VESAK 2003

News Ticker



J7.01  Thoughts on Nibbana - According to the most authentic teachings of the Buddha...

J7.02  How the Buddha's Enlightenment changed the world's thinking - We celebrate Vesak...

J7.03  We need the light of the dhamma - Man has been defined a social animal.

J7.04  Some notes on dhamma - The following short notes on Dhamma are based on the words...

J7.05  Birth of the noble prince - Prince Siddhartha Gauthama, in his previous birth...

J7.06  The tree of enlightenment - Specially on Vesak poya day Buddhists...

J7.07  Rebirth - fact or fiction - From time to time cases of rebirth...

J7.08  How the Indian oral education system evolved in Buddhist monasticism

J7.09  Bodhisatta Setaketu's descent to earth - Four assankheyyas and a hundred thousand kalpas...

J7.10  The daily life of the Buddha - The Supreme Teacher, the Buddha indefatigably performed...

J7.11  The Buddha's approach to religious conversion - Buddhism as a religion is being assailed by a myriad of NGOs...

J7.12  Metta, a subline state of mind - Religion is the conquest of fear; the antidote for failure...

J7.13  Seeing things as they really are - Let us not wallow in samsara'smighty swamp...

J7.14  Puggalavada and Theravada Buddhist teachings - Upto the time of the 2nd Council 200 years after...

J7.15  ‘Turn around’ to the Dharma - I am an ordinary Catholic priest. I am no mystic...

J7.16  Buddhist opposition to animal sacrifice - The Buddha was against animal sacrifice...

J7.17  Buddhist stand on war - Buddhism from the beginning to the end is against war...

J7.18  Mind, Brain and Consciousness - Arguments which get us nowhere are often bedeviled by confusions...

J7.19  Writings of Nanavira Thera Pt1 - This is the first of a series of articles...

J7.20  The Buddha’s First sermon - Setting in motion the Wheel of the Dhamma








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J7.01  Thoughts on Nibbana

Prof. P.D. Premasiri

According to the most authentic teachings of the Buddha, descriptions of Nibbana are given to ethical and psychological terms. It is described as a state of moral purification, knowledge and happiness. The Buddha was interested in a positive characterization of Nibbana only to the extent that it is attainable in this very life. He did not attempt, nor did He think it profitable, to speculate on the after-death state of a person who has attained Nibbana. Suffering resulting from factors which are not within the power of the human will to avoid, such as old age, decay and death that we inherit with birth, all being instances of the transient nature of things, can, according to Buddhism, be totally ended only by ending the process of samsara.

Ending the process of samsara occurs with the eradication of greed, hatred and delusion, which is the same as the attainment of Nibbana. This signifies a radical, moral and psychological transformation of the individual amounting to a total elimination of unwholesome mental traits and the perfection of wholesome mental traits. This latter aspect of Nibbana has significant implications for the social life of this world.

Human suffering with the exception of that part of it which is brought about by natural material causes, is to a large extent a result of human action itself. Interpersonal relationships, particularly in terms of the workings of human social institutions are largely determined by the sort of individuals of which society is constituted. Harmony and conflict, war and peace, justice and injustice depend largely on the general moral standards prevailing in human societies.

The bulk of human suffering is, according to Buddhism, produced by human depravity. Violent and aggressive acts of war and terrorism, deprivation of basic human rights by dominant groups exercising political authority, drug addiction, alcoholism and sexual crimes are but a few glaring examples of social evils of the contemporary world. Buddhism sees these evils as rooted in greed, hatred and delusion, which are antithetical to the traits of character to be developed by those pursuing the goal of Nibbana. According to Buddhism, a person who is greedy, hateful and deluded, overcome by greed, hatred and delusion not only commits deeds which cause suffering to oneself and others, but also encourages others to behave as one does.

Buddhism believes that the cultivation of wholesome traits of character and the elimination of unwholesome ones by each individual is essential for the promotion of a harmonious social order. In so far as Nibbana involves the elimination of greed, hatred and delusion and the path leading to it is a progressive fulfillment of the ideal of perfection, the pursuit of the goal of Nibbana has important social implications.

If it is agreed that human depravity consisting of unchecked greed and hatred, fed by delusion are the universal causes of social conflict, suffering and evil, then one cannot deny the universal social relevance of the Buddhist concept of Nibbana for the betterment of the affairs of this world.

11 05 2003 - Sunday Times






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J7.02  How the Buddha's Enlightenment changed the world's thinking

Ven Pandit Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana
Chief Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain, Viharadhipati, London Buddhist Vihara in England

We celebrate Vesak which is traditionally associated with the Birth, Enlightenment and the Parinirvana of the Buddha, We, the Theravada Buddhists, consider the full moon day of the month of May as the auspicious day on which these three epoch-making events took place. Hence we celebrate those three events on that day in a very religiously righteous way and inspire ourselves to follow the path trodden by the Buddha.

The appearance of a Buddha indeed, is a very rare event. A Bodhisattva, that is a Buddha-aspirant, before taking birth in the human world in his last birth, first surveys whether the time is conducive to his appearance. What does this signify? This means Buddha-in-the-making wants to assure himself that the people of that time would be receptive to his message, which is about the predicament of human life (dukkha) and its cessation (nirodha). Surely there are times when people would not lend their ears to such profound teachings.

This is especially so at times when they are wallowing in gross sensual enjoyment, due to their ignorance of reality of things. At such times, when their eyes are covered with the dust of ignorance and their ears are plugged mainly with materialistic teachings, the admonitions of the Buddha would go unheard.

The 6th century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), India, specially the North-East, presented a suitable environment for the appearance of the Buddha. Then it was a beehive of religious activities with many a religious teacher attempting to analyse the problem faced by man and present remedial measures. There were the traditional Vedic Seers who presented their teachings claiming it to be the divine revelation. They posited the belief in a supreme Creator-Godhead and the efficacy of sacrifice to solve all their life's problems. This was called the way of action or sacrifice (karma marga).

Then there were the Upanishadic teachers who adopted a different approach. They were metaphysicians who believed not in a Supreme-Godhead but in a universal principle - a highly metaphysical concept. This they called the Brahman, the universal soul, the matrix of everything. As a corollary to Brahman, they metaphysically conceived of an individual soul, an Atman, which is a replica of the Brahman, believed to be residing in all beings. These Upanishadic sages believed that the key to solving the human problem lies in the realisation of the undifferentiated Brahman-Atman identity, which has to be attained through the path of knowledge (gnana marga).

There were yet others. There were materialists like Ajita Kesakambalia, skeptics like Sanjaya Bellathiputta, Fatalists or Determinists like Makkhali Gosala, extreme karma-determinists like Mahavira and so on. All these religious teachers had a considerable following. In spite of the diversity in their teachings there was also a sort of unity, for these teachings accepted some kind of an entity, a substance, a soul which they referred to as Atman, Jiva and so on and which some considered as metaphysical and therefore different from the body, permanent and non-destructible and when the others considered as identical with the body and hence, material and perishing with the destruction of the body.

Basing on these fundamental philosophical principle of externalism (sassatavada) and annihilationism (ucchedavada), they developed two distinct religious practices. One was the method of self-mortification (atta-kila-mathanuyoga) through which they tried to save the eternal soul (atta) from being imprisoned in Samsaric existence. The other was excessive self-indulgence in sensual pleasures (kama-sukhallikanu-yoga) through which they tried to shower happiness and pleasure on the soul, which they believed would get annihilated with the destruction of the body.

The people of the time were not happy and content with these teachings for they were not well focused and addressed to the real problems they had to face, both with regard to secular and spiritual spheres. So, the people were yearning for a more realistic, effective and practical teaching from a teacher who would dare to transcend the traditional approaches. Hence, the Buddha's advent to this religious scenario was most welcomed.

The Buddha was well aware of the human dukkha, both in its psychological dimension and its societal dimension. He well studied the analyses of these problems and the solutions presented to these by the contemporary religious teachers. His conclusion was that neither the analyses nor the solutions were right. He found that the analysis of human problems and finding solutions to them cannot be properly done by adopting theological and theocentric approaches.

These were the traditional approaches adopted by the contemporary teachers and their teachings, therefore, were aimed at encouraging the people just to swim with the current. Thus, prayer, supplication to gods, sacrifice, resignation to fate and so on were the solutions suggested by these teachers.

The Buddha discarding theology adopted psychology, instead of being theocentric He was anthropocentric. Through this non-traditional approach He understood the problems of man, how they are caused, how they could be solved and the way leading to their solution in a way never heard of before. His analysis enlightened him with regard to the truth that dukkha is not something thrust upon in by some external force, but our own creation and therefore lying within ourselves. From this He concludes that the solution too has to sought within ourselves.

Man was declared to be his own master, responsible both for his purity and impurity. The Buddha's thus enlightened knowledge went against the accepted pattern of thinking in the world about spiritual life. The Buddha Himself said that His is a teaching that is going against the current (patisotagami).

On the day of His enlightenment He was offered a bowl of milk rice by a lady called Sujata. Having had His meal He put the bowl into the river Neranjara, thinking if He was to gain enlightenment, then may that bowl go against the current - go upstream in the river. We are told that his thought came to be accomplished. Symbolically signifies the fact that the Buddha's teaching went against all the teachings of the day.

Let us now see, in what ways His teachings changed the established ways of thinking. The Buddha immediately after His Enlightenment uttered the following paean of joy (Udana).

"Through many a birth I wandered in this endless cycle

of births and deaths, seeking, but not finding, the builder of

the house. Sorrowful is it to be born again and again.

O house-builder! you are seen. You shall build no house again

All your rafters are broken. Your ridge pole is shattered.

My mind has attained the Unconditioned. Achieved is the end of craving".

Here the Buddha explained how rebirth entails suffering. Through many lives He wandered and suffered, and searched for the architect of this body (the 'house'). In His final birth, He discovered that the creator or architect was not an external being but was man's own internal nature. This elusive architect is Craving or Attachment, a self created force latent in all.

The discovery of the builder led to the eradication of craving by attaining Arahatship which in the above paean is expressed as the end of craving. Here it is firmly established that due to not understanding (avijja) the four Noble truths for so long, He continued in the endless cycle of birth and death. Now with the demolishing of the house, the mind attained the unconditioned state which is Nirvana.

The central philosophy of Buddhism is called paticca samuppada. It rejects the view that everything happens either due to a creator, or fate or chance or karma. Everything happens due to causes and conditions and the Buddha explained these causes and conditions. This doctrine of conditionality has been put in a simple formula as follows;

The central philosophy of Buddhism is called paticca samuppada. It rejects the view that everything happens either due to a creator, or fate or chance or karma.

When this is, that is (imasmin sati ideamhoti)

This arising that arises (imassa uppada idam uppajjati)

When this not that is not (imasmin asati idam nahoti)

This ceasing that cease (imassa nirodha idam nirujjhati)

Expounding the doctrine of Conditioned Genesis, the Buddha also put forward another revolutionary teaching.

This is that man has no Soul or Self, he has no lasting permanent entity. This went against the accepted teaching of the time. There is an entity in Indian philosophy called "Purusha" which is also known as "Prkrti". Some said that this "Purusha" or "Prkrti" is the source of the world and all in it.

This very same "Purusha" or "Prkrti" was introduced by some thinkers as "Brahman" or "Paramatman". Everything has originated from the Paramatman with a "Small Atman" in each of them. It is an entity which is eternal, unchanging, omnipresent and indestructible. Through realization of that eternal entity and individual becomes one with it. This is known as "Moksha" (freedom).

The Buddha, however, rejected the concept of both Brahman and Atman and put forward His own teaching of No Atman, or Anatta. What we call a person or an individual is combination of five aggregates; physical body, feelings, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness. But there is no self existing, ego-entity, soul or atman or any other abiding substance within this physical and mental phenomenon of existence or even outside of them.

The Buddha's teaching also had widespread effects on the structure of society encouraging people to question some of the assumptions on which that society was based, specially with regard to caste and status of women. He challenged the established system of social status what we call the caste system. According to tradition one could be born into one of four different castes - which were established in a hierarchical system with the Brahmins at the top, and the Sudras at the bottom.

People in the lowest caste were condemned to lives of misery and drudgery merely because of their birth. The Buddha vehemently opposed this assumption and said it was not one's birth but actions which determine whether one is high or low. The Buddha also did much to improve the status of women. In India at that time, women were attributed a very low position in society.

The birth of a daughter was considered a great woe and a man to whom a daughter was born would in all probability hold his wife responsible for such a calamity. The husband might re-marry to beget sons by another woman. A woman's duty was to serve man. She must be faithful and obedient and could suffer divorce summarily if she were quarrelsome or disobedient.

A woman played no real part in performing religious rituals or sacrifices, as she was regarded as spiritually inferior to man. She might be obliged to "make merit" by committing satipuja, or throwing herself onto a husband's funeral pyre.

The Buddha, however, opposed all this and spoke out in favour of giving women an equal place in society. Once the Buddha advised king of Kosala, to be free from prejudices about womenfolk which prevailed at that time and that some girls may be more worthy than boys; worthiness is depended not on sex, but on the development of good qualities.

Contrary to the belief generally held in India that women had no capacity to attain higher spiritual status, the Buddha encouraged them, accepting their ability and advocated the possibility of their spiritual advancement by establishing the Order of Bhikkhunis. Many of the Buddha's women followers, both as laity and those ordained into the Bhikkuni sangha achieved sainthood.

The above account clearly shows why Buddhism could be rightly called a teaching that motivated its followers to swim against the current, not to pray and supplicate external forces, but to engage in introspection, strive and bring a total revolution within.

15 05 2003 - Daily News






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J7.03  We need the light of the dhamma

J. P. Pathirana

Man has been defined a social animal. That man is an animal is admitted, not only biologically. We live in times when science and civilisation so called, have reached their highest pinnacle. Yet wars, war-crimes, militant-nationalism, religious-fanaticism, crimes within the same state, families-divided: all furnish proof that man is not only animal, but is social.

The age of problem, old as himself, since the day he took his first step, towards evolving into a social being, has engaged his attention. His attention to the problem was a reaction - not an action pure and simple motivated by self-interest but to protect himself from the unpleasantness resulting from unsocial behaviour.

Add to this struggle of opposing forces, the accidental interplay and byplay between individuals in society, developing un-anticipated and incalculable problems, bringing on the whole of mankind; appears to be an inextricable stranglehold. Scores of writers in the west have awakened to the disillusionment of religions, ethics, morality, philosophical systems with the acute pain induced by total war, brought to the life of every individual, as nothing in the past has been able to do.

They are furiously thinking. With great concern and earnestness and sincerity, they address themselves to the task. By longwinded and labyrinthine paths after traversing most interesting viewpoints, making discoveries, evolving fresh generalisations and rationalisations all arrive at a changing of heart and values, and a re-orientation of everything to suit the change. It may be thought that the change of heart they propose is a change of the individual to accord with a change of values and idealism.

What does this change of heart mean? Nothing more than fresh idealism will take place of old idealism, while the individual continues to regard himself as a separate entity, understanding the process of re-orientation in relation to the new objectives of idealism. The concept of separateness of the entity of the individual, introduces at the very nature of the sources of the new inspiration, the requisite element for the disintegration of the entire structure to be raised. The very concept of separateness of the entity is antithesis.

Antithesis - is conflict of each separate entity with other similar separate entities. This is reset under the disguise within the full gamut of old conflicts and their interminable coil of entanglements.

The individual when understood as an entity has naturally to set itself up in relation to the rest - that is in relation to society. If the individual is not understood as an entity, the antithesis between the individual and the rest falls away. The individual becomes incapable of considering himself as in opposite relations to anyone in any matter. Thus the conflict dissolves itself at its source or rather does not arise at all.

The absence of conflict gives rise to a state of affairs in which conflicts in reaction cannot arise. This begins a cessation, in absence of conflicts with individuals as they realise of a separate entity in their individuality. None of us is free. We are all and severely dependent on each other; cogs in the wheels of the great machine of civilisation which men have built for their own discomfiture. The word freedom for the individual, to think right, to act right and do right denotes much wider and deeper meaning that any other religious teacher or a scientist ever wished to stress.

There hails above all, the All-Enlightened, the All-Compassionate Buddha, who had been the greatest champion of freedom in deed, word and action. Is not every moment of our life a crisis, conflict, a tug-o-war, even during the moments of so called contentment and bliss. In contentment and bliss man struggles and wishes to maintain and continue that state.

There is an eternal conflict within the individual and man does not know how to get off this entanglement of conflict, unhappiness, misery and woe. No nation could progress unless it is disciplined, but discipline should be cultivated from within and should not be imposed by others. Discipline cannot be brought about by coercion and compulsion, nor by science, but by sincerely following a religion which stands for peace, purity and happiness. Today, more than any other time, we need the Light of the Dhamma, truth and righteousness and understanding to combat the many differences between individuals and nations. No man can live in isolation.

Men are dependent on one another. They must learn to live together in concord and amity, without quarrels, in harmony and unison, regarding others with gentle-looks of loving kindness, instead of the old indifference and fierce glare of unfriendliness and individual conflicts within man and radiate discipline, harmony and peace in understanding the individual with a very broad perspective and only this realisation when fully and completely established; will bring about a state of love in place of the state of conflict.

Nowhere has this universal kindness, or selfless love, been so clearly defined as in Buddhism. The commandment 'Love thy neighbour as thyself' is correctly speaking, vague and ambiguous, as every person loves himself in a different way and at times even very unreasonably. "Maithri" is that innermost wish that all living beings without exception, may be happy, free from pain and grief.

