LETTERS ON BUDDHISM.
Appeared in Sri Lankan News Papers - PAGE 5
LETTERS INDEX Page 5
L5.01 Enlightenment: A different view - Buddha fully encouraged independent thinking...
L5.02 Attaining Buddhahood: Is gender an obstacle?
L5.03 Of Buddhist monks and politics - A Private Member’s motion was tabled in Parliament by...
L5.04 Psychiatry, Dhamma and Hindi music was Dr. DVJ Harishandra’s forte - Three weeks ago we lost...
L5.05 The Ministry of Crab Extinction - Recently a morning daily carried a picture of the Head Chef...
L5.06 Monk’s self-sacrifice - Chief Incumbent of the Bellanwuila Raja Maha Viharaya...
L5.07 Taking life: warped logic? - Today Buddhism is interpreted in revolutionary ways.
L5.08 What monks need to dread - I refer to two letters in ‘The Island’...
L5.09 Buddhism, Vegetarianism and Ahimsa - There is reference to Buddhist fanatics on the streets.
L5.10 Believers and non believers - Discussing their respective views on Believer and Nonbeliever...
L5.11 Jews in Sri Lanka: another response
L5.12 Discovery of a new shrine in Lumbini under those constructed by Emperor Ashoka
L5.13 Race between men and women
L5.14 Social problems: Significance of lion’s approach
L5.15 Buddhism being destroyed from within
L5.16 Vegetarianism and animals’ right to life - Why do the large majority of human beings deny...
L5.19 Who is a Buddhist monk? - A Buddhist monk in brief, is the noble being who...
L5.23 Some thoughts for Vesak - On this thrice blessed Vesak day commemorating...
L5.24 Don’t let the dazzle blind you - Can the sanctity of Vesak overcome the challenges...
L5.25 Modi on Buddhist spiritual heritage of India: Significance of his message for Sri Lanka
L5.26 Pirith nool: some queries - The practice of tying pirith nool on the wrists...
L5.27 Pirith Nool - About 15 years ago I was living in Dubbo...
L5.28 Pirith nool have saved lives: A response
L5.30 Need for purifying one’s mind - Writing an article to The Island newspaper...
Enlightenment: A different view L5.01
I read with interest and concern, the article in your Satmag section (29th September) by Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana, entitled "Enlightenment: Of that intellectual dual between two professors".
Dr. UW begins by refereeing to the debate between Prof. Carlo Fonseka (who supports modern science and its method of critical doubt), and Prof. Nalin de Silva (who rejects science and mathematics as unmitigated ‘western’ fallacies rooted in Judeo-Christian belief, but accepts revealed `truths’ from God Naka). Then Dr. UW goes on to discuss a talk he gave at the London Buddhist Vihara on `Buddhism and Science’. Dr. UW mentions the questions he fielded and says, "I well remember the final question, `Can one be a good Buddhist without going to the temple?’ My emphatic answer was `yes’ but I could see the unappreciative look on the face of the Mahanayake Thera, who presided over the event.
Then Dr. UW comes to the question of `rebirth’ and says `At times, I have been told I cannot be a ‘Buddhist’ if I do not believe in rebirth. Fortunately, I can silence my critics by quoting ‘Kalama Sutta’, the relevant paragraphs of which conclude Carlo’s excellent article’.
If Dr. UW were to re-read the Kaalama sutta, he will find that indeed the Buddha fully encouraged independent thinking and rejected the authority of revealed truth etc.
However, the Buddha said that the independent thinker must also consult the opinion of his peers in arriving at a decision. The Sangha are the `peers’ when it comes to the Dhamma. This is why the Buddha, as well as Buddhists, knows that we need the `refuge of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha’. Thus it is clear that you cannot take refuge in the Sangha if you `never’ go to a Temple - here I mean any place where there is a monk, even if that be a solitary cabin or cave in a forest. Hence I am concerned that Dr. UW is quoting the Kaalama Sutta misleadingly if he thinks that he doesn’t need the Sangha.
As for `rebirth’, if it was such an important concept to Buddhists, you may ask why it was not included in the Four Noble Truths, or explicitly stated in the early sermons of the Buddha. In fact, the Pali words used in those sermons have been translated as understood by various people by involuntarily introducing their own beliefs into them. If you look at the first sermon, it talks of Gods and Brahma at the end; different versions differ. But if you look at the initial part (common to most versions), you see that the Buddha is talking of the cause of pain (Dhukka), and desire (Thanha), and when He says "yaayam thanha punobhavika", thanha is the noun qualified by "punobhavika. So, when He says " ayam anthima jatha natthi daani punabbbavo" the Buddha is referring to the end of the birth of "Thanha" - cessation of desire, and not life itself. This interpretation is the only one consistent with what came before in the first sermon, the second sermon of the Buddha and the doctrine of Anatta. I have discussed this issue in some detail in my blog http://this-life-buddhism.blogspot.ca/
The doctrine of Annatta insists that there is no identifiable individual. Instead, there is a sequence of physical (`naama’) and mental states (`roopa’) that die, and get reborn due to the working of `Thanha’. Thus the rebirth-death-rebirth cycle refers to this sequence of naama-roopa and not the rebirth after physiological death claimed by `Hanamiti Buddhists’ - i.e., those who hold onto their received beliefs, come what may. I am sure Dr. UW would have little difficulty in the concept of rebirth as stated that way. He needs to read the sermons in Pali and reflect on them and their translation with the help of learned Pali scholars, or their writings, and follow the Kaalama sutta, keeping a very open mind. So Dr. UW needs to go to the temple, discourse with monks, and learn Pali - the language of the Buddha.
02 11 2012 - The Island
Attaining Buddhahood: Is gender an obstacle? L5.02
Attending a Katina puja this morning brought to mind an official visit I made to Bangkok a decade ago, during which I took time off to visit a temple 65 kilometers outside the city. It was an Il Poya Day, and I was curious to observe how the Thai people conducted the Katina Puja. Unlike the city’s showpiece golden temples, which charge visitors an entrance fee, this remote Ashokarama was very similar to temples in Sri Lanka. The only difference was the gender ratio, which was almost 50/50, compared to our very high Upaasika involvement.
According to the Mahavagga Pali, the third book of the Vinaya Pitaka, the Katina originated with 30 forest-dwelling monks, Pindapatika wearing rag-robes who were on their way to visit the Lord Buddha at Sravasti. It was the rainy season, “Vassa”, and bad weather forced the monks to break journey. However, they resumed the journey despite the rain, and reached Jetawana exhausted, their robes soaked with rain. Hearing about the monks’ difficult journey, the Buddha relaxed some of the rules for Bhikkhus, especially during the Vassana.
The meaning of the word “Katina” is disputed. There are two schools of thought, both of Theravada origin. One says “katina” means “hardness”, while the Thais say the word comes from “Katrina”, which means “weaving cloth.”
According to the Vinaya commentary, the ceremony and the robes were called “katina” because the merit achieved from a gift of robes was as hard as a diamond. Sri Lankan scholars say the word implies “firmness”, “stability”, “long-lastingness.” To sojourn during the rainy season is “vas viseema”, and this is performed from the Vap Full Moon to the Il Full Moon. Of related religious activities, the Katina Puja is the most meritorious. The Buddha was very clear when He declared that in this noblest performance, the accumulation of merit is limitless.
In Sri Lanka, the Upaasika, or lay female devotee, plays a leading role in the ceremony. The Buddha did not discriminate against women in any sphere of activity. It is therefore puzzling that there is not a single female among the 28 past Buddhas. The Gautama Buddha said the next Buddha would also be a male.
Can a woman attain Buddhahood? Is gender an obstacle to becoming a Buddha?
Buddhist teachings say that no one is superior to another by birth, caste, race, creed or gender. The “bondage” sutta advises against clinging to gender identity. Thai Theravada scholars such as Ajahn Sujato and Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu believe the “Garudhammas”, the eight rules that restrict nuns, including the rule that “a bikkhuni, irrespective of her seniority, must bow down to every novice male monk”, were introduced by prejudiced, chauvinistic, anti-women participants at the First Council after the Buddha. That rule is more Jainist than Buddhist.
There are a number of instances where the Buddha praised the mental strength and capacity of the Upaasikas. In the Kundalakesi story, the Buddha compared motherhood to Buddhahood. Consider the famous Buddhist females Maha Prajapathi Gothami, Vishaka and Sujatha. Kisagothami and Patachara entered the Sasana and attained Arahathship. “Atta Deepa Viharata” -Be a lamp unto Thyself – the Buddha
K. K. S. Perera
02 12 2012 - Sunday Times
Of Buddhist monks and politics L5.03
A Private Member’s motion was tabled in Parliament by Mr. Wijedasa Rajapakshe, PC MP, some time ago, to preclude members of the clergy from seeking nomination for election to Parliament or Local Government bodies. This motion would be applicable to the Clergy of all religions, but at present, it is mostly Buddhist monks who sit in Parliament and local government bodies. There has been much debate in the print and electronic media both in support and in opposition to the motion.
Much could be said for Buddhist monks to keep away from political activities altogether. They have renounced their material life for spiritual advancement, where virtuous conduct and purification of the mind are of paramount importance. In active politics, it is a difficult task to subscribe to Right Speech, one virtue under the Noble Eight Fold Path. In a political debate one may have to speak against one’s conscience for for sake of his party and to please one’s political masters. In the heat of political debate, thoughts of ill will could arise when dealing with political opponents.
Monks who have renounced lay life are expected to lead lives in accordance with the Dhamma and have as their objective, the realization of Nibbana and the release from Samsara, the cycle of births and deaths one and for all and this is no easy task as they have to attain perfect moral conduct and develop the mind with meditation as well as Sathi or mindfulness of all activities - physical, verbal and mental.
In this connection, the advice given by the Buddha to his son Ven. Rahula Thera, as recorded in the Ambalatthikarahulovada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya is relevant. "Therefore, Rahula, you should train yourself; ‘I will purify my bodily acts through repeated reflection. I will purify my verbal acts through repeated reflection. I will purify my mental acts through repeated reflection. That is how you should train yourself".
It is this kind of practice that would lead them to see things not as they appear but in their true reality (Yatha Butha Nana Dassana) as Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta or impermanance, unsatisfactoriness and the absence of a permanent, unchanging self or soul. This task is formidable but not impossible. If unsuccessful in this life the development would be helpful in the next life for further progress. In this context it is best that the Sangha refrains completely from active politics which would be a hindrance to their spiritual advancement.
When monks engage in active politics, the respect that devotees have for them would be adversely affected. Sometimes reference is made to them in derogatory terms, that is contrary to the respect and regard in which they are usually held. They would also be tempted to indulge in available perks.
Once there was a physical attack in Parliament by some MPs on monks who were Parliamentarians. Whether it is possible in such circumstances for the victim monks to maintain their balance of mind - Upekkha - without malice towards the attackers is doubtful. Moreover, in leading a political it would be difficult for monks to maintain the noble qualities of Brahma-vihara, the art of noble living - Metta, the wish for the success and happiness for all living beings; Karuna or compassion; Mudita or joy in the happiness of others; leading to Upekkha or balance of mind.
On the other hand, monks could play a valuable role in the political life of the country and the people, without themselves being involved in active politics. They should provide advice and guidance according to the Dhamma to the political leaders of the country. This was the role leading monks and the Buddha himself performed. Often the rulers of the day sought the advice of the Sangha, which was of substantial value because of their non-partisan nature, and their knowledge and understanding of the Dhamma. The rulers often heeded their advice. Even today leaders of varied political parties often pay their respects to the Mahanayakas in Kandy. On such occasions advice is given. Legislation to forbid Buddhist monks from taking to active politics is perhaps not a satisfactory solution to the problem to the question. The violation of fundamental human rights could be adduced against such actions leading to further controversy and internecine conflict. A better approach would be for the community of monks, the Maha Sangha, to condemn the participation of monks in politics, and the people at large to refrain from supporting them. In the past, monks were not involved in political activity. However, gradually they came to actively support different political parties. Later they became active members of parties and eventually sought election to Parliament and local government bodies.
Rather than engaging in active politics, the Sangha has a much more important role to perform today to reverse the rapidly deteriorating moral standards of the people. Murder, rape, violence, corruption, child abuse and the breakdown of law and order have become the order of the day. Politicians parade themselves as paragons of virtue when in Opposition, but when they acquire political power and authority they become even worse than their predecessors. This, no doubt, proves that power does corrupt.
Thus, without engaging in partisan politics the Sangha should advise and guide the rulers in accordance with the Dhamma. In their religious life and sermons they should urge the laity to desist from evil and lead wholesome lives. Moral upliftment of the youth is one of the crucial areas for action by the monks. The conduct of monks should be morally and spiritually exemplary and an inspiration for laymen to live wholesome lives. By doing so the monks would be performing a valuable religious duty.
10 12 2012 - The Island
Psychiatry, Dhamma and Hindi music was Dr. DVJ Harishandra’s forte L5.04
Three weeks ago we lost one of our most respected medical professionals, Dr D V J Harischandra, the consultant psychiatrist of the Medical Faculty of the Ruhuna University and well known TV panelist. I met him for the first time one and half years ago when I phoned him to get his consent to respond to a psycho-analytical critique of a Sinhala film ‘Bambara Walalla’ published in the Island newspaper. He asked, "Why don’t you meet me?" And gave me an appointment.
He proved to be an immensely likable person, down to earth on matters requiring query, analysis and comprehension. When I expressed my thoughts, somewhat different to his views on the film’s psychological theme, he insisted that I present them, saying that he always appreciate one’s right to express dissenting views and advised me to mail my response to the newspaper for publication. He was a wise man with a clear vision. I recall vividly the last sentence in my response to his critique based o Western psychotherapy on the film, which said: "…I would invite Dr DVJ Harischandra, who is well acquainted with Buddhist psychology, to write one more critique on the film, based on principles of the Dhamma."
This well-acclaimed psychiatrist was an erudite scholar in The Dhamma, Buddhist literature and psychological aspects of religious teachings. His comments, explanations and observations during TV programmes on his favourite topics of Buddhist doctrines, Western psychology and psychotherapy were extremely educative; he never hesitated to quote where relevant other religious prophets as well. He in fact revolutionized the field of psychotherapy by introducing Jataka tale remedies in parallel with Western concepts.
Dr Harischandra, the excellent presenter, converted complex psychological concepts into simplistic easily understood accounts for laymen, participating in weekly ‘Doramandalawa’, ‘Nena Pahana’ and in a few other TV programs. The Chairman of one of the stations, says, Dr Harischandra shuttles between Galle and Colombo a couple of times a week to participate in programs using his own transport and never claiming a cent. He became a well known and respected panelist in the electronic media by appearing in Late Soma Thera’s discussions.
A visionary, he always stuck to basic Dhamma tenets and doctrines and never indulged in racial or religious extremism. At panel discussions, if a panelist went off the track on a petty issue harmful to racial or religious harmony, he used his wit and humor to quickly get the discussion back on track without clashing with anybody, often with a reference to a Jataka story to illustrate a point giving listeners the authentic Dhamma viewpoint. In treating the mentally sick, he always respected the traditional therapeutic principles and cultural aspects as well. He spent all his valuable time attending to government free clinics and imparting his knowledge through TV channels instead of channeling patients.
One of his students writing a comment on a newspaper blog says, "Never in my life have I seen a consultant while teaching medical students treating them with tea everyday half way through teaching, I was one of those lucky student. As his student I not only learned psychiatry and hypnotism, more importantly he taught us how to be a nice doctor; and he was a father figure to us." He recently launched a Book and an audio CD, titled, "Jataka Geetha Sangrahaya" a compendium of songs based on Jataka stories and published by Vijitha Yapa Publications. There are 20 songs. He wrote the lyrics with themes gathered from the Jataka Stories to match delightful Hindi tunes of well-known Indian musicians, most of them creations of Noushad’s evergreen hits. He amply demonstrated his singing skills too, when he volunteered to sing one of the songs at the launch held at Buddha Jayanthi Hall.
I remember Dr Harischandra responding to a live late night old Hindi hits program and requesting a song from his favorite film ‘Bauji Bawra’ (1952); he briefly discussed the philosophical theme of the film as well. This was the instant I understood the clarity of thinking of this wise man.
‘Jataka Geetha Sangrahaya’ is a soothing stress reliever for the music loving people of all walks of life in our country. The CD will prove a panacea for all illnesses, physical and mental alike; a unique way of treating stress related minor mental disturbances. The book titled "Psychological Aspects of the Buddhist Jataka Stories", authored by Dr Harischandra and published in 2000, is an investigative study hitherto no one has explored – offering insights into the characteristics of the Jataka stories. The book was well acknowledged by a wide group of readership, and won the State Literary Award. We lost him at a time our society badly need people of his caliber as was evident from his consistent involvements in such dialogues. He proved to be a walking library when matters relating to modern psychiatry, Buddhist literature and applied Buddhism were concerned.
The name Dr DVJ Harischandra, will linger for a long time with people for his yeomen services for the nation. He has successfully managed thousands of mentally ill patients at Government hospitals through out the country. His services to the families affected by the war and the disabled war victims in overcoming the trauma, were really praiseworthy. I wish the doctor had one more birth with us before ending the sansaric journey and attain Nibbana.
In one of his last TV panel discussions a few weeks ago, he discussed ‘death’, and said, "it is an insignificant event. Apart from those who are left behind, who will weep for and bemoan for the dead man? It is no cause for concern for him; there is absolutely no pain or grief (for him) provided he lived a wholesome life."
We will miss him so much. May he attain the ultimate peace of Nibbana !
K K S Perera
24 03 2013 - Sunday Island
The Ministry of Crab Extinction L5.05
Recently a morning daily carried a picture of the Head Chef of the "Ministry of Crab" (no, its not a ministry of state with politicians and bureaucrats walking sideways, but a very up market restaurant specializing in serving crab ) proudly holding a giant crab weighing 3.2 Kg. According to the restaurant owners, as stated in the newspaper report, this giant crab, after preparation as a delicious dish, was to be sold at Rs19, 000. Many crab meat enthusiasts would undoubtedly have found this picture of the large crustacean, with the promise of it being made into a delicious dish, mouth watering. They will of course not care a whit about the cruel manner in which these creatures are killed for the gastronomic pleasure of crab meat lovers; nor will they or ponder on the loss to the environment due to large – scale harvesting of crabs. Crabs eat anything they can get hold of in their environment - mussels, snails, fish, plants thereby controlling and keeping a balance of the populations of these creatures; at the same time several birds and other animals feed on crabs, depending on them for their survival.
