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N3.01   Now he is a sadhu - In the footsteps of the Buddha, 16 boys don the saffron robe at Vesak...

N3.02   Spirit of Vesak kept alive through many Buddhist symbols - Vesak festival brings out...

N3.03   50,000 Hindus, nomads take refuge in the Buddha - Indian low-caste Hindus and nomadic tribal people...

N3.04   Seeking solace in Buddhism - Thousands of low-caste Hindus seeking to escape...

N3.05   Bhutan hosts World Fellowship of Buddhists - Bhutan is the first Buddhist kingdom with a reigning monarch...

N3.06   Compassionate meditation to improve health - For Americans seeking to improve their health, the US surgeon general...

N3.07   Human beings are natural herbivores - Humans are born to be vegetarians and not flesh eaters because...

N3.08   Buddhist literature in India - An effort to translate the Pali Scriptures into Hindi was launched...

N3.09   Rebuilding Buddhism in Russia - It is not generally known in the West, but the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire...

N3.10    2600th Anniversary of Sri Sambuddhatva Jayanthi celebrated at the UN in Geneva

N3.11    Amidst beauty and emotion - “Paths to the Peak”, a photographic odyssey to Sri Pada.

N3.12    Keeping the faith - Discovery of Buddhist India

N3.13    The Romantic Coming of Buddhism - Poson Poya is the time when thousands of devotees...

N3.14    Mihintalawa - The historic event of the arrival of Arhat Thera Mahinda...

N3.15    Appeal of Buddhism in the West - Many many years ago, while travelling in Tibet...

N3.16    India’s Buddhists - There is a growing movement to revive Buddhism where it was born...

N3.17    Barefoot Buddha on the dusty road - In the Anguttara Nikaya there is a passage...

N3.18    China to mark 1,250th Anniversary of Chinese monk's journey to Japan

N3.19    Who Is Hiding Saddhatissa's Sel Lipi? - In Sri Lanka efforts are made to erase traces of a past

N3.20    Servants of the Buddha Society 90 Years Old - A beacon of Buddhism

N3.21    Moodu Maha Viharaya: The sun sets in the East for Buddhist temple

N3.22    Ven Narada Maha Thera and the Centre Carrying His Name

N3.23  81st anniversary of Mulagandha Kuty Vihara, Sarnath

N3.24  Nirvana — Behind bars - The international News week magazine carried the captioned...

N3.25  Cave where Buddha was offered alms found?

N3.26  Miracle on the Rock Face - The Rambadagalla Monaragala temple

N3.27  Judge Weeramantry warns that 22nd century might never be

N3.28  Buddhist monks and politics

N3.29  UK Uni to ascertain Buddha’s birth site using latest technology

N3.30  Shedding more light on a sacred site

 

 

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N3.01    Now he is a sadhu

In the footsteps of the Buddha, 16 boys don the saffron robe at Vesak

Kumudini Hettiarachchi

The scene was heart- breaking and poignant. Amidst pin-drop silence broken only by the stifled sobs of many a mother and a father, 16 young ones were bidding their final goodbye to their parents and in a sense to the material world. That would be the last time they would pay obeisance to their elders.

Moments later it would be the other way round........all elders including their parents would pay their respects to these boys, aged between eight and 17. For they were to follow in the footsteps of the Buddha........renouncing all worldly pleasure and childish joy.

This was a special occasion at the vihare on Walpola Road, Ragama— the ordination of 16 samaneras, who had come from villages off Akuressa to the south and Polonnaruwa to the north. The Sri Wimalarathnarama Vidyanivasa Pirivena set in a sprawling garden along the Kadurugahawewa was a hive of activity from about 6.30 a.m. last Monday. Hundreds of parents and relatives were gathered there to "give" their sons to the temple. They had come with their bags and other young children and camped in the pirivena hall.

As the auspicious time drew near, there was an air of excitement tinged with tension and emotion. Only the mangy dogs and playful kittens in the temple compound seemed oblivious to this. Suddenly there was a rush towards the wewa. Down a small incline in an open space, buckets of water drawn from the well nearby were kept in readiness. On two simple benches were seated the samaneras-to-be, flicking off their "lay" shirts and banians. Saffron-robed monks, of all ages ranging from the very elderly to about nine years descended to the spot. Wetting each child's head thoroughly, the monks began soaping their hair.

In the enthusiasm, the rivulets of soap were getting into the eyes of some boys, and a senior monk spotting their agony instructed the others to give them water to wipe them away. Now seated on the benches once again, the boys were handed over sheets of newspaper, amidst a call that the clock be brought from the temple. The  papers were meant for the falling locks. Then the countdown began.....10 seconds.....five seconds......and 9.37 a.m. said the monk holding the clock, while 16 others stood above the boys with razors and "deli pihi" poised. It was time to shave their heads, while teaching them to meditate on the parts of the body by chanting....... "kesa, loma, natha, dantha, thacho" (hair, body hair, nails, teeth and skin), with a single lock of hair in their palms. An explosion of flashes as parents clicked their cameras.

"Me deli pihiya kepenne ne" (This razor doesn't cut), says an elderly monk, easing the tangible tension, making the relatives laugh. Then one by one the head-shaven boys are led to the well, bathed tenderly and made to wear the white robes. The transition is immediately visible. They do not seem to be mischievous boys, but sedate "adults".

Led in procession, to the sounds of bera, they take their place before the monks in the pirivena hall surrounded by relatives. It is time for them to pay their respects to their parents and the tears flow. At the auspicious time once again, "gatha" are recited and the senior monks hand over the "ata pirikara", the eight basic essentials the young samaneras will need, for their spartan existence. They are the "thani pata sivura" (the robe), "depeta sivura" (the cloth they will lay on the hard ground whenever they rest), "adanaya" (the under- garment), "paatraya" (the bowl to get alms), needle, reel of thread, "perahan kadaya" (the filtering cloth for water) and the "deli pihiya" (razor).

Once again they are led away, this time to don the saffron-robe, making the transformation complete. Now they are samaneras. They come back for more chanting of "gatha", which they repeat line by line, faltering a little here and there over the Pali words and frequently looking back at their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters........may be realising the irrevocable step just taken. Next they are given religious names suitable for samaneras.

Before noon, also at the auspicious time of 11.40 a.m. it is time for them to partake of alms, brought in by those in the neighbourhood and also lovingly prepared by their relatives.

With a tightness in my chest, I leave them solemnly wending their way to the "dane" and hear in the background the lisp of a little girl, "Amme dan aiya sadhu kenek neda." (Mother, brother is a sadhu now isn't he). A light shower begins to fall.

30 05 1999 - Sunday Times
 

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N3.02    
Spirit of Vesak kept alive through many Buddhist symbols


Francis P. Gunasekera

Vesak festival brings out from some countries some of the colourful stamps. Stamps from Japan and Thailand together with those featuring Lord Buddha and also from Yemen Republic can be seen. Sri Lanka’s Vesak stamps of 1987 featured some of Vesak lanterns and they are shown above. World famous Buddha Statue at Kamakura, Japan is also seen in one of the stamps from Sharjah and those of Japan.

Vesak being the premier Buddhist festival of the majority of the Sri Lankans, it has given us many stamps of extra-ordinary interest and significance. These stamps which have turned over a new page in our lives, urge that more and more such stamps should be brought about for greater glory of Buddha Sasana. There was a time when temple paintings were taken to be the most suitable for Vesak festival stamps. A large number of far away countryside temples had their very old paintings shown in our Vesak stamps. However, as the times went on, many other symbols of Buddhist significance were taken up as proper and more symbolic of the land of Buddhists.

One important thing that is observed in the context of these Vesak festival stamps happens to be that these stamps are not available at least two weeks before the dawn of the Vesak Poya. Vesak greeting cards should necessarily find this most appropriate stamps, without having the people to undergo difficulties in obtaining them.

More over, the users of Vesak greeting cards have to be told that Vesak festival stamps are meant for prepayment of postage especially during Vesak season. But, what is to be seen is affixing whatever stamps that could be had from post offices and other outlets.

During the last few years, we have had many Vesak festival stamps featuring Buddhist flags together with some of the most famous and historical Buddhist Stupas (or Dagobas) which some of children saw more clearly only from our stamps. Such stamps are, therefore considered to be most useful and of great educational value for children of all religions because, buy studying about them one gets a glimpse of our history intertwined with Buddhist culture of unbroken 2,500 years or more.

Now, about the Buddha appearing in stamps of Japan and Thailand, Sri Lankans' way of thinking has to be rational and liberal too. They who take much innocent pride to show the images of the Buddha in stamps may not like to see them cancelled to obliterate the stamps. However, ardent collectors go out all the way in purchasing those stamps as an honour to the Thrice-Blessed one, no matter what difficulty they have to encounter.

Collecting MINT (as sold at the post office counter) stamps, as done mostly in USA may be a prudent alternative to the misuse of cancelled stamps of whatever sort.
Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Vesak Festival!

04 05 2004 - Daily News
 

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N3.03    
50,000 Hindus, nomads take refuge in the Buddha
 

MUMBAI, 28-05-07(Reuters) - About 50,000 Indian low-caste Hindus and nomadic tribal people converted to Buddhism before a vast crowd yesterday in the hope of escaping the rigidity of the ancient Hindu caste system and finding a life of dignity.

Monks in orange and saffron robes administered religious vows to the converts as about half a million spectators, mostly Buddhists, cheered the ceremony at a horseracing track in downtown Mumbai. Some of the converts were low-caste Hindus once considered as "untouchables" by the higher castes, but most were members of
India's numerous nomadic tribes. Many of the tribal people had their faces painted and ritually flagellated themselves before being asked by the monks to give up their practices and follow the non-violent path of Buddhism.

"Whatever may have been your religion until now, from today you will take refuge in the teachings of the Lord Buddha," one told them.

At a signal from the monk conducting the proceedings, the converts, some of them visibly emaciated or carrying babies in their arms, stood up, took off their shoes and with folded hands repeated Buddhist chants.

Hindu scriptures separate people into Brahmin priests, warriors, farmers, labourers, and those beyond definition -- called "Dalits". These low-caste Hindus, making up about a sixth of India's 1.1 billion people, were once considered "untouchable", performing the most menial and degrading jobs.

While the Indian constitution forbids caste discrimination, and spectacular economic success and exposure to Western culture have remoulded many social paradigms, the caste system has persisted, above all in villages. Dalits are still often beaten or killed if they use a well or worship at a temple reserved for upper castes.

"I'm here because people from our village have decided to become Buddhist," said Santosh Mane, a landless labourer from a village about two hours' drive from Mumbai.

For decades, conversion has been a sensitive issue in India. Right-wing Hindus have accused missionaries, especially Christian preachers, of converting poor Hindus with inducements such as free schooling and health care. But Christians, who have long demanded greater rights for Dalits, say those who convert often want to escape the oppressive caste system. Hindus account for 80 percent of India's population. Muslims account for 13 percent, Christians less than 3 percent and minorities such as Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis the rest.

 

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N3.04    
Seeking solace in Buddhism
 

Thousands of low-caste Hindus seeking to escape the oppression of India’s rigid caste system embraced Buddhism in a mass conversion recently.

Some 5,000 Dalits - those at the bottom of the ancient religious hierarchy who were once known as untouchables - converted to Buddhism in Mumbai, state capital of Maharashtra in western India, a Dalit group said.

“We estimate that close to 5,000 Dalits have chosen the path towards Buddhism by the end of the day,” said Shravan Gaikwad, representative of the Samatha Sainik Dal, a Dalit group.

Large-scale Dalit conversions take place periodically in India, with close to 10,000 changing faith in October to mark the 50th anniversary of the conversion of their deceased political leader Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.

Ambedkar, a low-caste Hindu who rose to become a distinguished jurist and played a key role in drafting India’s constitution, galvanised Dalits with his public rejection of caste and Hinduism itself.

The conversion came just two weeks after a Dalit woman was sworn in as chief minister of India’s largest state in an unexpected majority win that some saw as a sign of how far the group has come. But many Dalits say they still face severe discrimination and the conversions are a way to make a fresh start, as well as to draw attention to their plight. Despite legislation banning caste discrimination, Dalits commonly perform the most menial and degrading jobs in India. On occasion, they are ostracised, beaten or even killed by members of upper-caste groups.

Sushil Kathe, who travelled thousands of kilometres to convert on Sunday, remembers not being allowed to drink from the local well as a child growing up in a village in a rice-growing district of the state.

“The upper caste came and did not allow us to drink water. They said the place would be impure if we were allowed to take the water,” said Kathe, 25, who sells religious booklets.

The conversions have been opposed by right-wing Hindus who have pushed some Indian states to legally restrict the practice, calling them “forced.”

But landless labourer D.G. Khade said conversion was his only hope of a life of dignity in India.

“The Hindu religion is structured in such a way that we lower-caste people will never get dignity,” said Khade.

“I am 45 and I don’t want my children to suffer my fate.”

During the conversion, many of the Dalits wore blue caps to show their brotherhood in their new religion, as they repeated the hymns being chanted by Buddhist monks. Some also had their heads tonsured.

Low-caste Hindus constitute some 16 percent of India’s billion-plus population and more than a fifth of Maharashtra’s population.

MUMBAI, AFP
 

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N3.05    
Bhutan hosts World Fellowship of Buddhists

Nemsiri Mutukumara
 

Bhutan is the first Buddhist kingdom with a reigning monarch His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk who is also the ruler of the country.

The World Fellowship of Buddhists was inaugurated and established in Sri Lanka in 1950.

The Bhikkhu Sangha representing all fraternities - Mahayana, Theravada, the Vajrayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama converged in Sri Lanka to the sacred precincts of the Sri Dalada Maligava in Mahanuvara and established for the first time in modern history of the Buddha Sasana and also in the annals of world history an international organisation for the Buddhists.

The Bhikkhu Sangha, the Bhikkuni Sangha from Asian Mahayana countries and Western Mahayana traditions unanimously elected Professor Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera as the founder President.

The resolution to establish the World Fellowship of Buddhists was proposed by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the leader of the Indian Buddhists.

The Kingdom of Bhutan was a founder member with His Majesty as Head of State taking avowed interest in promoting and fostering the objectives of the WFB in his own Kingdom and outside.

I enjoyed the extremely rare privilege of having an audience with His Majesty on three occasions when he visited Sri Lanka.

Firstly, when he visited the Isipatanaramaya Viharaya in Timbirigasyaya I was invited to explain the stories of the paintings in the Budu Medura.

Later, Dr. Neville Karunatilake was asked to continue since he was related to the dayaka family by marriage.

On the second time during the time of President J. R. Jayewardene. His majesty recognised me at the luncheon given in Hotel outside Colombo.

President Jayawardene, promptly provided all the access to talk to His Majesty the King at the Holiday resort which was an exclusive place only for the privileged.

Now after several years the Sri Lanka Buddhists will have the rare privilege of seeing the ruling monarch of Bhutan in his own country when two delegations representing the World Fellowship of Buddhists, and the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth, and the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress and the German Dharmaduta Society will be represented at the next General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists and the World Fellowship of Buddhists Youth in Bhutan.

Since this is the first time, that the first Buddhist Kingdom - namely Bhutan - is hosting the first-ever WFB and WFBY. General Conferences towards the end of this year Buddhist era 2548 - 2004 our people should be made to be aware of the richness of this Buddhist Kingdom.