Thus the Metta-Sutta, the "hymn of Universal Love" forms in all Buddhist countries the daily-bread, the daily-prayer, being daily recited morning and evening by high and low, old and young and I should like to give here just those two verses of it, in which the whole is summed up:

"Just as a mother her own child,
Her only son, protects with all her might,
Just so one should t'wards all that lives
Develop one's own mind in boundless love
Unfold one's mind in all-embracing kindness,
Above, below, on every side
Unhindered, free from hate and angry feeling"

In the Buddhist scriptures, wherein so much boundless-love and kindness is mentioned, and so much tolerance is preached, it is quite evident that there is no place for any hatred or ill-will. Further, no Buddhist missionary or monk would ever think of preaching ill-will and hatred against so-called 'Unbelievers' Religious, national or political intolerance and hatred are incomprehensible to a people imbued with the real Buddhist spirits; and war, especially an aggressive-war would never be approved by it.

The Buddha, in addressing his monks: "robbers or murderers cut-off your limbs, and joints, and should you give way to anger, in that case you would not follow my advice".

For thus ought you to train yourself: "Undisturbed shall our mind remain, no evil word shall escape our lips. Friendly and full of sympathy shall we remain, with heart full of love and free from any hidden malice. And those persons we shall penetrate with loving kindness and thoughts, wide, deep, boundless, freed from anger and hatred".

This all-embracing kindness or 'Maithri' is something very different from the passive love of the lamb, beaten on one cheek, should also render the other one come nearer to the goal preached by the Buddha.

He would rather wish to make all other beings happy by leading them to virtue and wisdom, and showing them the path to deliverance from suffering. It may here also be mentioned that, since the earliest times, this all-embracing kindness or 'Maithri' has had a powerful influence on the Buddhist people in inducing them to build on all important high-roads; free rest-houses for the weary wanderer, put up stands containing pots with fresh drinking-water for the thirsty, provide food and drink for man and animal, build for both free-hospitals and distribute free medicines to all. In summing up we may state that, instead of having a pernicious influence on people - as so often alleged in the West-Buddhism is, on the contrary, of all religions in the world the best suited to improve and elevate the characters and manners of a people: it awakens the self-respect and feeling of self-responsibility of people and stirs up nation's energy.

It fosters spiritual progress by appealing to man's own thinking powers. It promotes in a people the sense of tolerance by keeping it free from religiousness and national narrowness and fanaticism.

It spreads amongst the people the feeling of the all-embracing kindness and brotherhood and keeps them away from hate and cruelty. In short it produces the feeling of self-reliance by teaching that the whole destiny of man lies in his own hand, and that he himself possesses the faculty of developing his own energy and insight in order to reach the highest goal which no God or Buddha can ever give him Hence, self-respect, self-confidence, comprehension, tolerance, all-embracing kindness, soberness of mind and independence of thought; these are some of the salient qualities created in a people by the influence of Buddhism.

And in the country in which such qualities predominate; peace and happiness will reign supreme and such a county will be a model to the whole world and will be paradise on earth.

15 05 2003 - Daily News






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J7.04  Some notes on dhamma

Kingsley Heendeniya

The following short notes on Dhamma are based on the words of the Buddha and the writings of Nanavira Thera. They are recondite but I have made an attempt to make them understood.

Words of the Buddha

1. This world is anguished, being exposed to contact (phassa). Even what the world calls 'self' is ill. For no matter upon what it conceives (asmi mana), the fact is ever other than that.

2. All things have desire for their root, attention provides their being, contact their origin, feeling their meeting place, concentration confrontation with them, mindfulness control of them, understanding is the highest, and deliverance is their core.

3. The four great elements (mahabhuta), bhikkhu, are the cause and condition for the manifestation of the material form (rupa) aggregate. Contact is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the feeling (vedana) aggregate.

Contact is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the perception (sanna) aggregate. Contact is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the determinations (sankhara) aggregate. Name and form (namarupa) is the cause and condition for the manifestation of the consciousness (vinnana) aggregate.

4. There are six classes of contact: eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact and mind-contact.

5. And what, monks, do you say are determinations? They determine the determined': that is why they are called 'determinations'. And what is the determined that they determine? Matter as matter is the determined that they determine. Feeling as feeling is the determined that they determine.

Perception as perception is the determined that they determine. Consciousness as consciousness is the determined that they determine. They determined the 'determined': that indeed, is why they are called 'determinations'.

Contact (Phassa)

From (1) and (4) above, it follows that all experience is due to contact. Contact is therefore contact between 'me' and things. It is the bane of existence. Sankhara (Determinations)

From (5) above, 'determinations' are things upon which other things depend. They are necessary conditions. Thus, feelings depend on contact; birth depends on craving; aging and death depend on birth. Determinations are one or more of the panc 'upadanakkhanda. This structure of arising (and ceasing) was the unique discovery of the Buddha stated thus: When there is this this is, when this arises this arises; when there is not this this is not' when this ceases this ceases'. The 12-factored paticcasamuppada formulation consisting of the basic sankhara is an example of this structural principle. It is the second noble truth. As traditionally understood, it is not a process or chain of causation.

Sabbe sankhara anicca

Reflection will tell you that it does not require a Buddha to tell us that all things in the world are impermanent. To understand it as 'All things (dhamma) are impermanent' would be banal. In Dhamma, aniccata or impermanence refers to things appropriated and regarded as 'mine'.

That is, things subjective. The focus of Dhamma is on arising and ceasing of dukkha. The Buddha is not concerned with the aniccata of things in general, in so far as they are not regarded as 'mine'. Secondly, the Buddha is not spoon feeding us. He wants us to make unrelenting (appamada) effort to understand the meaning of the Dhamma and not get hung up on words.

Thus his teaching is necessarily indirect, leading, 'to be experienced privately by the wise' (paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi). The deliberate phrasing here means, 'All things that determine other things are impermanent'. And when it is realized that these 'other things' - feelings - are impermanent, it follows that 'All things' - contacts - too are impermanent. In this way, sabbe sankhara anicca leads to sabbe dhamma anatta.

Sabbe sankhara dukkha

The first lakkhana leads (opanaiyko) to this second one: All things subjective and necessarily impermanent are dukkha. In short, the panc 'upadanakkhanda are dukkha. As sankhara, they are collectively and severally, impermanent. All experience, ipso facto, is dukkha.

Sabbe dhamma anatta

The third lakkhana is the most widely misunderstood because the Buddha suddenly omitted the word 'sankhara'. It is thought that the Buddha wanted the portmanteau word 'dhamma' to include nibbana. But nibbana is never referred in terms of 'self' or 'not-self' or 'existence' or 'non-existence'. (Further discussion of this point is beyond the scope of this article).

What the Buddha means is this: 'If you look for a 'self' in any dhamma, you will not find one'. The 'dhamma' refers to rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana. While they are sankhara, they can also be regarded simply as 'things' (dhamma).

(For more, see 'Notes on Dhamma' by Nanavira Thera, BCC, Nedimale, Dehiwela, Sri Lanka)

15 05 2003 - Daily News






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J7.05  Birth of the noble prince

Aryadasa Ratnasinghe

"A Unique Being, an extraordinary Man arises in this world for the benefit of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit and happiness of gods and men. Who is this Unique Being? It is the Tathagatha, the Exalted, Fully Enlightened One".

- Anguttara Nikaya

Prince Siddhartha Gauthama, in his previous birth as prince Vessantara, in fulfilment of the 'dana paramita' (perfection of generosity), gave away his two children Jaliya and Krishnajina to a brahmin for adoption, and his consort princess Madri to God Sakra (Indra), and after his death, he was born in the Tusitha heaven (the Realm of Delight), as Bodhisatta Setaketu.

To be born as a Bodhisatta (an aspirant Buddha), ten perfections have to be fulfilled, viz: 'dana' (absolute charity or generosity), 'sila' (morality), 'nekkhamma' (renunciation of all lustful desires), 'panna' (wisdom), 'viriya' (undaunted exertion), 'khanti' (forgiving patience), 'sacca' (absolute truthfulness), 'adhitthana' (determination), 'metta' (infinite love) and 'upekkha' (equanimity).

Tusitha heaven is the 4th of the 6 celestial abodes in the world of desire. According to Buddhism, all bodhisattas are re-born in this heaven, just before their last birth in the human plane, when they will attain Enlightenment and become a Buddha. According to Mahayana tradition, this heaven has an inner court and an outer court. The inner court is said to be of bodhisatta Metteyya (the coming Buddha).

When the time approached for the Bodhisatta Setaketu to descend to the earth, Sahampati Maha Brahma, along with the divine assembly, went to meet the Bodhisatta and said: "Kaloyam te Maha Vira uppajja mathu kucciyam" (Time has come, O Great Being! It is time for thee to conceive in the womb of a mother). Remembering his resolution to become a Buddha, the Bodhisatta, looked into the five principal signs ('pancavilokana'), viz: the time, the continent, the country, the mother and the family.

On the Esala fullmoon night (BC 624), the Bodhisatta Setaketu descended to the earth and conceived in the immaculate womb of Queen Mahamaya, the chief consort of king Suddhodana of Kapilavattu (now identified with Bhuila in the Basti district near Bengal, on the Nepal border. The queen being a very simple, pious and sober lady, observed 'atasil' (the eight vows of abstinence from (i) killing, (ii) Stealing, (iii) sexual behaviour, (iv) falsehood, (v) drinking intoxicants, (vi) eating food after meridian, (vii) dancing, singing, music, unseemly shows or entertainments, the use of garlands, perfumes, unguents to beautify or adorn the body, and (viii) using high and luxurious seats), and as the night deepened into the dark, she went into her bed chamber and fell asleep.

That night she had a queer dream. It was that the four guardian deities of the four quarters of the world (i.e., Dhrathrasta, Viruda, Virupaksha and Vysravana), came close to her, lifted her couch while she was sleeping, and carried her away into the foothills of the Himalayas, the gigantic wall of mountains in Central Asia. In Hindu mythology the mountains are highly revered.

Now, the queen bathed in the Anotatta Lake and having performed her ablutions, she sat down on the couch to rest and, thereafter, fell asleep. In a short while, a beautiful baby elephant, white in colour, holding a white lotus flower in its trunk, came from the northern direction and entered her womb from the right side. When she got up in the following morning, she was more surprised than alarmed over the unusual dream.

When the king became aware of the dream, he was impatient to know what it actually meant, and, at once, summoned the 'purohitha' brahmans, who were well-learned in interpreting dreams. They, in unison, said that the queen has conceived a son, who would become a 'cakravarthi' (universal monarch), if adopted to lay life, or if adopted to religious life, would renounce the world away from mundane pleasures. As the days approached her to deliver the child, she took leave of the king and left for Devadaha, to live with her parents as it was the customary practice.

On her way, with her retinue following, from Kapilavattu to Devadaha, a few miles away, and before she reached the destination, and while she was passing through the pleasure grove of 'sal' (Roshea robusta) trees in full bloom at Lumbini (now Rummindi), she developed labour pangs. With out moving a foot forward, she held the branch of a 'sal' tree, and in a few minutes the baby was born, without any discomfort to the mother.

Great was the rejoicing of the people over the birth of this illustrious prince. The ascetic Asita alias Kaladevala, hearing the news, rushed to the palace to see the newborn infant. The king, whose tutor he was once, happily rushed and welcomed the ascetic. After seeing the child, and foreseeing his future greatness, he saluted the babe with clasped hands.

Those born on the same day were Princess Yasodara, the Horse Kantaka, the Minister Kaludayi, the Charioteer Channa and the Maha Bodhi tree at Buddhagaya (Bodh Gaya).

On the fifth day after the birth of the prince, he was named 'Siddhartha' (from 'Sarvarthasiddhi' meaning 'All accomplished'). In accordance with the ancient custom, many learned brahmins were invited to the palace for the naming ceremony, and among them were eight distinguished men who were great soothsayers.

They, having examined the child, came to their own conclusions. Seven of them said that the child would become a universal monarch ('sakvitiraja') or a Buddha. The Brahmin Kondanna, excelled in wisdom, said that he would definitely retire from the world and become a Buddha.

The king, wishing the son to be a universal monarch, took all possible precautionary measures to ward off any ill-omen that would distract the prince from renouncing the world.

The child lived in the lap of luxury in three palaces befitting the seasonal changes. They were known as Ramya, Suramya and Subha, Having married to princess Yasodara of equal age, they both lived in all comfort and harmony, and enjoying the conjugal pleasures, within the walls of the palaces.

With the passage of years, truth gradually dawned upon the prince. His contemplative nature and boundless compassion for all living beings, did not permit him to spend his time in the mere enjoyment of fleeting pleasures within the palace. He said to him self "Cramped and confined is household life, a den of dust, but the life of the homeless one is as open as the air of heaven. Hard is it for him who bides at home to live out as it should be lived the holy life in all its perfection, in all its purity". (Majjhima Nikaya).

Once it so happened that when he went out of the palace, with his Charioteer Channa, to see the world outside, he came in direct contact with the stark realities of life given to suffering. He saw an aged man, as bent as a roof-gable, decrepit, leaning on a staff and tottering as he walked. Next, he saw a sick man, suffering and very ill, fallen and weltering in his own water. Then a great concourse of people constructing a funeral pyre.

With the passage of years, truth gradually dawned upon the prince. His contemplative nature and boundless compassion for all living beings, did not permit him to spend his time in the mere enjoyment of fleeting pleasures within the palace.

Finally, as the ideal, he saw a shaven-headed man, a recluse, wearing the yellow robe and walking slowly on the road. These four prognosticated signs ('satara-pera-nimiti'), increased the urge of the prince to loathe and renounce the world.

Leaving all behind, he stole away with a light heart from the palace at midnight, along with his charioteer Channa.

The two rode as far as the river Anoma, and having crossed the river, the prince handed over his robes and jewellery, and the horse Kantaka, to Channa, to be returned to the palace.

He shaved his hair and beard and, immediately thereafter, Brahma Ghatikara, disguised as a hunter came and offered a yellow robe to the prince to wear. The recluse Siddhartha, who once lived a luxurious life lacking nothing, now became penniless and leading a life of voluntary poverty.

The recluse now had no permanent abode. A shady tree or a lonely cave sheltered him by day and night, regardless of sun and rain. Bare-footed and bare-headed, he walked in the scorching sun and the piercing cold, begging for food. In search of truth as a panacea for the ills of suffering, he went to meet the distinguished ascetic Alara Kalama, and having dissatisfied with his teaching, went to meet Uddaka Ramaputra of equal repute, while leading an ascetic life.

A description of his ascetic life, undergoing the most terrific phases of austerities, is mentioned in the Bhayabherava, Succaka, Mahasihanada, Bodhirajakumara and Magandiya Suttas of the Majjhima Nikaya.

He gave up austere practices and having eaten the milkfood offered by Sujatha, he broke fast and led a moderate life, devoid of extreme asceticism, and making the great resolution, "Let my skin and senews become dry, let all the flesh and blood in my body dry up, but never from this seat will I stir until I have attained the supreme and absolute wisdom of Buddhahood".

After a stupendous struggle for six strenuous years, in his 35th year, the recluse Siddhartha became a Buddha, in the fulfilment of his great expectation. He came to be known as Buddha Gotama.

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J7.06  The tree of enlightenment

Specially on Vesak poya day Buddhists throughout the world pay homage to the sacred Bo tree at which the Buddha attained enlightenment and many people pay respect to this greatly venerated tree with the ardent hope of ensuring merit, health, wealth and prosperity.

Particularly on Vesak day Bo trees throughout the Buddhist world get a new lease of life when their precincts are cleared, well swept and decorated. No other tree receives the homage and attention as much as the Bo tree. As long as Buddhism flourishes in this world the Bo tree will continue to be respected and venerated by all mankind. The history of Buddhism informs us that Siddhartha attained enlightenment at the foot of a Bo or Pipal tree (Ficus Religiosa) and it is quite interesting to discuss why of all the rich flora in India this particular tree was chosen by him to achieve his noble aim.

The ancient Indians called the Bo tree Pippali or Asvattha, two Sanskrit words by which this tree was then known. It was no by mere coincidence that the Buddha chose the asvattha as the tree under which he should attain enlightenment. Even before the birth of Buddha there were many ancient traditions that placed this tree at an exalted position. Some of these traditions are found in Vedic literature and even archaeological finds of the Indus Valley civilisation bear evidence to this fact.

Certain discoveries madeat Harappa show that the Bo tree was held as a sacred tree by the Indians even during the time of the Indus Valley civilisation. From time immemorial people used figures of the Bo tree for both decorative and religious purposes. Even today in far flung places such as Bulgaria the Asvattha or Bo tree is regarded as the 'Tree of Life', specially in their folk lore.

These facts clearly suggest that from the ancient times and even before the birth of the Buddha, much importance has been attached to the Bo tree and many people sanctified it. Sakti Gupta in 'Plants, Myths and Traditions in India' mentions "In the Gita (Bhagavad Gita), the tree is supposed to typify the universe. This perhaps is because the figs of the tree are eaten by birds and its seeds pass through the alimentary canal of the bird unharmed and take root at most unimaginable places like the roof or the walls of a house or even on another tree. The root, after going into the crevices of the house or even into the bark of another tree becomes visible".

There is no doubt that the Bo tree with its multitude of constantly fluttering foliage has been the focus of admiration of the ancients.

Throughout the centuries specially the Asians have considered this tree as a symbol of dynamic life and deeply venerated it. For several centuries the Bo tree has been considered as an auspicious and lucky sign that brings an air of serenity to its environment.

