Vesak 2001

News Ticker



J8.01  Spread peace through thoughts, words, deeds - Traditionally, being a Buddhist means, either being born...

J8.02  Revolt against false values - If you were to examine the values in which you have been nurtured...

J8.03  Let the Dhamma be your refuge - When the baby saw the light of this world, little did he realize...

J8.04  Some salient features of Buddhism - The foundations of Buddhism are the four Noble Truths...

J8.05  Nirvana - Nirvana is a state of supreme happiness...

J8.06  What should be the Vesak determination? - The first Vesak of 21st Century dawns on May 7 in 2001...

J8.07  Buddhism, doctrine of reality - The Buddha taught that it remains a fact, an established principle...

J8.08  Understanding akusala and kusala - The words akusala, kusala and kamma are probably the commonest...

J8.09  The significance of Vesak - ...lies with the Buddha and his universal peace message to mankind...

J8.10  The Bodhi-Puja - The veneration of the Bodhi-tree...

J8.11  What did the Buddha teach? - The only person who could answer the question...

J8.12  Meditation On Mindfulness - I will try to explain, from Buddhist point of view, mindfulness and its development...

J8.13  Why Vesak is significant for the global society? - Today, society is riddled with a multitude of religions...

J8.14  The Art of giving - One of the challenges that life offers is to find a purpose...

J8.15  Transient are all formations; strive zealously - The Vesak full moon shines proudly in the...

J8.16  Navigating the New Millennium - Although our calculation of time's passage in years and centuries...

J8.17  Reflections on the Five Aggregates (Khandhas) in Buddhism - The chief metaphysical concepts in Buddhism are...

J8.18  Translations of Buddhist texts by the Royal Asiatic Society - It has been a pure accident of circumstances...

J8.19  The Buddha’s true face - In the Dhammadayada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya the Buddha says...

J8.20  The Buddha’s admonition to lay disciples - The Full Moon day of Medin (March). It commemorates mainly...








Aloka Home

J8.01  Spread peace through thoughts, words, deeds

Ven. Olande Ananda Thera

Traditionally, being a Buddhist means, either being born into a Buddhist family or taking refuge in the Triple Gem (TiSarana) and observing the Five Precepts (Pansil). But the mere mechanical repetition of the Tisarana and Pansil does not help our daily life nor does it help to overcome the ills of society. Conflict, suffering, strife and war are going on, even in Buddhist countries.

What can we do to contribute towards achieving world peace?

We first have to create peace and unity in our own minds. As 'the Mind is the forerunner of all states' (Mano pubbangama Dhamma...), our actions, words and thoughts are directed by our own intentions, tainted by defilements such as greed, hatred and illusion. As long as we have not attained the holy state of Arahathood, some form of Lobha, Dosa and Moha will continue to steer our bodily, verbal and mental activities.

However, we can do something to diminish these factors. We can become more generous and less greedy by practising Dana. We can become less irritated and angry by practising Metta in thought, word and deed. We can overcome Moha or illusion by practising Bhavana or Meditation. The Pali words used by the Buddha for these trainings are Dana, Sila, Bhavana. They lead us from conflict and suffering (Dukkha) to a state, free from Dukkha - Vimukti or liberation or Nirvana.

Practising Meditation

Even among Buddhists there is a lot of misconception as to what meditation is all about. Some believe meditation is only for monks and nuns and therefore cannot be practised by lay people. Others may think that meditation means to sit like a Buddha statue, fix one's mind on a single object and empty one's mind completely. Others believe one can only meditate in jungles or at the foot of a tree or in an empty house (Aranya gato va, Rukkhamula gato va, Sunnyaghara gato va). There are yet others who think one should meditate to get more money, power, fly, walk on water, get supernatural psychic powers and so on.

According to the Buddha's teaching, there are basically two forms of meditation. One is Samatha Bhavana or Tranquility Meditation and the other is Vipassana Bhavana or Insight Meditation.

In Samatha Bhavana, one concentrates on an object, either within one's body or outside; or dwells on a quality (such as Metta, Karuna - loving kindness or compassion) and develops peace of mind through concentration.

In Vipassana Bhavana, one gains insight into the reality of matter and mind through the practice of Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati) on body, feelings, mind and mind objects (Kaya, Vedana, Citta & Dhamma). Vipassana meditation can be practised in an intensive form by attending a Meditation Retreat Centre (observing Noble Silence and practising sitting and walking meditation the whole day long for an extended period) or it can be practised in daily life.

In our daily life, we spend about six to eight hours sleeping. What about the other 16-18 hours of our waking state? If we practise formal meditation i.e. Metta Bhavana (loving kindness) and Anapana Sati (mindfulness of breathing) for 10-20 minutes in the morning and again in the night, we are still left with about 16 hours of the day.

What do we do with the rest of our time? Is it possible to integrate meditation into our daily life?

In the Satipattana Sutta (the teaching on the establishment of Mindfulness), Buddha stated that one should practise this mindfulness at all times - while walking, sitting, standing and lying down, while eating, while looking up and down, while stretching and bending and even while going to the bathroom. There is no time and place where we cannot practise Mindfulness (Sati) except perhaps during our sleeping hours.

If we are mindful of our thoughts, words and deeds, and we have a clear comprehension of the situation we are in (Sampajanya), then our words and deeds will be most suitable and skilful, leading to the upliftment of both ourselves and others. Meditation is not necessarily deep absorption and concentration on one chosen subject. It is rather to be aware and mindful of every moment and to retain that mindfulness and some form of equilibrium, equanimity. Then peace will start entering our minds: a peace which already is a part of our mind, our basic nature, our Shining Mind (Pabhassara Citta), our birth-right! We have to let go of the unnecessary dross and dust which have obscured that shining mind like uninvited guests (Agantuka Kilesas).

Most people drift off to the past and future, and are not aware that the mind is doing that. If one becomes aware of the distracted mind, then the attention is again focused on the present moment and the mind gets collected. Many of us get into trouble because we live in the past or think too much about the future, based on hope and fear. Rather than wasting our energies on these 'mind trips' to the past and future, we can focus on the present.

We should keep two three-letter words in mind: DIN -Do It Now and KIV - Keep In View.When we can do something in the present, it is better to do it then and there and do it well and completely finish it, not leaving a trace behind.

We should distinguish here between the 'technical past' and the 'psychological past' and also about the 'technical future' and the 'psychological future'. By 'technical past' we mean all the knowledge, skills and memories that we need to function in our profession or our work or our daily lives. We need that. We should not forget that technical past even though we do not need to think about it when not needed. By 'psychological past' we mean carrying the burden of the hurts and flatteries of the past, the regrets of things not done or not properly done. These stand in the way of perceiving and living in the present.

By technical future, we infer, to plan anything like a journey or the construction of a house. We need to plan according to our best knowledge and skills. Without planning, nothing would be created or constructed. Even the coconuts or mangoes would not fall off the trees by themselves unless we planted the trees and nurtured them! Psychological future means to hope and fear about how one will function in the future, to worry about the results of our actions. These hopes and fears again stand in the way of perceiving the present and functioning properly and fully in the present. Therefore, both the psychological past and the psychological future should be made aware in the present when they occur to our mind's eye and be dropped, like we would rather drop an unnecessary burden.

If we can get rid of greed, hatred and delusion, then 90 per cent of our problems would be solved. The practice of Mindfulness in daily life is one way of purifying our minds, speech and actions and of overcoming conflict and suffering both for on self and others. It can bring us closer to the highest goal of all Buddhists i.e the attainment of Nibbana, the stainless state of mind - the highest peace and happiness.

06 05 2001 - Sunday Times






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.02  Revolt against false values

J.P. Pathirana

If you were to examine the values in which you have been nurtured from your childhood, you will realise most of them have been forced upon you by society; by the socio-economic and educational environment in which you had your early upbringing. On closer examination you will see that most of these values increase your life's tensions, anxieties and suffering rather than help resolve them.

This is because most of us ignore the basic truths and laws of life. Our social values today are sensate, false and changing. They do not touch reality.

The true Buddhist may revolt against these perishable, materialistic values that carry him farther from happiness and truth. He is expected to cultivate those imperishable and eternal values of the heart and mind which bring both harmony and individual peace.

Better cars, well equipped bathrooms, radios, televisions, films, hi-fi stereos etc., are expected to enhance human happiness. But the tragedy is that they have created new conditions of suffering.


Better cars, well equipped bathrooms, radios, televisions, films, hi-fi stereos etc., are expected to enhance human happiness. But the tragedy is that they have created new conditions of suffering. Better scientific discoveries mean more efficient methods of killing each other, more methodical and destructive wars, more deceptive methods of exploitation and so on. This situation dominates the technologically advanced West and has opened the eyes of many Westerners to the profound truths of life and the cosmos proclaimed by The Buddha.


The Buddhist has a two-fold duty; one toward himself, the other toward society. Where Buddhist truths conflict with the accepted values of society, he should be able to make a compromise instead of sacrificing his higher and nobler emotions for social expediency or shallow convention.

Society may place an absolute value on perishable things like money, power, wealth and property, name and fame. But the true Buddhist who understands the impermanence and therefore painful character of these changing, sensate material values, should break away from every false pattern of life.


Technology in itself is not an evil. But it is not the solution to our human problems, which are basically ethical and psychological, as the Buddha points out. It is because of the wrong emphasis laid on technology that external temporal values have taken precedence over ethical and moral values.

To the rulers of his day, the Buddha enunciated an excellent politico economic and social moral values. For example, the Five precepts (Panchasila) concept, is the most elementary expression of that value structure. If you examine human history, you will see that the most flourishing periods of human peace and happiness were those during which rulers were inspired by ethical codes and moral convictions. Think of the long reign of Asoka the Great or even Charlemagne. Think of the long line of Sinhalese Kings (from Devanampiyatissa to Mahasena) who embraced Buddhism and disseminated Buddhist ideals in ancient Sinhalese society.

Conversely, the dark periods in human history were those in which rulers sacrificed the nobler emotions of the heart and mind and tried to assert their brutal instincts of hatred and jealousy, revenge and self aggression like Napoleon, Hitler and Mussolini. Think of the colossal destruction of life and property they have been responsible for.The tendency to defy truth and justice has its roots in ignorance of the Buddha Dhamma. Many nations today are unaware of the obvious truth that mere socio-economic development does not solve a country's problems.

Put the Dhamma into practice and vividly see the beneficial results and the solace and peace that will follow in its trail.

06 05 2001 - Sunday Times






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.03  Let the Dhamma be your refuge

Upali Salgado

The birth of a child brings joy to his parents. But one who is appreciative of Theravada Buddhist philosophy looks at such an event, as being inevitable; yet another happening in

 one's samsaric journey. When the baby saw the light of this world, little did he realize there was suffering everywhere.

The mission of Sakyamuni Gothama Buddha was to be "awakened", to the truth relating to Dukkha (pain, anguish, disappointment, and suffering). His mission, as a teacher, was to "show the way" to end all forms of suffering.

Prince Siddhartha was born in 623 BC at the Sal grove in Lumbini, Nepal. Though of royal birth, certain marks on his body seen at birth, and his behaviour destined him to be a sage and a Buddha. The Buddha did not believe in or tell us of a creator God, nor was he a divine Messiah. He was not a Vaidika or follower of Vedic Brahminism. He was an extraordinary man born "to give light" to suffering humanity, at a time when there were 63 other religious leaders in India all professing shades of orthodox Hinduism or Jainism.

The Buddha's Theravada Dhamma (philosophy) was not only a reaction to ritualism but also against adherence to the caste system. In fact, two of his foremost disciples Upali of the barber caste and Sumedha who was a scavenger were of lower social status. Women who were in shackles were liberated in status and permitted to be nuns.

He emphasised the need to follow Ahimsa and advocated religious tolerance of other faiths. The cardinal axis of his Dhamma wheel, was the identification of the noble truth relating to the cause of Dukkha and how to end Dukkha (suffering); Annichya (impermanence of everything known to man) and Anathma (absence of one's soul). Gotama Buddha did not speak of repentance or condemn man as a sinner. The concept of sin had no place in his teachings.

As a Bodhisatva, Prince Siddhartha mastered ten perfections of keeping the precepts, wisdom, courage, patience, freedom from attachment, goodwill, indifference, endurance, alms giving or sacrifice in its extreme forms (as seen in the Vessanthara, Sivi and Sasa Jathaka stories),and to have the strength to know the Truth (as an Awakened One) - the Buddha. He was the embodiment of Maha Karuna (or great compassion for all living creatures and humans) and spoke in the language of the people he lived with. He did not rely on miracles to propogate his Dhamma, although he did perform a single miracle before the Jain leader Mahaveera, to show that he was the "All Knowing One" - a Buddha.

What Nehru said....

Jawaharlal Nehru, in his celebrated book "Discovery of India" wrote, "The Buddha.... seated on a lotus flower, calm and impassive, above passion and desire, beyond the storm and strife of this world, so far, far away. He seems out of reach, unattainable. Yet, again as we look behind those still, unmoving features, there is a passion and an emotion strange and more powerful than the passions and emotions we have known. His eyes are closed, but some power of spirit looks out of them, and a vital energy fills the frame."

Before the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations, when the Government of India moved in the Lok Sabha, a massive vote of several million rupees, to renovate and preserve several Buddhist Vihares and monuments at Buddha Gaya, at Saranath, Jetawane Monastery and Sanchi Vihares and at Kushinara (where he passed away), a member of the Lok Sabha asked why India should be concerned to spend money for the "glorification of a religion that has adherents less than 5% of her population." Prime MinisterNehru, replied in just three sentences: "We, and the world today consider India's greatest son was Sakyamuni Gothama Buddha. He gave "light" not only to India with his deep thoughts of compassion, but also to the whole world. We are truly proud of this great teacher and sage."

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President, also said, "It is characteristic of Gotama Buddha's message to mankind that, with the passage of time, far from becoming obsolete, it shines today like a beacon light.

His Dhamma

Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha to be, was born on a full moon day (Poya) in May, in an open Sal grove. In 1885, Dr. Fuhrer, a German archaeologist discovered a massive pillar erected by Emperor Dhamma-Asoka, who visited Lumbini in 250 BC, to pay homage to the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha. The pillar bears the following inscription: "Deva Piyana Piyadassina Buddha Jate Sakyamuni Bhagavan, Lumbini Game Ubalike Kate". The English translation: "King Piyadassi beloved of the Gods having been anointed (king) 20 years came himself and worshipped saying, here Buddha Sayamuni was born." .... The inscription also says: "Because the worshipful one was born here, this village Lumbini will be free of taxes and will receive wealth".

Prince Siddhartha gained Enlightenment at Buddha Gaya again when seated in the open under a bo-tree, on a Poya full moon day in May. He sat there meditating and when in a deep Jhana realized the noble truth of suffering, and the way to end suffering. To quote Aggha Maha Panditha Venerable Walpola Rahula (author of What the Buddha Taught), according to the Buddha Dhamma, the idea of self is imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of "Me" and "Mine", selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism and other defilements and problems. The Buddha Dhamma teaches that it is the source of all trouble or suffering or pain in the world, from personal conflicts to wars between nations.

Ven. Walpola continues, "Two ideas are psychologically deep rooted in man, self protection and self preservation. For self protection (fear) man has created God in which he depends for his own protection, safety and security. For self preservation, man has conceived the idea of an immortal Soul or "Athma" which live eternally. In his ignorance, weakness and fear and desire, man needs two things to console himself. Hence he clings to them fanatically. The Buddha Dhamma does not support ignorance, weakness, fear, desire".

To make that statement clear Buddhists believe that ignorance which is the root of suffering depends on intentional activity. On intentional activity depends name and form. On name and form depends the six organs of sense. On the six organs of sense (smell, taste, etc) depend sensations. On sensations depend clinging or desire or craving. On craving depends attachment. On attachment depends existence or karma (one's actions or volition; good or bad). On existence depends, birth, old age and death (Jathi, Jara, Marana).

Therefore, to end the "Me" or "Self" one must make a personal effort. The Vissudhi Magga (XIX) says: "No Deva, no Brahma can be called the maker of this "Wheel of Life". Empty phenomena roll on, dependent on conditions all". Dhana, Seela and Bhavana is the prescription to achieve this by oneself. No God or force above can help you.

