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DateLine Wednesday, 20 June 2007

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Government Gazette

The mindful end craving
He who delights in subduing evil thoughts, who meditates on ‘the loathsomeness’ of the body who is ever mindful - it is he who will make an end of craving. He will sever Mara’s bond.
Thanha Vagga - The Dhammapada


Impressions of an International Buddhist Activist:

Embracing a religion to restore self-esteem

Dr. Ambedkar

At a rally held in Mumbai recently to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. K. Ambedkar’s embracing of Buddhism, a mass conversion of nomadic tribal community took place. Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge an international Buddhist activist who participated in the event as a special guest gives his impressions.

conversion: In my capacity as Vice-president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, President of the World Buddhist University Council, Patron of the European Buddhist Union and Dean of Academic Affairs of the University of the West, California, USA, I had the privilege of being invited to participate as a special guest in the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the conversion to Buddhism of Babasaheb Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedakar, organised under the leadership of Honourable Ramdas Athawale, Member of Parliament.

The celebration Committee comprised Ven. Rahul Bodhi Maha Thera, Working President, Ven. Ayupal Thera Secretary General, Mr.Nishikant Waghmare Vice-President and International Coordinator, Mr. Vijay Kamble Treasurer, and Messrs.

Arjun Dangle, and Avinash Kamble, Ms. Kalpana Saroj, Dr.Rajendra Gavai, Vice-presidents. With my longstanding friendly relationship with Indian Buddhist leaders and scholars, I expected the event to be a signal success. But what I saw and experienced in Mumbai on this occasion exceeded all my expectations.

It was a packed-to-capacity Shanmukhnand Hall at Matunga, with several hundred saffron-robed Buddhist Monks from various parts of the Buddhist world and a cross-section of the Buddhist population of Maharashtra that welcomed the panels of international and national scholars and activists who participated in a well organised intellectual activity in the form of a two-day International Conference on “World Peace and Humanistic Buddhism.”

In one session under the chairmanship of Venerable Galayaye Piyadassi, MBE, Founder of the International Buddhist Centre UK., it examined “The Relevance of Buddhism in 21st Century” with contributions from Dr. Ravsaheb Kasbe, Ven. Rahul Bodhi Maha Thera, Dr. Sribudent Chatchai, Ven.Walpola Piyananda and Ven. Banagala Upatissa.

In another chaired by the renowned economist Dr.Narendra Jadhav, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pune, Dr. N.G. Meshram, Dr. M.D. Nalavade, Dr.Krishna Kirwale, Dr. Phra Nicholas Thanissaro, and Prof. Ramakant Yadav discussed Buddhism and Global Issues from An Ambedkarian Perspective.

The papers presented were of exceptional quality and the exchange of views which ensued proved to be most instructive and stimulating. I had the opportunity to address the Conference during the inaugural session.

I complimented the organisers on their perspicacity to mark the auspicious occasion with an international conference to evaluate the magnificent role, which Dr. Ambedkar has played in his exemplary life of dedication to the good and the welfare of humanity.

I said, “It was an eminent Sri Lankan Buddhist leader, Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera, who, in Nepal the land of the Buddha’s birth in 1956 at the General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, declared that Babasaheb Ambedkar was a veritable Bodhisattva. A bodhisattva in the widely held Buddhist concept is one who enables others to gain salvation.

This indeed has been the role of Babasaheb Ambedakr. His influence over India is as strong today fifty years after his death as it was when he gave the new nation its Republican Constitution and showed the depressed castes to regain their human dignity by turning to the noble teachings of the Buddha.

The land of the Buddha which had barely two lakhs of Buddhists when it gained independence has an estimated Buddhist population of around fifteen million.

The credit for this great reawakening of Buddhism in India goes to this great man whose historic conversion to Buddhism is what we are celebrating today.” But all my words of deep sentiments proved inadequate to describe fully what took place the following day at the Mahalakshmi Racecourse.

It was a sea of heads as far as the eye would reach to the very periphery of the Racecourse. Clad in white, the vast crowd of several hundred thousand devotees stood in reverential silence for the moment of their spiritual rebirth.

