being dragged with increasing speed. The time has come for us to stand up and strive to save our country, save our nation from the dismal future that we are facing today.

The time has also come for the Maha Sangha to lead the nation and our people again at this crucial time, as they have always done during critical periods in our nation's history. The advice and direction of the Maha Sangha has become essential and urgent to guide our people who are being led astray by the many forces of evil of our time.

The several generations of our people would remember how they were guided and advised by the Maha Sangha. Every Buddhist man and woman in this country from their young days have been taught the five precepts. The Maha Sangha guided the people to practice the noble eightfold path. The Maha Sangha educated our society on virtue seela; introduced the concept of wholesome and unwholesome actions that were called Punnya and Paapa and Kusala and Akusala.

The entire Buddhist teaching implores the people not to do evil actions and to do wholesome actions and practice wholesome deeds. In our country Buddhism played the role of forming our present civilization based on Buddhist principles and on Buddhist ethics, always under the guidance of the Maha Sangha.

But to-day where are we? We seem to have lost our way as a country, specially when it comes to ethical and moral values. Our rulers seem to have even forsaken the five basic precepts we were taught. We observe killing and violence across our society; our society has become brutalized and the degree of violence is growing like a cancer in its body.

Suicide has become common. Is this a sign that we are increasingly progressing towards anarchy? Take the second basic precept that we will refrain from stealing. But seeing the extent of corruption, abuse power and waste of people's money in our society, can we pretend that it is not stealing in a scale never seen before in the history of our nation? Take the degeneration of our moral standards and values, specially among the so-called high. Look at the vast amount of lies and deceit heaped on our unsuspecting people. Consider the fifth precept and observe the large number of bars and taverns proliferating around the country. Consider the vast strides made in drug use and drug peddling. It is obvious that our nation, and its rulers, of whom the vast majority are Buddhists have dismally failed to even follow and abide by the five basic precepts.

This is why the people of this country are yearning for the leadership of the Maha Sangha today, to lead them away from the certain abyss that they are facing. The Maha Sangha has always been in the forefront of every national struggle. They have protected and protected and nurtured Buddhism against all odds. The time has come again for the Maha Sangha to lead the nation to prosperity, and away, from anarchy, chaos and despotism.

Siri Hattotuwegama - Ratmalana

The Island - 1 Nov1 01

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  Stop victimisation of Buddhist monks   L1.24

Are the Buddha Sasana Ministry, Buddhist organizations, the clergy and the public aware of the spate of nefarious activities carried on in our country by NGO funded organizations to oust Buddhist monks from their temples? Several hapless monks have been harassed and tormented till they were forced to vacate their premises.

The methods adopted are varied; some monks are accused of sexual misconduct, some of raping minors, yet others of forging currency notes and some, like the monk in Tanamalwila of unearthing buried treasure.

These false stories are disseminated among the people in the area and the gullible public, lap them up. The tactics adopted to gain their mean and sordid ends vary according to the available circumstances. These organizations operate from "behind the scenes" using the unsuspecting public as a catspaw. Police officers and other relevant people of clout are heavily bribed into collaboration. Many are the monks who have fallen victim to these evil machinations.

These unscrupulous gangs have effectively silenced Ven. Aryadhamma, the Nikarawetiye Thera, the Dolukanda Thera and Ven. Sumangala Thera of Devram Vehera. The Ven. Sumangala Thera is being cruelly harassed in order to chase him out of his temple.

The reason for these pernicious deeds is that these harmless monks draw massive crowds. Hasn't the public noticed that the temples that conduct "daham paselas" are targeted for such deeds? Whoever draws crowds is not spared. For crowds mean potential converts. These activists are not in the least concerned that they give their religion a bad name.

Then, there are the self-styled preachers supposed to be 'Sovan' who go about propagating their own brand of Buddhism - a highly distorted version. The tragedy is that there are unwise people who fall for these charlatans. If their atrocious and insidious activities are not stopped forthwith, it will spell doom for Buddhism. And that is exactly what they are aiming at.

Many were the monks who were assassinated ostensibly for political reasons, such as the Dimbulagala monk. At Tanamalwila, a monk who was conducting a 'daham pasela' was shot point blank and killed by an unknown assailant. Strangely, there are no inquiries initiated into this killing. Some temples have been petitioned against for chanting 'pirith' and stopped from doing so.

We urge the Buddha Sasana Ministry and other Buddhist organizations to lose no time in taking action to prevent the monks being harassed and ousted from their temples. To achieve this, such NGOs should be banned forthwith. The victimized monks should be exonerated and re-instated in their respective temples. Time is running out. Please save Buddhism from annihilation before it is too late.

Concerned Buddhist - Nugegoda

The Island - 29 Aug 01

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  Beliefs and practices in relation to the Bo-tree   L1.25

"Prince Kalama do not believe what I said thinking it is correct because I said it. Do not believe anything because it is an age old belief coming down from generation to generation. Do not believe anything thinking that it was said by the ancient religious teachers. Do not believe anything because it is stated in the Tripitaka. Do not believe anything said by your teacher because he is a Bhikku. Examine what you heard thoughtfully and think carefully whether it is correct, whether it is of some benefit for the human being and whether it has been said thoughtfully with purity of mind and after you have examined and understood it clearly that it will be of benefit to you and to the others as well then only should you accept it" - The Buddha.