In all probability Prince Siddhartha who was influenced by the extraordinary importance attached to the Bo tree selected this tree to give Him shelter when attaining Buddhahood.

It was only after the Buddhas enlightenment that this tree came to be known as the Bodhi or Bo tree. Earlier to that its popular name was Asvattha.

Since Buddha's enlightenment this tree became to be identified as a unique symbol of the Buddha and specially after his death the Bo tree became symbolic of his presence. Even during Buddha's time the Bo tree became to be representative of the Blessed One and the Buddha himself recognized the adequacy of the use of the Bo tree as a fitting symbol to respect him in his absence.

Sri Lanka has a very long tradition of Bodhi worship beginning with the introduction of the Sri Maha Bodhi to Anuradhapura. Subsequently the entire line of its offshoots plants at various places throughout the country commanded the respect and veneration of millions of people.

From the earliest times wherever a Bo tree existed the Sri Lankan Buddhists sanctified that place and safeguarded this tree with much care and devotion and at times upheld it in awe.

History has it that Kign Devanampiyatisa requested Emperor Asoka for a sapling of the great Bo tree at Gaya for transplanting at Anuradhapura. Sangamitta Theri who visited Sri Lanka for the express purpose of introducing the Order of Bhikkhunis brought a Bo sapling along with her and it was received with much pomp and pageantry.

From that time this tree as well its offspring that were planted at various religious centres throughout the island were deeply venerated. there is no doubt that the Bo tree or the Tree of Enlightenment was the first tree to have been tenderly cared for and venerated by all sections of society. During the ancient times in Sri Lanka the cutting down of even a branch of a Bo tree was severely punished, at times even with death and the wrath of the Gods.


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J7.07  Rebirth - fact or fiction

Andrew Scott

From time to time cases of rebirth have been reported particularly in the Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka and it is interesting to delve into the history and philosophy of rebirth. The idea of rebirth or reincarnation simply means whether a being has lived before in some other bodily form and whether that being would do so again after death.

The idea of rebirth appears early in the history of philosophy. References to it are found in the Vedas of ancient India and it forms a central part of Brahmanism and Buddhism. The belief in rebirth is of considerable antiquity dating back to the writings of pherecydes. In ancient Greece many philosophers such as Empedocles and Pythagoras taught reincarnation and Plato made it an important assumption in his philosophy. Other philosophers such as Hume, Goethe and Schenpenhauer have accepted the idea of rebirth or have expresses a sympathetic interest in it. Eminent writers such as Walt Whitman, Longfellow, Swinburne, Rudyard Kipling, James Wood and Ibsen and renowned philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Hume, Goethe, Seneca, Pythagoras and Plato believed in the idea of rebirth.

The ancient Greek writer Herodotous tells us that "The Egyptians were the first to teach that the human soul is immortal and at the death of the body (the soul) enters into some other living thing then coming to birth". Prof. Ducasse who investigated the famous Bridey Murphy case wrote: "The transmigration of souls was a part of the Jewish esoteric mystical philosophy known as the Kabala, the origin of which is very ancient, apparently antedating the Christian era." He further states that "In some civilisations it is considered unfortunate to remember the past life.

Others favour such memories or take them for granted. In some cases the reincarnation recall of young children fades as they grow older; elsewhere adults seem suddenly to recall their previous lives including parents and relatives, favourite places and activities. The cases are as different from each other as fingerprints - no two are alike."

Reports of people who are able to recollect the experiences of their past existence flood in from all corners of the world. The Yorubas of Nigeria believe that when children mistreated by their parents die they are reborn over and over again within the same families and the Primbwe tribe of Tanzania believe in ancestral spirits who are periodically reincarnated within their families. Traditions such as these have been prevalent both during pre-historic and historic times of man's existence.

Martin Ebon, writing in "Reincarnation in the 20th Century" notes: "The belief in reincarnation today has many faces; children who claim to remember their previous life in a neighbouring village; pregnant women who dream of the person who is going to be reborn through them; a sudden feeling common to many of us 'I have been here before' and infant prodigies."

All rebirth reports are backed by numerous religious and philosophic traditions that suggest man's existence in a series of former rebirths. Most of these reports are intriguing and are presented with fascinating detail. The idea of rebirth has gained new emotional richness in our time and both scholars and laymen have begun to realize that it is a rich field of research, specially from the academic point of view while on the other hand, a belief held by so many distinguished thinkers cannot be brushed aside lightly.

Some amazing evidence for rebirth, which are too lengthy to be detailed here, have surfaced from time to time from many parts of the world. Sometimes there are child prodigies. How can we account for them? What makes a little girl or boy excel far in advance of the knowledge he has acquired in this world? Is it that they have been here before?

India has a wealth of evidence about rebirth and one of the most thoroughly explored cases is that of Shanthi Devi of Delhi, who at the age of about three years recalled details of a former life about 80 miles away from her home. Most of the statements she uttered were found to be true. Edgar Cayce's life readings form a fascinating study and they have helped to open the minds of the Americans to the mystery of rebirth. He made more than 2,500 stimulating life readings.

An illuminating case of rebirth in this century is the Bridey Murphey case, whose meticulous investigations resulted in the authoritative book "The Search for Bridey Murphy" which became a best seller almost immediately after its publication.

It is interesting to recall that many English poets too endorsed the case for rebirth and they mentioned about rebirth in some of their writings. These include John Masefield, Dante, Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Webster, John Milton, Henry Moore, William Blake, Thomas Moore, Percy Shelley, William Shakespeare, Edwin Arnold and Rudyard Kipling. Other poets such as Walt Whitman, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, John Dryden, Andrew Marvel, Alexander Pope, Samuel Coleridge, Mathew Arnold, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde and Walter de la Mare have supported the idea of rebirth. But no one is certain whether rebirth is fact or fiction.

(The writer's comprehensive articles on rebirth have been published in the local press and national and international magazines).

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J7.08  How the Indian oral education system evolved in

Buddhist monasticism

Dr. Gemunu Siri Gamage

This education was so much connected to Veda - the divine knowledge inherited by Brahamins - that the whole content of this education was known as 'Veda'. But mainly it meant "Shriti" literature which included Rig. Yajur. Sama and later on Atharvan Veda which included secular literature, covering grammar, music, poetry astrology etc.

Earlier the three Vedas included psalms to the deities and were supposed to be chanted at the sacrifices. The contents of them were called "manthras" which meant utterances. The whole literature of all four Vedas was brought down through teacher to pupil method orally. Although writing in India was known even during the period of Harappan civilization (circa 3000 B.C) it was never used for Vedic studies, thinking writing to be an unholy act. (Aittareya upanishud 5.5.3) So the only way of learning them was to take them in lesson form from a teacher by a pupil.

It may be interesting to probe into the procedure of this educational system. Firstly the pupil goes to the teacher and worships him. While the former is seated and in worship pose the latter recites the lesson, word by word and the former repeats after him until he becomes well-versed in the particular text. This stage of learning is called Udgrahana (taking from the teacher).

Then the pupil retires to a convenient place and learns by repeatedly reciting what was learnt by heart. As the pupil can recite alone what he has taken. This second stage is called Swadhyaya (self learning). When he feels confident of his absorption the pupil goes back to the teacher and recites the lesson in front of the teacher.

With the approval of the teacher the lesson comes to an end. By then the pupil has attained the required state of study and is called Apta (the attained). Hence what is learnt also was Apta and it was considered as holy scripture related to godly endowments. It was supposed that whenever the Apta or Shirti (the heard) was chanted the gods were attentive to it.

These beliefs led to the practice of Swadyaya to be a devotional act. It was to be done before dawn in an auspicious hour. The chanter should be seated on darbha grass which was considered to possess a religious value. However, the Apta could have been forgotten unless it was practiced daily. So the past learning was recalled during the hours allocated in the daily routine for Swadhyaya.

In this mode of education one can observe that the whole system remained teacher oriented and faith in him was considered to be the most important factor. The teacher was called "gurudeva" (teacher god) because he transmitted the divine endowment of knowledge to the pupil. Buddhism from its inception is known to be advocative of liberal thinking, going against dogmatic faith and casteism. Among the Buddha's teachings.

Kalama Suttra is constantly quoted in this context. The fact that in the Buddhist Order all persons are given equal recognition and casteism is rejected should be clearly born in mind by an observer.

The Buddhist educational tradition had some independent features although it has stemmed from the age old Brahmic legacies. The deviation from the old path by Buddhists could be traced when we examine the Buddhist speciality compared to the Vedic tradition. The Buddha's teaching was a new doctrine not presented by any of the Vedic teachers and was contrary to it.

Its content being mainly the four noble truths, did not necessarily require a preliminary knowledge or rote learning of text to understand it. This fact is well manifested by Kondanna being enlightened at the first sermon - the Dhammachakkappawattana sutta which emphatically calls the dhamma as not been made to hear before (pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu) Assaji another disciple among the first five was consulted by Upatissa to know what his guru taught.

The answer was that he did not know much of the Buddhist teaching but could explain it as showing the cause of everything that derived from a cause. After a while Upatissa was able to grasp the meaning and entered the first step of realizing the dhamma - the doctrine.

Thera - Theri gathas - the psalms of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis testify that accumulation of knowledge was not a prerequisite to attain Nibbana the ultimate bliss in the Buddhist Order, because they were able to liberate themselves from sansara despite many of them being totally ignorant of the knowledge brought down through generations. These characters express their gratitude to the Master for showing them. The Truth. Even the educated ones having realized the Truth say that their knowledge was just intoxicating and not leading to realization (Kaveyyamatta Vicarimha pubbe).

By the third century after the demise of the Master the disciples were divided into several sects depending on diversities of opinions among them regarding the Dhamma. This trait was not common to Veda because opinion wise all Brahamins were unanimous of Vedic doctrine. The causes of entertaining different opinions among Buddhists. That became a legacy, also deserve close scrutiny.

Basically the Buddha's teachings were not based on verbal expressions and it did not require logical proof. In Kalama sutta the Master emphasised that the perception should not be based on logical, statement but could be caught through one's own experience only. (Ma takka hetu - Ma naya hetu). This factor has to be related to the history of education pattern prevalent among the bhikkhus to understand as to why the definitions given to the doctrine was so varied between the sects that sprung since the demise of the Master.

The philosophy that he taught was quite different from that embodied in Vedic literature. He preached against the caste system that prevailed in then society. Hence no individual could claim an heir to knowledge because one belonged to the Brahmin casts. Nobody was deprived of the right to access to gain supreme knowledge of Nibbana taught in the doctrine and all human beings were treated equally in the Buddhist order.

At time the Buddha made some of the disciples understand the truth without uttering single word but only through demonstrations. A good example is the episode of Nanda who after being ordained was obsessed by the thoughts of his previous female partner.

When the Master was informed by the other Bhikkhus about this. He showed him a partly burnt carcase of a dead she-monkey and immediately after that Nanda was shown beautiful she deities miraculously. The purpose of this act was to deviate the disciple from the line of thoughts of obsession and bring him to perceive reality. The result was he seeing the eternal truth. In the canon many such episodes are evident.

According to the commentaries Ajivakas were well-known for this type of behaviour. Some of the heresies referred to in the canon according to the commentaries are only verbal drilling. Amaravikkhepavada - one of them is explained as just verbal negation of any question posed to such an arguer. For example the question is "Will an individual be born after death?" The answer is "He will neither be born nor be not born again". The Buddha clearly rejected such theories as null and void for the purpose of seeing the eternal truth.

In Anguttaa Nikaya pancakanipa a - saddhammawagga the Buddha himself has said". There are some Bhikkhus who present the meanings of the discourses in a wrong manner by giving definitions to the words as what is meant by the Master. "They are instrumental in destroying the Buddha's order". In Alagaddupama Sutta the Buddha has stressed that taking words with wrong definitions is harmful and compared such ones to the one who has taken the snake by the tail instead of taking it by the head.

With the expansion of the order it was not practicable to discipline each and every disciple by the Master himself. So the system with teacher (achariya) trainer (Upajjhaya) and pupil (antevasika) was approved.

The teacher was supposed to teach the pupils what was necessary for him to be in the order where vinaya rules were observed and dhamma was learnt and practised. Khuddaka Patha includes the basic texts that could be surmised as the contents of the monastic education of the initial stage. Beginning with the Tisarana Gamana (taking refuge in the Triple Gem) the book covers the ten precepts meant for the novices observatory meditations (pachcha vekkhana).

Ten concepts (dasa dhamma) that a novice has to think about very often, some parittas such as Metta Ratana and Mangala and ten questions and answers meant for the novices etc. etc. During a later period in Sri Lanka this book has been developed to Chatubhanavara Pali which is popular as pirith book. The fact that Kuddaka Patha and its developed form - Pirith book have been compiled with the purpose of learning it by heart by the novice, is an evidence to prove that throughout the history bhikku education was not compulsory for all monks equally and minimum of it would have been compiled in Pirith Potha.

Brahmanic Swadhyaya method was practised by Bhikkhus to maintain the dhamma with a liberal attitude towards it. This was started while the Master was living and consequently the onus of shouldering the burden of maintaining it was borne by the elders. Almost immediately after the demise of the Buddha.

The First Council was organised by them and arrangements were made to maintain the canon through rote learning and inheriting it from teacher to pupils. The canon was divided into three parts at the period of the Third Council (may be following triple vade).

Each basket had subdivisions as Nikayas. Palis or Pakaranas wherein still more divisions were included as waggas, niddesas, etc.

The vedic literature too was brought down in a similar manner, dividing it into various branches (Shakhas) in a teacher to pupil method of inheritance, using various protective divices as discussed above. Although one can, see the similarity between these two sections to my knowledge so far no observer has focussed the attention on the main difference of the method of maintenance of the Dhamma which caused division of chapters (Nikayas) among the bhikkus based on the definitions to the Dhamma.

The Chullawagga records an episode that seems to be very important in this regard. Two bhikkhus who belonged to the Brahmin caste. Hence well versed in swathyaya method have not been satisfied with the way the Bhikkhus practised the method for learning the Master's teachings. They went to Him and said "now the Bhikkhus are ordained from various castes and races. They learn the words of the Master in their languages corrupting the original texts. We wish to put your words into vedic form (chandaso aropessama) if the permission is granted". "The Buddha rejected the suggestion and said "Let them learn my words in their own languages".

The genesis of Dharanis itself marks a turning point in swadhyaya system, brought down by the Buddhist monasticism. In the process of rote learning brevity was essential and we saw above how Brahmins developed a sutra system for the same purpose. In Mahayanism long sutras were shortened while the former one existed and a short sutra was made with a lesser number of words. Again for the convenience of the user it was made more succinct as a dharani where the essence of the meaning was enshrined, according to the common belief.

Learning anything by heart in the manner the Brahmins did was not compulsory for the followers of the Buddhist order. The fact that the ultimate gain of attaining nibbana was achieved on the occasion of the first sermon itself by a disciple shows that learning in Buddhism meant nothing but understanding the truth. So it is crystal clear that to perceive the truth according to Buddhism, accumulation of knowledge was not necessary.

As the order grew on the necessity to store the knowledge of the doctrine was felt by the followers. This was reinforced by the word of the Buddha which emphasised that all who have perceived the truth should deliver the sermons to the people so that the others also could enjoy the bliss of nibbana. For this purpose the Bhikkhus had to follow the accepted form of explaining the suttas with definitions and within every sect there was uniformity of opinions in this regard.

There are strong evidences to prove that during the early period of the order Atthaka Parayana Gathas of the Dhamma were learned by the Bhikkhus by heart. The fact that they were in verse form suggest that the sermons were transformed to the verse form by the Bhikkhus so that they were recited and maintained easily. The bhikkus too should have had a swadhaya time in their daily routine. Both Theravadi and Mahayanist literatures give enough evidence to prove that sajjhaya (sans Swadhyaya) of these texts had been in vogue during the Master's life time.

Kalama Suttra is constantly quoted in this context. The fact that in the Buddhist Order all persons are given equal recognition and casteism is rejected should be clearly born in mind by an observer.

Panchakanipata of Anguttara nikaya speaks abundantly about the education system of Bhikkhus prevalent in the Buddha's time. It shows several stages of learning dhamma.

i) Pariyapunana

ii) Desana

iii) Sajjhaya

iv) Manasanupekkhana

Here pariyapunana should have meant taking the text from the teacher. Desana is discourse. Sajjhaya been similar to swadhaya in Sanskrit denotes the same learning process. Manasanupekkhana Inspection in mind is going further to perceive the truth stated in words.

Compared with the vedic way of learning this procedure has several conspicuous features. Only the first and third are common to both while second and the fourth are special features in Buddhist education system. The reasons for the difference in the traditional principles could be understood with a close examination of the matter.

The vedic system stressed the pronunciation due to the belief that to obtain the benefit of utterance - mantra - one has to say it in the approved traditional manner. Swadhyaya was also stressed it. But in the Buddhist way discourse and inner observation were necessary because Buddhism was meant to be understood and the bhikkhus were instructed to guide the laymen in the procedure compulsory. This description testifies for the fact that the monastic education was there at least for the younger disciples and that it was not a factor in achieving the highest goal in the order.

Sajjhaya Sutta of Sanyutta Nikaya gives details of retaining Dhamma in mind by the Bhikkhus of the Master's time. This particular bhikku used to recite what he learnt daily at night. A daiety used to enjoy listening to it and when the practice was stopped abruptly the daiety was disappointed and asked the monk reasons for it. The reply was "now I don't want to do it, because I realized the truth". This episode leads to the fact that this Sajjhaya method was followed with the aim of seeing the truth made explicit by the Buddha. Sangeethi Sutta of Digha Nikaya says that dhamma heard well, learnt recited in details and understood would lead to liberation.

