LETTERS ON BUDDHISM.
Appeared in Sri Lankan News Papers - PAGE 4
LETTERS INDEX Page 4
L4.01 The debate on rebirth - The Punurutpatti Vadey (Debate on Rebirth) vacillated between…
L4.02 Rebirth and reason - Being a layman myself on the subject of rebirth…
L4.03 More on rebirth - This refers to one Stanley Weerasinghe’s letter published…
L4.04 Arthur C Clarke & Rebirth - In 1999, Sir Arthur published his "Collected Essays 1934 – 1998"…
L4.05 Rebirth controversy: A clarification - In the Buddhist conception of things and events…
L4.06 Sir Arthur C. Clarke commemoration - Sir Arthur was of the firm view that life…
L4.07 Sir Arthur and rebirth - Sir Arthur while expressly denying afterlife admired Buddhist doctrine…
L4.08 Sir Arthur and rebirth 2 - The stand attributed by me to Sir Arthur regarding afterlife…
L4.09 The question of rebirth - The contentious nature of the phenomenon of rebirth arises from…
L4.10 The question of rebirth 2 - Reference the lengthy essay captioned ‘The question of rebirth’…
L4.11 Concerning rebirth - Prof Carlo has mixed up and shuffled most of the material…
L4.12 Alulena and Bodhipuja - Regarding the time and venue of the writing down of the Pali...
L4.14 From Rituals to Real Buddhist Practice - It would be prudent on this important occasion to review…
L4.15 Preferring Buddhist ethics to mere celebrations - The upcoming 2600th Anniversary of…
L4.16 Vesak 2011: Pilivethin Pelagesemu - Vesak 2011 is of special significance to Buddhists…
L4.17 Vesak and Poson: Kannangara’s service to Buddhism - Christopher William Wijekoon…
L4.18 Sequence of awakening of the Buddha - In this article Professor Sugunasiri has explained with great clarity...
L4.20 Buddhist ideals and musician monks - The other day, I was aghast to watch a…
L4.21 Christmasing Vesak - I started writing ‘Between the Blinds’ to the…
L4.22 The correct use of the 'Dharmachakra' - A great injustice has been perpetrated on the Dharma chakra…
L4.23 Astrological predictions - I wish to enlighten readers on following points…
L4.24 The post-mortem condition of the Arahant - What happens to the Arahant when he/she "dies"?
L4.25 On Nibbana - I wish to take up the use of immortality as another term for Nibbana...
L4.26 More on the metaphysics of Nirvana - Theravada understanding on the baffling subject of Nirvana...
L4.27 Asymmetry in international affairs - We are dictated by the western economic relationships...
L4.28 'Lord' Buddha - "Lord" means master or ruler or a feudal type superior...
L4.29 The Buddha was no Lord - the wisdom of adding the epithet "Lord" in front of "Buddha"...
L4.30 ‘Lord’ Buddha, or Sammasam-Buddha? - Those who do not wish to say ‘Buddha’ only...
The debate on rebirth L4.01
The Punurutpatti Vadey (Debate on Rebirth) vacillated between the sub -sublime and the ridiculous. It was not short and sweet, totally unlike the Panadura Vadey ("The Panadura Debate"), which created a social and religious revolution, particularly in Buddhist education, - after the advent of the illustrious Henry Steele Olcott. Perhaps the recent writing by Dr. Dharmawardene (The Island, ‘Feature’, page 6 of January 18) came close to impressive reasoning. The protagonists were not aiming to win but the antagonists hit hard. There was calm for several days, followed by the response in SATmag (January 23) of Prof. Carlo (my friend for 55 years), which regrettably reached the nadir. CF has been identified as a person who reasons logically and responds appropriately, but not so this time, however. His reply was remarkably negative, and is more likely to confuse than enlighten all and sundry of your avid readers.
Reasoning is the act or process of drawing conclusions from facts, and may entail reasonable argument. Having the last word may sometimes be irrational. Reasoning logically qualifies reasoning, and reflects careful understanding and ensures acceptance. Logical positivism claims to reject speculation with statements that are irrational. The most practiced religion in the world is Christianity which, together with Islam and certain other religions, believe in and do not challenge the prevalence and influence of God, and, no one has proved the existence of this revered entity. Unfortunately, "man has become increasingly sceptical of beliefs handed down on the strength of authority – a growing skepticism with regard to all beliefs that cannot be proved in the relentless laboratory of science" – Gina Cerminara. When black-and-while TV was introduced to Britain in the nineteen fifties, a repetitive advertisement: "Germex kills all known germs", annoyed "rationalist" Ranasinghe to eventually yell (to myself only), each time I heard it, "But most germs are unknown!"
Rebirth literally means "born - again", - after death. This is not possible biologically. Punurutbhavaye of Buddhism (Re – Being) is known in modern parapsychology as "Reincarnation". Incarnation literally means: introduction into living flesh.
My earliest interest in "Reincarnation" was through Buddhist teaching or preaching and, soon thereafter, by reading the book Many Mansions (a.k.a The Edgar Cayce Story on Reincarnation) written by Gina Cerminara ( copyright 1950). She received the BA, MA and PhD degrees in psychology from the University of Wisconsin, before her years of research in parapsychology began. She was such a penetrating scholar that she carefully studied 2,500 of Cayce’s ‘readings’ as the basis for her book.
Edgar Cayce was born in 1877, a Roman Catholic (and remained so until he died in 1945). His ambition was to become a Catholic priest which was not possible nor approved because he had an insurmountable and crippling stammer. Under hypnosis (later) his stammer relented, at first needing repeated therapeutic sessions, but, during one such session he started muttering in an incomprehensible language (Sanskrit) and referred to the ‘Akashik State’ (the ether). This was not equivalent to the Soul, but was the ‘essence’ searching for apt reincarnation. From 1901, he gave tens of thousands of readings until his sixties, under self - induced hypnosis. The book provides credible data not only on previous lives but also on remedies for long - standing ailments, most of which were cured through therapy, except in-born errors like haemophilia. He would often enunciate the previous karma which led to the present illness.
We are blessed with intelligence but, regrettably, only humans ‘use laughter to mock or insult others’ (‘Leisure LAND’, The Island, page 2 of 14. 01.10). This deplorable habit used to be a personality disorder, but has, alas, now pervaded administrations, professions and politics.
Let me quote from the Maha-Mangala Sutra: Asevanacha Balanang - Panditanancha Sevana - Associate not with fools (the profane) - serve and keep the company of wise people. Finally, do not waste valuable time arguing with unrelenting rationalists.
Dr. Lakshman Ranasinghe
26 01 2010 - The Island
Rebirth and reason L4.02
Being a layman myself on the subject of rebirth, as advised by Mr. D. H. Gunadasa in his letter in The Island of 24 June 2009, I asked an erudite Buddhist monk whether I will be born again, and the reply was ‘Na cha so, na cha agngno’ ( The person reborn will be neither you, nor another person).
The common concept of rebirth is that, the misdeeds committed in this life, will have to be compensated for in the next birth. As it is stated that, I will not be born again, some other person will be made to pay for my sins, which is illogical and unjustifiable. It will be logical if I am made to pay for my sins, in my present from without ‘transferring’ my sins or a part of it, to some other party.
If, claimed by champions of rebirth, it is the people who die, that are reborn again, how could one account for the increase in population?. It is stated that, the present world population that stands at six billion people, will increase to seven billion, in another two decades. From where do the additional one billion babies come?
A huge jak tree will die, giving life to myriads of seedlings, that will grow as reincarnations of the old tree. This could be considered the natural phenomena of rebirth, common to living beings.
24 09 2009 - The Island
More on rebirth L4.03
This refers to one Stanley Weerasinghe’s letter published in your paper of 24th July 09 (above). Writer Stanley quotes a particular Buddhist text: "No cha so, no cha agngno" (the- person reborn will be neither you nor another person). He goes on to say: "the common concept of rebirth is that the misdeeds committed in this life, will have to be compensated for in the next birth. As it is stated, I will not be born again and some other person will be made to pay for my sins, which is illogical and unjustifiable".
Buddhism explains very clearly that when you are reborn you carry forward both the good and the bad from not just the previous birth but of your existence in previous, numerous births as well. The tainted mind of Stanley speaks of only the misdeeds of previous life! There is a saying, ‘little learning is a dangerous thing’ and going by what Stanley had stated, he qualifies very well to be within that statement. To get back to the subject, since one carries both the good and the bad of his or her previous worldly existences, the person reborn will be yourself in another form.
If as Stanley says rebirth is questionable then how does one explain a person born deaf, dumb or blind? Then is it the work of almighty God responsible for same? I once asked a Christian priest as to how one is born deaf, dumb or blind and pat came his answer - "Its due to the sins of the father". Then is it not illogical and unjustifiable if the Son is asked to pay for the father’s sins? Stanley, first throw out the beam in your eye, then you see clearly to throw the mote in your brother’s eye.
In the last paragraph of his letter he says; "if as claimed by champions of rebirth, it is the people who die who are reborn, how could one account for the increase in population? It is stated that the present World population that stands at six billion people will increase to seven billion in another two decades. From where will the additional one billion babies come?". According to Buddhism, a person can be born as an animal or exist in the spirit world according to his or her actions (deeds or misdeeds) of previous births. Once the Karmic force (law of cause and effect) that caused the person to be born as an animal or as a spirit ends, he/she can be reborn as a human being.
Therefore, since there is a massive interchange from one form to another due to Karmic forces it is obvious the World population will be increased due to rebirth and the Karmic interchange.
09 09 2009 - The Island
Sir Arthur C. Clarke & Rebirth L4.04
By his letter in The Island of 5 June 2010, D. Siriratna of Ambalangoda has requested Mr. Dharmapala Senaratne, President of the Rationalists’ Association to quote chapter and verse for his assertion that Sir Arthur denied belief in rebirth. Right now Mr. Senarthne is indisposed and has asked me to respond on his behalf to Mr. Siriratne.
In 1999, Sir Arthur published his "Collected Essays 1934 – 1998". In the essay titled Credo (Latin for "I believe") Sir Arthur wrote: "I have been appalled by the way in which the United Sates (and much of the world, East and West) appears to be sinking into cultural barbarism, harangued by the fundamentalist Ayatollahs of the airways, its bookstores and newsstands poisoned with mind-rotting rubbish about astrology, UFOs, reincarnation, ESP, spoon-bending, and especially "creationism" …". (page 362)
For my part, I should tell Mr. Siriratne that if he already believes in rebirth, he should not give it up just because Sir Arthur denies it. It is true that Sir Arthur, the Godfather of satellite communications and originator of the concept of the internet was one of the finest brains of the 20th century. But that does not make him infallible. I urge Mr. Siriratne to follow instead the advice that the Buddha gave the Kalamas: "… O kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong and bad then give them up… And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and [right] and good then accept them and follow them". (What the Buddha taught by Walpola Rahula, page 3)
In matters of life and death and ultimate belief each of us must act on the basis of our own inner conviction.
09 06 2010 - The Island
Rebirth controversy: A clarification L4.05
In the Buddhist conception of things and events, each person has a uniquely determined ‘karmic predecessor’. He (or she) has a unique ‘karmic successor’. These basic facts are confused and misinterpreted when it is stated that ‘X is reborn as Y’. Rebirth is a meaningful concept, only if there is a strong sense of personal identity that survives death. In the theistic faiths such beliefs are tied up with the concept of a ‘soul’ that outlasts the corruption of the body at death and is ‘resurrected’ in some other place and time. The ‘Person’ or his spiritual essence is transferred to a new habitation. This is ‘metempsychosis’ or the peregrination of souls effected, through the successive occupation of bodies.
Needless to say, such concepts have no place in Buddhism. The ‘soul’ is regarded as a retrograde and pernicious foisting in Buddhist thinking where the foremost place is given to the concept of ‘anatta’ that sees flux and impermanence as the defining features of nature. It follows ineluctably from the repudiation of the soul that personal identity that could be traced across generations is a folk-belief that has no warrant in authentic Buddhism. Most Buddhists subscribe to folk beliefs on reincarnation’ that are seemingly justified by the doctrine of ‘two truths’. When Buddhists say that ‘X is reborn as Y it is a conventional way of speech that is resorted to. The pristine truth is that ‘X is karmically connected to Y, or ‘X is the karmic predecessor of Y. The karmic deeds (or misdeeds) of X influence the way in which Y is fashioned in structure and function at his conception. This is a far cry from ‘metempsychosis’ where an identifiable and perdurable soul moves from body to body in cycles of incarnation. Such vulgarity is quite foreign to Buddhism.
It must be admitted that in what can be described as ‘Folk Buddhism’ in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, the notion of ‘persons’ assuming diverse forms, both human and animal in the course of spectacular trans-generational migrations, is widely accepted. This has led to much phony research on ‘the recall of past lives’ by pliant imposters. Even more bizarre are the claims of those who practice ‘regressive hypnosis’ to ferret out details of past lives. These fancy investigations, are founded on the belief that ‘lives are connected in a line of karmic descent. This is false. Deeds are connected karmically - there is a law of cause and effect in connection with acts committed in successive lives. No where is it claimed that individual lives are connected by the survival after death of some personal essence. An analogy is useful here. A parent passes on his hereditary characteristics to his child. It is obvious nonsense if we say that the parent is ‘reborn’ as the child. Likewise the ‘karmic ancestor’ or predecessor’ passes on his ‘karmic heredity’ to his successor and is thereby linked to the latter. It is ridiculous to suppose that this is a case of ‘rebirth’.
It remains to consider the ‘truth’ of this karmic linkage between distant lives. As a scientific hypothesis there is little to support it - the claimed evidence is anecdotal and the basic facts of biological inheritance rule out extraordinary influences of the kind envisaged in the karmic engagement of lives. As a religious belief it is in the same class as the ‘Original Sin’ of the Theists - a blame-game that is widely resorted to in all religions.
08 07 2009 – The Island
Sir Arthur C. Clarke commemoration L4.06
Mr. Dharmapala Senaratne, (DS) in his letter appearing in the Island of 19th November, 2009 states inter alia that Sir Arthur was of the firm view that life ended with death leaving behind no soul. In another letter which appeared on 20th October, 2009, DS made some remarks about re-birth. This is a response to the aforesaid letters.