I have been toying with the idea of writing this article for sometime consequent to a statement made to the Press sometime back by the erudite monk Rev. Dr. Walpola Rahula when he quite rightly lamented about Buddhists who hold Bodi Pujas instead of Buddha Pujas thus relegating the Buddha to the second place and giving pride of place to a thoughtless Bo Tree which itself is a thoughtly act. Buddhists hold Bodi Pujas expecting relief from distress etc. as if a tree is capable of granting relief to human beings in distress. If you ponder over it carefully and intelligently you will not believe in such fantacy. Being a member of the plant kingdom it is only sensitive to external stimuli and nothing more could it do. To believe that it is capable of granting favours or relief from distress to human beings is being apish. Unlike in the case of a Buddha Puja no merit is accrued to the devotee for offering pujas to a thoughtless tree. But when an offering is made to a Buddha, it is not only for that particular Buddha but it is intended for all past, present and future Buddhas so that the merit accrued from it is said to be immense. The Buddha has never told his disciples or lay Buddhists to worship the bo tree but the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sanga the Triple Gem. In fact, he said that after his death his Dhamma should be considered as supreme and never mentioned the Bo Tree for any religious consideration whatsoever. So Buddhists must always strive to hold Buddha Pujas and not Bodi Pujas.

The advocates of Bodi Pujas adduce the argument, that in gratitude for providing shelter from sun, rain and wind the Buddha spent his first week after Enlightment gazing at the Bo Tree without batting an eyelid and that we in turn should worship the Bo Tree. This is a complete distortion of facts and a deliberate departure from the truth. Bodisatvas or Aspirants to Buddhahood sit under large trees having large canopies which provide some protection from sun, rain and wind, besides it is very cool under such large trees. They sit under them in meditation. However, there is no sanctity attached to such trees. In fact all previous Bodhisatvas too sat under large trees not only Bo Trees but trees of other kinds too. None of those trees have been venerated. After they reached Enlightment such trees were a forgotten lot. They were never venerated or considered holy. This is a fact which cannot be disputed. Such trees grow in the wild like the Bo Tree in question and the Bodhisatva just sat under it and did not select it as a tree of sanctity. To prove my argument I would like to refer to a Book titled Bauddha Dharshanaya Saha Sanscruthiya written by Professors Chandima Wijebandara who often appears in the T.V. Buddhist Panel discussions and H. M. Moratuwegama. They are two eminent persons well versed in the Dhamma and who has written this book after a perusal of numerous Buddhist Texts. In page 13 of this book it is stated that the Buddha spent only four weeks after he attained Enlightment in peaceful serenity. The first week he had spent under the Bo Tree in the same posture with his back to the Bo Tree contemplating on his valuable discourse the Pattichcha Samupadaya or the Doctrine of Dependent Origination in ascending and descending order and not gazing at the Bo-tree without battling an eyelid as mistakenly believed. The second week has been under the Ajapala Nuga Tree, the third week under the Muchalinda alias Midella Tree and the fourth week under a Kiripalu Tree.

The authors say that the Buddha spent only four weeks under the said trees and that someone had later added another three weeks to say that the Buddha spent seven weeks in peaceful contemplation. It is therefore crystal clear that the Buddha never sat gazing at the Bo Tree as mistakenly believed or made to believe. After he departed from the place the Buddha has never revisited the Bo Tree and neither did he ask his disciples or followers to pay homage to the Bo Tree. Now let us examine the life style of the Buddha. It is said that he slept for only two hours per day and the rest of the day was spent for the moral upbringing of the people. His aim was to see that people attained Nirvana through meditation. To say such a Buddha wasted one week gazing at the Bo Tree is unbelievable. It is sheer baloney I would say. Another thing some Buddhists do is to wrap a yellow robe around the branch of a Bo Tree.

The Buddha himself designed the yellow robe to be worn only by himself and his desciples. Is the Bo Tree equal to the Buddha to be draped by a yellow robe. In the Sunday Schools it is taught that the Bo Tree is Enlightment by saying Bodiya num Budubavai. There is nothing in this world which can be compared to the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sanga as stated by the Buddha himself.

"YANG KINCHI RATHANANG LOKE VIJJATHI VIVIDA PUTU RATHANANG BUDDHA SAMANG NATHTHI THASMA SOTTI BAVANTU TE", The meaning of which is that there is nothing in this world which can be compared to the Buddha. So how can you equate a thoughtless Bo Tree to Enlightment or Buddhahood. Lord Buddha possessed several great wisdoms or Gnas as they are called including the Dasa Bala Gna or the Ten Great Wisdoms. He also possessed the Mahakarunasamapatti Gna which only a Buddha has. All these great wisdoms are a part and parcel of Enlightment and is therefore a part and parcel of the Buddha himself. Now to equate a thoughtless Bo Tree to Lord Buddha and Enlightment is utter nonsense. The Bo Tree being a member of the plant kingdom can respond to external stimuli affecting its growth, it can do nothing beyond it. It is a sad state of affairs to see Bo Trees sprung up from the droppings of crows being venerated and Bodi Pujas offered to it. Can you call such trees sacred.

Lord Buddha is the only religious teacher who said that people of other faiths who lead meritorious lives would be reborn in in low spiritual plans or higher spiritual plains depending on the merit gained by them. These beings of low spiritual planes often take refuge in Bo Trees. When people offer Bodi Pujas to such Bo Trees they at the end offer merit to beings in the Bo Trees. These beings accept the merit offered to them and gets elevated in the spiritual world. It may be that some of them are capable of granting relief to persons in distress who offer Bodi Pujas to the Bo Tree seeking relief.

