TODAY IS VESAK POYA:
Buddhism and socio-ethical progress
Upasika Sujatha offering alms to the Buddha after He attained
Some scholars with a little knowledge of Buddhism are of the opinion
that there is no socio-economic and political philosophy of Buddhism. A
well-known scholar, Max Weber, who is considered 'The Father of
Sociology of Religion', explaining the socio-political aspect of
Buddhism says: "Buddhism had no tie with any social movement, nor did it
run in parallel with such and it has established no social and political
He further says that Buddhism is a social and anti-political, and it
can be considered to be an "other-worldly religion." This is a
misleading and distorted concept of Buddhism. It is very clear, for this
misleading idea that Max Weber has not deeply analysed Buddhist
teachings. Buddhism is in no way another-worldly religion. It includes a
well-defined socio-economic and political philosophy.
Professor D.D. Kosambi and Professor Rhys Davids accept that there is
a socio-economic and political philosophy of Buddhism, and they disprove
the above mentioned idea. Another misconceived idea of Buddhism says
that Buddhism is such a sublime system that ordinary people cannot
One has to retire to a monastery if one desires to be a true
Buddhist. This is a partial view. The doctrine of the Buddha is meant
not only for Monks but also for ordinary men and women living in their
homes with their family members. The Noble Eightfold Path, observing
precepts, meditation on loving-kindness and the Ten Perfection are meant
for all. They can be practised in anyone's daily life.
It is incorrect to say that Buddhism is asocial. Addressing the first
sixty Arahants (Perfected Ones), the Buddha says: "O Monks! Walk on
tour, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, for the
welfare of the many, good and happiness of human beings and celestial
This shows that the Buddha has laid much emphasis on the members of
society and their welfare. Therefore, the old Buddhist monasteries
became spiritual centres and the centres of learning and culture. The
Five Precepts are meant for the whole human society. Any person can
observe them and lead a spiritual life, and that would be of great
benefit to this competitive society.
The Sigalovada Sutta explicitly explains the family and its social
relationships. It gives a set of instructions and ethical teachings that
pertain to man's socio-economic and spiritual progress.
Modern man can lead a very happy and prosperous life if he
understands the significance of these social relations explained in the
Some scholars are of the opinion that Buddhist philosophy is
interested only in higher morality and it ignores the social and
economic welfare. This is also another misconception of Buddhist
The Kutadanta Sutta explains the way of developing a country with
proper planning and the nature of socio-economic progress. We should not
forget that the Buddha expounded these words in the sixth century BC,
but even today they are of great value.
The Chakkavattisihanada Sutta explains the poverty, revolution,
poverty-related crimes and the chaotic situation of a country and the
reasons for those social ills. Today, our competitive global society
experiences these socio-economic and political tribulations that are
well-explained in the Chakkavattisihanada Sutta.
In the Agganna Sutta we find a theory of the origin of social
classes. There the Buddha explains the arising and evolution of
vegetation, the origin of state, the evolution of human race and social
grades, the changing nature of moral values, and the relationship
between moral degeneration and the deterioration of environmental
The Sutta explains how the beings (Satta) were becoming less
hard-working, less honest, less ethical and how they lost their physical
and mental qualities. Fundamental unreasonable concepts relating to
social organisations were radically transformed by the Buddha. The
Buddha explained the nature of those concepts and their connection with
the Ditthis or dogmatic views of certain religious traditions.
The socio-economic and cultural transformations by the Buddha can be
seen explicitly even in the present time in our Buddhist societies.
Making a comment on the socio-cultural upheaval of Buddhism,
Narendranath Bhatthacharya says: "The rise of Buddhism was certainly to
serve some social purpose. It had some distinct social and functional
But very few attempts have been made to understand all these." It is
true that Buddhism is capable of doing a drastic transformation of the
present day competitive and war-like society. But it needs and
appropriate knowledge and correct understanding of the teachings of the
Buddha, Marx and God
The first significant work in the Buddhist social field was Die
Religion des Buddha (1957), written by C.F. Koppen. In his book Koppen
explains: ".... the Buddha was viewed as the emancipator of the
oppressed and a great political innovator."
Here, it is very interesting to note that Koppen was a close friend
of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Karl Marx ruthlessly criticised religion and the widely accepted
concept of omnipotent God. Buddhism is completely free from that
criticism, for it does not have any concept of God.
