Monday, 11 April 2011

2600 years after birth of Buddha to what extent are we Buddhists ?

The Queen Mahamaya Devi while on her way to her parental home to have her baby according to ancient custom, gave birth to a baby boy in the Lumbini Park in Kapilawattu . The father the Sakyan King Suddhodana was overjoyed with the birth of a son.

But the king’s joy did not last long as the Queen Mahamaya Devi died seven days after the birth of the Prince. The baby was placed in the care of his step mother Maha Pajapati Gotami, the younger sister of the late queen.

The Ascetic Asita Kaladevela came to pay respect to the King and to see the new born little Prince. Having seen the baby the great Ascetic predicted that the Prince will be enlightened becoming a Buddha, but regretted that he would not be there on the blissful day as he would be dead by then.

At a naming ceremony five days after his birth the little Prince was named Siddhattha Gotama . One of the eight Brahmins Kondanna , who had been invited for the ceremony seeing the characteristic marks of the child said with certainty, that he would be the future Buddha.

The story of the life of the Buddha recounts different incidents of significance , one of which is a ploughing festival at which the baby Prince Siddhartha was placed in a screened canopied couch under a rose apple tree in the care of the nurses while the king and his retinue participated in the ploughing festival .

At the height of the festivity the caring nurses had left the baby prince alone in the couch and moved away to watch the festivities. When they came back to the canopied couch they found the little Prince Siddhattha seated cross legged in deep meditation. The King Suddhodana who was informed of the “ miracle” hastened to the place and surprised, made respectful salutations to his son.

His childhood and youth were spent in royal luxury . At the still youthful age of 16 he married his young cousin Princess Yasodhara who was of his own age. After 13 years of a happy married life , he had a baby son Rahula .

By then several incidents he had observed from his chariot when he ventured out side the palace gates deeply saddened him, making him aware that his blissfully happy royal life, is a contradiction of the reality of the life of the people out side the walls of the palace. Intrigued by the suffering of these people the Prince Siddattha decided to renounce his royal life to follow the life of an ascetic to search for the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, a way out of suffering, and a state of non-suffering.

Then after six years of relentless effort, he finally attained enlightenment of an all knowing purity of mind of a Samma Sam Buddha on a full moon day of a month of May about 2600 years ago. Thereafter, he began dispensation of the truth he discovered to the world until his death at the age of 80 years.

Therefore, it is relevant to ask ourselves on this “Wesak day” falling 2600 years after the Birth of the Prince Siddattha whether the Buddha during the 45 years of his dispensation of the teaching to escape from the cycle of death and birth-the Samsara , had at any occasion celebrated the anniversary of his birth, an anniversary of his first discourse to the five monks, or the death anniversaries of his disciples Venerable Sariputta and Venerable Mogallana who had pre-deceased him ?

The Buddha did not celebrate any anniversaries nor did he in any of his discourses said that his followers should celebrate the anniversary of his Birth , enlightenment or death. But what he exhorted to his followers just before his death- parinibbana, was:

“Handa dāni bhikkhavē āmantayāmi vō: Vayadhammā sankhārā appamādēna sampādētha.

“You should accomplish all that you have to accomplish without allowing mindfulness to lapse!”

which is far from demanding of them to celebrate his anniversaries for the continued existence of Buddha Sasana.

The Buddha Jayanthi is to be celebrated among Buddhists, and it should not be made an occasion to mix politics with religion by setting up Regional Committees as proposed to Organize Buddha Jayanthi Celebrations, along with non-Buddhists..

In order to explain the reason why the Buddha Jayanthi is purely a Buddhist celebration for which other religious groups should not be invited, I quote the Buddha’s teaching to Subaddha who became his last disciple during his life time. The Buddha told Subaddha ,

“…..In whatsoever Dhamma and Discipline, Subhadda, there is not found the Noble Eightfold Path, neither is there found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, or fourth degree of saintliness. But in whatsoever Dhamma and Discipline there is found the Noble Eightfold Path, there is found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness. Now in this Dhamma and Discipline, Subhadda, is found the Noble Eightfold Path; and in it alone are also found true ascetics of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness. Devoid of true ascetics are the systems of other teachers. But if, Subhadda, the bhikkhus live righteously, the world will not be destitute of arahats.

"In age but twenty-nine was I, Subhadda,
When I renounced the world to seek the Good;
Fifty-one years have passed since then, Subhadda,
And in all that time a wanderer have I been
In the domain of virtue and of truth,
And except therein, there is no saint
(of the first degree).

