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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

Life comes to an end Your life has come to an end now. To the presence of death you are setting out. No halting place is there for you by the way. Provision too there is none for you. Mala Vagga - The Dhammapada

The Dhamma is about developing insight

I read the two-part article 'A Journey of discovery - Model for developing vipassana nana through two suttas' by Pundit Venerable Medhananda Thera and Dr. Ron Wijewantha, with increasing dismay. It is facile and misleading. These notes are not its detail critique.

It is wrong to debate Dhamma but it is necessary to correct misinterpretations. Here is a tip to the discerning student. Any exposition that purports to illustrate the Dhamma with diagrams should be suspect and immediately rejected.

Dhamma Cakka at Sanchi, India

The Dhamma is about developing insight to see things as they actually are. No one can draw insight. The Buddha never used diagrams. Early in the training of disciples, the Buddha uses the word sampajanna, understanding of which is absolutely essential to make progress. Sampajanna is not 'clear comprehension' as interpreted by the writers. To comprehend is to understand. Comprehension is the act of understanding.

In Dhamma, understanding is panna. Understanding comes after seeing and entering the path. 'In the wanderer Dighanakha the spotless immaculate vision of the Dhamma arose: All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.

The wanderer Dighanakha saw the Dhamma, attained the Dhamma, understood the Dhamma, fathomed the Dhamma...' Disciples are instructed, in gradual steps, to make effort to lead onwards to full understanding or parinna. In the Mahavedalla Sutta venerable Sariputta says panna should be developed and consciousness [vinnana] should be fully understood.

Sati Sampajanna

Sampajanna means 'awareness'. In the suttas it is frequently linked with sati or mindfulness in the compound form 'sati-sampajanna,' mindfulness-and-awareness. In the Satipatthana Sutta awareness of bodily actions is included in the section on mindfulness of the body. Mindfulness is not being scattered-brained whereas awareness is more precise. It means one should constantly keep or watch of oneself, be always under observation, not letting go one's actions or feelings, or thoughts etc.

'Here, monks, in walking to and fro, in looking aside...eating, drinking, chewing... feelings as they arise... lyingdown...practice awareness... This, Ananda, is a mode of recollection that, when developed and made much of in this way, leads to mindfulness-and-awareness'.

There is a common verbal confusion. When our actions become habitual such as blinking, we call them unconscious actions. There is no such thing in the Buddha's teaching.

These so-called un-conscious actions are mere movement like trees swaying in the wind. Conscious actions are deliberate. Thought is required to perform them and we have to consider them. Considering what we are doing is awareness. But awareness is generally kept to a minimum in our daily life when doing routine things in order to get over with them quickly.

Awareness in Dhamma

Awareness in Dhamma has a different purpose. It is practised to lead to release or vimutti. The practice of awareness is an absolute prerequisite for understanding of the essence of the Teaching. The reason is this.

The Dhamma is not concerned with any particular experience, for example feeling. We do not require a Buddha to tell us how to overcome or cope with a headache. We need the Buddha to teach us how to escape from ALL experience whatsoever.

It is when the general underlying nature of things is seen - dassana, insight - that we are perhaps able to grasp the universal characteristics of anicca, dukkha, anatta. No puthujjana can see them together. If there is insight of all three at once, he immediately ceases to be puthujjana. He has seen and experienced privately dependent arising as Dighanakha, nephew of Venerable Sariputta.

The Buddha says he attained enlightenment through two things: ordered attention and ordered effort. Attention is manasikara or direction of emphasis. While we can attend to more than one thing at the same time, we cannot give then equal attention. Intentional intention is thus the strict definition of intention [cetana] and craving or tanha is a gratuitous parasite on the structure of cetana.

The parasite is perception of self or sakkayaditthi. Contact or phassa is contact of things with 'me', 'myself' 'mine'. As misunderstood widely, phassa is not merely the coming together or confluence of the eye, visible form and eye-consciousness etc.

Phassanirodha in the arhant is the ceasing of attavadaupadana - the fundamental holding to a self - and ceasing of the affect of all sankhara, of all things upon which other things depend. There is now sankhanirodha also in the arhant. There is vijja or awakening from nescience to see things as they actually are.


