Monday, 21 June 2004  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, sees with right knowledge the four Noble Truths - Sorrow, the Cause of Sorrow, the Transcending of Sorrow and the Noble Eightfold Path which lead to the cessation of sorrow. This, indeed is refuge secure. This, indeed is refuge supreme. By seeking such refuge one is released from all sorrow. Buddha Vagga - The Dhammapada

The Buddhist Path of Deliverance

by Prof. Anuradha Seneviratna, Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya.

Buddhism among the rest of the world religions is quite different and unique. In the first instance, it is not an organized religion or an institution but a way of life or a philosophy of living.

Buddhism does not depend on an almighty god because there is no such belief. The word religion means to "bind up with faith, worship and devotion to a personal god". These characteristics are denied in Buddhism.

According to the Buddha's teachings man is his own saviour and neither god nor gods or other divinities and spirits can save him from perdition. In this regard it is interesting to understand who the Buddha was so that we can understand his teachings much better through such interpretations.

The Buddha was so called because of his supreme enlightenment under the Bodhi tree revealing the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the Middle way.

In his first sermon Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta he declared his way of life and the liberation of man, at Saranath in Benaras. His way of life and salvation did not depend on God but understanding the real nature and reality of life.

Introducing himself the Buddha said, "I am not indeed a deva (god) nor a gandharva (demigod), nor a yaksa (demon), nor a manusya (a human). Know ye that I am a Buddha (na kho aham devo bhavissami, na kho aham gandhabbo bhavissami... yakkho... manusso... buddho ti mam dharehi (Anguttara Nikaya). Buddha guided the world beings to find their libration

The Buddha guided the world beings to find their liberation from the mire of transmigration. By Buddha is meant one who has attained wisdom - panna and compassion - karuna.

It is through his wisdom that he perceived the whole world and dispelled the darkness of ignorance or avijja. This wisdom is explained as the realization of the truth of the Law of Causality - paticca samuppada. Though Buddha was able to liberate the world from its sufferings, he himself was subjected to the normal laws of life i.e. Decay and Death - jara-marana.

To us, who believe and practice his teachings, the Buddha was only a teacher. He never considered himself to be the leader of his followers. "I have never thought of leading the bhikkhusangha nor have I thought of the bhikkusangha as relying upon me - (tathagatassa kho na evam hoti" Aham bhikkusangham pariharissamiti va mam uddesiko bhikkhusangho ti ya) (Digha Nikaya).

In his own eyes he was only a pioneer and as much he teaches those who follow him to walk on the path of bodhi by their own efforts and not to be neglectful nor be dependent upon others. There is a man the Gotama Buddha says: who enters a forest and discovers a trace of the path trodden by the ancients. He will follow it and discover the life dwelt in by the ancients and will make it known to people. And by doing so he will bring that city into its old glory.

In like manner, I have discovered the path trodden by the Samma Sambuddhas of the past, followed it and finally found the city of nibbana which now I show you O bhikkus.

Buddha said Atta dipa viharatha, attha sarana ananna sarana - be you refuges unto yourselves, dependent upon yourselves, not relying upon others. However, his deification seemed to have originated in the Pali canon and developed through the Pali commentaries.

The two extremes

The Buddha wandered about preaching his dhamma or doctrine to the suffering people for forty-five years. This was after attaining enlightenment revealing the secret of life and the liberation from it. But his first sermon to the five ascetics at Saranath in the Deer Park revealed the secret of life and the way to the liberation of human sufferings.

Advising the five ascetics in his first discourse, the Buddha declared that it is by abandoning the two extreme approaches (anta) namely indulgence in sensual pleasures Kamasukhallikanuyoga and self-mortification - Attakilamathanuyoga that the Buddha comprehended the middle path that promotes sight and knowledge that leads to Wisdom, Enlightenment and Nirvana.

This middle path was called Majjhima Patipada. Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the first discourse of the Buddha says that by giving up the two extremes the Buddha himself comprehended the Middle Path which promoted the sight - cakkhu and knowledge - nana and which tends to peace - vupasamaya, higher wisdom - abhinnaya, enlightenment - sambodhaya and Nibbana. It also leads to the subjugation of passion to understand the Four Noble Truths and the realization of Nirvana. The four noble truths are called Ariya Saccam.