The official name of the Kingdom of Bhutan is Druk-Yul. The capital is Thimphu. Bhutan being the Pan Buddhist Kingdom in the world, steadfastly believes that Buddha Dhamma should be given the rightful place in the world. The ever refreshing teachings of the Buddha never owes any allegiance to unheard, unknown and unseen phenomenon called creators.

Buddha showed the way - "Eva Balava" come and see.

One must practice to realize the efficacy of the teaching, one self - putting into practice.

Buddhists countries are organizing themselves - both Bhikkhu Sangha, the Mahayana Bhikkuni Sangha, the Buddhist leadership to make representation to the Secretary General of the United Nations Organisation, Kofi Annan that the UNO should invite all those concerned and committed to provide the due and rightful place to the Teachings of the Buddha - Wholesome in the beginning, Wholesome in the Progressive Process and Wholesome in the Accomplishment.

Let us hope the fulfilment in this year of Bhutan.

dailynews.lk/2004/07/02
 

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N3.06    
Compassionate meditation to improve health

Giles Hewitt

For Americans seeking to improve their health, the US surgeon general advises putting aside one hour, several times a week, for "compassionate" meditation and the elimination of destructive emotions. Actually, he doesn't. He prescribes 60 minutes of physical exercise. But noted molecular biologist Eric Lander, a leader of the Human Genome Project, believes the change is coming.

"It is certainly not inconceivable that 20 years from now, the US surgeon general might recommend 60 minutes of mental exercise five times a week," Lander told a conference of renowned scientists and Buddhist scholars at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this weekend.

Such a prediction from a man of Lander's stature at a venue like MIT is an indication of mainstream science's growing fascination with Buddhism, and especially with the preliminary but extraordinary results of state-of-the-art research into the Olympian mental athleticism of trained Buddhist monks.

Some of the data presented at the conference - attended by Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama - pointed not only to attention spans that would make an air-traffic controller weep with envy, but also meditation techniques that could actually "re-wire" the brain's neural pathways.

In the age of Prozac, the possible applications could leave mood-altering pills on the shelf. Harvard-trained neuroscientist Richard Davidson showed brain-scan images of a monk who was able to push levels of activity in his left, prefrontal cortex - a part of the brain associated with positive emotions - "off the chart" by using a technique known as compassion meditation. In a different meditative state, the same monk could do what, until then, had been thought to be impossible and suppress the "startle reflex" - the involuntary response to a loud, sudden noise like a gunshot. Paul Ekman, one of the world's most eminent experts on the science of emotion, described the monk's level of control as a "spectacular accomplishment."

"We've never found anyone who can do that," Ekman said. "We don't have any idea of the anatomy that would allow him to suppress the startle reflex."

Another test showed advanced meditators to be capable of startlingly high speeds of cognition, correctly identifying the moods behind a series of facial expressions flashed onto a screen for just one-thirtieth of a second. They scored far higher than groups previously identified as the best performers, such as psychiatrists, customs officials and Secret Service agents.

Alan Wallace, a former monk and president of the Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Consciousness in Santa Barbara, believes Buddhist practices aimed at improving emotional and cognitive balance could be powerful tools, and not just in treating depression and mental illness. (AFP)

24 09 2003 - Daily News
 

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N3.07    
Human beings are natural herbivores

Dr. D. P. Atukorale
 

Humans are born to be vegetarians and not flesh eaters because of the following reasons:

1. Our hands are similar to hands of herbivores such as apes who have hands as appendages. We don’t have claws
as appendages as in case of flesh eaters.
2. Our teeth are flat as in case of herbivores unlike the sharp teeth of carnivores.
3. We have, as in case of all vegetarian animals a long intestine (which measures about 20-25 feet) to digest nutrients in plant foods. On the other hand flesh eaters (carnivores) have short intestines which measure about 8 feet to allow rapid excretion of the toxic products derived from flesh of dead animals. This is why we get chronic diseases such as cancer when we eat flesh.
4. The gastric acidity of humans is low as in case of herbivores and is suitable for digestion of vegetarian food. On the other hand, the flesh eaters like tigers and jackals have very high acidity of gastric juice (i.e. the pH of gastric juice of carnivores is very low) and the low pH of gastric juice helps these animals to digest flesh of dead animals.
5. Humans as in case of herbivores sweat to cool the body. H.G. must be fully aware that we don’t pant to cool our body as in case of carnivores who cool the body by panting and not by sweating.
6. We humans as in case of herbivores sip water. Flesh eaters lap water and do not sip water.
7. Humans as in case of vegetarian animals obtain all our vitamin C solely from vegetarian diet. Flesh eaters on the other hand manufacture their own vitamin C internally.
8. Vegetarians have manual dexterity and have grasping hands and can use weapons and tools whereas flesh-eaters don’t have manual dexterity.
9. Excreta of majority of vegetarian animals (e.g. cows and elephants) are relatively inoffensive. In case of humans offensiveness of excrete depends on the diet.
10. Vegetarian animals are snack feeders unlike flesh eaters who take large meals which are taken infrequently. Present humans combine habits of vegetarians and flesh eaters.
11. Vegetarian animals are predominantly sweet-toothed whereas flesh-eaters have preference for salty and fatty food. Man on the other hand likes both sweet and salty and fatty food.
12. Vegetarians like to savour food, experiment with variety and combine flavours. Flesh eaters bolt the food down.
13. Humans and vegetarian animals have large brains able to rationalize (at least in laboratory studies) unlike small brains of carnivores which are less capable of adaptive behaviour.

22 09 2003 - The Island
 

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N3.08    
Buddhist literature in India

Rohan L. Jayatilleke
 

An effort to translate the Pali Scriptures into Hindi was launched by the eminent trio: Mahapandita Rahul Sankrityayana (1893-1963), Bhadant Anand Kausalyayana (1905-1988) and Ven. Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashypa (1908-1976) who were ordained and learnt Buddhism in Vidyalankara Pirivena. A pioneer translator of Pali Scriptures into Hindi was Ven. Dr. Dharmarakshita (1923-1977). He too had his ordination and studies in Buddhism in Sri Lanka at the Vidyalankara Pirivena. For a list of these translations of Pali scriptures to Hindi, please see, jagajjyoti Centenary Volume of The Bengal Buddhist Association 2009.

In the field of Buddhist literature in Hindi the pioneer was Mahapandita Rahul Sankrityayana. This intellectual super being wrote over 150 books on Buddhism in Hindi, still a record. In addition to Buddhist literature he engaged himself in writing canonical as well as non-canonical, histories, scientific and philosophical works, travelogues and biographies and many more subjects. Bhadant Anand Kausalyaya (1905-1988) and Ven. Dharmarakshita (1923-1977) too put their pens on paper and produced on Buddhist literature. To their great credit of scholarship stands dozens of books in Hindi, including Hindi translations of Pali texts. The important books published in Hindi during the 100 years (1908-2008) could be seen in Jagajjyoti Centenary volume 2009.

Besides the English and Hindi translations of the Dhammapada it is now translated into ten other Indian languages, namely, Assanese, Bengali, Gujarati kannada, Maruthi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu, which are the official languages of various states of the Indian union. Some of the Pali Texts too have been translated into Bengali, Gujarati and Maruthi. A list of these translations could be read in Jagajjyoti Centenary Volume 2009 under different language heads.

Kannada is the official language of Karnataka State with Nangalore as the capital. Venerable Acharya Buddharakkhita Maha Thera, resident in Bangalore Buddhist Vihara, through his sustained initiatives, has now prepared and published through his Buddha Vachana Trust of the Maha Bodhi Society, Bangalore, for the first time in Buddhist history, all the books of the pali Tripitaka and Commentaries in Kannada. The Kannada Tripitaka runs into as many as 136 volumes of about 300 pages each.

This iconic task was celebrated with utmost dedication and adoration by the Maha Bodhi Society, on the occasion of the Buddha Jayanthi on 19 may 2008.

In order to assess and admire the Indian scholars herculean tasks on the fields of translation, one has to have an Indian mind. In India daily millions of huge iron trucks about 10 feet high carriages and with no roofs, and agricultural products, industrial products, minerals are transported to other states or for exports and on the sides of these trucks, are pained by the Indian Tricolour National Flag with the Dhammachakra in the centre with the logos in Hindi and English on top and below - India is great - I love India. This writer too with his north Indian ancestry of Malava, Nadhya Pradesh Vaishya Setyis in Sri Lanka, Galle called Sinhala Hettis and with his late mother a Post - graduate.

Lucknow University, Allhabad, too has the Indian mind to record the contributions of Indian scholars and the propagation of Buddhism. This is all the more possible as this writer visits India on study tours annually.
 

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N3.09     
Rebuilding Buddhism in Russia

Sean Robsville
 

It is not generally known in the West, but the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire had a substantial number of Buddhists who practised in the Tibetan tradition. In 1741, Empress Elizabeth issued a decree recognising Buddhism, alongside Orthodox Christianity, as an officially sanctioned religion in Russia.

For 180 years Russian Buddhists were allowed religious freedom by the Tsarist government. They established temples and monasteries, chiefly in Central Asia and in Siberia in the Lake Baikal area. But this policy of tolerance changed drastically after the communist revolution.

In Marxist countries most religions were suppressed to a greater or lesser extent, but in Russia Buddhism was a particular object of persecution.

The reason for this is clear, for unlike the other belief-systems that Marxism encountered in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Buddhism was the only one which offered a rational, logically coherent philosophy which presented a real ideological threat to the Marxist materialist worldview.

In fact, the future Buddhist Prime Minister of Mongolia - Nambariin Enkhbayar - first became interested in Buddhism when, as a student, he was subjected to anti-Buddhist indoctrination by his Soviet Communist 'educators'.

In the 1920's, as Joseph Stalin consolidated his power, most of the temples and monasteries were destroyed, and many Soviet Buddhists were executed or worked to death in the notorious Gulags. Pockets survived in the remote regions of Buryatia, Kalmyck Republic and Tuva.

With the restoration of religious freedom, Buddhism is now being re-established in these areas, though as in Mongolia the process is under threat from lavishly-funded American Christian evangelists who are targeting Kalycks, Buriats and Tuvinians as 'unreached peoples'. Hopefully this blatant cultural imperialism and meme- peddling will not succeed in destroying these vulnerable indigenous cultures.

In addition, new Buddhist centres are being established outside the traditionally Buddhist areas in cities such as Moscow, St Petersburg, Obninsk, Nizhni-Novgorod, Petrozavodsk and Varonesh.

 dailynews.lk/2003/09/10
 

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N3.10    
2600th Anniversary of Sri Sambuddhatva Jayanthi

Celebrated at the UN in Geneva
 

article_image

The Government of Sri Lanka has consistently espoused and been guided by the gentle tenets of Buddhism, which emphasizes Karuna, Metta, Muditha and Upeksha meaning -kindness, loving compassion, thoughtfulness and equanimity said Kshenuka Senewiratne addressing a large international gathering at the commemoration of the 2600th Anniversary of Sri Sambuddhathva Jayanthi, which was celebrated at the United Nations in Geneva on May 11.

This commemorative event was organized by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka in Geneva, at the United Nations Assembly Hall, which is considered a most prestigious venue. This occasion was also graced by Hon. Mahinda Amaraweera, Minister of Disaster Management and Mr. Kassym Jomart Tokayev, United Nations Under-Secretary General and the newly appointed Director General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, who is the former Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan.

Ambassador Senewiratne highlighted that Buddhist reflection has indeed been serving the nation to embark on ambitious development plans to enhance the lives of all Sri Lankan citizens, having concluded a 30 year old terrorist conflict at the hands of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization. She observed that the mutli-cultural and multi religious nature of Sri Lankan society also sustains this culture of tolerance and acceptance of the differences, guided by the ethico-philosophical system of Buddhism.

Referring to the UNGA resolution, which was spearheaded by Sri Lanka on the international recognition of the Day of Vesak at the United Nations Headquarters and other United Nations offices, Ambassador Senewiratne recalled the teachings of the Lord Buddha, as representing the spirit of universal brotherhood, which the Member States
together with the United Nations, are aiming to promote. She pointed out therefore that on the day of Vesak, nothing would be more appropriate for the UN than to commemorate the life and ideals of the Enlightened one.

Quoting, a teaching of the Lord Buddha, Ambassador Senewiratne stated that " hard is to be born as a human being. Hard is the life of mortals. The opportunity to listen to the Dhamma does not come easily. Rare is the birth of the Buddha". She emphasized that this event had for those present provided an opportunity to being acquainted with the teachings of the Buddha – especially at a time when humanity has become senseless. She expressed confidence that the discourses of the two erudite Venerables invited to deliver a sermon be a cooling shower to pacify the burning minds of humanity.

In his statement, Mr. Tokayev listing global challenges stated that the Buddha’s message of solidarity and mutual support continue to provide inspiration for collective efforts to build a better world. He pointed out that the principles of non-violence and the equality of mankind being central to Buddhism has made it relevant to the continued work for global peace and progress. Director General Tokayev underlined that much could be achieved as one human family by drawing potential of all.

Venerable Olande Ananda Thero of the Pagoda Meditation Centre, who travelled from Sri Lanka, delivered a sermon, questioning if Buddhism is a religion, philosophy or a way of life concluding it to be an amalgam. This was followed by an interactive dialogue, which had enthusiastic participation paving the way to a comprehensive discussion on the Buddhist doctrine. Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala Thero, Head of London Buddhist Vihara & Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain led a brief segment on meditation. The gathering was afforded a practical experience of meditation.

This commemorative ceremony was greatly appreciated by the invitees who proclaimed that they witnessed such an event for the first time at the United Nations in Geneva. The Assembly Hall was decorated to capture the Vesak ambiance in Sri Lanka which was much valued by the invitees, who included the diplomatic corps, staff of the UN, Specialized Agencies and international organizations and the Sri Lankan diaspora and communities from other Buddhist countries living in Switzerland.

The ceremony was followed by an offering of food through devotion to the guests. This event was co-sponsored by the Bank of Ceylon and Sri Lankan airlines and assisted by the Permanent Mission to the UN from countries which have a Buddhist population.

15 05 2011 - Sunday Island
 

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N3.11    
Amidst beauty and emotion

Malaka Rodrigo reports on “Paths to the Peak”, a photographic odyssey to Sri Pada by Ian Lockwood

 

Peak at starlight and mist

Peak at starlight and mist As the Sri Pada pilgrimage season ended on Vesak, Ian Lockwood’s exhibition of photographs - a personal overview of the sacred mountain opened at the Barefoot Gallery in Colombo. As a 15-time Sri Pada climber, I had my doubts whether anyone could capture the mystical beauty of this sacred mountain and the special culture involved with the pilgrimage through a lens.

I’ve seen people pushed to the brink of exhaustion by the marathon climb; devotees who stand in the freezing cold at the peak waiting to catch a glimpse of ‘sun service’ in the morning and also the Sacred Mountain’s breathtaking beauty, but all these doubts were banished when I stepped into the Barefoot Gallery last week. I felt like I was climbing Sri Pada for the 16th time surrounded by very real people with real emotions. That was the closeness that Ian Lockwood’s “Paths to the Peak” - a photographic odyssey to Sri Pada had captured so amazingly.

Sri Pada Maluwa at dusk

The exhibition captures the link between the Sacred Mountain and the people. Ian had climbed Sri Pada 18 times carrying all his heavy photographic equipment to record the ecology, landscape and culture on Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain, experienced along different pathways. Thus the exhibition is not restricted to scenic shots, but full of different kinds of photographs - portraits of people, the landscape, panoramic views of the peak from different angles and much more.