"And there is none of the second degree, nor of the third degree, nor of the fourth degree of saintliness. Devoid of true ascetics are the systems of other teachers. But if, Subhadda, the bhikkhus live righteously, the world will not be destitute of arahats." (Maha Pari Nibbana Sutta Translated by Sister Vajira and Francis Story)

But it is also worth asking ourselves whether in Buddhism that we practice to-day with the rank indiscipline of the Student Bikkhu population , “.. there is found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, or fourth degree of saintliness .“ ? If not we are no better than, “.. the other systems of other teachers, devoid of true saints.”

With regard to the Celebration of the Anniversary of the Buddha’s birth, it is worth quoting again from the Maha Parinibbana Sutta, in which it is stated that , « …. Now the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying: "It may be, Ananda, that to some among you the thought will come: 'Ended is the word of the Master; we have a Master no longer.' But it should not, Ananda, be so considered. For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone. »

Hence in reality Celebrating the Buddha Jayanthi is not organizing festivities, but by getting every Buddhist to make an introspection on the day to understand to what extent each one is to day a true follower of the teachings of the Buddha. If in such a search we find that we lack the quality of a true follower of the teachings of the Buddha, then we should leaving aside the celebrations to, interrogate, discuss and redefine how to become true followers of the teachings.

Let us also examine, when we are preparing to celebrate the Buddha Jayanthi, how much of the Buddhism brought to Sri Lanka by Venerable Mahinda thero remains in Sri Lanka to-day.

When the King Devenapatissa accepted the teachings, he proclaimed Buddhism the state Religion of Sri Lanka. He then set up many places of worship and Centres of Buddhist learning. When all that had been done he asked venerable Mahinda whether the Buddha Sasana is now established in Sri Lanka.

The Venerable Mahinda said most significantly: Great King, the Sasana is established but it has not taken root.” He then explained to the King, how it would take root; “ When a person born of parents who belong to Thambapannidipa, enters pabbajja in Thambapannidipa,learns the Vinaya in the Thambapannidipa, and recites the same in Thambapanni dipa, then will the Sasana take root in the Island.” ( Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon by E.W.Adikaram)

It was then found that Bikkhu Maha-Aritta was possessed of the qualification for the purpose and recited the Vinaya at Thuparama, thus making the Buddha Sasana, “ firmly established and well rooted in the Island”.

This shows to what extent the Vinaya is important for Buddhism to continue its existence. It is therefore necessary to ask our Maha Sngha to what extent the Buddhist Monks today keep their Vinaya precepts and how many of them could recite the Vinaya Pitaka by memory.

It would therefore be appropriate that the Vinaya Pitaka is recited by Buddhist Monks in every temple in Sri Lanka on the 2600th Buddha Jayanthi to firmly re-establish and re- rooted in the Island.

The Sacred City of Anuradhapura was said to have been yellow with the robes of the Maha Sangha. There were Monasteries, Temples , Shrine Rooms, Meditation Huts, and Halls for the gathering of Bikkhus. There were no Churches, Mosques and Kovils .

There were Monasteries from which the sounds of the words of the Buddha were heard through out the day. The Buddhist Bikkhus learnt the Buddhist Canonical texts which they could recite by memory. In the mornings there were the Buddhist monks coming out of temples and Monasteries in a disciplined order one after the other according to their seniority with their begging bowls in hand going for their alms round. The nights were calm with monks sitting in deep meditation.

There were Stream Entrants, Once Returners, No Returners and , Arahants the Noble Ones who had reached the highest purity of mind. But disciplinary laxity set in gradually and the Bikkhus were divided into two categories those who were engrossed in books-Grantha Dura, and others that followed the Dhamma- Dhamma Dura and practiced Meditation. The last Arahat is said to be Venerable Maliyadeva who lived in the second century before the current era. Since then Buddhism declined.

Later on after the colonization of Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, the Christian Churches were built every where. The Sinhala Buddhists were converted to Christianity. Our villagers were slowly drifting away from the temple. There were Mosques, Hindu Kovils and Sinhala Kapuralas with their Pitiye Deiyo and Huniyam Devathavo. The Sinhala Buddhists got mixed up with Hinduism, and their children were educated in Missionary Schools, they learnt about Christianity , were forced to attended catechism classes, and some of them became Christians and Catholics

Still later with the advent of the Muslims foreign religions ate further into our culture and the Muslims came to our villages and they set up their Mosques, and made all people get up in the mornings to the sound of the Muezzin calling the Muslims for their prayer.

Instead of the Buddha words recited in Temples and Monasteries we hear the Muslim children learning their lessons in Arabic, hear the Church bells, and the calls of Muezzins, the noisy rituals of the Kovils, and Bhajan recitals after the Saibaba Cult.