Sir Arthur, in his book titled "Deep Range' stated that by the year 2050, the only religion left will be Buddhism and will remain so, for generations to come even after 2050. He would, no doubt, have had strong reasons for this prediction. Of course, everybody is aware of the various predictions made by Sir Arthur, which became true, during his life time. Sir Arthur would have made the above prediction after making an in depth study of Buddhism, which, of course, includes the concept of re-birth. If rebirth is something unacceptable, then Sir Arthur would never have made his prediction about Buddhism.
26 11 2009 – The Island
Sir Arthur and rebirth L4.07
Mr Dharmapala Senaratne, in his reply appearing in your issue of December 2, in response to my letter of November 26, states that "Sir Arthur while expressly denying afterlife admired Buddhist doctrine".
The Buddhist doctrine is based on the concept of rebirth and one cannot admire Buddhist doctrine, without agreeing with the concept of rebirth. Moreover, if Sir Arthur did not believe in rebirth, he would not certainly have stated that by the year 2050, the only religion left will be Buddhism and will remain so for generations to come, even after 2050. Incidentally, for our information, could Mr Senaratne let us know the name of the book/journal/magazine/newspaper in which Sir Arthur’s article appeared in which he has ‘expressly denied afterlife’.
There was a large number of news items during the past where persons had described their previous lives, including the place in which they lived. The Island of October, 2, 2006 (page 10) and the Sunday Island of October, 15, 2006 carried an article, including photographs of a child, aged 14 years called Lakshan Aravinda Rupasinghe, in the village of Kebbelagashandiya, Katana, who had started rejecting his present existence and begun claiming that he hailed from Jaffna and had suddenly started speaking in Tamil. He has said that his name is Ramachandran Rajkumari that he was from Jaffna that his mother is Rasanthi and she has gone to Dubai for employment.
There was a similar incident reported from Pathahewalieta, Kapuliyadda, in the Divaina of September, 28, 2005, (page 21). The people of the area had appealed to a responsible person to inquire into this matter, details of which are too lengthy to be reproduced in a short article.
Similar incidents get reported in the press regularly. This writer is yet to come across any rationalist who had interviewed such people and then visited the place at which such person is said to have lived during his previous life, and prove the incident as false, supported, of course by facts and figures.
It defies imagination as to why either Mr Senaratne or a member of the Rationalist association never thought it fit to inquire into any of these incidents.
After all, that is what the rationalists are for.
09 12 2009 – The Island
Sir Arthur and rebirth – 2 L4.08
I refer to the poser addressed to me by D. Siriratne in ‘The Island’ of 26 November 2009.
The stand attributed by me to Sir Arthur regarding afterlife is factual and I quoted ‘The Island’ newspaper itself as proof. Mr. Siriratne’s statement of Sir Arthur’s view of Buddhist doctrine being the dominant creed in the future world is factual, too.
Wherein lies this apparent contradiction then? Well. Although Sir Arthur may appear to be inconsistent ex facie yet a bit of further examination will show that he is consistent. While a detailed clarification is called for explaining the matter, I shall only endeavour to proffer a brief explanation, considering the fact that the Editor will not accommodate me in a full page.
All religions teach an afterlife of some sort and, in fact, no organized religion can ever exist in the absence of such belief. By way of minor deviations, however, Islam, for instance, do not teach an afterlife for animals other than humans while popular Buddhism and Hinduism differ in that all sorts of animals are a part and parcel of the cycle of rebirth – samsara.
Having been brainwashed from the very first day of birth and then throughout a lifetime, different religionists hold a deep rooted conviction in mind that only the particular dogma, taught by their respective religions, is the absolute truth and what is taught in other religions are false. Thus, while Buddhists and Hindus are absolutely certain of the truth of rebirth, Christians and Muslims are equally certain of Almighty God and creation.
That explains why and how whenever I deny rebirth, Buddhists come forward in their numbers not only to contradict me but even to ridicule and insult me.
Strange though it may sound, Sir Arthur, while expressly denying afterlife, admired Buddhist doctrine. I can think of many other intellectuals, holding similar views. Earl Bertrand Russell, for instance, was unequivocal in saying that after his death, nothing will remain other than his dead body that will then decompose. He nevertheless held the Buddhist doctrine in high esteem to the exclusion of all other popular religions.
Likewise, the late Dr. E. W. Adikaram was repetitive and consistent in asserting that he did not understand what rebirth is and yet strongly believed in Buddha Dhamma. So was the late Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra.
Dr. Abraham Kovoor had such a high regard for the Buddha that he approvingly quoted an excerpt from the Kalama Sutta in every issue of ‘Ceylon Rationalist Ambassador’, the annual journal of the Sri Lanka Rationalist Association, and adorned it with a picture of the Buddha image while at the same time being vociferous in denying rebirth or an afterlife of any sort.
The question then naturally presents itself as to what the Buddha actually taught. I leave it aside for the time being due to space considerations though I have touched on it on many occasions in the past.
President – Sri Lanka Rationalist Association
Gothatuwa New Town.
02 12 2009 – The Island
The question of rebirth L4.09
I read the letters written by Dharmapala Senaratne, President of Sri Lanka Rationalist Association on the above subject in The Island (20th October and 2nd December 2009). The contentious nature of the phenomenon of rebirth arises from two main factors that make it a very controversial topic to talk about in public. One is that unlike in the cases of conception, birth and death, different religions express different and contradicting views on it. Some religions accept the views expressed by philosophers Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato, and endorse it as a true phenomenon. Some other religions accept the views expressed by Aristotle and reject it as untrue. Some religions that originally endorsed it and taught it as true did U-turns under political orders of Roman Emperors Constantine and Justinian, and now reject it as untrue. This religious factor is easily understood by anyone.
The greater part of the controversy arises from the following second factor. Unlike conception, birth and death which are, at least partly, within the scope of rational knowledge, rebirth is completely beyond it and one cannot appreciate rebirth on the basis of rational knowledge. Therefore, people who accept only rational knowledge ridicule it and quite emphatically reject it as untrue. Recently such a neurologist, Richard Rastac, rationally proved that human beings do not have minds. He looked for minds in his patients’ heads by examining them with X-rays, CAT- scans and PET-scans and stated that because he couldn’t see a mind in any of them human beings do not have minds. He is so blinded by rationalism that he cannot accept the fact that the mind is beyond the scope of rational knowledge and cannot be examined by scientific equipment designed to examine material features of the body which are amenable to rational investigation.
Today’s people are conditioned to accept whatever is scientifically proved as acceptable and reject what science is unable to prove. Our common sense is conditioned by the practice of science for over three centuries. What people generally refer to as science is classical science that originated in the 17th century. Founders of science, Isaac Newton and Rene Des Cartes limited the scope of classical science to visualisable aspects of the universe or what human beings could perceive with their five sense organs. Des Cartes introduced the concept that nature does not extend beyond what we can perceive with our sense organs and thinking of anything beyond the visualisable was ridiculed as meaningless. This limited the scope of science to rational knowledge of objects which were tangible and measurable. Scientists were thereby condemned to accept only rational knowledge that they could generate through their sense organs, left brains and conscious minds. Aspects of the universe (nature) that extended beyond these limits were ridiculed and rejected. The universe was recognised as a giant mechanical system operating according to exact mathematical laws and it consisted of material objects made up of small solid indestructible particles which moved in an absolute infinite three dimensional space and absolute time. Reductionism, determinism and absolute mathematical certainty were basic tenets of classical science. Modern science has shown us that these are not true and that uncertainty is a basic law of nature.
Until the dawn of the twentieth century scientists did not recognise that the universe extended beyond the visualisable three dimensional aspects of the universe. As it became evident at the turn of the 19th century that the universe is not limited to its visualisable aspects, scientists had to break through the three dimensional barrier imposed by classical science and venture to examine what was happening in unvisualisable realms. It was Albert Einstein who broke through the three dimensional shell of classical science and took science into four dimensions by introducing the theory of relativity.
Scientists have not been able to appreciate rebirth which is essentially an unvisualisable phenomenon because they have tried to look at it through classical science
Thereafter the advent of quantum science took our scientific knowledge deep into the unvisualisable and made us to understand previously unknown aspects of nature such as atomic phenomena, superconductivity, superfluids, lasers, consciousness and rebirth. The latest discovery in science which was done in 1997 by Nicolu Gisin of Geneva University which is hailed as the most important discovery in the whole history of science is unthinkable in terms of rational knowledge. Gisin scientifically and conclusively proved that the universe is nonlocal in nature. There is nothing within the mass of rational knowledge available to mankind that can be used as an example to illustrate his discovery. Therefore scientists use the Surangama Sutra in Buddhism as the example to illustrate it.
The technology that developed the world during the last half century such as electronics, computers, television, radio, internet, and lasers would not have been possible if science remained trapped within the limits of rational knowledge. The visualisable aspects of nature which are amenable to rational knowledge are accessed through the five sense organs, left brain and the conscious mind. Therefore rational knowledge is subject to the limitations of our sense organs. The unvisualisable aspects of nature are accessed by quantum scientists through the power of modern mathematics and computers, and seen through the right brain and the subconscious mind by Arahanths.
Scientific acceptability of rebirth is unthinkable for a person whose thinking is conditioned by classical science and I was in that category until I had to make a statement on it in Sydney which made me to scientifically study the phenomenon of rebirth. To my utter amazement I found that with the data available from scientifically acceptable sources and according to modern science criteria for scientific acceptance rebirth gets proved as scientifically true. Anyone interested can read my scientific research paper on rebirth on the internet.
Scientists have not been able to appreciate rebirth which is essentially an unvisualisable phenomenon because they have tried to look at it through classical science which is meant only to examine intelligible phenomena in visualisable realms. One cannot appreciate quantum phenomena such as the ‘quantum jump’ through classical science because they are beyond rational knowledge. Early philosophers believed that everything happening in the universe could be understood by rational thinking and reasoning. Quantum science has shown us that this is not so. We have to now accept rebirth as a scientifically acceptable phenomenon. Let me illustrate rebirth with an example.
A few years ago, a 14 year old girl from a suburb of Colombo came to meet me at my residence with the complaint that she was getting frequent long lasting fainting attacks and no treatment had given her any relief. The only person who could give her some relief was a 16 year old boy living in her neighbourhood who could touch her hand and get her to recover and wake up. But the boy’s parents had stopped him from coming to her house. What she revealed to me was that in her past life she was the sister of one of the first five fighters of the LTTE and she had been trained to take his place in case he died. She had been trained in LTTE fighting techniques. She had also been trained in Bharatha dancing by the LTTE. She had been operating in Durga Hindu Temple in the north of Trincomalee where, while teaching Bharatha dancing to girls she had been brainwashing them and recruiting them to the LTTE. She had got friendly with am army soldier, Dinesh, hailing from the south of Sri Lanka and started a relationship with him. While walking along a road in Trincomalee one night both of them had got run over by a truck that came without lights. The 16 year old boy in her present life neighbourhood is the reincarnate of that soldier. Under hypnotic trance I asked her to do a karate performance that she learned in her past life which she did showing great talent. Then I asked her to do a Bharatha dance which also she performed very well. She did these in the presence of the other members of my family and her mother. Then I took her to a famous dancing teacher in Colombo and got her to perform Bharatha dancing. The teacher rated her as very flexible and experienced. She had never learned karate or dancing in her present life. She was performing what she learned in her past life. In her past life she was a Tamil Hindu LTTE fighter and in the present life she is a Sinhala Buddhist who understands Tamil conversation without having learned Tamil in her present life. It is a case of a LTTE fighter crossing over to the winning side before the war was over.
Her fainting attacks were due to the strong affection she had for soldier Dinesh. While she was unconscious her mind had been going to her past life times when she was making love with him. For her that was the time she was enjoying love making. After neutralising the relevant past life memories she got over the problem of fainting attacks.
This is only an example of past life therapy. A lot of such cases can be read from books written by some eminent psychiatrists in the USA and Canada. Past life therapy can never be explained on the basis of rational knowledge or classical science.
Dr. Granville Dharmawardena Ph.D. (Cambridge)
28 12 2009 - The Island
The question of rebirth 2 L4.10
Reference the lengthy essay captioned ‘The question of rebirth’ by Dr Granville Dharmawardena (GD) (The Island – December 28, 2009), I was more saddened than surprised to read the following statement by him.
‘Recently such a neurologist, Richard Rastac, rationally proved that human beings do not have minds. He looked for minds in his patients’ heads by examining them with X-rays, CAT-scans and PET-scans and stated that because he couldn’t see a mind in any of them human beings do not have minds. He is so blinded by rationalism that he cannot accept the fact that the mind is beyond the scope of rational knowledge and cannot be examined by scientific equipment designed to examine material features of the body.’
Let me at the outset correct the misspelling by GD. It is not ‘Rastac’ but ‘Rastak’. Dr. Richard Rastak does not deserve to be ridiculed and disgraced in this manner. It is GD and not Dr. Rastak, who has carried it to a ludicrous extreme by a process of ‘reductio ad absurdum’ and created this man-has-no-mind story.
Described by ‘Scientific American’ journal as ‘one of the world’s most important scientific thinkers’, Dr. Rastak is currently the Clinical Professor of Neurology at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and author of 18 books, in addition to copious academic monographs. He holds many prestigious positions as well, too numerous to mention here.
Neurologists and physiologists tell us in unison that while mind and mental processes cannot be perceived by the five senses, yet their manifestations in a diversity of ways are visible. In this sense, they are comparable to electricity, magnetism, force of gravity, etc. They can be detected and even measured to the milli-point, to be perceived by senses.
They further tell us that the mind bears an entirely physical basis. Mental activity is an electro-chemical process that takes place in the neuron cells in the human brain. Thus, psychiatrists take the necessary measurements and treat mental ailments by suitably dealing with this electro-chemical process. As we all know, the pills and tablets, prescribed by psychiatrists are all chemical compounds and electroencephalography is an electrical mechanism, for example.
As for past life therapy, referred to by GD, it has nothing to do with rebirth. Let us hear Wikipedia on this subject.