Unlike Buddhists in Sri Lanka their counterparts in Singapore, Malaysia, Hongkong and Nepal appeal directly to the Buddha for relief and favours and they do not pray to Gods or offer Bodi Pujas in the firm belief, that all Buddhas after their sojourn in this world take refuge in a "Buddha Realm" and that they could therefore assist them. This seems to have some relevance to an age old belief by Buddhists that just before the end of the world Buddha relics all over the world would unite to form the living Buddha who would deliver his last sermon.

I cannot understand why a Bo Tree is referred to as "Bodinvahansa". The word "Vahansa" is a very highly respected form of address to the King and Queen when they are addressed as "Devayanvahansa", Lord Buddha as "Budurajananvahansa" and the members of the Maha Sanga as "Swaminvahansa". They are all human beings except for Lord Buddha who is a super human being above all men and Gods. However all the Chaityas some containing Buddha and Arahath relics enshrined in them are just commonly referred to as "Chaityrajaya". The Ruanweli Maha Chaitya the most sacred of all Chaityas since it has Buddha relics enshrined in it is referred to as Ruanweli Maha Chaitya but a thoughtless Bo Tree is referred to as Bodinvahansa. Here pride of place has been given to a Bo Tree ignoring the Chaityas most of which contains relics.

Lord Buddha is referred to as "Asamasama" or incomparable. Hence it follows that Enlightment too is Asamasma or incomparable since it is the Buddha who is the Enlightened One. So by what logic could one equate Lord Buddha or Enlightment to a thoughtless Bo Tree which has no human feelings. It is perhaps a strage quirk of human nature in that some people tend to believe what is palpabably false as the Truth despite evidence to the contrary. With that mental attitude they tend to influence others too to accept their beliefs and practices. As a matter of fact people generally resent the introduction of changes as such some people just stick on to old beliefs and practices come what may.

I therefore call upon all Buddhists, the Clergy as well as the Lay Buddhists who disagree with the findings of these two Authors to adduce relevant documentary evidence from the Buddha Dhamma not only to prove that they are wrong but also to prove convincingly adducing relevant documentary evidence that Lord Buddha spent his first week after Enlightment gazing at the Bo Tree without battling an eyelid as an act of gratitude. In conclusion I would like to state that the purpose of this article is two fold, firstly to sift the grain from the stalk in relation to Buddhist Religious Beliefs and Practices and secondly to open the eyes of those entrenched in age old beliefs contrary to the pristine incomparable Dhamma preached by Lord Buddha. In case I have erred anywhere in this article I would like to be corrected.

George Tillekeratne

The Island - 14 Jun 01

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  'Bodhi' worship vs 'Bodhi puja'   L1.26

Response to George Tilekeratne by D. G. B. de Silva

"Bahu ce saranam yanti - Pabbatani vanani ca; Arama rukkha cetyani - Manussa bhaya tajjita" - [Dhammapada-Buddha Vagga]

["People afflicted with fear seek the protection of rocks, woods, shrines, trees and chaityas"]

This quotation from Dhammapada [The translation is mine] should settle what Buddha's thoughts were on the question of worship of these objects. That includes the Bodhi tree which is the subject of our discussion here. However, the issue of Bodhi worship in Buddhism cannot be dismissed with this quotation as it has become part and parcel of Buddhist lore and ritual and has come down to us to this day as a chief element in Buddhist worship.

Mr. George Tilekeratne [here after Mr. T.] has questioned the significance attached to the Bodhi tree worship and the validity of present day Bodhi-Pujas by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka. [The Island, 12th June, 2001]. He observes that the Buddhists in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong appeal direct to the Buddha and says they do not pray to Gods or offer Bodhi Pujas. As such, he has tried to draw a distinction between the worship of the Buddha which he accepts and the worship of the Bodhi tree which he does not. In support of his arguments he brings out the following:  

1] The Buddha has never told his disciples to worship the bo tree but the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, the Triple Gem.

2] He never visited the Bodhi tree during the time of his mission after he left the tree.

3] The findings of Professors Wijebandara and M. Moratuwegama, who are claimed to have asserted that there is no evidence that Buddha spent a week gazing at the Bodhi tree as it is popularly believed. He places so much faith on what these two academicians have said not because of the validity of their research but they are exponents of Buddhism on the TV etc. What a non-Buddhist approach if one considers what Buddha told in the Kalama Sutta?

At this point itself one may ask where in the canonical literature the Buddha asked his disciples to worship him, the Dhamma and Sangha. For inferences one has to scan the later literature and the evidence could be very encouraging but that has to be distinguished from Buddha's teachings. Positive recommendation to worship the Buddha, that is also not Sakya Muni Gautama but Amitabha Buddha, also appear in Mahayana texts like the Amitayur-dhyana-Sutra which deals with [Buddha explaining to Ananda] the manner of perceiving the Buddha as part of Meditation on Amitabha. In brief it says: "Every Buddha Thatagata is one whose [spiritual] body is the principle of nature. [Dhammadhatu-kaya] so that he may enter into the minds of any being. In fine, it is your mind that becomes Buddha, nay, it is your mind that is indeed Buddha...." et all. Did the Buddha-worship itself creep into the southern schools as a response to the growing popularity of Mahayanic concepts which began to represent Buddha in a cosmic aspect? That is the point at which Buddha passes from his human form as a popular teacher to the divine aspect.