The Buddha said: "Be ye islands unto yourselves, be ye a refuge to yourselves. Take no other refuge. Let the Dhamma be your island, the Dhamma be your refuge".

An Udana saying:

"Self alone is Lord self,
What higher Master can there be?
By self alone, is evil done,
By self alone, is one defiled...."

06 05 2001 - Sunday Times






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.04  Some salient features of Buddhism

Ven. Narada Thera

Courtesy: Buddhism in a nutshell

The foundations of Buddhism are the four Noble Truths - namely, Suffering (the raison d’etre of Buddhism), its cause, i.e. Craving, its end, i.e. Nibbana (the Summum Bonum of Buddhism), and the Middle Way.

What is the Noble Truth of Suffering ? "Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, disease is suffering, death is suffering, to be united with the unpleasant is suffering, to be separated from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one craves for is suffering, in brief the five Aggregates of Attachment are suffering.

What is the Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering? "It is the craving which leads from rebirth to rebirth accompanied by lust of passion, which delights now here now there; it is the craving for sensual pleasures (Kamatanha), for existence (Bhavatanha) and for annihilation (Vibhava tanha)

What is the Noble Truth of the Annihilation of Suffering ? It is the remainderless, total annihilation of this very craving, the forsaking of it, the breaking loose, fleeing, deliverance from it.

What is the Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Annihilation of Suffering ? "It is the Noble Eightfold Path which consists of right understanding, right thoughts, right speech. right action, right livelihood, right endeavour, right mindfulness, and right concentration."

Whether the Buddhas arise or not these four Truths exist in the universe. The Buddhas only reveal these Truths which lay hidden in the dark abyss of time.

Whether the Buddhas arise or not these four Truths exist in the universe. The Buddhas only reveal these Truths which lay hidden in the dark abyss of time.

Scientifically interpreted, the Dhamma may be called the law of cause and effect. These two embrace the entire body of the Buddha’s Teachings.

The first three represent the philosophy of Buddhism; the fourth represents the ethics of Buddhism, based on that philosophy. All these four truths are dependent on this body itself. The Buddha states: - "In this very one-fathom long body along with perceptions and thoughts, do I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the end of the world and the path leading to the end of the world" Here the term world is applied to suffering.

Buddhism rests on the pivot of sorrow. But it does not thereby follow that Buddhism is pessimistic. It is neither totally pessimistic no totally optimistic, but, on the contray, it teaches a truth that lies midway between them. One would be justified in calling the Buddha a pessimist if He had only enunciated the Truth of suffering without suggesting a means to put an end to it. The Buddha perceived the universality of sorrow and did prescribe a panacea for this universal sickness of humanity. The highest conceivable happiness, according to the Buddha, is Nibbana, which is the total extinction of suffering.

The author of the article on Pessimism in the Encyclopaedia Britannica writes: "Pessimism denotes an attitude of hopelessness towards life, a vague general opinion that pain and evil predominate in human affairs. The original doctrine of the Buddha is in fact as optimistic as any optimism of the West. To call it pessimism is merely to apply to it a characteristically Western principle to which happiness is impossible without personality. The true Buddhist looks forward with enthusiasm to absorption into eternal bliss."

Ordinarily the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only happiness of the average man. There is no doubt a kind of momentary happiness in the anticipation, gratification and retrospection of such fleeting material pleasures, but they are illusive and temporary. According to the Buddha non-attachment is a greater bliss.

The Buddha does not expect His followers to be constantly pondering on suffering and lead a miserable unhappy life. He exhorts them to be always happy and cheerful for zest (Piti) is one of the factors of Enlightenment.

Real happiness is found within, and is not to be defined in terms of wealth, children, honours or fame. If such possessions are misdirected, forcibly or unjustly obtained, misappropriated or even viewed with attachment, they will be a source of pain and sorrow to the possessors.

Instead of trying to rationalise suffering,. Buddhism takes suffering for granted and seeks the cause to eradicate it. Suffering exists as long as there is craving. It can only be annihilated by treading the Noble Eightfold Path and attaining the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

These four Truths can be verified by experience. Hence the Buddha Dhamma is not based on the fear of the unknown, but is founded on the bedrock of facts which can be tested by ourselves and verified by experience. Buddhism is, therefore, rational and intensely practical.

Such a rational and practical system cannot contain mysteries or esoteric doctrines. Blind faith, therefore, is foreign to Buddhism. Where there is no blind faith there cannot be any coercion or persecution or fanaticism. To the unique credit of Buddhism it must be said that throughout its peaceful march of 2500 years no drop of blood was shed in the name of the Buddha, no mighty monarch wielded his powerful sword to propagate the Dhamma, and no conversion was made either by force or by repulsive methods. Yet, the Buddha was the first and the greatest missionary that lived on earth,

Aldous Huxley writes: - "Alone of all the great world religions Buddhism made its way without persecution censorship or inquisition."

Lord Russell remarks: - "Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms; because it has had the smallest element of persecution."

In the name of Buddhism no altar was reddened with the blood of a Hypatia, no Bruno was burnt alive.

Buddhism appeals more to the intellect than to the emotion. It is concerned more with the character of the devotees than with their numerical strength.

On one occasion Upali, a follower of Nigantha Nataputta, approached the Buddha and was so pleased with the Buddha’s exposition of the Dhamma that he instantly expressed his desire to become a follower of the Buddha. But the Buddha cautioned him, saying:

"Of a verity, O householder, make a thorough investigation. It is well for a distinguished man like you to make (first) a thorough investigation."

Upali, who was overjoyed at this unexpected remark of the Buddha, said "Lord, had I been a follower of another religion, its adherents would have taken me round the streets in a procession proclaiming that such and such a millionaire had renounced his former faith and embraced theirs. But, Lord, Your Reverence advises me to investigate further. The more pleased am I with this remark of yours. For the second time, Lord, I seek refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha."

Buddhism is saturated with this spirit of free enquiry and complete tolerance. It is the teaching of the open mind and the sympathetic heart, which, lighting and warming the whole universe with its twin rays of wisdom and compassion, sheds its genial glow on every being struggling in the ocean of birth and death.  

The Buddha was so tolerant that He did not even exercise His power to give commandments to His lay followers. Instead of using the imperative, He said: - "It behoves you to do this - It behoves you not to do this." He commands not but does exhort.

This tolerance the Buddha extended to women and all living beings. It was the Buddha who first attempted to abolish slavery and vehemently protested against the degrading caste system which was firmly rooted in the soil of India. In the Word of The Buddha it is not by mere birth one becomes an outcast or a noble, but by one’s actions. Caste or colour does not preclude one from becoming a Buddhist or from entering the Order. Fishermen, scavengers, courtesans, together with warriors and Brahmins, were freely admitted to the Order and enjoyed equal privileges and were also given positions of rank. Upali, the barber for instance, was made in preference to all others the chief in matters pertaining to Vinaya discipline. The timid Sunita, the scavenger, who attained Arahatship was admitted by the Buddha Himself into the Order. Angulimala, the robber and criminal, was converted to a compassionate saint. The fierce Alavaka sought refuge in the Buddha and became a saint. The courtesan Ambapali entered the order and attained Arahatship. Such instances could easily be multiplied from the Tipitaka to show that the portals of Buddhism were wide open to all, irrespective of caste, colour or rank. 

It was also the Buddha who raised the status of downtrodden women and not only brought them to a realization of their importance to society but also founded the first celibate religious order for women with rules and regulations.

The Buddha did not humiliate women, but only regarded them as feeble by nature. He saw the innate good of both men and women and assigned to them their due places in His teaching. Sex is no barrier to attaining Sainthood.

Sometimes the Pali term used to denote women is "Matugama" which means mother-folk or society of mothers. As a mother, woman holds an honourable place in Buddhism. Even the wife is regarded as "the best friend" (parama sakha) of the husband.

Hasty critics are only making ex-parte statements when they reproach Buddhism with being inimical to women. Although at first the Buddha refused to admit women into the Order on reasonable grounds, yet later He yielded to the entreaties of His foster-mother, Pajapati Gotami, and founded the Bhikkuni Order. Just as the Arahats Sariputta and Moggallana were made the two chief disciples in the Order of monks, even so He appointed Arahats Khema and Uppalavanna as the two chief female disciples. Many other female disciples too were named by the Buddha Himself as His distinguished and pious followers.

On one occasion the Buddha said to King Kosala who was displeased on hearing that a daughter was born to him:

"A woman child, O Lord of men; may prove Even a better offspring than a male."

Many women, who otherwise would have fallen into oblivion, distinguished themselves in various ways, and gained their emancipation by following the Dhamma and entering the Order. In this new Order, which later proved to be a great blessing to many women, queens, princesses, daughters of noble families, widows, bereaved mothers, destitute women, pitiable courtesans - all, despite their caste or rank, met on a common platform, enjoyed perfect consolation and peace, and breathed that free atmosphere which is denied to those cloistered in cottages and palatial mansions.

It was also the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished His followers to extend their loving kindness (Metta) to all living beings - even to the tiniest creature that crawls at one’s feet. No man has the power or the right to destroy the life of another as life is precious to all.  

A genuine Buddhist would exercise this loving-kindness towards every living being and identify himself with all, making no distinction whatsoever with regard to caste, colour or sex.

It is this Buddhist Metta that attempts to break all the barriers which separate one from another. There is no reason to keep aloof from others merely because they belong to another persuation or another nationality. In that noble Toleration Edict which is based on Culla-Vyuha and Maha-Vyuha Suttas, Asoka says: "Concourse alone is best, that is, all should hearken willingly to the doctrine professed by others."

Buddhism is not confined to any country or any particular nation. It is universal. It is not nationalism which, in other words, is another form of caste system founded on a wider basis. Buddhism, if it be permitted to say so, is super nationalism.

To a Buddhist there is no far or near, no enemy or foreigner, no renegade or untouchable, since universal love realised through understanding has established the brotherhood of all living beings. A real Buddhist is a citizen of the world. He regards the whole world as his motherland and all as his brothers and sisters.

Buddhism is, therefore, unique, mainly owing to its tolerance, non-aggressiveness, rationality, practicability, efficacy and universality. It is the noblest of all unifying influences and the only lever that can uplift the world. 

These are some of the salient features of Buddhism, and amongst some of the fundamental doctrines may by said - Kamma or the Law of Moral Causation, the Doctrine of Rebirth, Anatta and Nibbana.






Personalities History

Articles Index


Dr. S. A. Ediriweera

Nirvana is a state of supreme happiness. It is life without suffering. It is the Third Noble Truth.  

Nirvana is the ultimate aim of Buddhists. The summum bonum of Buddhism.

Nirvana is achieved in life and is not something gained after death. For example the Buddha attained Nirvana at the age of 35 years and lived till 80 years.

Nirvana is attained by completely eradicating craving and that could be done by following the Noble Eightfold Path (The Fourth Noble Truth).

Nirvana is absolute mental peace brought about by completely abolishing greed, hatred and delusion. Perfect mental peace is immense happiness, it is the happiness of calming down, tranquillity achieved by allaying passions.

Nirvana is not something to be perceived with the five senses. To a question by Udayi "What happiness can it be if there is no sensation"? Sariputta the chief disciple of the Buddha replied "That there is no sensation itself is happiness". Nirvana is a supramundane state to be realised by wisdom.

One who has achieved Nirvana is free from all forms of self identification. The concept of ‘self’ is no more. The Ego illusion is completely uprooted. Rebirth producing craving and ignorance has been stopped. The mind is not attached to anything, there is ceasing of becoming and one is delivered from all future rebirths and deaths.

Nirvana is not a place to enter into. Venerable Nagasena’s reply to King Milinda’s question "In what region is Nirvana located"? was "great king there is no place where Nirvana is located. Nevertheless this Nirvana exists. Just as there is no place where fire is located, the fact being that a man by rubbing two sticks together produces fire - so also there is such a thing as Nirvana, but no place where it is located. The fact being that a man by diligent mental effort realizes Nirvana."

Nirvana is complete inner transformation achieved by perfecting virtue and wisdom. Nirvana has to be experienced and cannot be expressed in words. One has to taste sugar to know its sweetness, words do not really convey the taste, similarly supreme bliss Nirvana has to be realized.

Just as there is Heat - there is Cold.

Just as there is Evil - there is Good.

Just as there is Darkness - there is Light.

Just as there is Dukkha - there is Nirvana.

With growing awareness, we strive,

To end the cycle of life and death,

Till a state we reach,

Where their is the end of sorrow.

Courtesy: Essentials of Buddhism






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.06  What should be the Vesak determination?

Ven. Dr. P. Gnanarama Thera

Principal - Buddhist and Pali College of Singapore 

The first Vesak of 21st Century dawns on May 7 in 2001. As the Buddhists all over the world know, Vesak is celebrated to commemorate the three major events of the Buddha's life: The Birth, the Enlightenment and the Parinibbana or the Final Passing Away of the Buddha.

Over forty-five years after his Enlightenment, he wandered from town to town, village to village in North India disseminating his message of compassion and wisdom. The high and the low, rich and the poor, fools and the wise, kings and commoners and the elite and the masses all alike, came under his net of compassion without any distinction whatsoever. It was a life dedicated to serve humanity. Sir Edwin Arnold in the Introduction to his classic "Light of Asia" observed three facets of the life of the Buddha blended into one. He stated. "He (the Buddha) combined the royal qualities of a prince with that of an intellect of a sage and the devotion of a martyr". It is with that stately personality, unique wisdom and unreserved compassionate dedication the Buddha stands before us, even twenty-five centuries after his earthly career.

Spread far and wide

While some of the belief systems struggled to survive and subsequently died down then and there, the message of the Buddha spread far and wide beyond the territorial boundaries of India across the world known at the time and recognised as a world religion. Its onward march is not smeared with blood or proselytizing zeal or persecution.

The missionaries armed only with compassion and good will carried the message of Dhamma across Asia and to the other parts of the Western Hemisphere known to them at the tune. Therefore the famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell remarked: "Of the great religions of history I prefer Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms, because it has had the smallest element of persecution." The self-same sentiment was expressed by Adams Beck, American traveller and author by saying that "it may well claim kindred with all the great faiths, persecuting and opposing none which differ with it, and this for reasons which are easily seen in the teachings themselves. In relation to this noble and scientific austerity no words are needed."

Pali Text Society

Within the last hundred and fifty years ancient Buddhist texts have been edited and translated into different languages. Pali Text Society established in London about a hundred years ago, is still continuing its avowed task of editing the texts together with English translations. Prof. Rhys Davids, the founder of the society was very much fascinated by studying Buddhism. For he remarked: "Buddhist or non-Buddhist, I have examined everyone of the great religious systems of the world, in none of them I have found anything to surpass, in beauty and comprehensiveness, the Noble Eight-fold Path and the Four Truths of the Buddha". Now, as these texts are freely available in many of the world languages, their rich content and depth of vision have attracted both Eastern and Western intellectuals of diverse disciplines. To name a few, there are eminent physicists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, philosophers, poets, physicalist, mathematicians, historians and social workers of our time among them.

What have been discussed by the Buddha are nothing but the problems perennially humankind is facing. Contemporary relevance of the Buddha's approach to them has been highly valued by many. Specially, eminent physicians and psychotherapists of our time have appreciated the technique of mind culture found in Buddhism. Dr. E. Graham Howe said: The more I studied Satipatthana, the more impressed I became with it as a system of mind training. It is in line with our Western scientific attitude of mind in that it is unprejudiced, objective and analytical. It relies on personal, direct experience, and not on anyone else's ideas or opinions. Dr. C. C Jung, the founder of the Jungian School of psychology explaining why he drew to the world of Buddhist thought said that the philosophy of the theory of evolution and the law of karma taught in Buddhism were far superior to any other creed. Continuing further he said: "My task was to treat psychic suffering and it was this that impelled me to become acquainted with the views and methods of that great teacher of humanity, whose principal theme was the chain of suffering, old age, sickness and death." So much so, William James, the American philosopher and psychologist declared: "I am ignorant of Buddhism, and speak under correction, and merely in order better to describe my general point of view; but as I apprehend the Buddhistic doctrine of karma, I agree in principle with that."