‘The use of hypnosis and suggestive questions make the subject particularly likely to hold distorted or false memories. The source of the memories is more likely cryptomnesia and confabulations that combine past experiences, knowledge, imagination and suggestion or guidance from the hypnotist than recall of a previous existence.’ I listened to Dr. D. J. V. Harischandra, a psychiatrist, saying the same thing over the TV, the other day.
I am keen to know how GD cured a 14-year-old girl patient by past life therapy. Please give us details if he has verified the facts relating to her past life. I present this poser for a reason. We are aware that those cases, where GD hypnotized children, brought by him, inside air-conditioned TV studios before cameras and got their past lives revealed, turned out to be pure fantasy, providing entertainment to the viewers.
Or, is it similar to GD, together with his team, displaying psychic powers of Asilin from Yakkala, telecast on the Rupavahini program Sumaga on April 20 and 27, 1998. Here, the viewers finally came to know it was a gigantic fraud, perpetrated on them. I have written a detailed account of it in the first chapter of my last book.
President – Sri Lanka Rationalist Association
01 01 2010 – The Island
Concerning rebirth L4.11
I read the reply written by Prof. Carlo Fonseka to my article on rebirth (The Island 01/01/10). Prof Carlo has mixed up and shuffled most of the material in my article to make up a story of his own. He concocts a story of a love affair and says that the girl, whom he had never seen, started fainting attacks after the boy stopped coming. It’s a mix up in Prof. Carlo’s mind. What I said was that the girl first started fainting attacks, thereafter the boy used to come and touch her hand and later his parents stopped him from coming there. This mix up totally demolishes Prof. Carlo’s arguments.
Prof. Carlo refers to me as a chemist. It is true that I learned chemistry half a century ago. Prof. Carlo learned chemistry even before that. In that sense both of us are chemists. Both of us have not remained simple chemists since then. I qualified as a nuclear scientist, a psychologist and a hypnotherapist. Prof. Carlo also advanced a lot during that time. He has even spoken at political meetings and practiced politics. I was the only Sri Lankan scientist who had a research paper published in an international journal (American) while I was still an undergraduate student. I was the only Sri Lankan scientist who had the privilege of publishing a research paper in the very prestigious science journal The Nature and analysing the moon soil brought down to earth by Neil Armstrong. If I were a shoddy scientist, as Prof. Carlo tries to show, none of these would have been possible and Cambridge University would not have accepted me.
For Prof. Carlo, the case of the 14 - year - old girl is a case of a chemist practising medicine, but for a normal thinking person it’s a case of a hypnotherapist practising hypnotherapy. Prof. Carlo seems to have developed an imbalance in thinking.
Once Prof. Carlo sent a pregnant lady, who had a fear of going into a hospital to me to neutralise that fear. Did he send her because I was a chemist or because I was a hypnotherapist?
Once a lady doctor, working in the Colombo Hospital, came to me and told me that she had got married to a doctor, but was unable to consummate their marriage. Under hypnotic trance, she started crying and described how her uncle kept her on his lap when she was a child and fondled her body. She had got very frightened, at that time, and those fears had got deeply ingrained in her subconscious mind. Therefore, she could not allow anyone to access that part of her body and that was an involuntary reaction which was not under her control. For this reason, she never had boy friends and after marriage, she failed. After neutralising those fears she got over her problem and started normal married life. For Prof. Carlo it’s a case of a chemist practising medicine, but for a normal thinking person its a case of a hypnotherapist practising hypnotherapy.
Once a lady, who married for two years but unable to start sex life came to me. Under hypnotic trance she revealed that when she was a child a dog had bitten the upper part of her thigh and she got very frightened at that time. She was involuntarily not allowing anything approach that area of the body. After neutralising that memory she could start her sex life. Is it a case of chemist practising medicine?
Once a 14 - year - old boy who used to sweat and shiver whenever he passed a police station by foot, car or bus came to me. Under hypnotic trance, he revealed that in his past life he was a police inspector who got run over by a lorry while he was standing in front of his police station. Neutralizing that memory resolved his problem.
A Colombo University female medical student came to me with a very uncommon problem. She had got pregnant while she was still a virgin and that had psychologically devastated her. She explained how it happened and the boy responsible also came and spoke to me. Some sperms had seeped in through her virginity membrane and made her pregnant. I stabilized her psychologically so that she could continue her medical studies. Is it a case of a hypnotherapist practising hypnotherapy?
Once a Peradeniya medical student, who had failed exams because he had a fear of going to ward classes, came to me. After I neutralised his fear he could continue his medical education. For Prof. Carlo it’s a case of a chemist practising medicine.
A year 12 student came to me and told me that she wanted to do the GCE (A/L) exam and go into a medical school, but she had headaches and psychological disturbances. She wanted to get rid of them to start year-12 studies. I asked her to go to a meditation centre and do 10 days of meditation before I did anything. She came back two weeks later and told me that she had done 10 days of meditation under a well-known Buddhist monk and all her problems disappeared as a result of meditation. Meditation teachers tell meditators that aches and pains will disappear when they continue meditation and that really happens. Meditation provides health benefits and this is well known. For Prof. Carlo these are cases of Buddhist monks practising medicine. For right thinking people they are Buddhist monks teaching Buddhist meditation. Psychology, counselling and hypnotherapy bring health benefits to subjects. For Prof. Carlo those are cases of psychologists, counsellors and hypnotherapists practising medicine.
After reading my article, Prof. Carlo had diagnosed that that girl was suffering from nothing but hysteria. That is the rational conclusion that he had reached. According to him, when a girl gets hysteria she automatically gets the ability to perform skills that she had never learned such as Bharatha dancing and Karate. According to him when a girl gets hysteria she can understand languages that she had never learned. In other words it is better to be hysterical than normal.
I clearly stated in my article that the 14 year girl’s case was was quoted as a simple example of rebirth and never said that it was scientific proof of rebirth. For scientific proof, I referred readers to my refereed scientific research paper. For scientific proof, one has to use cases that had been scientifically researched. I challenge Prof. Carlo to point out anywhere in my scientific research paper, a copy of which I had given to him at the time it was printed, where I have quoted that girl’s case.
In my article, I referred to my scientific research paper and a case of past life therapy which was done solely to bring relief to a suffering person. Prof. Carlo has mixed up those two. Prof. Carlo also mixes these up with religion. Scientific research involves scientifically studying natural phenomena and it is totally unscientific to mix them up with religion. According to Prof. Carlo the Buddhist teaching about rebirth is only hysteria. At the same time he also says that he believes in rebirth which means that he is not loyal to the teachings of his own religion. Generally we accept that people who are loyal to and abide by the teachings of their religions as good and trustworthy people.
There is a tremendous amount of mixing up on the part of Prof. Carlo. He was not like that when I knew him in Sri Lanka. It is most probably due to the loss of the enormous political clout he enjoyed when his kinswoman, CBK, was the President. He seems to need the help of a counsellor or a psychologist.
As for scientific acceptability, what is most valid is my refereed scientific research paper. But if what Prof. Carlo accepts are only statements made by people in the West and not published research papers, let me quote a few.
Prof. Brian Weiss who is an eminent past life therapist in the USA is the Professor of Psychiatry in the University of Pittsburg and the chief psychiatrist in a university affiliated hospital in Miami. He didn’t believe in rebirth and practised hypnotic regression only up to childhood. One patient, Catherine, a hospital technician in his hospital, changed his beliefs. Prof. Weiss describes Catherine’s condition before past life therapy as "She was suffering from fears, phobias, paralysing panic attacks, depression and recurrent nightmares. Her symptoms had been life long and worsening. After more than a year of conventional therapy she remained severely impaired. I felt she should have been more improved at the end of that time span (of psychiatric therapy)". I quoted verbatim from Weiss’ publications lest Prof. Carlo will diagnose her with these symptoms as mere hysterical.
Prof. Weiss’ hypnotised Catherine and tried to regress her to her childhood expecting the causes of her symptoms to be there, but she drifted to several past lives some as far back as 4000 years and described her experiences. This was his first past life therapy experience and he describes his immediate response to it as, "I was shocked and skeptical. I had hypnotized hundreds of patients over the years, but this had never happened before. I had come to know Catherine well over the course of over one year of intensive psychotherapy. I knew that she was not psychotic. did not hallucinate, did not have multiple personalities, not particularly suggestible and did not abuse drugs or alcohol. But something very unusual happened. Catherine’s symptoms began to improve dramatically and I knew that fantasy and dream like material would not lead to such a fast and complete cure."
Prof. Weiss had obtained a science degree before starting medical studies and had published over 40 scientific research papers on subjects relevant to psychiatry. Therefore, he has a scientific thinking mind. As a result, without dismissing Catherine’s experience as mere hysteria, he went on to studying what he did not know. He says, "After the shock subsided, I returned to the behaviour of a scientifically trained psychiatrist. I scoured the libraries and book stores for more information." He learned the subject he did not know and now he is an eminent past life therapist in the USA and a believer of rebirth.
Prof. Weiss says, "Throughout history, humankind has been resistant to change and to the acceptance of new ideas." This is more so in Sri Lanka where professionals and academics mostly depend only on knowledge acquired decades ago when they were studying abroad. When a new idea comes up they perform mental acrobatics within the old knowledge they possess and concoct some sort of story. A new subject like past life therapy cannot be discussed with decades old knowledge.
At the world conference on Hypnotherapy held in July 2009, in Sydney, where I was a participant, an eminent psychiatrist from the USA said that he had administered past life therapy to a lady who did not believe in rebirth, but he did not use the words life therapy’ or ‘rebirth’ because it could have hurt her belief. He had told her that he took her memories beyond birth because it helps to cure her symptoms and there was nothing more to it than that. A few months later, he met her, but did not talk anything about her therapy because past life talk might hurt her beliefs. But she told him that after her therapy she had studied the literature and became a believer of rebirth. Normally past life therapists and those who undergo past life therapy in Western countries become believers of rebirth because they read and pick up new knowledge without trying to interpret everything with their old knowledge.
Dr. Edith Fiore, a Clinical Psychologist in the USA, speaking at the Annual Conference of the Association of Past Life Research and Therapy held in Los Angeles, said, "Other therapies address the symptoms and leave the cause untouched. Past life therapy attacks the root cause. There isn’t a single physical problem that cannot be resolved by good past life treatment."
Throughout history, humankind has been resistant to change and to the acceptance of new ideas.
On the subject of rebirth, the English Psychiatrist, Dr. Arthur Guirdham, who also practices past life therapy, says." If I didn’t believe in reincarnation (rebirth) on the evidence I had received, I would be mentally defective"
The general tendency of people, who mix up matters due to various psychological conditions is to deny that they have something wrong. Once a middle aged lady telephoned and told me that she was ‘Viharamaha devi’ in a past life, she saved the country at that time, now it is necessary to save the country again and for that purpose she gave up her teaching job. She wanted me to hypnotise her and tell publicly that she was ‘Viharamaha devi". I asked her get one of her family members to call me. Her brother, who was a doctor, telephoned me and I told him that his sister was a schizophrenic and needed treatment. He said that he knew it, but she never accepts that she has a problem and it was impossible to take her to psychiatrist or get her to take any medicine. I asked him to send her to me and told her that in order to hypnotize her she must prepare for it and for that she must take some medicine and referred her to a psychiatrist. Before she went to him I telephoned him and told him about her. He treated her condition without telling her there was anything wrong with her but telling her that the medicine was to prepare her for hypnosis. That brought her condition under control.
Let me mention another interesting rebirth story. A pretty lady, in her mid-twenties, who is very famous in Colombo, came to see me and told me that she had a guilt in her mind. Let us call her Chick. Chick was two years married and she told me that she had the feeling that in her past life she had joined the 1971 riots and got killed by the Black Cats. All those had happened without the knowledge of her past life mother. She wanted to find her past life mother and go and apologize to her. Under hypnotic trance she revealed that in her past life she was a boy. Let us call him Chuck. Chuck had lived in Kegalle and at the age of 17 he had joined the JVP and taken part in the 1971 insurrection. He was at a JVP meeting in his school after school hours and when they were coming out after the meeting the Black Cats had shot and killed them all. Chick described the details of Chuck’s life including the identity and whereabouts of his mother and his girl friend. A boy who was known to Chuck is now a university professor and he confirmed what Chick said about Chuck. After that session, Chick went to Kegalle, met Chuck’s mother and apologized to her.
A very important, unknown phenomenon got revealed during Chick’s past life regression. I told her that it is very important because it is a new and unknown phenomenon in psychology and thereafter she described all the details of her present and past lives including private aspects of life. After his death in Kegalle Chuck (his astral body) had gone to a temple in Moratuwa to look for a mother to come back to this world. There he saw a two months pregnant lady and entered the female foetus in her uterus and she is Chick’s mother. Chuck has changed sex during rebirth. Chick’s husband also had changed sex during rebirth. He was a girl in his past life and a good friend of Chuck. Chick and her husband live happily and in harmony, but they have no sex life. She said that she intended to have sex few months later in order to have a baby. Thereafter, I researched into this phenomenon with many more people. A person who has changed sex during rebirth has much lower sexual desires than normal and if a person who had been very sexually active in the past life changes sex during rebirth that person most likely will drift into gay behaviour. A person who has changed sex during rebirth is not interested in sex and will shun marriage. Such people generally try to present themselves as good, well behaved and exemplary persons. Chick got married because she met a person who was her friend in the past life and because of that friendship they live peacefully and in harmony.
Dr. Granville Dharmawardena
18 01 2010 - The Island
Alulena and Bodhipuja L4.12
I have to thank Haris for his interest in my article in the Midweek Review of The Island of 6th July 2011. He has raised two queries. The first is regarding the time and venue of the writing down of the Pali texts which were brought down by oral tradition up to that time. Apart from the non-detailed mention of the event in the Mahavamsa, there seems to be no evidence that the event was regarded as an event of great national importance to have been recorded for example by such other means as a stone inscription. Further, such a massive task should have taken lot of time and involved the long-term commitment by Theras who were the bearers of the oral tradition. It seems that we have to be satisfied with the present state of knowledge until further light is thrown on the issue.