Mr. T's second question as to the reference where the Buddha asked the followers to worship the Bodhi tree is answered in the Divyadana where Buddha is quoted as saying the "tree is my personal abode" [mano nibaddha vaso viya]. It is also answered in the Ananda Bodhi Katha found in Sinhala Bodhi Vamsaya. In it the latter Buddha is quoted as saying: "Ananda, the Bodhi 'used' by the Buddha is the Chaitya when Buddha is living". Even if the meaning may not be clear in this direct translation done by me, the next statement put in the words of Buddha does. It says: "All right, Ananda, Go ahead. Plant it. [a sappling from the Sri Maha Bodhi at Gaya]. Then it would look as if I am residing there." (Sravasti). Here one can see the convergence of the two ideas of the [Bodhi] tree as the abode of the Buddha. Yet there is no evidence that he recommended it for worship as much as his own person.

Obviously this is a later attempt by the fraternity of the Bodhi tree worshippers centred at Buddha Gaya to answer the very question Mr. T. is asking namely why the Buddha did not visit the Bodhi tree after he left Gaya. By the time the sculptures appear at Bharut [2nd c.B.C.], the Bodhi tree sculpture is definitely referred in the accompanying inscription as 'Buddha' (Bhagavato].

Buddha's First Seven Weeks

Mr. T's third point is about the veracity of the Animisa-locana puja' by the Buddha during the second week after the attainment of Enlightenment. Based on the findings of the two academicians he takes up the position that there is no evidence to support that Buddha spent the second week in front of the Bodhi tree paying gratitude to the tree. It was known to any one who perused earlier texts like Majjhima Nikaya, Mahavagga Pali and even later texts like Udana Pali, that there was no reference to the week spent by Buddha in the popularly believed "Animisa - locana" posture in front of the Bodhi tree. The textual reference to the seven weeks [Sat-satiya] and "Animisa - locana" [2nd week], to produce textual evidence of which Mr. T has thrown a challenge, appears first in the 5th century commentary Samantapasadika by the famous commentary writer, Buddhagosa; and again in the Sinhala Jataka-pota that followed much later. Buddhagosa is such an authority that what he wrote cannot be easily ignored. Besides, he was a resident at Bodhimanda at Gaya before he came over to the Island. As such, one could agree that he wrote with personal knowledge of a strong tradition present there. Heun-Tsang writing in the 7th century confirms that an image named 'Animisa-locana' which had open eyes was seen by him at Buddha Gaya and also the weeks' offering of "Animisa-locana" showing gratitude to the tree.

One can see how the idea of five weeks [Mahavagga Pali on which Buddhagosa wrote the Commentary] and of three weeks [Udana Pali], changed to seven weeks by the time commentaries were written. Buddhavamsatthakatha and Atthasalini [another commentary] says Buddha was gazing at the seat. Mahavastu Avadana speaks of three weeks but devotes one to 'Animisa-locana'. Adhikaram has concluded that Buddha was gazing at the tree as well as the seat. E. J. Thomas, one of the early researchers in the 19th century observed that four weeks could be clearly discerned and a later writer had expanded this. What is the purpose of Mr. T getting so excited as to throw out a challenge to any one to contradict the two academicians when the subject is old hat? It has been examined by a number of early researchers on Buddhism like Rhys David, E. J. Thomas and E. W. Adhikaram.

These contradictory positions about the manner Buddha spent the first weeks after the Enlightenment as found in the early canonical works on the one hand and the commentaries on the other hand, have to be understood as the result of ideas and actual practice that had developed during the intervening centuries. There is strong evidence that a strong section of the fraternity had made Buddha Gaya the centre of their worship and they were able to attract the attention of the Buddhist world to this centre. It became the naval of the Buddhist world. [Read Ven. Dhammika's informative monograph on Buddha Gaya, published in Singapore, for information. He is an Australian researcher].

The controversy over how Buddha spent his first few weeks does not enter into the discussion of the historical and religious significance of Bodhi worship. As one understands from the interpretations given in the old lexicons like, Pali-nighandhuva, Abjhidanappaddipika, Amarakosa, Sabda-kalpa-drma and Vyavaspatya; and modern lexicons like, Pali-English Dictionary [Rhys Davids/PTS]; and Sumangalasabdakosa; as well as interpretation of sculptural and textual traditions and ritual practices, the term Bodhi stood to denote Buddha himself, in all aspects including his Enlightenment, his perfect wisdom, his fundamental teachings and Nirvana rather than in the limited aspect of the Asvattha tree. In other words what really matters is that the Bodhi tree represents as the learned editors of UNESCO volume on "Buddha Image" observed something much more significant, namely, the place where Buddha attained enlightenment to start with, later transformed to the very symbol of enlightenment itself. That is an understatement in the light of evidence in texts and lexicons.

Pre-Buddhist Practice Continued  

The worship of trees and the Pipal tree in particular, has been a very ancient religious practice which one finds from pre-Buddhist forms of beliefs and worship. The practice is alive more so today as it had been over four to five millennia ago. From mere animistic belief tree worship elevated itself in Buddhism to a higher form of worship but the Buddhist practices seem to have lapsed back, to a certain degree, to days of animism and superstition. The distinction has to be made clear and the Buddhist cloak given to lower forms of beliefs and practices has to be clearly differentiated. Hindus too, while persisting in animistic beliefs to an extent, consider the Pipal tree to be a symbol of God Vishnu and believe that all sins could be expiated and Moksha could be reached by making offerings to it.

On a visit to Buddha Gaya in April 1983 I met another visitor, a Hindu from Bangalore, who had come to perform certain vows on behalf of his childless wife. There were many others like him that day carrying on their 'pujas' for the same reason. In fact, some women whom I was told were without children were seen taking a dip in the algie-covered pond behind the Sacred Bodhi tree which they [mistakenly] called 'Neranjana'. Later I found that this was a common custom among the Hindus in India. They believed that such 'pujas' and a dip in the pond would answer the problem of barren women. The link of the worship of the Bodhi tree with the ancient 'nature' cult or fertility cult is being continued.