Trevor Ling in his work 'Buddha, Marx and God' explains that Buddhism
is free from his critique. French scholar La Loubere says that Buddhism
is totally different from other religions as it does not have a doctrine
of God and it teaches rebirth (re-becoming, re-changing,
re-transformation of Punabbhava) without accepting the concept of a
Addressing the 'Berlin Science Academy' in 1856, Albrecht Weber
explained that Buddhist teachings were so helpful for social reformation
and it had accepted the equality of all human beings.
The equality of all human beings is explained in the Vasetta Sutta,
Ambatta Sutta, Assalayana Sutta and some other places.
Karl Marx and meditation
Karl Marx, writing a letter to his daughter Laura Marx, on March 20,
1866, said: "Most of my time I'm walking and breathing fresh air. I read
nothing and write less. I go to bed at 9.00 p.m. Generally, I subside
into the emotional state of non-existence that Buddhism considers to be
the height of human delicacy."
This statement clearly suggests that Karl Marx tried to practice
Buddhist mindfulness and meditation in his final days. A well-known
political philosopher who wanted to change the world society with
revolutionary measures apparently changed his mind and came to the
Buddhism is the most socially-oriented religion. Therefore, the early
Buddhist monasteries were celebrated seats of learning which functioned
to a great extent like the modern universities.
Buddhist education paved the way for righteous (dhammic) existence
and welfare of various societies. A more favourable socio-economic
system for the world has been shown by the teachings of the Buddha.
The contribution of Buddhism in the field of art cannot be explained
in words. It is inexpressible. Millions of pagodas and statues speak
volumes for the immeasurable kindness and pure motivations of the human
heart. Those statues were able to tame the minds and change the hearts
of human beings. This is a silent revolution for the welfare of all
The very great and astonishing creations of Buddhist art can be seen
in India, China, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand,
Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia and in some other countries.
The Borobudur Tope Complex in Central Java is a very wonderful
creation of the Buddhist mind. Today, modern architects try to explain
how they built it.
The only thing that we can do is to admire and be astonished by
seeing it. The immensity and beauty of these structures puts the
observer in awe of the intense dedication and inspiration of the people
who built them.
Candi Sewu, Candi Mendut and Candi Plaosan in Central Java are also
very astonishing Buddhist complexes. Why do so many people visit these
They definitely pave the way for mental peace and mental harmony of
Contribution to sociology
The society in which we live today is highly competitive and
money-centered. That very competition and money-centeredness takes a lot
of time, energy and effort, and results in mental stress and physical
distress. So, where do we find the proper medicine for this
inconvenience? If we look at those ancient statues in a silent place,
they infiltrate love, compassion and peace into the pure side of our
A society would be a very pleasant place if many human beings have
pure hearts. The greatness of Gotama the Buddha's contribution to
sociology as a psychotherapist is admitted by Dr. Robert H. Thouless,
the well-known psychologist of Cambridge.
If we carefully investigate the teachings of the Sutta Pitaka
(Discourses) and the Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline), we certainly would find
many fundamental theories of sociology in them.
Buddhism is certainly a socio-ethical movement and it appreciates and
promotes nothing but socio-ethical progress. Material development
without ethical foundation is of no use. R. R. Bhole says, "Buddhism
spread after first century AD to Middle Asia, China, Mongolia, Japan and
Southeast Asia and triumphed as a far-reaching social humanistic
Cultivation of Samma Ditthi (Right View)
Samma Ditthi which is translated as Right View, occurs at the very
beginning of the Noble Eightfold Path, thus, the importance of its
cultivation for the realisation of the path and its fruits.
The Venerable Sariputta explains right view in the Saccavibhanga
Sutta (Majjima Nikaya 141) as knowledge of suffering (Dukkha); knowledge
of the origin of suffering, knowledge of the cessation of suffering, and
knowledge of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.
It should be noted that the truth of Dukkha is translated in many
ways, as suffering, unsatisfactoriness conflict etc, but it would be
more appropriate and helpful to understand it in the manner explained by
the Buddha himself and in the Dhamma Sakkapavattana Sutta and likewise
by the Arahath Sariputta in the aforesaid Sutta as "Birth is suffering,
aging is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow Lamentation, pain, grief,
and despair are suffering; not to obtain what one wants is suffering; in
short the five aggregates affected by clinging are suffering."
Development of Right View
The various ways in which Samma Ditthi could be cultivated has been
set out comprehensively by the Arahath Sariputta in the Samma Ditthi
Sutta (Majjima Nikaya No. 9) as follows:-
Understanding the unwholesome (Akusala) the root of the unwholesome (Akusala
Mula), the wholesome (Kusala) and the root of the wholesome. What is
unwholesome? Killing living beings; taking what is not given, misconduct
in sensual pleasures, false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech,
gossip; covetousness, ill-will, wrong view: and the root of the
unwholesome is greed (Lobha) Hatred (Dosa) delusion (Moha).