Many tens of thousand Dalits and tribals - described constitutionally as scheduled castes or tribes - representing the most socially discriminated untouchable communities - sought a new life free of oppression by adopting the teachings of the Buddha who declared that action and not birth would make a person an aristocrat or outcaste.

In voices that reverberated for miles, they recited the Pali stanzas of taking refuge in the Buddhist Triple Gem. The ceremony was presided over by monks from Sri Lanka, Thailand, USA, UK and India. My eyes welled with tears spontaneously as I had at no other time in my life had witnessed such a moving scene of genuine piety and dedication.

The media called it next day a “show of strength.” If it was so, the strength that was demonstrated at that moment was the indomitable strength of the good against evil, of piety against irreligion and human dignity against all that undermine equality of humanity.

As a student of Indology with special attention to its sociological and philosophical content, I have been deeply conscious about the most despicable aspects of untouchability through which millions of people have been oppressed for generations from attaining their true worth as human beings.

But the pangs of suffering that they have gone through had never become more evident to me than on this solemn occasion when I heard them directly from persons like Ramdas Athawale and Lakshman Mane whose life struggle has been to overcome socially imposed obstacles of incredible proportions.

Dr. Ambedkar: Part of the crowd that thronged the golden jubilee to mark Dr. Ambedkar’s embracing of Buddhism.
Courtesy: Frontline

I was glad to be present with them to rejoice on this occasion and to show my solidarity in their chosen way of redeeming themselves. My faith in India redoubled as I observed the active participation of the Honourables Chief Minister Deshmukh and his Deputy Patil of the Maharashtra State and listened to their enthusiastic endorsement of the social revolution that was in motion.

Mahopasaka S. N. Goenka’s expose on Buddhist ideals and values was timely. It was all so inspiring and it could not be otherwise in this great land of Vedic seers, Upanishadic philosophers, Gautama Buddha, Jina Mahavira, Caitanya and Mahatma Gandhi.

This time I also had the opportunity to revisiting Pune, the city of scholars, where fifty-six years ago I was at the Bhandarkar Research Institute researching for my Ph.D. thesis on the Ramayana. My visit to the Dhyaneshvar World Peace Centre of the Maharashtra Institute of Technology to meet with its President Dr. Visvanath Karad was indeed most rewarding.

So was my visit to Pune University where I could meet once more that most delightful personality Dr. Narendra Jadhav, who arranged for me to meet the faculty of the Department of Buddhist Studies.

We discussed how the University of the West in California could cooperate with them to explore ways and means in which Buddhist studies could be developed to meet the rising demand.

The most significant outcome of this visit were the insights I could gain from my meeting with Dr. Jadhav. In my twenty-hour return flight to USA, I read from cover to cover his most illuminating book, Untouchables, outlining the family history over three generations.

Here Babasaheb Ambedkar is brought to life as the sole inspirer of his illustrious father and the story of hope, courage, forbearance, dedication, and perseverance of the family tells all that one should know to understand why tens of thousand stood a whole day in the summer sun of Mumbai Racecourse to embrace a religion to restore their self-esteem.

This visit of mine to India has been a life-changing experience. The redemption of the Indian “untouchables” is a mission for the entire humanity.


Buddhist perception of consumption of liquor

Buddhist perception: Buddhism neither commands, demands nor prohibits. That is why some people in conventional sense say that Buddhism is not a religion. However, Buddhism is beyond the conventional meaning of religion and in its simplest form, it is a way of life.

Buddhism explains and exhorts on the effect of acts of merit (kusala) and evil (akusala) which are different from virtue (pin) and sin (paw). It guides and admonishes man to refrain from acts leading to moral decline, and to cultivate doing things leading to moral fortitude.

It is left to the followers to perceive the effect of an action, and then to follow it or reject it through conviction. Thus nobody is to follow anything blindly or forcibly.