My concern is on the version we have of the texts of the Theravada tradition. We must be thankful to the Bhikkhus who have brought down the version of the present Pali texts which contain two clearly different versions of the Buddha’s teaching, one in the Pali canonical texts and the other in the post-canonical texts, both of which cannot be true and authentic at the same time. The Buddhism taught by the great sage Gotama Buddha was entirely non-theistic while the Sri Lankan post-canonical Buddhism is overwhelmingly theistic, just to point out one difference.
The second point raised is regarding Bodhipuja. As many have written on the subject my interest has been quite different. To my recollection, the original version of the present day ritual which goes as Bodhipuja was started by a Sinhala Sri Lankan Bhikkhu by the name of Ariyadhamma (I stand to be corrected here) from Panadura and was in the 1970s. Here, my interest is in the connection it has to the pre-Buddhist cultic tree-worship, as any type of tree or image worship is alien to the Buddhism of the Buddha’s day and to the Pali canonical texts. The same Buddha who taught:
‘Bahum ve saranam yanti - pabbatani vananica aramarukkhacetyani - manussa bhayatajjita’ (Dhp.116)
...could not have approved the worship of one tree, as he was a great teacher who never contradicted himself on his views on the dhamma or on the path.
14 07 2011 - The Island
Will the Sasana last 45 years to commemorate "Piriniwan Jayanthi"? L4.13
- A Sangha Charter to deal with ‘Bhikku’ Behavior
An ugly incident watched by the entire Buddhist world in utter disgust of a large group of JVP backed Bikkhu University students attempting to break the iron barriers and force themselves through the high security zone of ‘Temple Trees’ overpowering the strong police force was reported a few months ago. In a similar incident, at Jayawardenepura University, ‘thugs in yellow robes’, singing ‘Baila’ under intoxication in bikkhu hostel, who were in the habit of disturbing the children studying for A/L examination in the neighborhood, attacked the authorities including the Vice-chancellor who confronted the group in response several complaints.
Friday afternoon, the same groups in robes and with their ‘Crew-cut hair style’ were seen shouting slogans containing derogatory remarks at HE the President right in front of ‘Temple Trees’. I just cannot understand why the authorities at ‘Temple trees’ decided to offer them tea for ‘gilanpasa’, (which they quite rightly refused to partake) instead of their favourite brewery. We emphasize the necessity for the immediate intervention of the four most venerable Mahanayake Theros of the three Nikayas. The extremely degradable level to which the Sanga Vinaya has dropped, especially in the institutions of higher education, should be of concern to every Buddhist in the country.
The Buddha cheevara venerated by all Buddhists with utmost respect is degraded by a set of hooligans in monk’s robes. Their outrageous behavior, merely to satisfy the power hungry political bosses who use them to gain political mileage at the expense of the Buddha Sasana, is most deplorable.
While the authorities remain unmoved for fear of a reprisal, it is the supreme institution of the Mahanayake Theros can take immediate action to thwart the attempts by disgruntled elements from discrediting Sri Lanka’s image as a nation with high cultural values based on Buddhist principles. It is the foremost duty of all Buddhists to protect the sasana at least for future generations to commemorate the ‘Piriniwan Jayanti’ which falls in the year 2056.
It is clearly understood that only a handful of those rioting monks will remain in robes after obtaining their degrees. Till then they enjoy all the benefits at the expense of unsuspecting dayakas and the State. After attaining their objective they will disrobe and leave the Sasana, looking for other options. May I suggest that amendments to the University legislation be made not to register Buddhist monks as students, or enforce strict Vinaya rules by the Mahanayake theros, preventing them from entering University campuses meant for lay students, or even the Bikkhu University in Anuradhapura where inhuman ragging of fresher Bikkhus were reported last month.
This campus can be converted to a vocational training school for the benefit of North central school leavers, and direct all bikkhu students to pirivenas like in the past.
"HATTHASANNATO, PADASNNATO, VACAYA SANNATO, SANNATUTTAMO, AJJHATTARATO SAMAHITO EKO SANNTUSITO TAM AHU BIKKHUM"
"He who controls his hand, controls his foot, controls his speech and is well controlled in all respects, delights in meditation, is composed, solitary and content him they called a Bikkhu"
–verse 362, Bkkhu Vagga, Dhammapada
K K S Perera
05 06 2011 - Sunday Island
From Rituals to Real Buddhist Practice L4.14
Vesak this year is the 2600th anniversary of the Enlightenment of the Buddha and it would be prudent on this important occasion to review whether the practise of the Dhamma has developed in the wrong directions. In -Sri Lanka and in many other Buddhist countries, it is observed that most Buddhists are interested in the ritualistic practises associated with Buddhism’ rather than the- real practise of the Dhamma. The essence of Buddhism is in the four Noble Truths, Dukkha, the unsatisfactory nature of life; the cause of Dukkha; the cessation of Dukkha; and the path leading to the cessation of Dukkha, the Noble eight-fold path. The real practice of the Dhamma is to follow the Noble eight-fold path for our liberation from Dukkha, the unsatisfactory features of life and Samsara, the cycle of births and deaths.
There are many rituals associated with Buddhism. Some may be useful if practiced correctly and others are of no value at all and contradictory to the teachings of the Buddha. The former become mere rituals if practiced in the wrong way. To this category falls even the recitation of the five precepts, Panchasila, where it is often undertaken without any attention or concentration and reduced to the level of a valueless ritual. Then there is the worship and offering of flowers to the images of the Buddha where most Buddhists - perform this act with a wandering mind and not concentrating on the virtues of the greatest teacher who showed the way to liberation. Moreover, the flowers symbolize the impermanence and changing nature of things, where the flowers now beautiful would shortly fade and wither away and so are our own bodies over a period of time. There is also the similar worship of offering of flowers to the Chaitya containing the relics of the Buddha but often undertaken without being mindful of the significance of this performance.
Among the rituals to be discarded altogether is the worship of Devas and Bodhi Poojas (to be distinguished from the worship of the Bo-Tree which signifies the importance of gratitude), which came to be adopted long after the Parinibbhana- of the Buddha where the main objective is seeking favours from such activities either for one’s gain or to overcome unfortunate happenings in life. Such activities encourage rather than discourage the craving and clinging for sense pleasures, a root defilement in Buddhism, contrary to the teachings of the Buddha. The desire strong enough to warrant the seeking of external assistance from Devas and Bodhi Poojas could be classified as a deep craving. The worship and seeking of material assistance of Devas was roundly condemned by the Late Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera, the well-known Buddhist preacher, who called upon Buddhists to adhere to the true practice of the Dhamma and not engage in valueless rites and rituals. He stated that during a time Sinhala Kings had South Indian Queens, who were Hindus, and it was convenient to have Devales in Buddhist Temples so that both the King and the Queen could observe their religious practces in one place.
This practice has continued thereafter except in a few temples such as the well-known Vajiraramaya temple in Bambalapitiya. According to Buddhism, Devas do have limited powers but their ir influence is marginal. Since the salvation of man is in his own hands, the Buddha declared in no uncertain terms that he himself cannot help others but could only show the way to liberation and how to lead a contented life here and now.
There is also the worship of parents and teachers, which could also be considered a ritual if mechanically observed. However, it could be undertaken as genuine affection and respect for elders. Even -otherwise, it has the beneficial effect that hands used for worship are unlikely to be utilized for violence against elders even in the most difficult circumstances. Violence towards one’s parents is considered a heinous action in Buddhism. Moreover, the worship of monks and elders would have the salutary effect of developing the noble quality of humility.
Rather than condemn and look down condescendingly at ordinary Buddhists irrationally attached to Buddhist rituals, they should be initially encouraged to practise rituals the proper way where they would be helpful to lead a Buddhist way of life. They also could be gently persuaded thereafter to abandon other rituals that are useless from a Buddhist standpoint and even harmful for the pursuit of the Dhamma.
Finally, these devotional Buddhists should be encouraged to engage in the real practice of the Dhamma by establishing themselves in virtue and developing mental concentration and wisdom. In this connection, the important role of Bhavana, both the formal seated meditation as well as Sati or mindfulness of all actions - physical, verbal and mental - should be encouraged for the purification of the mind. This would enable the development of wisdom to see things in their proper perspective as Anicca or impermanence; Dukkha or unsatisfactory nature s of life; and Anatta, the absence of a permanent unchanging self.
Thus, on the 2600th anniversary of the ‘enlightenment of the Buddha, which is to be officially commemorated from Vesak this year to the Vesak next year 2012, the monks, lay Buddhist meditation masters, lay Buddhist scholars and preachers could play an invaluable role to encourage Buddhists to progressively -shift from the practice of rituals to live a life in accordance with the Dhamma. For the Buddha has categorically stated that they honour him best who honour his teaching best.
17 05 2011 - The Island
Preferring Buddhist ethics to mere celebrations L4.15
The upcoming 2600th Anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment has taken the place of the prominent matter among the Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhist people. Also those who believe the Theravada method of Buddhism have the greatest enthusiasm to celebrate this special occasion even having being settled in foreign countries. Therefore to celebrate this even according to the real method which has been indicated even in the Buddhist Culture is the most important thing. That’s why we should not give the priority to the meaningless decorations and the non-religious activities which are not proper to a ‘real Buddhist’ for the sense of the word. Here in this article I will focus my absolute attention to describe how to enrich ourselves with Buddhist ethics for the 2600th Anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment.
Buddhism can be identified as one of the most ancient religions of the world which has been proved scientifically also. Some people don’t even mention Buddhism as a religion as it contains many facts moreover as a great teaching method more than a religion. Anyway today as a religion Buddhism is able to enrich most of our population with the true essence of great values. Even people from other religions are willing to accept Buddhism as a successful method to obtain consolation. As the world is developing rapidly, people’s lifestyles are becoming very much complex and very nicely their peace of mind is vanishing.
As an example even after having the greatest victory over the most dangerous ethnic conflict, our people are still searching for their consolation. At that point all of us should understand that as we are circulating in this “Sansara” or souls cannot be satisfied by any worldly pleasure. Only the Enlightenment can provide us the eternal consolation and the Buddha after obtaining that position could give that consolation to a number of ordinary people.
The 2600th Anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment means that it has been spent 2600 years after the Enlightenment of the Buddha at ‘Buddhagaya’. Then according to my opinion this is the most suitable time to celebrate it with much reference to the particular ethics of the Buddha.
Considering about the outstanding Buddhist ethics ‘The Noble Eightfold path’ is taking the prominent place, because according to the Buddhist literature the Buddha has obtained the Enlightenment after following this path. Before that he has tried two different methods. The first one was the indulgence in sensual pleasures and the second one was self-torture in the form of severe asceticism which is painful (Piyadassi Thera 78). Ultimately the Buddha understood well that those extremes can lead the mankind only to disaster, not to the eternal consolation. Then he chose to follow the Middle path which contains eight divisions of Nobility.
Even though we cannot practically have the Enlightenment within this spirit, if we are trying to follow these ethics by ourselves, we will be happy to have our lives in this birth itself and our lifestyles will be shaped with the absolute simplicity. On the other hand even though the concept of Middle path is considered as an element to the happiness of the other world, it can be adapted as an affective tool to the happiness of this world also.
Like that such Buddhist ethics should be practised regularly by us at least for a certain extent and this particular Anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment should lead our generation to get the relevant apprehension over it. Then these celebrations for the above mentioned Anniversary will not be another arrogant waste of money and waste of time.
Concerning about the Buddhism as a religion also related with the domestic happiness, number of stanzas can be adopted from various kinds of Sutta and Gatha. ‘Dhammapada’ and Sigalowada Sutta are the best examples for that. In “Dhammapada” particularly we can see the obvious inclusion of fundamental doctrines of the Buddha’s ethics.
The opening stanzas are striking as an exposition of a feature of the Law of Kamma and a characteristic of the human mind (YMBA book 04 108).
Here we can see how Buddhism has been demonstrated practically as a doctrine even to the ordinary population. Sigalowada Sutta, on the other hand gives a useful version to the worship over the six directions by introducing six social parts to each direction. Even today if we are behaving according to that ethic by respecting those social parts almost all of our social problems will be solved.
Even though many people are flexible to demine the valuable ethics of Buddhism by demonstrating that the Buddha has excessively depicted out the pessimistic aspect of the human life, those people should remember that it was Buddhist ethics which inspired the conduct and politics of the great emperor, Asoka (Nakamura 01). Also the Buddha taught Ananda, his disciple in his last sermon.
”Be you lamps to yourselves. Be you a refuge to yourselves. Be take yourself refuge. Hold fast to the Trust as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the Truth. Do not look for refuge to any one besides yourself.”
Here even from his last sermon the Buddha was keen enough to distribute his ethics especially to the ordinary people. As real Buddhists if we are not enriching and nourishing ourselves with those valuable ethics, on one side we are not respecting the Buddha and from the other side we are not taking the gist from the upcoming Anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment.
So far I have described how we can enrich ourselves with particular ethics of Buddhism and how to make the upcoming celebrations a meaningful one. But this will be an extra opportunity to take the touch of the real Buddhist ethics to the International community also.
That’s why we should not think spontaneously about this fabulous event. Apart from those external decorations and celebrations, we should have something for the enrichment of our lives also. We find in the Buddha, in powerful combination, spiritual profundity and moral strength of the highest order and a discreet intellectual reserve (Radhakrishnan 64). In this conclusion I would like to state my eternal expectation to see our nation who is happy indeed in this birth itself with the successful adoption of real Buddhist ethics into their own lifestyles. May the upcoming 2600th Anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment be a simulative thing to be like that?
*Wettegama, P. and Ven Dhammarakkhita. Guide to the study of Theravada Buddhism. YMBA Sri Lanka, 2010. Print.
*Piyadassi Thera. The Buddha’s ancient path. Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy; 1996. Print.
*Radhakrishnan. Gautama Buddha. Reginald Mathews Publishers, Bombey 1945. Print.
17 05 2011 - Daily News
Vesak 2011: Pilivethin Pelagesemu L4.16
Vesak 2011 is of special significance to Buddhists all over the world as it coincides with the 2600th anniversary of the Buddha's Enlightenment or Sambuddhathva Jayanthi, which is being celebrated on a grand scale in this country under the theme, Pilivethin Pelagesemu, which stresses the need for the followers of the Buddha to lead a Buddhist way of life.