The origin of Karaniya Sutta describes how the meditative monks in the thick jungles recited the sutta as a protective charm and got relief from the inhuman troubles.

According to the episode the Buddha had admonished them to learn the sutta and recite it on the eight days when the sermons were held. This suggests that listening to the discourses and reciting Dhamma had taken place concurrently and the custom was followed habitually. The other inference one can deduce from it is that desana and sajjhaya were too components in the learning procedure linked together.

In shriti literature practising the Shiksha - the pronunciation methods was compulsory. Moreover sama veda singing was practised in yagas - the sacrifices. So it was obvious that recitation as a part of education was practised in India under Brahmin system. Buddhist sajjhaya also could not have been devoid of this. So Bhikkus too had to follow a certain method of recitation although it was not mixed with musical instruments.

Most probably this would have been an imitation of vedic swadhyaya system at the beginning. In an episode cited in Chullawagga Chabbaggiyas were singing the dhamma texts and the laity against their singing.

So the Master prohibited it and allowed to utter dhamma with Sarabhanna (breaking the sound?). What this meant is not clearly stated so far. Any way a form of rhythmatic utterance with a prolonged sound should have been approved by the Master.

This sajjahaya method was organically combined with maintenance of dhamma because it was brought orally. Later on it has given birth to Pirith (Paritta) and the commentaries had to deal with the meter (watta) of proper recitation during a later period. (Chatu bhanawaratthakatha)

Finally one can come to the conclusion that the Pirith ceremony prevalent in Sri Lanka is a product of rote learning practice that was highly influenced by Vedic swadhyaya method among Brahmins. However, the Bhikkhus had developed a Buddhist identity in the process.

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J7.09  Bodhisatta Setaketu's descent to earth

Aryadasa Ratnasinghe

Four assankheyyas and a hundred thousand kalpas (i.e. innumerable span of geological time reckoned by aeons), there appeared in the world a fully-enlightened, omniscient and all-compassionate Buddha by the name Dipankara. At that time there lived a youngman named Sumedha, who had become the inheritor of vast wealth of his fore-fathers. He began to reflect on this great fortune, hoarded up from generation to generation, without making good use of it for the welfare of the world.

So thinking, he gave away all his wealth as charity and, a week later, he renounced the world and moved into the Himalayas to practise asceticism, devoid of all mundane pleasures. In the process, he attained the abhinnas (the 6 higher powers of supernatural knowledge consisting 5 mundane lokiya powers attainable by the perfection of mental concentration samadhi and the supermundane lokuttara power attainable through insight vipassana, and, in addition, the 8 samapatti (the attainment of the 8 absorptions of the five material and immaterial spheres, including the attainment of Extinction nirodha samapatti. Thus he was able to ascend to the heavens of the gods.

One day, the ascetic brahmin Sumedha, came down from the Himalayas to the city Amaravati, and he found that the people were busy decorating the streets and their homes. The ascetic Sumedha inquired from the people as to why they were doing so, and he was informed that Buddha Dipankara was expected in the city on that day. Now he thought that he should also show his reverence to the Buddha, by decorating a portion of the road. But, before he could do so, he saw the Buddha coming with a band of his disciples dressed in yellow robes.

Ascetic Sumedha resolved to offer his body to the Buddha to cross that muddy part of the road, by laying his face downwards and stretching himself lengthwise for the Buddha to walk over his prostrated body. The Buddha approached the ascetic, stopped and beckoning to his disciples, said "This holy man, if he so desires, may pass on to Nibbana, by becoming an Arhat (Saint), but if he wishes to become a Buddha like me, I prophesy that under the name of Gotama, he would be born in the Sakya family, and save countless millions of humans from the sorrows of samsara (cycle of rebirths).

The ascetic Sumedha now resolved to fulfil the ten paramitas (perfections), essential to become a Bodhisatta (Buddha aspirant) viz: dana (absolute charity), sila (moral perfection), nekkhamma (renunciation of sensual pleasures), panna (perfect wisdom), viriya (unceasing exertion), khanti (forgiving-patience), succa (truthfulness), adhittana (perfect determination), metta (loving-kindness) and upekkha (perfect equanimity). Charity

Sumedha, in his last birth as King Vessantara, the perfection of charity (dana paramita) was reached, when he gave away his two children Jaliya and Krishnajina to a brahmin, and his consort Madri to god Indra alias Sakra, the king of gods (devanam-indo). After his death, he was born in the Thusitha heaven as Bodhisatta Setaketu, where he stayed until the time comes for him to descend to the earth, in fulfilment of the initiation to become a Buddha.

Thusitha is the Heaven of Satisfaction, and the fourth of the six celestial abodes in the World of Desire. It is said that Bodhisattas are reborn there, before their last birth on earth, when they will attain Buddhahood. While dwelling in the Thusitha heaven, and when the time approached for the Bodhisatta to descend to the earth in human form, the gods spoke to him and solicited to take birth in India (the land of the Buddhas), for the salvation of mankind. Addressing him the gods said:

"Kaloyam te Mahavira uppajja mathukucciyam, Sadevakam tharayantho bujjhassu amatam padam."

(O Great Being! Time has come for thee to appear in the world and, hence, conceive in the womb of a mother).

In the Pali canon and the commentaries, the designation Bodhisatta is given only to prince Siddhartha Gautama prior to his Enlightenment and to his former existences.

The notion of Bodhisatta is, therefore, found in the Theravada (orthodox) writings where reference is found in the Jataka stories of the present Buddha Gautama. In the Mahayana (heterodox) tradition, the Bodhisatta ideal is rooted in the belief of future Buddhas who have long since existed as Bodhisattas. The present Buddha himself uses the term Bodhisatta in speaking of his previous births.

In keeping with the wish of the divine assembly, the Bodhisatta Setakutu, looked into the five great signs (panca-vilokana), before descending to the earth. They were the time, the continent, the country, the mother and the family.

He then found that the time was appropriate, that the best continent was Jambudipa (India), that the best country was the Middle Country, that the best family was the Sakyas descended from the Solar King Ikshvaku and that the best woman was queen Mahamaya of immaculate conduct.


The conception was marked by a prognosticated dream. It was that the four celestial guardians of the universe, came near the bed on which the queen lay asleep, lifted it up with her, and carried it away towards the Himalayas, and placed it by the Anotatta lake. She then rose to her feet, walked towards the lake, performed her ablutions, bathed in the cool waters of the lake and, thereafter, rested on the bed.

At that time, a young and beautiful young elephant, white in colour, and carrying a white lotus flower in its trunk, approached her from the northern direction and entered her womb from the right side of her body.

When she woke up, she was much alarmed than puzzled over the dream and, in the following morning, told about it to the king. Now, the king pondering over it, immediately summoned erudite brahmins learned in interpreting dreams, to ascertain what it was about.

These soothsayers unanimously told the king, "O King! Don't worry. The queen has conceived a son. If he were to keep to lay life, he would definitely become a Chakravarti (Universal Monarch).

If he were to renounce the world, he would, doubtless, become a Buddha. He was born under the constellation Cancer (Kataka lagna) and the asterism 'Visa' (Alpha libroe).


Ten thousand worlds rejoiced when the Bodhisatta Setaketu left the Thusitha heaven to be conceived in the immaculate womb of queen Mahamaya. Ten months later, when the time came for delivery, the queen, in keeping with the custom, went to her father's kingdom of Devadaha, accompanied by her retinue. As they approached the royal garden Lumbini (now Rummindei) and walking under the shady grove, pain of delivery came upon the queen. As she stood under a 'sal' (Roshea robusta), the future Buddha was born.

Then came four gods of the Suddhavasa heaven of immaculate minds (the Pure Abodes of 5 heavens, belonging to the fine Material World (rupa loka), the pure abodes being Aviha, Atappa, Sudassa, Sudassi and Akanittha. They received the child and placed him before his mother and said "Rejoice O Queen! A mighty son has been born to you." The child then uttered the words "I am the Chief, the Eldest in all the world."

15 05 2003 - Daily News






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J7.10  The daily life of the Buddha

"A Unique Being, an Extraordinary Man arises in this world for the benefit of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit and happiness of divine beings and human beings. Who is this unique being? It is the Tathagata, the Exalted, Fully Enlightened One."

(Anguttara Nikaya)

The Supreme Teacher, the Buddha indefatigably performed His unparalleled and remarkable service for the benefit of all beings. During His forty-five years ministry, the Buddha, the embodiment of compassionate being went from place to place, door to door, palace to poor shelter and prince to beggar. By performing His peerless service, He treated all people alike, without any discrimination and favour.

Even though the Buddha lived a busy and diligent life, He spent each and every minute of His days for the benefit of others. Accordingly, He planned and arranged His daily routine within five divisions, and on account of this daily routine and His careful classification of time, he was able to perform His significant service.

The great people of the world who served the global society fulfilled their unforgettable duties according to their own timetable without wasting the precious time. Even the sun and the moon appear on time and disappear likewise, though it is not a fixed time. Therefore, if someone wishes to practise the Buddha's teachings in their personal life, they should arrange and plan their work under a certain timetable in order to achieve their aspirations and goals.


The Buddha's daily routine was divided into five parts as follows.


The first was the Forenoon Session. According to tradition, early in the morning, the Buddha scrutinised the world with His divine eye to see whom He could help. If anyone was in need of spiritual assistance, He would go without invitation - often on foot, and sometimes by air using his supernormal powers - and reform that person by showing them the right path. As a custom and general rule, He would go in search of the vicious and impure, whistle the pure and well-cultured people would come in search of Him.

For the second session, called the Afternoon Session, after the noon meal the Buddha would take a seat in the monastery and the disciples would assemble to listen to His exposition of the Dhamma. Some disciples would approach Him to achieve a certain objective and learn the technique to make peace of mind according to their characters and frame of mind. Others would pay their due respects to the Buddha and would leave for their shelters to practise. After the Buddha's discourse or exhortation to His disciples, he himself would go to His private perfumed chamber to rest. If He so desired, He would lie on His right side and sleep for a short period with mindfulness.

In the evening, the lay followers of the Buddha would gather to Him to listen to the Dhamma. The Buddha would deliver a sermon to the people at a level that varied according to their capacity for comprehension, and would instruct them for about an hour. To the average person, the Buddha would at first explain and speak of generosity, morality and heavenly bliss. To the more advanced, He would discourse on the benefits of renunciation and the repercussions of sensual pleasures, whilst to the highly advanced, the Buddha would set forth the Four Noble Truths.


Following this was the third session. This period of the night continued from six o'clock in the evening to ten o'clock at night and specially and completely reserved for the guidance to the disciples. During this period, the disciples were free to approach the Buddha and have their doubt cleared, to question and catechize the Buddha on the entanglements and intricacies of the Dhamma. They would also obtain appropriate objects of meditation and listen to the Dhamma.

The forth session was the Middle Watch which extended from ten o'clock in the night to two o'clock in the morning, divine beings such as Devas and Brahmas who are invisible to the physical eye, would approach the Buddha to question Him on the Dhamma and get their doubts cleared.

The fifth session, namely the Last Watch, was the small part of the morning extending from two o'clock to six o'clock and was divided by the Buddha into four parts. The Buddha would spend the first part in walking meditation, pacing up and down, which also served as a mild and gentle physical exercise.

During the second part of the Last Watch, from three o'clock to four o'clock in the morning the Buddha would mindfully sleep on His right side.

In the third part, from four o'clock to five o'clock, He would enter the state of enlightenment and experience Nibbanic bliss.


In the final hour of His day, that is from five o'clock to six o'clock in the morning He would attain the ecstasy of great compassion and would radiate thoughts of loving-kindness towards all beings to soften their hearts and to assist them to get rid of suffering.

Thus, for the whole day, the Buddha was fully occupied with His spiritual duties. Unlike other beings, the Buddha slept for only one hour at night. In the morning at dawn, He conveyed thoughts of loving-kindness to the whole world and brought happiness to the millions of living beings. Leading a simple and a humble life, seeking alms without inconveniencing any, wandering from place to place except in the rainy period of the year, the Buddha spent His life delivering His teaching and performed His incomparable and unrivalled duties for the benefit and happiness of all living beings.

In this light we should now consider ourselves. How do we arrange and plan our duties and works? Generally we all prefer to spend our time freely, uselessly, pointlessly and unprofitably, and this may lead to disaster and tragedy here and hereafter. Thus, without letting it go, we should use our precious time wisely, seeking to curb tendency of our minds to dwell only on pleasurable objects. Negligence of time is laziness of person. All great philosophers, thinkers, social reformers and leaders both who have left the world, or are alive in the present, diligently serve the greater mass of humanity.

Some people postpone the duties that they ought to do for their children, parents and the rest of their family members, but we ought to contemplate our short lifespan. Since "life is uncertain, but death is certain", then concerning this natural phenomena of existence, we should perform all our duties for the benefit of others and under a certain timetable.

In every single moment, we step towards to meet and embrace the unavoidable and inescapable death. No one is responsible for us. Prime responsibility is the purification of the mind. Keeping this compulsory and inevitable question before you, with effort and determination we must make a peace of mind.

"Like a border city, guarded within and without, so guard yourself. Don't let slip this opportunity, for they who let slip the opportunity grieve when born in a woeful state."

(Dhammapada - 315)

Bhikkhu Horowpothane Sathindriya,
Mount Hermitage,

26 05 2002 - Sunday Observer






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J7.11  The Buddha's approach to religious conversion

At a time when Buddhists, and Buddhism as a religion and as an institution are being assailed by a myriad of NGOs and foreign based organisations hell-bent on converting masses to their new-fangled religions through material inducement coupled with religious hysteria, it is pertinent to note how the Buddha approached the idea of conversion. The following is a passage from The Flower of Mankind by Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda.

'The approach adopted by the Buddha towards other religions depicts his liberal and rational attitude and the absence of greed in his mind for power, recognition, or followers. When he was asked for his views on the teachings of others, never once did he ridicule them. Never did he claim that the followers of other religions would go to hell, much less did he condemn non-followers to eternal damnation. The use of reason and kindly persuasion rather than the threat of hell fire was his method of sharing the Dhamma.

One day a well-known personality who was a follower of another religion approached the Buddha with a few questions. After listening to the Buddha, he was convinced of the truth in the Master's words. Deeply inspired and moved, he very quickly expressed his desire to follow the teachings. The Buddha advised him not to be impulsive in accepting the teachings. The Buddha advised him instead to use his reason and investigate into the truth of the teachings before finally deciding to change his religion.

The Buddha in fact asked him thrice if he was really certain he wanted to change his religion and each time he said, "yes!"  

This story illustrates the liberal and rational attitude of the Buddha which is unmatched by any religious teacher before or after him. When asked if one should support the religious teachers of other faiths, he replied that it is an act of merit if we support anyone who is sincere even if he belongs to another faith.'

In another instance, when he spoke of the different realms of existence, the Buddha pointed out that in certain deva or celestial realms, are beings who have followed various religions while on earth. The common trait was that they were all good human beings. He didn't say the heavens were reserved only for Buddhists. This goes to illustrate the realistic approach of the Buddha's teachings. However, it must be noted that birth in the heavenly realms according to Buddhist teachings, is not the end all and be all; it is a happy existence no doubt but is still part of the samsaric cycle and therefore, after a very long spell in a heavenly realm, a deva can be born once again on earth or elsewhere as he is still subject to karma.

Sunday Leader - 6 May 2001 






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J7.12  Metta, a subline state of mind

 Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema 


Religion is the conquest of fear; the antidote for failure and death. The month of May is usually linked with religious observances for Buddhists all around the world who celebrate Vesak; the thrice blessed day.  

The teachings of the Buddha, although he lived and preached more than 2,500 years ago, are relevant even in this day and age and it is now, in these wholly corrupted and decadent days that we most need to adhere to his teachings.

Most Buddhists feel that a mere visit to the temple with their offerings make them true Buddhists. Or that if they observe the rites and religious customs at a wedding or funeral, then they are good Buddhists. But these rituals mean nothing if those who follow them, do not live the life of a good Buddhist. If he is not pure in thought, word and deed, or if he is not at least striving towards it, then he is not a Buddhist.

The essence of some of the last words of the Buddha was that the best way to respect him would not be by bringing flowers and worshipping his idol, but by following his philosophy to lead a meaningful and noble life.

But unfortunately, this is not practised by many Buddhists. Even so-called very religious people engage in unethical or at times diabolic acts with no thought whatsoever of the sin or paapa karma that it entails. Such people are the first to rush to temple on poya day. Maybe that is because they think by doing so their karma would be erased.

Buddhist philosophy places utmost importance on the mind which originates all our karmic activity, good and bad. Keeping the mind free of unwholesome thoughts isn't the easiest thing to do, but if you cultivate mindfulness and watch your mind and correct yourself when you go wrong, then that is a beginning. Metta or radiating loving kindness, the Buddha said, is one of the four sublime states of mind. The four 'sublime states' to which we all should aspire are known as the Brahma Vihara in Buddhist texts. They are the great signs of the Bodhisattva, who aspires for an end to the samsaric journey. Maitri is loving kindness radiated towards all beings, Karuna is compassion or mercy, the kindness shown to the suffering, Mudita is sympathetic joy, being happy for others, without a trace of envy and Upekka is equanimity, the ability to accept the ups and downs of life with equal dispassion.