Alfred North Whitehead, the British mathematician and philosopher reviewing Buddhism through his philosophical standpoint proclaimed that "Buddhism is the colossal example in the history of applied metaphysics. " Another British philosopher, G D. Broad appreciating Buddhism as a way of life said: "The only one of the great religions which makes any appeal to me is Buddhism; and that, as I understand it, is rather a philosophy of the world, and a way of life founded upon it, than a religion in the ordinary sense of the word." Perhaps the German philosopher Frederich Nietzche is very forceful in expressing that "Buddhism is hundred times more realistic than other religions."

Out of conviction

Evidently, all of these appreciative remarks have been made out of conviction. As Buddhism had a past it will have a bright future too. They say history repeats itself. Colonizers and invaders tested the tolerance of Buddhists to the extent of their extinction. One African freedom fighter once remarked: "When whites came to our country they had the Bible, we had the lands, but now, we have the Bible, they have the lands." The trend is now changing. As Buddhism addresses to the problems of man rationally and scientifically, it has a wider appeal in the modern world. The eminent physicist of our time, Albert Einstein, therefore remarked: "If there is any religion that would cope up with scientific needs it would be Buddhism. " When the present century where conflict and confrontation, storm and strife have become the order of the day turning the world into a global village of battles, Buddhism has much to accomplish. Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence therefore once remarked: "For Asia is not for Asia but for the whole world, it has to re-learn the message of the Buddba and deliver it to the whole world." At this juncture, we as Buddhists, we have a great responsibility before us. In this Vesak Day, therefore, let us determine to be equipped with a comprehensive knowledge of the Dhamma and practice it cultivating friendship and harmony, in order to fulfil the task before us.






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.07  Buddhism, doctrine of reality

T V Perera

At the historic Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, President Mahinda Rajapaksa inaugurated the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi Year, to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the Enlightenment of the Buddha.

The Buddha was born on the full moon day of May, in the year 624 B.C. at Lumbini Prk in Kapilawastupura, on the present day borders of India and Nepal to Queen Mahamaya and King Suddhodana and was named Siddhartha.

Eight distinguished Brahmins who examined the birth of the prince declared that he would be a universal monarch or would retire from the worldly affairs and become a Buddha. At the age of sixteen Prince Siddhartha married Princess Yasodhara and lived a happy married life for thirteen years in luxurious conditions created by his father to shelter him from the realities of life. However while being driven in his horse carriage outside the palace, on four subsequent days he saw an old man, a sickly man, a corpse, and an ascetic, four signs which changed his worldly views, and he renounced the world in search of the Truth.


Siddhartha left the palace and became an ascetic and fell under the tutelage of Alara Kalama and Udduka Ramaputta, two teachers whose teachings he understood but subsequently left them to continue his search for the Truth. At this stage, five ascetics, namely, Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Wappa, Mahanama and Assaji joined him. For six years Siddhartha practised extreme austerities, but seeing the futility of excessive austerity, he renounced these extreme practices. Fearing that Siddhartha had returned to a life of luxury, his five companions deserted him. In his thirty fifth year, on the full moon day of May, Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree at Buddhagaya in deep meditation and achieved enlightenment. Thereafter he was known as the Buddha (the Enlightened One) and referred to himself as the Thathagatha. The Buddha walked to the Deer Park at Isipathana near Benares where his five former companions re-joined him and on the full moon day of July, delivered his first discourse.

The middle path

On his way to achieve enlightenment the Buddha avoided the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification - the first which retards spiritual progress and the latter which weakens the intellect and instead discovered and followed the Mid Path (Majjhima Prathipada) which led to his enlightenment.

He taught this Path to his followers until his parinirvana.

The Buddha who was not a God or a saviour who could save others explained that deliverance from sufferings can only be achieved by self-exertion, and advised his disciples to be self-reliant. “Striving should be done by yourselves. The Buddhas are only teachers” (Dhammapada v. 276).


The Dhamma which the Buddha taught, is not merely to be preserved in books or a subject from a literacy or a historical stand point. It is to be studied and learnt and practised in the course of daily life and overall, to be realized by man’s own initiative.

The Dhamma is compared to a raft which is meant for the sole purpose of escaping from Sansara (the cycle of birth and death) and deals with truth and facts that can be testified and verified by personal experience and is not concerned with theories and speculation.

The Buddha did not expound revolutionary philosophical theories nor did he attempt to create a new material science. In plain terms he explained both what is within and without, so far as it contains emancipation from the ills of life, and revealed the unique path to deliverance, and taught what was absolutely essential for one’s purification.

In the First Discourse of the Buddha, he taught the four Noble Truths which are given as:

1. The Noble Truth of suffering.
2. The Noble Truth of the origin of suffering.
3. The Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering.
4. The way to the cessation of suffering.

The Buddha taught that it remains a fact, an established principle and a natural law that all conditioned things are transient, sorrowful and that everything is without a self.

Dhamma is the original Pali terms for Buddhism, and is the Doctrine of Reality. It is a means of deliverance from suffering and deliverance itself. The Dhamma exists from all eternity and it is a Buddha who realizes the Dhamma which lies hidden from the ignorant eyes of men till an Enlightened one compassionately reveals it to the world. Although the Buddha did not leave any written teachings, his disciples (the sangha) recited, and subsequently committed the teachings to writings.

The Buddha’s ministry lasted for forty five years. He attained parinirvana at the age of eighty on May Full Moon day in the Sala Grove at Kusinara. Buddhism spread from India into Myanmar, Indonesia, Kampuchea, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand and along the North West frontier of the Silk Road.

It reached Bhutan, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet, USSR and Vietnam. In the 19th Century European scholars too began to study Buddhism partly because of the work of expatriate communities and partly because of indigenous interest.

18 05 2011 - Daily News






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.08  Understanding akusala and kusala

KUSALA: The words akusala, kusala and kamma are probably the commonest words familiar to every Buddhist.

They are also the words commonly mistranslated and popularly misunderstood with dire consequences or miccaditthi which the Buddha says is the worst akusala kamma, the single most of impediment to progress in Dhamma. It shuts the door to freedom from dukkha. Why is that?

Sammaditthi is the opposite of miccaditthi where ditthi means ‘wrong view’. Sammaditthi is right view, seeing the true teaching, gaining insight of its content, intent and meaning.

Venerable Sariputta, when teaching bhikkhus in higher training [sekha] said: ‘Friends, in what way is a noble disciple one of right view, whose view is straight, who has perfect confidence in the Dhamma, and has arrived at this true Dhamma?’

They answered: ‘Indeed, friend, we would come from far away to learn from the venerable Sariputta the meaning of this statement. It would be good if the venerable Sariputta would explain the meaning of this statement. Having heard it from him, the bhikkhus will remember it.’ Then venerable Sariputta, the foremost disciple of the Buddha, delivered a deep discourse on sixteen ways to arrive at Sammaditthi. [MN 9]. He began by describing akusala and kusala kamma.

“When a noble disciple understands akusala and kusala and their origin ... one has arrived at this true Dhamma. Killing living beings, stealing, sensual misconduct; false, malicious, harsh speech, gossip; covetousness, ill-will and wrong view is akusala. They originate from greed (lobha), aversion (dosa) and delusion (moha). Kusala is abstention from these ten actions and intentions, originating in non-greed (alobha), non-aversion (adosa) and non-delusion (amoha). When a noble disciple has thus understood the akusala and kusala together with their root cause, he entirely abandons addiction to lobha, dosa and moha. Consequently, he extirpates the conceit’ ‘I-am’ (asmi mana), and by abandoning nescience (avijja) and arousing true knowledge (vijja) he here and now makes an end of dukkha. In this way too a noble disciple is one of sammaditthi...and has arrived at this true Dhamma.”

Elsewhere he says: ‘Just as the dawn heralds and foretells the rising of the sun, right view heralds and foretells penetration of the four noble truths, as they actually are.’ In the Mahahattipadomasutta, he says: ‘Just as the footprint of the elephant can include in it the footprint of any animal, all kusala things are included in the four noble truths.’

These statements (paraphrased) highlight the great importance and relevance of correctly understanding akusala and kusala.

‘Just as the dawn heralds and foretells the rising of the sun, right view heralds and foretells penetration of the four noble truths, as they actually are.’

Four concepts can immediately be noted: (a) it is essentially about intention (cetana), (b) akusala is defined in positive terms or intention (e.g. killing), (b) kusala is in negative terms, abstaining specified intention or action (e.g. not-killing) and (c) both originate in either presence or absence of lobha, dosa, moha (kilesa).

The kilesa in consciousness attenuate in the ordinary man with progressive abstention. All are extirpated in the arahat, from overcoming the root, the conceit ‘I am’. It follows that kusala is action that does not produce arising of (new) action or intention. There is no one by whom or for whom intentions arise.

‘The arahat has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, there is no more work to do, there is no more of this to come.’ But the householder cannot extirpate the root conceit ‘I am’ or asmi mana here and now to make an end of dukkha. That is why akusala/kusala contains these four concepts. Let me explain further.

Kusala or ethical actions are means to an end. But we often confuse means with ends. Why help an old lady cross-road? For reward? How make a choice in intentional duality to ignore her (akusala) or help her (kusala)?

Intention is actually intentional intention, and negative: ‘ignore her’ in immediate consciousness denying the intention ‘help her’ in reflexive consciousness or the other way around - the present in the absent, or the absent in the present; and whichever, the relationship of akusala/kusala is the same.

Consciousness is intention. The intention or reason for ethical action is not self- evident. It is learnt. Venerable Sariputta spelled out ten things that should not positively be done, and conversely, negative to be done.

We can accept or reject his advice, all or some. They are not divine putative imperatives. And this is exactly the point at which the words akusala and kusala are misinterpreted.

What is the difference in the ethics of killing an ant and killing an elephant? The simplest answer is that there is no difference - the intention is to kill a living being. We can assume that there is magnitude in the result or outcome (vipaka), if any.

So what has the Buddha advised in this regard? ‘Do not think of the ripening of action - it will make you go mad!’ The permutations of results of variables in intentions, past, present (and future) are not determinable. It is impossible to know the discrete result of a specific intent.

It is impossible to know the result waiting (in this life or in next). It is impossible to know what was done in the past, how much is ripened, how much reaped and how much remains to ripen. (Culadukkakkhandasutta and elsewhere).

The great stress and emphasis in the Dhamma is to know for oneself. The aim is to go at a tangent to re-becoming, make effort here and now to escape re-becoming. It is a do-it-yourself-teaching.

The kilesa are defilements in one’s consciousness. They have to be deleted, in part or full, by consciousness, through consciousness (cetana) trained, guided, developed and maintained as instructed by the Buddha, from complete confidence in him and in his teaching (aveccappasada).

The implication is that to do this yourself, one should have skill, energy and resolve to understand, penetrate, practice and experience the Dhamma. Herein is the clue to correctly understand akusala and kusala.

Note that it is akusala that is first mentioned and explicitly defined. Commonly, akusala/kusala is translated ‘unwholesome/wholesome’, understood in terms of demerit/merit, bad/good, implying collecting, accruing, storing, forwarding, transferring - not abstaining, abandoning, not letting go but the opposite of the Teaching.

This is a grave misdirection. The mistranslation has done great harm such as when rites and observances - lighting 84,000 oil lamps, saving animals from slaughter, ceremonial gifting - are promoted as ‘wholesome’ kusala kamma notwithstanding that such intentions (silabbata paramasa) are the third of four things holding back (upadana) from escape (vimutti). Innocent devotees are either deliberately misled or misled by persons misled themselves. So what is correct?

From the basic structure of intention (cetana) above, and the only aim of the Buddha in teaching, it is evident that akusala/kusala are properly translated ‘unskilful/skilful’ (as in Pali Text Society translations). There can be now no misunderstanding of the role of ethics in the Dhamma, as when there is no arising of action in the arahat and nibbana is understood as the end of ethics.

In the famous parable, a man makes a raft with grass and reed to cross to the other shore using his hands and feet. But he then does not carry it on his shoulder. He leaves it behind and fares along. The Dhamma is like that raft, to cross-over. The Buddha says: ‘Monks, when I say this (ethical) Dhamma is to be abandoned, how much more so unethical things?’

As mentioned, the ordinary householder is unable to extirpate the fundamental conceit ‘I am’ and with it all holdings (upadana) preventing escape.

That is, while all intentions of the arhant are neither akusala/kusala, all intentions of the householder are necessarily selfish - either akusala kamma when killing or kusala kamma when imbued with intentions of love, truthfulness, giving without expecting reward and so on.

With proper attention (yoniso manasikara) there is attenuation (yatodhi) of the kilesa thus, from learning, understanding and practicing as instructed. It is possible to shed the coarse obsession of the self (sakkaya) and thereafter to be led onwards for extirpation of the resilient subtle asmi mana in a future re-becoming, dependent on akusala/kusala already done.

It is only in terms of unskilful and skilful that akusala/kusala should be correctly understood by the householder.

30 05 2007 - Daily News






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.09  The significance of Vesak

Venerable Mahinda

The significance of Vesak lies with the Buddha and his universal peace message to mankind.

As we recall the Buddha and his Enlightenment, we are immediately reminded of the unique and most profound knowledge and insight which arose in him on the night of his Enlightenment. This coincided with three important events which took place, corresponding to the three watches or periods of the night.

During the first watch of the night, when his mind was calm, clear and purified, light arose in him, knowledge and insight arose. He saw his previous lives, at first one, then two, three up to five, then multiples of them... ten, twenty, thirty to fifty. Then 100, 1000 and so on.... As he went on with his practice, during the second watch of the night, he saw how beings die and are reborn, depending on their Karma, how they disappear and reappear from one form to another, from one plane of existence to another. Then during the final watch of the night, he saw the arising and cessation of all phenomena, mental and physical. He saw how things arose dependent on causes and conditions. This led him to perceive the arising and cessation of suffering and all forms of unsatisfactoriness paving the way for the eradication of all taints of cravings. With the complete cessation of craving, his mind was completely liberated. He attained to Full Enlightenment. The realisation dawned in him together with all psychic powers.

This wisdom and light that flashed and radiated under the historic Bodhi Tree at Buddha Gaya in the district of Bihar in Northern India, more than 2500 years ago, is of great significance to human destiny. It illuminated the way by which mankind could cross, from a world of superstition, or hatred and fear, to a new world of light, of true love and happiness.

The heart of the Teachings of the Buddha is contained in the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, namely,

The Noble Truth of Dukkha or suffering

The Origin or Cause of suffering

The End or Cessation of suffering

the Path which leads to the cessation of all sufferings

The First Noble Truth is the Truth of Dukkha which has been generally translated as ‘suffering’.

But the term Dukkha, which represents the Buddha’s view of life and the world, has a deeper philosophical meaning. Birth, old age, sickness and death are universal. All beings are subject to this unsatisfactoriness. Separation from beloved ones and pleasant conditions, association with unpleasant persons and conditions, and not getting what one desires - these are also sources of suffering and unsatisfactoriness. The Buddha summarises Dukkha in what is known as the Five Grasping Aggregates.

Herein, lies the deeper philosophical meaning of Dukkha for it encompasses the whole state of being or existence.

Our life or the whole process of living is seen as a flux of energy comprising of the Five aggregates, namely the Aggregate of Form or the Physical process, Feeling, Perception, Mental Formation, and Consciousness. These are usually classified as mental and physical processes, which are constantly in a state of flux or change.

When we train our minds to observe the functioning of mental and physical processes we will realise the true nature of our lives. We will see how it is subject to change and unsatisfactoriness.

And as such, there is no real substance or entity or Self which we can cling to as ‘I’, ‘my’ or ‘mine’.

When we become aware of the unsatisfactory nature of life, we would naturally want to get out from such a state. It is at this point that we begin to seriously question ourselves about the meaning and purpose of life. This will lead us to seek the Truth with regards to the true nature of existence and the knowledge to overcome unsatisfactoriness.

From the Buddhist point of view, therefore, the purpose of life is to put an end to suffering and all other forms of unsatisfactoriness - to realise peace and real happiness. Such is the significance of the understanding and the realisation of the First Noble Truth.

The Second Noble Truth explains the Origin or Cause of suffering. Tanha or craving is the universal cause of suffering. It includes not only desire for sensual pleasures, wealth and power, but also attachment to ideas, views, opinions, concepts, and beliefs. It is the lust for flesh, the lust for continued existence (or eternalism) in the sensual realms of existence, as well as the realms of form and the formless realms. And there is also the lust and craving for non-existence (or nihilism). These are all different Forms of selfishness, desiring things for oneself, even at the expense of others.

