Wednesday, 24 November 2004  
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The virtuous are dear to all 
Whoso is perfect in virtue and insight is established in the Dhamma has realised the Truths and fulfils his own duties - him do folk hold dear. Piya Vagga - The Dhammapada

Averting the erosion of Buddhist values

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

Indisputably, the Buddha Dhamma is the crowning glory of the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. The Buddha's teachings and Buddhist values are the greatest inheritance of the large majority of the Sinhala community living in the Western world. This inheritance continues to have an overpowering influence in shaping the lives of many Sri Lankan Buddhists, wherever in the world they choose to live.

A good number of Buddhist parents have attempted with varying degrees of success to share this inheritance with their children. They did not wish their children remain rootless in the Western world. They genuinely wanted to make it possible for their children to reconnect with the culture that they inherit, however embattled it may be.

Initiating children into Buddhism

The most effective way of initiating their children into Buddhism is by the example set by parents by living their lives according to Buddhist principles. This will be reflected in the way how family issues and commitments are handled. Also, in the nature of relationships that are developed and maintained within and outside the family.

Alongside such influence, parents need to provide right opportunities for their children to gain increased understanding of Buddhist teachings. Of course there is an abundance of readily available Buddhist literature, and website information for grown up children.

Exposure to Buddhist practices

As the children grow up and their inquisitive spirit widens, they should be exposed to meaningful Buddhist practices and training that lead them to higher levels of emotional maturity and inner development. In particular, opportunities should be made available for them to practice Buddhist meditation under the proper guidance of monks and grown-ups who are knowledgeable and experienced in, and dedicated to such practices.

These practices need to be organized and conducted in ways that are appealing to the young minds. By continued practice and regular training, children will be able to realize the benefits of mindfulness training and meditation in developing their capacity to better understand their lives. They will begin to appreciate how meditation can help them to find effective ways of dealing and coping with issues and problems that they face in their daily lives, including those encountered in their academic lives. They will find useful ways of overcoming stress and pressures of modern existence, and developing and leading a happy life.

Lack of Opportunities

Opportunities to expose our children to relevant and worthwhile Buddhist practices are to a great extent lacking in Western countries. Most Buddhist temples established in these countries under the patronage of Buddhists of Sri Lankan origin focus more on a system of reverence and rituals. They are not organized as centers of learning of relevant Buddhist practices that help the younger generation to enrich their lives.

Relevance of programs

Most children find it difficult to relate to and understand the relevance of what is happening in Buddhist temples established in the West under the patronage of Sri Lankans. Programs and practices of these temples are focused on grown-ups.

Temple activities are no different to those prevalent in the large majority of temples in Sri Lanka. Essentially, they are a duplication of popular rites and rituals practised in temples in Sri Lanka. Often, many children accompany their parents to these temples merely to satisfy their parents, with the minimum of interest in participating in the activities that take place in these temples. Most temple activities in any event are conducted in Sinhala language and most children are not able to follow or fully understand the proceedings.

Particularly the mid and late teenagers and other more grown-up children, shy away from temples because they see little meaning in temple programs, little value in terms of providing them with anything worthwhile, let alone spiritual satisfaction and inspiration.

Most of what is offered in temples have no bearing on the spiritual, intellectual or emotional needs and interests of those who are serious about learning and practising the Buddha's teachings.

Most monks and parents, who organize temple activities, tend to overlook the fact that these children live and operate in a socio-cultural environment that is different to that of Sri Lanka. The environment they live in has a strong influence on their attitudes, values and priorities.

Their medium of communication is not Sinhala or Pali. They communicate, think and formulate ideas in a 'foreign' language. Under the circumstances, most Buddhist temples and organizations established by Sri Lankans in the West, cater little if at all, to the spiritual needs of Buddhist children. Once the present generation of adult Buddhists who faithfully patronize the prevailing temple rituals are no more, the need or relevance of these temples will diminish greatly.

Higher Forms of Inspiration and Training

Some adult Buddhists in the western world are also faced with a similar kind of dilemma and frustration. They look for higher forms of inspiration and spiritual satisfaction from the programs organized and offered by their temples. Often they shy away from temples because their needs are not served. Besides, they are discouraged by the highly commercialized nature of most temples.

Need for change

If monks and temple programs are to make a difference in terms of making the Buddhist message relevant and meaningful to the contemporary western mind, a certain degree of tailoring of the Buddhist message and practices to match the socio-cultural conditions of recipient communities is a necessary strategy.

It is by adopting such an approach that Buddhist monks can establish a fruitful dialogue with those in the West, including children of Buddhist parents, on the core values of the Buddhist faith.

What goes on in our temples do not convey to our children or help to convince them of the psychological flavour of Buddhism, that it is an ever-ongoing investigation of reality. That it is a microscopic examination of the very process of perception and that its intention is to pick apart the screen of lies and delusions through which we normally view the world, and thus to reveal the face of ultimate reality.