The portraits cover many aspects of the climb and the rituals associated with it. As everyone knows, the climb is a difficult one. The photograph titled “Pause” is a classic illustration of Ian’s ability to capture human endurance on the climb. This is a woman so exhausted on the west slope of Sri Pada which is one of the steepest sections of the Ratnapura path - a final test of endurance for pilgrims. Another frame “Sacred flame” shows a family at the summit temple, tired faces filled with devotion. In “Prayers” we see devotees worshipping all the way even before reaching the summit. In many photographs Ian has captured the softer side - younger people extending a helping hand to the seniors as they trudge on wearily.

Ratnapura steps

Ian is fond of black and white photographs and the exhibition has plenty of them. “I chose to present many of the images in black and white because of the nuanced ability of black and white to depict landscapes and portraits without the clutter and confusion of colour. Colour is useful and certainly some photographers have a real talent for using it as a medium. I try to use black and white to depict a personal view of a deeper connection to the earth and people,” he says adding that he feels the use of black & white gives him the opportunity to be in command of the final product as much as possible. “Black and white has always been a "higher" medium to express deeper connections in the natural and human landscape.”

The exhibition also gives visitors a brief insight to the unique biodiversity of the mountain which has been named an UNESCO World Heritage site last year. Ian is a geography teacher and had designed an informative map illustrating different Sri Pada pathways and their geographical location.

Maps and text panels created by him indeed support the educational aspects of the exhibition. Sri Pada also has an issue with garbage and Ian had even included a subtle message through one of his photographs urging viewers to be more responsible on their visit.

Sacred flame

Originally from Boston, Ian’s family has been living and working in South Asia for four generations. Ian is currently a teacher of Geography and Environment Systems at the Overseas School of Colombo. Prior to this he worked in Bangladesh and India and has published numerous articles and photo essays on India’s Western Ghats, exhibiting in Dhaka, New Delhi, Mumbai and New York City.

“Paths to the Peak” will be on until June 5 at the Barefoot Gallery, Colombo 3. For more of Ian’s photography and writing see www.highrangephotography.com.

There are many paths to the sacred peak of Sri Pada, a mountain of immeasurable significance in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. Sri Pada commands a striking position in Sri Lanka’s rich physical geography and culture and is perhaps one of the best-documented mountains in South Asia. In its early records the pyramid-shaped peak is referred to as Samanalakanda (the mountain of butterflies). The name “Sri Pada,” of course, refers to the sacred or resplendent impression of a footprint, which crowns a large granite boulder on the summit.

“Peak of Adam” was the name given to it by early Muslim traders and it was well documented by medieval travelers such as Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. In colonial times, this was simplified to Adam’s Peak, the name on most maps and with which many outside of Sri Lanka are familiar. - Ian Lockwood

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N3.12     
Keeping the faith - Discovery of Buddhist India

Sun Shuyun, The Scotsman, Glasgow, Scotland
 

I grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous time when everything was turned upside down. Landlords, shop-keepers, artists, party officials and Buddhist monks were frequently paraded in the streets as "examples".

It was like a public entertainment, drawing huge crowds. One day I dragged my grandmother along to watch. People splashed ink on them, a Red Guard whipped them with a belt, loudspeakers on a truck announced that they were "the enemies of the people", traitors who dreamed of toppling the dictatorship of the proletariat.

I remember asking grandmother, how could those people possibly topple the government? I did not understand. Especially the old, bald priests in their long dirty robes. They looked so frail, as if they could collapse any minute under their heavy placards.

My grandmother said that they were the gentlest of men - they walked very carefully so they would not tread on ants and in the old days, when they lit a lamp, they would cover it with a screen, so that moths would not fly into it. But my father said I should not be fooled by appearances. "Even a dying cobra can bite," he warned me.

In this battle between my father, a devout Communist, and my grandmother, a pious Buddhist, I was firmly on my father's side. My education had taught me that Buddhism was feudal and poisonous, part of the old life, like the last Emperor. As we sang in the Internationale: "There is no saviour, nor can we depend on gods and emperors. Only we can create happiness for ourselves." How could Grandmother be so foolish as to think that there was an almighty God up there? China had suffered centuries of wretchedness with no help from the Buddha; Chairman Mao had liberated us.

Mao died in 1976 and so did the Utopia he tried to build. But now many of the things that were attacked in his time are making a comeback. Buddhism, an integrated part of Chinese life and culture, has once again become a focus of people's belief.

I found myself thinking more and more about grandmother. When I visit a temple, I light incense for her. Sometimes I read a Buddhist text and find the stories in it very familiar - the stories she told me as a child. The forbearance, the kindness, the suffering, the faith and the compassion were what she embodied. I began to see how extraordinary her faith was.

She lost seven of her nine children in a smallpox outbreak, a tragedy enough to crush anyone, let alone such a frail person, but her faith kept her going, even though all she could do was to pray on her own in the dark, without temples and monks to guide her, and was derided by her own family. She wanted me to follow her faith and acquire the strength it gave her. I never gave it a chance, rejecting it early on without really knowing what it was.

By chance, I came upon the story of Xuanzang in my adult life, the Chinese monk who travelled from China to India and back in the seventh century. He went in search of the true Buddhism, convinced that Buddhism in China had become corrupted and that he would find everything he needed to know in India. I had read of him in my childhood as a character in a popular novel, The Monkey King: kind and pious, but weak, bumbling and, as the Chinese say, with a mind as narrow as a chicken's intestine. But the real Xuanzang was a truly remarkable man and his life is an extraordinary tale - one of spirituality, determination and adventure - a tale that would have challenged the Communist ideology, which is why he had been hidden from me.

His journey was fraught with danger: he was lost in the desert for four days without water. He was robbed many times - once pirates threatened to throw him into a river as a sacrifice to the river goddess. He was almost killed by an avalanche on top of the Heavenly Mountains. At one point he even had to go on hunger strike to be allowed to continue his journey. He travelled for 18 years and he returned to China with the scriptures he sought and persuaded the Emperor to allow Buddhism to flourish in China.

He did more for the spread of the faith in China than anyone and he left a detailed record of his travels, Record of the Western Regions, which opened up the history of the whole Silk Road region.

I wanted to find out more about him and about his faith, and my grandmother's. I decided to follow in his footsteps. My journey was hardly a patch on his, a mere ten months. It was quite hazardous - walking into a hostage crisis in Kyrgyzstan, being surrounded by election violence in the poorest part of India, escorted by armed guards in Peshawar, and being caught in the midst of a Muslim uprising in western China - but nothing like what he went through. I found many of the things I was looking for on my journey but I did not expect to learn that we owe to Xuanzang's Record nothing less than the rediscovery of the Buddha and all the places of pilgrimage associated with him.

It is hard to imagine that until 150 years ago, both Indians and people in the West had little idea who the Buddha was. Many considered him to be either an Egyptian or an Ethiopian.

Even as recently as 1942, the Encyclopedia Britannica began its entry on Buddhism by defining the Buddha as "one of the two appearances of Vishnu", the Hindu god, a view confirmed by Brahmin priests, the custodians of knowledge in India. There is a drawing of the Mahabodhi Temple - the holiest place for Buddhists, the place of the Buddha's enlightenment - made by a British officer of the East India Company in 1799.

It shows a lonely structure covered with weeds, its roof fallen in and its walls cracking. The caption of the drawing says it all: "East view of the Hindu Temple at Bode Gya". It was as if nobody knew Jerusalem was the holy city of Judaism and Christianity, or Mecca was the holy place of Islam. In New Delhi I asked Dr RC Agrawal of the Archaeological Survey of India, the ASI, why this history had disappeared. He had led most of the recent excavations of Buddhist sites in India. "For us Hindus, this life is only transitory," he said. "What is history and historical knowledge but a kind of unnecessary baggage?"

Buddhism disappeared in India in the 11th century, due to its own decline and the fatal blow by invaders from today's Afghanistan. Jungles swallowed all the thousands of its monuments. The Buddha was all but forgotten in the land of his birth. "We owe Xuanzang a lot," Dr Agrawal said, sincerely. "So much of our history would have been lost without him. Open any book on early India, he is there. But more than anything else, he brought Buddhist India back to life for us."

The other key figure in the story was Alexander Cunningham, the first director of the ASI and its founder. Cunningham was the son of Allan Cunningham, a poet and man of letters from Dumfriesshire - Allan's father was a neighbour of Robert Burns.

As was the custom of the day, Cunningham and his two brothers went to India to seek fame and fortune. He joined the Bengal Engineers in 1833 and was first stationed in Benares. Outside the city and across the Ganges was Sarnath, a quiet retreat from the crowded Hindu city. Here, among ancient trees and overgrown grasses, was an imposing 145ft-high domed edifice, with superbly crafted sculptural ornaments on its surface. What was it for? Cunningham was curious.

The general belief in Benares was that it held the ashes of the "consort of some former rajah or prince". Cunningham decided to do a little exploration. Being an engineer, he built scaffolding as high as the dome and sank a shaft, 5ft in diameter, from the top all the way down to the foundations. After 14 months of labour and an expenditure of more than 500 rupees, he found nothing but a stone with an inscription he could not read. He sent it to James Princep, the secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, who finally deciphered it as a standard homage to the Buddha, whose followers still practised his teachings in Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tibet. But it was not clear where the Buddha was born, or where he preached and died.

All was to be made plain by the publication in English of the eyewitness accounts of two Chinese monks, Faxian's Record of Buddhist Countries in the 1840s and Xuanzang's Record in the 1850s. Copies of both books had always existed in China and now they were "discovered" by European orientalists and translated for the first time into French and then English. Between the two of them, they had mapped out the whole of Buddhist India, with all the main sites, their locations, their importance, their histories, and details of the monasteries and the monks who inhabited them.

Cunningham conceived an ambitious plan: to use them as his guide and throw light on more than 1,000 years of this history. He had to wait almost three decades before realising his dream. In 1861, now aged 47 and retired from the army with the rank of Major-General, he landed the job he wanted: he would head the new Archaeological
Survey of India, a grandiose name for him and his two assistants. He was ecstatic.

It all gives new meaning to the phrase, "the rest is history". One by one the Buddhist sites were uncovered and identified by Cunningham and his men. The magnificent monument that he had drilled through in Sarnath marked the spot of the Buddha's first sermon after his enlightenment.

The Mahabodhi Temple as we see it today in Bodh Gaya was restored by him, meticulously following Xuanzang's descriptions. Perhaps most dramatically, Cunningham recorded how he read the monk's account of the temple that marked the spot where the Buddha died. Within it, Xuanzang said: "There is a figure of the Buddha. His head is towards the north and he looks so serene he might be asleep."

Cunningham sent his assistant Archibald Carlleyle there in 1875 to supervise the dig. The place was covered in jungle. When it was cleared away, the ruins were found 10ft deep in the ground, complete with the reclining Buddha - exactly as Xuanzang had described it 1,200 years before.

Cunningham's reaction reveals his excitement: "To the west of the stupa we found that famous statue of the Buddha's Nirvana, as recorded by the Chinese pilgrim. I have no doubt this is the statue that Xuanzang had seen personally."

Xuanzang and Cunningham together gave us back this place, returning it from the graveyard of history, into the light, into recognition, into worship. It really is an astonishing story.

Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud by Sun Shuyun is published by HarperCollins, o17.99.
Buddhist News Network (BNN).

 

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N3.13    
The Romantic Coming of Buddhism

Derrick Schokman
 

Poson Poya is the time when thousands of devotees wend their way to Mihintale to celebrate the coming of Thera Mahinda with the teachings of the Buddha.

From the foot of the hill up to the rocky pinnacle where he first encountered the apostles, King Devanpiyatissa constructed 1840 steps. For over 20 centuries numberless devotees have ascended this stone stairway filled with reverent awe.

It moved the English writer Mitton to describe it as a "stairway to Heaven". From a Buddhist point of view it is more appropriately seen symbolically as a spiritual ascent in one's own life to overcome the material cravings (tanha) which cause so much suffering (dukha).

To do this devotees must first have confidence in the Buddha, his teachings and the Bhikkhu Sanga (Triple Gem) and thereafter attempt to follow the Noble Eightfold Path which should help them to reach the highest state of spiritual enlightenment or nirvana. In the words of the Dhammapada, the learned man drives away vanity by earnestness when he climbs the terraced heights of wisdom, until at last free from sorrow he can look down on the sorrowing crowds in the plains.

King Devanampiyatissa made habitable the first caves at Mihintale for Mahinda and his party. Some of these may still be seen near the Kantaka Stupa, containing Brahmi inscriptions that go back to the third century BC.

Mahinda made Mihintale the centre of his missionary activities, finding the bustle of Anuradhapura unsuitable for a monastic life.

But that did not mean that he lived the life of a recluse. He made regular visits to the city to preach to the people.

For this purpose the king placed at his disposal a part of his royal park and built preaching halls and alms halls, which in time gave rise to the Maha Vihara, a monastery that became known far and wide as a centre of Theravada Buddhist learning.

Later when 500 nobles and others of the royal court donned the robes of Bhikkhu after ordination, the king provided them the Issararamaya monastery close to the city. The women were not second in their zeal for the new religion. The first converts were Anula, wife of the sub-king Mahanaga, and the ladies of the court. They expressed a desire to be ordained as Bhikkhunis to form the Bhikkhuni Order.

Since the rules (vinaya) did not permit Mahinda to carry out the ordination, his sister Theri Sangamitta came from India to do it, bringing with her a branch of the Pipul (Ficus) or Bodhi tree at Gaya under which the Buddha meditated and attained ultimately enlightenment.

This branch transplanted in the Mahamegha Garden in Anuradhapura as the Sri Maha Bodhi was something with which the common people could identify the new religion. Mahinda, who was just as good as psychologist as a missionary, took the opportunity to request King Devanampiyatissa to obtain from Emperor Asoka of India some bodily relics of the Buddha (Saririka dhatu) that could be worshipped in the same manner as the Sri Maha Bodhi in remembrance of his teachings. The right collarbone of the Buddha was duly enshrined in the Thuparama, the first stupa to be erected in this country. Devanampiyatissa reigned for 40 years. During the whole of that period Thera Mahinda and Theri Sangamitta lived in Anuradhapura propagating the faith and setting and inspiring example by their own lives to devotees of the faith.

The king died in 207 BC, Mahinda 8 years later and Sangamitta one year after her brother. Their names have since been held in veneration for establishing the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni orders, and introducing the cult worship of stupas and the Bodhi tree which are today an essential part of the religious establishments.

The Sri Maha Bodhi is considered to be an associative relic (Paribhogika dhatu) because the Buddha enjoyed the shade it provided.

One of the eight astapalibodhis that sprang up from the Sri Maha Bodhi soon after it was planted, was replanted at Mihintale.

In the words of historian Paul E. Pieris: "Like its pliant roots which find sustenance on the face of the rock and cleave their way through the stoutest fibre, the influence of what the Sri Maha Bodhi represents has penetrated into the innermost being of the people till the Tree itself has become almost human.

"The axe of ruthless invaders has been reverently withheld from its base. And even now on the stillest night its heart-shaped leaves on their slender stalks ceaselessly quiver and sigh as they have quivered and sighed for 23 centuries."