This is not a plea for people to stop eating crab. However at least it must be pointed out to our cricketing restaurateurs who seek the blessings of the Triple Gem to win matches, but pay little heed to the Buddhist obligation to follow a proper livelihood, which excludes taking of life, that the practice of restaurants displaying live species available on the menu is not Sri Lankan. This includes giving publicity in the media to such "live" offers.
This is why we were surprised to see the picture - captioned "Gastronomic delight" - of the Chief Chef of Ministry of Crab (MC) displaying the giant crab and giving its cost after preparation as a delicious dish. In our view displaying live animals to customers for selection by them for eating, although it is done in some countries, is an obnoxious practice seeking to enhance gastronomic pleasure with cruelty, which cannot be condoned in our culture.
Are there people who have sympathy for the crab and even wish to save it from being thrown into the cooking pot? Yes indeed, we have learnt that there are many people in different parts of the world who save these hapless creatures by buying them for very large sums of money. There is the wonderful story on the internet of the Monster Tasmanian King Crab, affectionately named Claude, saved from death when a person from a British aquarium bought him and two other giant crabs for 3000 pounds sterling and had them flown to the UK. Claude is now the second biggest crab on display in the UK; he weighs a mighty 15 lbs. and is 100 times bigger than a standard UK shore crab. Yet he is still a juvenile and will grow to double his weight! A crab that is bigger than the Tasmanian Monster is the Japanese spider crab that stands about twelve feet high and a leg span of about twelve feet. Spider crabs too have been saved by sympathizers and flown to aquariums in the UK and the US. Of the Tasmanian specimen, Robert Hicks, Head Marine Biologist for Sea Life, says: "They are such impressive creatures we thought it was worth the cost and effort of flying them half – way round the world so they can flourish in an aquarium display…. we want to increase their numbers but in Australia people eat them and I think visitors to the Sea Life will be shocked when they find that out because they look so magnificent."
Claude is well over fifty times bigger than the ‘giant’ crab shown held up by the Head Chef of the MC, but for us it is indeed big and awesome if not magnificent, considering we do not have monster crabs in our waters. Would it not be proper, if crabs like the one displayed by the Chief Chef of MC, respecting their extraordinary size and potential, if allowed to grow even bigger, could be spared the cooking pot and sent to an aquarium? Perhaps NARA could provide such an aquarium. At least this will provide an opportunity to our young generations to see these wondrous creatures, in our waters that we humans think nothing of relishing to extinction!
We understand from a more recent press report that the restaurateurs are so taken with their success that they have ideas of opening an MC in India as well. If Jayalalithaa does not step in to disrupt this, we must caution the cricketing restaurateurs about any plans of exporting crabs from our lagoons to India. As it is there is over harvesting of crabs and environmentalists have warned that several of our species are threatened with extinction. The Ministry of Fisheries must step in and keep a strict control of the over harvesting of crabs to meet the increasing demands for the export market and local consumption.
18 04 2013 - The Island
Monk’s self-sacrifice L5.06
Chief Incumbent of the Bellanwuila Raja Maha Viharaya, Ven. Dr. Wimalarathana Thera has said the recent act of self-immolation by a Buddhist monk is against Buddhism. The Venerable Thera may have read the 550 Jathaka Stories where Gauthama Buddha in his previous births committed acts. Sasa Jathaka story tell of our Bodhisathva, born as a hare and jumped on to a fire to be roasted as food for a Yakka. Also haven’t we read in our history of King Siri Sangabo, who cut off his head and offered it to a person for the latter to claim a reward.
The monk who burnt himself demonstrated his commitment to his mission while others pay lip service to their causes.
28 05 2013 - The Island
Taking life: warped logic? L5.07
Today Buddhism is interpreted in revolutionary ways. Buddhist monks as well as politicians say that there is a difference between suicide and killing oneself for some worthy cause. If killing oneself for the good of animals or, more justifiably, human beings is acceptable according to Buddhism, killing another person for the same reason should also be equally acceptable! If two or ten people take their lives for a worthier cause even that should be in order and surely, by the same logic, what’s wrong in killing two or ten people to achieve that noble end? Where are we going to end up if this kind of warped logic is extended further? Isn’t this another mask of fanaticism, which makes a mockery of the teachings of the Buddha who preached moderation and avoidance of extremism in whatever form? Does the first of the Pancha Seela (five precepts) not include the refraining from killing oneself? Or, is it conditional?
Today, the doctrine of Buddhism whose core concept is non violence is freely being interpreted in the media for the consumption of people. Of course a terrorist group may consider sacrifice of life or killing any number of people to achieve what they consider to be a noble purpose. Can a proponent or adherent of Buddhism express similar sentiments?
The apologists of self-immolation are sowing the seeds of a dangerous cult of violence masked in lack of respect for human life. Hitler thought that the annihilation of the Jews was a worthy cause, didn’t he? Did the Buddha encourage Angulimala, who went on a killing spree for a "worthy cause" to obey his teacher’s command- an act which was considered sacrosanct in the hoary tradition of respecting one’s guru?
Are the teachers of Dhamma schools going to teach this newly discovered doctrine of Buddhism to their young students? Even some famous atheists including Sam Harris have distinguished between Buddhism and other religions saying that the more fanatic a Buddhist is, the more harmless he becomes. It is time that Buddhist scholars enlighten the lay people about these complex philosophical issues without leaving it to those who are playing politics with Buddhism.
28 05 2013 - The Island
What monks need to dread L5.08
I refer to two letters in ‘The Island’ of May 28, Gonsal quoting Jathaka stories to support the monk Indraratne immolating himself. The Chief Incumbent of the Bellanwilla Raja Maha Viharaya, Ven. Dr. Wimalaratne Thera has explained that self- immolation by a Buddhist monk is against Buddhism, while Gonsal is attempting to justify by reference to ‘Jathaka’ stories!
"The Buddha warned His disciples of five fearful things that will arise in the future. You should be on the watch for these, you should strive to eliminate them." Assuming that all our monks are aware of these five fearful things, I will confine to the first as it is relevant today. The Buddha said, "There will be monks undeveloped in Body (ABHAVITAKAYA) not being able to remain unmoved in the face of pleasurable feeling; undeveloped in VIRTUE and MIND and UNDERSTANDING. In the case of these monks, due to the decay in the teaching, there will be decay of DISCIPLINE and with the decay in discipline, there will be decay of the teaching. This is the first fearful thing."
When cattle slaughter has been taking place for centuries, why this isolation of cattle when millions of chickens, goats are slaughtered daily? The Buddha has not banned anything. He has explained the consequences. The Buddha has said that it is immoral to nourish the living with the living.
As mentioned by Rajah Kuruppu, editor of the Buddhist, "the Sangha could use their knowledge of the Dhamma and the Discipline to eradicate growing crimes, such as, murder, rape, violence, child abuse, which are taking place in our Buddhist country, instead of organizing and dividing the Sangha to support political ambitions of corrupt politicians."
Most newspapers are informing the public and the world of rapes of little children, the murder of women and robbing gold chains, day light robberies and all manner of crimes taking place in our country.
There exist several organizations dealing with cruelty to animals, including stray dogs! Why couldn’t this monk even visit a few homes every day and explain the immorality of eating animal flesh? This indeed is what is urgently needed in the country and not canvassing to become a ‘Single Issue President’, a term coined by Kumar David, a correspondent of ‘The Island’.
Our Buddhist population is now about 74% in spite of the efforts of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British to proselytyse. They should ask themselves why these monks decided to ordain and wear the Noble Yellow Robe in the first place and why the Buddhist laity offers them ‘Dana’, medicines and robes and help them achieve their objective. It is my view that any Buddhist who promotes or votes for a monk to become a politician will be committing an unforgivable ‘karmic’ offence!
P. S. Mahawatte
31 05 2013 - The Island
Buddhism, Vegetarianism and Ahimsa L5.09
In an article in the Sunday Island of June 2 entitled "Political Watch" there is reference to Buddhist fanatics on the streets. I have no sympathy whatsoever to fanatic monks as well as religious fanatics of whatever brand. Nor do I want to justify the suicidal response of the monk Bowatte Indasara who in committing self-immolation performed an act that fundamentally violates the Buddhist doctrine of non-hurt or ahimsa. Nevertheless it is important to recognize the sources of the monk’s actions even in we disagree with his gruesome strategy.
We know that female self-immolation or sati was occasionally practiced in parts of Hindu India and that the woman who commits sati at her husband’s funeral is supposed to achieve some kind of deification or salvific status. This model as far as we know has not been adopted by any monk in the long history of Buddhism until we come into modern times when monk immolation, whether in Vietnam or in contemporary Tibet, constituted a political protest against US or Chinese imperialism and political repression.
While any kind of self-violence is against the letter and spirit of Buddhist doctrine I have some sympathy with the Tibetan monks pushed to the wall and impelled to commit a form of sati. Yet I doubt that any self-respecting Tibetan would designate such actions as nirvanic or that of a Bodhisattva. We also know that in Sri Lanka at least suicide by ordinary lay-folk can take terribly violent forms and Bowatte Indasara’s act seems to me an extreme example of this suicidal propensity.
Nonetheless we all know that there is an underlying deadly agenda in this monk’s act of suicide. It is like that of the other fanatics mentioned by your "Political Watch," an anti-Muslim thrust owing to the perception that Muslims are the real beef eaters. The trouble with Bhikkhu Indasara is that he lived in a period when middle and upper class Buddhists have become fully addicted to meat eating but Political Watch seems to equate beef consumption with other forms of non-vegetarian foods. I want to emphasize that irrespective of the actions of fanatical monks, beef has been a tabooed food throughout the long history of Buddhism. Therefore the contemporary addiction to horribly unhealthy foods such as Macdonald’s should not blind us to the historical and ethical problems underlying the taboo on eating beef, a taboo that is widespread even today among ordinary Sinhala people in our villages. It is the larger implication of this taboo and the issue of vegetarianism in the Buddha’s time and that I now want to examine here, not the issue of monkish lunacies.
Let me start out with your correspondent’s complaint that the Buddha did not agree with Devadatta who it is said proclaimed an extreme ethic asceticism that included vegetarianism. Devadatta apparently followed another contemporary model, namely Jainism where extreme asceticism and body mortification was conjoined with a strict vegetarian dietary, sometimes even extending to certain vegetables that were considered to be "alive." As we know the Buddha criticized this Jaina model but some of Devadatta’s rules, such as wearing discarded rags had gone into mainline Buddhism groups known as paasukulikas (rag wearers) and a remnant of that practice still persists in our Buddhist ritual of the pansukula dana, where the monk is given a cloth that is, in theory at least, wrapped in the corpse.
However, it requires a bizarre stretch of imagination to say that the Buddha encouraged meat eating and was a "non-vegetarian." As with Jainism the Buddhists also believed in the doctrine of ahimsa or non-hurt such that killing any animal was considered ethically wrong and productive of bad karma. But if the animal had died a natural or accidental death then it seems it would be okay to eat its flesh, implying clearly that it is the ethics of ahimsa, not the ethics of vegetarianism that is at issue here.
Unfortunately this early stance of the Buddha produced a loophole in the history of Buddhist thought creating a space for those who kill animals — professional hunters, Väddas, low castes, and later Muslims — who then supply the tabooed food to pious Buddhists. Nevertheless, meat eating in the Kandyan areas was a rarity. As Knox points out even after 150 years of foreign influence in this region ordinary folk were quite satisfied with rice and some salt combined with many, many types of herbs and other forest products. I can vouch for the fact that ordinary people in the Uva-Vellassa area that I am familiar with ate large quantities of leaves and greens with their meals and of course whatever small amounts of fish, dried fish and meats (generally game) that were available. Beef and pork were considered impure substances to be shunned.
The issue of non-hurt and vegetarianism brings us to a key feature of both Buddhist rebirth and karmic ethics that has been near totally ignored in recent times. One must remember that rebirth theories were found in other societies also and in such societies you have the associated idea that human beings could be born as animals (even insects as with the Inuit [Eskimo]). This means that humans and animals share a common humanity such that human beings could be born as animals and animals as humans. A powerful expression of this idea that all living beings, including animals and humans, belong to a common "species sentience" is found in Pythagorean rebirth ethics, beautifully expressed in the rebirth theories of the Greek philosopher Empedocles, probably a contemporary of the Buddha, who spoke against the meat eating practices of mainline Greeks, including their much valued consumption of beef.
Empedocles’ assumption is that because humans and animals share a common species sentience, that is, they belong to one interconnected order, eating an animal is in reality eating a member of one’s own species and tantamount to endo-cannibalism. Thus in his conception the animal sacrificed by mainline Greeks could be one’s kin in a previous existence. Empedocles condemns this common Greek practice thus: "The father will lift up his dear son in a changed form, and, blind fool, as he prays he will slay him. ... In the same way the son seizes father, and children their mother, and having bereaved them of life devour the flesh of those they love."
Into this popular idea of rebirth as species sentience the Buddha adds another crucial ethical dimension, that of karma, which all of us are familiar with and in that context killing animals becomes a heinous "sin" (papa karma). This means that meat eating in pre-modern times had to be associated with animals that died by accident or by professional hunters. This whole system of rules and norms are upset in our modern bourgeois economy where animals are killed (especially pigs and chicken) in huge quantities and with impunity. And as far as cattle are concerned Muslims in following their own rules eat the flesh of the "cow" and sell it to modern day Buddhists who have no compunction in eating it. It is no accident that the Buddhist self-immolating monk is also hitting at not only at those who eat beef but also at the Muslims who sell it. Why they do not castigate bourgeois Buddhists who eat "cow beef" or why they exempt Macdonald’s remain a puzzle to me! Maybe it is because hamburgers, being beef patties, do not resemble beef.
We have yet to answer your correspondent’s query, why "only cattle and not pigs, goats or chickens"? The answer is not too far to seek because right through the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere too) eating beef was not only prohibited but, except for the lowest of the low, viewed as a crime. Of course we are familiar with similar injunctions in Hindu India and in Nepal until recent times where killing a cow was a capital crime. But why Sri Lanka? We have to recognize that Buddhists not only have faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha but on the level of practical religion they also believe in the Hindu based guardian gods such as Vishnu, Saman, Kataragama and Pattini. All our sand??a poetry, mostly composed by Buddhist monks, celebrates the worship of these deities and implores their assistance and benevolence in the practical affairs of state.
No Buddhist would dare eat meat at the Kataragama premises; and beef could not even be countenanced anywhere near the sacred precincts. More significant is that in much of Sri Lankan history, at least from the time of Parakrambahu II (1236-1270) kings supported Vishnu worship with lavish endowments, especially at the great shrine for this deity in Devinuvara (Devundara), made memorable by Ibn Battuta’s fabulous description of this place. It will be unthinkable for any Buddhist to eat beef given the enormous charisma of these originally Hindu based deities. Thus I know of no Buddhist king ever countenancing the eating of beef.
In the reign of Vimaladharmasuriya I a Dutch sailor in the Spilbergen Embassy of 1602 makes the obvious response that Buddhists "are not allowed to eat bull’s or cow’s or buffalo meat nor can they drink any wine." There is not the slightest doubt that the taboo on beef was fully known, implemented and observed right through history among Buddhists, until the time of the British conquest. As for pork a different set of values seem to operate: pork was unthinkable owing to the public perception among Buddhists that the pig was a filthy creature although no such qualms appeared in the case of wild boar, apparently perceived as a "clean" animal. Pigs were rarely raised in the Kandyan kingdom and it is a pity that Muslims who despise pork do not receive well deserved praise for this particular culinary avoidance.
Knox mentions that goats and chicken were well known to Kandyans and probably sold to Christians and foreigners who were aplenty in the Kandyan court and countryside. All this implies that our current culinary preferences entailed a consumption revolution unprecedented in Buddhist history or for that matter in any pre-colonial history. As far as "wine" and illegal brews are concerned, our new preferences boggle the mind because, in the near absence of female and Muslim consumption of these substances, Sinhala and Tamil males in my guesstimate are the largest per capita consumers of alcohol in the world. And here also our Muslim brothers deserve some praise and in this case at least we should surely emulate them, unless they also eventually succumb to the new preferences.
One of the striking features of Sri Lankan Buddhism is that kings did consume meat but in interesting circumstances. In India Kshatriya kings and Mogul rulers in general enjoyed hunting, not just for meat’s sake but also for sport’s sake. But Sri Lankan kings did not. They mostly shunned domestic animals but often ate the flesh of selected wild animals (dada mas), the ideal food being venison. But rarely did they hunt animals, at least not publicly. Animals were supplied by professional hunters to the royal palace. What is happening here is that kings, who were fully aware of public prejudices, simply did not want to be associated with the killing of animals.
The most remarkable exception is Parakramabahu I (1153-1186). The Culavamsa clearly tells us that "the Ruler was wont to follow the chase" quite unlike most Buddhist kings. "Now the King with the chief Mahes? [Lilavati], with ministers and retainers went hunting" and because there was much game, "the whole forest [was] surrounded by hunters with spears in their hands and nets and caused them to make a noise here and there," a typical scene of Indian kings at the hunt.
I know of no example in Buddhist history in Sri Lanka where meat eating was actively enjoined by kings whether they ate it or not as part of their cuisine. On the contrary one must assume that some pious kings either protected animals or desisted from consuming meat products. There was at least one king who insisted by royal fiat that animals should not be killed. amanaagamaai (19-29 CE), the Pujavaliya tells us, proclaimed by drum the prohibition on killing animals and helped all living creatures to live meritorious lives. The almost identical sentence is repeated both in the Rajavaliya and in the Vanni Rajavaliya with a slight qualification in the latter which specifically spells out the meaning of "living creatures" as fish and land animals (diyehi goaehi mas). This seems to be collaborated in the Mahavansa chapter 35: "On the whole island the ruler of men commanded not to kill [animals]."
It is easy to demonstrate the large scale eating of cattle, including buffalos, to colonial times where invading armies had to be fed on meat and given arrack also in large quantities. Dutch and British accounts document this pattern of mass animal killing and arrack consumption in great detail, including the forcible capture of cattle. Nevertheless once we move into the low country eating of beef and pork and the consumption of alcohol had become legitimate practices among the Sinhala Catholics. The legitimization and acceptance of these practices among the generality of educated or bourgeois Sinhala Buddhists was primarily due to British rule. Anagarika Dharmapala had already noted this propensity in his writings, especially in the Sinhala Dharmapala Lipi ("Dharmapala Letters") by the first decade of the 20th century where he squarely foists the blame on the British and degenerate Sinhalas ("beef eating slaves") for the loss of Sri Lankan nationhood (apa jatiya näti vama) and then urges the Sinhala Buddhist youth not to eat beef and pork and consume alcohol (harak mas, aru mas kama athära matpän panaya athära).