In a discourse titled 'An Exhortation' by Sister Khema, she said, "Loving kindness must not be directed only towards what is lovable. To love that which is lovable is possible for anyone. It's easy. That is what all the romances, the movies, the novels, are all about. To love what is lovable is not the spiritual path but a worldly endeavour. The reason for loving kindness is because the heart has the ability to give; its purpose is for purification. But trying to understand loving kindness with the kind can never succeed. It has to be felt with one's heart. The heart has to be involved whole-heartedly for unless loving kindness is felt in the heart, the root of hate, dosa will remain."

Some people are nice and caring to outsiders, to friends and strangers, but the shocking truth sometimes is that they do not believe in the old adage, "charity begins at home." Some act selfless and sensitive to outsiders, but to their loved ones they can be extremely selfish and insensitive.

Then there are those who look down upon the lower social orders or those whose lineage may not be as 'high' as their own. Lord Buddha rose up against the caste system in India at a time when it was so deeply entrenched that the untouchables were treated worse than animals. The Buddha pointed out that it is not one's birth that makes him high or low, but his actions alone.

According to the Buddha's teachings, one's kindness and metta must radiate to all beings; not just humans but to animals and all sub-human states and the higher orders of the deva and brahma realms. Of taking another life, he said, all creatures cherish their lives; all beings fear harm and death. Take yourself as an example and do not hurt others, do not kill others. (beings)  

Being a Buddhist does not mean one has to live life as an ascetic who has renounced the world, but lead a decent life where you bring no harm to others, be it people or animals. Even following the five moral precepts, known as the pancha seela -- abstaining from taking another life, abstaining from theft or stealing what belongs to another, abstaining from indulging in sexual misconduct, abstaining from falsehood and abstaining from intoxicants -- could help a person live a noble life, being no hindrance to others. To go further, one may follow the noble eightfold path.

The four noble truths that the Lord Buddha taught were: Life is suffering (unsatisfactoriness); Suffering is due to attachment; Attachment can be overcome; and, There is a path to ending suffering. This is what all Buddhists must aspire for -- putting an end to misery, suffering, ignorance and desire -- by following the noble eightfold path and ending the samsaric journey.

Sunday Leader - 29 April 2001 







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J7.13  Seeing things as they really are

 Let us not wallow in samsara's mighty swamp

Leslie Dahanaike

If one were to name all wordlings as madmen, such a person runs the risk of being dubbed a lunatic himself. Who actually is a lunatic? According to the dictionary definition of the word, a lunatic is an insane person, that is a person whose mental faculties are deranged -- a person whose thoughts, speech and actions are foolish and insensible, a behaviour, for various reasons, which does not conform to the generally accepted norms. Such a person could be a potential danger or even a menace to society and therefore is usually confined to an asylum.

Struggle for existence

It has been found that the behavioural patterns of these persons varies, according to the degree of lunacy in them. Human beings could be categorised as lunatics and the whole world a lunatic asylum because man in his struggle for existence and in the rate race for living, by and large, cannot see things as they really are, enmeshed as he is in the web of his own craving which is personified in life itself in its manifold aspects.

Man or homo sapiens has been given the highest place in the animal kingdom because of the supremacy of his intellect. This is the characteristic which distinguishes him from the lower animals. He is a being with intelligence, comprehension and powers of reason, a so-called rational being. But what is rationality after all? It is the power to rationalise or reason out things. And this power has its limits. What is beyond the ken of human understanding and rationality is generally not known nor is one generally bothered to know because of the limitations of one's intellect. Insight and penetrative wisdom may thus be mere words or concepts to individuals who have not grasped the truths of existence -- birth, old age, decay and death, even intellectually, let alone realise these concepts by the inward process of mental cultivation or meditation as we call it.

And grasping the truth is not easy. It is very, very different, according to the Buddha. And one is generally content to live one's whole life span without even attempting to find out, understand and grasp the truth. Most of us cannot find the time for such pursuits, being caught up in the business of living our day-to-day lives. This is because we are not wide awake or alive to the suffering around us. We let the idea pass or gloss over it, not even giving a thought to find out why we are suffering or think of a way of escape from it or ending it, engulfed as most of us are in our own pleasures or pre-occupied with our own avocations. We have neither the time nor inclination to take a took at ourselves because we are so absorbed in our evanescent joys or engrossed in our fleeting pastimes. Why is this so? The Buddha gives the answers. It is because our eyes are covered with 'dust' that we cannot see. We are blind and therefore not alive to the truth.  

If one has a surfeit of pleasure or one is blessed with life's 'goodies' in abundant measure, one can be insensitive to the suffering around him. One can even develop a calculated indifference to it. The very thought of pondering over suffering could be sorrowful and, therefore, could be avoided or shut out, if such a thought arises in one's mind: Instead, pleasurable thoughts and sensations which could make one even momentarily happy are usually pursued with relish.

Wordlings are mad, because of the very fact that they are worldlings. They are accustomed to pursue pleasure in varying degrees every moment of their lives. Pleasures have a variety of manifestations and could mean all kinds of sensual joys, intellectual satisfactions, lust for power, wealth, position, fame, carnal delights, satiating the artistic appetites or whetting the literary palates, in fact, anything or everything that satisfies one's egocentric craving.

Bounded by the senses

The world of non-worldlings or arahats, the saintly ones, is the world that has transcended the senses and therefore unbounded. Like the limitless sky or the unbounded space in the vast cosmos, it reaches out to eternity. It is, therefore, timeless and ageless.

The world, as we know is the world bounded by the senses. There is no other world that a worldling knows except this world. The world of non-worldlings or arahats, the saintly ones, is the world that has transcended the senses and therefore unbounded. Like the limitless sky or the unbounded space in the vast cosmos, it reaches out to eternity. It is, therefore, timeless and ageless.

Among the 'lunatics' in the world are those whose actions are positively evil and could cause immense harm not only to themselves but also to the society in which they live because they do not pause to think of the evil consequences of their actions. In this category are the killers, assassins, looters, robbers, arsonists, drunkards, drug addicts and a host of others who for various reasons resort to base and evil acts.

Why do they have recourse to such conduct? Because a veil of ignorance clouds their thinking. They cannot see clearly since their minds are warped or poisoned by the three cankers of greed, hate and ignorance. Is there no salvation for these people or for that matter for the vast majority of foolish worldlings and others on the lunatic fringe in pursuit of this, that or the other thing, hoping to find momentary happiness. The answer is that as long as they continue to grasp, clutch and claw, there can be no salvation, according the Buddha's teaching. One must learn to deliberately let go, sooner or later, at some stage or other, even in a small measure, little by little -- a seemingly impossible thing for worldings to even attempt to do.

For, our very lives are the very antithesis of this very idea of letting go. In fact we may rightly say we breathe the air of craving with every pulsation or heart throb, as it were. Craving is in the very fabric of our lives. The veil of ignorance that surrounds us can be gradually, systematically and deliberately lifted through diligent and sustained effort by following the path shown by the Buddha -- the Noble Eightfold Path: Then only can the mind be stilled and supreme wisdom realised. The path, says the Buddha, will be seen and intellectually appreciated only by 'those whose eyes are covered with little dust' They are the wise ones who are mature in their samsaric journey.

Those who can at least intellectually comprehend the Four Noble Truths of suffering, its cause, its cessation and the path leading to its cessation have gained something. They are on the road, on the correct road, says the Buddha, to understanding the Truth. They can see things as they really are and appreciate the ephemeral nature of existence and the transiency of all component things. They will, even with occasional flashes of insight, some day penetrate the veil or pierce the shell of ignorance which encompasses their very being and see the light of wisdom which has so far eluded them.

Letting go

Once they have rooted out greed, hate and ignorance fully in the way taught by the Buddha, they will see the futility of continued existence and truly let go forever. They will no longer be wallowing in samsara's mighty swamp. For they will be free, liberated for all time.

Sunday Leader - 29 April 2001 






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J7.14  Puggalavada and Theravada Buddhist teachings

D. Amarasiri Weeraratne

Upto the time of the 2nd Council 200 years after the Buddha, there were no sectarian divisions among Buddhist monks. The Buddha had permitted the Sangha to change minor rules after his demise, according to the wishes of the fraternity and by a majority decision. In pursuance of this concession, the monks of the Vajji country well known for its republican form of government called for the adoption of ten minor changes in the Vinaya rules.

The hard core orthodox and conservative monks headed by Revata and Sabbakami resisted these changes. Hence the conservative elders disallowed these changes. Consequently, the dissident monks broke away from the conservative elders (The Theras) and established the Mahasanghika Sect and held their own Sangha Council. Thus came about the first division in the Sangha. The Maha Sanghikas as their name implies constituted the majority of the Sangha. The Theras constituted a minority of hard core reactionaries who were opposed to an form of change.

Between the 2nd and 3rd Councils 236 years after the Buddha the Conservative Elders (The Theras) broke off into two sects, viz: Vibjjavadins and Sautrantikas. Almost simultaneously the Mahasangikas also broke off into a sect called Puggalavadin. (Believers in persons.) The Vibjjavadins broke off into three sects, one of which was the Theravada - the Buddhism we have in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos etc. Thus you will see that the Puggalavada Sect and the Theravada Sect were the earliest of the sectarian divisions in Buddhism.

Controversy on Abhidhamma

The chief characteristic of the Puggalavada Sect was their rejection of the Abhidharma Pitaka as a teaching of the Buddha. They maintained that Abhidharma is apocryphal scripture cooked up by the Theravada Elders between the 2nd and 3rd Councils and adopted at the 3rd Council. The Puggalavadins as well as Sautranitikas rejected the Abhidharma Pitaka and had only 2 Pitakas viz: Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas.

In the Suttas the Buddha speaks of a person who fares on in Sansara, performs good and bad deeds and receives reward or distribution for them. In fact the entire Sutta Pitaka is based on the assumption that there is a person (puggala) who is subject to the sufferings in Sansara. The purpose of the Buddha-Dhamma is to eliminate this suffering and help them to attain Nirvana.

The Anatta concept

The Abhidharma denies the existence of a person or an individual. It accepts only fleeting thought moments which arise and flash instantly. In this process there is no person or being. The Buddha taught the Suttas to men on earth, referring to a person. In the Abhidharma he is supposed to have preached to the gods in which he denies the existence of a person or an individual. In order to bridge the gulf of this inconsistency the Abhidharma scholars invented the theory of two truths. The Sutras are true in the conventional sense, and the Abhidharma is true in the ultimate sense which is the highest truth.

The Puggalavadins could not accept the theory that the Buddha had taught two kinds of truth. Nowhere had he done so. The Theravadins cannot quote from any part of the Sutras where he has taught that there are two truths called Sammuti and Paramartha. Thus they refuted this contention and asserted that the Abhidharma Pitaka is a fabrication and required another concoction to maintain its validity. It is with the help of this fabrication that Abhidharma scholars reconcile the inconsistency in the Sutra and Abhidharma teachings.

The Southern School of Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism is Abhidharma oriented. All its commentaries and ancillary literature are written in a way to accommodate the Abhidarma. Ven. Buddhagosha asserted that the Abhidharma Pitaka is a teaching of the Buddha. But he himself admitted in the Atthasalini Commentary that there were ancient Sinhala Elders at Anuradhapura who challenged the validity of the Abhidharma Pitaka.

They pointed out that the Buddha had taught in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra that we should not accept teachings presented to us in his name if they are inconsistent with the Sutra and the Vinaya teachings. They also asserted that in the Anagatabhaya Sutra the Buddha envisaged a time when monks will cook up doctrines and scriptures not taught by him and present them as the Buddha-word. He admonished his followers to carefully compare such teachings with the Sutras and the Vinaya and accept them only if they are compatible and consistent.

Therefore Abhidharma being incompatible with the Sutra and Vinaya teaching was rejected by the Puggalawadins. The Sautrantika teachers too rejected the Abhidharma on the same grounds. The very name Sautrantika Sect means those who take only the Sutras as authoritative.

The controversy on Antarbhava

They accepted Abhidharma only to the extent that it is found in seed form in the Sutras. Another important teaching of the Puggalavadins was the doctrine of Antarabhava. The interim spirit existence between one life and another. This was denied by the Therevadins who asserted that the acceptance of Antarabhava by the Puggalavadins was due to a misunderstanding of some passages of the Sutras. The Puggalavadins maintained their position and showed that the misinterpretation of key passages is the work of Abhidharma oriented Theravada teachers, who tried to cut and hack the Buddha-word to suit their Abhidharma-oriented views. Their teaching was that their was no person, or being, but a mere flux of fleeting thought moments which are impersonal. The Puggalavadins considered this a bovine folly.

Between the 2nd and 3rd Council, the Theravadins had compiled 7 Abhidharma books and asserted that except one other were the teachings of the Buddha preached in the Tavatismsa heaven to the gods. Not to be outdone the Sarvastivadin teachers also compiled 7 Abhidharma books and adopted them as their Abhidharma Pitaka. They were candid and frank enough to reveal the names of the authors of the books, unlike the Theravadins who took up the position that their 7 books contained preachings of the Buddha to the gods in the Tavatimsa heaven.

The common denominator

But an examination of the two Abhidharma Pitakas show too many discrepancies whereas their Sutra and Vinaya Pitakas are similar. This is clear proof that the Abhidharma Pitaka was composed after the monks broke off into sects. The Puggalavadins taught that a person or a pudgala who performs good and bad deeds reaps the results and fares on in Sansara until the attainment of Nirvana. The Bharahara Surta was the favourite text of the Pudgalavadins. Therein Buddha said" Bhara have Panchakkhando, Bharaharo Ca Puggalo." This means the five aggregates are a burden, the puggala or person is the burden bearer.

Here clearly the Buddha distinguishes between the five groups of aggregates (skandas) and the person who bears them. But according to the Theravada Abhidharma the burden carries itself. There is no burden-bearer. This is what Buddhaghosha meant when he said in the Visuddhi Magga - the standard text of the Theravada - that" there is mere suffering but no sufferer exists". "There is the Noble Eightfold Path but no one traverses it". Buddhaghosha copied the idea from a verse in Nagarjuna’s Mula Madhyama Karika - his magnum opus in which he ennunciates his Madhyamika philosophy with its central doctrine of Sunyata - the void. According to this, the whole world and all its phenomena are mirage, a dream, an illusion or" a castle in the air" as Nagarjuna put it. This is the Hindu doctrine of Maya dressed up in a Buddhist garb.

The Puggalavadins taught that to deny the existence of a person is to bring down the whole edifice of the Buddha-Dharma. It is absurd to say that the burden carries itself, that mere suffering exists and there is no sufferer, or that the Path exists without anyone to tread the path. This is not Buddhism, it is the Buddhaghosha brand of Abhidharma Buddhism.

The self and no-self

The Puggalavadins point out that if there are no beings, the practise of Metta would not be possible, Karma and Rebirth would be meaningless, without a person faring on in Sansara. Memories of previous lives, the preaching of the Satipattana Sutra for the purification of beings and overcoming their sufferings would be meaningless, if there is no person.

The Buddha said, "One person is born among men for the welfare and happiness of beings". Hundreds of such texts can be quoted from the Sutras. To deny a person in the ultimate sense (the highest truth) and accept him in a conventional sense is to talk with two tongues and dilute the truth of the Buddha-word. The Sutta Nipata says that "Buddhas have no two words." "Truth is one and not many". (Ekam hi saccam na dutiyamatthi). Two contrary truths is foreign to the Buddha’s teaching.

The chief difference between Puggalavada and Theravada comes with the acceptance and non-acceptance of the Abhidharma Pitaka as a teaching of the Buddha. Theravada is steeped in Abhidharma and is abhidharma oriented. The Puggala vadins have only two Pitakas namely Sutra and Vinaya Pitakas. The Puggalavadins took care not to use the word Atman or soul as is understood in Vedanta, i.e. an immutable self characterised by permanence, bliss and substance.

The Puggala of the Pudgalavadins is a self that is subject to impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and is not to be considered as the essence or core for those reasons. This appears to be a halfway house between the Vedantic soul and the no-soul doctrine of the Theravadins. The Buddha is neither an anatmavadi nor atmavadi.

The Puggalavadins teach that the puggala arises simultaneously with the five aggregates, is not within or outside them, but forms a structural unit with them.

It is the astral body, secondary body or bio-plasamabody of modern Para-psychological research. Its existence and verifiability has been vindicated by 150 years of Psychical Research in the West in which very eminent scientists have taken part. It is the mano-kaya or the Suttas.

If Buddhism is to be a practical religion of value to mankind, it must take into account and recognise the existence of persons or individuals - otherwise Buddhism falls flat and collapses like a pack of cards. When you deny a person, you have to deny the Buddha, his Dhamma and the Sangha. That reduces Buddhism to a force.

The Island - 19 Sep 00 






Personalities History

Articles Index

J7.15  ‘Turn around’ to the Dharma

Fr. Siri Oscar Abayaratne

I am an ordinary Catholic priest. I am no mystic, scholar or theologian in the accepted meaning of these terms. I run the risk of being dismissed at the very outset for lack of accreditation to a seat of learning or research institute. I stake a claim however, to be heard by reason of my close contact with mostly the poor Catholics of this land, whose lived out faith in the Christhu Dharma has influenced my life and ministry more than anything or anyone else. These poor have helped me to come close to Jesus Christ who remains and will remain my Lord and Master. Please permit me a few personal experiences before I get on with the subject of this article: ‘A call to turn around to the Dharma’.

After 30 or more years of activity, should I say hyper activity, since my ordination to the priesthood in 1957, there was a growing desire within me to "let-go" the position I held in the movement I was the director of. I wanted to retire into a life of silence, alone and withdrawn. It was quite a dream, call it a romantic one. Yes, to be alone, doing my own thing: cooking, washing my clothes, going down to the hill for water and other washing purposes. A pipe-dream! Not that I could really do it. It still remains a dream, wearing quite thin right now. However where I am at the moment is a location, quite idyllic, and much to my liking. I am not alone. A group of young people calling themselves "Virodhaya" (resistance) share a life-together.