In Buddhist meditation [samadhi yoked evenly with vipassana], sampajanna is reflexion as opposed to reflection or introspection. In reflexion, the immediate experience is seen twice. It is merely observed, merely aware, as for example, the passage of the in-out breath in anapanasati practice.

Thus the Buddha tells Bahiya, 'When for you in the seen is merely the seen, then you are not In that; when you are not In that, you are not From that. When you are not From that, you are neither here, nor there, nor in between the two.' 'Here' is the internal base, 'there' is the external base and 'in between the two' is consciousness. [Condensed].

It is the same as when the acrobat Uggasena balancing on top of a bamboo pole heard the Buddha say, "Let go in front, let go behind, let go in the middle. "There is no inferential thinking or conceiving. There is insight or dassana of things as they actually are. It is the end of dukkha. It is the essence of the Mulapariyaya Sutta - The Root of All things.

The Buddha often says, 'I tell the seen as the seen, the heard as the heard, the sensed as the sensed, the cognized as the cognized.' He speaks from direct perception and knowledge without reference or monitored or interpreted by a self, of things as they actually are [yathabhutha nana dassana]. All conceiving from 'I am' [mannana] has ceased.

Defilements in vinnana are deleted. Things streaming into purified consciousness do not produce contact and affect. There is indifference or equanimity of unity [upekkha].

We too can achieve upekkha by samadhi and vipassana meditation evenly yoked together but it is equanimity in diversity of the five senses and the mind. Note that while there is reflexion in reflection there is no reflection in reflexion.

This is the essence of sampajanna. Dhamma is practised in the satisampajanna mode. The Buddha says to practise Dhamma is to think Dhamma, not non-Dhamma. Dhamma is practised in the satisampajanna mode.


Lesson for Rahula

Lying is such an institutionalized part of modern society it is hard for many of us to imagine a world without it. The Buddha has a lesson for His son in this sutra:

Ambalatthikarahulovada Sutta - Lesson for Rahula at Mango Stone (paraphrased) When Rahula, the Buddha's son, was seven, he set out some water for his father to wash his feet. Buddha picked up a ladle full of water and began to wash. He showed His son the ladle with a little bit of water left in it and said "This is how little worth is left in someone who isn't ashamed at telling a lie."

Tossing away the little bit of water, He said "What little honor is left in someone who is not ashamed when telling a lie is tossed away just like that."

Turning the ladle upside down, He said "What little honor there is in someone who is not ashamed is turned upside down just like that."

And showing Rahula the empty ladle, He said "What little honor there is in someone who is not ashamed is empty and hollow just like that."

"A royal elephant going into battle who holds back in the fight hasn't given of himself fully. But when he gives his all, there is nothing he will not do.

"The same thing is true of someone who is not ashamed when they tell a lie: There is no evil he will not do! So train yourself not to lie, even in jest.

"What do your think a mirror is for?"

"For reflection, sir."

"Just like a mirror, your actions, whether they are physical, verbal, or mental, should be done with constant reflectiion.

"When you consider doing something, reflect on it: will this something cause harm to myself or others? If so, stop yourself from doing it. If not, if it leads to happy consequences, you may feel free to do it. While you are doing something, reflect on it:

Is this act harming anyone? If so, stop. If not, go ahead. After you have done something, reflect on what you have done. If it resulted in harm to yourself or others, confess it to your teacher or companions, and resolve to restrain yourself in the future. If the act had happy consequences, then be joyful.

"The same things apply to verbal acts. Before, during, and after you say something, reflect on it. If it seems that your speech will have or does have negative consequences, then restrain yourself or, if you are too late, confess and resolve to do better in the future. If what you have to say has positive consequences, then go ahead.

"And the same thing applies to mental acts. Reflect on them, before, during, and after. If a thought has negative consequences, abandon it or, if it is too late, be ashamed and resolve to improve. If the thought has positive qualities, then act upon it.

"Before, during, and after, reflect on your behavior, and purify yourself this way."


Buddhavedu - the 'Buddhagaya' in South India

The village Buddhavedu (derivative of the Tamil word Buddha Vidu, village of the Buddha) is situated in the Kanchpiuram district of Tamil Nadu. Kanchi is a species of trees; the juice of the leaves were used for colouring cloth during ancient times. Hence this district of Kanchipura was a settlement of weavers and tailors. Presently, Kanchpiram sarees are produced in this area on handlooms.