The foundation thus having been laid in the time of King Devanampiyatissa, Buddhism became the hereditary right of the kings who followed to be the protectors of Buddhist establishments and the teaching of the Buddha.

On account of this royal patronage and the donations of land and other properties by the royals and nobles many monasteries and stupas came into existence. The sanctuary of cave dwellings in Mihintale itself expanded into two large monasteries - the Pabbatarama Vihara in the 8th century and Hadayunha in the 10th century - the ruins of which may still be seen half-way up the Mihintale hill and around the Kaludiya Pokuna respectively.

The refectory or dansala in the Pabbatarama is one of the best preserved in these old monasteries. The rice boats (buth-oru and kenda-oru) in which rice and gruel were provided bear testimony to the fact that these monasteries supported a large number of bhikkhus - in this instance around 2000.

In the ruins of the Hadayunha Vihara near the Kaludiya Pokuna, is one of the best preserved Uposathagharas where purification rites were carried out. The Mihintale complex also boasts five Stupas, each one distinctive in its own way.

The Maha Thupa is said to be the repository of a hair relic of the Buddha - the uma roma that grew between his eyebrows signifying that he was a Maha purusha or great being.

The Ambastale falls into a special group of circular Stupas called vatadages, of which there are only ten in this country.

The Kantaka has some of the earliest sculptures. They may be seen on the alters (vahalkadas) and their stelae. Those on the stelae of the eastern vahalkada are said to be the oldest dating back to the first or second century AD. The Mihindu Seya on the restoration was found to contain the ashes and some bone fragments of thera Mahinda.

The Indikatuseya, so called because its needle or date-thorn shaped stupa, so unlike the regular rounded forms, contained another form of relic known as Dhamma Dhatu. These were sanskrit extracts from Mahayanist doctrines engraved on metal plaques that were embedded in the walls of the stupas. Thirty-one such engraved extracts on
copper were discovered in the joints of the brickwork of the Indikatuseya.

Standing by this stupa at the bottom of the hill and looking up at the hilly guardian of Mahinda's memories, one is caught up in the spell of antiquity and the romantic coming of Buddhism to Lanka in King Tissa's bygone times.

dailynews.lk/2003/06/14/

 

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N3.14    
Mihintalava

Nemsiri Mutukumara


The historic event of the arrival of Arhat Thera Mahinda, son of Emperor Asoka in Lanka, from Jambudvipa was the most far reaching in shaping the destiny of the people and the country, unparalleled in human history.

Arhat Thera Mahinda accompanied by Itthiya Thera, Uttiya Thera, Sambala Thera, Bhaddasala Thera, Samanera Sumana and Upasaka Bhanduka - a layman. The Prelate alighted on the Missaka Mountain on the Poson Pasalosvaka Poya Day. In this festival season, the reigning monarch, King Devanampiyatissa was on a hunting spree with his ministers and nobles.

Arhat Thera Mahinda, with his psychic power concealed the sight of the rest of the retinue and allowed the King to see the Prelate alone and called the King by his name Tissa, twice.

The King the most powerful person on the soil of Lanka was taken aback and looked up.

A saintly figure, shaven headed draped in saffron robe spoke in His sonorous voice, in one sentence giving out who, what, why from where.

"Samanamayam Maharaja
Dhammarajassa savaka
Tame'va anukampaya
Jambudipa Idhagata"

Samanas, are we,O! King,
Disciples of the
Dhamma Raja
With compassion to you,
We have come
from Jambudipa.

The bow and arrow, the King was trying to use on an innocent deer, fell down to the ground and the King entered into a conversation with Arhat Thera Mahinda which is recognised and hailed as the first I.Q. Test recorded anywhere in the world.

The Missaka Mountain and the area on which Arhat and his retinue alighted came to be popularly called Mihintalava.

Devanampiyatissa converted all the cave like formations in the mountain as dwelling places of the Bhikkhu Sangha. And the whole area of Mihintalava became an abode of Bhikkhus.

From the bottom of the rock granite flight of steps were constructed for Bhikkhus pilgrims and visitors.

Ever since this memorable event Mihintale became the sacred centre of pilgrimage. Away from the sacred city of Anuradhapura by about 15 kilometres, the pilgrims paying homage to the Atamasthanaya - the eight sacred places of worship in Anuradhapura, trek to Mihintale at dusk.

After the fall of the Anuradhapura Kingdom and the plundering of the city by foreign invaders, many a time, the Bhikkhu Sangha took away with them books, sacred relics and other holy objects and went in search of cave dwellings for their protection until the advent of Sinhala Buddhist rulers.

The ordinary people, innocent and hapless drifted towards the Central and Southern Provinces.

Mihintale too became deserted, for several centuries Buddhists had to suffer in silence. During this long period, fauna and flora took the better part of the Sacred Mihintale the Centre of the dawn of the New Civilization.

In the twentieth century After the Common Era, Buddhists led by the Bhikkhu Sangha began focusing their dedicated attention to the Solosmasthana sixteen most sacred centres, Atamasthana - the eight most sacred centres of worship sanctified by the visit of Sakyamuni Buddha during His three visits to Lanka.

Mihintalava, a unique in itself, without being in those lists, maintain its predominance as a sacred centre.

Due to years of desolateness the trek of Mihintale was extremely difficult. The area covered by thick jungle. Absence of electricity rendered visit bare to the minimum. Gradually, clearing the jungle and making footpaths, cleaning the granite steps helped pilgrims to visit Mihintale but such visits were a few and far between some people who went their after dusk, carried with them torches made out of rags of cloth tied to wooden poles.

The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited - the Lake House group of papers in 1963 decided to illuminate the Mihintalava.

A generator provided electricity to the Mihintale Seya - the Dagaba which enshrined the sacred relics of Arhat Thera Mahinda.

That was the beginning of the Aloka Puja the Lake House offered to Mihintalava which has today created a new dawn not only in the people of Mihintalava but also everywhere across the country.

Every succeeding Poson Poya, witnessed a new venture organised by Lake House. For Lake House thought, the Aloka Puja is a punyakarma - a meritorious deed. It must accompany something more tangible to be realised felt and enjoyed by the people who should be provided with information, education, knowledge and above all must be made to enjoy a happy peaceful and harmonious life - which is Central to the teaching of Arhat Thera Mahinda.

In 1989, school children were selected from within the area - numbering 125 in all and provided them with clothes to dress themselves on Poya days to observe Ata-Sil-Eight precepts.

The 125 Upasaka and Upasikas were provided with the morning meal, a soft drink, the forenoon dana and refreshment - gilanpasa in the afternoon.

An oratorical contest was organised for school children in the North Central Province.

The girl who was adjudged the First Prize winner, two years later won the First Prize in the islandwide oratorical contest held by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress in 1991. In order to improve, develop and encourage the art of writing, an islandwide Essay Competition was organised from the same year.

In 1990, the Kammalakkulam, a Vidyalaya in Mihintalava received a donation of a Mini laboratory. As a result of the Lab, the villagers of Kammalakkulam started enjoying electricity. Their only road - the footpath was broadened and levelled.

At the opening of the Lab, streaks of tears poured down the cheek of the Principal when she was proposing the vote of thanks.

In 1991, the Dinamina-Budusarana donated a library building and several thousand books in all three languages - Sinhala-Tamil and English to the Mihintale Maha Vidyalaya.

Many donors provided lavishly to make up the Three Lakhs of Rupees needed for the project.

Among the donors of books were readers of Lake House newspapers.

Students in Colombo Schools joined Lake House in providing books. The Library had many novelties. The library has a Reference Section, Lending Unit, Audio-Visual Section and a Special Section for Maps and Atlases.

A library of this nature will transform the Mihintale Maha Vidyalaya as a Centre of education in the area.

The Aloka Puja started with a generator later joined by the Electricity Board providing electricity from the National grid.

The Lake House without enjoying the fruits of this labour of love alone, rallied round other institutions in sharing the merit.

The National Savings Bank, the Buddhasasana Ministry too extended their support. In 1992, a complete Maternity Ward was donated to the Mihintale Hospital which was the crying need of the day. A year later in 1993, a Dental Clinic was provided to the cluster school system in Mihintalava. In 1994, a carpentry workshop was set up at the Kurundankulama Vidyalaya, Mihintalava for those who have the aptitude in woodwork.

The absence of a Nursery School in the village of Katupota was filled with a Nursery School which the villagers expressed their total satisfaction.

In 1996, a Poson lantern exhibition and competition was organised along with an oratorical contest and an essay competition.

In this manner, all aspects of children needs were catered for, so that they would become perfect citizens of the country without being a burden to the society.

A new feature was a special Dhammadesana, in addition to the Dhammadesana by the Broadcasting services and Television, was very much appreciated by the people. In 1997, a Computer Training Centre was gifted to the Mihintalava Maha Vidyalaya. For the first time, Mihintalava witnessed the statue of Arhat Thera Mahinda in Mihintalava.

A Thai Bhikkhu the Venerable Maha Som Siam who offered extreme respects to Sri Lanka, organised the sculpting of the statue of Arhat Thera Mahinda in Thailand in bronze. Ven. Maha Som Siam was studying in Sri Lanka, he has visited many ancient and modern Viharas and Cetiyas. As a gift from the Thai Buddhists he brought the statue as an offering. A Viharage was built by the Lake House and the Seylan Bank. The Ven. Maha Som Siam is now living in Oslo, in Norway as a layman by the name Mr. Som Siam.

This Poson Poya Day, the Lake House Aloka Puja will be held for the 41st occasion. The Puja has become increasingly relevant for the occasion and also enhanced by its quality and the facilities provided to the millions of people converging on Mihintalava from the Pre-Poya day onwards and to the people of Mihintalava.

 

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N3.15    
Appeal of Buddhism in the West

Radhika Abeysekera


This paper was first presented at the University of Winnipeg's "Religions in India" class. It was modified and updated for presentation on August 2, 2003 at the Maithri Hall of the Mettharama in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Many many years ago, while travelling in Tibet, the 8th century Indian sage Padmasambhava made the following prediction; "When the iron eagle flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered over the earth and the Dhamma will go to the land of the red man" (the colour of Westerners or Caucasians was considered to be reddish pink by Asians).

We now live in an era of iron eagle airplanes and fast paced cars that have taken the place of horses on wheels while the Tibetan people are scattered all over the world primarily because of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. True to his prediction the Buddha Dhamma has spread from the mountains of Tibet and the forest monasteries of
Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma to the West. Buddhism is one of the fastest growing religions in North America, Europe and Australia. Buddhism has taken root in the West as ordained monks, nuns, and lay devotees from the West practise and teach the Dhamma to both Western and Eastern audiences.

What has caused this surge of interest in Buddhism from the Western World? While it would not be prudent to list one single cause I would like to begin by quoting some well, known Western monks who have adopted the Buddha Dhamma and dedicated their lives to the practice and spread of the Teachings. When Bhikku Bodhi was questioned on his opinion as to why Buddhism was becoming so popular in the United States of America he replied as follows:

"It is not difficult to understand why Buddhism should appeal to Americans at this particular junction of our history. Theistic religions have lost their hold on the minds of many educated Americans and this has opened up a deep spiritual vacuum that needs to be filled. For many, materialistic values are profoundly unsatisfying, and Buddhism offers a spiritual teaching that fits the bill. It is rational, experiential, practical, and personally verifiable. It brings concrete benefits that can be realized in one's own life; it propounds lofty ethics and an intellectually cogent philosophy. Also less auspiciously, it has an exotic air that attracts those fascinated by the mystical and esoteric".

Ajahn Sumedho, the Chief Monk of the Amaravati Forest Monastery, in the United Kingdom was asked why he chose Buddhism as his religion and path to emancipation. He said:
"What impressed me about Buddhism was that it did not ask me merely to believe. It was a way (path) where one was free to doubt. It offered a practical way of finding out the Truth through one's own experience rather than through accepting the teaching of other people. I realized that was the way I had to do it because it is in my nature to doubt and question rather than to believe. Therefore religions that ask one to accept on faith were simply out. I could not even begin to get near them."

Bhikku Bodhi and Ajahn Sumedo have given us a starting point for examining the reasons for the marked increase of Western interest in the Buddha Dhamma. However, to have a full understanding of this phenomenon including why it is happening at this point in time in our history we have to examine the nature and character of those that are adopting the Buddha's Path to Freedom. This examination would lead us to cause of the Western interest in Buddhism at a time when there is a decline of Buddhism in Eastern countries such as Korea and Sri Lanka.

Darren Nelson in his article, "Why is Buddhism the fastest growing religion in Australia? asks the question, "How is it possible that a 2500 year old philosophy, which began five hundred years before Christianity and one thousand years before the Muslim faith is relevant to modern life in Australia?" In answering his question he suggests the following: "It does not preach a dogma of a strange cult, nor seek converts with evangelistic fervour. Those Australians who actively convert to Buddhism do so voluntarily, and are usually well-educated middle-age professionals who are attracted to a sense of inner peace".

 

Jan Nattier in her article "American Buddhists: Who are they? confirms this socioeconomic assessment of the Western Buddhist, which she has termed Elite Buddhism. She claims that the American Buddhist is upper-middle class, well educated, financially comfortable and overwhelmingly of European-American constituency. Recent statistics and information seems to confirm this assessment. While 2.5% of the American population are of the Jewish faith 25% of the American Buddhist population were formally of the Jewish faith. The concentration of Jewish Buddhist then is 10 times more in the Buddhist population than in the average American population. In general Jewish Americans are well educated, financially comfortable and most definitely at the high end of the socio-economic scale.

In the last decade the Western media has also focused its attention on Buddhism. Several years ago the C.B.C. radio programme, Tapestry, announced that Buddhism was the fastest growing religion in North America. By the middle of 1999 The Dharma Web Ring was the largest religios web ring in the world with the highest number of daily hits.

America's fascination with Buddhism has spread to Holywood and been translated into such movies as Little Buddha, Seven years in Tibet, and Kundun. In October 1999, the Times magazine was titled, America's Fascination with Buddhism. It focused on celebrities such as Steven Segal, Tina Turner, Richard Gere, Adam Yauchand, Phil Jackson etc. who had all adopted the Buddha's Teaching and incorporated His teachings into their daily lives. His holiness the Dalai Lama who was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 has through his talks, seminars and publications brought the Buddha Dhamma to the forefront and made the Dhamma synonymous with peace and compassion.

What are the characteristics of the Buddhist philosophy that attracts well-educated upper middle class Westerners and celebrities?

Bhikkhu Bodhi acknowledged a fundamental change in society when he said, "Theistic religions have lost their hold on many educated Americans". With Western science's acceptance of Darwin's Theory of Evolution and the archaeological and geological evidence that dates the earth as being many millions of years old, many schools, universities and museums have updated their curriculums. Acceptance of creation in 6 days and an earth with a finite limited lifespan of a few thousand years has waned.

In the past it was believed that questioning God was a sacrilege, now many young Westerners have no qualms asking questions and they expect reasonable answers. These individuals are seeking a spiritual experience to fill the void left by the movement away from theistic religions and are drawn to Buddhism. They are finding in Buddhism, a religion that encourages questioning and experiential wisdom before acceptance. This is seen as a fresh breath of air by those who have analytical minds and see no merit in blind faith. Ajahn Sumedo summarised the need of these educated Westerner when he said; "Religions that asks one to accept on faith were simply out."