In November 1st 1997 to be exact, committedly Christian though, we began our life with the Satipathana (Right Mindfulness) of the Buddha. Awareness became a key word in the way of life we had adopted. It was a rewarding exercise to become conscious of the damage done to oneself and to others by our conscious and subconscious attachment to the I, me, and mine. Why we should have started with the Satipathana, we have no answer, except to say that we were led to do so. We did not see the need to subject our manner of action to a special process of discernment.

When Jesus said "Come follow me" it was primarily a call to be led by the Holy Spirit of Love and to be led by that Spirit of Love in our dealings with men and women and all of God’s creation. Subsequently we believe, it was this same Spirit of Holy Love that directed our attention to the experience like that of the great Saint Paul, referred to in the Gospel of Luke - Acts: 17/28.

"In Him we live, we move and have our being"

At times we move out of the most rewarding specifically Buddhist experience of mindfulness to become conscious of the "presence" of the Transcendent. Our shared reflections helped us to make a sly, should I say a passing or an ephemeral entry though, in to the profound experiences of the Rishis or the genuine Hindu. Let me quote to you from the Isha Upanishads:

The Dharma is the articulation of the Absolute Truth as opposed to a false absolute: A race, a party, a nation, an ideology, to which we give an allegiance which is ultimate, is an idol far more heinous than the stones and statues of the primitive.

"Filled with Brahman are the things we see, Filled with Brahman are the things we see not,

From out of Brahman floweth all that is: From Brahrnan all &emdash; yet is He still the same.

Om....Peace &emdash; Peace &emdash; Peace

In the heart of all things, or whatever there is in the universe,

dwells the Lord, He alone is the Reality.

Wherefore, renouncing vain appearances, rejoice in Him. The Self is one. Unmoving, It moves swifter than thought

The senses do not overtake it, for always It goes before. Remaining still it outstrips all that runs.

Without the Self, there is no life. To the illumined soul, the Self is all.

For him who sees everywhere oneness, How can there be delusion or grief?

The Self is everywhere. Bright is He, Bodiless, without scar of imperfection

Without bone, without flesh, pure, Untouched by evil."

We thanked the Lord for this Hindu experience. We could relish this very small, tiny experience of the Rishis and praise God for the Spirit that is leading men of diverse climes in the quietness of their inner depths, to be touched by the Absolute, so much so that these men of the Hindu persuasion could say:

"That Thou art"

"I am He"

The Christian may not be happy with the Upanashidic articulation of the God experience as advaitic or non-dual but he has willy-nilly to own that it is a Spirit led God experience. My mind goes to men of the calibre of Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. From the Hindu we often move on to the Islamic. Interestingly though, the Hindu experience led us to taste somewhat of the Islamic.

"La ilaha illa Allah" that expresses a total surrender to Allah, was paid conscious attention. But what was most educative was to recall the Koranic instruction. I quote from Guillo Basettisani O.F.M. in "The Koran in the light of Christ"

"In the Koran, nature and its phenomena are constantly alluded to as "signs", as a reality which conceals a higher reality. It is through these signs that the soul discovers God: the cosmic revelation to which the Koran continually refers. The world that is perceptible to the senses is sacrament of the God-head: everything is a shadow of the heavenly reality.

The kingdom of nature is a representation of the Kingdom of God..

Christian experience

This passage provides me with a corrective to my hitherto held belief that it was only in Christianity that the world around us was considered as sacraments of encounter with God: To listen to the myriad insects, to watch the rilawas, the monkeys hopping, jumping, shrieking, a mother-monkey with a little one hugging her precariously, cruising along from branch to branch as if a pathway had been laid out sans obstacles or gaps, was to stand in His presence, to listen to Him, to watch Him and to say very very soulfully -

"In You we live, move and have our being" and to say profoundly - "La ilaha, illa Allah" and arrive at the realization that the mere repetition of formulae or intellectual convictions or even a firm assurance that it is so, need not necessarily be the deep Upanishadic or Islamic experience. An experience demands much more and gives more. The summons became more pronounced when we had to contend with the Christian experience. These reflections are meant to introduce my readers to what I want to say regarding the tragedy that is ours in this beloved country torn from within and without.

Any perceptive visitor to this land would not fail to see the many temples, kovils, mosques and churches that dot its landscape - potent signs, that we are a religious people. We indeed are religious, a vociferously religious people, if religious activities in our places of worship, pilgrimages (even those organised by politicians or done so by religious diginitaries for the benefit of politicians) and religious festivities are further taken info account. I need not labour the point that this type of religiosity is far removed from genuine liberative spirituality. I wish to propose the thesis that our country needs to return to spirituality, call it the liberative core of our great religions or in short the Dharma. There is the Hindu Dharma, the Buddha Dharma, the Christhu Dharma and Islam. This return should not be confined to an individuals very personal return to a liberative spiritual or Dharmic way of life. Our whole political, social, economic system has to do a roundabout turn. Sounds extremely idealistic. May I suggest that its Really Real. What is more real than that which deals with the depths and not merely with ephemeral and the superficial. Let me quote from a booklet "To see a new earths" (a mini publication of the Kithu Dana Pubuduwa). An important question that needs to be posed at this particular time of political turmoil and the framing of a new constitution (or any other question for that matter) is whether such a constitution is based on shifting, changing ideologies of the local or imported varieties (feudalism, casteism, capitalism, socialism, humanism, liberalism, racism, ethnicism, religious fanaticism) or on the sure foundation of Truth as shared by the Founders of our great Religions, viz Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity. The proud heritage of the Sri Lankan polity may be cryptically formulated thus:

i. The four Noble Truths or Liberation in the experience of No self, No I, No me, No mine (Buddhism)

ii. Fullness in the experience of being lost in the Transcendent (Hinduism)

iii. Realization in the surrender to the Transcendent (Islam)

iv. Beatitude in the experience of saying Yes to Transcendent Love (Christianity)

The words "Fullness" "Liberation", "Beatitude", "Realization" are used indiscriminately. ‘It is our contention that though the verbal expression has taken different forms necessitated by the limitations of culture, language, thought forms, and other contextual realities as current religious experiences, of time and space, there is a common meeting ground in the experience of Truth of the different Founders. It is to this foundation i.e. ABSOLUTE TRUTH, that we would wish our new constitution be referred to for its validation as morally right, proper and of benefit to all - man, woman, beast and environment." In the context of this vision for a new land based on the Dharma, which I would venture to suggest should be the Buddha Dharma, with the proviso that its liberative core be formulated in a manner that it can be accepted by those who committedly profess the Hindu, Islam or Christhu Dharma, I am deeply convinced that it is possible, and I should think that an attempt is being made at such a formulation.

Absolute truth

The Dharma is the articulation of the Absolute Truth as opposed to a false absolute: A race, a party, a nation, an ideology, to which we give an allegiance which is ultimate, is an idol far more heinous than the stones and statues of the primitive. How can we be freed from these idolatries is a large question. And this I believe is what a good many people of all faiths or no faith indulge in. Take the case of morality -’ Moral principles’ need criteria or a criterion to evaluate or critique them. Else they can be disastrously, divisively and destructively based on a world of individual preferences. "‘What if these are based on the dominant cultures of the modern world, political, economic and religious Political it is said are based on the manipulation of power; economic cultures on the manipulation of money and religions on the manipulation of some theory about religion or religion itself." (Quote) Hence the need of a bottom-line-measure. Where can we find it? As far as I am concerned, I should think it is found in the liberative core experience of the founders of our great religions. If I put it in another way, it is in the enlightenment experience of Jesus - the Christ, the Buddha - the Enlightened one, the ancient Rishis of India and Prophet Mohamed. They have had an experience of "seeing". Their eyes were opened to the Reality as it is. What they thought or preached were not mere ideas or theories born in their heads only, but something more, something deep, something that possessed their whole being. They saw Reality. They saw what could be termed ULTIMATE REALITY.  

The verbalization of this experience did take different forms conditioned by the limitations of time, space and language. In the case of Lord Buddha, we see the expression, say, in the Four Noble Truths. In that of Jesus Christ may I suggest that it is in the "Sermon on the Mount." In the case of Hinduism, can it be Tat Tvam Asi (That Thou art) or for Islam La ilaha illa Allah (there is no God except God). Here we see a basis for the principles of morality for the reconstruction of a society that stands pathetically deconstructed. Could it be otherwise when ideologies, liberalism, socialism, capitalism, marxism, casteism are vying with each other for not mere ascendancy but to be the absolute that defines what is right or wrong in every sphere of human activity. We are faced with the prospect of a fresh constitution threateningly and hastily forced upon this our beloved land and its peoples. It is manifestly based on ethnic aspirations, distorted histories and agendas for personal aggrandizement. One could very rightly posit that power, prestige, and possessions are the motivating forces that are propelling the powers that are. I insist that what is called for is not a return to mere religion which can and is often prostituted by the very agents of religion. Also, by many of our politicians (if not all) who could be seen at times ceremoniously seated in the very front benches of our Catholic churches or politicians bending all fours paying obeisance to the venerable Sangha. Even at the cost of being judgemental, I’m urged on to shout: "you hypocrites. The call is to "Turn Around " to the Dharma - the liberative core experience of great selfless men. We call them the founders of religion. Let me quote from Krishna Sivaraman: "The spirit of turning around singularly dominates the early religious landscape of India. Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina." Christ’s call to a "metanoia" Mark 1/15 translated often as repent or reform, can just as well be, "Turn Around".

The pragmatist or the supposed to be realist or the visionary marxist or even the votaries of human rights, democracy, equality, would dismiss all this as venerable piffle meant for the ‘thavusa’ (hermit). Religion even in its deepest sense they would aver is only for personal liberation and have no social or political implication. The life witness of a Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Vinobha Bhave or even a Martin Luther King should suffice as an answer.

People had sometimes asked him (Gandhi) whether Rama rajya in fact stands for "Hindu Raj" - to these Gandhi replied "By Ram rajya I do not mean Hindu Raj. It is sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority. Rama rajya means the state of freedom like heaven. I must say that the independence of my dream meant Rama rajya, i.e. the kingdom of God on earth. I do not know what it will be like in Heaven. I have no desire to know the distant scene. If the present is attractive enough, the future cannot be very unlike." (Harijan, May, 5, 1946).

‘When there are too many gods in the fray, idolatry and conflict are inevitable.’Idolatry or falsehood is accepted as sin, pure and simple. Unfortunately though, sin is spoken of often in relation to personal depravity, immorality or wrong doing, while social sin, systemic or structural sin is not named for what it is. It may be said that in the matter of gravty "structural sin". may be seen as the most grievous. It, in one grasp, holds millions or billions of people in a stranglehold that even good, honest living is made well-nigh impossible. A bribe to the management to get a person’s child to school, is sin both for the giver and the taker. But, what else can a person do, if the whole system is so geared to giving and taking of bribes and promotive of stark corruption. Sri Lanka, though small, is one big land space of sin. Its peoples cannot live without sinning. The best of its men and women will find it so difficult to not corrupt or be corrupted. Now to remove sin we are provided with panaceas: Divide the land into 8 parts, have interim councils, have a political party system ill-suited to this country, give the descendants of those who paid pooja to foreign masters once upon a time, to rule this country, allow the rich to become richer, the poor to become poorer, say that the answer to all our economic ills is a market economy or scientific socialism, give more and more opportunities over the state controlled media to dupe the people in gay abandon - we have a paradise on earth. The whole system is rotten to the core. It stinks. Hence the clarion call to "Turn Around" to the Dharma. Turn around to our roots that is our ancient wisdom.

Let the Dharma be the fundamentum on which could be erected a holy Temple, not of stones, but of living beings, men and women, animals, trees and plants, who would be supported by a system and by structures that are conducive to good, honest, straight forward living.

I have before me Prof. Nandasena Ratnapala’s "Buddhist, democratic, political theory and practice." Can’t we find inspiration from here to fore.Liberalism born of an individualism that led man to speak of rights, rights and rights of the individual; Socialism that spoke of the collective and the collective. These ideologies may certainly have values that need to be reckoned with. Let modern, political and social economic theories, and the technological advances made hitherto be made use of for the super structure, but let the foundation be firmly and irrevocably the Dharma. Here and now I wish to posit with the deepest of conviction which really is a shared thought: Structural sin or systemic sin which continues to breed social sin like the mosquitoes in most parts of our land, cannot - be dealt a fell blow, practically speaking, ignoring the political party system in our country. The very evil that is the political party system in Sri Lanka, has to be willy nilly used as a transitional stage to demolish it. The UNP or the PA inclusive of the SLFP has been a disaster. The ethnic based parties, I here someone saying, is an abomination. The JVP has a vision, it has committed men and women, it can change the whole social and political set up about which I have my reservations, as do so many others. Its deification of an ideology makes things difficult for many. We are in search for a Meissiah (Sunday Observer, February 15, 1998) not an individual person but men and women as a body who could provide us with a fresh constitution. If this can be initiated by a particular political party, what a blessing that would be!

Now, regarding a fresh constitution we would consider as imperative, two basic requirements: Firstly we would like to see the Buddha Dharma as the basis for our constitution (not the distorted varieties we may have come at times to put up with). Why the Buddha Dharma? I should think it has proved itself potent enough to provide a basis for a righteous society. (Please read the book referred to by Professor Nandasena Ratnapala, Sarvodaya, Vishvalekha Publications). Besides, the adherents of Buddhism are in the overwhelming majority in this country. Secondly, the poor, the oppressed, the afflicted (the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay, the low caste and the Veddhas too) whose sovereignty, dignity and well-being is targeted first and foremost. Piease note that the focus of the fresh constitution be not mere alleviation of poverty or some such new fangled theory of social justice that will eventually satisfy the three Ps (power, prestige and possessions) of a selected coterie of the well to do.

We in Sri Lanka should take note of the constitutions fashioned in the recent past, 1946, 1972 and 1978 and the one now proposed in the year 2000. What beautiful words and phrases coined and fashioned by men and women, presumably of legal acumen, and for sure, of personal ambitions have gone to embellish these constitutions. Let me quote from Chapter 1 of the constitution presented in the Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on the 3rd August 2000. No. 2 - In the Republic sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. After 50 years of being governed under three previous constitutions, proclaiming unashamedly that the sovereignty is in the people, we would dare to ask where has been this sovereignty, where has been deposited this so called sovereignty. The poor are becoming poorer, more miserable and destitute, the rich are becoming richer, most of them are wallowing in ill-gotten wealth. Three constitutions and one in the offing, destining people to a fatalism where 60 to 70% have nowhere to go but export their wives, daughters and their sisters to virtual slavery.

There is no way out seemingly in the present set up without having recourse to a new political party that should be made to make the right decision. Can’t we plead for a political party that would make a shift from ideologies to the Dharma, to change the words sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of the poor? Can we call on one of the many parties that are on sale, to make the necessary shift? Would it consider that the solution to the perceived problem of the minorities could lie in a positive approach to the unrecognised and now surfacing grievances of the majority. Hence the need to address the basic fears and concerns of the Sinhala Buddhists in a manner that they would feel strongly their responsibility to the minorities. Can we call on the Sihala Urumaya to make a radical change of stance from the urumaya (heritage) of a particular race (whatever be the grievances) to the urumaya of all the people: Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay, Veddah. Could they tell us that they would go in for a new constitution that makes the poor and the Buddha Dharma the basis for a new era to be born.

All this I suspect would be made to carry the tag - naive idealism. But I stand firmly on the belief that only a relationship to the Absolute - the Transcendent - the Ultimate, will assure the good of all. Whatever form the verbal formulations have taken regarding the Ultimate, it is the only Really Real that can eventually spell goodness, justice and well-being for all our people with an ever decreasing talk of majorities and minorities.

Those who are pre occupied and engrossed with the Tamil problem and Tamil aspirations or the war, might not lend an ear to a dissertation on a return to spirituality. As for aspirations, be it of any particular group, majority or minority should not be the basis for a constitution that is meant for a whole country. As for the war, constitutions cannot be targeted to stopping a war or ushering peace, when the war that is waged (rebellion) and the peace lost thereby has so many facets that need to be considered, before going in for a solution that concerns the basic law of the land.

There are still others who have experienced or fear religious fundamentalism. They shout their voices hoarse against any reference to religion as the foundation for the basic law of the land. It needs to be reiterated that a strong distinction is made between religion and the Dharma. The Dharma, if it is to remain Dharma, cannot lead to fundamentalism that can like a cancer, erode the best in human beings.

Before I conclude I need to share a word on another messianic search. There is need for a group of men and women who are genuinely spiritual in life, outlook and aspirations; a group of persons so gathered can be called upon to be in the hustle and bustle of civic and political life but not of it; persons who can stand aloft, unsullied by the three Ps; persons who can oversee, direct and guide the lawgivers, the executives and the judiciary; persons whose words can carry the power that is sourced in the Dharma, be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. May I venture to suggest that such a group be made up not of the official representatives of the religions (I am included in this category) but men and women of the genuine spiritual Dharmic brand.

Let the Muslim and the Christian join Gandhi in saying, "I know that all this combined assistance (Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christians, Sikhs, Jews and the British as well) is worthless if I have no other assistance, i.e. from God. All is vain without His help and if He is with this struggle no other help is necessary. (Collected Works: Volume 43, pg. 125). Let the Buddhist say in response to the Buddha,

"let us free, liberate and develop our minds, the responsibility is on our shoulders".