Buddhavedu Samadhi statue. Ven. Mudalakkuliye Ratanajothi Thera too is in the picture.

The Chinese pilgrim monk Hieun Tsang who visited India in the 7th century A.D. records in his travel notes that the people of the area claimed that the Buddha visited this area and hence the village was called Buddha Vidu and now known as Buddhavedu. Further, Tamil Nadu history attests that the Buddha visited this area and preached the Dhamma. The Buddha statue excavated in this area, confirms that it belongs to the Chola - Pallava period of sculpture, and is of significant beauty and splendour.

Ven. Mudalakkuliye Ratanajothy Thera, now resident at Sri Lanka Maha Bodhi Society's Pilgrims' Rest, Egmore City, Chennai in order to preserve the centuries old Buddha statue and revive Buddhism in Tamil Nadu has established the Buddhavedu Bodhidharma Trust, at 15th Street C.D.N. Nagar, Nerkundram, Chennai, 600 107 India) Tele 0091 2378 0588; E-mail: johndevavaram@yahoo.co.in) and its Managing Trustee is V. John Devavaram.

The Buddhavedu Samadhi Buddha statue is seven kms from Sri Lanka Maha Bodhi Society Pilgrims Rest, Egmore City, Chennai towards Kunratur city off Porur Junction.

Buddhavedu History

Similar to Buddha Gaya in Northern India Buddhavedu was the Buddhagaya of South India. In the distant past this area was a flourishing Buddhist settlement. In the periphery of this village are the historical villages such as Mangadu, Kovoor, Kunratur, Pallavaram and Munram. Kattalai was the principal village. The presence of caves at Pallavaram indicates that Arhants resided in these caves. A Buddha statue found at Mangudave is now at the Chennai Museum.

The meanings of the village names Rendan Kattalai, Munram Kattalai etc., indicate that these villages were grants made by kings for the sustenance of viharas and the resident bhikkhus. Buddha Vedu being located between these 'viharagamas' (Royal Village Grants) is proof that these villages were supportive of the main shrine and monastery at Buddhavedu.

The slab inscription excavated in this area is now deposited at the Chennai Museum. As per this ephigrapical record of the 10th century A.D. King Chola Raja Raja 1, who had his capital at Tanjore, granted the revenue of these villages to this vihara. During the reign of Konerin Meyikonda Sundara Pandya (1251-1264) this village belonged to the Buddhavedu Vihara.

The inscription also mentions of three Buddha statues and a large Bodhi tree in this village.

Dhyana Mudra Statue

The Buddhavedu Samadhi statue is datable to Chola period 850-1267 A.D. The Buddha is seated on a lotus flower and of a height of three feet and width of two feet. Around the head of the statue is the Makara Torana. The eyes are half closed, ears long (lambakarna) with a gentle smile invoking a meditative perception in the devotee.

This is one of the most outstanding sculptures of the Chola sculptural arts.


The archaeologists in their excavations at Kamachchi Amman Kovil discovered pre second century B.C. Vihara's remains. During this period Sankhacharya who lived at Kanchipuram who was also a benefactor of Buddhism handed over these remnants to the Chennai branch of the Archaeological Survey of India.

The archaeologist Gopinath who was superintending the excavations recorded all the details in a niche of the Kamachchi Amman Kovil wall found a statue of the Buddha, which he recorded in his observations.

It is also recorded in the Mahavamsa, that at the construction of the Ruwanveli Mahaseya, king Dutugemunu invited Buddhist monks from various regions. four lakhs, sixty thousand monks under the leadership of Mahadeva Thera arrived from Pallavaboga region. Pallawa kingdom which was set up near Krishna river in the third century A.D. was later shifted to Kanchipuram. Sometimes the area was called Aniur or Kachchi. Today Kanchipuram is in Tamil Nadu.

Hieun Tsang the Chinese pilgrim who arrived at Kanchipuram during the rule of Narasinha Varman of the Pallava dynasty (630-668 A.D.) records that there were around 100 monasteries and bhikkhus aggregating to 10,000. And there were non Buddhist and Jaina monasteries totalling around 80.



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