Not realizing the true nature of one’s Self, one clings to things which are impermanent, changeable and perishable. The failure to satisfy one’s desires through these things; causes disappointment and suffering.

Craving is a powerful mental force present in all of us. It is the root cause of our sufferings. It is this craving which binds us in Samsara - the repeated cycle of birth and death.

The Third Noble Truth points to the cessation of suffering. Where there is no craving, there is no becoming, no rebirth. Where there is no rebirth, there is no decay. No, old age, no death, hence no suffering. That is how suffering is ended, once and for all.

The Fourth Noble Truth explains the Path or the Way which leads to the cessation of suffering. It is called the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold path avoids the extremes of self-indulgence on one hand and self-torture on the other. It consists of Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

These path factors may be summarised into 3 stages of training, involving morality, mental culture and wisdom.

Morality or good conduct is the avoidance of evil or unwholesome actions; actions which are tainted by greed, hatred and delusion; and the performance of the good or wholesome actions, - actions which are free from greed, hatred and delusion, but motivated by liberality, loving-kindness and wisdom.

The function of good conduct or moral restraint is to free one’s mind from remorse (or guilty conscience). The mind that is free from remorse (or guilt) is naturally calm and tranquil, and ready for concentration with awareness.

The concentrated and cultured mind is a contemplative and analytical mind. It is capable of seeing cause and effect, and the true nature of existence, thus paving the way for wisdom and insight.

Wisdom in the Buddhist context, is the realisation of the fundamental truths of life, basically the Four Noble Truths. The understanding of the Four Noble Truths provide us with a proper sense of purpose and direction in life. They form the basis of problem-solving.

The message of the Buddha stands today as unaffected by time and the expansion of knowledge as when they were first enunciated.

No matter to what lengths increased scientific knowledge can extend man’s mental horizon, there is room for the acceptance and assimilation for further discovery within the framework of the teachings of the Buddha.

The teaching of the Buddha is open to all to see and judge for themselves. The universality of the teachings of the Buddha has led one of the world’s greatest scientists, Albert Einstein to declare that ‘if there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism’.

The teaching of the Buddha became a great civilising force wherever it went. It appeals to reason and freedom of thought, recognising the dignity and potentiality of the human mind. It calls for equality, fraternity and understanding, exhorting its followers to avoid evil, to do good and to purify their minds.

Realising the transient nature of life and all worldly phenomena, the Buddha has advised us to work out our deliverance with heedfulness, as ‘heedfulness is the path to the deathless’.

His clear and profound teachings on the cultivation of heedfulness otherwise known as Satipatthana or the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, is the path for the purification of beings - for the overcoming of sorrows and lamentation, for the destruction of all mental and physical sufferings, for the attainment of insight and knowledge and for the realisation of Nibbana. This has been verified by his disciples. It is therefore a path, a technique which may be verified by all irrespective of caste, colour or creed.






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.10  The Bodhi-Puja

The veneration of the Bodhi-tree (pipal tree: ficus religiosa) has been a popular and a widespread ritual in Sri Lanka from the time a sapling of the original Bodhi-tree at Buddhagaya (under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment) was brought from India by the Theri Sanghamitta and planted at Anuradhapura during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa in the third century B.C. Since then a Bodhi-tree has become a necessary feature of every Buddhist temple in the island.

The ritualistic worship of trees as abodes of tree deities (rukkhadevata) was widely prevalent in ancient India even before the advent of Buddhism. This is exemplified by the well-known case of Sujata’s offering of milk-rice to the Bodhisatta, who was seated under a banyan tree on the eve of his Enlightenment, in the belief that he was the deity living in that tree. By making offerings to these deities inhabiting trees the devotees expect various forms of help from them. The practice was prevalent in pre-Buddhist Sri Lanka as well. According to the Mahavamsa, King Pandukabhaya (4th century B.C.) fixed a banyan tree near the western gate of Anuradhapura as the abode of Vessavana, the god of wealth and the regent of the North as well as the king of the yakkhas. The same king set apart a palmyra palm as the abode of vyadha-deva, the god of the hunt (Mhv. x,89, 90).

After the introduction of the Bodhi-tree, this cult took a new turn. While the old practice was not totally abandoned, pride of place was accorded to the worship of the pipal tree, which had become sacred to the Buddhists as the tree under which Gotama Buddha attained Enlightenment. Thus there is a difference between the worship of the Bodhi-tree and that of other trees. To the Buddhists, the Bodhi-tree became a sacred object belonging to the paribhogika group of the threefold division of sacred monuments, while the ordinary veneration of trees, which also exists side-by-side with the former in Sri Lanka, is based on the belief already mentioned, i.e. that there are spirits inhabiting these trees and that they can help people in exchange for offerings. The Buddhists also have come to believe that powerful Buddhist deities inhabit even the Bodhi-trees that receive worship in the purely Buddhist sense. Hence it becomes clear that the reverence shown to a tree is not addressed to the tree itself. However, it also has to be noted that the Bodhi-tree received veneration in India even before it assumed this Buddhist significance; this practice must have been based on the general principle of tree worship mentioned above.

Once the tree assumed Buddhist significance its sanctity became particularized, while the deities inhabiting it also became associated with Buddhism in some form. At the same time, the tree became a symbol representing the Buddha as well. This symbolism was confirmed by the Buddha himself when he recommended the planting of the Ananda Bodhi-tree at Jetavana for worship and offerings during his absence (see J.iv,228f.). Further, the place where the Buddha attained Enlightenment is mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four places of pilgrimage that should cause serene joy in the minds of the faithful (D.ii,140). As Ananda Coomaraswamy points out, every Buddhist temple and monastery in India once had its Bodhi-tree and flower altar as is now the case in Sri Lanka.

King Devanampiya Tissa, the first Buddhist King of Sri Lanka, is said to have bestowed the whole country upon the Bodhi-tree and held a magnificent festival after planting it with great ceremony. The entire country was decorated for the occasion. The Mahavamsa refers to similar ceremonies held by his successors as well. It is said that the rulers of Sri Lanka performed ceremonies in the tree’s honour in every twelfth year of their reign (Mhv. xxxviii,57).

King Dutugemunu (2nd century B.C.) performed such a ceremony at a cost of 100,000 pieces of money (Mhv. xxviii,]). King Bhatika Abhaya (1st century A.C.) held a ceremony of watering the sacred tree, which seems to have been one of many such special pujas. Other kings too, according to the Mahavamsa, expressed their devotion to the Bodhi-tree in various ways (see e.g. Mhv. xxxv, 30; xxxvi, 25, 52, 126).

It is recorded that forty Bodhi-saplings that grew from the seeds of the original Bodhi-tree at Anuradhapura were planted at various places in the island during the time of Devanampiya Tissa himself. The local Buddhists saw to it that every monastery in the island had its own Bodhi-tree, and today the tree has become a familiar sight, all derived, most probably, from the original tree at Anuradhapura through seeds. However, it may be added here that the notion that all the Bodhi-trees in the island are derived from the original tree is only an assumption. The existence of the tree prior to its introduction by the Theri Sanghamitta cannot be proved or disproved.

The ceremony of worshipping this sacred tree, first begun by King Devanampiya Tissa and followed by his successors with unflagging interest, has continued up to the present day. The ceremony is still as popular and meaningful as at the beginning. It is natural that this should be so, for the veneration of the tree fulfils the emotional and devotional needs of the pious heart in the same way as does the veneration of the Buddha-image and, to a lesser extent, of the dagaba. Moreover, its association with deities dedicated to the cause of Buddhism, who can also aid pious worshippers in their mundane affairs, contributes to the popularity and vitality of Bodhi-worship.

The main centre of devotion in Sri Lanka today is, of course, the ancient tree at Anuradhapura, which, in addition to its religious significance, has an historical importance as well. As the oldest historical tree in the world, it has survived for over 2,200 years, even when the city of Anuradhapura was devastated by foreign enemies. Today it is one of the most sacred and popular places of pilgrimage in the island. The tree itself is very well guarded, the most recent protection being a gold-plated railing around the base (ranvata). Ordinarily, pilgrims are not allowed to go near the foot of the tree in the upper terrace. They have to worship and make their offerings on altars provided on the lower terrace so that no damage is done to the tree by the multitude that throng there. The place is closely guarded by those entrusted with its upkeep and protection, while the daily rituals of cleaning the place, watering the tree, making offerings, etc., are performed by bhikkbus and laymen entrusted with the work. The performance of these rituals is regarded as of great merit and they are performed on a lesser scale at other important Bodhi-trees in the island as well.

Thus this tree today receives worship and respect as a symbol of the Buddha himself, a tradition which, as stated earlier, could be traced back to the Ananda Bodhi-tree at Jetavana of the Buddha’s own time. The Vibhanga Commentary (p.349) says that the bikkhu who enters the courtyard of the Bodhi-tree should venerate the tree behaving with all humility as if he were in the presence of the Buddha. Thus one of the main items of the daily ritual at the Anuradhapura Bodhi-tree (and at many other places) is the offering of alms as if unto the Buddha himself. A special ritual held annually at the shrine of the Anuradhapura tree is the hanging of gold ornaments on the tree. Pious devotees offer valuables, money and various other articles during the performance of this ritual.

Another popular ritual connected with the Bodhi-tree is the lighting of coconut-oil lamps as an offering (pahan- puja), especially to avert the evil influence of inauspicious planetary conjunctions. When a person passes through a troublesome period in life he may get his horoscope read by an astrologer in order to discover whether he is under bad planetary influences. If so, one of the recommendations would invariably be a bodhi-puja, one important item of which would be the lighting of a specific number of coconut-oil lamps around a Bodhi-tree in a temple. The other aspects of this ritual consist of the offering of flowers, milk-rice, fruits, betel, medicinal oils, camphor, and coins. These coins (designated panduru) are washed in saffron water and separated for offering in this manner. The offering of coins as an act of merit-acquisition has assumed ritualistic significance with the Buddhists of the island. Every temple has a charity box (pin-pettiya) into which the devotees drop a few coins as a contribution for the maintenance of the monks and the monastery. Offerings at devalayas should inevitably be accompanied by such a gift. At many wayside shrines there is provision for the offering of panduru and travellers en route, in the hope of a safe and successful journey, rarely fail to make their contribution. While the coins are put into the charity box, all the other offerings would be arranged methodically on an altar near the tree and the appropriate stanzas that make the offering valid are recited. Another part of the ritual is the hanging of flags on the branches of the tree in the expectation of getting one’s wishes fulfilled.

Bathing the tree with scented water is also a necessary part of the ritual. So is the burning of incense, camphor, etc. Once all these offerings have been completed, the performers would circumambulate the tree once or thrice reciting an appropriate stanza. The commonest of such stanzas is as follows:

Yassa mule nisinno va - sabbari vijayam aka

patto sabbannutam Sattha - vande tam bodhipadapam.


Ime ete mahabodhi - lokanathena pujita

ahampi te namassami - bodhi raja namatthu te.

"I worship this Bodhi-tree seated under which the Teacher attained omniscience by overcoming all enemical forces (both subjective and objective). I too worship this great Bodhi-tree which was honoured by the Leader of the World. My homage to thee, O King Bodhi."

The ritual is concluded by the usual transference of merit to the deities that protect the Buddha’s Dispensation.

Source: Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka by A. G. S. Kariyawasam






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.11  What did the Buddha teach?

"Just as darkness is removed by light, ignorance is removed or destroyed by wisdom, insight or the realization of what we really are. For this purpose we have each to make a deep search for ourselves"

Ven. Blalangoda Anandamaitreya
A talk given at London Vihara on 26th May 1986

The only person who could answer the question "What did the Buddha teach?" was nobody else but the Buddha himself. Let us see what his answer would be.

One day when the Buddha was staying in the Simsapa forest near Madhura, he picked up a few leaves, and holding them up in his hand, he asked his disciples, "What, bretheren, are more numerous, either the leaves in my hand or those in this vast forest?" They said. "Lord, what you hold in your hand are but few leaves. But the leaves in this vast forest are uncountably more numerous".

Then the Buddha rejoined, "In exactly the same way, bretheren, what I teach you ever, now as before, are but very few things out of what I know, and what I teach you are the Dukkha and the cessation of Dukkha.

Why did he want to speak only of these two? It is because only the knowledge of these two things deals with the removal and cessation of all suffering or miseries of one’s life. Here Dukkha or suffering and unsatisfactoriness refer to the unhappy side of life and the cause of its arising and continuity. The cessation of dukkha refers to the attainment of real peace and the way thereto. These four facts are called the Four Great Truths, the description of which is called Buddhism in modern terminology.

The whole purpose of the Buddha was to make his hearers realize these four great facts, He explained these truths in various ways suiting different levels of intelligence of his hearers.

The first of the four facts is suffering and the unsatisfactory nature of the existence which we call world. Wherever we look we see change at every moment with its varied aspects such as birth, decay, pain, sorrow, suffering, diseases, union with the disagreeable, disunion from the agreeable, depression, despair and death. Every living being, from the moment of his birth, goes on uninterruptedly towards death. This life in the world implies a journey towards death. His living or life means his continued or incessant journey towards death. Thus life in the world implies a journey to death, the most disagreeable event, and birth implies the start, the setting out of this pre destined journey. Thus, birth in any place where there is death or falling away from the present state is unsatisfactory, in its entirety, let alone its other aspects, decay, disease and the like. The increase in the number of rebirths means the increase of the number of deaths and all other unsatisfactory states.

Why and how does this unsatisfactoriness continue? Beings do not see where they are and what they are. Because of this not seeing, because of this spiritual blindness or ignorance, they are attached to, crave for this unsatisfactory existence, mistaking its deceiving guises for happiness. This craving or attachment is the most powerful force that drags back the beings to be reborn over and over again even when their physical frame falls lifeless. This attachment is the real Satan that is busily working in every worldling.

The truth concerning this attachment is the second one of the four great facts.

If there is disease there is its opposite in health. Heat has its opposite in coolness. Darkness has its opposite in light. In the same way if there is unsatisfactoriness in the forms of decay, desease and so on, there must be its direct opposite state in the form of eternal bliss or everlasting peace, which is the cessation of unsatisfactory existence. The truth concerning this fact is the third one among the four great truths.

The attachment to this unsatisfactory existence is due to ignorance, the absence of realization of the exact nature of this existence. If the same ignorance is rooted out, then attachment the upshot of ignorance finds no ground to arise in.

Just as darkness is removed by light, ignorance is removed or destroyed by wisdom, insight or the realization of what we really are. For this purpose we have each to make a deep search for ourselves.

Nothing can be successfully done by one who has no self control. One must have control over one’s speech and deed. Then one should control one’s mind by keeping it from straying. Next to this, one must start one’s search of oneself. This process of practice begins at verbal and bodily control which is named as Sila or virtue or right conduct in Buddhist terminology. Depending on Sila (verbal and bodily discipline) one has to develop mind control, which is termed Samadhi or one pointedness of mind. Depending on this, one must start the search of oneself, the self-investigation, which is called the Vipassana in Buddhist terminology.

This is the three-factored discipline, which is otherwise called the eight-factored path in another way of classification.

The factors of the path are: - Right understanding, Right thought, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right endeavour, Right mindfulness and Right concentration. Out of these eight factors Right speech, Right action and Right livelihood form the factor of Sila or good conduct, in other words, moral discipline.

Right effort, Right mindfulness and Right concentration-these three together form the factor Samadhi or Concentration. Right understanding and Right thought; these two together form the factor of Panna or Insight. This three factored discipline or eight-factored path is the way that leads to eternal peace by destroying the cause of the unsatisfactory existence. This is the last one of the four great truths.

Thus the exposition of these four great Truths is what we call Buddhism, the teaching of the Buddha.

One may ask why the Buddha was not interested in dealing with the questions about the origin of the universe and the like.

Suppose there is a doctor or a physician in charge of a sick ward. He has to attend every patient in the sick ward. Some patients are so ignorant that they eat and drink things which make their diseases serious or incurable. So the physician has to make them understand their situation, Accordingly, he explains to diseases. He explains to rise and continuity of to them that they can hopeful and encourages he gives the treatment. Thus, to explain the nature of their diseases, their cause, that they can be cured and the treatment; these four facts are the only things the patients have to deal with. So the physician deals only with these four things and doesn’t listen to their questions about the things astronomical, geographical, geological and the like which have nothing to do with their diseases or their cure.