When it comes to consumption of liquor, which constitutes the fifth precept in Buddhism, one on one’s own volition undertakes to refrain from taking liquor. Liquor, in Buddhism is divided into two categories, sura and mera (distilled and fermented alcoholic drinks).

Alcohol itself is no poison or pollution. What is harmful and one should refrain from is taking it in the form of an alcoholic drink or an intoxicant. That is why even many of those who are used to take a drink avoid taking it during the day or when they are engaged in serious and responsible work. Such is the ill-effect of intoxicating drinks.

Harmful effect of consumption of liquor could result in weakening of one’s mental and physical capacity to be mindful of being helpful to society, family and one himself. According to the Singalovada Sutta, consumption of liquor is an institute for committing acts of evil and sin leading to one’s downfall and degeneration.

They are, (a) loss of wealth, (b) aggravation of aggressive nature leading to quarrels, (c) becoming susceptible to sickness, (d) being subjected to increased humiliation, (e) loss of fear for shame and (f) impairment of capacity to judge events and people.

Within the context of above observation, one may say that if consumption of liquor itself is no evil, why should not one be modest and take a drink occasionally. Evil acts can easily develop into evil habits which one will later fail to give up.

One may take liquor on doctor’s advice, as a means to increase appetite, soothe down pain, to celebrate an occasion or to drown a worry. Whatever excuses one can give in order to justify one’s habit of consuming liquor, its inherent evil to bring harmful effects to oneself and society, remains undiminished.

One must refrain from taking liquor altogether for the simple reason that it eventually brings his downfall.

One may question that if liquor is such an evil why not we ban it altogether. Along with a ban, exceptions to the ban will begin to arise in the form of illicit liquor. Sooner or later the exception will become the rule.

Also, the Buddhist practice is that prohibitions are not thrust upon them, and they have to act on self-discipline. Each person should on his own be able to realise what is virtue or not.

However, prohibition is good for those who are trained to yield to pressure and dictates.

We ourselves should realise the danger and the negative effect of consuming liquor, and refrain from consuming it, through conviction. Sheer blind following could reduce him to a puppet, robot or a slave.

In Surapana Jathaka, the Buddha having noticed the disgraceful fall and conduct of a drunken monk, asked the other sober monks there, “Is it proper to drink that which when drunk steals away a man’s senses?” That was how the Buddha admonished man to refrain from taking liquor.


His mission was moulding man

The prelate the Most Venerable Madihe Pannghaseeha
Maha Nayaka Thera

Birth Anniversary: In the province of the southern territory, district of Matara in the village of Madihe, where the coconut palms sway, and the never still ocean runs, in the year of 1913 on the day of 13th June, a fortunate baby was born to parents J.C. Pujithagunawardena and Bella Anjela Dheerasekera, both parents were of a generation of high esteem. The father of this little child was a Christian and the mother a Buddhist. He was named Wilmot - Wilmot Pujithagunawardena.

This little child grew in a home where he got the abundant love of his parents when the school going age came, he was admitted to St. Thomas’s Boys School, Matara where the Principal was Mr. Janz. While in the classroom or at home, or elsewhere, the thought that circled his mind was the thought of becoming a Buddha Putra, a bhikkhu. That was his only dream. At the tender age of thirteen, his dream came true.

The mother who was a noble lady realised the wish of the child, she did not stand in his way and so was the father. Mother took the son to the great prelate Weragampita Sri Revatha Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Kamburugamuwa Vihara with a sheaf of betel and requested the prelate to ordain him as a Samanera. So on the 24th June in the year 1926, he entered the Sasana and was named Madihe Pannghaseeha.

The great prelate, the Most Venerable Revatha Thera was also the teacher of the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera; thus this young Samanera Ven. Pannghaseeha, having studied all that a young bhikkhu could learn under the guidance of Sri Revath Thera, came to the Vajirarama Temple at Bambalapitiya for further studies.

Under the tutelage of the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera, the young Samanera mastered the Dhamma.

On the 9th day of June 1933 at Weligama in the vicinity of Pelane, Samanera Pannghaseeha received Upasampada, the Higher Ordination by his teacher, Pelane Vajiragnana Thera. During the very first days of his stay at Vajirarama, he had to undergo many hardships.