The Steering Committee of the Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Secretariat has unveiled a three-year action plan aimed at, among other things, bringing about unity among Buddhists in the world, addressing the problems they face in practising their religion and making Buddhist way of life a reality for one and all.
A religious reawakening movement always has a positive impact on any society if it is properly directed. It has been pointed out that the 2500th Buddha Jayanthi acted as a catalyst for a healthy, social change between 1944 and 1955. The Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Secretariat says the crime rate recorded a steep decline during that period from 34,623 crimes in 1944 to 18,163 in 1955 despite an increase in population from 6.2 million to 8.5 million.
Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Thera was one of the erudite, visionary Bhikkus who, with the help of police statistics, pointed out that the occurrence of crime was inversely proportional to religious reawakening. Unfortunately, the momentum of the religious resurgence the country witnessed then fizzled out with the passage of time and we are where we are today!
Many well thought-out programmes have been lined up under the Sambuddhathva Jayanthi action plan to foster in Buddhists a keen interest in practising the dhamma, financially assist Buddhist educational institutions such as dhamma schools, renovate places of Buddhist worship and instill discipline into children, among other things. These measures are, no doubt, necessary for achieving the objectives of Sambuddhathva Jayanthi.
A well known Buddhist activist, Raja Kuruppu, argues, in his letter on the opposite page today that Buddhists should be encouraged to shift progressively from rituals to practising dhamma. Kuruppu stresses the importance of living according to the Buddha's teaching thus: 'they honour Him best who honour His teaching best'.
The practice of dhamma has apparently given way to a vulgar display of religiosity over the years, if what we see around us these days is anything to go by. Nothing exemplifies the distraction, by sensuous joy, of the people from the dhamma in the present-day Sri Lanka better than the colourful thorana, where they miss the Jathaka story for a myriad of lights. The same goes for other forms of fascinating Vesak decorations; sightseers thronging streets far outnumber devotees at temples!
Sermons and preachers have never been in short supply in this country. We have had lots and lots of them. They are there on television and radio in their numbers, and many of them, to their credit, are well versed in dhamma. Care has been taken to install loudspeakers almost at every junction to make sure that no one misses bana or pirith whether or not he/she is Buddhist or in a mood for it. Vehicles are veritable mobile shrines with religious symbols dangling from the vanity mirror or perched on the dash board. But, the message of the Buddha does not seem to have sunk in, going by our current predicament; we continue to complain of moral decay, a high crime rate, numerous conflicts, indiscipline and drug addiction among children, besides many other serious social problems, to which we are apparently without solutions. Something has gone wrong somewhere!
Viewed against this backdrop, Sambuddhathva Jayanthi provides us with an opportunity to take a long, hard look at the path we have trodden all these years. It certainly is not the path the Buddha has shown us.
17 05 2011 - The Island Editorial
Vesak and Poson: Kannangara’s service to Buddhism L4.17
Christopher William Wijekoon, popularly known as the ‘Father of Free Education’ though a Methodist Christian, who studied at Richmond College, Galle, had many things as firsts during his career. He led the Richmond College Cricket Eleven at the first encounter between Richmond College and Mahinda College, in 1904, played at the Galle Cricket grounds opposite the old Dutch Fort them known as ‘Esplanade’ meaning in Dutch the Parade Grounds of the Dutch forces. He was the opening batsman. His team mate late E. M. Karunaratna, the lion of the Galle Bar, wrote thus about Christopher:
"In the playing field Christopher had an equally distinguished career. He was the Captain of the Richmond College Cricket team and won colours at Football too. He played with success for the College Cricket Eleven, usually as an opening last to get out or the one to remain unbeaten. He keeps on peeking every ball but rarely he went on to double figures. I distinctly remember him in one match going in first, and carrying out his but his score was less than 20. He was also an excellent fieldsman". This writer’s reported appeals to President and the Minister of Sports to rename the Galle International Cricket Stadium as Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara International Cricket Stadium, has not been activated yet.
Kannangara in the Legislative Council pressed for the increase of public holidays for Buddhists. The second reading of a New Public Holiday Ordinance was taken up in October 1929. Kannangara representing Southern province in the Legislative Council pressing for more holidays or Buddhists said: "I am sorry to say that if the Buddhists should in any matter try to ask for their rightist is always flouted in their face that they are trying to rake up religious disputes in the Island… There are only seventeen holidays (other than Sundays for the year, and fourteen of those are provided for the convenience of Christians, while the other three are given for the convenience of three religious communities… If the Honourable the "Attorney-General realized that there was any kind of justice in the demand that was made the other day, he should have taken the courage in both his hands and altered the schedule. But I find that the same schedule is provided in this Ordinance", Kannangara reiterated further thus.
"Holidays are granted not only for the convenience of the officials, but also for the convenience of the people. Now the great majority of the people of this country are Buddhist; but this country is a country of minority rule and it looks as if none but Christians can insist on justice being done to them…".
Buddhists had only one public holiday Vesak – till 1928. On the reported agitations of Kannangara the new Public Holidays Ordinance passed on February 9, 1928, the full moon day of the Sinhalese month of Poson (June) and the day following the full-moon day of the month of May, Vesak were added to bring the total number of public holidays for the Buddhists to three. It was the result of a consistent agitation carried on by Kannangara in the Legislative Council for nearly four years. (Hansard 1926 p. 244, Hansard 1926 p. 1140 and Hansard 1928 p. 141) In 1966 at the insistence of the then Prime Minister Late Dudley Senanayaka the Parliament approved all Poya days as Public holidays. We as few reviving nephews are indeed produced of the service rendered by Uncle Willie’ whom we called him at Galle, when over he visited our home Kohombagaha Walawwa, Sea Beach Road Kaluwella, Galle, to play ‘Ajuta’ with my late father, one as his both cricket and softball team mates and he fixed my initials as RL and in my age of about 10 years encouraged me to write essays to the ceylon newspapers children pages.
Rohan L. Jayetilleke
17 05 2011 - The Island
Sequence of awakening of the Buddha L4.18
Apropos the article that appeared in today’s Sunday Island under the caption "Samana Gotama to Buddha" (Kindly refer article J11.15), please permit me to offer a few observations. In this article Professor Sugunasiri has explained with great clarity the sequence of awakening of Lord Buddha. This explanation together with the chart he has introduced will greatly facilitate the teaching and understanding of the process of Enlightenment that was witnessed on that glorious night 2599 years back. It is however my humble conviction that there is another additional important aspect which cannot be ignored in comprehending the Awakening process . In this I am guided by the sequence of Awakening explained in Bhayaberawa Sutta and Dweda Vitakka Sutta of Majjima Nikaya. In both these Suttas it is explained that prior to directing attention to his past lives , the Bodhisatta got absorbed in the first , second , third and fourth jhana and reached the state of imperturbability.
"When my concentrated mind was thus purified , bright , unblemished, rid of imperfections, malleable, wieldy, steady and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives "
One could therefore reasonably conclude that this ‘jhanic’ process was integral to the sequence of Awakening.
M. W. Panditha
17 05 2011 - The Island
The term Lord Buddha is universal rather than Gauthama L4.19
This is in response to the letter on the subject of using the term Lord Buddha or Gauthama Buddha. Using “Gauthama Buddha” is quite in order, provided all the people who read English prose are educated scholars in Pali and Sinhala and that they are able to understand that the term ‘Buddha’ indicates the noble qualities embodied in the Enlightened One. No other explanation, prefix or suffix is necessary for such people.
However, what about the vast majority non Sri Lankans who have no knowledge of Pali and Sinhala. How can they change the term Lord Buddha? “Lord” means, ruler, master, nobleman, in the English dictionary. It is a term to denote adoration and reverence.
Therefore using this prefix “Lord” for our great teacher is the most appropriate word. Even in Sinhala books the words Gauthama Buddha are not found. What we often find are “Budurajun’, ‘Buduhimiyan’, ‘sarvagyan vahanse’ etc… Therefore using the term “Gauthama” could cause confusion, not only among foreigners but also among our schoolchildren who are making every effort to learn English.
Dr. D. Malwatte Mohotti
15 05 2011 - Sunday Times
Buddhist ideals and musician monks L4.20
The other day, I was aghast to watch a television discussion among some music personnel including a Buddhist monk. Lately, there have been similar talk shows with other Buddhist monks taking part in them and hence the last one was not an unprecedented one. However, it is a recent phenomenon in our country that Buddhist monks are involved in this kind of mundane matters like composing lyrics of songs, etc., and furthermore in extolling their virtues in glorified terms describing them as even of religious value.
At the risk of being branded an abnormal freak by all involved - and they include by far the vast majority in our country as well as overseas - I dare to state that such worldly arts are not meant for Buddhist monks which very term by definition connotes renunciation of worldly attachments and commitment to a higher spiritual goal on their part.
Now, do attempt a minor survey. Choose anyone hundred popular songs at random of whatever language. Is not the underlying theme of over 90 percent of them the libidinal love, the natural culmination of which is sexual gratification? Aren’t Buddhist monks supposed to endeavour to suppress, control or overcome such carnal propensities? If so, how can one reconcile their supposed commitment to spiritual targets with their involvement in such mundane arts at the same time, the latter of which promote carnality?
Sri Lanka did not have a tradition of such arts, music in particular, over the country’s history of 2500 years unlike in the Indian sub-continent. What passes off as our national music today is patently Indian stuff with Sinhala phonation, which is propounded by Indian- trained Sri Lankan artistes. Some of our men went to India in the last decades and imbibed on Hindu, Indian traditions. After coming back home, they made every possible attempt to transplant those traditions in Sri Lanka. Mark it, all this happened in the last less than 50 years. Prior to that, over the millennia we had no music, drama or such mundane arts as those terms are understood in their present day sense.
But why is this contrast in the affairs of India and Sri Lanka? That is because of the differences in cultures of the two countries based on their respective religions. Hinduism promotes sensuality and all that goes with it, namely, mundane arts such as music, drama, etc. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has had a culture shaped and moulded by Buddhist ideals. ‘Sikha Valanda Vinisa’ of antiquity of many centuries refers to these mundane arts as deserving to be condemned.
Even at present, those Buddhists who observe Eight Precepts (Ata Sil) on poya days endeavour to refrain from getting involved in Nacca, geetha, vaditha, visuka dassana mala etc., that being the 6th precept, because Buddhist traditions deem them to be non-conducive to the path leading to higher goals. By some strange coincidence, Muslims the world over are enjoined to be just that by their religious scripture, the Holy Koran, at least in the holy month of Ramazan, if not all the while. Thus, incidentally, I see a close relationship between the pristine Buddhism and the fundamental Islamic tenets.
Therefore, I implore that not only Buddhist monks but even discerning lay Buddhists ponder over this solemn matter. I am of the view that most of the today’s social evils such as criminalisation of the society, moral degradation, loss of social values, man’s beastly manifestations, etc., all have their origin in these un-Buddhistic developments, namely, the popularization of these mundane arts. I am not too sure, however, if this global trend is beyond redemption or not.
During their heyday in the Afghanland before the noted September 11, you will recall, Talebans banned all kinds of music, television, cinemas, videos, etc. in their country. Although it may sound extremist to you and me, yet they had a mass following all the world over including some sections in the United States and the Muslim world in particular. While condemning their violent propensities in the strongest known terms, I do resonate with them in their ideal of such banning.
20 01 2003 - The Island
Christmasing Vesak L4.21
I started writing ‘Between the Blinds’ to the Daily News last year. The second article titled ‘Buddhaloka 2002’ was a critique of the commercialised celebration of Vesak Poya organised by the new Chairman of Rupavahini. The commeration of the Birth, Awakening and parinibbana of Siddhartha Gotama was turned into a senakeliya—a carnival of mass dissipation sponsored by Unilever, the powerful Anglo-Dutch conglomerate. I reminded readers that "Poya Day observances were instituted by the Buddha himself. On that day, his white-robed sangha of upasakas and upasikas publicly rededicated themselves to the observance of the eight disciplines (attangika uposatha). The Poya was celebrated as a day of rest and a retreat from the preoccupations of everyday life. The serenity of the full moon night provided the atmosphere to reflect on the basic truths taught by the Buddha". The first five are disciplines (pan sil) which every Buddhist is supposed to observe. The other three are adaptations of the ten disciplines which bhikkhus and bhikkhunis are required to follow. Thus, on Poya Day, the third precept, abstention from wrong use of sensual pleasure is extended to the practice brahmacarya or strict celibacy. Observing the sixth discipline, again in emulation of the renouncers the householders confine the consumption of food to a single meal taken before noon.
The most relevant in the context of Vesak senakeliyas is the eighth sila. Householders refrain not only from engaging in public revelries like singing and dancing but even from being present as spectators at such events. In addition, before attending Poya observances they don simple white garments, shed all display of class and differences through dress, ornaments, cosmetics, perfumes and scented unguents. The eighth discipline is the practice of self-denial through abstention from luxurious comforts. Clearly, the uposatha observances had been instituted by the Buddha to function as a periodic revivification of Dhammic values which the householder might tend to neglect amidst the hustle and bustle and pressures of everyday living. Devout Buddhists start their observances by going to a temple as early as five in the morning and spend the Poya Day and night in meditation, following dharma instructions and participating in pirith services, all of which require a quiet and serene ambience. This periodic retreat from the preoccupations of every day life is not a kill joy exercise intended by the Buddha to induce world weariness. It was recommended because of the realisation that everyone, ‘religious’ or not, needs periodically to take critical distance from a world which is marked by what Theodor Adorno called ‘dreadful immanence’: "repeating the surface of daily existence in society, it embodies and legitimates its pervasive irrationality". Clearly, what the Buddha intended was the creation of a moral nucleus of people who by "going against the current" (patisotagami) would create a new culture based on nobler values than greed and violence. The vast majority of the masses, the puthujjana, the Buddha observed are anusotagamins, who follow their herd instincts and go with the current of delusions which culture continuously births and re-births. They heedlessly follow the dictates of the dominant culture which tells them how they should think, act, eat, dress and enjoy themselves.