The second important thing I observed during my train journey from Gaya station to Madras was that up till one reached Andhra Pradesh it was a very common sight to see a Bodhi tree in every small village. [Not giant trees as we have but smaller ones]. People were seen using the Bodhi tree as their meeting place, as much they seemed to hold the tree in great veneration. Comparatively, in Sri Lanka the practice is not so wide-spread in our rural setting. Bodhi trees which are chosen for veneration are rather rare. In our villages they are found exclusively in the compounds of Buddhist temples.

Mr. T's assumption that "every bo tree" including 'Kaku-bo' grown from bird's dropping is venerated is not correct. For that matter, how many such trees are there in the vicinity of the National Hospital which are ignored but only the Bodhi shrine at Punchi Borella is venerated and used as a shrine by the visitors to the hospitals nearby and by people living around? I watched so many bo trees, some of great size, being felled on the Elvitigala Mawatha during the last few months and weeks without any protest from the people. One was a huge tree near the temple at the entrance to Timbirigasyaya road. Evidently there is a long tradition attached to those Bodhi trees which are used as shrines. It is true that some insignificant Bo trees like the ones which existed on a threshing plot on the marshes close to the historic Bellanwila temple have been turned into a profitable business venture and impressions could be created that every Bo tree is worshipped. The superstition is such that building workers would not even pull out parasitic Bo plants from a building. Many hundreds of Bo plants one could see even this day in the niches of the Dawatagaha Mosque provide good examples.

The connection between the Bodhi worship and the fertility cult is also manifest in the old tradition of the Rajarata people holding the 'Alut Sahal Mangalya' at the Sacred Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura just as much as the people in the hill districts perform the ceremony at the temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The worship of the Sri Maha Bodhi at Anuradhapura has deviated much from the original purpose and the shrine is used as a place for multiplicity of ritual conducted for different purposes. The Indian idea of seeking the blessings of the Bodhi tree to have children is not without its correspondence in Sri Lanka as the following popular pilgrim's verse shows:

"Etena sitan pevi pevi uda maluvata yantay - Uda maluva bodi samy pirimi putek dentay".

It contains an appeal to the Sacred Bodhi tree [at Anuradhapura] to bless the pilgrim with a male child.

Bodhi Tree in Aniconic Worship of Buddha

The importance that the Bodhi tree gained in Buddhism can be seen from its early appearance in sculpture as a symbol in aniconic worship of Buddha. His place is taken by a vacant space where one finds the symbol of the Bodhi tree, the Stupa and the Wheel, sometimes with the seat [Vajrasana] and the foot-prints appearing in front of the Bodhi tree and the wheel [but not before the Stupa]. This was when during the phase between Buddha's demise and the emergence of the Buddha image in human form, people used numerous non-personal aniconic symbolism to visualise and represent Buddha and his teachings [represented by Dhamma Chakra] for the purpose of veneration. This was, as it was put in the UNESCO publication: Buddha Image, "Creating in the midst of a teeming crowd of figures, a centre of quiet emptiness suggesting the Buddha's Nirvana state much more convincingly than any

human figure among the multitude of other human figures could have done." These symbols some of which, like the [Bodhi] tree which was certainly pre-Buddhist, were used separately but also arranged in combination as one finds at Amaravati where the order of priority in ascending order is the [Bodhi] Tree [Person or Enlightenment], the Wheel [first Sermon] or Dhamma, Stupa [Entry into Nirvana]. Some times the order is changed with the Stupa in the centre and the bodhi tree and the wheel on the two sides. Each of them was already a cult object by that time the sculptures appear as worshippers are seen around each symbol.

In Sri Lanka the requirement of a symbol was fulfilled by the early introduction of Bodhi worship itself when a sapling branch from the Bodhi tree at Gaya, followed by the planting of 'astaphala' and later of 32 Bodhi saplings and others throughout the Island. this could account for the lesser frequently of the presence the Bodhi tree in the sculptures of the Island compared to India. In contrast the wheel symbol and the foot prints occur more frequently in the sculptures of the Island. Stupa worship [place where Buddha's bodily relics were enshrined], also went side by side with the worship of Bodhi trees. Even after the stupa followed by the Buddha image became two major objects of worship, the worship of the Bodhi tree as a shrine [and also the foot print] continued. The foot print in temple complexes disappeared from the scene but a single cult round the [conceived] foot print has replaced it.

The Bodhi tree worship occupies to this day a priority in the ritual of worship of the Buddha over the image house while the wheel has disappeared, only the Stupa remaining besides the Bodhi tree. Why is this importance which continues to be attached to the Bodhi tree? Is it because it symbolised Buddha's abode, place of Enlightenment, and the whole spectrum of Buddha's achievements as we shall see later? Or, else, is it because, as Mr. T assumes that Buddhists are recollecting the gesture of gratitude (Animisa-locana) that Buddha is claimed to have extended to the Bodhi tree as the tree that provided him shelter when he attained Enlightenment?

No doubt, the virtue of gratitude is highly praised by Buddhists as shown to parents and teachers; but that alone is not a major cause to be isolated from among many other virtues extolled in Buddhism or the many Buddha qualities. It is true that the 'gratitude' aspect received emphasis at some stage with the 'Animisa-locana' idea and an image of the Buddha in Animisa-locana attitude had been seen at Buddha Gaya by Heun-Tsang (not a stupa as stated in Buddha Sasana Ministry publication - PhD thesis written by Ven. Welamitiyawe Dhammarakkhita Thero, Kelaniya Uv., 1991; nor was it seen by Fa-Hien as asserted by the venerable Bhikku quoting Beal's translation.). Here we are presented with two propositions, namely, Bodhi tree as representing Buddha, in all aspects; and the Bodhi tree in the limited perspective symbolising gratitude. One has to isolate the more profound cause.