The highest blessing

The world is full of misery and suffering. The illness of life is suffering (dukkha. It explained further all beings are subject to birth - jati, Decay - jara, disease - Vyadhi and finally death - marana.

Craving is the arising or the root cause of the illness, which is called samudaya. In other words to be detached is the highest blessing. It is through the removal of craving the illness, which is the cure of the illness, the nirodha.

The remedy is the Eight Fold Path - ariya atthangika magga. This is also the Middle way. The eight factors are the Right Understanding - Samma Ditthi, that deals with the knowledge of oneself as one really is. This understanding leads to Right thought - Samma Samkappa which is the second path. The right thought is non-attachment or renunciation - nekkhamma Samkappa. Loving kindness - avyapada Sankappa and harmlessness - avihimsa Sankappa. The Right Thoughts result in Right Speech - Samma Vacca Right action - Samma Kammanta and Right livelihood - Samma Ajiva. These qualities lead to morality.

The sixth path is Right Effort or Vayama. This is the elimination of evil states and the development of good in oneself. The seventh step in this path is Right Mindfulness called Samma Sati.

The Right Effort combined with Right Mindfulness leads to the final step in this path which is Right Concentration or Samma Samadhi, the quality of which reflects everything crystal clear. Ultimately, it is the Noble Eight fold Path when followed leads to Nirvana.

The final goal

The final goal is to attain Nibbana (skt. Nirvana) by renouncing attachment to the external world. It is the craving that leads one to be born again and again - punarbhava in the samsara.

What is Nirvana (Pali: Nibbana)? Literally it means extinction or cease blowing. According to Pali commentaries it also means freedom from desire (Nir + vana). Nirvana is the absolute extinction of greed (lobha) hate (dosa) and delusion (moha). It is also the ultimate and absolute deliverance from all future rebirth, old age, disease and death, from misery and suffering. "Buddha once said that Nibbana truly is the peace. According to this interpretation Nirvana is not a heaven but a mental state free from desires and attachments.

This is the highest namely the end of all formation, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, detachment and extinction.

In the Anguttara Nikaya we find the following statement with regard to the explanation of the word Nibbana. It says:

"Enraptured with lust - raga, enraged with anger - dosa, blinded by delusion - moha overwhelmed with mind ensnared man aims at his own ruin, at the ruin of others at the ruin of both, and he experiences mental pain and grief.

But if lust, anger and delusion are given up, man aims neither at his own ruin, nor at the ruin of others, nor at the ruin of both and he experiences no mental pain and grief. This is Nibbana visible in this life, immediate, inviting, attractive, and comprehensible to the wise."

The way of liberation

It is now clear that the way of liberation expounded by the Buddha is a practical one based on human experience and reality. The path of liberation -vimukthi magga is then to follow the middle path - majjhima patipada in life, giving up the two extremes, the realization of the nature of life which is full of sufferings - dukkha.

The Four Noble Truths - Ariya Sacca governing the life is explained by the Buddha as suffering - dukkha origin of suffering - samuda, the extinction of suffering nirodha, and the path leading to the extinction of suffering and that is the Eightfold Path - Ariya Atthangika Magga. Taking this path one will go through the three stages of wisdom - panna, morality - sila and concentration - Samadhi.

In this long journey through the cycle of birth and death which is samsara one will have to find his liberation by his own effort and not through divine intervention or divine force and in this regard the Buddha only shows the path since he is not a saviour or an almighty god.

The Buddha said tumhehi kiccam atappam. Akkhataro tathagata. Meaning striving should be done by yourselves. The Tathagatas are teachers. (Dammapada).

Therefore, Buddhism should actually be called Dhamma literally meaning that which upholds or sustains. It is a doctrine of morality with no dependence. Buddha in his last discourse which is Parinibbana sutta said to his followers "Dhammadipa Viharatha, dhamma patisarana na anna patisarana abide with the Dhamma as an island with the Dhamma as a refuge. Seek not for external refuge.

This is the noble message of the Buddha to the people in their journey or liberation from the sufferings of the world.

"Path to deliverance could be followed either by leading the life of a well refrained layperson or by leading a holy life of a mendicant who has given up the worldly life completely.