The Buddha was the physician or healer of our inner diseases such as greediness, hatred, jealousy and the like which make us suffer from all sorts of afflictions. The cause of all these mental diseases is our own ignorance as to our present nature. So he, as our healer, regarded it his duty and service to teach us and make us realize only the Four Great Truths, and did not interfere with other problems which have nothing to do with the freedom from our imperfect and unsatisfactory state.






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.12  Meditation On Mindfulness

A Talk at Vedanta Centre, Santa Barbara, California on July 19, 1986

First of all I must thank Swamiji and the Vedanta nuns for inviting me to give a talk on this important occasion. The talk will be on "Meditation (on Mindfulness)" in practice. I will try to explain, from Buddhist point of view, mindfulness and its development.

When we think of mindfulness, first of all we must understand what unmindfulness is. There are so many things which are on the opposite side of mindfulness: lack of attention, carelessness absent- mindedness, forgetfulness, negligence and neglect. So, in this way we have to understand the harm that unmindfulness might bring to us, to our spiritual life as well, as to our daily life. From this way we can understand, little by little, the value of mindfulness.

For example, suppose there is some dirt in a dark corner of a house. The householder doesn’t care because, at first, there is very little dirt in that dark nook. Every day, gradually some more debris collects there. Even though sometimes he goes to that side of the house and sees the dirt, he-thinks, ‘’Oh, this is very little. Some other day I will clear it up". But he doesn’t do anything about it. He attends to other works instead. Day by day this dirt collects. After some months, when he sees that it is a heap of dirt, he then begins to think that it would be very difficult to remove it all at once. "I will get somebody to remove it some day.’

A year passes. What happens? Suddenly the members of the house feel a little sick. Some strong odor comes from somewhere, but they are not so attentive to know from where it comes. So after awhile they get sick and have to see a doctor and receive treatment. For the time being, they get better. But again they get sick. They don’t know why, because they simply can’t find out the reason for the sickness. However, the thorough doctor discovers the cause of all the trouble: the heap of dirt has become a cradle of mosquitoes, cockroaches, and other harmful insects. Thus, at last they have to remove the whole amount of refuse. However, it is very difficult because there are many layers, due to the age of the debris. After it is removed and that part of the house is cleaned, all ill&emdash;health disappears.

That is the nature of carelessness: it becomes a cause of so much harm and danger, even to the body. Similarly, it is the case with our lives. Just as unmindfulness, with regard to our external environment, can bring us trouble, so ‘It’ is unmindfulness that can create serious problems in business affairs and trade, as well as in the affairs of state. However, unmindfulness plays still greater havoc with our inner life, if we are not cautious. ``The failure to achieve full knowledge of one’s own nature is the worst and greatest loss," said the Lord Buddha. In this connection, I will explain how the neglect of even a slight defect can bring great harm to oneself.

Sometimes a person may carelessly seek a fight. For fun he pretends to be rough. At the start it is fun and playfulness but later it becomes a habit. In short, he turns into a quarrelsome person. He doesn’t care. ‘’These are simple things," he may think. But, due to negligence, his behaviour becomes a habit. As habits leave some impressions in the dark nook of the mind, these impressions, lying dormant, cannot be rooted out, because he is not attentive. Instead, they grow slowly and develop into hindrances to spiritual development. They may also develop to such an extent that they become the source of crimes and acts of aggression.

Again, sometimes one may see a beautiful person of the Opposite sex, and feel some kindness. He understands that he has a kind or loving feeling towards that person. Of course, love, kindness, and unselfishness are virtues. And this kindness brings both people together as friends to help each other in need. Kindness is a very good thing. But, little by little, due to carelessness this kindness, or love, may turn into lust. At the start it appears to be a virture very good quality of his heart. But due to unmindfulness, it turns to lust one day and impels them to live an immoral life together.

Sometimes a person may dislike a wayward person. He is not angry with him, but he doesn’t like the other person’s evil ways. This dislike for wayward people or their bad deeds is good, but if he is not mindful enough, gradually he will begin to get angry. At last there may arise within his heart some sort of hatred. Thus he may develop into a hot-tempered person. Dislike for bad people is good, but hatred or anger is not. One should not be angry with anybody &emdash; even for a wrong deed. Thus, if you are not careful, you might be affected by anger.

Lust, hatred, jealousy pride, and such other unwholesome states, arising in the heart, spoil ones whole being. The original cause of all these defilements of the heart is unmindfulness which is based on ignorance. On the other hand, if a person tries to be attentive at every step of his life, let alone mindfulness in higher religious practices, such attentiveness would undoubtedly lead to great success. If a child studies his lesson, with every word he must be mindful. otherwise some very important instructions may escape his notice. It is then that he can understand and incorporate everything perfectly. On one occasion the Buddha said, "Sati sabbatthika." This means, "Mindfulness is advantageous in every activity." On another occasion he said, "All successful practice could be expressed in one word; that is appamada, which means, ‘"vigilance," or "mindfulness."

Generally the Buddha advised his disciples both monks and laymen, not to step beyond the boundary, and the boundary is mindfulness, which is to be developed in four ways, termed as four satipatthanas.

The four requisites necessary for to maintain himself or herself are: body, food and drink, a place to treatment. The Buddha advised his requisites mindfully. That is why nuns maintain silence when they use every living being a covering for the rest, and medical disciples to use these Buddhist monks and such requisites. When they don their robes, they should meditate: "I don this robe not to decorate the body or enhance my beauty, but just to cover my nakedness and keep it free from the effects of heat and cold and insects." Similarly, when they eat, it is with the thought, "I take this just to remove my hunger and thirst and to keep my health in order to live a pure, religious life&emdash;never for the sake of enjoyment or to gratify my greediness, When they sit or lie down, they must muse on the purpose of sitting or lying down, thus: "I use this seat or bed to give me rest, to protect me from the effects of wind and heat and insects. The purpose of giving refreshment to the body is to continue my religious life successfully, and never for the sake of enjoyment." And then, when they take some medicine, they have to be mindful of the purpose of taking medicine&emdash;that is, to remove ill health and to keep well. So, every moment, they have to be mindful.

In every activity we have to be mindful. Mindfulness applied to higher and higher practices will certainly give higher and higher results. When one keeps precepts, one should always be attentive that one does not break any rule.

In every activity we have to be mindful. Mindfulness applied to higher and higher practices will certainly give higher and higher results. When one keeps precepts, one should always be attentive that one does not break any rule. Thus, in observing precepts and in keeping vows, one must be ever mindful not to allow one’s thoughts to wander toward the objects of temptation. It is only when one is unmindful, that a rule or vow is broken.

Keeping precepts, or building good character, is the foundation for the development of higher virtues. And for the sake of his inner development, a person of good character must practice meditation.

There are two types of meditation practices, as taught by the Buddha. One practice leads to ecstatic trances, reducing the grossness of the mind step-by-step, inviting more and more calmness, peace, serenity, and purity to the heart and mind. The other kind of meditation, not only brings peace of mind, but also opens the mind’s eye to see perfectly the exact nature of oneself and others. In brief, it leads the aspirant to clear comprehension both the nature of the world and the nature of that which is beyond the world.

The first kind of meditation begins by fixing the mind on one point, which eventually leads it away from all tempting objects. There are forty objects of meditation, approved in the Buddhist system of meditation, one of which the expert meditation teacher chooses as suitable for the practitioner. For a beginner, the practice of fixing the attention on the spot where the breath touches the nostrils is recommended as being very fruitful. Starting with mindful attention on his breath, the aspirant has to rise in his practice, step-by-step, passing through the eight different grades of ecstatic trances. When he rises, at last, to the trance of extreme fineness of mind, wherein he feels his mind is neither conscious nor unconscious, he has come to the consummation of his concentration development. Throughout this practice, he must be mindful and attentive to the object on which his mind is fixed.

A person who has developed his mindfulness to such a level-still has not yet attained to full freedom from suffering. He has only suppressed all mental defilements and their consequences. As a result of this kind of inner development, he is said to be reborn after death into a higher and finer state of life. He may live in this blissful state for aeons of years, but would return to this gross plane of the world after the force of ecstasy (he has accumulated by means of his practice) is exhausted.

Now he has to practice the other line of meditation: the practice of vipassana. It is very easy for a person who has developed concentration and mindfulness to turn his channel to the practice of vipassana. Vipassana is the method of investigating the conditioned things of the world from various angles. It is the development of introspection.

The practitioner of this system must start with something conditioned. The most important and useful object of one’s search is oneself. The aspirant must first examine and mentally analyze his body. Any part of the body, he can examine and analyze how it has been formed and of what sort of things it consists. Applying his mindfulness at every step of this self-examination, the aspirant must analyze his entire body. Eventually he will realise that every part of his body is impermanent, subject to change, aging and disease and lacking any abiding substance. He will find that the entire body is just an aspect of nature, it is impersonal and does not belong to him. The body exists because of certain conditions and when these conditions ceases the body dies. This is the law of nature.

After analyzing the nature of his body, the aspirant should examine his mind&emdash;how thoughts, images and emotions arise and pass away, If he keenly examines his mind, he will find that all mental states are yet faster in their momentary change than gross material states. The mind is impermanent, is the cause of suffering and dissatisfaction, and it is impersonal, lacking any abiding substance. He will see that "me" and "mine" are only concepts created by his thinking process.

When the aspirant comes to the culmination of this practice, he will see the exact nature of the conditioned world. At this stage, he will also see its opposite side which is the Unconditioned, Unmade, the Real, and the Eternal. This is the end of his religious practice. At all these steps, mindfulness plays the prominent role. Without mindfulness, no success is to be expected.







Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.13  Why Vesak is significant for the global society?

Bhikkhu Horowpothane Sathindriya

Today, society is riddled with a multitude of religions, faiths, beliefs and cults, which the individuals have inherited as a birthright, or chosen according to their personal preferences, compatibility with their thinking or for offering succour to their needs.

History chronicles, that the dictates of these beliefs have driven man through the ages, either by deep religious fervour or blind faith. There is evidence of even self-sacrifice, being made, seeking a reward in this or the nether world - (heaven); in return.

Prince Siddhartha Gotama was born in India 2,625 years ago. With intuition gained in repeated cycles of birth in his journey through Samsara, he realised early in his youth, that, far beyond all the transient splendour and worldly pleasures in his princely life, there lay a state of release from suffering.

He had to find the answer to this vexing question, as to how he could stop this ongoing cycle of birth suffering and death.In his quest to unravel the truth he searched far and wide, seeking counsel from famous teachers, acclaimed for heir spirituality. Each attempt ended in an impasse. Realising the futility of such ventures, he set out on his own for six years in search of the truth, firstly through self-indulgence, failing which he resorted to self-mortification.

Finally, it dawned on him that these two extremes were hindrances to his progress and the only way open, was the Middle Path. The aspirant of the Buddha (Bodhisatta) preserved with gain determination to unmask the treasure latent in him viz. wisdom, concentration and morality and through these the four Noble Truths.The truth of the Dhamma, proclaimed by the Buddha, 2,600 years ago finds acquiescence with the advances in science. By virtue of this realism and rationality, Buddhism has found favour among the erudite and intelligentsia in the East and West.

Albert Einstein, the father of the modern science, once said, “In an age when science has advanced, the only doctrine, that science cannot contradict, is the teaching of the Gotama Buddha”. He also said that “A religion without science is lame and science without religion is blind.”It is impossible to condense of the Dhamma and its embellishments, which do not conflict with any philosophy or emotion into a short essay.  

A frequent theme intoned read and heard in the global arena, today; is “Peace”. Yet, it is most unfortunate, that certain groups within this fabric has brought disrepute to religions by instigating, uprisings, ethnic cleansing and wars under the seal of religious authority. Unabated killings with loss of thousands of lives and wanton destruction of property have resulted from the dark ages, to the present chaos in the world. No religious founders would have stamped his authority on such barbaric acts. The path of “Peace” shown by the Buddha will withstand the ravages of time and always remain current. Firstly peace should be established within ones own mind.

When the mind is disciplined, speech and action will follow suit likewise. Nothing could compare with the power and the beauty of human mind. All modern inventions and innovations are the fruits of thinking mind and have designed by the human mind. Tragically, this power has been often abused and misused by many for misdoing; evident today. If one should initiate any action with a just and peaceful mind, no consequent harm will come from such; to anyone.

The wholesome path extolled by the Buddha, has been forgotten. Of all the beneficial tools available to man to achieve his ends, the least utilised is his mind. He cannot comprehended nor appreciate the value of the human life that he has inherited.In the Untied State of America, a group of scientists including Prof. Peter Singer were endeavouring to make chimpanzees, to talk. Yet, Prof. Singer concluded, that if it was a possibility to make chimps talk, they could never be made to think.

The power of thought is a unique possession of human being. The supreme benefit of the mind was gained by the Buddha and Arahants (Enlightened Disciples).At a time when we commemorate and celebrate the significance triple anniversary of the Buddha, we should earnestly and honestly strive to practice the wisdom, elucidated in the Dhamma, and free ourselves from the bonds of Samsara.Every being on this planet is subject to the misery of physical and mental suffering.

Although we could find relief from physical ailments, there is no prescription for mental anguish, other than the solace of the Dhamma.In this endless cycle of birth and death, we meet with dreadful and heart rending challenges and situations. One cannot escape the suffering, whether one be a human, divine being or a Brahma. In one accrues enormous bad kamma; the result will be birth in the animal kingdom or in a dangerous and adverse realm or environment.How long one will linger in such existences or the future existence one cannot foresee.Perchance, you are presently endowed with wealth, properties, power and a following, giving you a confidence that there is no suffering. Suddenly illness or catastrophe fells you, driving you to mental torment.

All the riches and power cannot bring you cure and comfort from such afflictions. The only valuable possession capable of bringing you the much sought “Peace” will be wholesome and tamed mind.If we examine any crisis or conflict in this world, we would find that the underlying cause is the insatiable, unquenchable greed and craving rampant in the human world.

The way to upr oot this craving is by examining its origin and treating the cause as expounded by the Buddha.With the common interest and well-being of mankind at heart, entering no conflict with any quarter, the Buddha gifted us the four Sublime qualities. The sad lack of these virtues has rendered the present global society into a state of depravity and restlessness.The four Sublime qualities are

Metta (loving-kindness), Karuna(compassion), Mudita(Sympatheic-joy and Uppekkha(equanimity).

Metta: Universal friendliness, loving-kindness to all beings in this world.

Karuna: compassion for all living beings in this world.

Mudita: rejoicing in others success, progress, prosper, well-being and happiness.

Upekkha: equanimity and unshaken in any situation.

A society resplendent with these Noble qualities will be free of dissension and animosity. Its inhabitants will be sedate in thought, word and deed, enjoying the peace of harmonious living. They will undoubtedly tread the Path to Nibbana.On this Vesak full moon day, may these thoughts and teachings gleaned from the preaching of this great teacher be a beacon and a guide to the citizens of this global society, to usher them into an era of Peace and Happiness.

May all beings be well and happy!






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.14  The Art of giving

Ven. Pajalo

One of the challenges that life offers is to find a purpose in how we spend our days. The art is, to do that in a wholesome way. The most basic step in this direction is to think about, learn and perform the simple art of giving.

We should also be aware of the hindrances that surround and prevent us from this most noble action i.e. the walls between the idea, the acceptance and the practice of generosity.If we listen inside ourselves or look around, we will discover that the secret of a happy, satisfying way of life in this world is beyond the general ‘worldly’ strivings, which keeps our society moving in senseless circles. Whatever we are, rich or poor, learned or intellectually ‘simple’, living within the family or having gone forth, none of that means that we are more or less satisfied the days that are being left behind.

If our life is based on the thought of possessing, then this illusion will be a stumbling block towards real happiness and deeper understanding. Reality will shatter into pieces what we are cherishing. These broken dreams will fill our hearts with pain and our eyes with tears. If we don’t understand this problem at its root, we will continue to walk a path of superficial joy, with its sweet taste soon gone and its bitter aftertaste, which may last for a long time.