While on the one hand he castigates the Muslims for their meat eating habits, he also admires them (as well as the Hindus) for their abstemiousness: "Look at the Muslims, do they consume alcohol? Look at the Tamils do they eat pork and beef?" Unhappily our sad modernity has proved that as far as meat and beef and alcohol are concerned, Dharmapala has lost the battle. And there is little chance that he can ever win the war.
16 06 2013 - Sunday Island
Believers and non believers L5.10
I refer to the articles that appeared in The Island of 31st July, by M/s Eymard De Silva Wijeyeratne (EDSW) and Shyamon Jayasinghe (SJ) from Melbourne discussing their respective views on Believer and Nonbeliever. We know that EDSW is a well educated devout Catholic who has even cautioned his Cardinal, Bishops and Fathers who made submissions to the LLRC ‘not to stoke the fires of racial discord’. As to SJ he says that he is a non-believer but questions whether one could really observe the Five Precepts! He feels the precept panathipatha ‘enjoins not to take lives’ and how can there be medical progress if rats are not used for research? He even thinks that" a little Red Wine taken for health reasons and to keep your spirits tuned" cannot be wrong!
In so far as my little knowledge of the Dhamma, Buddha has not laid down any Commandments. The Five, Eight, Ten are Precepts that the Buddhists observe to become a better moral being. I will relate very briefly a discussion between Ven Ananda Maha Thera the Treasurer of the Dhamma and the Buddha as to why we practice the Precepts to become a better moral being. Ananda Thera: Exalted One, please tell us the merits of Seela (Morality). Buddha explained, Ananda, the merit of Seela is NON REMORSE. The merit of non remorse is happiness (SATHUTA) and this sathuta bring about DELIGHT (Preethi) and the merit of Delight is INNER CALMNESS (passadhi) which brings TRANQUILITY (Suka) which makes you calm, unruffled and not agitated. This inner calmness is essential to reach SAMADHI which is the dawn of WISDOM of knowing things as they are. SJ, perhaps you could get this clarified by the learned Bhikkus in Melbourne.
P. S. Mahawatte
06 08 2013 - The Island
Jews in Sri Lanka: another response L5.11
This write up refers to two articles by Tissa Devendra and Anne Ranasinghe in your journal under the above caption. They had not mentioned the German born Jew Sigmund Feniger who spent about sixty years in this country as a Buddhist monk with the name Nynaponika.
Feniger as a young man was employed in a Bookshop in Konigsberg, in East Prussic where it is said he became interested in Buddhism. He came over to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in the mid-thirties with his mother and joined the Colony of German monks at Island Hermitage, Polgasduwa in Dodanduwa. His mother was looked after by the late Sir Ernest de Silva until her death a few years later. At Polgasduwa he became a pupil of the Head priest Ven. Nynatiloka also of German origin - but not Jewish.
Feniger’s life after he became a monk was devoted to research and presentation of Buddhism to this world outside particularly to Europe. He was considered an authority on Buddhist Meditation of the Theravada school and wrote articles and gave lectures on this subject. By this time he was granted Sri Lankan citizenship but politely refused a doctorate from one our universities.
Around the sixties he came into residence in Kandy along with some monks from the Hermitage. He was one of the founders of the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy and was its head for nearly thirty years and passed away in his sleep in 1994 at the age of 94.
In the opinion of this writer Sigmund Feniger along with his mentor Ven. Nynatiloka have truly contributed something substantial to the cultural heritage of this land.
L. H. R. Wijetunga,
06 12 2013 - The Island
Discovery of a new shrine in Lumbini under those constructed by Emperor Ashoka and later UNESCO L5.12
A comment on an article in the 2013 December issue of Antiquity intrigued me, surprised me and also had me mutter: ``Of course we knew this. It is no surprising revelation to us.’’
John Noble Wilfred published the article titled New Clues May Change Buddha’s Date of Birth on November 25 in a much read American newspaper. (Sorry I am unable to name the paper). He writes: "In traditional narratives, Queen Maya Devi, the mother of Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to a branch of a tree in a garden at Lumbini, in what is now Nepal. Accounts vary as to when this occurred, leaving uncertain the founding century of one of the world’s major religions. Until now, archaeological evidence favored a date no earlier than the third century BC, when the Emperor Asoka promoted the spread of Buddhism through South Asia, leaving a scattering of shrines and inscriptions to the man who became ‘the enlightened one’. … But new excavations have uncovered evidence of a much earlier timber shrine and brick structures above it.
``Dating fragments of charcoal and grains of sand, researchers determined that the lower structures were erected as early as the sixth century BC." He continues in his article: "The archaeologists, led by Robin A E Coningham of Durham University in England, reported the finding on Monday in an article published online in the December issue of the international journal Antiquity … This was, they said, ‘the first archaeological evidence regarding the date of the life of Buddha. They also described the new line of research as having the potential to provide yet more evidence for the earliest expressions of Buddhist architecture and ritual practice."
I googled and retrieved the article from the journal Antiquity Vol 87 No 338 written by R A E Coningham and four others of the Department of Archaeology, Durham University. "Key locations identified with the lives of important religious founders have often been extensively remodeled in later periods… Recent UNESCO sponsored work at the major Buddhist center in Lumbini, Nepal, has sought to overcome these limitations, providing direct archaeological evidence of the nature of an early Buddhist shrine and a secure chronology. The excavations revealed a sequence of early structures preceding the major rebuilding by Asoka during the 3rd century BC."
The article in its entirety is not given. But it set my mind at rest. As we have always believed and it has been written, Prince Siddhartha Gotama was born in the sixth century BC and his place of birth marked with a huge pillar by Ashoka the Great (304-232 BC). Ashoka Maurya converted to Buddhism in 263 BC after his hugely devastating battles. So the pillar must have been erected around 250 BC. It is surprising how writer Wilford assumed or thought people believed that the Buddha was of Ashoka’s time. Otherwise why write as he did: "Until now archaeological evidence favored a date no earlier than the third century B C …" unless he meant the founding of Buddhism which people dated from Emperor Ashoka’s time which saw him spreading the religion. This assumption is also wrong. It was founded with the attainment of enlightenment by the Buddha when he was 39 years old (probably 584 BC).
In The Spectrum of Buddhism: writings of Piyadassi published 1991, Bhikku Piyadassi of Vajiraramaya writes: "The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, lived over 2,500 years ago and is known as Siddhartha Gotama… In 623 BC on a full-moon day of May ... Queen Mahamaya was travelling in state from Kapilavatthu to Devedaha, her parental home, to give birth to her child. But that was not to be, for halfway between the two cities, in the beautiful Lumbini Grove, under the shade of a flowering Sal tree, she brought forth a son." The book has a preface by Bhikkhu Bodhi, a rational monk, who would not have let pass dates if they were not universally accepted.
Hence my puzzlement on reading the emailed article in which John Noble Wilford boldly titles his newspaper article: "New Clues May Change Buddha’s Date of Birth." You have got it wrong here, Mr Wilford, is our comment. But his article is useful for it ends thus: "Before the sixth century B C, the Lumbini site was apparently cultivated land. The postholes of the timber building were the first evidence of a shrine focused around a tree, Dr Coningham said in a teleconference for reporters arranged by the National Geographic Society, which partly supported the research, along with Durham University and Stirling University in Scotland. ‘These discoveries are very important to better understand the birthplace of the Buddha.’ Ram Kumar Shrestha, Nepal’s Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation said in a statement released by the archaeology team ‘The government of Nepal will spare no effort to preserve this significant site."
The good thing about the archaeological findings, research and results is that it is proven, as far as possible, that the Buddha was born at the spot marked with a new temple, in the sixth century BC. Thus we can accept the date of 623 BC as the year he was born. Not that the exact date of his birth matters to Buddhists. However, now proof has been unearthed that he was born in a garden below a tree in Lumbini around which a shrine was built, six centuries before the Gregorian calendar which evolved from the Julian Calendar during Julius Caesar’s time.
Lumbini and the layout of the sacred area of temple, museum and of course the Ashokan pillar seen in 2010 was so different from my first seeing the place during the Buddha Jayanthi year – 1956. Then it was so quiet, serene and rustic, so to say, while later it got built up losing most of its charm and some of its sanctity.
08 12 2013 - Sunday Island
Race between men and women L5.13
In her article titled, "Sauce for the goose is surely sauce for the gander too?", in The Island of 13 December, Anne Abeysekara has frowned on what she described as male chauvinism of Mr. M. Joseph, who suggests in a recent letter also in The Island that husband should be No. 1 and wife to be No. 2 in a successful marriage.
Mrs. Abeysekara emphasises that both men and women should be considered equal. This is the trend in the West, too, and Canadian women have become so successful in convincing gender equality so that gender is omitted even in curriculum vitae. Now, Canadian men dare not make aforementioned type of comments considered impolite in this society. Sri Lankan women, too, seem to be pushing the country towards this goal. However, women should not expect winning equal rights as a means of achieving peace of mind.
Reframing the conflict, I would like to highlight the fact that Mrs. Abeysekara’s problem is not merely that comment but also the uncomfortable feeling triggered by the article. When resentment arises, we should think in terms of ‘the cause and effect’ to find out what really sets off this bad feeling. Anything in the world occurs due to multiple causes. Certain factors responsible for our suffering are just external and we do not have much control over them. However, we can train ourselves to gain full control of our own mind.
Throughout our life, we struggle to change external things. Sometimes we seem to be successful for a while but emotional turbulence continues to arise, often when they are least expected! The whole problem is that many people try to find solace by regulating what is outside of them. This is what we have been doing in this bottomless samsara. They rarely have introspection to change their internal settings which can even lead them to unsurpassed liberation.
Regrettably, we are addicted to a very unhealthy mental condition which has harrowing consequences. That is, comparing ourselves with others (maana). It arises together with two other unwholesome mental factors called greed and delusion (thanhaa and ditthi).
According to the Buddha, this ‘name and form’ – what we call ‘I’ – is nothing but a bundle of suffering which has no essence in its absolute sense. But, being blinded by ignorance, we deny the pervasive dissatisfaction of the five aggregates and hold it as the most precious in the world. We build up sense of self worth by comparing with others. According to the Buddha, ordinary people practise three ways of comparing. Thinking that, ‘I am superior to others’, is seyyamaana; sadisamaana is thinking that ‘I am equal to others’ and to think that ‘I am inferior to others’ is heenamaana.
As those who open up their wisdom through meditation can observe for themselves, there are no mental or physical factors in this life which last even for a fraction of a second. Everything is in a state of flux. As there is no valid foundation for self-view, the aforesaid comparison is irrational and also unwholesome. The Buddha repeatedly admonished his followers not to entertain this insane idea which causes untold misery and suffering in our lives.
The idea of ‘self ‘ is the root cause of all the sins in the world. We create our self-concept which is an illusion and cling on to it. Our sense of self-worth bounces up and down like a pin-pong ball with ever changing outside stimuli. We are in an endless battle to validate our sense of self. How many funny dramas do we act to defend our egos? How stressful do we become in the fight for our psychological survival?
If you know the dynamics of human psychology, you will avoid delighting in the idea that ‘I am superior to others’ at any cost. For, it snaps you back at a later stage. At the time we delight in superiority, albeit unknowingly, we also set up conditions for a bitter attack of inferiority. It is like putting a coin in your pocket. On one side you find superiority, which invites you to possess it. Unfortunately, it also carries inferiority on the other side, and they are inseparable. One-sided coins do not exist! The only way to have unruffled peace is to discard the coin altogether. That is to transcend the duality of inferiority and superiority.
Why do some men make sexually-discriminating comments of the sort we have spoken about? That is not because of their wisdom but due to insecure feelings! It is a shared human experience. A run-of-the-mill person cannot help but continue to swing between two extremes of superiority and inferiority complexes. We are trapped in an emotional roller coaster which gives us a tiresome ride, though it looks so full of fun. When we see this as it is, instead of agitation, compassion would arise. Compassion is a wholesome way to relate to the insecure feelings of both ourselves and the others.
If all these thinking patterns – I am superior, equal or inferior to others are equally declined by the wise, you might wonder: ‘Then how the heck do I have to think?’
Thinking is not a great companion as many people would think. Rather than a solution, thinking itself can be a problem, especially when your thoughts arise from an untrained mind. In meditation, we learn to direct the awareness at the very onset of the thinking process and we can get rid of many unnecessary, aimless mental proliferations (papancha) which cause only confusion. The Buddha has said, in Sabbasavasutta (MajjimaNikaya): "He thinks, this is suffering; this is the cause of suffering; this is the cessation of suffering and this is the path leading to the cessation of suffering". Of course, it demands practice to undo our self-defeating habits, but the effort is really worth!
When we develop mindfulness (non-judgmental awareness) we see how much suffering we create by judgemental comparison and we moderate this negative behaviour whenever our wisdom detects it. Accordingly, we would enjoy a new emotional freedom. What others say loses its grip over our mind. Finally, understanding dawns upon us that we should not compete with others but with our own selves to straighten our views. All of us can be winners in this race.
Ven. Matthumagala ChandanandaThero
Buddhist Chaplain, University of Alberta, Canada
19 12 2013 - The Island
Social problems: Significance of lion’s approach L5.14
Promptly responding to my recent article titled "Race between men and women" in ‘The Island’ of December 19, Mrs. Anne Abayasekara has raised some questions in her article of December 20 in this newspaper.
I agree with Mrs. Abayasekara that responsibility of a healthy family should be equally assigned to husband and wife, especially from a family counsellor’s point of view. Husband and wife should complement each other with their talents and the question of ‘who is the boss’ would not arise. But we should not forget the fact that roles played by male and female in existence, are different.
Role confusion is a sure recipe for trouble. New trends, such as, having handed over children to husband, wife leaves for greener pastures; monk assumes policeman’s role and struggles to raid illegal transportation of cattle, university students trying to be politicians, are some examples of what I mean by role confusion. We have to stay within our means lest disappointment would be so high to cause even self-immolation.
True, all are humans but biological and psychological aspects of males and females are not identical, they will never be and no need to be either.
In a similar discussion, once I told a Canadian lady – "It is unfair to say women are equal to men, because as far as some female strengths are concerned, women are much greater even than men. Think about your ability of giving birth and raising offspring. It is your unique contribution to civilization." Then she asked in an unhappy tone, "So, Bhante, do you perceive us as child-raising machines?" Then I reminded her that, it is a son of a woman who even becomes a Buddha – "The master of both gods and men" Then that lady, who had recently embraced Buddhism, kept silent.
One of our most common weaknesses is that we are not contented with what we have. I think, in social life, rather than seeking equal status as men, women should take over their appropriate places and duties. If we fulfil the duties of our own role, we can get an A+ for our life and society would have safe sailing.
Mrs. Abayasekara wonders why the Sri Lankan clergy don't raise their voices about vital issues, like the appalling incidence of domestic violence and the rape of women, so often reported in the media. If somebody thinks that Buddhist clergy have not done anything to honour women’s contribution to civilization and ensure their safety in society, it is unfair.
In our sermons, we stress the significance of our mothers so much, so that, there is even an adage in our culture which hails - ‘gedarabudunamma’. Buddha is the holiest figure for Buddhists and this adage defines 'mother' as the Buddha at home. Has woman received any better award or recognition in known history anywhere else in the world? (Onus is with our daughters too, to behave in such a way that they will continue to qualify for such a holy title.)
As Mrs. Abayasekara has mentioned about rape and child abuse, I should remind her that the third one out of the Five Precepts we administer in all rituals, is to refrain from sexual misconduct.
Monks often talk about universal love and compassion. These are the antidotes to violence. But with the malefic influence of various social, psychological and environmental factors, cruelty still prevails in every society. While the money-manic media is so busy fanning fires of lust, hatred, and delusion, how can clergy alone, cope with this seething cauldron of emotions?
It is not surprising if the right-thinking clergy do not raise their voices in an emotional, reactive way. If they do so, what is the difference between laity and clergy? Perspective of clergy differs from common folk and so do their attitudes and behaviours.
Employing a nice simile to mature us in trouble-shooting the Buddha said, "If somebody throws a stone at a wild dog, he immediately tries to chase and bite it. (It will only irk the poor animal) Whereas, when a stone is thrown at a lion, it does not grapple with the stone but rather ponders, "Where did that stone come from? Who threw that stone?" He turns around to see the person who threw it, and pounces on him.
Against the massive pull of our instincts, we should try to wean off the canine habit and adopt lion’s attitude. We have to dig deep to surface the real roots of social problems.
Of course, as Mrs. Abayasekara had observed, I approached the conflict at a different level. Because, I have seen how true Albert Einstein was, when he said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them."
When we talk about crimes and injustice, people often put the blame on a sexual, ethnic and religious basis. It is unrealistic, misleading and would further aggravate the unhealthy sense of divisions in the country. All types of debauchery are an indication of overall moral degradation in society. Real culprits are not men, women, Buddhists or Muslims but greed, aversion, delusion, jealousy, conceit, etc.
From the spiritual point of view, the remedy for these evils is to generate wholesome qualities like contentment, love, wisdom, appreciative joy and humility. The aforesaid evil trends are shared by all of us to a lesser or a greater degree, irrespective of the gender, ethnicity and religion. Putting the blame on a sexual or religious foundation might cause real culprits to escape with impunity and problems would only multiply.
Albeit not appreciated enough, Sri-Lankan clergy should continue to strive to uphold humanity in the country, as their labour is not in vain. Just have a look at the demography of divorces in the world. According to statistics of 2007, we had one of the lowest divorce rates in the world (1.5%) and was second only to India (1.1%). Most of the western countries have astronomically high divorce rates – Sweden - 54.9%, UK - 42.6%, Norway - 40.4%, US - 54.8% and Canada - 37%.
Separation is a painful and difficult experience for a couple and often traumatic for children who can even get abused easily. Research proves that children of disrupted families run a higher risk of becoming anti-social elements.
No matter who plays the second fiddle in a Sri Lankan marriage, we should be happy about the stability of our families. That is a victory which deserves to be celebrated by both men and women alike. But if we blindly embrace all western cults, like sheer indulgence in earthly pleasures, we are fast heading for an irreversible disaster.