However, the second option is more desirable. Referring to the life of a holy person Buddha said "Full of hindrances is household life, a refuse heap, but the homeless life of a monk is like the open air."

Whither the bhikkhus?

Buddhist Mirror by A.G.S. Kariyawasam

Presently in Sri Lanka we are having the experience of Buddhist monks (bhikkhus) contesting seats in Parliament and entering the legislature as representatives of the people. As there is no efficiently organized central authority controlling their behaviour in such matters, none can stop them from doing so. certain sections of the general public must be holding the view that the presence of such religious personalities in this field of political activity might have a sobering effect on the generally corrupt political structure of the country, owing to which reason they vote Bhikkhus into power.

But the way things are happening what seems to prevail is rather the reverse of that expectation as was amply proved by what happened on the 8th instant when a "real scene" was created inside the House demonstrating how the Buddha-Sasana on one side and Parliamentary democracy on the other, both become reduced to a "mockery" owing to this unbecoming step taken by the bhikkhus of Sri Lanka the home of Theravada Buddhism. Why should our bhikkhus reduce themselves to such situations? Any political party encouraging them does perpetrate a criminal act.

The four fold followers of the Buddha

The followers of the Buddha are fourfold as monks, nuns, laymen and lay-women - Bhikkhu, Bhikkhuni, Upasaka and Upasikaa. Out of these four the order of nuns ceased to exist due to some unknown reasons after the Anuradhapura period in Sri Lanka, although it still exists in China where it was introduced by Sri Lankan bhikkhunis.

The origin of the Bhikkhu order began more than twenty-five centuries ago at the Deer Park in Isipatana (Sarnath) near Basra in India when the Buddha, on an Esala Poya day, preached to the Panchavaggiya bhikkhus, the group of five monks, his erstwhile friends who became his first disciples. Ere long, when another fifty-five youths, headed by a wealthy young man named Yasa, entered the order the number of bhikkhus was increased to sixty. Both the novice and the higher ordinations of these sixty were granted by the Buddha himself with the following words: "Come monks, well-proclaimed is the Dhamma: live the noble life (brahmacariya) for the complete overcoming all all sorrow".

When the rainy season of July-October (vassa) come to an end the Buddha addressed them with the following significant words; "Released am I monks, from all bonds, both human and divine: walk on tour now, wander forth for the welfare and happiness of both gods and humans: let not two of you proceed along the same route: proclaim the Dhamma, which is excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end, possessed of meaning and phrasing, fully perfect: proclaim the life of purity, the holy life, consummate and pure: there will be beings who will comprehend the Dhamma. I shall proceed to Uruvela to teach the Dhamma".

The founding fathers of the Sasana

It was in accordance with these ennobling words of the Buddha aimed at public welfare that the early Buddha-putras, as the founding fathers of the Sasana, toured on foot the dusty highways, and byways of India in the sixth century BC, propagating the noble message of the Dhamma, the Buddha's new discovery of wisdom and compassion.

In the passage quoted above as the Buddha's address to the sixty disciples, there is an important sentence which, quite strangely and unfortunately as well, dropped whenever it is quoted nowadays, thereby subjecting these significant words of the Buddha to an unjustified devaluation. These vital missing links are the two opening sentences as found in the original Buddha-Word. These are, "Released am I monks, from all bonds, both human and divine: you too are similarly released all such bonds, both human and divine". By dropping these meaningful words from the Buddha-word, almost all the modern-day scholars and writers are perpetrating an injustice to the Buddha by actually misquoting him. Why are the two opening sentences "sent underground" and the Buddha misquoted thereby?

These two sentences are significant as they really explain the qualifications required from those take upon themselves the vital responsibility of leading the others from darkness to light, from ignorance to wisdom. Without these preliminary qualifications none can become a genuine messenger of the Dhamma. This is mainly so because a public preacher must be someone who exemplifies what he preaches. This does not mean that all such persons should be Arahants but they should lead morally clean lives both in their public and private living. Otherwise, their words will not carry much weight.

In the novice ordination today the bhikkhus-to-be has to undertake the observance of the Ten precepts, while in the case of Higher Ordination or upasampadaa the member is examined through a series of verbal inquiries by the senior monks as to his suitability for the higher state.