How can we prevent or cure this kind of pain, which belongs to us because of our belongings? It is the art of learning to give.No requisites are necessary for the training of this most basic, wholesome action: Generosity is never against any sane religion or and philosophy; it’s our own foolish thoughts, which paralyses the giving hand. You don’t have to believe in the Buddha, Jesus Christ or a particular god for this action; even a non-spiritual person can easily accept its holiness.Giving is virtuous in itself.

Yet complete purity in one’s behaviour is not needed to step beyond the threshold of one’s desire in holding things back: Somebody might not live according to the basic code of discipline, yet still he might be very generous in sharing ‘his’ legal or illegal possessions.No ‘special’ people are needed as an ‘object’: Actually a more noble and difficult task is, if we give to a stranger than to someone who is dear and close to us anyhow.

The challenge of giving manifests itself also if we can give spontaneously to those with whom we are living day in and out together.If you are materially rich you should share your wealth. It could just be a simple coin given to any bored beggar in a dirty street on a gray morning. This simple act will give your mood, this single day and the whole world a touch of color and joy.Let’s not give from a heart covered with the rust of egoism or stained with lifeless habits. Through spontaneous friendliness we can jump over these shadows, which have been following most of us for far too long.Once you make up your mind to give, act immediately, because you yourself and others around you might soon try to convince you to stick to your selfish ways for all different kind of reasons.At times there might be nothing you have for a fellow being. Therefore learn also the art of giving ‘things’ which you can’t give with the hand, even they are with you all the time: e.g. a mere smile able to create inner happiness or an ear able to listen to someone’s inner pain. Such things have a richness far beyond outer wealth. Only few are aware of that and don’t see much use in training the mind towards this direction.One can’t enforce this noble act of generosity.

It springs naturally from a deeper understanding, which gives the days a special flavour, unknown in the world of cold business and blind expectations. It beautifies life with hope and cleanses it from irrational fears, e.g. the fear that ‘Kamma’ is a reality, and one does not do anything worthwhile for one’s own or others’ benefit.Only if generosity becomes the most important part of our life, the day will come when its joy will overshadow completely the dark corners of all greediness.  


Remember always that you are just a visitor here, a traveller passing through. Your stay is but short and the moment of your departure unknown. None can live without toil and a craft that provides your needs is a blessing indeed. But if you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you and you will be denied the joy that comes from labour’s end. Speak quietly and kindly and be not forward with either opinions or advice. If you talk much, this will make you deaf to what others say and you should know that there are few so wise that they cannot learn from others. Be near when help is needed but far when praise and thanks are being offered. Take small account of might, wealth and fame, for they soon pass and are forgotten. Instead nurture love within you and strive to be a friend to all. Truly, compassion is a balm for many wounds. Treasure silence when you find it and while being mindful of your duties, set time aside to be alone with yourself. Cast off pretence and self deception and see yourself as you really are. Despite all appearances, no one is really evil. They are led astray by ignorance. If you ponder this truth always, you will offer more light rather than blame and condemnation. You, no less than all beings, have Buddha Nature within. Your essential mind is pure. Therefore, when defilements cause you to stumble and fall let not remorse nor dark forbidding cast you down. Be of good cheer and with this understanding, summon strength and walk on. Faith is like a lamp and wisdom it is that makes the flame burn bright. Carry this lamp always and in good time the darkness will yield and you will abide in light.







Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.15  “Transient are all formations; strive zealously”

Buddha’s last exhortation

Danister I. Fernando

The Vesak full moon shines proudly in the eastern sky. Isn't she fortunate to have witnessed over two-thousand five-hundred years ago, the three hallowed events that had taken place on three occasions, in the life of Shakyamuni Gotama the Buddha? - His birth, His enlightenment, and His passing - away? Since then year in and year out, the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, nay - the world over, have celebrated and paid homage to the Buddha annually on this great day, sanctified by the three holy events, in retrospect. Furthermore, the Buddhists of today are extremely happy over the declaration of a world-wide holiday for Vesak in commemoration of the limitless services rendered by the Buddha to all humanity.

The Birth

On this thrice blessed day of vesak we, as devoted Buddhists should be happy to reflect on the circumstances under which the Bodhisatta (Buddha-to-be) was born. The Vesak in the month of May, and in the year 623 BC, had been a time of great prosperity in India - Vasanta tide, when the trees were laden with pretty flowers of attractive shades and luscious fruits of all kinds and the whole place rich with spontaneous verdure. The people themselves had been in a joyous mood. King Suddhodana (Suddha + Odana - which means; pure + rice) the Kshatriya King, ruled over the land of the Sakyans, at Kapilavastu on the borders of Nepal. His queen was Mahamaya, daughter of the king of Devdaha. She had been expecting a baby, and apart from her a anxiety to be with her parents at that crucial time it was customary for an expectant mother to go to the parents for the first confinement. Accordingly, for this purpose, the king made all arrangements for a royal procession. The roadway from Kapilavastupura to Devdaha was elaborately decorated with flags and colourful streamers all along, and a large crowd of people - men, women, and children, participating in traditional "perahera", accompanying the queen who travelled in a palanquin of gold. Half - way between Kapilavastu and Devdaha the queen had shown willingness to rest a while at the way-side scenic Lumbini Grove. (Presently known as Rummindei). All went into the par and enjoyed themselves in its picturesque beauty. The happy queen while feeling the gentle breeze and the peaceful shade provided by the long lines of "Sala" trees, wished to refresh herself with a cool bath in the near-by pond filled with clear placid water. Being refreshed the queen was so taken up with the stately 'sala' trees that she became desirous of touching a branch with little white sala" flowers galore. In the company of her attendant ladies she gently raised her right hand to touch the branch; surprisingly enough the branch itself bent low and she caught it hard - lo and behold! She had instantly developed signs for the delivery - the baby was born! a very fortunate son! It is said that the baby got down and walked seven steps and at the seventh had proclaimed in "lion voice" (Siha nada):

"Aggo hamasmi lokassa - Jettho hamasmi lokassa

Settho hamasmi lokassa - Ayamantima jati natthidani punabbhavo"


"I am the greatest in the world - I am the most senior

I am the most supreme - This is my last birth

I shall have no rebirth"

Thus the Bodhisatta, the "Buddha - to - be" was born on a Vesak full moon day 2625 years ago. Lumbini (Rummindei) is in the vicinity of the snow-covered Himalayan Range and is almost hundred miles to the north of Varanasi. At this hallowed spot, Asoka, the great Emperor of India, who had gone there, years later, had erected a mighty stone pillar, which can still be seen. He had also engraved an inscription on this stone column, which reads, "hida budhe jate Sakyamuni" - meaning: "Here was born the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyans." Devoted Buddhists continue to visit this holy place in reverence great. King Suddhodana consulted the learned sages of that time in regard to the future of the new-born prince, and learnt that the child was a very promising and fortunate one who would one day be either a cakravarti raja (universal king) or the supreme Buddha. The king was greatly delighted. He was immediately determined to do everything possible to see the prince becoming universal king and not the Buddha. The young prince, accordingly lived in the palace with every luxury at his command. To suit the different seasons three luxury palaces had been constructed; to keep him constantly happy dancers and musicians had been engaged and he had been married quite young, at the age of sixteen to a pretty young princess named Yasodhara. But the Prince became gradually different in his attitude and behaviour and eschewed all comfort. Little by little he became confronted with the reality of life and the sufferings of mankind. The princely luxurious life, however, did not shut the eyes of this wise and thoughtful person from the realities of life. Thus, in spite of his father's efforts to keep his mind attached to the world, Siddhartha became aware of the dark side of life, the sorrows of this fellow beings and the fast changing nature of all worldly things. At the age of 29 Prince Siddhattha left his father's palace, having given up his awaiting throne, his devoted wife, his newborn son, his royal vanity, and became a wandering ascetic devoting himself to finding some way of overcoming suffering.

The Enlightenment

With this definite purpose in view ascetic Gotama wandered about meeting famous religious teachers of the day studying and practising their systems. Within these systems, for six long years he practised the most rigorous of physical torture, until he was reduced to a mere skeleton and to a pathetic state of health. Finally he realised the futility of all self-mortification and abandoned traditional practices, and decided to go his own way. On the night of the full moon of May, (Vesak) seated cross-legged, under the shade of the majestic "Esatu", which later became known as the Bodhi Tree - the "Tree of Wisdom" on the bank of the river Neranjara, at Gaya (Buddhagaya in modern Bihar) at the age of 35, Ascetic Siddhattha Gotama, found the lofty answer to his great problem and attained enlightenment supreme, by realising in all their fullness, the four noble truths, and the eightfold path. At this joyful moment he had been so happy that he uttered this "Song of Triumph.

"Through many a birth did I wander,

Seeking but not finding house-builder;

Sorrowful hath repeated births been;

O! house-builder, thou art now seen,

Thou shalt build no house again,

All thy rafters are scattered,

Thy ridge-pole now is shattered

End of Craving I have attained!"

The enlightened one, now known as the Buddha, went to Saranath (Isipatana) near Benares, where he gave his first sermon "Dhamma Cakkappavattana Sutta" (Setting in motion the wheel of truth) at the Deer Park (miga-daya) to his old colleagues the group of five ascetics (Pancavaggiye bhikkhu). From that Esala full moon day for full 45 years the services he rendered to humanity has been most wonderful. He taught all classes of men and women without the slightest distinction. His compassion towards all beings was at its peak.

The Passing away

He was now 80. His mind was still vigilant although he was physically weak. From his enlightenment to the end of his life his strove tirelessly regardless of fatigue involved, travelling long distances on foot, oblivious to obstacles. The Buddha went all out to elevate humanity. At this ripe age of 80, Buddha passed away at Kusinara (modern Uttar Pradesh). In the "Maha Parinibbana Sutta" are recorded in moving detail the events that occurred at the last scene of the Master's life. His final exhortation to the Bhikkhus as well as to others concerned was, "Handadani Bhikkhave Amantayamivo, Vayadhamma Sankhara, Appamadena Sampadetha". Meaning: "O, Bhikkhus, I exhort you, transient are all formations, strive on zealously." May all beings be well and happy!






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.16  Navigating the New Millennium

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Although our calculation of time's passage in years and centuries carries no more weight against the vastness of the cosmic process than a feather before a storm, still, being human, it is natural for us to nurture hope on reaching the threshold of a new millennium. Adherents of different religions also turn their thoughts towards the new millennium, and as Buddhists we might briefly ponder the question what the Dhamma can offer the world in the years ahead. From one angle it could be said that what Buddhism can offer humankind today is exactly what it has been holding out for the past twenty-five centuries: an acute diagnosis of the human condition and a clear path to final liberation from suffering. But while this statement is correct as far as it goes, it is not yet sufficient; for it does not take account of the fact that in any age the aspects of the Dhamma to be emphasized, and the way they are to be expressed, must address the particular problems faced by the people living in that age. The Buddha's teaching acquires its incisive relevance, not merely by the cogency of its broad generalities, but by attuning its formulations to the precise problems that loom so large in the consciousness of the particular period in which it has taken root. Thus for the

One is an invidious sense of meaninglessness, a feeling of alienation from life, now becoming almost as common in the more modernized quarters of Asia as in the West. The other, most marked in the Third World, is collective violence.

Dhamma to preserve its vitality and strength, it is not enough merely to repeat hallowed formulas inherited from the past, however true they might be in their own right. Rather, we must focus the lens of the Buddha's teaching on the deep problems faced by human beings today and determine how the teachings can help to resolve those problems as effectively as possible. If what the Buddha taught is "only suffering and the cessation of suffering," then the starting point for any convincing presentation of the way to suffering's end must be the specific forms of suffering characteristic of our time. In the last decades of the twentieth century, two manifestations of suffering have become so prevalent that they seem almost the defining characteristics of the modern era. One is an invidious sense of meaninglessness, a feeling of alienation from life, now becoming almost as common in the more modernized quarters of Asia as in the West. The other, most marked in the Third World, is collective violence.

The first problem has its locus in the individual consciousness, the second in the relationships among communities at different levels of social order. If the Dhamma is to benefit humanity in the coming years and decades, it must show us a way out of the abyss of meaninglessness and offer guidelines for reducing the frequency and severity of collective violence. The sense of meaninglessness as a widespread social phenomenon set in with the rise of modern industrial civilization. As each new breakthrough in natural science dealt a fresh blow to the organic Christian world view that had prevailed during the medieval period, human beings could no longer regard themselves as the pinnacle of creation, the beloved children of an all-loving Father who had created the universe expressly as the stage for our unfolding march towards salvation. Instead, under the influence of the mechanistic sciences, we came to see ourselves as chance products of purely natural causes, born and dying in a universe cold and indifferent to our hopes. Our existence was inexplicable in terms of any objective source of meaning. It did not embody any higher purpose than the brute struggle to survive and propagate our genes before death draws the curtain closed on all our restless strivings. The loss of meaning was further aggravated by the breakup of traditional forms of social order under the impact of industrial capitalism. The rise of the city and the compulsive work routine of office and factory cut the bonds of social solidarity, so that each individual came to see himself or herself as an isolated entity pitted against others in stark competition for dominance. The individual ego thus became the ultimate centre of experience and the sole determinant of value, but it was an isolated ego on whom the other-regarding virtues inculcated by religious ethics, such as generosity and self-sacrifice, no longer had any claims. Altruism and restraint were eclipsed by the new creed of self-indulgence, which gave precedence to wealth, power, and conspicuous consumption as the supreme goals of life. 

As Western technology and its offshoot, the consumerist culture, spread to the far corners of the world, the breakdown of meaning and the sense of self-alienation became endemic to many lands, and today this sense of meaninglessness has reached a truly global scale. The culture of narcissism, which exalts the reckless quest for self-aggrandizement, has spread its tentacles everywhere, leaving behind the same debris: agitated minds and hollow lives. Bent on quick and easy gratification, we pass our lives perpetually shadowed by a fear that all our achievements are worthless, unable to deliver any deep and stable satisfaction. And when this fear reveals itself, the abyss opens up, the realization that we have wasted our lives in the pursuit of empty dreams. Thus the high incidence of mental illness, drug dependence, alcoholism, and suicide, particularly in the more affluent parts of the world. It is a telling sign that despite the impressive achievements of science and technology, a culture built on mere mastery over external nature is far from successful in meeting the deep demands of the human spirit.

For those adrift in the sea of meaninglessness, the Buddha's teaching offers a sense of meaning stemming from a profound spiritual tradition that combines metaphysical depth with psychological astuteness and the highest ethical standards. Without calling for blind faith in dogmatic creeds or speculative postulates, the Buddha points directly to the invariable universal laws that underlie happiness and suffering. He insists that we can discover these laws for ourselves, simply by clear reflection on our own immediate experience, and he offers us methods of practice by which we can gradually dig up the buried roots of suffering and cultivate the causes culminating in the highest happiness. His appeal is to immediate experience. We can see for ourselves that suffering prevails in a mind driven by greed, hatred, and delusion, and that happiness grows when the mind is suffused by the virtues of generosity, kindness, and understanding. On the basis of this experimental test, which lies within the scope of any thinking person, we can then extrapolate and see that for a mind fully liberated from all self-centred defilements and adorned with perfect detachment, love, and wisdom, happiness and peace will have become boundless and irreversible. Thus by showing us the way to inner peace and happiness, the Dhamma offers us an outlet from the abyss of meaninglessness, a way to confer on our lives an exalted meaning and purpose. The second type of suffering that has become so pervasive in our time is social violence, which still wreaks so much misery across the globe.

To be sure, communal violence is by no means peculiar to our era nor a product of modern civilization, but has infected human relations from time immemorial. But what has become so disturbing in the presentday world is the eruption of violence between different ethnic communities that in the past had managed to coexist in a relatively stable degree of mutual acceptance. We have witnessed these outbreaks of enmity recently in the Balkans, Russia, Indonesia, Central Africa, northern India, and sadly in our own Sri Lanka. Violence manifests itself, moreover, not only in the conflicts that rage between groups of different ethnic stocks and communal loyalties, but also in economic oppression, in the widening gap between the rich and the poor, in the gargantuan arms industries that thrive on violent conflict, in the sexual exploitation of women and children, in the drug trade, and also in the reckless devastation of the environment, by which we risk ripping away the life support systems that sustain our life on earth.