There were no rooms as such, no beds. Electricity was unheard of. It was by candlelight that he studied. In the mornings, with the other Bhikkhus he went begging for alms. The spare time was spent in cleaning the surroundings, and the temple. These are the beaming factors that lit his life and brought about his popularity.

Those who entered the University at that time were learned Bhikhus. Ven. Madihe Pannghaseeha along with them entered the University. Then he set on the noble task of performing his duty to the country and the religion, and for the upliftment of Buddhism. In the year 1951, he set forth on a peace mission to Nepal and in 1954, participated in the Dhamma Sangayanava held in Burma.

In 1955, the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera passed away. With his passing away, the seat that became vacant was filled by the Ven. Pannghaseeha Thera who was recommended for his cleverness, diligence, piety and high esteem, and was honoured with the title of Mahanayaka on the 27th of November 1955 at Vajirarama at Bambalapitiya. He was offered this title at the time of the Buddha Jayanthi.

Accompanied by a band of pilgrims, both laymen and Bhikkhus he left the country to participate in the World Buddhist Congress on its fourth session.

The great prelate, the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera who founded Vajirarama Temple at Bambalapitiya had the great thought and wish to mould and train bhikkhus dedicated to service and the Dhamma be trained here and abroad as missionaries of the Dhamma.

The noble thought that sprung on in the mind of his master was set forth to success by the Mahanayaka Thera. It was that noble thought, that gave way for the uphill task of opening of the Bhikkhu Training Centre at Maharagama.

On the 21st of April 1958 this long cherished dream came true and the Bhikkhu Training Centre was started at dwelling on a rental basis. At present the Centre is located at an eleven acre picturesque land. It contains well equipped buildings where the novice monks and the student monks are trained for missions abroad. Provisions are made for the meditating monks.

The main aim of this Bhikkhu Centre is to spread the Doctrine - the Dhamma far and wide. The devotees who observe Sil at the Centre is enormous in number. exceeding 20,000.

The bhikkhus who come to deliver Dhamma Desana are learned, pious and of high esteem and also the lay preachers are learned and disciplined. Renowned physicians in the country, surgeons, paedriaticians, psychiatrists and medical consultants come to deliver these orations, which are of great value to the public.

It is the Mahanayaka Thera - Ven. Madihe Pannghaseeha who deserves praise for all this and more than everything for moulding the Most Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera for whom all Buddhists should be ever grateful. He taught the Buddhist masses especially the youth to observe and practise Pan Sil.

Another great task performed by the Mahanayaka Thera was sending Dhamma missions abroad. Venerable Thera was instrumental in establishing Theravada Vihara in the United States of America with the untiring efforts of the Sasana Sevaka Samithiya and the then Prime Minister Hon. Dudley Senanayaka and also with the help of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington.

In the year 1965 in a Flat in Howard the Temple was founded and today it lies in the 16th Street, a fully equipped temple in a beautiful surroundings on a picturesque setting in the vicinity of the “White House” giving the golden opportunity for the devout Buddhists in America to worship and pray.

Words cannot simply say the great deeds performed by the Mahanayaka Thera. His leadership, correct advice and the correct guidance led to many virtuous programmes.

The great Sil campaigns, The Asarana Sarana Sevaya, The Dharma Charika, The Campaign against use of alcohol.

The policy that he emphasized most was the policy of mouldsing man. “Reform man and the whole world will be reformrd”. “MINISA HADA RATA HADAMU”

Simplicity was Ven. Thera’s hallmark. Never did he look for comforts. The simple life he lived, bears testimony to this.

He was soft spoken. Never did he utter a harsh word, never did he hurt any one. He could be reached by any one. He treated the haves and the have-nots alike. He did not fear, or favour.

This tribute is in kindness to the prelate’s immense generosity, and loving kindness. May his journey in Samsara be smooth with no grief until you attain Nirvana, that ultimate bliss.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service

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