Ven. Matthumagala Chandananda Thero
Buddhist Chaplain, University of Alberta, Canada
25 12 2013 - The Island
Buddhism being destroyed from within L5.15
At the outset the Editor ‘Sunday Island’ should be thanked for publishing the above titled article by Nan where she boldly and without any ambiguity blasts the bogey slogan ‘Videshiya Kumanthrana/conspiracy to destroy Buddhism, This letter written by female – perhaps a Buddhist mother should open the eyes of our so called Buddhist monks [Sanga] and those who support hooliganism and villainy in the name of saving Buddhism. It is well known and accepted, women, mothers are those who look after the religious interests in the family, in the way of getting the family to offer flowers and pray together where a statue of Lord Buddha is placed, send children to Dhamma classes, offer Dana to monks at the temple and generally take interest in matter in the temple. In fact they are the guardians and saviours of religions. If they realize our Buddhist monks are not adhering to the teachings of Buddha and behave in a manner unbecoming of Buddhist monks, and lose interest, Buddhism will not last long.
Not only, the demonstrations, with clenched fists and raised robes, the language they use appears vulgar which even decent layman fear to utter. There are some leading, prominent Buddhist monks who cater to the rich and the affluent class and politicians, and refuse to tie a Pirith Noola when an ordinary devotee calls over, and say it is a nuisance and hinders other work. What other work other than looking after the religious needs of devotees?
Then we have a proven case of two well known Buddhist monks who attended a Dana given by a Casino Mudalai and denied knowing the background of the person and the reason for the Dana. Will any Buddhist accept this denial? Then there is a leading Buddhist monk who distorted Buddhist history by saying Lord Buddha was born in Sri Lanka and also indirectly supported the Casino Bill by saying, gambling was prevalent even during the life time of Gauthama Buddha. Can Buddhist respect or venerate such Buddhist monks? Could or should such monks be addressed as Venerable?
Then there is recently another humorous incident, where a Buddhist Monk has started to ‘Ordain Trees’ by wrapping a yellow robe round a tree. What foolery, making non-Buddhists laugh and bring Buddhism to ridicule.
As said earlier, If women – mothers are the saviours, sponsors and guardians of Buddhism are delusioned and disgusted with the Sanga due to their behaviour and conduct, future will be bleak for Buddhism and there would be a mass exodus embracing other religions which is not due to ‘Videshiya Kumanthrana’.
Who could stem this deterioration? Of course, it is not the Sate, for the political leaders bank on them for votes. Even the Mahanayaka Theros seem to be helpless. It is therefore left for lay UPASAKA AND UPASIKA to realize the dangers, collectively campaign against, to the extent of ignoring such monks [Dusseela] and such temples, and insist them to confine themselves to Temples and preach the DHAMMA. In Burma, there is said to be a lay organization where Buddhist monks are taken to task for their conduct and behaviour and gone to the extent of disrobing such monks.
Writer Nan is supported when she says’ Buddhism Being Destroyed from Within in Dhammapada: - Mala Vagga - verse 6
‘Ayasa va malam samutthitam – tadutthaya tam’ eva khadati
Evam atidhanacarinum — Sakakammani nayanti duggatim’
[As rust sprung from iron eats itself away when arisen, even so his own deeds leads the transgressor to state of woe]
In ending, it is opportune to remind the True Buddhists and True Buddhist monks, the 150th Birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala falls in September, this year, and the Sri Lanka government along with India is to celebrate in a grand scale. What better way to honour that great Buddhist who sacrificed his - wealth and energy to resurrect Buddhism from the pathetic state it was in than following his footsteps. The same applies today, and who is to be that Anagarika Dharmapala?
My earnest plea is that all Upasaka and Upasika, band together and support only those Buddhist monks and ignore the rest [Dusseela]. That is the best meritorious act one could perform.
MAY THE TRIPLE GEM BLESS THIS LAND WHERE GAUTHAMA VISITED WITH NEW UNDERSTANDING AND REALISATION OF THE DANGERS BEFORE US CAUSED BY THE MISCREANT SANGA.
G. A. D. Sirimal
16 02 14 - Sunday Island
Vegetarianism and animals’ right to life L5.16
Mahatma Ghandi - " The greatness of the Nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated."
Why do the large majority of human beings deny the right to life of animals and other sentient beings? (A sentient being is a living being endowed with mind or consciousness)
I reproduce below a few quotations from books written by two erudite Bhikkhus, namely, Bhikkhu Narada and Bhikkhu Bodhi and also from an article written by Professor Gene Sagar of Palomar College and revised for the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians.
The late Venerable Narada Thero in his book titled "Manual Of Buddhism" states as follows: "The tolerance of the Buddha was not only to men and women but to dumb animals as well. For it was the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished their followers to extend their loving kindness (Maithree) to all living beings. No man has the right to destroy the life of another living being even for the sake of ones stomach as life is precious to all. He quote from the "Mettha Suttha" - "Whatever livings there be, feeble or strong, long stout or medium, small or large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far and near, those who are born and those who are to be born - may all beings be happy-minded without exception. Just as a mother would save her own child at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate boundless love towards all beings."
The Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in his book titled "The Noble Eightfold Path - Way to end Suffering." says, Quote: "The positive counterpart to abstaining from taking life, as the Buddha indicates is the development of kindness and compassion for other beings. The disciple not only avoids destroying of life, he dwells with a heart full of sympathy, desiring the welfare of all beings - The commitment of non injury and concern for the welfare of others represents the practical application of the second path factor "Right Intention" in the form of goodwill and harmlessness . "Abstaining of taking of Life" (Panathipatha Veramani). Herein some one avoids the taking of life and abstains from it. The intention of harmlessness is thought guided by compassion (Karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive and violent thoughts. Compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering; a wish to be extended to all living beings. It springs up by considering that all living beings like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering. Unquote.
The Lankavatara Suttra of Mahayana Buddhism states Quote: " For the sake of love of purity, the Bodhisattva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood etc. for fear of causing fear to living beings, let the Bodhisattva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh. It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself, when he did not order others to kill it, when it was not specially meant for him. - - Meat eating in any form, in any manner and in any place is unconditionally and once for all prohibited. Meat eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit I will not permit. Unquote. Proffessor Gene Sagar in his references to all major religions says: Quote: BUDDHISM Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha was a Hindu who accepted Hinduism’s core doctrines such as "Karma" - - He explicitly taught Vegetarianism as a component of his general instructions to be mindful and compassionate. Cultivating the thought s of non harm and non injury and abstinence of killing of any living being is so crucial for an individuals peace, harmony, serenity, contentment and attaining liberation from suffering that the Buddha included these principles in the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the fourth Noble Truth of Buddhism.
The Surangama Suttra states "In seeking to escape from suffering our selves, why should we inflict upon others? How can a Bhikkhu who goes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings? The Buddha forbade Buddhists from engaging in occupations that involve killing animals, such as butcher, fisher or animal farmer" Unquote.
Hinduism’s teachers and scriptures often expressly encourages a vegetarian diet, though not all Hindus are vegetarians,Hindus almost universally avoid beef since they consider the cow sacred. Mahatma Ghandi however took Hindu vegetarian observance one step further by declaring " The greatness of the Nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated." The Yagur Veda states "You must not use your God given body for killing God’s creatures whether they be human animals or what ever" Unquote.
The most holy Islamic writings are the Quran and the Hadith (sayings) of Prophet Mohamed, and the latter includes "Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself." All but one of the 114 chapters of the Quran begins with the phrase "Allah is merciful and compassionate" A distinctive element of Islam’s mystic branch called Sufism, has been its call for compassion. The great Sufi M.R.Bawa Mahaiyaddeen appealed to the Muslims to reflect on the meaning of slaughter. When describing Islamic slaughter (qurban) in his ninety nine beautiful names of Allah he said that a knife bearer should look into the animals eyes, he has to watch the tears of the animal and he has to watch the animals eyes until it dies - hopefully his heart will change (section 182)" Unquote.
Christianity based in Judaism prohibits cruelty to animals. Jesus’ central teaching involves love, compassion and mercy and it is hard to imagine Jesus looking in contemporary farms and slaughter houses and then happily consuming flesh. Although the Bible does not describe Jesus addressing the question of eating meat, many Christians throughout history have believed that Christian love ultimately calls for a vegetarian diet. Examples includes Jesus’s first followers (the Jewish Christians) the Desert Fathers, Turtullian, Origen. St Benedict. John Wesley and many others - Like Jesus, Christians hold the Hebrew scriptures as sacred and the Christians can affirm, as the Psalmist said "The Lord is good to all and his compassion is over all that he has made." Unquote.
With malice to none. May all beings be well and happy.
21 04 2014 - The Island
Toying with holy objects only kills their holiness L5.17
Some Buddhists express dismay about Naomi Coleman, a tourist from the UK, being deported a few days back because of an image of
Buddha tattooed on her upper arm. While we regret all inconveniences Naomi had to endure on her visit in Sri Lanka, in this regard, some explanation is still necessary to discern what can be the Awakened One’s standpoint regarding his statues, images and tattoos.
Ms. Coleman who is said to be a Buddhist had mentioned that she had a good intention in displaying a tattooed image of Buddha on her arm. She had done it in deference. However, according to Buddha, we will not have placid sailing in our voyage of life, though our intentions are good. Even good things might turn out to bear bitter results if we do not have a sense of doing them in the right way, at the right time and at the right place.
Of course, it is good to respect our religious leaders but we should be discreet in such efforts. Otherwise, we would be doing more harm than good to holy objects and religious concepts.
From the very beginning, the Buddha did not encourage his followers to create his likeness in statues. The Buddha was the only religious leader to declare himself as appatimo, which means that he cannot be embodied in an image (AN). However, even today, Buddha can be beheld according to his vision: "YoDhammamPassathi, so mam passathi"- He who sees Dhamma, sees me: said Buddha. In keeping with this, and out of respect, statues had not been created until four or five hundred years after the passing away of Buddha.
During that period, instead of the Buddha image or statue, a symbol such as a lotus, Bodhi tree, Wheel of Dhamma, an empty seat or a sacred foot print of Buddha were used to depict him. In those days, Buddhists endeavoured to see Buddha through wisdom eyes.
As time passed by, rather than engaging in much-rewarding meditation practices, some monks were bent on building large temples that housed beautiful images to depict Buddha and various events of his life to impress the devotees. The Mahayana sect pioneered this trend. Nowadays, statues and paintings have become just another common commodity to be purchased on the open market.
The Buddhist scriptures reveal that even the mere sight of Buddha has a great healing effect, but some of the images created by unskilled craftsmen are really sad to see. We see many ill-proportionate statues, some with poor facial features, in temples all over the country which only add insult to a great religious leader.
According to Buddhism, the body, in its physical form, is nothing but a motile toilet. Many people decorate this ‘toilet’ with tattoos of hawks, jackals, dragons and cobras to flaunt their manliness. Adding our religious leaders also to this ego list will only cause erosion of the crucial respect attributed to holy images and figures.
The Buddha said that there are two powers - power of meditation and power of reflection. Before we do something, we should carefully reflect on its consequences. Sister Naomi is quoted to have said her tattoo is indelible. Well, before long, our chubby bodies will shrink due to aging and skin will start sagging. How ridiculous the tattooed image will then appear on such wrinkled, sagging skin?
We become Buddhist to the extent of our wisdom. That is the measure and the yardstick.
In one morning of 2007, a man started playing his violin, standing in a railway station of Washington DC. Although about 2,000 people passed him by, nobody cared for this person. Some people threw an occasional coin into his hat, probably thinking him to be a beggar. When he stopped after 45 minutes, nobody applauded for his music.
Strangely, none could identify the violinist to be Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world! He played one of the most elaborate pieces of music ever composed, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before this incident, Joshua had sold out tickets for a rendition at a theatre in another city, where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him playing the same music! However, at the railway station, he could collect only $32! This scenario was part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.
Why nobody could recognize such a gifted maestro and enjoy the music as they should? Because he was in a wrong place. Some critics say that Naomi was really promoting Buddhism by displaying a tattoo of Buddha on her upper arm. Now, could those researchers promote Joshua Bell by displaying him in the metro station? If he continued to play in such odd places, he would have soon become a mendicant in the eyes of ordinary people. His hard-earned respect would be gone before long. That is how our mind works!
Even a well-?created image of Buddha can begin to heal our hearts only if it is used wisely. If we use it merely for furthering our whims and fancies, what happened to Joshua will happen to priceless Buddha image too. Eventually, nobody will care! In a psychological point of view, what is too common and cheap is condemned by our subconscious mind as junk. It might not be noticeable in the short run but will bring its negative effects in the long run. If we toy with holy objects, they are apt to lose their solemnity over misuse.
When I reflect on the way the Buddha promulgated hundreds of rules and regulations to maintain the dignity of various aspects of spiritual life, I cannot imagine him to have tolerance to let his followers wear his image tattooed on their bodies.
Our ancestors safeguarded Dhamma,undergoing untold hardships, even forsaking their lives at times. Onus is with us to preserve it for posterity and discipline plays a vital role in this worthy task.
However, if authorities considered allowing Ms. Coleman to enjoy the visit withtattoo properly covered, whole trouble could have been avoided.
Ven Matthumagala Chandananda Thero
Buddhist Chaplain, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
03 05 2014 - The Island
Erosion of the Religion given the World on a Full Moon Dawn in May L5.18
The festival of Wesak celebrated the world over by Buddhists is both spiritual and joyful. It commemorates three significant events in the life of the man who gave the world this religion, or philosophy as some classify Buddhism, or else a way of life.
Birth, Enlightenment and Death
The three commemorations are joy that Siddhartha Gautama was born on a day when the moon was full in May, (623 BC), to Queen Mahamaya in a grove as she journeyed to her parent’s palace from her husband King Suddhodana’s in Kapilawastu on the Nepali Indian border. It marks jubilation that the hermit Siddhartha who had left his wife Yasodhara, his new born son Rahula, and his royal life at age 29, attained enlightenment six years later at Gaya, Bihar, seated under a bodhi tree (Ficus Religiosa). He had realized the Truth of Life and the way of release from a grind of births and deaths, passing on to Nibbana. His death at age 80, again out of doors, at Kusinara between two sal trees, occurred also at the full moon in May. Ananda Thera, his devoted acolyte, shed tears. The Buddha preached to a man who came seeking advice and then breathed his last and entered Parinibbana, chanting a stanza encapsulating his teaching: Aniccavata sankara, (It is in the nature of all formations to dissolve, nothing is permanent) With his last breath he advised his Sangha to work out their own deliverance with diligence - vayadammino.
To me the more significant of the two celebratory events - birth and enlightenment - is his attaining Buddhahood. We know the intense concentration he directed his mind to, meditating with teachers of his time, and the immense suffering he subjected his body to. And then the beautiful story of Sujatha offering him a meal, mistaking him for the deity believed to be resident in a particular tree she often offered food to. Siddhartha Gautama realizing the value of the middle path had decided to nourish his body. He sat under the Bo tree beside the Neranjana River vowing not to arise until he got the answers he sought to why samsaric existence continued and was fraught with unsatisfactoriness. He realized the truth of dependent origination and much else and deduced the Eightfold Path of deliverance.
Sri Lanka is home to the oldest historically recorded tree in the world. There may well be older trees like the redwoods of California but our Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura is over 2600 years in age. Its mother tree sheltered Prince Siddhartha Gautama when he sat beneath it. How did we receive this bodhi tree? Emperor Asoka sent his daughter, 32-year old Sanghamitta, an ordained nun, on the request of the king of Lanka, Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BC). She travelled by ship bringing the sapling from the right branch of the Bo Tree in Gaya. The sapling was planted in the Mahameghavana Grove in Anuradhapura. It is now reduced to a branch and another, trussed up with girders; venerated by the many every day of the year.
With the intense sense of veneration and gratitude to the tree whose mother tree sheltered Prince Siddhartha and received grateful veneration from the Buddha soon after his enlightenment, there is also sadness when one sees our tree so frail. But that too is a lesson to be absorbed: every living entity ages, decays and ultimately dies. However, mixed with piety, gratitude, remembering the teaching of the Buddha and His life, there is now this dread that we are doing wrong. Speaking with Ven Mettavihari on Thursday 8th at the Narada Centre, I was advised to close my eyes to malpractices and just go on with my attempt to commemorate Wesak in the way it should be commemorated. Yes, that is what I need to do: spend the two days with piety and joy, even enjoying all the decorations and prevalent festivity. However, I cannot close my mind to malpractices, hence the title to my column today.
Erode is dictionary-defined as ‘to slowly reduce or destroy’. Corrosion equates itself to ‘slowly damage by something such as rain’. Phrases associated are: ‘slow deterioration’, ‘eaten away or worn away’, ‘weakening, spoiling, undermining’.
You will now see why I associate these terrible terms with the religion we venerate. Others too have copiously written in respect of the balavegayas of men in saffron robes who have been much in the recent news, as destroyers of our religion on the pretext of protecting it. I am not referring to them in this article. I speak of the corrosion and erosion of values as experienced by me each time I go to Anuradhapura and attempt quiet reflection at the two most sacred sites: the area of the Bodhi Tree and Ruvanweliseya.
At the Sacred Bo Tree
We had to walk an extra distance this last week when we were in Anuradhapura. We were told that HE the President had ordered that vehicles do not drive close to the site. We already had to walk a fair distance, this time more. We were perfectly OK with this and praise our President for this stricture since vehicle fumes definitely damage trees and plants. But I wondered how the old and feeble would be able to pay their respects to the sacred Bo Tree. There should be made available, and announced by notice boards, wheelchairs.
I have complained before in print and felt so frustrated on previous visits at the chanting that goes on continuously at the base of the Bo Tree right at the top of the site. There is never quiet in that area. People talk and repeat their stanzas loud, but they could be stopped by vigilantes or police personnel. How stop the kapuralas who go non-stop in their continuous chanting of supposed blessings on people for payment? On my visit to the sacred area on Monday 5th, I made bold to walk up to a kapurala and ask him to whom the chanting was directed. "Kalu devatava" he replied. "Who is that?" I inquired and said that we came to sit silently paying obeisance and grateful veneration to the Tree and remembering the Buddha. He looked at me as if I was speaking Greek. He said there were many devatavas present. I must add that the man asking for deities’ blessings on people looked very hard with sharp eyes in a dark face that glared at me with obvious distaste. I noticed he had two assistants: one I presume to take over the chanting when he was tired and one to dispense pirit nool, again on payment. I asked how much one had to pay for a blessing and a thread. Any amount was the reply. There were three other like persons to the right of the construction for holding flowers; so nine in all and this on an ordinary week day. Consider the situation of chanting on a poya day. There would be kapuralas and assistants at all the shrines in the uda maluwa - an irreverent disturbance.