While Buddhism cannot pretend to offer a detailed solution to all the countless forms that violence takes in the present-day world, the values emphasized by the Dhamma show what is required to arrive at any lasting solution. What is necessary for true peace and harmony to prevail among human beings is not the hammering out of a comprehensive treaty by which the various parties to a conflict compromise their hard and volatile demands. What is truly required is a new mode of perception, the ascent to a universal consciousness that transcends the narrow standpoint of egocentric or ethnocentic self-interest. This is a consciousness that regards others as not essentially different from oneself, which detaches itself from the insistent voice of self-interest and rises up to a universal perspective from which the welfare of all appears as important as one's own good. We can see the germ of this universal perspective in a principle that stands at the base of Buddhist ethics, even more fundamental to its ethical ideals than the Five Precepts or any other formal code of conduct. This is the principle of taking oneself as the criterion for determining how to treat others. When we apply this principle we can understand that just as we each wish to live happily and to be free from suffering, so all other beings wish to live happily and to be free from suffering; just as we are each averse to pain and hardship and want to live in peace, so all others are averse to pain and hardship and want to live in peace.

When we have understood this common core of feeling that we share with all other beings, not as a mere idea but as a visceral experience born of deep reflection, we will treat others with the same kindness and care that we would wish them to treat us. And this must apply at a communal level just as much as in our personal relations. We must learn to see other communities as essentially similar to our own, and entitled to the same benefits as we wish for the group to which we belong. Even if we cannot reach any expansive feelings of love and compassion for the others, we will at least realize that the moral imperative requires that we treat them with justice and kindness. Thus the message of the Dhamma to human beings in the next millennium might be briefly summed up in these twin gifts. In the personal domain it gives us a precisely defined path that confers on life a deep sense of purpose, a purpose grounded in the cosmic order but which can be actualized in one's own immediate experience. In the communal dimension of human existence it holds out an ethical guideline to right action which, if diligently applied, can arouse a conscientious commitment to a life of nonviolence. Though it is far too much to expect that these two blessings will become the common heritage of all humanity, we can at least hope that enough people will accept them to make the twenty-first century a brighter and happier century than the one we are about to leave behind.

Daily News - 7 May 2001







Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.17  Reflections on the Five Aggregates (Khandhas) in Buddhism

R. Chandrasoma

The chief metaphysical concepts in Buddhism are those relating to the issues of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ in the perceived world. The word ‘being’ has ontological implications - it refers to the ultimate stuff or ‘things’ out of which our world is constituted. From a religious point of view, sentient beings or persons form a class apart and are ontologically pre-eminent. Not surprisingly, Buddhists regard the study of the interactive dynamics of persons as the explanatory key in our quest to bring meaningful order to the bewildering complexity that assails our senses and challenges the instruments of cognition that depend on them. It must be made clear from the outset that the Buddhists have no general ontology - that is, an explanation of how the Universe is strung together. If we ignore the obvious archaisms, there are no descriptive propositions on the nature of the fundamental building-blocks of the world we inhabit.

It is true that in Folk-Buddhism we have colourful descriptions of Heavens of varying degrees of corporeal refinement and nether-worlds (hot and cold) tailored to suit the quantum of retributive punishment that must be meted to the evil-doer. These fancy stories lie quite outside the corpus of rigorously defined mainstream Buddhism. So far as the latter is concerned, the doctrine is studiously silent; Buddhists have no explanation as to why the visible Universe is fifteen billion years old and is in steady cosmic expansion. Nor have they a clue as to the significance of Black-Holes, Neutron Stars, Colliding Galaxies and Alien Life-Forms. They have, of course, nothing comparable to that great ‘Mystifact’ of the theists - who see a Loving Father as the Creator of all this mind-boggling cosmic fandangle. A most unlikely back-drop to the puny adventures of homo sapiens (his errant beloved) on this rocky little planet in the boondocks of the Universe!  

Non-Buddhists will rightly ask, ‘what is your central concern if the nature of the world falls outside the arena of useful discourse?’ This question has been famously answered; it is the finitude and misery of man and the resolution of the existential puzzle of his helplessness and hopelessness in the blinding flux of events in which he finds himself fatefully enmeshed. It is this dire predicament that has the greatest significance and the highest reflective priority.

The nature of the world must be re-interpreted to reflect the urgency of the task of escape from a seeming inexorable bondage; the cycle of bird and death ridden with the anguish of a baffling momentariness. It is in this context that the metaphysics of ‘being’; the nature of ‘persons’ - becomes pivotal in the resolution of the religious issue - the issue of ‘right conduct’ when faced with the kind of existential conundrum briefly described above. Can ‘release’ be obtained by appealing to the Gods? Buddhists reject this easy path because (among other compelling reasons) there is a fatal weakness in calling upon the Great Author to undo that which he instituted in the first place.

The explanation proffered - that insight which made our Compassionate Teacher the Enlightened One; is based on a ‘deconstruction’ of the person that is caught up in the samsaric struggle. The doctrine of the Five Aggregates makes the reflective ‘I’; the Cartesian Ego - a structuralist figment, a pervasive illusion arising from the process-dynamics of that which is conventionally identified as being or ‘self’. Briefly, that which is misidentified as the soul, self or ‘core-being’ is a fleeting awareness based on the momentary interaction of the functional modules of the mind-body complex. What are these modules or functional unities that cause the great deception? They are classically identified (in Scholastic Buddhism) as corporeality, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. There is no doubt that this schema needs reformulation in the light of what we know today of neurophysiology and cognitive science. For instance, the ‘mental formations’ of the classicist surely stands for the ‘innate drives’ studied by ethologists and zoologists. The word ‘consciousness.’ (vinnana.) used freely in the Abhidharma is a portmanteau word meaning hereditary recollection as well as awareness. The kind reader must disabuse himself of the notion that what is attempted here is a re-definition based on modern science; that would be egregiously wrong. It needs emphasizing, nevertheless, that it is the profound insight that matters; not textual fidelity or the parrot-like repetition of a set formula.

And, what is this profound insight? Let us answer this by pointing out a remarkable convergence of views based on contemporary work in neurophysiology. The ruling physicalist paradigm on the functioning of the brain speaks of a ‘parallel distributed array of functional modules’.  

The physical basis of the mind; the corporeal self; is a collection of dynamic units massively parallel in operation yet cross-linked and capable of a momentary holistic performance. Awareness; or self consciousness; is a dynamic property of this functional ensemble and arises through sensual focussing. It would take us too far into the technicalities of neurophysiology to deepen our understanding of this vastly-complex neuronal system, but the message is clear; what is called the ‘self or ‘ego’ has no enduring epistemic basis. Indeed, about 99% of the work of the brain is unconscious or robotic. The interludes of awareness have a ‘personalised’ aspect that is mistaken for a permanent (and commanding) entity called the self. This extraordinary reduction of neurophysiological doctrine to tally with fundamental Buddhist thinking on these matters (The Doctrine of Anatta) has not escaped the notice of leading figures in the world of neurophysiology and cognitive science.

Indeed, a world-renowned expert in these fields; Professor Francisco Varela; has declared himself a Buddhist and has made it his mission to effect a grand synthesis between the sophisticated formulations of neuroscience and the ancient truths of Buddhist psychology. One must hasten to add that such revelatory parallels cannot be a substitute for the moral and eschatological aspects of Buddhism.

The latter constitute a great edifice of intuition and understanding that sets the course for righteous conduct and, as the crowning spiritual achievement, the bliss of Nirvanic release. These are matters that transcend scientific understanding. It is undeniable, however, that the false reification of that which we identify spuriously as ‘self’; now acquiring the weighty imprimatur of modern science; has devastating implications for all brands of Theism.

Buddhism alone not merely encompasses this late-revealed truism, it makes it the basis of a new moral order that sees the annihilation of the self as the inelutable first step in our mastery of the existential predicament that doggedly besets us in this sorry world. A few concluding words; there remains a metaphysical (and theological) hiatus in dealing with ‘being’ without a reference to that other great existential puzzle; the transformative aspect of life that is generally subsumed under the title ‘becoming’.

On this issue the Buddhists have a doctrinal position of great subtlety called ‘Dependent origination’ (Paticca Sammupada). Here, too, there is an urgent need to realign the classical thinking with developments in Quantum Physics without in any sense mocking or degrading the pristine formulation.

The Isalnd - 3 April 2001 






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.18  Translations of Buddhist texts by the Royal Asiatic Society 

R. C. de. S. Manukulasuriya

It has been a pure accident of circumstances that the original commentaries on the Buddhist canon written in Sinhala which were available in Sri Lanka up to the fifth century were lost and what has survived since then are only their translations in the Pali language written by Buddhagosha, who was in Lanka during the time of King Mahanama. (412 - 434 A.D.)

It was the declared intention of Buddhagosha that the original language of the Buddhist canon being in Pali should have their commentaries also in the same language. When his intention was made clear to his preceptor the learned Revata Thero he was informed that the purest form of the commentaries on the Buddhist canon existed only in Lanka and that if he intended to write commentaries on them he should study all the commentaries available in the island.

It was thus that Buddhagosha arrived in the island and proceeded to the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura and made his intentions known to the learned priests of the Mahavihare. The latter though reluctant at first, but on being convinced about his capacity to undertake the task on the basis of a test applied by them, permitted him to proceed with his intentions. He, thus, took up residence at a place called Ganthakara Vihara and proceeded to translate into Pali all the commentaries available in the island at the time.

It has to be stated that the original Buddhist scriptures brought to the island by Mahinda thera at the time of the introduction of the religion to Lanka were in Pali. It is thus the traditional belief that these scriptures were translated into the Sinhala language in course of time end were regarded as Sinhala Atthakatha. Therefore, one of the tasks that Buddhagosha had to face was to elucidate the discrepancies between the two versions in Pali and Sinhala. In such instances Buddha-gosha seemed to have given more weight to the Pali version than the Sinhala commentary. Thus, what seemed to have survived today is more inclined towards the original Pali version. Therefore, the loss of the Sinhala version cannot be considered as irreparable as long as a good translation of the Pali version is made available.

It is in consideration of these circumstances that the Royal Asiatic Society, Sri Lanka Branch, decided to undertake the translations of the Atthakatha as a project of the Society.

It has to be stated that from the very beginning of the Society several members had felt the need to have the contents of the Buddhist scriptures, which were in Pali, brought within the scope of the Sinhala people in a language of current usage. Thus, in the very first Journal of the Society published in 1845 two articles based on the Pali canon were published in the Journal. These were written by no other person than a priest of the Christian church, Rev. D. J. Gogerly. Being a scholar of no mean calibre, Rev. Gogerly had found it possible to make a series of contributions involving translations of extracts from Parajika and Pachitta texts with explanatory observations, the first sermon of the Buddha and a translation of the Brahmajala sutta. He followed this with translations of other suttas such as Chulakamma Vibhan-ga sutta, Sigalovada sutta and Ratthapala sutta.

In Volume II of the Journal which appeared in 1848 among his contributions was the translation of a sutta dealing with objects difficult of attainment, yet desirable, as well as a Translation of Maha Dhamma Samadana sutta. This was followed by translations of a few stories from the Chariya Pitaka, a translation of the precepts concerned in the ecclesiastical code with considerable portions of the texts from the Maha Vagga and Chula Vagga.

Another Christian Minister to make a contribution of note to the Journal with a translation from the Buddhist canon was Rev. S. Coles, who has given a summary of the contents of the first book of the Buddhist canon called Parajika book, running into 45 pages published in Journal No. IV, 1869/70.  

In Journal No. VIII, published in 1884, appeared an article entitled Notes Illustrative of Buddhism in the Daily Religion of Buddhists of Ceylon and some account of their ceremonies before and after death by J. F. Dickson as well as some translations of Nidhikanda and some translations of paritta sutras regarding the spirits of the dead. Another noteworthy contribution was that of L. F. Lee in Volume XVI, 1870/71 who has given a Romanized Text of the first five chapters of the Balavatara with a translation as well as explanatory notes.

The only Sinhalese writer who had made a noteworthy contribution in this regard was Louis de Zoysa, Maha Mudaliyar, whose translations of Nakkhatta and Namasiddhi Jatakas were published in Volume VI of the Journal in 1880. Since then many summers had gone by before the Society decided to take some concerted action to embark on the revival of the translations of the Buddhist texts from Pali into an easier Sinhala Language intelligible to the vast majority of the population.

Thus, as a project of the Society it was first mooted by Pundit Dr. Nandadeva Wijese-kera several years back, but the Society was unable to proceed with it due to financial difficulties. But when the assurance of financial support was given by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs a newly formulated project proposed by Dr. M. B. Ariyapala was accepted by the Council of the Society and a committee of six acknowledged scholars from among the members of the Council was appointed to carry out the project with Dr. Ariyapala as Chairman and a live-wire Secretary in the indefatigable Dr. S. G. Samarasinghe as administrator of the project.

The task undertaken by the Committee was indeed of vast proportions as it demanded the careful study of a vast volume of documents chiefly in Pali. Initially a panel of highly qualified scholars in the language of Pali as well as those equally proficient in Sinhala had to be selected to undertake the work. As much of the work of the Committee was on a voluntary basis with only a honorarium to be paid to the translators the work devolving on the Committee was considerable involving many difficulties.

After much deliberation and careful consideration of all the circumstances it was decided to take up only 10 Atthakathas to be translated for a start and thus the work got underway without much fanfare and trumpets. The progress of the work was regularly at the meetings of the Council on the reports sent up by the Secretary of the Committee Dr. Samarasinghe.

At present four translations, Kankavitarini, Therigatha, Dhamm-apadatta Katha and Visuddhimarga Vol. I have been printed. A simple launching ceremony was held on August 26, 2000 at the Auditorium of the Mahaveli Kendra when the Most Venerable Asgiriya Mahanayake Udugama Buddhar-akkita was presented with the first copies of the Kankavitarini, Theri-gatha and Dhammapadatta Katha and all the other Mahanayakes who were present were also presented with copies of these translations.

All the translations so far completed are available for purchase at the sales counter of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka at the Mahaveli Kendra at No. 96 Ananda Coomara-swamy Mawatha. Two other translations which have been completed and are ready for publication are Anguttara Nikaya Part I and Samathpasadika comprising of Parajika, Pacittiya, Maha Vagga, Chulla Vagga and Parivara; those too will be available for purchase at the same sales counter. Four other texts are still with the translators, but would soon be available.

In conclusion it has to be stated that this project of translations of Atthakatha into Sinhala stands out as the only substantial research undertaken by the Society within the last few years after its sudden burst of enthusiasm in the hundred and fiftieth year celebrations in 1995, For the present project credit must be given not only to Dr. Ariyapala for initiating it but also to Dr. S. G. Samarasinghe, Vice President of the Society, who as Secretary of the Atthakatha Committee has laboured immensely to bring it to a successful conclusion. And last, but not the least, credit must also be given to former Minister of Cultural Affirs, Lakshman Jayakody, for providing the necessary funds and taking an abiding interest in the progress of the work.  

The Island - 3 April 2001 






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.19  The Buddha’s true face

Ven. S. Dhammika

In the Dhammadayada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya the Buddha says, "Monks, be heirs of my Dhamma, not heirs of material things". Clearly the Buddha wanted his disciples to give more attention to his liberating teaching than to things like his bodily remains or personal possessions. Nonetheless, after his parinirvana his disciples felt deeply his absence and longed for some form of closeness to their beloved teacher. In time, this led to the cult of relics. If also led to a great interest in what the Buddha looked like. There are many references in the Tipitaka to the Buddha’s personal appearance. In the Anguttara Nikaya it says, "It is wonderful, truly marvellous, how serene the good Gotama’s presence is, how clear and radiant his complexion". In the Sonadanda Sutta, he is described as being "fair in colour, fine in presence, stately to behold". Although these and other passages from the suttas make it clear that the Buddha was extraordinarily handsome, they are only descriptions. Devotees wanted more than that, they wanted to actually see the Buddha’s face. Consequently legend gradually developed that several very ancient and exceptionally beautiful Buddha statues were to just artists impressions of the Buddha but actual portraits of him. The most famous of these statues was at Bodh Gaya.