The garish celebration of Vesak Poya is a consciously programmed transgression of the attangika uposatha silas. Last year I commented critically on the images of Vesak celebrations on Bauddhaloka Mawatha broadcast by Rupavahini Corporation, which transformed a localised dissipation into a national spectacle. The ‘alokaya’ on the mawatha, I wrote, had little to with Bauddha Dhamma. The tens of thousand of bulbs glittering from giant pandals and lanterns, were provided courtesy of a sraddhavantha, Buddhist minister, who had barely emerged from the karuvala into the glimmer of electric enlightenment. "Tele-images of revelers enjoying a bajau party with gay abandon. Well-fed-looking ‘devotees’ being served in a classy dansala, a vulgar simulation of a five star tourist hotel buffet in a country where the vast majority of people can hardly afford a single meal per day, not forgetting the undernourished hundreds of thousands displaced by war. On hand in the studio during the eight o’clock, was a native agent to explain his multinational organisation’s noble motives for bank rolling the fiesta: "Our organisation has always been very interested in indigenous culture." (!)
I questioned the indecency if not obscenity of such revelry in a society where a cease-fire was barely three months old. The Second War reduced to rubble entire areas of major cities in continental Europe like Dresden, Berlin, Cologne and Rotterdam. Europe had to be rebuilt from ashes and debris. But many ordinary people as well as religious leaders, scholars, artists and poets (members of ‘civil society’ if you like) began to ask soul searching questions: What of the much vaunted ‘Western civilisation’?
How could the Holocaust of nearly eight million Jews and other social and racial ‘deviants’ have taken place in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? There was no talk of "Regaining" Europe, but a fundamental questioning of some of the premises of European civilization: racial and moral superiority, religious bigotry, militarism and violent subjugation of non-European peoples. Thus, while the Americans were pumping millions of dollars to rebuild the material infrastructure, reflective spirits were calling for a moral transformation in civil society which had been bred the conditions which plunged the world into devastating war of unprecented scale. In Japan, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the emergence of a powerful and uncompromising pacifist movement. The arts, literature and scholarship were harnassed to re-educate people in non-violence, anti-racism and anti-militarism.
In Europe, the hundreds of thousands who poured out onto the streets in the eighties calling for an end to the nuclear arms race and again recently to protest against the illegal war against Iraq is tangible proof of the efficacy of post World War II programmes of education for peace and non-violence. In Sri Lanka neither politicians, religious leaders or peace professionals have been interested in developing a people oriented national education programmes for peace and non-violence, at least for children. The cease-fire space has not been utilised to mobilise people against the possible resumption of war by either of the two parties. Peace and rehabilitation are being treated as handouts which the victims of war should accept with bowed heads and on bended knee by social elites who owe their fortunes and perks to paternalistic projects of peace and welfare. The actual victims of war are treated as object-recipients, and not as subjects of their own future.
Under these circumstances I wrote that the live broadcast of another Vesak commemoration from Thanthirimale last year was a jolting reminder of what the cease-fire has meant to poor people caught up in a war that was not of their seeking. During the Thanthirimale celebration the victims of war were given a voice: gathered in a ramshackle dharmasala they narrated the hardships and suffering they had to endure because of what the referred as this kurira jutthaya. They were slowly trying to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, their fields laid waste, their homes destroyed and loved ones killed. Instead of squandering wealth in lighting up Colombo and wasting scarce energy on giant pandals and lanterns, the Chairman of TNL, the prime minister’s older brother Shan Wickremesinghe had worked round the clock, together with a band of volunteers from the village, to rebuild the road to Anuradhapura and end the isolation of Thanthirimale due to war and official neglect. If this is the plight of Sinhala peasants in a Sinhala Buddhist country, I asked, what of displaced and isolated Tamils and Muslims, especially of Hindu Tamils who lack the network of social support systems that Buddhists, Christians and Muslims have? The revelers incited to let themselves go in Colombo on Vesak night could not give a damn. The daily dissemination of TV images of people enjoying themselves at pop-rock concerts or government sponsored five star hotel food fares, creates the illusion of a society enjoying an unprecedented prosperity which has erased differences between classes and political parties. More serious is the cynical indifference such tamashas induce among the self-absorbed rich about the sufferings of people in the ‘other’ Sri Lanka, people who only know the bitter taste of this ‘Paradise’.
The correct use of the 'Dharmachakra', an appeal to the Buddhist world L4.22
The original Dharma - Cakra
In this our island, the celebrated home of Theravada Buddhism, a great injustice has been perpetrated on the Dharma - cakra, the sacred symbol of the Buddha's teaching, by portraying it with its spokes protruding out of its rim, thereby making it immobilised.
This defeats the very purpose for which it was intended by the Buddha Himself by victoriously declaring that He had "set arolling the Dhamma-cakka irreversible and unchallengeable by anyone in the world" (Pavattitam dhammacakkam appativeltiyam samanena vaa... kenaci vaa lokasmin). He meant it to be ever moving forward, overcoming all impediments. The moment its spokes start jutting out it becomes immovable and ceases to be a "wheel in motion" as was intended by the Buddha best merely a "stuck in" wheel, something like the steering wheel of a ship in appearance.
This mutilation of the Dharma-cakra has been setting in through a gradual process in Sri Lanka, because its early portrayals are free from this defect. This seems to have been the outcome of its inconsiderate handling by the local artists who think of only beautifying and decorating it as they are unaware of its true significance.
Unfortunately though any knowledgeable person has so far failed to intervene and rectify the error, before it deteriorated to the present extent. Such an initial correction could have prevented the present deplorable situation when all our media, except occasionally, continue to portray the disfigured and anti-Buddhist Dharma-cakra, as it was done during the recent Vesak season. Is not there anyone in these media institutions, both print and electronic, who is knowledgable enough to rectify the error?
The ultimate outcome of this prolonged neglect appears to have resulted in the mutilated and anti-Buddhist Dharma-cakra gradually becoming established as the standard version in this "Home of Theravada Buddhism". This is a major violation of the Buddha's teaching as will be clarified in the sequel.
Strangest of, our very state emblem, with its central stylized lion, the surrounding lotus pattern, with sun and moon on either side, is topped with this very same anti-Buddhist version of the Dharma-cakra! No wonder that others follow suit by elongating the projections further by various other meaningless decorations. It was extremely annoying to see such a monstrous version being frequently shown full-screen in a particular electronic media during the recent Vesak season.
The original wheel in motion introduced by the Buddha has been reduced to a monstrosity as it were. Our state symbol, created and accepted perhaps during the Republic process has come to stay with this major detect in fact. No wonder Buddhism itself is becoming misinterpreted as a set of ostentatious celebrations catering to the superficial emotional level satisfaction of the "maddening crowd". This was quite obvious during the Vesak season when the Noble Teaching of the Buddha was treated as a highly commercialised article of faith only. Its core values are dropped on the way.
What is Dharma-cakra?
The Dharma-cakra symbol in Buddhism is one of its central concepts and in fact it was the very first symbol chosen by the Buddha Himself to identify His teaching. After deciding that He should preach His first sermon after enlightenment to the Pancavaggiya ascetics at Baranasi, the Buddha set out to Baranasi from Buddhagaya.
The disfigured Dharma - Cakra
The wandering ascetic Upaka met Him on the way and questioned Him about His identity as to who He was whose pupil He was etc. In response the Buddha, after introducing Himself as a Buddha, said that He was on his way to Baranasi, the city of the Kasis, where He would "set arolling the Dhamma-wheel (Dhammacakkam pavattatum gacchami kashinam puram). Hence the wheel is to be set a rolling, where lies its significance in Buddhism.
The Buddha's selection of the wheel as a of His newly discovered teaching indicates that His intention was to see that His Dhamma should spread for and wide unchallenged like a rolling wheel which in classical Indian symbolism represented the conquering progress and the expanding sovereignty of the world-rulers (Cakkavatti) cakka-vatana, the gem of the conquering wheel, which is one of the seven treasures He inherits.
His name itself Chakkavatti - means "the possessor of the conquering wheel". Here the king invites the wheel to precede him and proceed forward so that in whatever place it stops He establishes His authority and righteousness. Thus He achieves his righteous rulership over the world with the help of the Cakka-vatang.
Accordingly the Buddha's choice of the wheel was based on this Cakka-vatana concept of the world-ruler. The Buddha's Dharma-cakra also would travel over territories and bring them under the righteousness of the Dhamma. Thus when the Buddha claimed that He was "setting the Dharma-cakra rolling" (Dhamma-cakkam pavatteti) it implied the wide-spread diffusion of the Dhamma worldwide. Accordingly, this Pali phrase, with its dynamic implications, is repeatedly used in the Pali texts leading to its becoming standardised as the phrase expressing the territorial expansion of the Dhamma.
The subsequent phrase Appativattiya only confirms its firm establishment, not capable of being dislodged by anyone (kena in) in the world because it is so firmly set a rolling by the Buddha at Isipatana in Benares (Baranasiyam Isipatane Anuttaram Dhammaracckkam Pavattitam).
Thus the significance of the wheel symbol in Buddhism is its implication of progressive forward movement. What has been said so far would clarify the fact that it is the wheel's function of rolling on leading to both temporal and spatial advance and extension that comes to the fore in the context under discussion. This assures the infallible fulfilment of the function of promoting and disseminating the Dhamma.
In the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta this phrase is repeatedly used thereby standardizing the usage (Saniyutta, V, 420 ff; Vinaya, I, 10 ff; PTS). Even the deities inhabiting all the planes of existence celebrate the event by repeating the same phrase. Thus the diffusion and the firm establishment of the Sasana shall remain unchallenged (Appativattiya) everywhere and at all times.
In the Pavarana Sutta of the Sanyutta Nikaya the Buddha admits that Venerable Sariputta, as His faithful disciple, has contributed immensely in the task of "rolling the Dhammacakka" in the following words: "So do you Sariputta, properly keep in motion the incomparable (Anuttara) Dhammacakka set a rolling by Me."
Let it be emphasised that the Buddha-Dhamma in the role of the Dhammacakka becomes meaningful only in its dynamic forward movement as originally set a rolling by the Buddha. In the absence of this idea of motion it has no validity in Buddhism as a simile for the Dhamma.
The foregoing discussion would show that this graphic symbol selected by the Buddha to portray the dynamic, progressive and live nature of His teaching has become subjected to a gradual mutilation and disfiguration at the hands of the local artist. Does the unopposed acceptance of this anti-Buddhist symbol by the Buddhist public mean the tacit acceptance of the fate of Buddhism in contemporary Sri Lanka?
Astrological prediction L4.23
Reference the article on the above topic which appeared on The Island, Sept. 14, 2010, in the opinion column, I wish to enlighten readers on following points:
First of all, I must admit the fact that I have hardly studied and experienced astrological predictions. Nonetheless, the predictions given to me by astrologers and soothsayers have proved to be more or less wrong. But without studying carefully it is best to avoid commenting on it further.
My aim is to enlighten readers on what has been mentioned about astrology in the Buddhist doctrine because it seems there are some Buddhists who are groping in the dark without thinking wisely. In Digha Nikaya-01 Samannaphala Sutta describes, the noble disciple who seeks refuge in the Triple Gem refrains from the study of planets and considers such as being wrong views. In other words he/she wholeheartedly establishes confidence in the Triple Gem. Such disciples know that Lord Buddha is Arahan (free of defilements), Lord Buddha’s Dhamma is Swakkhato (well preached) and the Sangha (ordained Aryan disciples) are Supatipanno (follow the path leading to the cessation of defilements). They also come across Dhamma where it is mentioned that there are four subjects which are beyond the scope of imagination. Those are the subject of Kamma, subject of cosmos, subject of Buddha and the subject of Jhana. Instead, the disciple tries to understand the four noble truths and ceases suffering for ever. Disciplining and refining thoughts, words, and deeds give rise to enormous spiritual pleasure in this life and meritorious Kammas that get formed give rise to favorable consequences in future (in this life and in subsequent births) as well. Isn’t that the wiser way of living for Buddhists rather than predicting forthcoming fortune or the misfortune which has not been preached by Lord Buddha.
15 09 2010 - The Island
The post-mortem condition of the Arahant L4.24
What then, is the post-mortem condition of the Arahant? What happens to the Arahant when he/she "dies"? Is it complete annihilation in a physical sense, or is it eternal perpetuation in a metaphysical sense? This, in fact, was the subject of a dialogue between the Buddha and Vacchagotta, an argumentative wandering philosopher who was very much prone to metaphysical speculations (see Aggivacchagotta Sutta). Here Vacchagotta asks the Buddha whether the Arahant, after the dissolution of the body, reappears (exists), or does not reappear (does not exist), or both reappears and does not reappear (exists and does not exist), or neither reappears nor non-reappears (neither exists nor non- exists). When the Buddha told Vacchagotta that none of these four alternatives "fits the case" (na upeti), the latter got so alarmed and bewildered as to tell the Buddha that whatever faith he has derived from the earlier part of his conversation with the Buddha is now completely lost. What prompted him to say this is that he thought that whatever is predictable should certainly come within fourfold predication.
Then the Buddha told Vacchagotta: "It is hard for you to understand it when you hold another view, accept another teaching, approve of another teaching, pursue a different training, and follow a different teacher."
The Simile of the Fire
The Buddha then goes on to illustrate with a simile why none of the four alternatives "fit the case":
"What do you think, Vaccha? Suppose a fire were burning before you. Would you know: this fire is burning before me".
"I would, Master Gotama".
"If someone were to ask you, Vaccha: ‘What does this fire burning before you burn in dependence on?’ — being asked thus, what would you answer? "
"Being asked thus, Master Gotama, I would answer: ‘This fire burns in dependence on fuel of grass and sticks’."
"If that fire before you were to be extinguished, would you know: ‘This fire before me has been extinguished?’ "
"I would, Master Gotama".
"If someone were to ask you, Vaccha: ‘When that fire before you was extinguished, to which direction did it go: to the east, the west, the north, or the south?’ — being asked thus, what would you answer?"
"That does not apply, Master Gotama. The fire burned in dependence on its fuel of grass and sticks. When that is used up, if it does not get any more fuel, being without fuel, it is reckoned as extinguished"
"So too, Vaccha, the Tathagata has abandoned that material form by which one describing the Tathagata might describe him, he has cut it off at the root, made it like a palm stump, done away with it so that it is no longer subject to future arising. The Tathagata is liberated from reckoning in terms of material form, Vaccha, he is profound, immeasurable, hard to fathom like the ocean. ‘He reappears’ does not apply; ‘he does not reappear’ does not apply; ‘he both reappears and does not reappear’ does not apply; ‘he neither reappears nor does not reappear’ does not apply. (Similarly are described the other four aggregates: feeling, perception, volitional constructions, and consciousness.) [Tr. Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha].