Bodhi-Symbol of Enlightenment

The UNESCO publication referred to earlier, edited by a panel of world renowned scholars, observes that "The tree, like other symbols, was already in pre-Buddhist times an object of miraculous efficacy, and therefore worthy of worship (puja). The simple tree, as soon as it received in the Buddhist cult this new function, was thus turned into an enclosed sanctuary and later into a temple-like edifice. Thus the 'Place of Enlightenment' (bodhimanda) developed into the 'House of Enlightenment' (bodhigara)ÉÉ Besides its specific ritual function, the tree was still used to indicate Enlightenment as such; correspondingly, the Wheel can stand for the Law and Doctrine, and the Stupa for NirvanaÉ Holy person, holy place, holy object - these three are the three variant meanings of those symbols. Seen sub specie acternitatis they are identical because their ultimate truth is one and the same. The various meanings and functions are therefore not always clearly discernible, since several meanings may overlap or fuse. Sometimes careful analysis may reveal anachronisms and discrepancies, but these are resolvable if we understand that in the early phase the Buddha and all events of his career were thought of as transcending historical time and space. He represented a mere temporal manifestation, for the benefit of suffering world of living beings, of absolute truth and transcendental Buddhahood."

The conclusions to be drawn from a perusal of texts and old lexicons are that the Bodhi worship, as it became a Buddhist object of worship from being a pre-Buddhist popular cult object, first took the form of a symbolic object as a reference to the place where Buddha attained Enlightenment; or representing the momentous event of Enlightenment itself. Certainly, in the later phase it represents the latter but also Buddha himself in the Enlightenment, Supreme Wisdom, Fundamentals of his teachings and Nirvana aspects.

The sculptural representations belong to the post-Asokan period; but that Asoka had venerated the actual Bodhi tree at Gaya is illustrated by literary evidence as much as the strong tradition present in Sri Lanka of the introduction of a sapling from the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Buddha Gaya. Emperor Asoka is seen in the sculptures looking at the withered Bodhi tree in order to revive it.

Problem Solution

Against the evolutionary background of the Bodhi worship discussed above, the Bodhi worship which has become an essential element in the Buddhist ritual, whether it is on account of limited perspective of symbolising the virtue of 'gratitude', or, the broader concept of Buddha himself in varied aspects, cannot be set aside without casting away the worship of the Buddha itself which was a late introduction to Buddhism. That is the price one has to pay for trying to go to the very root of Buddha's teachings to find reasons for rejecting Bodhi worship. In the life story of Buddha whether he sat with the Bodhi tree behind him (Pallamkam); or later whether he spent another one week facing the Bodhi tree as the account goes, in the "Animisa-locana puja", i.e., showing gratitude to the tree, which Mr. T. degrades as a "thoughtless tree," are details that have crept in when the Buddha legend developed.

Mr. T quotes the two academicians mentioned, to reject the strong tradition of Animisa-locana (gratitude) first recorded in Buddhagosa's commentary, Samantapasadika, that Buddha spent a week standing in front of the Bodhi tree showing gratitude to it. According to him, for us to worship the Bo tree in turn 'is a complete distortion of facts and a deliberate departure from the truth'.

The idea that the Bodhi tree is worshipped following Buddha's example of gratitude may be only a interpretation which took into account the belief that had grown by the 5th century when Buddhagosa wrote. After all, he was writing with personal knowledge since he was a resident of Bodhimanda in Gaya. One has to contend as well with the evidence of the presence of the Animisa-locana image seen by the Chinese traveller.

How is it that in Buddhist ritual the worship of the three objects associated with the Buddha, namely, the Bodhi tree (Enlightenment), the Stupa (Bodily relics), and the Image (personification), that the worship of the Bodhi tree received priority starting from the early days of anicronic representation of Buddha? Is it not clear from this order of priority as also depicted in the Amaravati sculptures where in the scheme of arrangement the Bodhi tree symbol is alongside the wheel symbol and only secondary to the Stupa (Nirvana), that Bodhi worship arises from a much more profound reason than emphasising the virtue of gratitude: or simply an idea borrowed from early animistic beliefs? It arises, as the learned editors of the UNESCO volume I quoted observed, from the fact that Bodhi tree symbolises the Enlightenment. Historically and Buddha's carrier-wise that is the starting point of Buddhist thought. The UNESCO editors statement as well as what is taught at the Sunday School that Bodhi tree is 'Enlightenment', to which Mr. T. seems to take exception, are but understatements when one compares with what is stated in ancient lexicons and by some of the greatest authorities on Buddha-lore. It is the symbolism relating to Enlightenment that has been taken into account perhaps for reasons of brevity, leaving out others, i.e., Buddha himself including the essence of his teaching and Nirvana. Rhys David also summed up the different connotations given in the texts and ancient lexicons on the term 'Bodhi' when he said that "what the Buddhists mean by worship of the Bodhi tree is the Teacher himself who achieved the highest form of wisdom, namely Enlightenment." On expanded meaning given in the ancient lexicons it means even more, i.e., The Buddha himself and all the fundamentals of Buddha's teachings - the Supreme Wisdom and Nirvana (attainment of Bodhi) included.