Modern man likes to experience and see things for himself. This has resulted in a great emphasis on meditation in the Western practice of Buddhism. It is only through inside meditation, Vipassana, that we can see for ourselves and experience the Truth of the Buddha's teachings. Preferring to see for themselves as opposed to gathering knowledge through learning, Western Buddhists have emphasised the importance of meditation and the development of the mind.

Whilst Eastern devotees have concentrated on developing spirituality through the practice of generosity and morality (infinite compassion and loving kindness to all living beings) our Western counterparts have surpassed us by using virtue as the foundation for mental culture and incorporating meditation in their daily life. As such the commitment of Western Buddhists is strong for they are Buddhists by conviction and they have experiential wisdom.

While His Holiness the Dalai Lama's charismatic personality and inspiring talks have made Tibetan (Vajrayana) Buddhism popular in the West, students of Ajahn Chah and Mahasi Sayadaw have introduced the Thai and Burmese Theravada Forest Monastery tradition to the West. Theravada Buddhism with dutanga practices in the forest
monastery tradition has taken root in the West as Western monks such as Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Geoff, Ajahn Passano and Ajahn Amaro head monastery's for Western monks and nuns.

Branch monasteries are now appearing in UK, USA, New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland, Australia and Canada. Ajahn Mun who reintroduced the forest monastery tradition in Thailand is recognised as an Arahanth as are his disciples Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Lee Dhammadaro and Ajahn Maha Boowa. These great contemporary disciples of the Buddha have shared their experiential wisdom with the West. This sharing has resulted in proving many followers with the opportunity to experience the truth of the Buddha's teaching through practice.

(The writer is an accountant living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Among her publications are: The Life of the Buddha, Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha, Questions and answers in Buddhism (Vol. I), Questions and answers in Buddhism (Vol. II), In the footsteps of the Buddha, Practising the Dhamma with a view to Nibbana.)

(www.bodhileaves.com)

 

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N3.16    
India’s Buddhists

Kalinga Seneviratne in Nagpur

IPS Asia-Pacific/ANN
 

MONUMENT: Ambedkar’s bust beside a figure of the Buddhist at the stupa in Nagpur

There is a growing movement to revive Buddhism where it was born.

Over 50 years ago, the author of India’s constitution, B R Ambedkar, set in motion a Buddhist socio-political movement which many believe is now ready to fructify through Mayawati, chief minister of northern Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

Both Ambedkar and Mayawati come from India’s so-called ‘untouchable’ caste, better known as Dalits (the broken people).

It was in this central Indian city that Ambedkar converted to Buddhism along with a million of his followers on Oct 14, 1956. Mayawati has not publicly disclosed her religious beliefs, but as a follower of Ambedkar, Buddhists expect her to make his dream come true — that of obtaining for Dalit Buddhists the right to be treated as equal citizens in the land of the Buddha.

Mayawati, who figures in Forbes magazine’s list of 100 most powerful women in the world, has already declared her ambition of becoming India’s prime minister and is expected to make her bid in the general elections due in the first half of this year.

"We were converted into Buddhists in 1956, but we still face a lot of discrimination, injustice and violence," said Devidas Ghodeshwar, talking to IPS in front of the impressive ‘Deekshabhoomi Stupa’ built here to mark the site of Ambedkar’s historic conversion, along with thousands of his followers.

The monument is built after the famous Sanchi stupa built in the third century by emperor Ashoka who renounced Hinduism to become a Buddhist. Thereafter, Buddhism flourished in India until the seventh century when it went into a slow but steady decline, mostly owing to a powerful Hindu revival.

Even as Buddhism spread to Tibet, the Far East and Southeast Asia, its followers in India suffered persecution.

However, Buddhism has continued to haunt India through the remains of impressive stupas and monasteries, sculptural art and through its many philosophical concepts and teachings such as non-violence. Other than Dalits (also called neo-Buddhists), sizeable communities of Buddhists continue to hold out in the Himalayan marches of the modern day states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh where they were pushed by advancing Hinduism.

In contemporary India, while attacks by Hindu militant groups on the minority Muslim and Christian communities have drawn the attention of the Indian and international media, atrocities on Buddhists go unreported, mostly because they fall into the lowest rungs of the caste ladder.

In September 2006, a family of Buddhist Dalits—45-year-old Surekha Bhotmange, her 18-year-old daughter Priyanka, sons Roshan and Sudhir—was lynched by an upper caste mob in Khairlanji about 30km from here.

On Oct 24, 2008 eight people were convicted for the massacre and six of them handed the death sentence. But Ghodeshwar says that was a rare instance of justice catching up on such atrocities perpetrated by upper caste Hindu fanatics.

Over the past few years, however, Buddhists have been quietly building up a political base from which to fight caste-driven discrimination. Their hopes have been raised by the rising political fortunes of Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which claims support from the poor and deprived in every caste and religious community. Many Buddhists believe that her political movement—which in many ways resembles US President-elect Barack Obama’s successful grassroots initiative—could propel her to the prime ministership of India this year, at the head of a grand coalition of the poor and deprived.

"There’s a good number of Buddhist members of parliament and in Uttar Pradesh and (western) Maharashtra states there’s a vibrant Buddhist movement,’’ says Dhamma Viriyo Mahathera, spiritual director of the All Indian Bhikku Sangha.

"Mayawati is working for all the people. So now, Muslims and Brahmins, day by day, accept that the Buddhists are the people of this country. They are good hearted and they can rule this country well,’’ added the monk, himself a former member of parliament.

In this central Indian city of over two million people over 60 per cent are believed to be Buddhists—though most live in squalid and crowded neighbourhoods.

One problem for the Buddhists is that the Hindu establishment does not accept their conversions or even that Buddhism is a separate faith system. Officially, less than one per cent of one billion Indians are listed as Buddhist, but most people agree that the majority of the 200 million Dalits of India follow the Buddhist faith.

"We have converted but still the Hindus aren’t accepting that we have been converted and they don’t understand that we belong to a separate group now. They refer to the Buddha as the ninth incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu and do not see Buddhism as a separate religion,’’ said Ghodeshwar.

"We are seen as part and parcel of Hinduism and this is also linked to our oppression and discrimination as Dalits,’’Ghodeshwar added.

Yet, there is a palpable air of confidence among Buddhists here.

Though they talk with bitterness about their treatment at the hands of high caste Hindus, they are also hopeful that change is on the way.

In the suburb of Kamla, which is a predominantly Buddhist community on the outskirts of Nagpur, though living in cramped conditions, a community leader introduced to IPS many Dalits who are lawyers, teachers, engineers and accountants.

Sadanand Fulzele, secretary of the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Smarak Samiti (founded to perpetuate the leader’s memory), agrees that Buddhist Dalits are now more confident than they were before. "I was myself converted to Buddhism along with Babasaheb Ambedkar," he told IPS. "Prior to conversion, those who were known as untouchables had an inferiority complex. But now, they feel they are no less than anybody. That’s a great change.’’

Yet, Buddhist communities, like the one in Kamla, rarely have a resident monk or a community temple. This is in contrast to most Buddhist countries where monks are housed and supported in monasteries or temples, because they are not allowed to earn a living.

"Buddhist communities here are still very poor," explains Fulzele, "We can’t build huge monasteries like in Burma, Sri Lanka or Thailand, where they follow centuries-old Buddhist traditions. We only converted 50 years ago."

Viriyo Mahathera is critical of Buddhist countries and organisations that contribute money to build grand temples in Buddhist pilgrim sites across India such as Bodhgaya—the place of Buddha’s enlightenment—but do not contribute to the upliftment of the Buddhists in India.

The monk, who resides in Bodhgaya, eastern Bihar state, says that while the provincial government has drawn up a master plan to attract investments from rich Asian Buddhist countries to develop the area, it has not associated Indian Buddhists with the plan.

"There should be a Bodhgaya development board where 50 per cent of members can be drawn from the (Indian) Buddhist community," he argues. "Monks and Buddhist people can then take active part in the development of Bodhgaya and create a Buddhist environment there".

Sulekhatai Kumbhare, a former minister in the state government of Maharashtra and a Buddhist leader here, argues that the number of Buddhists in India is not large enough to effect political changes. ‘’We need to get the support of other communities. But Hindus think that because we left their religion we cannot be friends,’’ she says.

29 01 2009 - The Island

 

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N3.17    
Barefoot Buddha on the dusty road
 

In the Anguttara Nikaya there is a passage (PTS ipp. 33-4) wherein the Buddha observes that India is a country in which beautiful parks, pleasant groves, attractive landscapes, eye-catching lakes etc. are few and far between, whereas steep precipices, unfordable rivers, dense thickets infested with thorns stakes and inaccessible mountains are quite in plenty.

This observation of the Buddha looks somewhat contrary to the impression one would get when reading the story of the Buddha in India as found in books. In this latter case it would be an impression that the Buddha found a countryside quite pleasing to him in all aspects just mentioned.

But, what the above statement conveys is that the Buddha had to face challenging setbacks in his walking tours which was his method of spreading the Dhamma he had just discovered.

Mainly during the first twenty years of his public ministry he walked barefoot thousands of miles along the highways, by ways and footpaths of the rough-earthed Gensetic Valley in preaching and teaching thousands of men and women the way along the spiritual path of Nibbanic freedom.

Although horse-driven carriages were in use at the time the Buddha never travelled in them. His last journey using a conveyance was the long night-trip on horseback with Channa in his Renunciation from Kapilavatthu to the further banks of the river Anoma - a distance of about 90 miles, from that time onwards he became a barefoot walker, which was quite a challenging exercise for a royal prince accustomed to ravel in comfortable horse-driven carriages or on well-trained horses.

As a voluntary ascetic renouncing the home-like he took one week's rest in the Anupiya mango-grove before walking to the city of Rajagaha about ten miles away.

After an alms-round meal and rest he next made another detour of about ten miles to meet Alara, Uddaka and other teachers at the time in Vesali. From there he walked another few miles before reaching the district of Uruvelva where a pleasant landscape on the banks of the river Neranjara captured his attention as the place suited to his
long and strenuous "struggle for enlightenment."

By walking these short distances of eight-ten miles in the undulating Indian landscape, the Buddha was training himself for travelling on foot very long distances in the near future after his enlightenment as a Buddha.

Accordingly, when he decided to become a religious teacher he had to undertake a long journey of about sixty miles from Buddhagaya to Barnasi in search of the Panchavaggiya bhikkhus for preaching the first sermon at Isipatana. This first long-distance foot journey after enlightenment he had naturally to do in stages but with none to accompany him, as he had not made any disciples yet.

Quite satisfied with his stay at Uruvilva, he set out on this first long-distance walking tour as the Buddha, when on the way he met his first admirer Upaka, who provided him with the opportunity to explain himself. He passed through Rohitavaastu, Uruwilva, Arunaalaya, Saarathipura etc and finally arriving at the banks of the river Ganges. He then crossed the river and arrived at Isipatana in the evening.

Here he met the Panchavaggiyas on the Esala full-moon day when the first sermon was preached. The first rains retreat (Vassa) also he spent here and spent an additional month as well. After despatching the first sixty arhant disciples on missionary work, also to be undertaken on foot-travel, he walked back to Uruvela converting on the way the thirty Bhaddhavaggiya princes. This was followed by the conversion of the Kassapa brothers and their followers. This was followed by the Veluvana Pooja at Rajagaha from where he next undertook the next long walking tour to Kapilavatthu, which was a distance of about 180 miles, which distance he covered in sixty days by walking three miles a day will his followers.

On the way it was a case of continuous conversions and admissions to the order resulting in the rapid increase of disciples. In a few days' time he was back at Rajagaha covering the distance again on foot. This time another important detour engagement was finding a solution to the triple dangers that infested Vesali, which he did by preaching the Ratana Sutta.

At Rajagaha the Buddha met the famous multimillionaire are Anathapindika, who had come there from far-away Savatthi to meet some of his relatives. He extended an invitation to the Buddha to Savatthi, his home-town. The Buddha complied with his request and his visit there, covering a distance of more than a hundred miles, resulted in the construction and the offering of the celebrated Jetawana residence to the Buddha, who spent the major part of his later life there.

The Kootagara Hall of the Licchavis on the way was another break-journey point of the Buddha on several occasions.

Even the Buddha's final trip from Rajagaha to Kusinara for his passing away at the age of eighty years was a fairly long trip which tired him quite heavily. Here too benefiting some person was the uppermost thought in the Buddhas' mind until he breathed his last at Kusinara.

Against this enormous amount of travelling on foot by the Buddha, another fact that needs our attention in the fast that he was a person of delicate make-up (sukumara) as he had been subject to two such delicate conditions as Khattiya-Sukumara and Rajasukumara - delicate both as a Khathiya as well as a royal prince. Yet, from the moment he gave up such delicate living and took up rough life of a wondering ascetic he seems to have conditioned himself to this new situation with great grit and determination.

This is certainly a highly admirable aspect of the Buddha's life, which seems to have not received the estimation it deserves.In performing all these tiresome tours of service to others he had a set plan for the nine months of active service. Usually his day was divided into five main parts: morning, afternoon, the first, middle and the last watch of the night. He had planned his time with a view to give the maximum service to the people without prejudice to his personal health or causing any inconvenience to others. Thus he rises early and decides as to whom should be serve on a particular day. After the decision he has his matutinal ablutions followed by the alms-round or Dane at a pre-decided place.

Next he would visit a selected person as is the case of Aggika or Kasi Bharadvaja and convert him.

It is also of significance that the Buddha had two kinds of service tours as hurried (turita) and unhurried (aturita). The former was a long-distance journey very often by telepotation for the benefit of a persons or a person needing sudden help like Alawaka, Angulimala, Pukkusata, Mahakappina etc. He used his Iddhi powers for travelling only on such unexpected situations needing immediate attention.

The Turita-carika are well-planned distant tours like those made to Kapilavatthu or Kusinara, which would last a maximum of nine months in view of the Vassa. Such planned tours are inevitably accompanied by other monks and would benefit a large number of people on the way.

As so far briefly shown, in the latter part of the 6th century B.C. Buddha was the most active social reformer in action in the gangetic valley or the Madhyadesa, embracing such thickly populated towns as Savatthi, Rajagaha, Kosambi, Kapilavatthu, Branasi, Gaya, Nalanda, Vesali etc. As the main centres of activity. The Buddha was shuttling to and fro amongst these centres depending on the way his services were needed.

Let us also not forget the fact that all through this heavy walking he walked barefoot and as observed in the passage quested at the beginning the India roads were neither like modern super-highways nor were they blessed even by McAdam, but rough and undulating cart-roads and foot-paths, at times strewn with thorns or stalks injuring the user's feet. The barefoot Buddha with his royal delicacy walking miles and miles along these dusty roads is surely an admirable spirit of service to humanity, standing as a glaring example to modern day bhikkhus who insist on luxury vehicles even to travel half-a-mile for a sermon.

dailynews.lk/2003/08/27

 

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N3.18    
China to mark 1,250th Anniversary of Chinese monk's journey to Japan
 

Yangzhou, Jiangsu (China) - Yangzhou, a scenic city in east China's Jiangsu province, will hold commemoration activities this November to honor Jianzhen, a prestigious ancient Chinese monk who made the landmark journey to Japan to spread Buddhism 1,250 years ago.