The earliest Buddha statue found at Bodh Gaya and now in the Indian Museum in Calcutta dates from the year 383 CE. Although much damaged it is still an impressive piece of sculpture, the facial features in particular showing serenity yet determination. In about the first half of the 5th century, a statue was installed in the then newly built Mahabodhi Temple and within a very short time the belief arose that this statue was a portrait of the Buddha. It came to be known as the Image of the True Face or more commonly, as the Mahabodhi Image. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang who visited Bodh Gaya in the 7th century has left us this detailed description of the Mahabodhi Image. "He (the statue) was facing the east and as dignified in appearances when alive. The throne on which he sits was 4 feet 2 inches high and 12 feet 5 inches broad. The figure was 11 feet 5 inches high, the two knees were 8 feet 8 inches apart and the two shoulders 6 feet 2 inches. The Buddha’s features are perfectly depicted and the loving expression of his face lifelike. The statue stands in a dark chamber in which lamps and torches are kept burning, but those who wish to see the sacred features cannot do so by coming into the chamber. In the morning they have to reflect the sunlight onto the statue by means of a great miror so that the details can be seen. Those who behold them find their religious emotions much increased".

The story concerning the statue’s origins as told to Hiuen Tsiang is as follows:

The Brahmin who built the Mahabodhi Temple wished to enshrine a statue in it but for a long time no suitable sculpture could be found. Eventually, a man appeared who said he could do the job. He asked that a pile of scented clay and a lighted lamp be placed in the temple chamber and the door be locked for six months. This was done but being impatient the Brahmin opened the door four days before the required time. Inside was found a statue of surpassing beauty, perfect in every detail except for a small part of the breast which was unfinished. Some time later, a monk who spent the night in the chamber had a dream in which Maitreya appeared to him and said that it was he who had moulded the statue. Six hundred years later the Tibetan pilgrim Dharmasvamin was told a story about the image’s origins reminiscent to this one but differing from details, indicating that the legends were constantly evolving. According to Dharmasvamin, three brothers fell into an argument about which religion was the best. On being told that Buddhism was inferior to others the youngest brother went crying to his mother. She called the three boys and told them to go to the Himalayas and ask Mahesvara for his opinion. Mahesvara of course confirmed the younger brother’s belief in the supremacy of Buddhism and all three brothers decided to become monks. The eldest built a monastery at Veluvana, the second built one at Isipatana and not to be outdone, the youngest brother decided to make a Buddha statue for the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya. In a dream he was told to get material consisting of one part precious substances, one part fragrant substances and one part sandalwood paste, place it in the main shrine of the Temple and to keep the door closed for a particular period of time. This was done but he opened the door before the appointed time and inside found the statue complete except for the little toe on the right foot. The mother of the three boys who had known the Buddha when she was a young girl, declared that the statue was exactly like the Buddha except in four respects. Where as the Buddha’s usina was invisible, it could be seen on the statue, the Buddha moved but the statue did not, it could not teach the Dhamma and it did not radiate light.

In Buddhism Buddha statues are expressions of devotion of the artists who make them and aids to contemplation to those who worship them and therefore it is not correct to say that "Buddhists worship idols". That this is not a new idea, a modern rationalisation, is amply proved by the writings of Robert Knox who, in the 17th century, described the Kandyans attitude to Buddha statues thus: "As for these images, they say they do not own them to be gods themselves but only figures representing their Gods to their memories, and as such, they give them honour and worship". Nontheless, the Mahabodhi Image was sometimes worshipped as if it were the Buddha himself, food was offered to it and devotees would drape robes over it. The Chinese monk, I Tsing, who visited Bodh Gaya in the 7th century wrote. "Afterwards we came to the Mahabodhi Temple and worshipped the Image of the True Face of the Buddha. I took bolts of thick and fine silk which had been given to me by the monks and laymen of Shantung, made a robe to it the size of the Tathagata and myself offered it to the image. Many myriads of small canopies which were entrusted to me by the Vinaya master Huien of Pu’, I offered on his behalf. The meditation master teacher An Tao of Ts’ao asked me to worship the Image and I did this in his name. Then I prostrated myself completely on the ground with my mind undivided, sincere and respectful. Firstly, I wished that China might experience the four benefits and that those benefits might prevail throughout the whole universe. Then I expressed the desire to be reborn under the Naga tree so that as to meet Maitriya and practice the true Dhamma and realise the knowledge not subject to rebirth". A Chinese inscription found to the north of the Temple written by the monk Ko Yun in 1022 says of the image, "The great hero Maitreya out of compassion for all beings left them the real likeness &emdash; The image is respected by the heterodox, cherished by the discerning and although 2000 years old its face remains new". The inscription also tells us that Ko Yun and his companions draped the Image with a robe made of silk that they had bought with them all the way from China for the purpose. This practice of putting robes on the statue in the main shrine of the Mahabodhi Temple continues even today. As time went by the image was even believed to be able to speak perhaps such a belief should not surprise us too much. Many people in the theistic religions believe that their god talks to them in dreams or in prayer. In fact, one of the last references we have to the Mahabodhi Image mentions it speaking. In 1300, the Tibetan Tantric adept Man-luns-po travelled to Bodh Gaya and made a vow before the Mahabodhi Image to neither eat or drink until it spoke to him. After waiting eighteen days he got his wish when the statue said. "Oh son of noble family! Proceed to Mount Potala and there practice in the manner of Bodhisatvas in the presence of Avaloktesvara". The details of Man-luns-po’s subsequent journey suggest that that he did actually go to the sacred mountain in Kerala.

Being as it were the most lifelike symbol of the Buddha, the Mahabodhi Image attracted the attention of devoted Buddhists but also those who hated and wanted to destroy Buddhism. The most notorious of these was the fanatical Saivite Bengali king Sasanka. Early in the 7th century, his minions attacked Bodh Gaya with the intention of destroying the Mahabodhi Image. Hiuen Tsiang relates what happened. "King Sasanka wished to destroy this image but having seen its loving expression his mind had no rest or determination and he returned homeward with his retinue. On this way he said to one of his officers. ‘We must remove the statue of the Buddha and replace it with one of Mahesvara’. The officer having received this order was moved with fear and sighing said.’ ‘If destroy the statue of the Buddha I will reap misfortune for many kalpas. If on the other hand I disobey the king he will kill me and my family. I am doomed whether I obey or not. What then shall I do? "On this, he called to his presence a man who was a Buddhist to help him and sent him to build across the chamber and in front of the Buddha statue a wall of brick. Out of a feeling of shame at the darkness placed a burning lamp in with the statue and then on the wall drew the figure of Mahesvara. The work being finished he reported it to the king who was suddenly seized with terror. His body became covered with sores, his flesh rotted off and after a while he died. Then the officer quickly ordered the wall to be pulled down and although several days had elapsed the lamp was found to be still burning". In the 13th century Bodh Gaya came under attack again, this time by Muslim invaders, and the monks used a similar strategy to save the Mahabodhi Image. Dharmasvamin tells us, "They blocked up the door in front of the Mahabodhi Image with bricks and plastered it, near it they places another image as a substitute. On its surface they drew an image of Mahesvara to protect it from the non-Buddhists". Dharmasvamin was also told that formerly the Mahabodhi Image had two beautiful gems in its eyes that emitted a light so bright that it was possible to read by it. During a lightning raid a little before his visit a soldier had put a ladder against the image and prised the eyes out. As he was climbing down he slipped and fell, dropping the gems and smashing them, after which their light grew dim. The Tibetan historian Taranatha tells us a legend he heard about the origins of these gems. He relates that when the man who had built the Mahabodhi Temple had placed the statue in it, he happened to find a wondrous self-illuminating gem. When he expressed regret that he had nor not found the gem earlier two holes a suddenly appeared in the statue’s eyes. As he prepared to cut the gem in to two, so he could put it in the statue’s sockets, a second gem miraculously appeared.

The Mahabodhi Image had a considerable influence on art in India other parts of Asia through copies of it which were taken to various Buddhist countries. Baladitya’s huge temple at Nalanda had a life size copy of the statue in as did the main temple at Vikramasila. When the Chinese pilgrim I Tsing returned home in 698 he brought with him a picture of the statue and presented it to the Fo Shou Chi Monastery. The Chinese envoy Wang Hiuen Ts’e made four separate trips to India, visiting Bodh Gaya during two of them. He returned from his last trip with a model of the Mahabodhi Image which he deposited in the Imperial Palace. He also found himself flooded with requests from people in the capital for copies of the statue. The Tibetan monks Chag Gar-com (1153-1216) is said to have made a copy of the statue and enshrined it in a temple especially built for the purpose. He first saw the original during a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya where each day he would buy flowers in the market and strew over the statue. A Buddha statue the same dimensions as the image was installed in the great stupa at Gyantse in Tibet in 1421. The measurements for this copy were obtained from Sariputra, the last abbot of Bodh Gaya, when he passed through Tibet on his way to China in 1413. This copy can still be seen in the topmost shrine on the east side of the great stupa of Gyantse. In the 19th century, a Buddha statue in the earth witnessing gesture was found near the Sri Mahabodhi in Anuradhapura, the only such statue from ancient Sri Lanka. Although I have no proof I suspect that this also was a copy of the Mahabodhi Image. Nor was sculpture the only art form influenced by this famous statue. The origin of one ancient India style of painting pictures of the Buddha was traced back to an impression made by smearing the Mahabodhi Image with yellow sandalwood paste and pressing a coton cloth on it.

When the Tibetan monk Dharmasvamin was in Bodh Gaya in 1234 he said the Mahabodhi Image was still attracting devotees. He wrote of it, "One is never satiated to behold such an image and has no desire to go and behold another. Even people of little faith when standing in front of the image feel it impossible not to shed tears". The last reference to the Mahabodhi Image is an inscription from about the 15th century carved on a stone railing around the Mahabodhi Temple. It was written by a Buddhist pilgrim from ‘the mountainous country of Parvata" named Jinadasa and specifically mentions that he had come all the way from his home to gaze at the Mahabodhi Image. After that the statue was lost to the world, perhaps it was destroyed by Islamic iconoclasts although there is no record of this. For nearly five hundred years the asana inside the Mahabodhi Temple stood empty. In 1877, the embassy sent by the king of Burma to repair the Mahabodhi Temple installed a statue inside it but this was a rather unattractive image made out of old bricks and plaster. Then in 1880, Joseph Beglar was commissioned by the Indian government to repair the Temple. His unofficial adviser in this task was the great archaeologist Alexander Cunningham. After work on the Temple was finished the two men felt that there was still something missing, a fitting statue in its main shrine. Numerous Buddha statues were lying all around Bodh Gaya but on examination they were all found to be unsuitable, either too small, damaged or of Bodhisattvas rather than of the Buddha himself. Finally a statue was located in a small shrine in the Mahant’s residence, the Hindu monk laid claim to own Bodha Gaya village and its temple. The statue was undamaged, with fine feature and just the right size, neither too small so as to look insignificant in the shrine or too large, so as to make it appear cluttered. The fragmentary inscription on the base of this statue says that it was commissioned by the Chhindha Purnabhadra in about the 12th century. When Cunnimgham asked the Mahant if he could have the statue he refused. But he was a resourceful man and he finally was able to pry it from the Mahants grip. What promises, flattery or threats he used we do not know. Today this statue sits in the Mahabodhi temple, its serene and being gaze looking down on those who come from all over the world to worship it.

The Island - 13 March 2001






Personalities History

Articles Index

J8.20  The Buddha’s admonition to lay disciples

Bhikkhu Seelananda

(Paramita Kadugannawa)

The Full Moon day of Medin (March). It commemorates mainly the Buddha’s first visit to his relatives at Kapilavatthu. After his Enlightenment the Buddha went from place to place and delivered sermons for the welfare of the people of all walk of life. His father ,the King Suddhodana, heard about the son’s attainment of Enlightenment and the great service that he was rendering to society. So his anxiety to see his Enlightened son grew stronger and stronger. Yet he was unable to fulfill his wish because the nine courtiers sent by him on nine successive occasions to invite the Buddha to come there, did not convey the message. (as they attained Arahantship).

However, the disappointed king finally dispatched another faithful courtier, Kaludayi who was a playmate of the Buddha. He went to the Buddha and after listening to the word of the Buddha he also attained Arahantship. Thereafter he conveyed the message and persuaded the Buddha to visit his aged royal father. The Buddha was then dwelling at the bamboo grove in the city of Rajagaha. By the Full Moon day of Medin he decided to visit his father, the King Suddhodana and the relatives.

The whole environment of the entire country turned into peace and fair. The trees were laden with fruits and flowers pervading fragrance all over the atmosphere. The Buddha accompanied with a large retinue of his disciples (more than 20,000) set out his journey to Kapilavatthu. According to the history of Buddhism ,it was because of this visit of the Buddha that the Prince Rahula, Nanda, Anuruddha, Bhaddiya, Devadatta, Bhagu and Kimbila, etc. became the followers of the Buddha. While the Buddha was there at Kapilavatthu, on the second day, he went in the streets of Kapilavatthu seeking alms. On hearing this, the king greatly perturbed in mind hurried to the Buddha and said "Son why do you ruin me? I am overwhelmed with shame to see you begging alms". So the Buddha said: "I am not putting you to shame, of great king! I am following the custom of my lineage" . At this moment advising the King the Buddha further said: " Be not heedless in standing. Lead a righteous life. The righteous live happily both in this world and in the next". As we all know, in this manner, during his great successful ministry, the Buddha admonished to the four fold society of Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas.

Specially, the Buddha delivered many discourses such as the Singalovada Sutta, Vyaggapajja Sutta, Dhammika Sutta, etc. to the lay people, in order to show a righteous way of life. Today let us understand such an admonition given by the Buddha to the lay people for their success in daily life. After his constant and unparallel service for 45 years, just before his passing away into Parinibbana, he lived at Pataligama, the village of Patalis. Then there the Buddha delivered this discourse to the people of Pataligama. According to that, once as the Buddha was accompanied with a large community of monks, the lay people of Pataligama came to where the Buddha was ,and paid their respect to the Buddha and sat on a side. Then they invited the Buddha to accept the village’s rest house. The Buddha consented in silence.

Thereupon the people went back and decked it fully all over, arranged seats, placed a pot of water, and provided and oil lamp. Then they went to the Buddha again and said " Venerable Sir, the entire rest house is decked completely, seats are arranged, a pot of water is placed, and an oil lamp provided. Now may the Buddha act is it deems most suitable to him". Thereafter the Buddha went along with the monks to where the village rest house was. In the hall, the Buddha sat facing the east alongside the center pillar. The monks too having entered the rest house sat alongside the western wall with the Buddha in front, and facing the east. And the lay disciples too, having washed their feet entered and sat in front of the Buddha, alongside the eastern wall facing the West. Thereupon the Buddha addressed the lay disciples of Pataligama and gave this admonition. He said: "Householders there are these five consequences that befall an unrighteous person because of his lack of virtue". And then the Buddha explained them (the five) as follows:

1. An unrighteous person fallen from moral virtue, suffers great loss of wealth through his indolence;

2. An unrighteous person fallen from moral virtue, suffers an evil reputation ;  

3. An unrighteous person fallen from moral virtue, whatever assembly he enters whether of kings, brahmins, householders or recluses, he does so

confused and troubled;  

4. An unrighteous person fallen from moral virtue, dies bewildered in mind and

5. An unrighteous person fallen from moral virtue is born in a state of loss, evil existence of woe and of hell at the dissolution of the body at death.

After announcing these five fallen from moral virtue the Buddha again further proclaimed these five advantages that accrue to a virtuous person through his practice of virtuous conduct, namely:

1. A virtuous person endowed with righteous conduct accumulates much wealth through his diligent ways;

2. A virtuous person endowed with righteous conduct gets a favourable loud acclaim of fame;

3. A virtuous person endowed with righteous conduct, what &emdash; ever assembly he enters, whether of kings, Brahmins, householders or recluses, he does so unconfused and untroubled;

4. A virtuous person endowed with righteous conduct dies with an unconfused and alert mind and

5. A virtuous person with righteous conduct is born in some happy state in heaven at the dissolution of his body at death.

Thus the Buddha instructed, aroused, delighted and gladdened the lay disciples of Pataligama with religious discourse. Let us all strive to understand this utmost significant word of admonition elucidated by the Buddha and apply it to our daily life.

The Island - 9 March 2001


   End of Aloka Journal Page 8  








Aloka Home


If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would people believe and adore. – R. W. Emmerson

Mail to Aloka

©Aloka 99-2011