"Whatsoever there is of evil connected with evil, belonging to evil, all issues

from the mind. Whatsoever there is of good, connected with the good,

belonging to the good, all issues from the mind. (Anguttara Nikaya 1)

I conclude with the affirmation of my personal belief that what’s important is not success or failure, but our contribution of "five loaves and two fishes" to make Sri Lanka a better place to live in, very specially for the poor, the outcast, the oppressed and the afflicted. I recall with joy the episode in the life of Jesus: multiplication of loaves and fishes to feed the thousands of His listeners. He asked what food the disciples had with them. They could provide only five loaves and two fishes. Subsequently, thousands were fed with twelve odd baskets to spare. (Mark: 6/35 44).

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.  

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity."

William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming."  

The Island - 5 Sep 00 






Personalities History

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J7.16  Buddhist opposition to animal sacrifice

 Prof. Mahinda Palihawadana

Sri Lanka Vegetarian Society 

The Buddha was against animal sacrifice. He had to be, for he was staunchly opposed to killing. Killing, not just human beings, but all human beings without exception. Times out of number, he expressed the view that it was all beings (sabbe sattaa/sabbe bhuutaa) that deserved our compassion.  

During the time of the Buddha, many kinds of sacrifices were practised by Brahmins who were the priests of the Vedic religion professed by the upper castes of contemporary Indian society. The Buddha did not see any value in these sacrifices, primarily because they were entirely external rites. If one could speak of a "right sacrifice", it had to be something that was internal or 'spiritual'.

"I lay no wood, Brahmin, for fire on alters

Only within burneth the fire I kindle"

- says the Buddha, mindful of the Brahmins' practice of tending a regular "sacred fire" and pouring oblations into it for the various gods of Vedic pantheon.

This however was only a relatively harmless, albeit in the eyes of the Buddha useless, activity. The Vedic priests also advocated and performed several types of cruel animal sacrifice such as:

"The sacrifices called the Horse, the Man,

The Peg-thrown Site, the drink of Victory,

The Bolt Withdrawn - and all the mighty fuss -

Where divers goats and sheep and kine are slain".

The Buddha rejected all these sacrifices in no uncertain terms. For example, when he was told of a "great sacrifice" that the king of Kosala was about to perform, where 2500 cattle, goats and rams were to be immolated, he declared:

"Never to such a rite as that repair

The noble seers who walk the perfect way."

In one of the Jataka stories (Bhuridatta), the future Buddha is reported to have said:

If he who kills is counted innocent

Let Brahmins Brahmins kill.

We see no cattle asking to be slain

That they a new and better life may gain;

Rather they go unwilling to their death

 And in vain struggles yield their final breath.

To veil the post, the victim and the blow,

The Brahmins let their choicest rhetoric flow".

Many times in his discourses the Buddha speaks of four kind of persons - those who (1) torture themselves, (2) torture others, (3) torture both self and others and (4) who do not torture themselves or others. The first are the strict ascetics and the second the butchers, tappers, fishers and robbers. It is however the third group that is of special interest in our context. For, it includes kings and powerful priests.

The Buddha does not approve of the conduct of these three classes. It is the last kind, who do not torture themselves or others, that he admires and they are none other than those who follow a compassionate ethic such as the one of the Buddha himself advocated.

Particularly a touching discourse of the Buddha on animal sacrifice comes in one of the most ancient Buddhist texts, the Sutta Nipata. Here in a discourse on the ethical conduct fit for a Brahmins (Brahmana-dhammika Sutta). The Buddha speaks respectfully of ancient Brahmins who spurned the taking of life and never allowed their religious rites to be tainted by the killing of animals. But corruption set in and they started the practice of animal sacrifice. When the knife was laid on the neck of cattle, the gods themselves cried out in horror of that crime of ingratitude and insensitivity perpetrated on an animal that was to humans such as faithful worker, such a sustainer of life.

In the piece known as the discourse with Kutadanta we come across a king's Brahmin counsellor who is preparing a great animal sacrifice, concerning the right procedures of which he consults the wisdom of the Buddha. T. W. Rhys Davids, the distinguished translator of this text, alerts us to the fact that this would be the last thing that an eminent Brahmin is likely to do - to seek the Buddha's opinion on how to conduct a sacrifice. So he describes the discourse as a "deliberate fiction full of ironical humour". The Buddha tells Kutadanta of a worthy sacrifice held in ancient times under the guidance of a certain enlightened Brahmin counsellor. In this sacrifice "no living thing is injured; all the labour is voluntary and the sacrifice is offered not only on behalf of the king, but of all the good". The Buddha then tells Kutadanta of even better forms of sacrifice.

In the course of this discourse, as Mrs. C. A. F. Rhys Davids points out (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, article on Sacrifice/Buddhist). "The stations in the road to the good life - the perfect lay life and the perfect religious life - are set forth as to many degrees of sacrifice", each better than the other. Thus the highest sacrifice is that insight and wisdom which signifies the abandonment of the sense of self - i.e., the sacrifice of ego-centredness.

It is not a matter for surprise that the Buddhism along with Jainism, the other great religion of Ahimsa, as well as several sects of Hinduism, rejected animal sacrifice, although many other religions approved of it to some extent or another. The Buddha in fact was outspoken in his criticism of such entrenched features of the contemporary religious and social scene as sacrificial rituals and the caste system. (His 'detachment' was not indifference or withdrawal of judgement, as has been often misunderstood. Consider his reply to Potaliya who told him that the best person was one who neither praised the praiseworthy nor blamed the blameworthy: "Far better is the person who speaks in dispraise of the unworthy and in praise of the worthy, saying in due time what is factual and truthful." Arguttara ii 100).

In the modern world, there is a powerful movement which seeks to reduce and eliminate the crimes that are perpetrated on animals and to introduce to the social ethic an element ofjustice to other sentient beings who share the planet with us. This movement is all the more remarkable in that it reflects an attitudinal shift in the predominantly Christian West which is beginning to see the true nature of the moral evil that the abuse and exploitation of animals is. The fundamental thrust of this movement stems from the realisation that animals are like us when it comes to suffering pain and the prospect of the deprivation of life. It is this very sympathy with the suffering of animals and other sentient beings that is at the core of Buddhist compassion or loving kindness (mettaa). Says a verse in the Dhammapada, the most popular of Buddhist texts:

"All fear the rod

Of death are all scared.

(Understanding others) from one's own example

One should neither kill nor causes to kill."

In the very next verse much the same is said with this addition: "For all is life dear". Here in simple terms is the 'philosophy' behind the Buddhist ethic of Ahimsa: other living beings are like us; we should treat them the way we want to be treated ourselves. This is the spirit behind the first precept which enjoins us neither to kill, nor to encourage killing as clearly explained in the Dhammika Sutta. This is the spirit that promotes the Noble Eightfold Path to forbid the trade in flesh and engaging in fishing, hunting etc. for those who profess to follow that Path. It is the same spirit that projected an ideal of kingship in which the ruler provided defence and protection (rakkhavarana-outtim) not only to the different classes of the human population, but also to birds of the air and beasts of the land (miga-pakkhisu).

The natural corollary of such a teaching in modern parlance is that animals have the same right to life which we humans claim for ourselves. And it is the sensitivity to this right that made Emperor Asoka, whose life was abundantly inspired by the teachings of the Buddha, to promulgate, in the well known Rock Edict I: "Here no animal shall be killed or sacrificed". This is an outstanding example of an ethical teaching being made the basis for a legal pronouncement. In somewhat similar vein, as Senaka Weeraratna has pointed out in his paper "The Requirement for New Animal Welfare Legislation in Sri Lanka", seven states and territories of the modern Republic of India have enacted statutes prohibiting animal sacrifice for the purpose of any religious worship or adoration. Moreover, according to the Constitution of India, it is a fundamental duty of every citizen "to have compassion for living creates".

The tradition of royal decrees based on the ethic of respect for animal life was also followed in Sri Lanka prior to the advent of colonialism. Consider the MAA GHAATA (" Do not kill") proclamations of five kind of Lanka from the first to the eighth century, beginning with Amandagamani Abhaya, which forbade the killing of any living being within the realm. King Vijayabadhu I in the 11th century and Parakramabahu the Great in the 12th also made proclamations of protection of wild life and fishes in the forests and lakes of Sri Lanka. Kirti Sri Nissankamalla, one of the king who came aft er Parakramabahu, promulgated a remarkable decree, which he publicised in six of his famous inscriptions, forbidding the killing of all living beings in the irrigation lakes of the entire country. In his Anuradhapura inscription he decreed that no animals should be killed within seven leagues of the city and induced a certain group of hunters to desist from the trapping of birds. These few instances suffice to give us an idea of the pervasive influence of the Buddhist attitude to animal life in the social and legal history of Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, it is pertinent to ask what has post-independence Sri Lanka done to foster the Ahimsa ethic? Constitutionally and legally, nothing - as far as one can see. As for state intervention in favour of compassion towards animals, the record is equally barren. One among many examples will suffice to underscore this point. A stark contrast to the respect for animal life shown throughout the history of this country is the present-day encouragement of inland fishing. There can be no doubt that it is the great threat to the fabric of the Ahimsa ethic which still prevails to a considerable extent among the village communities of Sri Lanka. The destruction of this ethic will undoubtedly facilitate the subversion of Buddhist values and the conversion of Buddhist to ideologies which are not averse to the killing of animals. Recent events show that the Sangha hierarchy of Sri Lanka will be as guilty of complicity as the rest of us who stand as silent and helpless onlookers in the face of this onslaught on a humane and compassionate religious ethnic which had stood the test of time for twenty five centuries.

Daily News - 3 Aug 00 






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J7.17  Buddhist stand on war

Bhikkhu T. Seelananda

Paramita International Buddhist Centre - Kandy

After reading some statements that had been made by some elites of our country including certain monks, I was motivated to write this article to express the Buddhist stand on war. My clear intention of writing this type of article is only to reveal the Buddhist stand . Buddhism from the beginning to the end is against war. It is obvious that, there is no single place where the Buddha at least, had given an indirect indication that supports waging a war. I am not using either a jargon or a slogan. There are very clear reasons why Buddhism directly opposes war and also why it does not commend war. The main reasons are the followings:

1. As a Religion which condemns any kind of harming or killing. (according to the dhamma, life is threefold, namely; human, animal and plants). War kills all three.

2. War even by any other name means to kill beings. Killing is, breaching the first precept of the five ,eight or ten precepts (panatipata).

3. For a layman, killing human beings is an offence but for a monk it is a grave offence which has been compared to a completely cutting off of the stem of a palmyra or a coconut tree (which never grows again).

According to our discourses, once while the Buddha was at Savatthi, there was a war between King Ajatasatthu and the King of Kosala. At war, the king of Kosala was defeated three times. He was ashamed and very much depressed over his defeat and lamented, "what a disgrace! I cannot even conquer this boy who still smells of mother’s milk. It is better that I should die". Due to his depression, the king refused to take any food, and kept to his bed. When the news about the king’s distress reached the Buddha, he commented. "Bhikkhus! in one who conquers, enmity and hatred increase, and one who is defeated suffers pain and distress" (Dh.Vr.201). Having heard this, the king realised that there is no victory in war, and was thus established in the Dhamma. The Buddha said that though one should conquer a million men in the battle field, yet he, indeed, is the noblest victor who has conquered himself. (Dh.Vr. 103).

At a later time, they fought again and the king of Kosala won and Ajatasatthu was imprisoned. As they were relatives, he was later released. But the king confiscated four kinds of his Army forces (elephants, horses, chariots and infantry). When the Buddha was informed, he said " The Killer will be killed in return and the conqueror will be conquered (S. N. Kosala Samyutta). War, whatever in its kind, begins because of greed of power, wealth and sense pleasure. Every war begins at heart (mind).

According to the Dhammapada, once there was a battle between the Sakyans and the Koliyans. They both were farmers. Their towns were situated on either side of the Rohini river. One year there was a sever drought. During this time their paddy fields and other crops were threatened and got almost dried. The farmers on both sides wanted to divert the water of the river to irrigate their own fields. As a result, there was much ill will and hatred on both sides. Then a war started between them and spread like fire and the matter was reported to their respective rulers. Failing to find a compromise, both sides prepared to go to war. The Buddha came to know that his relatives on both sides of the river were preparing for battle. For their wellbeing and happiness and to avoid unnecessary suffering, he decided to stop them. He appeared all alone, in the middle of the river. He said " O Kings!, what is more valuable water or blood?". They said" Ven. Sir. blood is much more valuable". Then the Buddha admonished them, "For the sake of some water, which is of little value, you should not destroy your lives which are of so much value. Why do you take this unwholesome course of action?".

They realised their folly and laid aside all their weapons and paid homage to the Buddha. The Buddha said " If I had not been here today, your blood would have been flowing like this river by now. You are living with hatred, but I live free from hatred. You are ailing with moral defilements, but I am free from moral defilements. You are striving to develop selfishness and enmity, but I do not strive for the development of selfishness". Both sides then became ashamed, realised their foolishness and thus bloodshed was averted. On this occasion, the Buddha intervened, and resolved this conflict not because of his relatives, but because of his boundless compassion for all beings. The Buddha never encouraged war of any type.

There is a belief in society that the soldier who dies in the battle field in the name of his religion, race and country goes directly to heaven. According to the Gamini Samyutta of the Samyutta Nikaya (S.N.IV.PTS.P.216), one day, the same question was put to the Buddha by a soldier . He said " I have heard, Sir, this traditional saying of teachers of old who were fighting-men:’ A soldier who in battle exerts himself, puts forth effort, and thus exerting himself and putting forth effort is tortured and put an end to by others, after death he is reborn in the company of the Devas of Passionate Delight (Saranjita)’. The Buddha said ‘Ask me not this question’. Then a second time he put the question. He got the same reply. Yet a third time he put it again. The Buddha answered " In the case of a soldier who in battle exerts himself ,puts forth effort, he must previously have had this low,mean, perverse idea:" Let those beings be tortured, be bound, be destroyed, be exterminated, so that they may be thought never to have existed". Then, so exerting himself, so putting forth effort, other men torture him and make an end of him. When body breaks up, after death he is reborn in the Purgatory of Quarrels. At these words, the soldier cried aloud and burst into tear. Then the Exalted one said: "That was why I disallowed your question". "But Ven. Sir, I am not lamenting for that ,but at the thought that for many a long time I have been cheated, deceived and led astray in the past by many teachers." the soldier lamented. The Buddha further said that this view (that those who die in the battle field will be born in the heaven ) is a perverted view (micchaditthi).

There is a concept of "just war" in some religions. But all kinds of wars are roundly condemned in Buddhism. In Buddhism there is nothing to gain through violence. War brings forth nothing but disasters. Finally, in short what we can state clearly is that Buddhism is totally opposed to war.

The Isand - 22 Aug 00






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J7.18  Mind, Brain and Consciousness

A neo-Buddhist perspective

R. Chandrasoma

Arguments which get us nowhere are often bedeviled by confusions over the meaning of basic terms. This seems to be the case in the studious attempt by Mr Wijesuriya recently to establish the fact that animals have ‘minds’. His larger interest is, of course, to deny that a gulf exists between Man (the creature supposedly made by God) and the multitudinous species of animals that share our planetary abode as underclass beings. This is a laudable motive and his vigorous rejection of the position taken by another of your correspondents - Mr R. M. B. Senanayaka - must be supported without reserve or equivocation. The God-fearing Mr Senanayaka would have us believe that the bipedal beast known to zoologists as ‘Homo sapiens’ is in a class apart - endowed with mind and soul as unique bequeathals of the Almighty Power above. Nothing seen in Heaven or on Earth gives even the faintest whiff of credence to this bizzare hypothesis.

On earth we have the likes of Pirabhakaran - a constructional aberration that is unaccountable if we suppose the Almighty Creator to be the apotheosis of wisdom and compassion. The heavens - if we are to believe what contemporary astronomers say - are replete with mind-boggling monstrosities (black-holes, pulsars, active galactic nuclei, plasma clouds etc.) that betoken anything but a comfortable abode for God’s chosen creature. To these skeptical reflections we must add the brief, pitiful existence of both man and beast in a world that shows little sign of benevolent crafting. The ‘continuum hypothesis’ is the best we have - that we humans have evolved from less-endowed fellow-beings that we deign to call animals. This is no slur on our status as extraordinarily perceptive beings that have developed the cognitive inheritance of our animal forbears to a level of excellence unmatched by anything that we know of in the world around us.

These observations bring us directly to the contentious issue - the existence of a hiatus between man and the rest of the animal kingdom in the functioning of the ‘mind’. Let us note first that this word which has so much emotive meaning is loose and unscientific. It encompasses a host of specialised functions some of which are characteristically animal. Indeed, computer simulation of these ‘mind-like’ activities is routinely done in business and industry. Sensory analysis, incremental learning and goal-directed decision-making are some of the better-known aspects of mental functioning that can be done by ‘silicon brains’ as efficiently as in the living counterpart. The error of Mr Wijesinghe is to trivialise the structure of the ‘mind’ in speaking of it as a ‘collection of thoughts’. In a popular interpretation of Buddhist metaphysics ‘Mano’ (mind) and ‘citta’ (thoughts) are equated with unfortunate results. The dynamism of the sentient being is lost - its mental functionalism that is brought into sharp focus in the Five Aggregates concept of the genesis of personality. According to this enlightened interpretation, the ‘person’ is a dynamic psychophysical system interacting with its immediate environment by modeling the world on the basis of its sensory input. This system is based primarily on bodily organisation - especially that part which we currently recognize as the brain and nervous system (Nama-rupa). Mind-like qualities - such things as intentionality, purposiveness, emotive drive and self-serving action (Sankhara) are the chief parts of the repertory of adaptive mechanisms that characterize the life of a samsaric being. Briefly, such a life-system mirrors the external world through its cognitive apparatus and reacts with ‘grasping’ (Tanha). Two questions arise within this context - Is the dynamism of the psycho-physical system outlined above uniquely human?