The essential precepts

A full-fledged bhikkhu is expected to observe basically the essential precepts called the Paatimokkha with its 227 rules. The purpose and aim of one's pabbajjaa is primarily to turn away from all thoughts of sensuality or kilesa-kaama as well as from all objects of sensuality or vatthu-kaama. Accordingly, pabbajja is a self-sacrifice intended as a short-cut to Nirvanic freedom in contrast to the average layman's "long-cut". As such, a genuine bhikkhu has invariably to practise this philosophy if his new mission is to bear the intended fruit.

This shows that the mission of the bhikkhu is not an undertaking that all and sundry can achieve, for to leave behind the world's attractions of the senses is no easy task. Not all can do it. As said in the Dhammpada stanza 302, it is quite a challenge.

"Hard is pabbajjaa
Hard to take delight is it"

This is the reason why it is open to the individual concerned that if he finds it impossible to do justice to the sanctity of the saffron robe he is wearing as a bhikkhu, he can give it up and revert the lay-life without remaining a whited sepulchre.

The bhikkhu-life as a short-cut to Nirvana is not a case of escapism but an arduous course of discipline directed at ultimate freedom from sansara. Such being the case, a bhikkhu who forgets his chosen mission and follows the ways of the mundane world is not the type expected in Buddhism. Such are the psuedo-monks, the "men in robes" who accrue more akusala owing to their sham bhikkhuship.

It would be of interest to observe that when a lay person enters the Order his initial task is to make a humble request to the senior monks to grant him pabbajjaa at the ordination ritual. With the saffron robe in his hands he says, "Please grant me ordination into the Order: out of compassion for me, venerable Sir, accept these robes and let me be ordained so that I may put an end to life's sufferings and attain Nirvana".

To put an end to the suffering

Let us pick up the key phrase in the above formula wherein he says that he wants to become a monk because he wants to put an end to suffering involved in existential life: (dukkhassa antakiriyaya). The formula is repeated thrice which thereby assumes the gravity of a solemn oath taken in the name of the Buddha. He has now thrown away the layman's wear and put on the sugata-ceevara, the cloak inherited from the Buddha.

Thus, by undertaking to follow the shorter course to Nirvana in contrast to the longer course of the layman, if a bhikkhu were to deviate from that path, where does he stand in the path prescribed for him? Out of the two ways (dhura) in which a bhikkhu can navigate his spiritual progress the first is by full-time meditation till the aim is achieved (vipassanaadhura) or secondly, by part-time meditation and part-time study of the Dhamma (grantha-dhura). It is mandatory for a new-entrant to select one or the other of these two ways as befitting one's temperament, environment etc.

Meandering from the track

Having said this much as per the purpose for which one becomes a bhikkhu under an oath with all seriousness and solemnity, if such a 'spiritual hero' stoops low to contest political elections on party times with laymen and laywomen and enter the legislature of a country as an MP, how far has he meandered from the track meant for him and undertaken by him? Why cannot he do all that after giving up robes, without earning akusala by this unethical behaviour?

Does not even Parliamentary democracy become a mockery when such bhikkhus become its members? Does not this novelty even create dissension in the order as a whole as it cannot be that the senior monks are all supportive of it? Will not these bhikkhus, sitting together with laymen and laywomen on equal terms, disinherit themselves of the superior position entitled to them as members of the Buddhist clergy? It is proper for them to forget the sacred oath they have taken in the name of the Buddha and then again to take quite a mundane type of oath before a layman?

Unbecoming steps

What happened last week by 'creating a scene' in Parliament when it "resembled the aftermath of a cyclone" was a very good indication of how the Sasana on the one hand and Parliamentary democracy on the other, become reduced to a mockery owing to the unbecoming step taken by the bhikkhus. "Hela Urumaya" is a highly resourceful concept which cannot be safeguarded by such methods. To make a long story short here, suffice it to quote the Dhammapada stanza 09 as summing up the entire situation with the relevant moral highlighted:

"Whoever wears the saffron robe of the bhikkhu while not being freed from the stains of defilements and devoid of restraint and truth-fullness, he deserves not to wear the saffron robe".

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