Now here is erosion and corrosion and a misleading of true Buddhism. The Sacred Tree is to be venerated and the Buddha’s great feat in attaining enlightenment and then giving us what he reasoned out through his preaching for 40 years, going on foot all over India, remembered. This calls for gratitude and silent reflection. We believe in deities, unborn life forces, which may harm or help people. But the site of the Sacred Bo Tree is not the place to propitiate them. That is an indication of the increase of egotism and self preservation through the intervention of spirits; maybe a mite of Hinduism coming in too. If this chanting is a must to satisfy some devotees, also keep in employment some men and earn money
for the temple in the premises, then the chanting area should be removed to a spot below at ground level. Have any number of these shrines but with the chanting kept low. Let the uda maluwa be quiet and wrapped in a sense of veneration for Buddhists who want to pay silent homage to the tree and sit in meditation. Also to impress on foreign visitors the sanctity and importance of the place, giving them an impression of true Buddhism, not eroded by extraneous influences and practices.
At the Ruvanweliseya Stupa
There is no quiet in the precincts of the Mahaseya either – here due to continuous announcements of contributions. I had a novel experience this time. Handed over a Rs thousand note and asked the man in charge to accept Rs 100, return Rs 900 and no announcement or a written receipt. He gave me a clutch of hundred and fifty rupee notes. I normally would have just put the notes in my purse, but I counted them this time. Rs 450 short. It was deliberate. Here was cheating and erosion and corrosion of one of our most venerated Buddhist sites and the religion itself. How would a foreigner react to such as this? Another ritual practiced here – I mean the loudly announced bestowing of merit - which should not be since Buddhism is to be devoid of rites and rituals.
What do we do about this corrosion and erosion that is eating into the sanctity of our most sacred sites; giving a very wrong impression of Buddhism to foreigners and depriving us of peace and quiet? I will raise my voice in writing. I shall write letters to the Most Venerable High Priest of the Atamasthana in Anuradhapura and to the Secretary, Ministry of Buddhasasana and Religious Affairs. They may not even read the letter; it may just be dumped in a wpb. But if you all write; if there are a hundred letters, then they will take note. Little drops of water make the mighty ocean, I need not say! I emphasise the fact I am not criticizing Buddhism for which a person, I was told, had to pay bail of a million rupees. I am merely pleading the bringing back of dignity, quiet and reverence to the most sacred of our Buddhist sites in Anuradhapura.
A peaceful and serene Wesak to each of you readers of this column! (Do not forget to write letters as suggested! Please.)
03 05 2014 - The Island
Who is a Buddhist monk? L5.19
A Buddhist monk in brief, is the noble being who, after the passing away of the Buddha over twenty six centuries ago, now leads the worldling towards the path that terminates the scourge of birth, decay, disease and death for good. A few gleanings from the Buddha’s word and extracts from the scriptures form the basis of this short essay.
Primarily, a bhikkhu is bound by a set of vinaya rules numbering two hundred and twenty seven, the violation of some of which is visited with dire consequences. Additionally, he is required to follow a plethora of lesser dicta.
One who is strictured by such a large volume of rules the Enlightened One has compared to a bird in the sky carrying only the weight of its wings. He has no children or loved ones to dote or cry over. He has no abodes of grandeur and in an appropriate case, the shade of a tree suffices. In the truest sense of the word, the pious bhikkhu possesses only four material items in the world-the three robes and the begging bowl; the robes to safeguard himself from blood-sucking flies, mosquitoes and the inclement weather and the begging-bowl to ensure his sustenance. To him, it is contentment if he receives fine food on his alms rounds or not so find food or no food at all. The food so received is not for the purpose of intoxification or beautifying the physique or taking part in sports, but solely to sustain life in order to perceive the truth, having comprehended the futility of all the superficial pleasures in the world that, as the scripture succinctly mentions, are akin to those of the canine that has mistaken the bone for the flesh. The Code demands of him that he adheres to the prescribed manner when walking, talking, preaching, sleeping, eating and even when performing acts of ablution - in short, in retaining his awareness and maintaining his composure at all times.
The decorum of the Buddha was unsurpassed. It is recorded, at the conclusion of a sermon the people gathered keep staring at the supremely serene figure, being reluctant to let go of His sight – Brahmayu Sutta, Majjima Nikaya.
Buddha’s chief disciple Ven. Sariputta Maha Thera was the living example of discipline and simplicity, the cornerstones of monkhood. When the venerable thera was once falsely accused of striking another monk, the description Ven. Sariputta presented of himself to the Buddha by way of denying the charge stands out as the ne plus ultra in humility of all mankind. He compared himself to the earth that receives whatever that is dumped upon it, whether clean or dirty like faeces, urine, spittle, pus and blood; to the ocean likewise; to the fire that burns all things, to the wind that carries all things; to a duster that wipes off things both pure and impure; to an outcast beggar child in rags humbly entering a village in search of food; to a tame ox with broken horns, helplessly wandering from street to street, and to a well dressed young man carrying a decomposing dog or a snake in a basket on his head dripping muck on his fine clothes – Sihanada Wagga, Anguttara Nikaya. It is all the more inspiring since this is a statement made by the bhikkhu who was only second to Buddha in wisdom.
The most memorable event in this exemplary monk’s life, as karma would have it, was his encounter with the Maha Arahat Assaji whose bearing so overwhelmed him that he then and there sought and received from the Maha Thera his first lesson in ‘deathlessness’ which he had been searching ever so long with his friend Maha Moggallana Thera from the time of Anomadassi Buddha in his long journey through samsara, together.
Another incident in his life signifies the summum bonum of one indispensible attribute of Buddhist bhikkhuhood - tolerance. Once when he was on his alms round, a brahmin who wanted to test his patience dealt him a hard blow from behind that threw the venerable monk forward, whereupon the enraged onlookers advanced towards the attacker with sticks in hand. In an act of supernormal compassion, the noble bhikkhu promptly handed the man his begging bowl and requested him to walk ahead of him, so that he would not come to grief at the hands of would-be assailants. - Dhammapadatta
The outstanding treatise Vissuddhi Magga of the great scholar monk Buddhagosha mentions a remarkable event in relation to Ambakadaka Maha Tissa Thera, a mendicant monk of ancient Lanka. Having received no food on his begging round during a period of famine, he sat down exhausted under a mango tree where a ripe fruit had fallen near him. But he would not touch it, lest he violates the vinaya rule that prohibits a bhikkhu from receiving anything that is not offered to him. Time passed and he collapsed unconscious. A passer-by who realized the situation squeezed some mango sap into his mouth, to no avail. Finally, the man carried the monk on his shoulder to the temple, halfway along which he regained consciousness and began to remind himself ‘this man is no father, mother, sibbling or relative of mine. He carries me thus on account of my Sila’. Sila was made the topic of meditation and he soon attained the sublime state of arahathood while still on the man’s shoulder. They are the hallmarks of rectitude and discipline of the astute bhikkhu standing firm on the bedrock of virtue (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (pragna), as disclosed to the world by the Exhalted One.
As much as the splendour of the exemplary bhikkhu is vividly manifest on earth, so is the ignominy of the dissolute one in the saffron robe, as is always to be expected with the way of the world. The latter phenomenon was rampant during the Buddha’s time itself, the obnoxious group of six being a typical example. Whatever rule that was applicable to the noble sangha, they observed it in the breach at tandem. Not surprisingly, in the distant future, the order of the sangha is said to descend to its nadir where bhikkhuhood will be symbolized by only a yellow thread worn round the neck. Nevertheless, the Blessed One declared that alms offered to even such a debased bhikkhu bestow untold blessings upon the giver - Dhakkina Vibhanga Sutta, Majjima Nikaya. In the end, the institution designated as sangha will completely disappear from the face of the earth to appear again a multitude of trillion years later with the dawn of the next Enlightenment. The interim period is known as the darkest ever in the world.
Buddha’s rendition in scintillating similes of the second mentioned lame bhikkhu offers a glimpse of His resplendent wisdom which has held good over a span of twenty six hundred years of human existence, in the same manner as His appreciation of the first mentioned virtuous one. Quotes He magnificently, ‘Monks, of all livelihoods, this one is demeaning. It is that of going from house to house with a bowl in hand begging for alms. It is a curse in the world. Nonetheless monks, those sons of householders in the prime of their youth with raven hair who are desirous of discerning the whole purpose of life, take upon this livelihood too. Not that they are fugitives from justice, nor jail breakers, nor evaders of bandits and creditors, nor are they lacking in alternative vocations; but having realized the pitiable mire of birth and death, sorrow, lamentation, disease and aging that they are immersed in, and longing for a final, definitive end to this whole mass of misery.
If the householder’s son who has thus entered the noble discipline turns out to be extremely avaricious, sensuous, aggressive, decadent, foolish and un-wise, unsubdued, excitable and unrestrained in the senses, such a person, O monks, is like a piece of timber found in a burial ground burning at either end and smeared in the middle with excreta; worthless even as firewood in the village. He has failed the lay life, neither does he fulfill sainthood’- Pindolya Sutta, Sangyutta Nikaya.
Again He says, ‘monks, just as a master robber depends on rugged terrain such as mountains, rivers and dense jungles that are difficult to cross in order for him to plunder wealth, commit banditry and ambush highways, depends on powerful people like kings and royal ministers for survival and moves alone so that his secret plans do not spread to others, so does an evil monk depend on five things. What five are they? He engages in unrighteous bodily, verbal and mental actions, he holds wrong views and extreme views, he relies on powerful people, he offers bribes and he moves alone. How does he rely on powerful people? He thinks if anyone accuses me of wrongdoing the kings and ministers I associate with will dismiss the charge against me. How does he offer bribes? He thinks, I will placate the accused by offering robes, alms food, lodgings, medicines and provisions for the sick which I have received. Also, an evil monk moves alone by setting up solitary residence for himself in the borderlands, approaching families living there to obtain numerous gains – Pasu Vihara Vagga - Anguttara Nikaya.
In this context the Buddha mentions again ‘One who is averse to insults, who highly values praise and gains from others, and seeks close affiliations with ministers is far removed from nirvana’ – Withakka Sutta – Khuddhaka Nikaya.
The test by fire, so to say, embodied in the Kakkupana dictum pronounced by the Perfect One originally on a cantankerous monk named Moliya Pagguna is carried imposingly in the Majjima Nikaya. Declares He, ‘Monks, if one allows his mind to be impaired even when his limbs are sawn off by a group of violent men with a saw fixed with wooden handles at both ends, he then would not be honoring my earnest counsel to him. Herein bhikkhus you should train thus, ‘let our minds be not hindered, we shall wish their wellbeing with a mind of loving kindness without hate. We shall exude loving kindness towards those men and through them to the all-encompassing world, abundant, exhalted, immeasurable, with no hostility and ill-will. Thus you should constantly train yourselves bhikkhus, keeping in mind the simile of the saw, so that your welfare and happiness will be ensured for a long time’.
In conclusion, the unbounded merit of the benign bhikkhu as quoted by the Bhuddha in relation to ‘samanananca dassanang’ mentioned in the Mangala Sutta is cited here. It concerns a round eyed owl perched on the Vedhiyaka rock that observes the Buddha every morning who has cleansed himself, ready to enter into Maha Karuna Samapaththi. Proclaims the Buddha, ‘This owl who gains happiness by My sight and that of the noble sangha will not descend upon a plane of suffering (hell) for a hundred thounsand kalpas (eons).
Appearing in the worlds of the devas (celestial beings) and the humans it will finally, on gaining enormous wisdom, become a Pacceka Buddha (Individually Enlightened One) by the name of Somanassa – Sutta Nipathatta. It indeed is a heartening utterance of the Perfect One for all humans.
14 07 2014 - The Island
Interpretation of Buddhism L5.20
I read almost all articles of Prof. Nalin de Silva in The Island, even though most of it is way over my head. Nevertheless, I still continue to read his articles and the article ‘knowledge as construction" on 10th Sept., is that I would like to seek some clarification.
He says "I must admit that my Bududahama is not be the same as that of Budun Wahanse and I believe that only another Budun Wahanse and not even an Arahant can "know" the Budu Dahama of Budun Wahanse."
Prof. Nalin de Silva (NdeS) further says "My Budu Dahama is my interpretation or better my creation and it is unique to me." Buddhist have freedom to interpret the Dhamma as per the Kalama Sutta which, too, has been explained by different people differently according to their own understanding. Anyone is free to make any comments about the Buddha and the Buddudahama without any fear of blasphemy or eternal damnation!
Regarding the interpretation of Dhamma, an erudite scholar of Buddudahama says, "Invalid generalizations seem to be one of the cardinal sins of scholarly works. Views about Buddhism have very frequently been based on a very limited range of material, most often a few quotations from the Pali Canon."
This view was supported by another professor who said, "This is perhaps understandable given the quite daunting fact that the Nikayas- the earliest stratum of the Pali Canon- alone amount to more than five thousand pages of translation. It is only a fortunate few who, unencumbered by the other pressures of academic life, can find the time to read- and re-read, for once is not enough- through these texts in their entirety; but when they do they are likely to find that not only are the majority of such generalization not substantiated by the texts but also that they are often contradicted by the wealth of Suttas lying between those usually cited."
Since the learned Professor has referred to the interpretation of Paticchasmaupadda, I like to remind him that when Ananda Maha Thera remarked that the Pattichhasamuppada (P/S) formula seemed easy to understand, the Buddha said, "Speak not so Ananda, speak not so. Deep is this origination by dependence, it contains a deep revelation."
I really do not understand why the learned professor says, "Paticcha Samuppada is not applicable to Arahants." My understanding is that an Arahant is One who has realised the EIGHTFOLD PATH and has no further need of it. An Arahant now lives like any other person but without any attachment for any sensual pleasures. An Arahant sees, eats, hear, smell etc but WITHOUT any attachment to anything. It is like a person using a boat to cross a river and when he reaches the other side he will not carry the boat also with him.
24 10 2014 - The Island
Protect Sinhala Buddhism from the educated L5.21
Sinhala Buddhism has been under threat at least for the last one hundred and fifty years from the educated. There are at least two terms that have to be clarified, if an educated person insists defined, before we proceed. I resort to giving explanations (or definitions) of terms as I am writing to educated persons but in Sinhala Buddhist Chinthanaya the terms have to be understood within the context, and not necessarily at the very beginning of an essay or a lecture. The two terms are educated or educated person itself, and Sinhala Buddhism. Educated persons as far as this article is concerned are those who have acquired a western education in any one or more fields in any medium of instruction, and who think generally in terms of one or more western paradigms, paradigm having the meaning (or one of many meanings) as given by Thomas Kuhn in his Structure of scientific discoveries. At the outset, I must state that I am not an educated person as I do not think in terms of a western paradigm. As far as western thinking is concerned my policy is neither to learn nor depart. More than twenty five years ago Gunadasa Amarsekera declared that the country should be handed over to the educated rural youth, but subsequently I had my criticism of it as the rural youth like the others are western educated. The educated rural youth may have had their education in Sinhala medium but the education they received has nothing to do with the Sinhala Buddhism. The Jathika Chinthanaya of Amarasekera is a very wooly idea and one could easily identify more than traces of western chinthanaya in this idea.
What is Sinhala Buddhism? It is a culture naturally associated with some school of Bududahama, Buddhism being a religion or not according to one’s definition of religion. The educated persons including some well known Bhikkus have been concerned of the question of whether Buddhism is a religion, philosophy, way of life etc., under the influence of western education, whereas the uneducated is not bothered about these questions. The educated also have to fall in line with the uneducated as they did on the new year day that fell on the Bak Poya day and they should have found some aspects of Sinhala Buddhism when the vast majority of Sinhala Buddhists did not participate in the usual "Sil Programmes" on Bak Poya day.
The Sinhala Buddhism has very little to do with the so called Protestant Buddhism of western sociologists, and of course include some features of the religion of the Yaksha Gothra (not the tribe of western educated), including Devas. The Sinhala English Pact of 1815 refers to Buddhagama and Devagama as one entity and it is not the Devas of the queens as the educated persons in general think of referred to by this particular usage. Some of the Devas of Hinduism that was formulated after the Advaitha Vedantha of Shankaracarya in the sixth century, and of course of Vedic religions would have been incorporated into Sinhala Buddhism not necessarily through the queens and concubines of the kings , but there are many a deva in Sinhala Buddhism originated in the culture of the Yaksha Gothra. If we believe in the Vargapoornikava of Ven. Manewe Vimalarathana Thero, the Yakshas (at least some of them) had been Buddhists since the days of Budunvahanse, and there had been Bhikkus of the Yaksha Gothra, even before the arrival of Arhant Mahinda Thero. I prefer to call the Buddhist culture of the Yakshas, Hela Buddhism in order to distinguish it from the later Sinhala Buddhism.
What is known as Protestant Buddhism can be associated with Henry Olcott, but except for the rectangular shaped Buddhist flag, which goes against the shapes of ancient Sinhala flags and has no aesthetic appeal, and lightening of buckets with candles following Christian tradition, this Buddhism has not affected the uneducated Sinhala Buddhists who are more influenced by the Hela Buddhism. However, Olcott and people such as Rhys Davies have influenced the educated and to this date the educated persons think in terms of western paradigms. I call this Buddhism Olcott Buddhism which is also a culture and the followers of this Buddhism want to be rational and scientific, meaning of course western scientific, and believe in an empirical Buddhism, though empiricism itself is a bankrupt philosophy.
There are two important features of Olcott Buddhism. First and foremost is the thinking in terms of western paradigms (one could even say categories), and belief in a rational empirical Buddhism, though in western philosophy strictly speaking rationalism and empiricism as philosophies stand poles apart. Secondly Olcott Buddhism dissociates Buddhism from what may be called Sinhalathva. I know that many an educated person in the Jathika Vyaparaya (national movement) would like to disown me for use of these terms, but not the uneducated like me. The two important features of Olcott Buddhism are interconnected as a rational empirical Buddhism cannot be associated with a nationality. When we refer to Sinhala Buddhism, the Olcott Buddhists invariably ask us whether Buddhism belongs only to the Sinhalas or similar questions. Unfortunately for them there is no universal Buddhism as such and their rational empirical Buddhism is found only in books and articles written by them.