The answer must be a resounding ‘No’. The higher animals (let us exclude such things as slugs and barnacles) mirror the world with a brain-based cognitive apparatus. They show intentionality, purposiveness and choice. They are goal-driven and feel pain and pleasure. It is this conglomerate of features that defines the mind - not some ill-defined reservoir containing ‘thoughts’. The skeptic can challenge us on the issue of ‘consciousness’. Are the higher animals conscious? If man alone is gifted with conscious awareness the door is open to the suggestion that a transcendent entity such as the soul may reside in this privileged domain of the mind. Again, the answer is a blow to the age-old assumptions of human uniqueness. Professor Damasio - a neurophysiologist and a world-leader in this field - speaks of two levels of consciousness. The basic or ‘core-consciousness’ is a feature of the mental life of higher animals. It is no great surprise to learn that cats, dogs and monkeys are richly endowed with this core-consciousness which makes them sensitive to joy and anguish in their transactions with the world. But the higher kind - reflective self-awareness that positions a being in the world as player and victim in a samsaric struggle - is distinctively human. Before the Theists shout hurrah, let us note that a child below three years of age is no better than an ape, with core-consciousness alone providing the basis of its rich emotional life. Self-awareness grows with the maturation of the neuro-sensory organs of the child and can be regarded as a development of core-consciousness.

This brings us to the distinctively Buddhist doctrine of ‘Anatta’ - the thesis that the ‘person’ is an illusion wrought by the workings of the psycho-physical system that we alluded to earlier. As we have noted above, ‘mind’ is an agglomerate of functions and in no way corresponds to the Cartesian concept of an extra-corporeal agent ‘directing’ bodily operations. This fits squarely with Buddhist teachings. The agreement goes beyond this: the self- awareness that creates the illusion of an active agent resolutely seeking satisfaction in an indifferent world is a mere front of the aggrandizing psycho-physical systems that we refer to as human beings.

Buddhist enlightenment is a profound recognition of this cognitive deception that leads inexorably to karmic enslavement. In plainer language, the conscious ego is a deceptive by-product of a generalised mental functioning characteristic of sentient beings.

Mr Wijesinghe’s attempt to co-opt the latest findings in science to buttress his Buddhistic theses highlights a weakness all-too-evident in the writings of scholars in this field - the uncritical use of ‘fringe science’. The ghastly experiments on new-born rabbits (which he describes) falls squarely into this category of anecdotal rubbish that genuine scholars in the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience view with abhorrence. Paranormal research is in vogue in this new age of superstition and specialised journals dedicated to ESP etc are the rage in the nominally materialistic West. As Buddhists we must be critical of this ‘goofy research’ that investigates such things as the habits of disembodied spirits hovering over the dying.

We need genuine science - including the quantum mechanical investigation of the fine states of matter - to shed light on such complex issues as the nature of the ‘re-linking consciousness’ (pattisandhivinyana) that catenates being and being. Controversial issues in this field - including ‘quantum non-locality’ and ‘coherence’ may have a resonance in Buddhist studies. Arduous studies of this kind are a sine qua non for a re-interpretation of the Abidharma based on modern science.

The Island - 26 Sept 00 






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J7.19  Writings of Nanavira Thera (1)

Mindfulness and awareness

Kingsley Heendeniya 

This is the first of a series of articles I have prepared from the book 'Cleaning the Path' by the English monk, Nanavira Thera of Bundala, for the benefit of readers unable purchase it in London. Those of us born Buddhist' and brought up in that milieu, tend to regard the Dhamma, its traditional books and icons as objects of veneration, as Nanavira writes, 'Do not touch,' and 'Buddhists have stopped thinking'. Foreigners and persons of other faiths who come to the Dhamma have no such impediments. The insight from which he has written 'Notes on Dhamma' and 'Letters' has been acquired after attaining the Path in 1959 from actually practising the Dhamma as instructed by the Buddha. This article is composed from a letter Nanavira wrote to Mr. N.Q. Dias in 1962.

To begin with, here are three Suttas to indicate the scope of the practice of awareness in the Buddha's Teaching. (a) Here monks, in walking to and from a monk practices awareness; in looking ahead and looking aside he practices awareness.... (b) Here, monks, feelings are known when they arise, feelings are known as they endure, feelings are known as they vanish; perceptions are known... thoughts are known... (d) Here, Ananda, a monk is mindful as he walks to, he is mindful as he walks to, he is mindful as he stands, he is mindful as he sits, he is mindful as he sets to work. This, Ananda, is a mode of recollection that, when developed and made much of in this way, leads to mindfulness - and awareness. (Abbreviated).

The Satipattana Sutta (Mindfulness and awareness) includes a section on awareness of bodily actions and mindfulness of the body. The Pali for 'awareness' is satisampajanna and 'mindfulness' is sati. Mindfulness is general recollectedness, not being scatterbrained whereas awareness means keeping oneself under constant observation, not letting actions, thoughts, feelings etc. pass unnoticed. A common verbal confusion must be sorted. Habitual actions are done without thinking - automatic, like blinking the eyes, scratching the head. It is a misunderstanding to take them as 'unconscious' action. The Buddha defines 'action' (kamma) as 'intention' (cetana). An 'unconscious' action is no action at all, it is pure and simple movement, like a tree swaying in the wind or a stone rolling down a hill. The Buddha teaches that all consciousness is action (of mind, voice or body) and every action is conscious.

A conscious action, strictly speaking, is a deliberate action requiring some thought to perform. When we do them, we have to consider what we are doing - such as chasing after the neighbour's wife - and it is this considering, of what we are doing that constitutes 'awareness'. The objection is sometimes raised that it is not possible to do two things at once and that it is not possible both to act and be aware of the action at one and the same time. This is pure prejudice. I am breathing as I am writing this letter and do not interrupt one to do the other. What is not possible is to give equal attention to all of them at the same time. I can ask the question, while walking, 'What am I doing?' But it is not necessary to stop or run or fall down to answer it.

So long as we are awake, there is always some degree of awareness and we are obliged to consider them in order to deal with them. Awareness is in abeyance when we dream. We are not aware that we are dreaming. A nightmare is a struggle to wake up, a trying to remember or become aware that we are dreaming. In our normal life, most of the time we are absorbed in what we are doing - affection, fury, lust, boredom and so on. To be detached is difficult when there is so much routine work to be done, and it robs us of personal relationships and emotional satisfaction. We like to keep awareness of what we are doing to a minimum but cannot avoid it altogether. But we use this awareness to overcome obstacles in our life, to get through our work expeditiously.

Awareness in the teaching of the Buddha has a different purpose. It is practised to get release from living. These two purposes are at right angles to each other and there is competition between them. The Buddha tells us (in the Itivuttaka III, 30: 71-2) that three things harm the progress of the sekha bhikkhu (monk in higher training who has attained the Path): fondness for work (sewing robes etc.), fondness for talk and fondness for sleep. In the first two, there is much awareness and in the third, no awareness is possible. When going to sleep however the bhikkhu is required to bear in mind the time to wake. Naturally, a bhikkhu cannot altogether avoid doing some work or talk but he must do it mindfully and with awareness. Drive and initiative are impediments for those seeking release. The ordinary person does not habitually practice awareness but a bhikkhu is instructed to confine his actions.

How does a person practise awareness for the purpose of release? All that is necessary is a slight change of attitude, a slight effort of attention. Instead of being fully absorbed in what we are doing, without ceasing to act, observe ourselves in action. This is done by asking "What am I doing?' Since all action is done consciously, we already know the answer without having to think about it. For example, I can immediately answer 'I am writing this letter', 'I am scratching my head' and so on endlessly. If I wish to practice awareness, I must go on asking this question until, with practice, I am answering the question automatically without having to ask it. When you reach this stage, awareness is successful and all you need is to develop it and not fall back through neglect. The same applies to feelings, perceptions and thoughts. 

Why should you practice awareness? There are three good reasons: they develop virtue (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (panna). In the first place, it will lead to self-criticism and self-correction. Next, you will gain a powerful control over the passions. Constant practice inhibits passions and they arise less and less frequently. In the third place, the practice of awareness is an absolute pre-requisite for the understanding of the essence of the Buddha's Teaching. The reason for this is that the Dhamma is concerned not with anyone single experience (consciousness, feeling, etc.) as such, but with experience (consciousness, feeling, etc.) in general. We do not need the Buddha to tell us how to escape from any particular experience (whether it is a headache or incurable cancer) but we do need the Buddha to tell us how to escape from all experience whatsoever. In the normal state of being, absorbed in what we are doing (that is with non-awareness) we are concerned with this or that particular experience (she loves me, she loves me not...'). But when we become aware of what we are doing or feeling or perceiving or thinking we are also observing it with detachment, and at that time, the general nature of 'doing' or 'feeling' comes into view. The particular activity is merely an example of the general. When this general nature of things comes into view, we are able, with the guidance of the Buddha, to grasp the universal characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta. But here, we are getting into deeper waters and I do not want to add difficulties to a subject that is already not very easy.

The Island - 12 Dec 00  






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J7.20  The Buddha’s First sermon

Setting in motion the Wheel of the Dhamma

Ron Wijewantha

The Buddha wished to share his discovery with his five erstwhile companions. Knowing that they were living quite a distant away in the ‘Deer Park’ at Isipathana in the vicinity of the sacred city of Baranas (present day Benares), he proceeded with measured steps on this long journey.

The time spent on the journey gave him the opportunity to formulate His Discovery into what later will be remembered as "The Four Noble Truths". Crafting such a sermon would have indeed been a formidable task.

For, not only did it have to be both deep and comprehensive, but it needed also to be understandable by laypersons. Hence, he appreciated that it was a task which could be undertaken only by a fully-enlightened person.

When the Buddha arrived at the Deer Park in Isipathana, and was approaching the huts where the "Pasvaga-mahanun" or five-ascetics were residing, one of them recognized him in the distance, and informed the others.

They decided that they should refrain from greeting a person whom they considered as having given up the ‘austere practice’ of striving for Enlightenment. But as he came closer, they were so impressed by His radiant bearing that they stood up at once and greeted Him with great respect. After the Buddha had washed His hands and feet with the offered jug of water, and sat down on a stool, they also offered him a bowl of cool water to quench his thirst.

They now sat in a circle around him. The Buddha looked at them with kindness and a benign smile and said, "Brothers, I have found the Way, and I will show it to you."

The five ascetics would not believe him.

The Buddha now turned to their leader Kondanna, looked him squarely in the eye and asked, "Friend, you have known me for a long time, even longer than the rest of you. During this entire period, have you heard me ever speak an untruth?" Kondanna admitted that he had not. The ascetics now nodded their assent.

The Buddha then said, "Please listen carefully, my friends, I have found the Way to Enlightenment and Liberation from samsara, and I shall show it to you.

You will be the first to hear it as a reward for being my companions in the ascetic life during most of the time I spent in striving to find the truth.

The Dhamma that I intend teaching you is not the result of mere thinking, contemplation and reflection. It is the result of direct experience which comes only to a mind living in the moment."

It was now nearing twilight, and the Buddha accompanied by the five-ascetics proceeded deeper into the Deer Park until they came upon a glade.

The ascetics now placed a folded robe on the grassy plain and invited the Buddha to sit there on facing east, while they in turn sat in a semi-circle facing Him.

The park was awash with moon-light, for it was the full-moon day in the month of Poson. Kondanna then spoke for all of them. "Friend Gotama, please teach us the Way to escape from Samsara". There was a hush; even the crickets and night insects as well as night-owls and nocturnal animals seem to have become aware that this was a momentous occasion.

It is also said that tree-residing devas in the vicinity, as well as heavenly devas in their tens of thousands had descended to listen to the Buddha.

The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

The Buddha began serenely. His voice was filled with such spiritual authenticity and authority that the five friends joined their palms and cast their eyes on Him. Ancient commentaries say that as soon as the Buddha spoke, mother-earth responding to these words from its favourite son tremble and raised his seat to form a rostrum (elevated platform).

"Brothers", said the Buddha, "There are two extremes which a person on the path of meditation should avoid.

One is to plunge oneself into sensual pleasures, and the other is to practise austerities which deprive the body and mind of its needs. Both of these extremes invariably lead to failure.

The Path I have discovered is the Middle-Way, which avoids both extremes and has the capability to lead one to understanding and liberation. I call it the "Noble Eightfold Path".

It is a path of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. It was by following this Path that I realized understanding, enlightenment, liberation and peace.

(The above portion of the Buddha’s first sermon, because of its importance, is repeated below using his very own words... "Monks, these two extremes ought not to be cultivated by the recluse, by one gone forth from the house-hold life. (What are the two?)

There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of the ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable: and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy and unprofitable.

Avoiding these extremes the Tathagatha (The Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight to Enlightenment, to Nibbana...)

Now, continuing, the Buddha said: "Brothers, why do I call this path the Right Path? I call it so, because it does not avoid or deny dukkha (suffering), but allows for a direct confrontation with dukkha as the means to overcome it. The Noble Eightfold Path is the path of living in awareness and in the moment. Mindfulness is the foundation.

By practising mindfulness, concentration can be developed which then enables you to attain Supreme Understanding.

Thanks to right concentration, one could realize right awareness, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, and right effort.

The Understanding which develops there-from, can liberate you from the shackles of suffering and give you true peace and joy.

"Friends, there are Four Truths: The existence of suffering or un-satisfactoriness or dukkha, the cause of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha and the Path which leads to the cessation of dukkha.

The First Truth is the existence of dukkha. Birth, old age, sickness, and death are dukkha. Sadness, anger, jealosy, worry, fear and despair are dukkha.

Separation from loved ones is dukkha. On the other hand, association with those whom you dislike too is dukkha. Desire and in fat attachment and clinging to the five aggregates (pannchakkhandha) are also a source of dukkha.

"Friends, the Second Truth explains the cause of dukkha. Because of ignorance, people cannot see the truth about life, and they become caught in the flame of desire, anger, jealousy, grief, worry, fear and despair. We now come to the Third Truth, which is the cessation of dukkha. It is the understanding of the truth of life. This understanding brings about the cessation of every grief and sorrow and gives rise to peace and joy.

"Friends, the Fourth Truth is the "Path", which leads to the cessation of dukkha. It is the Noble Eightfold Path, which I have at the

commencement of this talk explained to you. This Noble Eighfold Path is nourished by living mindfully. Mindfulness leads to concentration and concentration in turn leads to understanding which liberates you from every pain and sorrow and even more importantly leads to permanent peace and joy.

"Once I had discovered the Four Noble Truths, I proceeded to see them quite clearly as they really are, by further examining them from three aspects in respect of each of the Truths.

First by realizing with wisdom that such knowledge is indeed the Truth (sacca-nana), second by realizing with wisdom that a certain function pertaining to each of these four Truth can be realized (kicca-nana) and thirdly the realization and knowledge that the function pertaining to each of the Four Noble Truths has been performed (kata-nana).

When my knowledge of seeing things as they really are, was quite clear in respect of the three aspects, in twelve ways,* concerning the Four Noble Truths, then I claimed to have realized the matchless, supreme Enlightenment." (The twelve ways or modes are obtained by applying the three aspects to each of the Four Noble Truths).

Friends, have no fears or doubts, for I shall guide you along this same path of realization, during the next few weeks. The Buddha was now nearing the tail end of this sermon, and Kondanna suddenly felt a great light shining within his heart and mind.

He could taste the liberation sought for so long. (In the suttas this incident in described in the following words; ‘.... There arose in the Ven Kondanna the dustless, stainless, Truth-seeing Eye (Dhamma-cakkhu) and he saw that ‘whatever is subject to origination, all that is subject to cessation)’. His face beamed with joy and the Buddha exclaimed "Kondanna has seen the Truth".

Henceforth Kondanna would be known as "Anna-Kondanna" - meaning Kondanna who has realized. For, he had indeed attained to the Noble Ariya Path and was now a Sotapanna.

All five ascetics now joined their respective palms together and kneeling at the Buddha’s feet, asked to be received as his disciples. He motioned them, as a token of acceptance, to rise and return to their places again. "Bhikkhus" He said, "Fully-Enlightened Ones are known as the Buddha. You may henceforth call me by that name".

The Buddha taught them about the impermanence and non-self nature of all things. He taught them to look at the five aggregates as five constantly flowing rivers which contained nothing that could be called separate or permanent entities. The five aggregates, he said, were the body (rupa), while feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness together comprised the mind (nama).

By meditating on the five aggregates within themselves, and understanding conditionality, they came to see the intimate and wondrous inter-connection between themselves and all in the universe. Now, thanks to their diligence, they all realized Liberation.

The first to attain to the Ariya Path had been Kondanna, followed two months later by Vappa and Bhaddiya. Shortly thereafter, Mahanama and Assaji also attained to Sotapanna. Pleased at their attainments, the Buddha told them, "Now we have a real community which we will call our Sangha. It will be a community of those who live in harmony and awareness."

This concludes our recapitulation of the world-shaking proclamation of the Dhamma, also popularly known as the "Turning of the Wheel of the Dhamma’.

31 5 2007 - Daily News


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