Mr. T. seems to have mixed up the true significance of the Bodhi worship with the ritual practices that have grown round it, particularly, the confusion created by present day Bodhi pujas. Attempting to isolate the un-Buddhistic practices surrounding the Bodhi worship is commendable; but for that reason the baby should not be thrown away with the bath water.

The Island - 29 Aug 01

 

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  Buddhism is incomparable   L1.27

I write with reference to the letter appearing in newspapers by Bhikkhu Horowpothane Sathindriya. In his letter the priest says: "People of our global society belong to various faiths, religions and philosophies. It is extremely narrow-minded to consider that everybody in the world should believe in or follow only one religion or faith".

As you read the first paragraph of this particular letter, it gives the impression that there is some strong external influence behind this opinion expressed.

Even the scholars who think and act with equanimity in the world have unanimously agreed that the enlightenment of the Lord Buddha to the people of this world of the Four Noble Truths rediscovered by HIM is the greatest among the other teachings on this earth.

The teachings of the Lord Buddha cannot be compared with any other religion. Moreover, Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy.

I doubt whether the Ven. Thero is at least aware of the meaning of the pali stanza, "Svakkhato bhagavata dhammo, sanditthiko, akaliko, ehipassiko, opanayiko, paccattam veditabbo vinnuhiti... which means ‘Well-expounded is the Dhamma (doctrine) by the Lord; to be self-realized; with immediate fruit; inviting investigation; leading on to Nibbana; to be comprehended by the wise, each for himself.

In what religion do you find these values? 

In what religion does the concept of three characteristics (Thilakshana) which is taught in Buddhism that all the beings in this world are subject to Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-substantiality). When we fail to recognize these three characteristics of existence, we regard that which is impermanent as permanent, that which is unasatisfactory as pleasure, and the selfless as possessing on unchanging self. The Buddha compiled these tendencies in the Pali word avijja, ignorance. Being ignorant of our own true nature, and of the true nature of the things around us, we engage in actions based on these delusions and thereby we accumulate kamma which keeps us in bondage to the cycle of birth and death.

It is through understanding these characteristics that wisdom arises. Then only one can free oneself from the bonds of rebirth and attain Nibbana, the permanent end of suffering.

Most of the other religions approve killing of animals and intoxication. Ven. Sir, do you approve this kind of deeds while being a Buddhist priest and by consenting to follow other religions at the same time?

Jesus Christ had advised people to love their neighbours as they love themselves and animals are not included here. But the concept of the Lord Buddha as explained in Buddhism is "Sabbe Saththa Bavanthu Sukiththattha.. which means May all beings be well and happy!"

The history of Buddhism is older than the history of Christianity. Even before Buddhism and Christianity came into this world, people knew as to how they should segregate good and bad. Further, people had been protecting the five precepts even before these religious leaders came into this world.

It is vital to know that the philosophies are the significant factors of a religion. I wonder as to how and why the Ven. Thero is in robes? What is the motive? It is important that the Ven. Thero examines as to what principles he is following as a Budhist priest rather than exploring into other religions.

I am writing this letter with much pain and I have no any malicious thoughts towards the priest. I kindly request the Ven. Thero to be careful when expressing opinions about religions. I being a Buddhist do not tolerate a Buddhist priest having disgraced Lord Buddha or His teachings while attiring the yellow robe!

Manjari Peiris, Maharagama.

 

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  This is Vesak, not Valentine's Day   L1.28

Vesak is here. It should depict a most solemn and holy day where people engage in observing religious rites. It is in fact a day when Buddhists all over the world revere and venerate the birth, death and attainment of the Lord Buddha.

But, what do we see here in Sri Lanka, the land that the Buddha himself said his pure doctrine would flourish for 5,000 years after his passing away? A time for carnival and vulgarism, at least in some quarters.

Although the majority believe in spending the day in quiet contemplation, observe sil, or the eight precepts, (three more than the usual five a layman is supposed to follow in daily life), and most Buddhists refrain from consuming meat, fish and liquor, there are those who believe that a good bajawwa is how the day should be commemorated. Musical shows, olubakko dancing etc. are performed in various parts of the country and many young people enjoy themselves as though this were a day for gaiety.

The Vesak cards available for sale during this time too tell us a story; a story of greed and how commercialism has crept in to desecrate this holy of holy events in the calendar.  

As Ven. Maduluwawe SobithaThero said on television recently, some of the Vesak cards today are more suited for Valentine's Day.

The Sunday Leader visited several Vesak card stalls in the city and what were we greeted by? Among the genuine cards conveying the true spirit of the day, were multitudes of cards depicting romantic images and verses and pictures of scantily clad females. Are these the values we instill in our young, socially, culturally and morally and what are the authorities doing about it? It seems most of the cards are designed with young people in mind. There is nothing wrong in creating aesthetically pleasing cards, but when they overtly represent romance and sometimes even vulgarism, obviously meant, in some twisted sense, to be sent from one lover to another, it goes completely against the very essence of piety the occasion demands. It is amazing that Sri Lanka being basically a Buddhist majority country, which once boasted of a rich cultural heritage, such perversion and commercialism is allowed to seep into young minds, quite contradictory to its values and tradition.

It is perhaps a rich market catering to an overwhelming demand or part of the carefully planned out strategy to eradicate Buddhism in this isle of ours.

Voicing his opinion on the subject, Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero told The Sunday Leader, 'I have been speaking out against this for many years now. It is entirely the fault of the government and it's mode of education. Childrens' little minds are being poisoned and this is what prompts them to buy Vesak cards of this nature. Values instilled into them are all wrong and demands urgent attention to preserve our heritage. This is what I am agitating for. For the higher authorities to take serious note of this calamity that would worsen in the future if not addressed fast. Vesak is a religious affair and not an affair of the heart between two people. This is not a time for merrymaking and carnivals. We should educate them and this is upto the government.