The Olcott Buddhists would quote Sutras such as Kalama Sutra to illustrate that Buddhism unlike any other religion is open and could be questioned, tested using rational and empirical techniques. However, Kalama Sutra like the other sutras is not context free, and it was essentially an answer to a question raised by the Kalamas. The Kalamas had a problem of determining which teaching is correct as various teachers who passed their village taught various "doctrines". The answer given was not to believe something because it is heard, read etc., but to adopt something if it is practiced by "Vinnus" (knowledgeable people) recognizing that it is good for this world and world after death (elowa ha melowa), and if they also find it good for elowa and melowa. The key word here is the Vinnus and the Kalamas were not asked to experiment on everything before they adopted (rejected) something. Unfortunately the criteria for determining what is good and bad are not given and they depend on the culture of the society. Kalama Sutra is cyclic, as nothing can be linear starting with definitions and the educated persons, who are used to western linear thinking starting with a God, do not seem to understand this aspect of Kalama Sutra.
The educated persons may have a very rational and empirical Buddhism however contradictory the terms may be but Sinhala Buddhism is not devoid of "Shraddha". How can a rational empirical Olcott Buddhist follow the eightfold path without any "Shraddha", as one would not know in advance by following the path one would attain Nibbana. Is it possible to deduce that by following the eightfold path one could attain Nibbana? The Sinhala Buddhists like me have no intention of rationalizing or experimenting with the eightfold path and Nibbana, and follow it as far as possible from "Shraddha".
The Olcott rational empirical Buddhists want to claim that anybody can come and see for himself/herself the "truth" of Dhamma. However, if one thinks that it is according to Aristotelian logic that one can find the truth then one is mistaken. The two valued Aristotelian logic is of no use in attaining Nibbana or even trying to understand anathma. Am I the same person who went to school fifty sixty years ago? If I answer the question in the affirmative then I become an Athmavadin believing in a soul. On the other hand if I negate it then the question could be asked whether it was a different person who went to school sometime ago. Anathma is not sensory perceptible and does not conform to two valued Aristotelian logic. One could come and see but not wearing a pair of Aristotelian spectacles.
Nalin De Silva
22 04 2014 - The Island
Link to Remaining Parts http://www1.kalaya.org/2014/04/protect-sinhala-buddhism-from-educated.html
Protecting Sinhala Buddhism from the Educated – A Reply L5.22
Apropos Nalin de Silva’s letter under the above title published in the Mid Week Review in The Island on 23rd & 30th April and 7th & 14th May 2014 I would like to make a few observations. There are two issues that need to be discussed. Firstly the nature of the Buddhism that was brought here and established in the 3rd Century BC has to be clarified. Secondly the features that were introduced later in the 5th to the 10th Century AD period need to be examined with regard to their desirability.
There is some evidence, inconclusive though, that indicates Buddhism may have been in practice in Sri Lanka to some degree before the arrival of Arahat Mahinda in the 3rd Century BC. It is a matter of conjecture whether this Buddhism belonged to any particular school but Mahavamsa describes how quickly the people accepted Arahath Mahinda’s preaching and how quickly the Dhamma spread in the country which could be possible only if the Dhamma that had been in practice before Arahath Mahinda’s arrival had been similar to the Dhamma he brought here.
Now let us examine the nature of Buddhism that Arahath Mahinda brought to Sri Lanka. The venerable monk came here after the Third Dhamma Sangayanava which was conducted under the patronage of his father King Dharma Asoka and presided over by Arahath Moggalliputtatissa. At the end of the convention Arahath Moggalliputtatissa preached the sermon known as ‘Kathavathuppakaranaya’ the main purpose of which was the total refutation of all theories and concepts which were not in agreement with Sthaviravada or Theravada. The theories that were repudiated included transcendentalism, absolutism, and essentialism. What is very significant for Sri Lanka is the fact that transcendentalism had been refuted and the Dhamma had been cleansed of this pollutant which had plagued it from the time of Buddha’s parinirvana. Further the sermon preached at this convention was considered to be of canonical importance and was included in the Abhidhamma as "Kathavathu". Therefore the type of Buddhism that Arahath Mahinda brought here must have been Theravada and must have been very close to Early Buddhism that is described in the Suthra Pitakaya.
Let us see whether Suthra Pitakaya could be authentically traced back to Buddha’s preaching and how reliable was the method adopted by the Elder Monks to hand down the Dhamma by word of mouth from teacher to pupil. During Buddha’s life time the Dhamma was studied and remembered by his disciples in the form of ‘collections’ (samhita) and there were two such main collections Vinaya and Dhamma. Three months after Buddha’s parinirvana the Sanga assembled at Rajagaha presided by Arahath Mahakassapa and recited, classified and arranged the teachings. It was decided to entrust different sections of the canon to different groups of disciples who demonstrated an interest and a proficiency in those areas of preaching. These monks were called the Bhanakas or the Reciters. This method of perpetuation of the Dhamma and the tradition of Bhanakas was maintained in Sri Lanka too after Buddhism was brought here by Arahath Mahinda. This was how the Texts were preserved until they were committed to writing by a gathering of 500 monks at Aloka Vihara in Matale in the 1st Century BC and these Bhanaka theras would have had a vital role to play in this endeavour too.
Thus the Buddhism that was practiced by the people and also what was written down in the Texts must have been very close to what the Buddha taught. This was the state of affairs from the 3rd Century BC until the arrival of Mahayana in a big way during King Mahasen’s reign when Mahavihara was demolished. Mahayana in Sri Lanka closely followed the trend in India where it declined in the 10th Century AD and so it did in Sri Lanka too. Mahayana in the main differs from Theravada due to its theory of transcendence which it strongly espouses in relation to Buddhahood and Nirvana. This is the character that was refuted by Ven. Moggallaputtatissa at the Third Dharmasangayanava and which was absent from the version of Buddhism that was brought here by Mahinda Thera immediately after that convention. These transcendental ideas had been developing soon after Buddha’s parinirvana due to younger monks’ attempt to "raise" Buddha’s image to a transcendental state. Mahayana was the dominant religion in Sri Lanka for about five centuries, from the 5th to the 10th and as a result some of its major ideas have been introduced into the Buddhism that is practiced in Sri Lanka.
Transcendence in the context of religions basically refers to a phenomenon that exists or manifests in a realm that is beyond this
world. In this sense it is beyond experience in our life. Further its exact nature cannot be clearly described using the language we know. In this sense it is beyond language too. Hence it is a phenomenon that is beyond our experience and something we cannot comprehend and explain in words.
Buddha said he gained knowledge through experience. Buddha rejected mystic powers as capable of arriving at knowledge. He said his Dharma should be accepted after careful study. Buddha told his disciples that Buddha himself must be carefully scrutinized over a long period (Vimamsaka sutta). He told the Litchavi and Kalamas that nothing should be accepted without personally ascertaining the facts and to accept what is practiced by the intelligent only if it is suitable to them. There cannot be anything transcendental and ineffable in such a doctrine. Buddha who attained Nirvana was born, lived and died in a natural process.
Mahayana on the other hand seems to have latched on to the concept of transcendence, which as mentioned earlier was initiated by the younger generation of monks, hundred years after the pari-nirvana of the Buddha. Mahayanists had modified the Buddha’s preaching to support this idea. Saddharmapundarika suthra which is one of the earliest Mahayana writings and which was largely responsible for the emergence of Mahayana as a separate school of Buddhism devotes large parts of its chapters to expound the transcendent features of Buddha and his dharma. These ideas contributed to the conversion of Buddha into an avatar of Vishnu by the Brahmins as there was little difference between the Buddha these ideas created and Vishnu.
In Theravada there is no qualitative difference between Buddha-hood and Arahath-hood. Only difference is that it was Buddha who found the path to enlightenment and the Arahath followed that path. Both had attained "sopadi-sesa-nirvana". They will remain so until total release is attained at physical death when they attain "nirupadhi-sesa-nirvana". In Theravada, nirvana is basically a state of non-rebecoming. This has been transformed into a state of immortality in Mahayana. Thus according to Mahayana doctrine Buddha-hood and Nirvana consist of transcendental, metaphysical and ineffable features rendering it very similar to other religions such as Hinduism.
Apart from these transcendental features that make Mahayana a different kettle of fish compared to Early Buddhism and Theravada there are few other important characteristics in Mahayana connected to transcendentalism which had been adopted by Sri Lankan Buddhists. One is the Bodisathva concept and another is the Thrikaya concept. Bodisathva concept developed in Mahayana over several centuries and during this period Hinduism was a strong force that Mahayana could not resist. Mahayana was forced to give up the Gnanamargaya (Path of Intelligence) which had always been the main means of Enlightenment and instead adopt the Bhakthi margaya (Path of Faith) which the Bhagavathgeetha strongly advocates. Buddha never used the word Bhakthi and never advocated Bhakthimarga as a means of gaining Nirvana. Buddha used the word Shraddha which has a different meaning. This Bhakthimarga was one reason for the development of Bodisathva concept in Mahayana. Bodisathvas resembles Hindu gods closely. Each of them has a vehicle (usually an animal) a symbol, a posture and a wife. Some of these Bodhisathvas were made into gods on arrival in Sri Lanka ; for example Avalokethisvara became Natha and Samanthabadra became Saman deviyo. The ritual of praying, worshipping and offerings developed in Buddhism due to the influence of Bhakthimarga of Mahayana which goes against the tenet of Early Buddhism that stated Enlightenment could be gained only by one’s own effort without help from an external agent. Ven. Buddhagosa’s (who may have come under Vedic influence while in South India) Commentaries on the Cannon too tended to support a transcendental view of the Buddhahood and Nirvana which further strengthened the introduction of Mahayana features into Theravada in Sri Lanka.
The Thrikaya concept of Mahayana which also took a long period to develop was a result of Hindu influence. This concept propounds that the Buddha consists of three different kayas or forms called Nirmanakaya, Sambogakaya and Dharmakaya and these different forms closely resemble Vishnu, Ishvara and Brhamma in function. Dr. Radhakrishnan commenting on this matter says; "The Dharma Kaya answers to the personal absolute the Brhamma of the Upanishads" (see- Indian Philosophy Vol.1.p. 599).
Apart from all the above mentioned undesirable features that Mahayana introduced into this country several superstitious beliefs and practices too came here in the wake of Mahayana. "Yanthra, manthra, gurukang, yaga homa, kattadi, etc" were brought here mainly by Mahayana. These were a byproduct of the Bhakthimarga that Mahayana introduced into Buddhism. These "yanthra, manthra and Natha" may have appealed to the weak mind searching for easy solace. The Kattadiyas, the astrologers, the pena gurunanses, men and women who claim they possess the power to communicate with gods like Natha and such other charlatans and quacks were thus given the opportunity to hoodwink the public and make a quick buck. The gullible and the weak were an easy prey to these charlatans. In a country like Sri Lanka where quackery is rampant this could be a social plague.
If the so called Sinhala Buddhism championed by Nalin de Silva is different from the teachings of the Buddha, that difference is mainly due to the presence of all this transcendental, metaphysical, superstitious and mystical features including "yanthra, manthra and Natha" that were somewhat forcefully and with political backing introduced into the Buddhism that was brought here by Arahath Mahinda. The Buddhism he brought here had been cleansed of such undesirable features by Arahath Moggaliputtatissa at the Third Dhamma Sangayanawa. If the gullible "uneducated" people believe in such stuff it is the duty of the knowledgeable and the educated to alleviate them of their ignorance and protect them from quackery and exploitation. One does not need to be educated in the Western tradition to understand how superstition wreaks havoc in our society. Any intelligent person knowledgeable in Early Buddhism could see the chaff from the grain. Early Buddhism is not a creation of the educated, Western or Eastern, but what could be gleaned and interpreted from the Sutras keeping in mind the nature of the historical Buddha and his philosophy of empiricism that makes Buddhism unique.
28 05 2014 - The Island
Some thoughts for Vesak L5.23
On this thrice blessed Vesak day commemorating the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha, the Buddhists of Sri Lanka who take pride in the fact that it is this small island that has been the repository of Theravada Buddhism over the centuries, join 500 million Buddhists the world over in celebrating an annual festival marked by spiritual fervor and visible manifestation of joy for the gift of the Buddha. People throughout the country will today throng the temples in their hundreds of thousands, clad in white and carrying flowers and incense offerings. They will light clay oil lamps and chant the gathas taught to our children from a very young age reflecting on the wisdom contained in the various stanzas. Hundreds of thousands will observe ata sil, the eight precepts against the five that Buddhists are expected to observe in their every day life. An atmosphere of bhakti that must been seen and absorbed to be truly appreciated will pervade the air in places of worship where large numbers of Buddhists congregate on Vesak day. By night skillfully crafted Vesak lanterns and coloured buckets will be lit in Buddhist homes with children taking particular pleasure in a custom that has a history of centuries and the countryside will be converted into a veritable fairyland as it always is on this day. Vesak pandals and sightseers will be very much a part of the scene.
While it is our good fortune and good karma, as most Buddhists will believe, to the born in a Buddhist country and enjoy the advantage of easily and conveniently practicing a Buddhist way of life, Vesak is also a time for us all to reflect on the qualitative attributes of the Buddha who we regard as India’s greatest gift to mankind. The Buddha through aeons of rebirths found the path to his own emancipation. Out of boundless compassion he preached the dhamma that showed The Way for others to do the same by following the noble Eightfold Path and purging thannaha (craving) from our minds and ending the cycle of rebirth to attain the ultimate objective of nirvana. But how many of us can claim that we have even in small measure achieved the sublime states of mind of metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity) that have been taught by the Buddha? Indeed, how many of us strive towards such ideal ways of conduct towards all living beings?
Just a few days ago the whole country was privy to the behaviour of members of the Buddhist Sangha demonstrating violently outside the offices of the University Grants Commission. So much so that Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, noted for his sensible contributions to the correspondence columns of newspapers, wrote to The Island that "our veneration of the sacredly symbolic monks’ robe is nearly irreparably damaged." He was constrained to ask, in the context of this "display of disgusting indiscipline" whether there is a stronger case "for totally banning the entry of Buddhist monks to lay universities except for a stringently filtered few of outstanding intellectual merit." There will be many who will agree with the writer given the numerous antics shamelessly displayed by political and other monks who are totally unfit to wear the yellow robes. The so-called Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) that went silent after the January presidential elections has now begun to show itself in the public domain and has expressed an intention of becoming a political party. Hopefully, this is a result of the established political parties giving the BBS a wide berth necessitating that organization to become a stand-alone party.
There is no escaping the reality that this country where Buddhist culture is predominant has been seeing the consistent erosion of Buddhist values with the passing of the years. The recent example of politicians waving national flags without the two orange and green stripes dedicated to the Tamil and Hindu minorities is an example of a majoritarian tendency not in accord with Buddhist tolerance. There was even a letter published in a newspaper arguing that it was the self-same (Kandyan) flag that was hoisted at Independence and that the writer saw nothing wrong in the use of that flag. However, he had forgotten that it was later that constitutional status was given to the flag and anthem and distorting the flag is illegal. Even some of those who waved that flag have backtracked and apologized although there was this single effort of justification. We have commented before in this space that after the January 9 presidential election, there was a strident campaign to say that the Tamil minority had "ganged up" to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa implying that this was out of order. There is no doubt that the minorities played a major role, alongside significant numbers of the majority, to secure a result favouring President Sirisena. But the users of the ‘ganging up’ argument seem to imply that in their eyes some votes have less value than others depending on who casts them.
Apart from intolerance we see a lot of cruelty, often amounting to brutality, around us. The newspapers are full of horror stories unbecoming of a Buddhist country. There are reports of rape, incest and cruelty to children. While manifestation of Buddhist virtues and values are happily abundant in many areas such as the giving of alms and helping those in need as well as kindness to animals, there is a lot of room for much improvement. There are many Buddhists who will not dream of killing animals themselves but are non-vegetarians who enjoy eating meat and fish. They know that non-indulgence will mean less slaughter for food but are unwilling or unable to travel the extra mile to not indulge their senses. During this Vesak season we see a lot of dana and organizers of dansalas abound. But it is well known that some of them engage in these activities at profit to themselves taking advantage of the generosity of others. Fortunately, Buddhist dayakas support the temples and ensure that the monks are supplied with their meals and other requirements. Alongside the giving of dana there must be also a realization that clinging to material wealth and possessions is not the Buddhist way. The ability to let go helps personal emancipation.
We have long prided ourselves that Sri Lanka is a dhammadweepa – an island that protects the dhamma. While this is true in many respects, we must be honest enough to admit that a great deal of violence to the gentle teachings of the Buddha is done in our society, as in all societies the world-over. Human beings are not arahats and imperfection is very much a part of human nature. But we must strive to overcome such imperfection in our minds and our actions to the benefit of both ourselves and the society we live in.
03 05 2015 - Sunday Island, Editorial
Don’t let the dazzle blind you L5.24
Can the sanctity of Vesak overcome the challenges of the modern world?
The Vesak festival has developed into a dazzling pageant. Giant pandals highlight events of the Buddha’s Life and His previous Births while colourful lanterns and decorations illuminate the Vesak night making it the most spectacular event of the year.
This indeed is a far cry from the days when a simple oil lamp was lit on Vesak nights to signify the dispelling of darkness of ignorance and the illumination of the mind. It was on a full moon day of Vesak in 528BC that Gauthama Buddha while He was seated under a Bodhi Tree in deep concentration to seek the Truth, was Enlightened. The significance of Vesak is further enhanced with the Birth and the Passing Away into Parinibbhana taking place on a day of Vesak.
The first recorded reference in the Mahavamsa of a Vesak festival held in Sri Lanka was during the reign of King Dutugemunu. It states that the King celebrated Vesak every year during his 24- year reign lighting thousand lamps in honour of the Buddha at 12 places and providing oil for every temple to light lamps eight times in the Vesak month.
Vesak had been observed ever since although celebrations had been low-key during colonial rule. Throughout however, religious veneration and engagements with the Dhamma took precedence over festivities. Devout Buddhists to date, clad in pristine white and barefoot, trek to the temples on Vesak day to reaffirm their faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Those who follow the five Precepts propounded by the Buddha observe His eight Precepts on Vesak Poya day in order to practise morality, simplicity and humility.
Observation of Precepts apart, the pious practise meditation as an effort to discipline the mind. Amidst the chant of stanzas recited by the Buddha 25 centuries ago and repeated by the bhikkhus in the temples ever since, devotees engage themselves in comprehending the Doctrine of the Buddha and listening to Dhamma sermons.