They fail to reveal to our children that Buddhism presents them with an effective system for exploring the deeper levels of the mind, down to the very root of consciousness itself. It is a fact that the large majority of Sri Lankan monks are not well versed or well equipped to serve any of the non-traditional spiritual needs of contemporary times. This is true not only among monks in the west but more so among those living in Sri Lanka.

Ways to change

Irrelevant and inadequate training and exposure are among the most serious challenges faced by Sri Lankan monks who operate in the Western world. The kind of monastic training that our Bhikkhus receive in the tradition-bound centers of learning in Sri Lanka, has to be drastically restructured and improved to make it relevant in terms of realities of contemporary life and social value systems.

Firstly, Bhikhus need to be conversant with modern disciplines and their diverse perspectives, especially disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, cognitive psychology, logic, neuro-physiology and so on. They should necessarily be conversant with other Buddhist traditions - Mahayana, Vajrayana, and Zen in particular. Secondly, they should be well conversant with other religions, related practices and their approaches to the dissemination of religious knowledge.

Thirdly, as far as places like North America, UK and Australia are concerned, fluency in English is an essential prerequisite. This is for the mutual benefit of monks and the international community that they can serve. For those who are competent in these languages, the facilities and opportunities to further advance their knowledge is enormous in North America.

Fourthly, they should be conversant with the reasons behind the interest in Buddhism among the westerners, and the spiritual needs among some of them. Such knowledge and training will allow them to better interpret and convey the Buddha's message in the idiom that the contemporary folk in the West can empathize with.

Why turn to Buddhism

People in the western world have turned to Buddhism for different reasons. The interest of refined intellectuals and scholars appear to be an academic one, at least initially. Their interest is largely the outcome of the influence and motivation of their own academic disciplines and related research perspectives. Their interest largely focuses on the Buddha's interpretation of some deeper aspects of life.

There are others in the west who are spiritually destabilized and yearn for inspirational strength from Buddhism. Their interests could be served satisfactorily only if our Bhikkhus can convey the Buddha's message in a way that is intelligible and comprehensible to the Western mind and adopting methods that the westerner can identify with and relate to fully.

Enlightened leadership

It is a fact that Buddhism draws strength from enlightened leadership. Such leadership should be exemplary in terms of its devotion to Buddhism. It has to be a leadership that moves the ordinary people to heights of religious devotion through concern and compassion.

Such leadership is generally threefold - secular Buddhist leadership of the political elite, religious leadership of the Buddhist Sangha, and People's leadership mostly through organizations. All three aspects of this leadership must be healthy for the 'florescence' of Buddhism. But today, all three parts are in a very sick condition.

We continue to have a political leadership in Sri Lanka that has forfeited its moral and ethical leadership in order to promote the cause of globalization and a corporate culture system that does not accommodate Buddhist principles.

The greater mass of lay Buddhists regard the Buddhist faith as an end-game strategy and a preparation for death. Their interests in temples and monks are virtually confined to the participation in rites and rituals. Monks continue to encourage and propagate these rites and rituals, performing them with much vigour.

These practices have become lucrative sources of material benefits for monks and temples. With very few exceptions, rituals form the primary basis of interaction of monks and people.

There is a great need for the caring and sensible Buddhists within and outside Sri Lanka to organize themselves to avert the erosion of Buddhist values occasioned by the lack of enlightened Buddhist leadership.

A realistic strategy and approach need to be developed, to directly address the glaring problems facing contemporary Buddhists and ways of helping to reform and re-invigorate the Sangha need to be identified in a pragmatic manner.

We have to be protective of our culture. It is time that we made a determined effort to reclaim our cultural heritage. We know that it is in our own culture where we instinctively feel most comfortable and where we are ourselves.

It is by sharing and helping to incorporate its values to shape their lives that this great cultural inheritance can be sustained for succeeding generations. In promoting it among our children, the realities of the times and environment in which they live should be essential considerations. In contemporary times, with its special cluster of bafflement, discord and uncertainties, the relevance of the Buddha's teachings, cannot be overemphasized.

(Material contained in this write-up is based not only on my own experiences and observations during my stay in Canada, USA and UK, and travels in a few other English speaking countries, but also on information drawn from relevant readings and communications with several well-known Buddhist monks and many lay Buddhist friends who have lived in the west for long periods of time, and who have closely interacted with Sri Lankan Buddhists).


Sri Lanka bhikkhus in a global role

by H. M. Nemsiri Mutukumara

Learned and eminent Sri Lanka Bhikkhu Sangha will attend a series of Buddhist summit conferences organised in Nepal, Myanmar and in Los Angeles, California in the United States of America in November and December 2004 and in January 2005. The first Buddhist summit will be held from November 30 to December 2 in the Sacred Lumbini Gardens in Nepal.

The second Buddhist summit will be held in Yangon, Mayanmar from December 9 to 11.

The Third Buddhist Global Conference will be held from January 10 to 14, 2005 at the University of the West International Academy of Buddhism, Los Angeles County, California, USA.