At the sponsorship of the Yangzhou municipal government and the Chinese and Japanese Buddhism associations, the event is intended to promote the Spirit of Jianzhen, a knowledgeable and devoted Buddhist in the imperial Tang Dynasty (618-907), according to a local government source on Wednesday. Despite five failed attempts, Monk Jianzhen succeeded in his sixth effort to reach the Japanese islands at the invitation of a Buddhist temple there. It took the monk 10 full years to succeed in his endeavor and, afterward, he spent the last decade of his life there spreading the Chinese culture and arts, such as Chinese painting, calligraphy, medicine, sculpture, architecture, printing and craftsmanship.

Jianzhen's work in Japan more than 12 centuries ago contributed to a great extent promote the growth of Japanese civilization. The noted monk has since been highly regarded as a friendship envoy for cultural exchanges between the people of China and Japan.According to organizers, more than 500 Chinese and Japanese celebrities from the spheres of politics, economics, culture and Buddhism are expected to participate in the commemorative activities including a seminar on the spirit of Jianzhen.

The Chinese and Japanese governments worked jointly to build the Memorial Hall of Monk Jianzhen in 1973 in Yangzhou, where the monk spent some time before leaving for Japan.

Buddhist News Network (BNN)
 

 

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N3.19    
Ven. Soma: Who Is Hiding Saddhatissa's Sel Lipi?

The following article is written based on an interview with Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera who is spearheading a
campaign to protect the Dighavapi.

 

In Sri Lanka efforts are made to erase traces of a past while in other countries every effort is made to protect sites of archaeological value.

In today's world where world organsiations such as UNESCO are working round the clock to protect the world heritage sites, it is indeed a tragedy that those in office do not feel it sufficiently important to preserve the country's history.

It was the British Government which demarcated the 585 acre boundary setting apart the sacred lands. Though they occupied the country, they did not have a right to distribute lands.

According to a chief priest of the Dighavapi Vihare, the total land extent is 12,785 acres. But there is no documentary evidence to support this. There is only one 'sel lipi' (stone inscription) remaining — a 'sel lipi' done by King Rajasinghe. But this has not much significance without a sel lipi presented by King Saddhatissa.

It is essential to find this 'sel lipi', which contains details of the land area belonging to the Dighavapi Vihare. King Saddhatissa also built a large number of chaityas in the area.

There is no reason for that 'sel lipi' to be lost. It had been there upto the year 1920. If it has been hidden that is a grave crime. If that 'sel lipi' is found, we will be able to prove the exact number of acres belonging to the temple because these two stone inscriptions have always been together. In those days they did not offer land to the temple in acre measures. It was from one hill to the next that people would donate lands.

I agree that nothing has been done within the 585 acres. It is beyond this that the encroachers have come in. In various parts of this land there are archaeological sites.

Although ruins and artefacts of many small chaityas are to be found beneath the ground, it is difficult to locate them as they lie far apart from one another and thus all of them will not be found easily. The 'avasa geval', houses occupied by the monks and 'dhana shala' were all located close to the chaitya.

However it has been revealed that Dighavapi chaitya had three parivara chaityas (smaller versions of the main chaitya built at a certain distance around the main chaitya). Going by this tradition, we should try to calculate the extent of land belonging to the Dighavpai vihare.

Another problem lies behind the proposed road running across the temple. We cannot say who is responsible for this. It is veiled in mystery.

The explanation given for the road construction was that it was for the use of pilgrims to the temple. It is now evident that the road is not leading to the temple. If the road was constructed to gain access to the temple it should stop at the temple. But this is not the case. Then where is this road leading?

Even in India, a country in which Hinduism is the majority religion, Buddhist places of worship are protected. They take an interest in locating and identifying these places of archaeological significance. It is a shame that Sri Lanka being a Buddhist country a similar interest is not in evidence.

On the question of resettlement of Muslim people, a process that began in 1997, was halted. Muslims must be given lands, but not right next to the temple.

Walter Rupesinghe

10 10 1999 - The Sunday Times

 

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N3.20     
Servants of the Buddha Society 90 Years Old

A beacon of Buddhism

Upali K. Salgado
 

Ninety years ago in 1922, and about thirty years after the famous Panadura Debate had with a group of Christian Weslyian Missionaries, which sparked off the Buddhist revival in Ceylon, there was born the well known "SERVANTS OF THE BUDDHA SOCIETY" at the MAITREE HALL, Bambalapitiya, where weekly talks were delivered to the public in English. It was several years after Sir Edwin Arnold KCIE, MA, a lover of India, opened wide "the windows of the spiritual East", with his celebrated publication THE LIGHT OF ASIA (over twenty editions have been printed), little realising that it would invite the intelligentsia of the West to visit India and Ceylon. Later, they had a better appreciative understanding of the noble Dhamma. The doors of the Maitree Hall have also been open for Westerners who know English, to come in and listen, to the noble Dharma.

The "SERVANTS OF THE BUDDHA SOCIETY" has been associated with several notable names of educated Buddhists. In the early years, it was the Ven. Naradha Maha Thera (a Preacher, author and missionary) and Ven. Kotahene Soma Thera (Victor Pulle, a born Roman Catholic) who was a "Master’ in the use and diction of the English language, Lawyer, Mr. G.P.J. Kurukulasuriya of Panadura, Popular, Ven. Piyadassi Nayake Thera of the Vajiraramaya, Hema Basnayake QC (later Chief Justice), W. Soysa of Joseph Lane, Bambalapitiya, Dr. Cassius Pereira (later Bhikkhu Kassappa of the Vajiraramaya Temple) and his son, the brilliant Crown Counsel Ananda Pereira, who gave life to the Society. This Society has an unbroken record of having delivered talks on Buddhism in English on Saturday evenings. Even during the World War II (1939 — 1946), I remember Buddhist activities were held unabated, despite there being small attendances, due to the fact that many citizens residing in Colombo had evacuated themselves to the Provinces. In more recent times, under the leadership of Alec Robertson and Rajah Kuruppu (both served as Presidents of the Society), activities livened up with "house full" attendances Another who served as President of the Society, was the late Dr. Gamini Jayakuru. The present holder of that high office is Dr. Kosala de Silva, a Pali scholar. A few notable speakers I recall are: Lawyer Siri Perera QC, Victor Guneratne (Rtd Public Trustee), Hon Gamini Jayasuriya, M.P., Amarasiri Weeraratne and Kalyani Tissa Gunewardena (both served as Secretaries), Prof. Chandima Wijebandara, Ven. Siridamma Maha Thera of the Vajirarama Temple (formerly Cyril Randunu, a Criminal Lawyer), Ven. Mirisse Gunasiri Maha Thera (MA), Prof. G.P. Malalasekera, PhD, Dr. (Mrs) Lorna Devaraja, PhD, Prof Dhamma Vihari (formerly Prof. Dheerasekera, PhD, a Pali Scholar) Bhikkuni Kusuma, T.B. Ratnayake, MA (a Pali Scholar and Educationalist), Asoka Devendra (Educationist), Asoka M. Jaysinghe and Prof.
Raja de Alwis, and Prof. Y. Karunadasa PhD.

In the early years, a journal titled "THE BLESSING" was published. "THE MAITREE HALL" building which is an imposing architectural structure was built by the father of Dr. Cassius Pereira. It is of unique design, much like in Architecture a Christian Church. Inside are heavy furniture. The frontage has an ornate freeze of distinct North Indian origin, associated with the Gupta period of history. The building was named "Maitree Hall" after Bhikkhu Ananda Metteya (an Englishman), delivered a well received lecture on Buddhism, in the early nineteen twenties.

A Board of Trustees and an annually elected Committee is responsible for administering the affairs to disseminate the glorious Theravada Dharma.

Let us remember -

"The gift of the dhamma excels all (other) gifts. He who destroys craving overcomes sorrow" - Dhiga Nikaya

29 10 2012 - The Island
 

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N3.21    
Moodu Maha Viharaya: The sun sets in the East for Buddhist temple

Mallika Wanigasundara, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 7, 2005



Muhudu Map

 

Pottuvil, Sri Lanka - He stood in the sands, a lonely figure, holding in his hands the offerings we had made to him. Alone and vulnerable he has dug himself into this hostile territory in a small ‘sanghavasa’ (abode of bhikkus) to protect and preserve an ancient temple on the beaches in Pottuvil in Eastern Sri Lanka. It is a one man battle against heavy odds.

Ven Kataragama Siri Ratana, the lone guardian of the historic Moodu Maha Vihara at Pottuvil, Sri Lanka

Pathetically isolated, incredibly neglected, the Ven Kataragama Siri Ratana, his robes blowing in the wind, stood there within what is known as the strict archaeological reserve of Moodu Maha Vihare at Pottuvil and watched our vehicle going out of sight. This is a story of courage, fearlessness and frustration. This is a Buddhist temple located in a predominantly Muslim area.

In recent years Moodu Maha Vihare has broken into the news , controversially no doubt, as marking the spot where the redoubtable Vihare Maha Devi was washed ashore, in her boat. She was the daughter of King Kelanitissa, who sacrificed herself to save her father’s people from the fury of the sea, says the legend. King Kavantissa married her and she became the mother of Dutugemunu one of Sri Lanka’s most heroic kings.

Moodu Maha Vihare is an ancient temple dating back to the 5th century, and it has to be protected as part of the Buddhist heritage in the east, which has come under obliteration in recent years.

The Ven Siri Ratana hails from Panchimaharamaya in Tissamaharama. It was his guru the Ven Tangalle Sri Sunanda Maha Nayake thera, Adhikarana Sanghanayake of the Southern province, who first studied the ‘Sannas patra’ (official document conferring authority) of the temple and traced the beginnings and history of the vihare. He came to this temple in the 1960s and built a small ‘avasa’ for bhikkus to live in.

Since then bhikkus have lived in this temple, but it was abandoned eventually due to the hostility of the environment, its isolation and the lack of Buddhist devotees who would help to sustain the vihare. As late as 1960 the whole temple complex was a mound buried under sand in an anonymous seascape.

Around this time the Archaeological department carried out excavations and unearthed three big statues, twelve tall pillars and several short stumps in a single grouping. Around the area are visible parts of pillars, walls, foundations steps buried under the sand. There is also an inscription which is almost totally effaced. This is all there is of this temple at present.

"I came here in 1996", said the Ven Siri Ratana. "The ‘avasa’ was built of brick but I had to get it plastered and colour washed with the contributions I got from pilgrims. I also built two toilets for visitors", he said.

The central Buddha statue could be about 10 feet tall and its head has been badly damaged. The head was stolen and the Ven Siri Ratana found that it was being used as a ‘liggala’ (stone for an open hearth). He rescued it and the head with the face partly obliterated has been put back on the body. The other two statues with their arms broken are believed to be those of the Bodhisatva Avilokiteswara and the goddess Tara Devi or of King Kavantissa and Vihare Maha Devi. They stand in mute determination amidst the ruined pillars and the fallen bit and pieces.

The Ven Siri Ratana leads a most incredible life of hardship and tribulation. The Buddha Sasana Ministry used to pay him Rs 500 a month some time ago.

Then it came down to Rs 300 and now it has stopped altogether. He lives alone, has to cook his own food most of the time, because the nearest Buddhist family lives about one and a half kilometers away. Pilgrims leave him food and dry rations. But food is the least of his worries, he says.

Pilgrims are few and far between for two reasons. There is no name board giving directions to visitors. The name board has been stolen. He has now got a donation to put up a name board and he hopes to do so. In addition the road leading to the temple has become narrower and narrower because encroachers are moving their fences further and further onto the road. As a result big buses carrying pilgrims are unable to drive up to the temple.

The temple is assailed not only by sea erosion by also by fast and furious human encroachment. The sea brings in loads of sand while the Muslim population of the vicinity is increasingly encroaching on temple land. Alas the Archaeological department does not do anything about it, even though in another part of the country a bhikku was arrested for digging a well and pits for toilets without the permission of the Archaeological department.

The Ven Siri Ratana explained the land problems of the temple property. According to the original ‘sannas’ the temple owned around 264 acres of land. It extended to the Arugambay road and the Arugambay lagoon, and went right up to Kodimarachchiya, where there is a mosque now.

In l965 according to a Gazette notification 30 acres, 3 roods and 2 perches were demarcated for the temple on the landside by the Archaeological department. People who had encroached were compensated and relocated.

But this was not for long. They came right back.

If it was not so exasperating and unjust it could even be funny. In 1992 the temple was given electricity and three posts had to be put up for the connection. Now one post is in the garden of a private house enclosed by a wall. So what can a lone bhikku do?

What happened in 2002 was not only bizarre, but totally unfair by the temple and the Buddhist public of this country. The Archaeological department confined the strict reserve for the temple to six acres and the balance 25 acres (allocated according to the 1965 Gazette notification) was demarcated from the seaside, in fact a sea reservation- a sand dune which the sea is eating away.

The temple has been dispossessed of its lands, and encroachers are occupying temple lands on the landside The temple had 20 acres of coconut; it has six trees now. The rest are in the ownership of encroachers.

The bhikku has complained to the powers that be and to the police. But of no avail. On the day before our arrival another new fence has been moved into temple land and he had to complain to the police. He has been asked to come to the Akkarapattu police station for an inquiry. Another cadjan fence has been built bang up against an ancient foundation very close to the ‘avasa’.

Not least among the annoyances are the politicians who urge the Ven Siri Ratana to leave. How can you live here alone? These are our lands. Go away, he is told. But he has dug himself in and he is determined to stay. I am here to protect this temple, he says. But I need the support of the Buddhist public to rescue the temple from its present plight, he says.

He has the following suggestions to make for the survival of the temple. He says:We want the land excavated by the Archaeological department so that more of the remains will be unearthed. Name boards have to be put up giving directions to pilgrims and the roadway to the temple has to be widened so that buses can reach the temple.

A pilgrims rest with basic facilities must be built, says the bhikku, in addition to a wall on the seaside. A museum has to be built to house the artifacts which have been dug up. They are still in the house of the watcher, he says. We have had the road s blocked, bricks and other items carried away and the statues damaged. A moonstone has been spirited away and some items were found in a well, says the Ven Siri Ratana.

Five Bo saplings have been planted here and all of them have been destroyed. I have planted the sixth, he says.He has been going to the police often enough, walking one and half kilometers to the main road. Nothing fazes him. He is determined to stay and preserve this temple.

It is never safe to leave the temple. When he went to Tissamaharama for four days to attend the funeral of his guru, the temple was stripped and everything was stolen, including the doors, he says. He has since replaced the doors. There are so few Buddhists nearby that there is hardly anyone coming to the temple even on a poya day. The partially exposed parts seem to reveal that in the past there was a large temple complex here.

This temple should not be left to its fate, as the Archaeological department is doing. The Buddhist public should band together to save it from total destruction.
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If you wish to help in the restoration of the temple, please contact:
Ven Kataragama Siri Ratana Thera
Moodu Maha Vihare,
Pottuvil, Sri Lanka.
 

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N3.22    
Ven Narada Maha Thera & the Centre Carrying His Name

Nan
 

A significant event took place on Saturday November 3 at the Narada Centre, Sarana Road, Colombo 7. The Narada International Buddhist Research and Information Centre, set up 20 years ago, was expanded to be a temple in addition to being a place of religious activity, an information centre and bookshop.