“Aamisa Pooja” (the rituals) form an integral part of the veneration when devotees offer flowers to the Buddha – an act which expresses impermanence. They light lamps, burn incense in veneration of the Buddha and perform “Bodhi Pooja.” These in essence, satisfy the spiritual need of the Buddhist devotee.
However, with Vesak holding special significance to Buddhists, they light even a simple Vesak lantern at home or hoist a Buddhist flag. Being on holiday at home, the young ones get down to making lanterns weeks ahead of Vesak making the frame with bamboo strips they had shaved and polished and pasting over it the “sauv” paper with the home- made “pappa.”
Perennial favourites in Lankan homes are the frilly “atapattama” (octogen,) the lotus and the star-shaped lanterns. These in the olden days, were lit up with candles and hung from a branch of a tree in the compound. Delightful were these gently swaying creations with the frills rustling in the wind. A more daring innovation was the aeroplane which the older boys turned out.
The simple “bucket lanterns” in Buddhist colours, bought from the nearby boutique in the days past, were found to be risky. On windy days, the chances were that these rather narrow lanterns, lit with candles and hung on a string could go up in flames. Yet, with lanterns being part of the Vesak tradition, even the humblest of homes hung one or two “bucket-koodu” or lit a clay pahana in honour of the Buddha.
The practice eventually spilt out from homes to public areas expanding beyond belief. Today, we see a riot of lights with lanterns of varied shapes and sizes – Chinese lanterns included, elaborate pandals and other Vesak images illuminated by flashing coloured bulbs. Panels of blinking lights cover entire building facades with even trees lining roads not spared of the glitter.
The authorities have banned the performance of “olubakko” on Vesak stages – a performance by actors with oversized painted pots placed on their heads which has no relevance to Vesak. Perhaps, Vesak zones held in the cities and which award prizes for the best efforts could instil in the creators to bring out the spirit and depth of Dhamma in their creations.
Vesak Bakthi Geetha are soothing chants of devotional songs where colourfully decorated carol-carts (floats) carrying groups of youth singing devotional songs parade the streets. The pandals which artistically depict Buddhist episodes with the story broadcast electronically no doubt draw huge crowds. But over enthusiasm and religious zeal however, lead devotees to construct impressive pandals which are costly with high electricity bills to be settled post Vesak necessitating sponsorship of big businessmen and donors. Ostentatious decorations besides go against the Teachings of the Buddha.
Concerns have also been expressed that the Vesak Festival should be saved from succumbing to commercialization. Is it too late to make remedies?
Modi on Buddhist spiritual heritage of India: Significance of his message for SL L5.25
About a month ago, that is, around early September 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India described Bodh Gaya as the "land of enlightenment", when he visited the Buddhist shrine there, the Mahabodhi Temple. It was a happy coincidence, as he noted in his speech, that he got to visit this Buddhist holy place on the Janmashtami (birthday) of Lord Krishna. It also happened to be the Teachers’ Day in India, which coincides with the birth anniversary of a former president of India, Sarvelappi Radhakrishnan, who was himself a renowned teacher.
Speaking on the occasion, he said: "What Bodh Gaya had got was Siddharth; but what it gave to the world was ‘Buddha’; Lord Buddha was the epitome of knowledge, peace and compassion". Under his teaching, Mr Modi went on, the "paradigm shifted from conflict resolution to conflict avoidance….. from environmental regulation to environmental consciousness", and he observed that "Hinduism and Buddhism have relevance to both these issues". Mr Modi was referring to a two-day Hindu Buddhist Conference on Conflict Avoidance and Environmental Consciousness held in Delhi previously that he had attended. Gautama Buddha and Lord Krishna, he called them ‘divine souls’, gave prominence to "principles and processes".
Pointing out the close relation that exists between Buddhism and Hinduism, Mr Modi explained how the Buddha offered us the Noble Eightfold Path and the Pancaseel (the Five Precepts), while Sri Krishna gave Karma Yoga. (Karma Yoga or the path of action is understood in Hinduism as selfless service to others). He further said that "the philosophic understanding, the philosophic underpinning of the Dharma … the protection of the natural heritage is critical for sustainable development" (This reminded me of the missionary monk Mahinda Thera’s words, 2300 years ago, to the Lankan monarch Devanampiyatissa about the importance of environmental protection). In this context, he mentioned that even the UN seems to have agreed with the view that "sustainable development is achievable only through aligning development to the local culture of the people".
According to Mr Modi, "Hindu philosophy was a beneficiary of the teaching of Lord Buddha". He remarked that (the Sanskrit poet) Jayadeva in his work ‘Geetha Govinda’ says that the Buddha was Maha Vishnu or God himself descended on earth to preach avihimsa (nonviolence). After the advent of the Buddha and his teaching, Mr Modi stated, Hinduism became Buddhist Hinduism or Hindu Buddhism. He quoted Swami Vivekananda expressing the opinion that when the Buddha was born, India was in need of a great spiritual leader, a prophet. Drawing attention to the originality of the Buddha’s teaching, Mr Modi said that the Buddha never bowed down to anything, neither to the Vedas, nor to caste, nor to priests, nor to custom; he was a fearless searcher, and listened only to reason. The "Buddha was more brave and sincere than any (other) teacher, was the first spiritual leader to give the world a complete system of morality … He was good for the sake of good(ness) … loved for the sake of love … was a teacher of equality".
PM Modi expressed the view that "This quality of Hinduism in India was a product of many great spiritual masters and chief among them was Buddha. And this is what sustains the secular character of India". He also added that the Buddha’s enlightenment at Bodh Gaya also led to (a new) enlightenment in Hinduism. Mr Modi enthused: "I would personally call India ‘Buddhist India’"; he described the Buddha as ‘the crown jewel’ of the Indian nation. He thinks that Buddhism represents "a worldview that is indispensable for the survival of the world". In his opinion, the potential for conflict arises when radical elements try to force their own ideologies on others. The world, disturbed as it is by religious intolerance, is looking towards the Buddha (for guidance) in the two areas of conflict resolution and environmental resolution. Mr Modi finally pledged: "We in India will develop Bodh Gaya so that it will be the spiritual capital and civilisational bond between India and the Buddhist world".
Though the rather too insistent claims Mr Modi makes on behalf of the Buddhist religion may not be in the true democratic non-totalitarian spirit of the Buddha’s wisdom-based teaching, they are eminently defendable in the current global context of growing scientific understanding of human morality and spirituality. Well known evolutionary biologist and science educator Professor Richard Dawkins of Britain is a prominent critic of and a committed moral activist (‘crusader’ is too violent a term to apply to him, I think) against traditional religion and other obscurantist superstitions that obstruct the freedom of rational scientific thinking among humanity. He holds, correctly, that moral values such as gender equality, respect for the personal dignity of individuals, tolerance, nonviolence, compassion, and generosity etc. have comparatively recently evolved through dialogue, debate and discussion among thinking human beings; they are not aspects of a god given absolute morality. Here, clearly, Dawkins is too Euro-centred in his thinking and attitude to look beyond what is known as Western science; he betrays a regrettable lack of knowledge about the ancient moral and spiritual traditions of the East (such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism in India) that anticipated by thousands of years those same enlightened humanitarian values, which they too developed through rational thought. There is irrefutable evidence that Buddhist values enriched, with a sense of humanity, primitive religious systems in other parts of the world than India itself in the course of history, just as they influenced Hinduism’s moral doctrines. Mr Modi is only making a re-discovery of his own country’s ancient moral and intellectual heritage. Sri Lanka is the repository of Theravada Buddhism which is the core of that ancient global cultural legacy.
Therefore, the venue of this event and the sentiments expressed by the Indian leader bear special significance and relevance for us Sri Lankans. It was Anagarika Dharmapala (1865-1933) from Sri Lanka who pioneered efforts to claim Bodh Gaya for world Buddhists. Possessed as he was, about a century ago, of the knowledge that Mr Modi was demonstrating on this occasion, the Anagarika raised the cry: "Arise, Sinhalese! Protect Buddha Gaya!". Most Sri Lankans at that time of colonial occupation of the island, including the majority Sinhalese Buddhists (whom he was specifically addressing), did not (care to) understand the meaning of this heroic call for the development and preservation of the birthplace of the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Buddhist world, Bodh Gaya. Instead, he was largely denounced and dismissed as a religious fanatic and a racist chauvinist. Character assassination of strong anti-imperialist national leaders as a less embarrassing but more effective substitute for ‘bare-faced’ physical liquidation is not a new strategy adopted by the West, which is bent on the relentless political and cultural subversion of victim nations for unhindered economic exploitation of their lands. So long before Mr Modi, Anagarika Dharmapala did much to try to legally restore the control of this holiest of Buddhist holy places (as the place where Siddhartha Gautama attained Buddhahood or Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree) from Hindus to Buddhists. He also wanted to develop the site as a world centre of Buddhism for the purpose of disseminating its message of universal peace, compassion and nonviolence throughout the world.
However, the Anagarika was not a politician. He was not concerned with capturing power by overthrowing foreign rule; he was realistic enough to understand that it was too early for that. But he was a patriotic Buddhist leader who aimed to initiate a broad movement towards independence and national resurgence among his people through social and cultural reform based on Buddhist values. Mr Modi, on the other hand is a seasoned politician. As a general rule, what a politician says must be taken with a pinch of salt. By indulging in this ‘pious’ performance, he may be trying to kill several (not just two) birds with one stone in the political diplomatic sphere. After all, when did religion cease to be the convenient handmaiden of imperialism or hegemonic politics?
Having said that, I tend to believe that, in this instance, we need not doubt the sincerity of Mr Modi’s message. True, he is a politician, and as such he cannot be without certain political ends to meet by utilizing the prominent cultural activity that the occasion involved. Yet, in this instance, if he was only concerned with politics, his championing of a minority religion like Buddhism, or of an artificial amalgam of Buddhism and Hinduism, would be counterproductive. But, no, there is no such danger. Mr Modi must be sure of this, because the secular character of the tolerant Hindu majority of the Indian society will ensure that the essence of his message will reach receptive ears. And Mr Modi is not thinking exclusively of India or the Buddhist world, but of the whole world.
The prime minister was seen being escorted around the place by some Sri Lankan monks, most likely resident there. The symbolic value of that should not be lost on us. Mr Modi is the ruling political leader of the largest democracy in the world; it is difficult to imagine that a better political system will develop to suit the present stage of human evolution in the foreseeable future. Mr Modi is a statesman who is a refined product of the unique Hindu Buddhist moral and intellectual heritage of his country whose indispensability for the survival of the entire human race and its civilization (lethally threatened as it is by intolerant religious radicalism and political opportunism) has been proved beyond doubt. But he had himself guided around the historic monument by a few monks from tiny Sri Lanka, which nevertheless has great stature as the global centre of Theravada Buddhism.
Rohana R. Wasala
17 10 2015 - The Island
Pirith nool: some queries L5.26
The practice of tying pirith nool on the wrists of lay persons is widely prevalent in Sri Lanka, today.
The wrists of some people, mainly politicians, have many pirith nool. I have also seen some monks tying pirith nool on the wrists of cricketers at the BIA prior to their departure.
Sometime back, I tried to get some information about the historicity of this practice from the office of the Buddhist Encyclopaedia only to find that office had been wound up on the conclusion of that project. Then, I phoned the office of the Buddhist and Pali University, where, apparently, a learned monk informed me that there seemed to be no historical evidence to support that practice. When I asked him whether the Buddha had recommended that practice, he said, similarly, there was no evidence in Buddhist literature in support of any such recommendation by the Buddha.
I am a Buddhist, but I am not well read on the subject of Buddhism. Hence, my inquiries. The Buddha’s advice to Kalamas, was that they should not accept anything merely because it had been handed down by tradition, or because it agreed with one’s preconceived notions, which meant anything should be tested by reasoning, before being accepted,
Practices such as tying pirith nool and performing bodhi poojas are, in my opinion, modern accretions to popular Buddhism.
The Buddha sat for one week in front of the Bo-tree to pay homage to that tree under which, he, as Siddhartha, attained enlightenment.
It was not an act to solicit a favour, but in modern parlance to say ‘thank- you’ for having provided shelter to him. Today, bodhi poojas are performed with the active encouragement of the Sangha, to solicit some favour!
I grant that some kind of popular Buddhist practices may be needed to support the Sangha, and the continuation of the ‘sasana’, but there should be a limit to such practices, and perhaps at the end of such a session, it would be ideal if the laity is reminded of the gist of Buddhism for laymen contained in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path so that they will constantly made aware of what really is expected of a Buddhist.
To conclude, can anyone well versed in Buddhism, confirm, elucidate or contradict through the medium of this newspaper what the learned priest at the Buddhist and Pali University informed me on the question of pirith nool.
I, of course, did not ask him about bodhi pooja and any information on that subject, too, would be most welcome.
H de Silva
23 06 2015 - The Island
Pirith Nool L5.27
About 15 years ago I was living in Dubbo a Principal City in the Central West NSW in Australia. One day about 8.00 pm I drove to a Supermarket to buy a few items. I saw a Sri Lankan/Indian/Fiji Indian looking young couple whom I had not seen before. Both had Pirith Nool on their wrists. As I saw the Pirith Nool, I cleared all doubts, walked up to them and asked if they are from Sri Lanka (SL). The young man said "Yes we are from SL and came to Dubbo today" I asked in Sinhalese where they are staying etc asked them to finish their shopping so that I could drop them at their motel. On our way to the Motel I learnt that the young man was Dr Nanda Pathirana and his wife Pamela partly qualified accountant. Before I dropped them at their motel I showed them around a little and took them to a motel that was cheaper as they had to live in a motel until they found work.
I had my parents in law with me and had no room to take them in. A doctor could not practise until he completed the Australian exam. The lady owner of the Motel said she had a young SL couple in the motel and that they rented her house and left. To cut a long story short the next day they moved the cheaper motel where the manager arranged them to meet the other SL couple who lived in the Motel for some time whom I had not met before. Within two days they met a few SLs who were new to Dubbo of whom two were Doctors getting ready to sit for the exams. They moved with one couple to share the rented house.
Dr Pathirana is now working in Dubbo. I wonder if this was an occasion where the blessed Pirith Nool helped them to save their money and find new friends in double quick time.
Hemal Perera - Via email from Sydney
27 06 2015 - The Island
Pirith nool have saved lives: A response L5.28
Writing an article to this newspaper on 23 June 2015, Mr H de Silva wanted to know the rationale behind the monk’s practice of tying blessed strings (pirith nool) on the hands of laity. He has made an inquiry from The Buddhist and Pali University and learned that there is no canonical evidence to prove this practice.
Well, in teaching this Dhamma and Vinaya, the Buddha did not want to create some robots which always depend upon texts to decide things. He has elucidated fundamental laws and onus is on us to creatively choose what is appropriate, depending upon the country, time and context.
As an example, the Buddha had not ruled out riding a chariot for monks. But, the majority of Sri Lankan monks agree with the point that it is unfitting, especially in Sri-Lankan culture, for monks to drive vehicles. They used common sense to make this decision.
While carrying out his social revolution, Buddha was in the habit of creatively imparting a Buddhist flavour to some practices of ancient Indians. One such example could be seen in SingalowadaSutta in which Buddha redefined an old Brahmin practice of bowing down to directions. Brahmin Singalaka used to wake up early in the morning, and after having a bath, with wet clothes and wet hair, in prayerful attitude, he worshipped at all main directions - the East, the South, the West, the North, etc. On seeing this, Buddha did not ridicule the man as some so-called scholars would do today. For, that is not a wise and kind man’s way of winning someone’s heart. In order to help a person, we should establish a humane friendship first. That should be the foundation.
Building up the rapport with the young man, Buddha said: "Son, in this noble discipline too, we have a practice of worshipping directions. But our way of doing it is different". Then, with some sense of belongingness with this unknown sage, Singalaka asked: "How then, Lord, should the six quarters be worshipped in the discipline of the noble?" Buddha explained how each and every group of society like parents, children, teachers, students, clergy, etc. are designated by various directions. And when we do our duties properly for those parties, worshipping is accomplished. That really made sense to the Brahmin. At the end of a long discourse, Singalaka became a devoted follower of the Buddha. This is how to become a true friend. We cannot gain anything positive by merciless criticism.
And those Indians also had a habit of worshipping the dead by building pagodas in their names (Maha Parinibbana Sutta - D). You can understand how uncomfortable people will be, if they are asked just to stop such rituals which had become like a second layer upon practice of a long time. This is why we need some grey matter to make behavioural changes with least disturbance to their feelings. By building pagodas in the name of the Enlightened One, this habit was aptly upgraded to be a meditation called Buddhanussati – reflection of the qualities of The Awakened One. Their habit of worshipping trees was also changed into Buddhanussati through Bodhi puja.
Some Brahmins had a habit of wearing a thread from shoulder to hip. This could have possibly been transformed into the tying of pirith noola around the wrists of Buddhists. But of course, there is a different spiritual function when it comes to pirith nool.
The blessed string or pirith noola is not just pieces of thread but has been energized by chanting pirith. Those who know a little bit of science are aware that mind affects matter and vice versa. Sound waves and mind waves that emanate from our heart while chanting pirith have a healing power and they change the atoms of the string and blessed water exposed to such recital based on gist of Buddhist doctrine. Thus certain healing power is stored in such strings and water. When these articles come in contact with the devotees, they bestow a beneficial positive effect on their minds and bodies as well.
Psychological aspect of pirith noola is also important. Even if it is a mere piece of thread, it can promote healing, if devotees believe that it can help their well-being. This phenomenon is a scientifically proven fact and known as 'placebo effect'. Doctors and psychologists also use placebos in their practises. Here, I should remind you that pirith nool, Bodhi pooja etc., might be less effective in the future, if narrow-minded people continue to undermine much-needed faith of our people. Can you imagine a worse crime in a country where people lament without money to purchase medicine?
And also every time they see this blessed string around their wrists, they will have a holy feeling. It constantly reminds them of the five-fold pledges they have made in the temple, which is conducive in maintaining their ethics.
Chanting pirith in order to prepare pirith nool, is an effective form of meditation for monks. Please read Vimuttayatana Sutta in chapter five of Anguttara Nikaya. Many panjandrums think that monks should be sitting still like statues to meditate, which is not the case with them.