The Second World Buddhist Summit

The objectives of the Second World Buddhist Summit, Lumbini is to promote the sacred birth place of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha as the Fountain of World Peace and as a symbol of unity amidst diversity with peace and prosperity for all.

This is the second World Buddhist Summit organised by the Lumbini Development Trust. The first World Buddhist Summit was held in 1998 in the sacred Lumini Gardens. The Lumbini Development Trust has set a tradition of organising International Conferences and meetings related with the teachings of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha - symbol of peace, non-violence and international brotherhood. Such events have played a significant role to develop Lumbini as the fountain of World Peace and a sacred centre of pilgrimage for peace-loving people.

These magnificent events have also enhanced the fame of sacred places as Gotihava - the birth place of Kakusanda Buddha; Niglihava the birthplace of Konagamana Buddha and ancient Kapilavastu (now called Tilaurakot) the hometown of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha and a number of places associated with the life and times of youthful Bodhisatta (Buddha-to-be) Prince Siddhartha Gotama.

Among many other places are Ramagrama the repository of the sacred relics of the Buddha and Devodaha, the maternal home town of Queen Maha Maya Devi, mother of Prince Siddhartha.

The Lumbini summit will be inaugurated by His Majesty King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, Patron Lumbini Development Trust on December 1.

Ang Dawa Sherpa, Secretary of the Trust will welcome the participants at the commencement of the Pre-summit on November 30.

He will be followed by the Chairman of the Conference Deep Kumar Upadyaya, Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation who is also the chairman of the Lumbini Development Trust.

The Venerable Dr. Sugandha Mahasthavira will present a paper on the theme 'Indispensability of peace in the present world context'; Sunao Miyabara, Vice President, World Fellowship of Buddhists on 'Lumbini Development and International Cooperation'; Karna Shakya on 'Developing Lumbini as a World Peace City'.

On the final session on December 2, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, as Chairman of the Second World Buddhist Summit Main Organising Committee will deliver the concluding address with the adoption of the Second Lumbini Summit Declaration.

Lava Kumar Devacota, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Mr. Omkar Prasad Gauchan, Vice Chairman of the Lumbini Development Trust and Dr. Gyanendra Ratna Taladhara, Secretary of the Conference Steering Committee will address the final session giving out hopes for the Third Lumbini Summit.

Ananda L. Sharma, First Secretary of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Nepal in Sri Lanka informs that Sri Lanka will be sending an official state-level delegation led by Professor Visva Varnapala, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, D. V. Abeyvickrama, Secretary, Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Governor of Sabaragamuva Province Saliya Mathew.

The Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Anu Nayaka Thera, the Lekakhadhikari of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha has also been invited to attend and participate in the Lumbini summit.

The Anu Nayaka Thera, said, that during his fourteen Dhammaduta Seva tours in Nepal, he has visited throughout the country and established closer contact with Buddhists as well as Hindus.

The Venerable Paravahera Candaratana, Chief Sangha Nayaka Thera of France he will be leading a delegation of Buddhist Prelates from Sri Lanka, France, Thailand, Myanmar, Kamboja, Laos, Vietnam and Korea for the Lumbini summit.

Yangon summit

The Venerable Sastrapati Ratmale Punnaratana Nayaka Thera Viharadhipati of the Berlin Buddhist Vihara will lead a seven-member delegation of Buddhists from Germany to participate in the Fourth World Buddhist Conference in Yangon, Myanmar.

The three-day world conference will begin on December 9 in Yangon. Germany has become the home of many traditions of Buddhists from Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana of the Tibetan Lamas and Zen.

Buddha Dhamma is rapidly spreading in Germany - particularly among the younger generations, the Nayaka Thera states in a letter.

Venerable Punnaratana Nayaka Thera will make his presentation on "Spread of Buddha Dhamma in Germany". The visiting German will visit the sacred centres of worship and other historic cities in Myanmar.

Humanising Buddhism

Dr. Ananda W. P. Guruge, professor in the Hsi Lai University in California will deliver the keynote address on "Buddhism and Aesthetic creativity" on January 11, 2005 at the Sixth International Conference on Humanistic Buddhism at the University of the West International Academy of Buddhism, Los Angeles County, California, USA.

The objective of the conference is to provide a forum for consultation and exchange of information and experience to scholars and students specialising in various aspects of Buddhist studies.


Katina Pinkama at Berlin Viharaya

The annual Katina Pinkama of the Berlin Buddhist Viharaya in Germany was conducted on a grand scale on November 13 and 14 under the patronage of the Viharadhipati Ven. Rathmale Punnaratana Thera.

Maha Sangha belonging to the Theravada tradition in Germany numbering 12 expatriate Bhikkhus from England, Sweden and Denmark, monks resident at the Berlin Buddhist Viharaya and a large number of German lay devotees participated.

A multitude of religious programs including Dhammadesana, Dhamma discussion and meditation programs and other pinkamas were held at the Viharaya during the Vas (retreat) season this year attended by the Maha Sangha from Myanmar, Malaysia and Austria among others.

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