Meanwhile, Dr. Harischandra Wijetunge, President, Sinhala Maha Sammathe Bhumi Puthra Party told The Sunday Leader it was indeed tragic that such things were allowed and that it was the NGOs with their vested interests that are probably causing this wanton destruction in the minds of our people.

'There are about 75 to 80 such organisations that are advocating other religions and other such westernised literature and culture in an organised manner. Even the office of president in Sri Lanka is not a Buddhist one and it is not a state religion according to the constitution."

Businessman Ranjith Fonseka voicing his opinion said, 'We try hard to bring up our children and instill in them proper values but how can we prevent them from digesting all this rubbish that has entered the open market? Do we have to stop them from walking on the streets? It is obvious that they are being brainwashed and diverted. Something ought to be done immediately to prevent our children from losing touch with their religion and get back to the cultural values that were once abundant. We must maintain our own identity as a country.'

Ministry must act on it 

Neranjan Wijeyeratne - Diyawadana Nilame, Dalada Maligawa, Kandy:

'We are aware of this and totally object to the depths people stoop to, to even print this type of disgusting forms of greeting on this sacred day, Vesak day, when we should actually be observing religious rites and remind ourselves of what actually Vesak denotes. It is a total disgrace to Buddhism. I call upon all Buddhists and others not to purchase these cards and instead spend this money in helping poor children in remote areas who are suffering untold hardship. Unfortunately I cannot do anything about this particular situation but the Ministry of Buddha Sasana should take stern measures to crack down on these culprits who should be dealt with very severely. It is upto the ministry to safeguard Buddhism and project the true meaning of Buddhism.

 'We are unaware' - Personal Assistant to the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Buddha Sasana:

'We are completely unaware of this situation where the whole idea of Vesak is being abused by printing this type of greeting cards by unscrupulous individuals. I am sure Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and Deputy Minister Ediriweera Premaratne (who were not available for comment ) would take serious note of this and should it be happening, take action against the culprits concerned.

Vidyani Varma

Sunday Leader - 6 May 2001

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  Are we true Buddhists? - a reply   L1.29

I read a most interesting article by Mrs. Nalini Colonne on the above subject. Yes, I am ashamed as she says we Buddhists do not practice our religion. I fully agree with her.

I think 80 per cent of Buddhists in Sri Lanka especially in big towns like Colombo, Kandy, Galle etc. to name a few and in the suburbs, they are name-sake Buddhists. They repeat the precepts like parrots.

I wonder whether most of them even know the meaning of them. "Metta" is compassion and kindness shown towards other living beings. These Buddhists and even some animal-lovers forget the suffering these poor animals go through in the early hours of the morning in the abattoirs. When they eat the beef steaks, mutton chops, ham, bacon and sausages, they don’t realize that this is the flesh of animals which were killed just that morning.

The Buddha preached "Ahimsa" and Metta. Metta is compared to a mother’s feeling for her only child. If so, they should not eat the flesh of these poor, dumb animals who cannot plead for themselves. Those who want to eat flesh say that the Buddha said, not to kill and did not forbid them eating. This is like the age old Sinhalese saying "Ugurata hora behetha Kanawa" meaning swallowing medicine with out the knowledge of the throat.

The Lord Buddha said not to kill in the first of the five precepts and not trade in flesh is one step of the Noble Eight-fold Path. If people do not eat, then there won’t be sales &emdash; so no killing. Does this not stand to reason. They do not kill &emdash; to throw the flesh to the dust bin or feed the dogs.

I have often heard the butchers saying &emdash; We would not kill if you’ll don’t eat.  

Dr. C. D. Godamunne, Kandy Humanitarian Society

The Island - 27 Aug 00

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  Of meat eating and compassion   L1.30

Newspapers give a lot of publicity to people who collect money and free cows destined for the dinner table. I’d like to question the effectiveness of this practice in saving the animals. When someone or an organisation collects money and frees a cow, what will happen after the much hyped freeing?

The owner of the slaughter house will use that money (mind you, he will get more than what he paid for the cow in the first place or may be even close to what he could have got for its meat) and buy another animal for slaughter in its place. Its not as if the slaughter house will put up shutters on that day just because the animal was sold. Only the individual animal which was bought by the organization will survive.

It will not do a thing to reduce the number of animals killed. Moreover the ‘mudalali’ will earn extra money. The only way to help the animals is to stop people from eating meat altogether. 

Much has also been said about eating beef. More people seem opposed to eating beef than to eating chicken or fish. Songs have been written and programmes shown on TV to dissuade us from eating beef.

If all beings are equal and if the amount of animal products eaten by us remain the same (i.e. we don’t reduce our meat intake), isn’t it more humane to kill one cow to feed say 50 people than to take the lives of 20 chickens or fish to feed the same amount of mouths? Do cows suffer more when killed than chicken or fish?

Janaka Seneviratne, Boralesgamuwa

The Island - 2 Aug 00

 

    End of Aloka Letters Page 1   

 

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The last words of Buddha

The Buddha addressed the Venerable Ananda: 'It may be, Ananda, that to some of you the thought may come: "Here are we have the words of the Teacher who is gone; our Teacher we have with us no more". But Ananda, it should not be considered in this light. What I have taught and laid down, Ananda, as Doctrine (Dhamma) and Discipline (Vinaya), this will be your teacher when I am gone’.

 – 'What the Buddha taught' by Ven. Walpola Rahula

 

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