We have come a long way destroying the purity of the teachings of the Buddha. The yellow robes of Buddhist Monks have taken different hues from yellow, to orange, brown and black. We see no more the pleasant view of well shaven yellow robed monks going for their alms rounds.

[Of course the village roads also have buses “bigger than the roads”, that make it impossible for even an ordinary man to walk, leave alone a monk going for his alms round. The Minister of Buddha Sasana should ask the Minister of transport to have small size buses on village roads, to make life a little more convenient for both, bus drivers and pedestrians.]

Then when Buddhism was still the dominant religion, the Buddhist Monks learnt at the feet of an elderly teacher, a senior monk. They were very learned and disciplined. They had to keep 227 disciplinary rules. Every 15th of the month they gathered to recite the Vinaya Pitaka , to examine the extent of the discipline kept by them, and make confessions of their breaches. Then there were Pirivena schools strictly for the Buddhist Monks, where they studied Buddhist texts to become Monks well learned in the teachings of the Buddha.

These are today the relics of the past, the Pirivena system of education disappeared. The Buddhist Monks sat along with the lay students in University auditoriums, learning no more the Buddhist texts, but geography, economics, law, and political science. They studied not to be great teachers of Buddhism, but to do a government job, earn money and become independent. Or eventually disrobe, marry and bring up a family. The Buddhist Monks went to foreign Universities to obtain Doctorates in Buddhism to be in par with the intellectuals of the West.

The admission of the Buddhist Monks to lay Universites, was the final nail on the Buddhist education and the prospect of having learned Buddhist teachers , disciplined, keeping 227 Vinaya Rules.

And we also have Buddhist Monks who forget their “station in life as Buddhist Monks” like Bogoda Seelawimala thero who has proudly accepted an invitation to a royal wedding. It is perhaps a sort of attaining a social « Nibbana » for him. A highest possible social achievement being the first Buddhist Monk invited to a Royal Wedding. And we had also another Monk some time ago who once had the great privilege to ”kiss” the Pope’s ring in the Vatican.

The young Buddhist Monks gave up shaving hair on the head, quoting Buddhist Vinaya Pitaka, that the Buddha had not prescribed shaving the hair of the head, but to cut the hair short. They wear the robes any way they want , resulting in many young Buddhist Monks, unshaven, unclean, “badly” dressed in their robes of different hues.

The Buddhist Monks in Universities are a disaster to the Buddha Sasana. They go on manifestations on the roads behaving worse than the lay students, aggressive, shouting slogans, using coarse abusive language.

The Wesak day has turned out to be a period of Carnival, a commercial event putting up pandols or Wesak thoran to compete with one another.

Less and less families go to temples on the poya days. There are Buddhists Monks who cannot recite the Buddhists texts by memory. Meditation- the heart of Buddhist teaching is left out in most temples, giving place to Bodhi puja, and Kavi Bana -discourses recited in poetry form.

Now after 2600 years of Buddhism we also have Buddhist Monks who are Company Directors, one even a President of a Nurses’ Trade Union, Buddhist Monks as Administrative Officers in Government Service, Lawyers and Parliamentarians. There are Buddhist Monks who ride motor cycles, and drive cars.

There were Buddhist monks arrested for digging temple Statues in search of treasure, selling Buddha Relics, and for various crimes.

There is conversion of poor villagers by different Christian Missionaries going unchecked. Sri Lanka a Buddhist Country could not even pass a Parliamentary Bill Against Conversion.

The Catholic Church has established itself well in the country dictating terms to the Government. They Build Churches any where with out the consent of the Government . They bury metal crosses in Buddhist sacred areas and dig them out to exhibit as archeological relics.

They are so powerful the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka cannot even organize a purely Buddhist function like Buddha Jayanthi without bringing in the most anti-Buddhist Catholics to be in the Organising Committee.

When Sri Lanka celebrated another Buddha Jayanthi many years ago, we had Buddhist Giants like ,Prof. G.P.Malalasekera, L.H. Mettananda, Venerable Abanwelle Siddhartha, Ven. Haliyale Sumanatissa, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya, Ven. Palonnaruwe Vimaladhamma, Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha, Ven. Henpitagedera Gnanaseeha, S. Kularatne, Dr.Tennekoon Wimalananda and D.C. Wijayawardena, who were prepared to come forward to protect Buddhism.

To-day unfortunately we seem to have none to defend our Buddhist values, and the Catholic Church has taken over a greater role, and the Buddhist revival faces many challenges.

This is the situation of the Buddhism of the Sakya Muni Gautama Buddha now in Sri Lanka, but we are still going to celebrate the 2600th Buddha Jayanthi this May, without addressing ourselves to the more important question of how to stop further degeneration of the Buddha Sasana.

To be continued………..

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