The idea of an international information centre and a place for Buddhists to gather on poya and other days was initiated by The Most Ven Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka Thera on land at the end of Sarana Road allocated by the then President, Ranasinghe Premadasa. The Centre set up in a house down Green Path, Colombo 3, was found to be wanting in space, hence the move. We were devotees of Naotunne Gunasiri Thera at Green Path and followed with our loyalty to the new centre. It was named to honour an illustrious monk who was head of the Vajiraramaya Temple and under whom Ven Madihe Pannaseeha would surely have been guided. The monk who took residence then - Naotunne Gunasiri Thera - is still head monk. Remembered by the audience and verbally by Ven Talalle Chandakitthi was the late Ven Prof Dhammavihari who initiated many new features. Ven Mettavihari who resides in the Centre is the chief propagator of Buddhist information worldwide through the website Mettavahini initiated and managed by him. Noteworthy also is the fact the Tripitaka was first computerized in Sinhala under the auspices of the Narada Centre.

A new Temple in Colombo 7

The concept of the Centre being expanded to include the three sites of Buddhist veneration: namely a vihara, dagoba and bodhi tree, was initiated by Ven Talalle Chandakitthi, incumbent of the Centre. The 2012 Katina Pinkama Committee consisting of 15 dayikawas and one dayaka were completely in favour of the proposal. Interestingly the monk and the group of lay people said the idea was first mooted by the other! We believe it was one of the Ven Chandakitthi’s visionary ideas. Under his leadership with the full cooperation of the Dayaka committee the building took off, wonderfully, one could say because funds, in millions, were soon pouring in. Three Committees were also associated in the undertaking: The Sasana Sevaka and Sevika groups and the Dhammadeepa Foundation. The foundation stone was laid on 21st February this year and now within eight months a complete temple elevated above ground level is to be seen and worshipped in. The Centre consists of three large halls, all filled to capacity on poya days. Now there is also a place for quiet reflection and meditation – a traditional temple. On the 10th, a bo sapling from Anuradhapura will be planted symbolically in a large bowl, reminiscent of the bowl in which Sangamitta Theri brought a sapling from the sacred tree in Gaya under which the Buddha gained enlightenment.

A further noteworthy feature is that both the architect and structural engineer – Tyronne Fonseka and Keerthi Ratnayake respectively – are Christian and gave of their expertise most willingly free of charge.

The ceremony on Saturday 3rd was a joyously religious celebration of opening the temple to public veneration. The first to venerate was the Most Ven Davldena Nanissara Maha Nayake Thera, Chief Prelate of the Amarapura Chapter. With him were the Most Ven Prof Bellanwila Wimalaratana Nayaka Thera, Most Ven Thirikunamale Ananda Anunayake Thera and many other monks.

Ven Bellanwila Wimalaratana Nayaka Thera in his address mentioned the fact that Ven Narada Thera to whom this Centre was dedicated is almost forgotten in Sri Lanka now, though he is much revered still and remembered with gratitude in countries to which he took the message of the Buddha more than fifty years ago.

Ven Narada Maha Thera

Ven. Chandakitti at the dhatu mandiraya

Hence my desire to include reminiscences of the monk in this article which brings to the notice of those who read this column the fact that a new and artfully designed temple has been built in a beautiful corner of Colombo 7 just across Sarana Road from the BMICH complex. In fact Ven Chandakitthi mentioned that when people came to pick him up for bana preachings or danes, their directions were: "past Otters Swimming Club". He wanted the directions changed to "that new temple!"

Ven Narada Maha Thera (1 July 1898 – 2 October 1993) was a new kind of monk in the Sangha ordained at the age of 18. By new I mean innovative while being completely traditional and observing the vinaya rules set down by the Buddha for his followers in robes. He did not have a traditional religious name; he dropped the place of his birth and thus, as he himself said, he was wrongly pointed out as being of low caste. Much he would have cared for such nonsense! Born in Kotahena, Sumanapala Perera attended St Benedict’s College and entered the Ceylon University College. He ordained as a samanera in 1926. He represented Sri Lanka in 1929 at the opening ceremony of Mulagandhakuti Vihara in Sarnath. Hence, here was a contemporary of Anagarika Dharmapala, two of the persons whom Sri Lanka and the world need to venerate for preserving Buddhism and making known the Buddha Dhamma internationally.

In 1934 Ven Narada Thera started his dhammaduta work, visiting India and subsequently Taiwan, Cambodia, Laos, South Vietnam - the first Theravada monk after 450 years to visit these essentially Buddhist countries. Visits to Singapore, Japan, Nepal and Australia followed. In 1956 he visited the UK and USA. He carried a bo sapling from our sacred tree to South Vietnam in 1960. "He popularized bana dhamma talks introducing Buddhism to the day to day lives of the westernized middle classes in Sri Lanka."

This I can vouch for. I was a kid barely able to sit through a bana preaching but we looked forward to Narada Haamuduruwo’s visits to Kandy and to the temple at Halloluwa Road. We attended a Christian school and studied scripture, sang hymns and all that and celebrated Christmas at school. At home Buddhism was of paramount importance hence our being taken for bana preachings in the closest temple. Ven Narada’s were interactive sermons. "How many of you children eat eggs?" Up shot our hands. "How many of you promise not to eat eggs after today?" Not many hands up this time. If I raised mine it was through sheer bravado. I was sure to break the promise the second time Mother served eggs for breakfast after his admonition!

He was the chief monk, along with Piyadassi Maha Thera, at Vajiraramaya Temple and thus oversaw religious activities at Visakha Vidyalaya. Before walking to the temple that short distance along Vajira Road or if he were to visit school on a sil programme day, Visakhians would place bets that he would mention dresses to be worn below the knee and eggs not to be consumed.

A personal anecdote is included here to show his great humanity and adherence to tradition. My brother had taken Mother and me to the Dowa temple in Demodara. After we’d made our offerings I challenged my brother to race up the stone hewn steps. I leapt up the steps, barely bending to pay respect to a descending saintly monk. Mother went down on her knees though the monk and she were on steps. My brother’s name was called – by the monk - who indicated we descend. A minor lecture ensued. "Both of you ran up the steps, leaving your mother to climb them on her own. She bowed low to me." We were contrite and took his reprimand in the correct spirit since we were wanting in our behavior. Aiya invited him for 11.30 dane the next day and so the monk arrived at 11.00, partook of the meal and preached to the workers close to the bungalow on that tea estate in Passara. Ven Narada was on his way to Buttala for bana preachings in this very poor District, knowing Buddhism needed to be interpreted to these remote living villagers.

The Dhammavijaya Foundation and the Maharagama Dharmayatana keep Most Ven Madihe Pannaseeha’s memory alive. As the head monk of the Bellanwila temple mentioned, Ven Narada and Ven Piyadassi are only in the grateful memories of the older of us Buddhists. They excelled in spreading the Buddha Dhamma in a most palatable and easy to understand manner to us and to South East and Far East Asia and to the western world. They were extremely modest, benign and merciful and felt very rightly that since Sri Lanka had a vibrant Sangha, they could best be of service taking the word of the Buddha to both Buddhist and non-Buddhist countries. They spread the Buddha word in writing too. Many were the books published by each of the two monks. I often dip into The Spectrum of Buddhism: writings of Piyadassi with a foreword by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Ven Narada Thera wrote many; I mention but three: The Buddha and His Teachings and Buddhism in a Nutshell targeting mainly the foreigner interested in Buddhism. Also many suttas in translation and A manual of Abhidhamma: higher teaching of the Buddha.

And now Ven Tallale Chandakitthi Thera is also immersed in the spreading of the Dhamma in a most interesting and catchy manner through his bana preachings and Thursday morning Sutta studies at the Narada Centre. He expressed certain disfavor at Buddhism being labelled a philosophy. True, he says there is much philosophy but it is at its core a religion. He is also immersed in social upliftment projects and help-giving programmes for less privileged outstation temples; oversees a residence in Polgahawela for very old and sick monks, helps build and equip schools and houses for poverty stricken families. He too undertakes foreign travel, when he can take himself away from his local commitments.

Blessed are these monks and we bow to them in reverence and gratitude.

11 11 2012 - Sunday Island

 

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N3.23      
81st anniversary of Mulagandha Kuty Vihara, Sarnath


The 81 anniversary of the Mulagandha Kuty Vihara, Sarnath, celebrated on Nov. 28, 2012 at 3.30 p.m. with the participation of Uttar Pradesh Governor B.L. Joshi (Chief Guest) and Sri Lanka’s Higher Education Minister, S.B. Dissanayake (Chief speaker). The event will be presided over by Justice V. K. Shukla of Allahabad High Court. The event is organized Maha Bodhi Society of India.

16 11 2012 - The Island
 

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N3.24   Nirvana — Behind bars

 

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The international News week magazine of 2000 September 18 carried the above captioned story authored by Sudip Mazumdar, in relation to a successful experimentation programme of meditation conducted at Tihar Jail, a Major Prison House in India.

According to Mr. Mazumdar, some of the hardened convicts who participated in regular meditation exercises conducted by acknowledged meditation masters had shown a marked improvement and reformed demeanour in their physical and mental behavioural patterns much to the appreciation of their officials.

In advanced countries, their prisons are generally known as Penitentiaries where the prisoners are treated in such a manner as to turn them out to be tractable human beings. In contrast, the space scope and trained staff —availability in our prisons leave much to be desired. However, the innovative and much thought-out meditation exercises introduced in the aforesaid Indian — prison house deserve approbation as exemplary reformative methods. Mr. Mazumdar has dealt with the steps taken to formulate a regular series of meditation commencing with its elementary stages to advanced Vipassana meditation forms. He has quoted examples of some of the criminally minded convicts who had by regular and committed meditation exercises reformed themselves to be normal human beings sans violence and vindictiveness. Of course, those who had not willfully cultivated the meditation practices could not achieve the desired result.

Our own prison welfare authorities too could emulate the good example set by the Indian authorities to conscientiously carry out such meditation programmes at least in the major prison houses and hope for the best in their endeavours.

The term used to identify the News Week story as "Nirvana" is a misnormer. "Regeneration of peaceful conduct behind bars" — or some such suitable epithet could have been used to name the story. By Nirvana what scholars specify is a lofty state of total — emancipation from all mental and physical defilements of the human entity where pristine purity of existence is envisaged or as some others believe, it could be a state of non existence of the generally known physical qualities.

Nirvana cannot be achieved behind bars in restricted cells without freedom for in-depth — religious realization. What has been achieved, in this context is the palpable softening of —an earlier violent conduct and the regeneration of some of the prison inmates — by means of limited meditation practices.

R.M.A.B. Dassanayake

24 11 2012 - The Island
 

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N3.25   
Cave where Buddha was offered alms found?
 

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Chief Incumbent of Sri Padha Temple Ven. Bengamuwe Dhammadinna Nayaka Thera yesterday said the Diva Guhawa or the cave where the Buddha was  offered mid-day alms during his visit to this country had been discovered.

The cave is located on the Nallatanni-Sri Pada road, about 100 m away from the historical foot print of the Buddha.

Inside the Diva Guhawa there is a stone inscription and a granite statue of King Nissanka Malla.

Sunil Shantha Weerasekera, Basnayake Nilame of the Maha Saman Devalaya, said that according to the inscription, King Nissanka Malla had visited Sri Padha to pay homage and there was evidence to prove that it was the location of the Diva Guhawa.

Gamini Bandara Illangatillake and Manura Sudath

10 12 2012 - The Island
 

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N3.26   Miracle on the Rock Face

Helasingha Bandara
 

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The Rambadagalla Monaragala temple is situated 20 kilometres off the Mallawapitiya Junction of Kurunegala, along the Rambadagalla- Ridigama road. At the entrance to the temple it does not appear that such a treasure is hidden a little further behind the rocky climb. After climbing a few hundred yards, without being aware of what is on offer, the traveller, the pilgrim, the devotee or whoever it may be, is suddenly faced with this magnificent creation of massive white granite statue of the Buddha, a miracle of the modern world, a beauty beyond belief. The awe inspiring sight of the monumental statue hewn out of the rock causes a similar feeling that visitors get when they come to the large main entrance of the Taj Mahal to suddenly wake up from their trances to see the amazingly gigantic white marble beauty in front of them.

The statue is not only a religious symbol but it is also a work of art, particularly as it is being carved out of the rock face by hand. The artists have been working on the rock to create this magnificent piece of art over ten years since 2002 and it is not finished yet. Its beauty, its fineness and the volume is unparalleled. It is the largest seated (Samadhi) granite Buddha statue in the world, measuring 67.5 feet in height including the pedestal and 67.5 feet wide from knee to knee. It is designed to emerge from a pond to be seated on a lotus, symbolizing the birth of Prince Siddhartha who later became Gautama the Buddha and his legendary on-birth walk of seven steps that were received by lotus flowers that sprang out from the dry earth. This master piece of art does not only belong to the Buddhists of the world, but to the entire world and thus should become world heritage. The world should not fail to see this most admirable miracle on the rock face while it is being carved out by hand.

The Bamiyan Buddha statues

The Bamiyan Buddhas were two 6th century monumental statues of standing Buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, 230 km (140 mi) northwest of Kabul, at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,202 ft). Built in 507 AD (the largest one in 554 AD), the statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art.

The two most prominent statues were the giant standing Buddha's Vairocana and Sakyamuni, identified by the different mudras performed. The Buddha popularly called "Solsol" measures 53 (174 ft) meters tall and "Shahmama" 35 (115 ft) meters - the niches in which the figures stand are 58 (190 ft) and 38 (125 ft) meters from bottom to top.

They were blown up with dynamite and destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were idols. Before being blown up in 2001, they were the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world (the 8th century Leshan Giant Buddha statue is taller, but the statue is sitting). Since then the Spring Temple Buddha has been built in China and at 128m (420 ft) it is the tallest statue in the world. Plans for the construction of the Spring Temple Buddha were announced soon after the blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddha's and China condemned the systematic destruction of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan. International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddha's, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues (Wikipedia).

The conception of the idea

The destruction of the Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley aroused sadness, anger and other sentiments among the Buddhists all over the world. Sri Lanka was no exception. At the Rambadagalla Monaragala temple, there was a gathering of children in May 2001. The subject was the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha statues. In response to a 12 year old child's suggestion to take revenge, the learned Egodamulle Amarapoli Thera, the incumbent nayaka Thera of the temple has said "true Buddhism does not encourage revenge or for that matter violence. It is a non-violent doctrine. Instead of thinking destructively why don't we think constructively? The world has lost an invaluable creation of art, a symbol of love and peace. Why don't we create something to replace the lost treasure?"

In the belief that the Monk meant creating a stone statue, the children collected Rs. 1,358 equal in value to about 7 UK Pounds (it has so far cost Rs. 40 mn equivalent of about 200,000 UK Pounds). The determination of the little ones, their desire and the devotion inspired the Venerable Amarapoli Thero to engage in a quest to create the world's largest seated Buddha on the face of the rock in the temple premises. The magnificent granite statue that is emerging on the rock face nearing completion is the result of the conception of that idea.

Non Buddhist contribution

The head monk's search for someone to create the statue became futile as there was no trace of the art of stone carving in Sri Lankan. The skills have long been disappeared from the island. During the past 800 years no statue has been carved on stone in Sri Lanka. However, the Venerable Monk was determined to find a way and finally he learned about the stone statue of Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god) in Ramboda. On a fact finding mission to Ramboda, he accidentally came upon Devanayagam Eassuwaren, the head of the Eassuwaren Group. That meeting was the catalyst of a series of meetings, both in Sri Lanka and in India that ended up with the finding of Muththiah Sthapathy, the main sculptor and his crew from southern India.