Humans are not machines and they have psychological needs too. Dhamma, in an ultimate sense, teaches us the facts that we are nobody and we cannot become somebody. In order to be happy, we do not need to become somebody either. However, throughout our life, we struggle to become somebody. See how Sri-Lankans display stickers on their vehicles to show they are Royalists, Anandians, Bridgetians, etc. People want to flaunt their social, gender and political identities. In a similar manner, some Buddhists might use pirith noola to display their religious identity. Of course, these are weaknesses but monks can make use even such weaknesses to pull people towards the temple and encourage them up the path of liberation. Even Buddha had employed similar methods to guide followers through the path of purification.
We find such a touching example in the case of Venerable Nanda who was worrying about his beautiful girl friend he left behind when he reluctantly took this path. True, lust is a weakness for a monk, but see how Buddha used it wisely to manoeuver him. Buddha came to this homesick monk, grabbed his hand and made a visit to one of the heavens with him. Having shown him many beautiful goddesses who had beautiful legs of a similar pink colour as those of a pigeon, Buddha asked Ven. Nanda: "Who is more beautiful, your girl at home or these nymphs"? Monk answered: "When compared to these goddesses, my girl is like a female monkey burnt in a forest fire! Then Buddha said: Live this holy life Nanda, I will promise that you can own such goddesses in the future." Having overcome the desire of his girlfriend, he strived forth in monkhood. In meditation, he found more fulfilling sources of happiness than sex, and before long, became enlightened.
Therefore, if we use it wisely, with a good intention, there is nothing wrong in pirith noola too.
Chanting of pirith, Bodhi pooja, pirth nool, pirith pen, etc. have displayed their own miraculous effects in the past. In 2004, Sri Lanka was affected by massive tsunami waves. Can you remember how our coastal areas became a raw graveyard within minutes where thousands of dead bodies were thrown in every direction? Immediately, World Health Organization warned of another impending threat: a wave of epidemics due to decomposing bodies of humans and animals. Clergy was prompted into action and the aforementioned traditional methods were used on a large scale to heal the sick and mitigate the damage. Though Buddhist texts had not mentioned that monks can use helicopters in such a case, with the support of Sri-Lanka Air Force, we sprinkled blessed water throughout the island. Predicted epidemics could not raise their heads up. American psychologists and social workers who came to help Sri-Lanka in that crisis had been surprised to see how fast people recovered from that trauma!. That was not what they expected from a less developed country like us. While showing gratitude to all parties who toiled in that disaster, I should remind you that monks were the vanguard of the battle, with indigenous weapons at hand.
But of course, just as medicine, food and power can be abused by doctors, consumers and politicians respectively, Bodhi poojas and pirith nools too can be abused by both laity and monks as the questioner has observed. So, let us try to correct them kindly with constructive criticism. What I do not see in most of the Sri-Lankan critics is the humaneness and kindness!
Those who delight in finding faults with monks should know a salient fact – had those monks in your area or country been spiritually more advanced, most probably they would have chosen to serve more advanced beings than you, or live in solitude. You will not even know what colour those monks are! Your spouses, children, neighbours, monks and of course, politicians, are those who you deserve to be with. If you manage to live a virtually respectable life with whom you are destined to live, in your next life mother nature will give you more advanced people to deal with and continue to monitor how you live with them. This is how the universe works. Doesn’t it make some sense?
Ven. Matthumagala Chandananda Thero
Buddhist Chaplain, University of Alberta, Canada
27 06 2015 - The Island
PIRITH: Chanting, Water and Threads L5.29
‘Pirith nool: some queries’ by Mr H de Silva, published in ‘The Island’ on 23 June, has evoked a number of interesting responses including an erudite analysis, published on 27 June, by Ven. Matthumagala Chandananda Theroof Alberta University, Canada. Reading these made me question myself; why, whilst being an advocate for veering away from ritual to spiritual, I continue to have a Pirith nool tied round my wrist most of the time. Am I a hypocrite? Is it because I do not mind an innocent ritual or because I genuinely believe that it affords me protection? If it is the latter, what do I need protection from? Perhaps, with advancing years, the only thing I really need protection from is death but, am I not all too aware that nothing can protect me from that inevitable consequence of life?
I am in total agreement with the learned Thero that the greatest strength of Buddhism is the adaptability to country and culture, very well illustrated by the appearance of the Buddha statue; one in China depicting the Buddha with a ‘Chinese’ face whereas one in India having an ‘Indian’ face. After all, we call ourselves Srilankans first and Buddhistsecond, in contrast to those belonging to some other religions who, unfortunately, forget that even though punishable by death in some countries, religion is changeable whereas once born, your place of birth remains so even if you migrate.
Though some may say that some of the incidents quoted are an attempt to rationalize rituals, Ven. Chandananda’s explanations regarding the value of ‘Pirith Noola’ makes goodsense. Thanks to the internet and ‘Google searches’, I was able to read an interesting article on ‘Pirith Noola’, written in Sinhala, by Ven. Gonadeniye Sivali Thero of Hunupitiye Gangaramaya, wherein he explains that any potential benefits are nullified by bad ‘chetana’ (thoughts). In a world where those belonging to other religions are inventing ways of public demonstration of their faiths, though it may be a superfluous act, perhaps, we are wearing ‘Pirith Noola’ as we have no other way of showing that we are Buddhists. At times, it may have unintended consequences, very beneficial at that, as illustrated by the interesting incident, published in ‘the Island’ on 27 June, where Mr Hemal Perera describes how he helped a newly arrived Sri Lankan couple, whom he spotted because of ‘Pirith Nool’, in Dubbo, Australia.
However, the scientist in me takes issues with Ven. Chandananda’s assumption that the spread of communicable disease after the great misfortune of the Tsunami in December 2004 was due to our Sangha sprinkling ‘Pirith Pen’ all over the affected areas using SLAF helicopters. He may be correct but an equally plausible explanation is that the WHO got the warning wrong, which happens not infrequently, not through malice but due to ‘exaggerations’ made in an attempt to garner urgent support in a desperate situation. The fact that other affected countries did not have the predicted epidemics of communicable disease also supports the alternate explanation. This is what WHO states in the ‘Three months after the Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami report’:
"Disease surveillance and early warning systems have fulfilled their role. So far, there have been no major disease outbreaks. WHO credits this to the resilience of the public health systems and response capabilities of the affected countries, the hard work by local communities as well as national and international support. Concerns about potential epidemics from dead bodies have been addressed and it is now acknowledged that contamination from corpses is not a threat."
Well, this is the WHO way of admitting they got it wrong!
Though there are no experiments suggesting change of thread with music or chanting, as stated by Mr D P Y Abeywardhana, in his piece published on 26 June, there is some data to suggest that water molecules may change shape by chanting etc. Masaru Emoto, who died last October at the age of 71, a relatively young age for a Japanese, spent the last 20 years of his life photographing crystals of water, frozen after exposure to various stimuli. His conclusions, as stated in his website, are as follows:
"The result was that we always observed beautiful crystals after giving good words, playing good music, and showing, playing, or offering pure prayer to water. On the other hand, we observed disfigured crystals in the opposite situation. Moreover, we never observed identical crystals."
Though he had written a number of books and published numerous photographs to substantiate his theory, many scientists have questioned his work. Interestingly, though he was invited to take the ‘One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge’ in 2003, and would have received US$1,000,000 had he been able to reproduce the experiment under test conditions agreed to by both parties, he did not participate. When I tried to find out whether his work has been replicated, thanks again to ‘Google search’, I was able to find a video on ‘YouTube’ where a young researcher, Wajira Premathilaka describes his research on the structure of water molecules exposed to different types of ‘Pirith chanting’. Though he was able to show differences according to the type of ‘Sutta’ and states further work is needed, I cannot find any work after this video in July 2012. Much more research is needed and do hope our young researchers will take up the challenge.
‘Pirith Pen’ and ‘Pirith Nool’ follow chanting of ‘Pirith’. Therefore, to establish when these practices started, we need to find out when ‘Pirith Chanting’ started and the followingparagraphs from Ven. Walpola Rahula’s monumental work ‘What the Buddha Taught’, in my humble opinion, offers the best explanation:
"Three months after the Buddha’s Parinirvana (death), a Council of the disciples closely associated with him was held, at which all his teaching, discourses and rules of discipline, as they were remembered, were recited, approved as authentic, and classified into five Collections called Nikayas, which constitute the Tripitaka (Triple Canon). These Collections were entrusted to various Theras or Elders and to their pupillary succession for oral transmission for the benefit of future generations"
"In order to perpetuate an unbroken and authentic oral transmission, regular and systematic recitation is necessary. It must be particularly noted that this recitation was not the act of a single individual alone, but of a group. The purpose of this mode of collective recitation was to keep the texts intact, free from change, modification or interpolation. If one member of the group forgot a word, another would remember it; or if one modified, added or omitted a word or a phrase, another would correct him. In this way, it was hoped, nothing could be changed, modified, added or omitted. Texts handed down through an unbroken oral tradition of this kind were considered more reliable and authentic than any record of the teachings set down by a single individual alone many years after the death of their promulgator. The teachings of the Buddha were committed to writing for the first time at a Council in the first century B.C.- held in Ceylon four centuries after his death. Up to that time, the whole of the Tripitaka had been handed down from generation to generation in this unbroken oral tradition"
"The original texts are in Pali, a language soft, melodious and smooth-flowing. Their frequent repetitions, the use of categories, not only help memorization, which is necessary for the continuity of the oral tradition, but also give them poetic beauty and charm. They use poetic rhythms and have all the grace of poetry. The recitation of these texts in the original Pali in the calm atmosphere of a tropical grove or in a monastery still produces beautiful, harmonious and serene effects……"
This, to me, is the beginning of ‘Pirith Sajjayana’ but I am open to further elucidation by any scholars in Buddhism. (Anyone interested in listening to a wide variety of Pirith chanting would find ‘pirith.org’, a website maintained by Mr Dumindu Sampath Perera very useful.)
As ‘Pirith Chanting’ started after the Parinirvana of the Buddha, as a means of passing His teachings via the oral tradition, it is most likely that ‘Pirith Pen’ and ‘Pirith Nool’ too did not start during the lifetime of the Buddha. Therefore, the information given to Mr de Silva by the learned monk from the Buddhist and Pali University seem accurate. Though they are of later origin, still, there is no reason why they may not impart benefits. Not everything we do is proved by science and some empiric practices are later proved correct by scientific experimentation. History of Medicine is laden with many such examples. A common sense approach would be do things that you believe may do you good and do no harm to others.
Will I continue to have a ‘Pirith Nool’ round my wrist? Why not - as long as the Ven. Thero who ties it does so with loving-kindness to me, not as a matter of routine, so that I may meditate on it every time I notice the ‘Pirith Nool’ and reciprocate that loving-kindness to him and beyond.
Finally, a question, why some Ven. Theros in Sri Lanka refuse to tie ‘Pirith Nool’ round female wrists? Is it discrimination or a sign that their ‘Sil’ is so fragile? There is no such discriminative practice by our Ven. Theros resident in UK. I know very many of my female relatives and friends who are much irked by this discriminative practice and is it not time we shed remnants of discrimination still remaining in the practice of Buddhism?
Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
04 07 2015 - The Island
Need for purifying one’s mind L5.30
Writing an article to The Island newspaper on 3 July 2015, Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana had questioned: Why some Ven. Theros in Sri Lanka refuse to tie ‘Pirith Nool’ round female wrists? Is it discrimination or a sign that their ‘Sil’ is so fragile?
In countries like Thailand and Burma, it is customary for all lay Buddhists to practise monkhood for a considerable period in their life. Before you ask questions like: whether our ‘sil’ is so fragile, in a sarcastic tone, you should have tried to live the life of a monk at least for a few years. Nowadays, the tendency for entering priesthood has drastically come down and less people become monks. However, many are there to criticize those who have gone forth without realizing its rarity and underlying values.
We monks are going an uphill journey, while fighting the foes of defilements and it is a most difficult and demanding task to do in this world.
The Buddha has laid down various rules in multiple layers for the protection of monks. Many such rules pivot around the necessity of inhibiting occurrences of lust and thwart its consequences. The Buddha promulgated such rules with due reasons. Just see how people forget even their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters when they are blinded by lust which is fast spreading through the world.
In living a life of celibacy, there are many formidable challenges. You will not understand them unless you have taken the wows of such an ascetic life yourself.
When we live our lives, we should understand our strengths and weaknesses. Having seen our weaknesses, both clergy and laity should stay within their means. Staying within our means is not discrimination. This is known as tactical behaviour (prayoga sampathti) in this discipline.
True, all humans deserve our compassion alike, but how that compassion is manifested, will depend upon many factors such as age, health, gender and maturity of the individual. It will also depend upon the country, culture where we meet.
According to monks' moral code, it is unethical to touch a woman and it is bit difficult to tie a blessed string around a wrist without touching the body. Therefore, some monks do not tie blessed strings for women by themselves. However, it is not a major offence. In Maha-parinibbaana sutta, Buddha permitted sangha to abolish minor rules if the monks of the temple wish to do so. Hence, some monks tie pirith nool for women by themselves. Here, those monks have all rights to do whatever deems appropriate. Why should we force anybody?
The writer has said: ‘I know very many of my female relatives and friends who are much irked by this discriminative practice and is it not time we shed remnants of discrimination still remaining in the practice of Buddhism’?
He has failed to mention one salient fact. Even those monks who do not tie pirith nool for ladies by themselves, normally employ a lay person for this purpose while the stanzas of protection are chanted by themselves. At least they are given a ready-made blessed string to get it tied by somebody. Why this was not mentioned?
Yes, my dear ladies, I understand how it hurts. But please do not join the campaign started by Dr. Wijayawardhana, who is barking up the wrong tree.
I should point out that even if all monks start tying pirith nool for women by themselves following the writer’s advice, the woes of these women will not be dispelled, because our doctor has failed to diagnose the real cause of the disease and prescribe proper medicine!
Let us reframe the conflict in terms of cause and effect. Behaviour of monks was an external thing. How did it negatively affect the feelings of ladies? The whole problem is that many people try to find solace by regulating what is outside of them. They rarely turn inwards. The aforesaid women had suffered because of their inferior feelings. Those feelings too are not a coincidence. They arise because of their maana (unhealthy habit of comparing). If they had not entertained in superior feelings, they would have not suffered the bitterness of this so-called discrimination. In a bid to validate our sense of self, we practise the debilitating habit of comparing ourselves with others. This ego is the root cause of the problem!
Buddha reasoned out again and again that there is no permanent, solid, lasting object to be considered as ‘self’. ‘Self’ itself is an illusion. So, there is no rationale in this comparison which only causes us untold suffering in our lives. I have heard about some university students who have gotten grade ‘A’s and become suicidal just because somebody else has earned ‘A+’s. This is sheer madness!
The idea of ‘women are equal to men’ is flagged in the West’. In a way this is a disgrace for women because in certain aspects women perform much better than men. Rather than being infected by this itch of the West, I suggest our women to find their rightful place.
When I was four, my only sibling, my brother, joined our family. When he grabbed an excessive amount of my mother’s attention, I grew jealous at him and suffered a lot due to this corrosive defilement. Later, when my mother was dispensing milk to our cups, I observed with hyper vigilant eyes, and if she poured even a little more to my brother’s cup, I became furious and shouted aloud: ‘Oh, you have given more to malli’! But I never considered the fact that I too was given enough to sustain my life! Sometimes, by mistake, mother adds little more milk to brother’s cup. So, what?
Don’t you think that those ladies and men of their ilk are in the same page with that child who was so ungrateful for his mother’s compassion? Monks can cater to your needs but even gods will find it impossible to satisfy your greed!
Not only pirith nool but many other things in mundane use are also distributed in an unfair manner. There is disparity all over – in health, wealth, beauty, etc. of each and every woman. The writer has annoyed the monks over the issue of pirith nool. About other things, to whom are we going to complain? Emotional disturbance they suffer is proportional to their ego! Therefore, if the writer wants to become a true friend of those ladies, he should encourage them to dump out the garbage in their heads.
Venerable Achaan Cha has mentioned how some of his disciples carry around dog poop in their bags and continue to complain about a disgusting smell that irks them wherever they go! Sure, bad odour will linger on whether they visit a temple or a church as long as they carry around the stench with them!
Therefore, right thinking people should not campaign to alter monk’s vinaya practises but should take interest to clean their own quarters. Hence, real medicine is ‘insight meditation’ which helps to lessen our ego.
Another fact I want to mention is that when monks tie pirith nool directly to men, women also are honoured not discriminated. Because, those men are not aliens but dear sons, brothers, fathers and husbands of women themselves. Just practise to reflect in that way, and see howbitter, inferior feelings will be replaced with a sweet feeling called muditaa (sympathetic joy). Once, I beckoned a small boy to ask how he was doing. I was sitting on a cushion laid on the floor. He just came and sat on my lap. Usually, I do not pet children in this way but on that occasion I tolerated him. On seeing that, his mother was not jealous at his son for enjoying special favours from a monk but she was happy. This is muditaa.
In Karaniya Metta Sutta, the Buddha exhorted all of us to have a motherly attitude for all beings without discrimination. Though we are born as humans, the Buddha pointed out that we have the potential to cultivate such divine qualities. Why do we always choose to wallow in the cesspit of defilement?
Instead of eliminating their distorted views, people have now started to demand monks to alter their practises to cater for their whims!
However, I accept that it is not an easy task to diminish ego. But, justifying your weaknesses by faulting others would obviously not help.
Again, the writer has mentioned: ‘It is most likely that ‘Pirith Pan’ and ‘Pirith Nool’ too did not start during the lifetime of the Buddha’. But according to the provenance of Rathana sutta, the city of Vesali was afflicted by a famine, evil spirits and epidemic, causing death to many a folk. Due to putrefying corpses, protective angels left the area and more evil spirits began to haunt the city; this was followed by a pestilence.
Plagued by these three fears, the distressed people sought the refuge of Buddha. Thereupon Buddha delivered 'The Jewel Discourse' (Rathana Sutta) to Venerable Ananda, and instructed him to tour the city reciting the discourse and sprinkling the blessed water all over. Then evil spirits retreated, and the epidemic subsided.
This bears ample evidence that water, blessed and energized by chanting of pirith has some power of healing and dispelling of evil forces that dates back to the time of the Buddha.
Ven. Matthumagala Chandananda Thero
Buddhist Chaplain, University of Alberta, Canada
08 07 2015 - The Island
All that we are is the result of what we have thought.
If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him.
If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.
~ Buddha ~