The after "death" condition of the Tathagata cannot, thus, be explained as one of existence, or non-existence, or as a combination of both existence and non-existence, or as a negation of both existence and non-existence.
Some modern scholars have interpreted this to mean that the after-"death" position of the Tathagata transcends the four possibilities raised by Vacchagotta, that by implication this means that there is a reality which transcends the four possibilities, and that it is to this transcendental reality that the Tathagata enters after "death".
There is direct canonical evidence which goes against this conclusion. As recorded in the Anuradha Samyutta of the Samyuttanikaya, Anuradha, a disciple of the Buddha held the view that the after-"death" condition of the Tathagata is such that it cannot be explained with reference to any of the four possibilities, mentioned above. Therefore, his conclusion was that it could be explained with reference to a position which is outside them, in other words, a position that transcends the four possibilities. When this matter was reported to the Buddha, the Buddha said:
Since, even in this very life, a Tathagata is not comprehensible in truth and reality (saccato thetato anupalabbhiyamane), it is not proper to say that the after-"death" condition of the Tathagata could be proclaimed in one other than these four possibilities. Anuradha admits that his conclusion is wrong. Then the Buddha sums up the correct position in the following words: "Anuradha, both formerly and now, it is only suffering and the cessation of suffering that I proclaim" This clearly shows that the after-"death" condition of the Tathagata cannot be explained either in terms of the four-fold predication or in terms of a position that transcends it.
One Major Misinterpretation
One reason why some modern scholars interpreted Nibbana in a metaphysical sense could be the fact that religion in general believes in a reality which is either transcendental, or both transcendental and immanent at one and the same time. Thus while theistic religions believe in a Personal God, Hindu (Sankarite) Vedanta, for instance, believes in an Impersonal Godhead (Macrocosmic Soul), as the ultimate ground of existence. Hence some modern scholars have been inclined to believe that this conception which is common to many religions should have its counterpart in early Buddhism as well. What I must emphasize here is that Early Buddhism – by this I mean the Teachings of the Historical Buddha – does not subscribe in any way to such a metaphysical conception. This is where Buddhism differs from all other religions in the world.
For Buddhism, "world" means the world of experience, the world we experience through the five physical sense-organs and the mind. In other words, Buddhism does not postulate a transcendental reality, some kind of noumenon, as a metaphysical background to the empirical world. In other religions, what connects the empirical reality with the metaphysical reality is the soul. Since Buddhism does not recognize a soul, there is no place here for a metaphysical reality, either. This is why we have in Buddhism "anthropology" instead of theology, psychology instead of metaphysics, meditation instead of prayer, monks instead of priests, and the need to fall upon our own resources without depending on divine intervention.
Therefore, from the Buddhist point of view, all attempts at interpreting the post-mortem status of the Arahant as some kind of "entry into a metaphysical realm" are totally unwarranted and, therefore, totally uncalled for.
Buddhism as a Critical Response to two Perennial Ideologies
If we refer to the post-mortem status of the Arahant as "how Buddhism ends" then to understand it in its proper context we need to know "how Buddhism begins". If we carefully read the Pali discourses, we cannot fail to notice that before the emergence of Buddhism, there was a polarization of intellectual thought into two main ideologies. One is called spiritual eternalism (sassatavada) and the other, materialist annihilationism (ucchedavada). "Spiritual eternalism" is the Buddhist expression for all religions and philosophies that recognize a permanent, metaphysical (immortal) self distinct from the perishable physical body (annam jivam annam sariram). It is based on the duality-principle, the duality between the self and the physical body. On the other hand, "materialist annihilationism" is the Buddhist expression for all forms of materialism that recognize a temporary self which is identical with the physical body (tam jivam tam sariram). It is based on the identity-principle, the identity between the self and the physical body. Let us call the first the theory of the metaphysical self and the second the theory of the physical self.
As the Buddha himself clearly indicates, these two ideologies persist throughout the history of human thought and the world at large has a tendency to lean upon them. Thus addressing Kaccayana, the Buddha says:
"This world, Kaccayana, for the most part depends upon a duality – upon the notion of existence and the notion of non-existence. But for one who sees the origin of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of non-existence in regard to the world. And for one who sees the cessation of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of existence in regard to the world. ‘All exists’, Kaccayana, this is one extreme. ‘All does not exist’, this is the second extreme. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle" [Tr. by Ven.Bhikkhu Bodhi, Connected Discourses of the Buddha].
The view of existence and the view of nonexistence, referred to above, are two other expressions for spiritual eternalism and materialist annihilationism respectively. Thus, if the Dhamma discovered by the Buddha is called "a middle position" it is because it sets itself equally aloof from two mutually exclusive perennial ideologies, "spiritualist eternalism" and materialist annihilationism. The conclusion suggests itself, therefore, that Buddhism arose as a critical response to the binary opposition between two ideologies that have a tendency to prevail throughout the history of human thought
The two Ideologies as two Psychological Moods
Here, I would like to mention in parenthesis that these two ideologies are closely connected with two psychological moods as well. In the prime of our youth when we are enjoying good health and brimming with self-confidence, we tend to become rationalists, positivists, empiricists, agnostics, materialists, communists, anti-religionists, or for that matter, even anarchists. When we are in our dotage, or when we are senile, or when we are suffering from a terminal disease, we tend to become less and less self-confident, more and more spiritual and seek comfort and succour through religion.
The purpose of this short digression on how Buddhism began is to understand "how Buddhism "ends", namely the post-mortem status of the Arahant. It will be noticed that all religions that come under spiritual eternalism should logically and invariably "end"with eternal existence as the final goal of religious life. On the contrary, all schools of materialism that come under materialist annihilationism should logically and invariably "end" with recognizing complete annihilation of the physical self at the time of death. Since Buddhism avoids these two mutually exclusive positions, the post-mortem status of the Arahant cannot be the perpetuation of a self into eternity in a metaphysical sense or the complete annihilation of a self in a physical sense. For, Buddhism does not recognize a physical self or a metaphysical self, either to be annihilated or to be perpetuated.
Construction (samkhara) and De-construction (visamkhara)
A yet another way to understand the nature of the Nibbanic experience and the post-mortem position of the Arahant is to understand them in the light of the Buddhist teaching on construction and de-construction. In the history of Indian philosophy we find two versions of de-construction. One version we can see in the proto-Hindu Upanisadic thought which arose before the birth of Buddhism. Here the process of deconstruction begins with the pre-conceived notion that when the outer layers "are peeled off’ one can come to the essence, the essence that is not further reducible. Thus through a process of negation: "not this, not that," the Upanisadic sages came to identify the soul as the immutable essence of an individual being.
The Buddhist version of deconstruction is just the opposite. It does not begin with the preconceived notion that there should be or that should not be an irreducible essence. It goes on deconstructing only to find out that there is no core at the centre, no essence that is irreducible. It is like peeling off the layers of a banana trunk.
Now from the Buddhist perspective what we call individual existence in samsara is a process of construction (samkhara) through the superimposition of the ego-consciousness on the five aggregates: this is mine, this I am, this is my self.
In contrast, Nibbana means complete de-construction (visamkhara) Hence it is that immediately after realizing Nibbana, the Buddha says:
My consciousness has come to de-construction (visamkhara-gatam cittam)
I have attained the destruction of craving (tanhanam khayam ajjhaga).
Thus it is with the destruction of craving that consciousness comes to de-construction. When the consciousness has become de-constructed, the five aggregates remain. But they are no more constructed in the sense that the Tathagata does not impose on them the ego-consciousness which manifests as "mine", "I", and "my self". Once individual existence is completely de-constructed, there does not remain the notion of an independently existing self-entity either to be annihilated or to be perpetuated. Hence the Buddha’s answer to the question whether the Tathagata "exists" or "does not exist" after "death" is that the question does not arise (na upeti)
What Nibbana is not
Let me conclude this discussion by making some general observations on what Nibbana is not:
1.Nibbana is certainly not a place, but a person living in any place can certainly attain Nibbana if he/she follows correctly the Noble Eightfold Path, the path that leads to the realization of Nibbana.
2. Nibbana is not some kind of romantic ideal where one lives in an eternal paradise surrounded by beautiful divine nymphs.
3. Nibbana is not some kind of metaphysical reality, as for example, the macro-cosmic soul into which the micro-cosmic soul is said to get absorbed.
[N.B. This is my second installment on Nibbana in response to Professor Nalin de Silva’s questions. Since I have a busy schedule here at The University of Hong Kong, I’m sorry I won’t b able to respond to any further questions on this topic: Y. Karunadasa]
The University of Hong Kong
08 02 2012 - The Island
On Nibbana L4.25
I thank Prof. Y. Karunadasa for taking time to write a second installment on 8th February 2012, as an answer to the queries I raised on 5th January 2012. However, I am somewhat disappointed as he has said he would not be able to take time off from his busy schedule at the University of Hong Kong to answer any further questions on the topic. Though it is very unlikely that I would attain Nibbana at the end of the discussion, I would have preferred to carry on with it at least to gain some knowledge not on Nibbana but around or about Nibbana. Perhaps this type of discussion drifts us away from Nibbana and it would have been more helpful to engage in Bhavana rather than writing articles. However, I wish to take up the use of immortality as another term for Nibbana as I do not seek immortality in the ordinary sense at the end of samsara.
Now let us go to the beginning of the discussion. It all began with Professor Karunadasa stating "Monks, the cessation of greed, the cessation of aversion, the cessation of delusion: this is what is called the deathless or the immortal [from Anguttaranikaya]. As used here, ‘the unconditioned (experience),’ and ‘the deathless’ or ‘the immortal’ are two other terms for Nibbana" in his article on the 28th of December 2011. Though there was no problem with the statement that Nibbana is unconditioned (asankatha), unless the sense in which "deathless" or "the immortal" is used is clarified, employment of those words as two other terms for Nibbana could give a wrong impression to the reader. As the distinguished Professor had not given the context in which immortality had been used, I queried the statement that "the immortal" is another term for Nibbana. Professor Karunadasa had not stated the particular sutta where it was stated and I was somewhat bewildered by the statement. I had no problem whatsoever with the fact that Buddha had lived for forty five years after attaining Nibbana but it does not imply that the Buddha was immortal in the ordinary sense of the world. I said in my article on 5th January 2012 "An Arhant is not immortal in the ordinary sense of the word. What has to be made clear, if possible, is the difference between Sopadhisesa Nibbana and Anupadhisesa Nibbana and what happens to an Arhant after death."
In his article on the 18th of January 2012 the learned Professor attempted to clarify what is meant by immortal being another term for Nibbana. I quote at length from this article as it is the most important piece Prof. Karunadasa wrote. "In which sense should we understand ‘the deathless’ or ‘the immortal’ (amata) as another expression for the Nibbanic experience. This will become clear if we examine the position of the Arahant (the one who has attained Nibbana) in relation to the five aggregates, the aggregates into which Buddhism analyses the empiric individuality. When we are in samsara as unenlightened beings we identify our ego-consciousness with the five aggregates in three different ways: ‘This is mine’ (etam mama); ‘this I am’ (eso’ham’asmi); ‘this is my self (eso me atta). The first is due to craving (tanha), the second due to conceit (mana), and the third due to wrong view (ditthi). When we do thus the five aggregates become five aggregates of grasping. There is nothing wrong with the five aggregates. They become a problem only when we grasp them, only when we cling to them. Nibbana can also be described as the giving up of the three-fold grasping of the five aggregates. The Arahant makes use of the five aggregates without imposing on them thoughts of ‘this is mine’, ‘this I am’, and ‘this is my self.’ This means that he/she makes use of the five aggregates without declaring ownership over them… … When one attains Nibbana, the five impermanent aggregates do not become permanent. They continue to be impermanent as they have always been. Impermanence in itself is certainly not a problem. It becomes a problem only when we consider what is impermanent as permanent This the Buddha calls ‘the perception of permanence in impermanence’ (anicce nicca-sanna). In the same way, the absence of a soul is not a problem. It becomes a problem only when we perceive what is not soul as soul. This the Buddha calls ‘the perception of soul where there is no soul (anatte atta-sanna)’. What prevents the attainment of Nibbana is not the nature of actuality but our unwarranted assumptions which do not conform to the nature of actuality. It is in this context, I believe, that we need to understand why the Nibbanic experience is deathless/immortal.".
Does it mean that the immortal is another term for Nibbana? As the Professor says "Nibbana can also be described as the giving up of the three-fold grasping of the five aggregates", but it says nothing of immortality in the ordinary sense of the word. It is true that when one attains Nibbana, the five aggregates continue to be impermanent as they have always and that impermanence becomes a problem only when we consider what is impermanent as permanent. An Arhant as long as he continues to live, the five aggregates continue be impermanent though he makes use of them. However, that does not mean that the Arhant will continue to use the five aggregates without grasping them after the death. The "fact" that the Buddha lived for forty five years without clinging to the five aggregates does not mean that the Buddha lives ever even after Parinibbana without clinging to the five aggregates. I must state that Prof. Karunadasa does not make any such statement but when he says after stating that Arhant uses five aggregates without grasping them, "it is in that context we need to understand why the Nibbanic experience is deathless/immortal", the reader is bewildered. This type of immortality reminds us some Mahayana versions of Buddhism and unless we are careful we would end up with various types of athmavada and pudgalavada while at the same time stating as rhetoric that the problem is the perception of soul where there is no soul (anatte atta-sanna). Does an Arhant live forever either in the same bhava or in different bhavas, without perceiving a soul where there is no soul? If that were so then, I am afraid it cannot be differentiated from uccedavada.