The statue was designed and the plans were in place when Nirupama Rao, the then High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, heard about it and contributed Rs. 2.5 million to start the work. The monetary aid from India was supplemented by both monetary and material help from the Sri Lanka government on a request from the late Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. The creators and the sponsors were all non Buddhists at least to start with. This is clear enough indication that religious intolerance is not something everyone condones. In fact the decision of the Maha Thera to create this monumental statue, instead of taking revenge upon local Muslims and the contribution made by the non Buddhists, give ample reason for the so called "saviours of Buddhism" not to engage in religious or race hate campaigns.

The cost

It is anticipated that another one and a half years of work is needed to complete the statue and its surroundings. Although this enormous task started with only Rs. 1,358 (7 UK pounds), it has so far cost about Rs. 40 mn (200,000 UK pounds). The initial estimates of the cost of the project were made more than 10 years ago. Due to the length of the project, the true cost has exceeded these estimates and at the moment, at least another Rs. 20 mn (100,000) is needed to complete the statute together with the surrounding esplanade including Greek Amphitheatre style steps for the viewers to sit and watch this treasured piece of art.

Miracle within a miracle

The constructors had to remove about a 70 feet by 40 feet block of rock to create a cliff for the artists to start carving the statue out. Starting from the face of the statue, the little team of 10 artistes has created this colossal statue with chisels and hammers. Once completed it would be another modern wonder, a miracle with unparalleled magnitude, fineness and beauty that the hand of the man has created. The world can visit and please their eyes and minds and concentrate on peace and love.

Sri Lanka boasts its heritage of stone art: Wishmitha galwaduwaneni oba hata apa naygethi novedo? (Are we not indebted to you, the miraculous stone mason?) Those stone masons have miraculously disappeared without a trace from this land. However, the past ten years have presented an unprecedented opportunity for Sri Lankans to learn the lost art. Despite the Maha Thera's efforts, no authority, University or any other institution has encouraged or sponsored any one to learn this finest of fine arts - it is a miracle within a miracle! Sri Lanka seems a miraculously unpredictable place on earth.

For further information and donations - Website: www.samadhibuddastatue.lk Email: amarapoli@gmail.com

12 03 2013 - The Island

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N3.27   Judge Weeramantry warns that 22nd century might never be

Neville de Silva in London
 

In a thought-provoking lecture Sri Lanka’s internationally-renowned jurist, academic and author, Prof. Christie Weeramantry warned that if the 21st continued in its destructive and bungling ways there would be no 22nd century. Describing the modern day as the most rapacious in history Prof. Weeramantry blamed the power of money, the power of science and the military for pillaging the earth.

He said that thousands of years-old religious teachings that called on rulers and the ruled to protect and preserve the environment and safeguard natural resources are being neglected or rejected, breaking the age-old nexus that existed between religion and human conduct.

A former Judge of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, a professor of law at Monash University in Australia and a justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Prof. Weeramantry was speaking to an audience of barristers, solicitors, law students and others in London last week on global religious wisdom as an enrichment of international law and an aid to the solution of current conflicts.The lecture was organised by the Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers in the UK and the Cordoba Foundation.

Referring to the world’s major religions- Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism- he said that the wisdom expressed by these religions and the religious leaders 3000-4000 years ago had anticipated today’s international law. Whereas the wisdom of those religions should have formed the foundations of international law and the conduct of countries and rulers, those wise words are in reality ignored or relegated to the background despite the lip service paid to religion. Prof Weeramantry also debunked the belief among some in the western world that international law was essentially a creation of the west. Such a conclusion, he said, is untenable because several thousand years earlier all major religions had reflected on and pronounced on a whole gamut of human activities.

Citing various religious teachings Prof. Weeramantry showed modern international law had already been anticipated by these religions which originated in Asia. He said that Hinduism had linked religion with international law in the most fundamental way when it foresaw that the future world would not be ruled by chakravartis or super rulers but by the “kingless authority of the law”.

He asked whether there could be a better description of international law than what Hinduism stated then. Even in the conduct of war at the time, there were strict rules that were followed. For instance, the farmers continued to till their fields undisturbed by warring parties because the laws of the time laid down that civilian life should continue unhampered by the clash of arms.

He pointed out that during the war between Rama and Ravana, sages of law held that weapons with great destructive potential should not be used as the victors had to live with the losers after the conflict ended. This showed the respect for human sanctity as well as the civilised ways of the day.

Even during Christian wars it was thought that weapons such as cross-bows were too cruel to be used. Such considerate teachings of religion later gave rise to the humanitarian concept of war. But modern science is getting out of hand as weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons and others of mass destructive capacity, continue to be made with scientists labouring under a misconception that they are above all thus causing numerous problems for society.

Prof. Weeramantry pointed out that Hinduism and Buddhism have taught so much about respecting the environment and duties of rulers to look after the environment and protect it. These two religions had also underscored the duties of the judiciary which was to “extract the dart of injustice.”

The Buddha’s noble eight-fold path was not only guidance for individual conduct but words of wisdom for the judiciary as well for it underlines the importance of right thought, right action and right mindfulness in making judicial decisions. He said in making judicial judgments it is important to have the right vision as the Buddha said and look not only at the letter of the law but also its spirit and the consequences of an action.

As an example Prof Weeramantry referred to the situation in Syria today and said whatever happens there in the near future, it is vital to think of the consequences of any action on future generations there. He said Buddhist teachings were of intrinsic importance to international law. So were the teachings of Islam and Islamic jurisprudence. He pointed out that the fundamental rule of western international law, pacta sunt servanda developed by Hugo Grotius in 1625 is also the fundamental rule of Islamic international law, based upon Koranic inunctions and the sunna of the Prophet.

Drawing on his experience as a teacher and an international judge Prof. Weeramantry lamented that the teaching of law today remained an arid discipline and appealed to the legal profession to help rebuild the bridge between religion and international law.

08 09 2013 - Sunday Times

 

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N3.28    Buddhist monks and politics

Rajah Kuruppu

 

A Private Members' motion has been tabled in Parliament by Wijedasa Rajapaksa, MP, 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 other Local Bodies. There have been much debate in the print and electronic media both in support and in opposition of the motion.

Much can be said for Buddhist Monks to keep away from political activities altogether. They have renounced the material life for spiritual advancement, where virtuous conduct and purification of the mind are of cardinal importance. In active politics it is a difficult task to subscribe to Right Speech, one virtue under the noble eight fold path. To please party supporters one would have to deviate from the refraining of falsehood. In a political debate one may have to speak against one's conscience for party solidarity and to please one's political masters. In the heat of political debate thoughts of ill will could arise when dealing with political opponents.

True objective

Monks who have renounced household life are expected to lead lives in accordance with the Dhamma and at all times have as their objective, the realization of Nibbana. The release from Samsara, the cycle of births and deaths, for all time. This is no easy task as they have to attain perfect moral conduct and develop the mind with bhavana or meditation as well as Sati or mindfulness of all activities - physical, verbal and mental.

In this connection, the advice given by the Buddha to his son Ven Rahula 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 impermanence, 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 refrain 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 Monks 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 such as housing and transport.

Victimized conditions

Once there was a physical attack in Parliament on Monks who were Parliamentarians by some lay MPs. 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, leading a life of politics 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 in the light of the Dhamma to the political leaders of the country. This was the role leading Monks and the Buddha himself performed in ancient times. 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 but to what extent they are accepted leave alone acting on such advice is doubtful.

Legislation to forbid Buddhist Monks from taking to active politics is perhaps not a satisfactory answer to the question. 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.

Moral standards

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. Opposition political leaders parade themselves as paragons of virtue when in opposition but when they acquire political 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 uplift 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 be an inspiration for laymen to live wholesome lives. By doing so the Monks would be performing a valuable religious duty.

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N3.29    UK Uni to ascertain Buddha’s birth site using latest technology

Saman Indrajith


Fossilised root samples found from the excavations conducted at Nepal’s Lumbini pilgrimage centre, considered the birthplace of the Buddha, were being analysed at the University of Stirling, UK to ascertain tree species there to find out whether it was the actual Sal (Shorea robusta) garden in which Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Prince Siddhartha.

Prof. Robin Coningham of Durham University, who led a team of researchers that traced the birthplace and childhood home of Prince Siddhartha, told The Island in an interview yesterday that the fossilised root and soil samples found from the dig were subjected to lipid tests known in the scientific world as gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to verify the tree species.

"In addition to the lipid tests, pollen samples found in the excavation site too are being analysed using palynological techniques. There are phytoliths, the silica bodies of plants too analysed for the same purpose. The phytoliths are the silica casts of plant cells or spaces between cells in plants that could help us ascertain the species of the tree of the root fossils.

The fossilised root samples were found at the centre of a wooden structure, hidden beneath the compound’s Maya Devi Temple. The wooden structure dates back to the Sixth Century BC making it the earliest Buddhist shrine to be found so far.

Prof. Coningham said: "Previous evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini went only as far back as the Third Century B.C. Our team of researchers excavated further down to find two previous shrines built on the same place in the same format. Below these layers there was a wooden structure covering a space kept open all the time, thus indicating that the structure had been erected around a tree. As we all know, the Buddhist literature says Prince Siddhartha was born under a Sal tree. There are hypotheses that this centre space had that particular tree, but we need more and more scientific evidence to come to that conclusion."

Coningham and his colleagues used radiocarbon dating and optically stimulated luminescence techniques to establish a time period for pieces of charcoal, grain, and sand found within the hidden temple.

Additional research confirmed the existence of tree roots beneath the structure’s open area.

Prof. Coningham said: "We are sure of one thing that is this place was used for ritual and the particular tree had been considered sacred and venerated by thousands of people who visited the place. The floor surrounding the venerated space had been worn out indicating that many had visited that place."

28 05 2014 - The Island

 

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N3.30    Shedding more light on a sacred site


Prof. Robin Coningham has been in the forefront of excavations in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, since 2011. Here he speaks to Chandani Kirinde on some fascinating new finds.

A heavily pregnant Queen Mahamaya was on her way to her parental home from the palace of her husband King Suddodhana at Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu. The palanquin bearing her had travelled for several days covering a distance of nearly 28 kilometres from Kapilavastu when the Queen decided to make a stop at the flower garden at Lumbini. It was here, under the shade of a Sal tree, that she gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama who grew up to become one of the greatest religious teachers the world has known.



Buddhist monks beside the Nativity image within the Maya Devi temple in Lumbini


Maybe accidental, maybe predestined, Lumbini, situated in present-day Nepal, some 300km southwest of the capital Kathmandu, thus became one of the earliest sites of veneration by followers of Gautama Buddha. Now many centuries after the birth of the Siddhartha Gautama, a group of archaeologists has begun to uncover some fascinating new finds that could shed light on early Buddhist activity in the area as well as identify a tree shrine which had occupied pride of place within the Maya Devi temple said to mark the exact place where the Buddha was born.

Among them, Robin Coningham, Professor of Archaeology at Durham University in the United Kingdom, has been in the forefront of the excavations which began in 2011 within the living temple at Lumbini. After nearly two years of intense excavation and analysis, he and a few of his colleagues have pieced together enough facts to give a rare and valuable insight into the structure and character of the earliest Buddhist shrines that pre-date the reign of the great Mauryan Emperor Asoka.

”Our excavations have shown an early delineation of sacred space within the Lumbini locality which shows Buddhist activity in the area before the reign of Asoka,” said Prof. Coningham who was in Sri Lanka last week to present the report on the findings based on excavations done in the Anuradhapura sacred city area along with Prof. Prishanta Gunawardhana, Head of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya. He also delivered two lectures at the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology on the findings at Lumbini and Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu in Nepal.

 

Prof. Robin Coningham

The findings are fascinating because, even though the majority of sites relating to the life of the Buddha have been identified, excavations have failed to expose settings earlier than around the third century BC, the time of the reign of Emperor Asoka who was the greatest patron and propagator of Buddhism and ruled large parts of India about 300 years after the passing away of the Buddha.
At Lumbini, like at other major Buddhist sites, it is the Asokan temple and Pillar marking the place of the birth of the Buddha erected after the Emperor came to pay homage to the site around 245 BC that have been the dominant feature for nearly a century. Like other Buddhist places of veneration, Lumbini was lost to the jungles for hundreds of years with the decline of Buddhism in Northern India and was only accidentally discovered in 1896 by a group of British archaeologists when they found a rubble mound surmounted by a modern shrine to Rupadevi. It was later re-interpreted that Rupadevi was in fact Maya Devi, the mother of the Buddha.

Subsequently temples, monasteries and stupas were unearthed and Lumbini was restored to being a centre for pilgrimage for Buddhists. Its transformation into a living shrine also meant the place was made inaccessible for research for many years.

“Most of the archaeological finds in relation to Buddhism were made during the 19th and 20th century with the latter part of the 20th century witnessing a major increase in pilgrims to Lumbini. What people used since then as evidence to piece together the character of Buddhism is textual,” Prof. Coningham explained. Much changed after Lumbini was declared a World Heritage site in 1997 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and in 2011, a three-year intervention entitled “Strengthening the Conservation and Management of Lumbini” was launched by the organization to evaluate the presence of early archaeological structures within the Maya Devi temple for which Prof. Coningham and veteran Nepalese archaeologist Kosh Prasad Acharya were selected.

They were allowed to excavate under the Asoka temple foundation and once work started they began to unearth some of the hitherto undiscovered structures that lay buried within the garden of Lumbini for hundreds of years.

“We were able to identify the presence of at least two constructions below the Maya Devi temple built during the time of Emperor Asoka. The oldest was a timber structure dating back to around the 6th century BC and right on top of it, a structure made of large bricks dating to around 3rd century BC. We also found roof tiles and lime plaster during the excavations done in 2011 and 2012 suggesting that part of the structures were covered.”

The remarkable discovery was that the structures had been built exactly on top of one another and each of them had an open area at the centre of the building. They also found holes which are believed to have been dug to secure posts, in the open void below the brick temple.

Prof. Coningham who had based his PhD on extensive field work done in Anuradhapura said he used the findings of one of Sri Lanka’s leading archaeologists Prof. Senaka Bandaranayake for guidance. Bandaranayake, when faced with similar voids at the centre of shrines found in the island, had suggested that they represented bodhigaras or shrines around living trees. Taking a cue from this, Prof. Coningham believes that not only are the investigations at Lumbini providing the first scientifically dated pre-Asokan architecture at a Buddhist shrine but also potentially the first at a tree shrine.

With analysis now underway to ascertain the type of tree to which the shrine was built, Prof. Coningham is optimistic the findings could be indicative of a tree shrine and also point to the fact that ritual activity in Lumbini could have commenced either during or shortly after the life of the Buddha.

With a preliminary report on their findings made public, the Lumbini re-investigation team is preparing a detailed report to be finalized by next year. For Professor Coningham, whose ancestors lived and worked in India for several generations under the British Raj, being able to work in South Asia is a rewarding experience.

“The Buddha’s message of tolerance and nonviolence was used by Emperor Asoka to his great advantage. He realized that without sacrificing human life, property and money, he could conquer lands through nonviolence. It’s the enduring message of the Buddha we uncover with each new discovery we make about his life,” he added.

01 06 2014 - Sunday Times

 

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As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery.
We have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace.
The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as
anger and attachment, fear and suspicion,
while love and compassion, a sense of universal responsibility
are the sources of peace and happiness.

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