Having said the above Prof. Karunadasa came out with the statement that in Buddhism death meant not only the encounter with death but phobia of death. As I have stated in the article on the 25th of January if by immortality it is meant that Arhant has no phobia of death and nothing more, then it causes no problems. However, in addition to what has been quoted above Prof. Karunadasa makes the following statements as well. "Some modern scholars interpret the Buddhist idea of immortality to mean absence of re-birth. I cannot agree with this. If that were so, even inanimate tables and chairs would be immortal. In common with many other religions, Buddhism too has as its final goal the gaining of immortality. However, since Buddhism does not recognize a permanent self-entity or an immortal soul, the Buddhist idea of immortality assumes a new dimension. It cannot be the perpetuation of a self/soul into eternity. On the contrary, it turns out to be its very opposite. It is the complete elimination of the ego-consciousness which manifests as ‘this is mine’, ‘this I am’, and ‘this is my self’". There is no logic in the example on tables as I have already demonstrated in my article on the 25th of January and the categorical statement that Prof. Karunadasa makes to the effect that he does not agree with those who interpret immortality as absence of rebirth makes the reader to believe that there is some kind of rebirth (punabbahava), as he does not contradict the statement using catuskoti logic. If he had said that neither he agreed with those who think that there is a rebirth then that would have made some sense to readers familiar with catuskoti logic. For Prof. Karunadasa, Buddhist idea of immortality is elimination of the ego-consciousness which manifests as ‘this is mine’, ‘this I am’, and ‘this is my self’. However, Arhants have eliminated this ego-consciousness though they are not immortal, unless one assumes that the Arhants even after parinibbana continue to have the five aggregates without using them. It is in order to clarify this I wanted to know what happens after an Arhant dies and the difference between Sopadhisesa Nibbana and Anupadhisesa Nibbana. Unfortunately the second installment of the answer of Prof. Karunadasa published on 8th February 2012 totally ignores the difference between Sopadhisesa Nibbana and Anupadhisesa Nibbana and does not help the reader to understand "the postmortem condition of an Arhant". In his article on 8th February 2012 he quotes at length from a few suttas without answering the problem. I will deal with the contents of these suttas that addressed Vacchagotta, Anuradha and Kaccayana in a different article. There is another sutta this time by Venerable Arhant Sariputta addressing Yamaka Thera, which could be considered as an extension of Anuradha sutta that is important in the present context. The Buddha had to be careful in dealing with these individuals and had to avoid both uccedavada and shasvathavada and moreover catuskoti logic, as it could have given rise to misinterpretations. I will try to explain these problems hopefully in the article mentioned above.
I shall end this article by mentioning that the above four suttas addressed, let me say, four argumentative individuals and were not for a bigger audience. In Ratana Sutta with which most of us are familiar, we come across the following stanza. "Their past (kamma) is spent, their new (kamma) no more arises, their mind to future becoming is unattached. Their germ (of rebirth-consciousness) has died, they have no more desire for re-living. Those wise men fade out (of existence) as the flame of this lamp (which has just faded away). This precious jewel is the Sangha. By this (asseveration of the) truth may there be happiness" (Ven. Piyadassi Thera’s translation). The simile of fire in the Vacchagotta Sutta is not different from the example of the lamp in the above stanza. Then we also have in the Udana Vakya the following. "Knowledge arose in me, and insight: my freedom is certain, this is my last birth, now there is no rebirth (punabbhava)". It is clear that Buddha had given a different interpretation to immortality, as people were interested in becoming immortal, as in words such as Brahmin and Arya. If there is no punabbhava then there is no death as well. The problem was to covey this to the argumentative people without getting trapped in uccedavada and shasvathavada.
Nalin de Silva
15 02 2012 - The Island
More on the metaphysics of Nirvana L4.26
The mainstream Theravada understanding on the baffling subject of Nirvana has been presented with great clarity and learning by Prof. Karunadasa in his recent review. There are two areas of fuzziness in this exposition to which attention must be drawn. The first is that the Buddha-word as given in the sutras is classically interpreted in terms and concepts that are now regarded as quaint and imprecise. Take, for example, the soul/no soul dichotomy that is fundamental in Buddhist discourse. The ancients believed that personality demanded a prior and indwelling essence called a soul. The argument was advanced that if the soul was a fictitious posit, then ‘persons’ cannot be truly real (Anatta). This argument is no longer foolproof. System complexity can reach heights where ‘personhood’ is a real emergent phenomenon while the ‘soul’ is an archaism that has little explanatory value. Indeed in the evolution of life, personhood has evolved pari passu with rising complexity of material organisation. Thus personhood is a functional or system-property and has nothing to do with spiritual essences.
A similar confusion prevails in regard to the antithetical nature of matter and spirit. The ancients were greatly impressed by the contrast between gross matter and the sublime spirit that animates things. Hence matter was the clinging enemy that had to be fought against so as to achieve that much-admired state of spiritual purity. All this is now passť with the revolutions in scientific understanding. The quantum theory of matter speaks of the superposition of states in Hilbert Space as the foundation of corporeal being– a far cry from the days when matter was treated as a dull inert substrate for ‘spirits’ to play with. Indeed the word ‘materialism’ as a serious philosophical term must be dropped in favour of physicalism which denies spiritual interventions but accepts the mystery and inscrutability of that background we call matter.
In the discourse on the status of the ‘liberated being’ (cited by Prof.Y.K) the main thrust is the denial of intelligibility (or the inscrutability) of the spiritual metamorphosis leading to ‘Arahantship’. This agnosticism is expressed through the logical system of ‘four-fold negation’ in vogue in Buddhist and Pre-Buddhist times. If the Arahant or the Nirvanic presence slips through the net of cognitive capture based on mundane modalities of apprehending things – matter versus spirit, soul versus no-soul, existence versus non- existence, for example – these exalted states (and notions regarding them) are beyond discourse and hence can be witnessed but not spoken of. As Wittgenstein puts it, ‘Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.’ This does not mean that a full stop has been put on the interrogative spirit of man – things of great metaphysical depth cannot be spoken of but can be revealed in performance. Likewise the ineffable spiritual experiences of the ‘saint’ or ‘arahant’ can be conveyed (and matched) by the inducement of an inner vision in the ‘learner’ that transcends the logic of ordinary discourse.
In seeking to find meaning in the spiritual anomaly we recognise as the Arahant, most will find little comfort in logic-chopping denial of attributes customarily associated with persons and beings. What is that extra that raises ‘him’ above ordinary beings? If this ‘extra’ is beyond description in words and concepts ordinarily used, what is the performative difference that sets this ‘being’ apart from the rest? The orthodox reply that ‘The Eight-Fold Path’ is the only sure way to apprehend this extraordinary state is unsatisfactory (to put it mildly) in that the functional counterpart of the Arahant or Saintly Being is found in all religious traditions. The mystical vision has no divisions based on creed and tradition. Indeed, the Tibetan Monks – famed for their flights into Nirvanic Nothingness through deep meditation – have no truck with the canonical formulations of ‘paths’ and ‘truths’ so much fancied by the Theravada Schools. The sublime cannot be within defined boundaries.
15 02 2012 - The island
Asymmetry in international affairs L4.27
As I have said on many occasions the asymmetry is verse in economic and cultural fields. We are dictated by the western economic relationships and structures and have to adjust our policies to suit them and follow their so called development models, which are about to ruin the world. It is the culture that dictates finally that all these relationships have to be asymmetrical. Education is part of culture and the cultural colonialism could be found in the university senates of the country more than anywhere else. In the name of maintaining so called international standards which are nothing but western standards the universities have to teach and engage in peripheral research which is nothing but applying western theories to solve a very mundane problem. We are so much dependent on the western knowledge that includes western science some of our scholars try to demonstrate that Buddhism is scientific! They would claim that Kalama Sutta embodies the so called scientific attitude without of course reading or understanding what I would call the second part of the Sutta that advised the Kalamas to follow the Vinnus (the knowledgeable people) in their day to day affairs. Then there are others who would try to interpret Buddhism in such a way that it would be acceptable to the westerners.
Buddhism is not (western) scientific and is not a rationalist theory. Western Science is inductive more than anything else, and I would say that all the western scientific theories are products of induction, even deduction including syllogism and Aristotelian logic is based on induction as has been shown elsewhere, whereas Buddhism does not appeal to induction and is based on "prathyaksha". There is no suitable word for "prathyaksha" in English, and it is not empiricism, perception or any other concept found in western philosophy. Budunvahanse is never referred to as "maha pragnyananvahanse" (the great intellectual) but as "mahakarunikayananvahanse" (the most compassionate) and karunawa is not an outcome of pragnava. Our colonial mentality is such that when a non Buddhist "scholar" says that karunawa is an outcome of pragnava there are some prominent Bhikkus who would agree with the former. It has to be mentioned that they are no theories in original Buddhism as theories are products of induction. The terminology such as Karmavada Dharmavada was not of Budunvahanse though the word karmaya has been used.
Nalin de Silva
30 05 2012 - The Island
"Lord" Buddha L4.28
I find that some refer to The Buddha as "Lord Buddha".
"Lord" means master or ruler or a feudal type superior, The word also refer to God. The Buddha does not fall any of those categories.
"Buddha", in fact is not a proper name as such. It is a generic name to refer to one who has attained Supreme Enlightenment and who helps others to achieve enlightenment through his teachings. Siddhartha Gautama, a Kshatriya Prince renounced his kingdom and the princely lay life to attain enlightenment. He is a man who attained Buddha hood. The Buddha said to his followers "I am just one of you. I never force anyone to listen to me, and do not want anyone to obey me." The Buddha encouraged doubt, discussion, exploration and questioning his teachings. He want his followers to follow his teachings if they are convinced that the teachings are good and true.
Is it therefore appropriate to refer to The Buddha as "Lord"? Will someone please clarify?
Upali S. Jayasekera,
30 08 2012 - The Island
The Buddha was no Lord L4.29
Mr Jayasekera, writing in your opinion column on the 30th of August has questioned the wisdom of adding the epithet "Lord" in front of "Buddha", i.e., the enlightened one.
Indeed I concur entirely with Mr Jayasekera. If you look at the well-known book written by learned monks like the Venerable Walpola Rahula, it is entitled "What the Buddha Taught", and no "Lord Buddha" appellation is used. Similarly, in Buddhist Pali stanzas like "Ye cha Buddha atita cha" etc., there is no attempt to add an unnecessary honorific. The Buddha is above and beyond such honorifics. Indeed, it should be noted that the Christian or Jewish God is not given any further honorifics by Judeo-Christain writers.
The Hindus refer to their Gods as Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesh etc., and by extension, the Buddhists have also deified the Buddha to the status of a God. However, the Buddha insisted that he was a Teacher among men, and that his mission was to teach people to realize for themselves ("Ehipassiko") the way to escape suffering and arrive at a state of contentment.
The word "Bhagavath" was used among recluses in ancient India to refer to each other. It meant in effect, "someone who has been fortunate enough to shed the encumbrances of lay life". The word `Bhagavanth’ has traveled far and wide and under gone many changes. Thus in Thailand it has become `Bhanthe’, and so we refer to monks of the Thai tradition as ‘Bhante Sona, Bhante Narado’ etc. Thus ‘Bhagavath’ should be translated as ‘fortunate one’, rather than the Christianized form ‘blessed one’.
There are other usages common among English writers because they follow the language of the early missionary Christians who mis-translated the Buddhist usage, implicitly inculcating some of their cultural baggage into ours. Thus, some Buddhist writers refer to the Buddha as the "The Blessed one", where as there is in fact no one who has the capacity to bless the Buddha. The idea of being blessed, or "in grace" is a Christian concept applied to their saints.
A well-known Buddhist stanza goes as "Svakkhato Bhagavato Dhammo, Sanditthiko, Akaliko, Ehipassiko, Opanayiko pachchattam veditabbo vinnuheehthee". Here the word "Akaliko" is often translated incorrectly in the western literature as "timeless". Well-known Australian, American and European monks who do the jet-set Dhamma circuit make the same error.
The monks who have learned Pali correctly translate the word "Akaliko" as "in no time". Thus the above stanza beginning with "Svakkahto ..." should be translated as "Well expounded is the Dhamma by the Fortunate One, to be realized by oneself, with immediate fruit, to be but approached to be seen, capable of being entered upon, to be attained by the wise, each for himself.
I have discussed some of these mis-comprehensions, as well as other Buddhist matters in my blog available at http://this-life-buddhism.blogspot.ca/
31 08 2012 - The Island
‘Lord’ Buddha, or Sammasam-Buddha? L4.30
The Island and Upali S Jayasekara (USJ), deserve all praise for highlighting a pertinent issue on August 29, under , " Lord" Buddha.
I always made the ‘respectful form of address, ‘Lord’ in all my writings, when referring to Buddha. USJ invites someone to clarify if the reference is appropriate. I am not a scholar who can analyse the issue, but as a layman I would say the explanation laid down in his short essay itself was sufficient to ‘enlighten’ me on the inappropriateness of the four letters.
I think it was Hindu influence that introduced the term Lord, based on the concept that Buddha was an reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. A Hindu religious book titled, "Dasavatara-Ten manifestations of God Vishnu" says, I quote,
"Ignorant men took the orders of Tamasika to be the only instruction of the Vedas and engaged in animal sacrifice during worship of Demi-gods. At the time the Supreme Lord descended in the form of Lord Buddha and outwardly rejected the teachings for the welfare of human beings".
In most of the Hindu texts, the reference is made using the term ‘Lord Buddha’.
Those who do not wish to say ‘Buddha’ only, may use ‘Sammasam-Buddha’ meaning state of perfect enlightenment or a human being who gained Nibbana by his own efforts, one who, the most compassionate, discovered the Dhamma without any guidance or having a teacher.
Isn’t it worth discussing the ‘Dasavatara’, in detail in view of the animal sacrifices taking place in this thrice blessed island, both for religious purposes (only once in 365 days) and gruesome killing of million times more daily for consumption. The funniest part is that most of the agitators against ‘Bilipuuja’ are staunch supporters of ‘Thricotica-parisuddha’ Killings.
Can some authority on Dhamma enlighten us on this matter?
K. K. S. Perera
The Fragrance of the Rose
The disciples were absorbed in a discussion of Lao-tzu's dictum:
"Those who know, do not say;
Those who say, do not know."
When the master entered,
they asked him what the words meant.
Said the master, "Which of you knows the fragrance of a rose?"
All of them indicated that they knew.
Then he said, "Put it into words."
All of them were silent.