The wholesome is the abstention of the aforesaid action, and the root
of the wholesome is non greed, non hate and non delusion.
Then, Understanding Nutriment (Ahara ie. Edible food, contact, mental
volition and consciousness:) the origin, by Craving. The cessation, by
cessation of craving and the way leading to the cessation of Nutriment
is The Noble Eightfold Path: Thereby one develops right view.
Understanding the four Noble Truths, ie Dukha, its arising by
craving, cessation, by Eradication of craving, and the way leading to
its cessation ie. the noble eightfold path. Likewise the following
conditions should be understood.
Understanding Ageing and Death The ageing of beings in the various
orders of beings, their old age, brokenness of teeth, graying of hair,
wrinkling of skin, decline of life, weakness of faculties.
The passing of beings out of the various orders of beings, their
passing away, dissolution, disappearance, dying, completion of time,
dissolution of the aggregates, laying down of the body, is called death.
By the arising of birth, there is the arising of ageing and death,
with the cessation of Birth, there is the cessation of ageing and death
and the way leading to its cessation is the noble eightfold path.
Understanding Birth (Jati), The birth of beings into the various
orders of beings, their coming to birth, precipitation (in a womb),
generation manifestation of the Aggregates, obtaining bases for contact.
With the arising of being, there is the arising of birth. With the
cessation of being there is the cessation of Birth.
The other conditions could be summarised as follows:-
Being (Bhave) - Sense - sphere beings, fine material, immaterial
Arising by clinging, cessation by non clinging
Clinging (Upadana) - Clinging to sensual pleasures, to views to
rituals and observances, to a doctrine of self.
- Arising by craving, cessation by eradication of craving
Craving (Tanha) - Six classes: craving for forms, sounds, odours,
flavours, tangibles, mind-objects. Arising by feeling, cessation by
Feeling (Vedana) - Six classes: Feeling born of eye-contact,
ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact, mind-contact.
-Arising by contact, cessation by eradication of contact
Contact (Phassa) - Six Classes: Eye contact, ear, nose, tongue, body,
- Arising by six fold base, cessation by eradication of six fold
Six Fold Base (Salayatana) - Six Bases: Eye-Base, ear, nose tongue,
- Arising by Mentality - Matiality cessation by eradication of it.
Mentality-Materiality (Nama-Rupa) - Mentality: Feeling, perception,
volition, contact, attention.
- Materiality: four great elements (patavi, Apo, Thejo, Vayo) and the
material form derived from them.
- Arising by consciousness, cessation by eradication of it.
Consciousness (vinnana) - Six classes: Eye consciousness, ear, nose,
tongue, body, mind
- Arising by Sankharas (Formations) cessation by eradication of it.
Formations (Sankharas) -
3 kinds: Bodily formation, verbal and mental.
- Arising by ignorance, cessation by eradication of it.
Ignorance (Avijja) - not knowing the four nobel truths.
- Arising by taints, cessation by eradication of it.
Taints (Asavas) - 3 taints: taint of sensual desire, of being and
ignorance Arising by ignorance, cessation by eradication of it.
Thus the aforesaid conditions should be understood and the way
leading to the cessation of them would be the noble eight fold path.
Therefore by any of the aforesaid ways one could arrive at right view.
Conditions for the arising of Right View
1. Voice of another (Parato Ghosa) i.e. by listening to a sermon,
dhamma discussion etc.
2. wise attention (Yoniso Manasikara) These conditions have been set
out in the Mahavedalla sutta, No. 43 in the Majjima Nikaya.
Levels of Samma Diththi (Right view)
The Mahacattarissaka Sutta (Majjima Nikaya) Sutta 117, (Translation
of Bhikkhu Bodhi) gives the two levels of right view.
1. Right view affected by the taints, partaking of merit, ripening on
the side of attachment:- There is what (Atthi dinnam) is given and what
is (Atthi rettam) offered and what is sacrificed (Atthi Hutam), there is
fruit and result of good and bad action; there is this world and the
other world; there is father and mother, there are beings who are born
spontaneously; there are in the world good and virtuous recluses and
Brahmins who have realised for themselves by direct knowledge and
declare this world and the other world.
2. Right view, that is, Noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of
the Path. The wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the
investigation of states enlightment factor, the path factor of right
view in one whose mind is noble, whose mind is taintless, who possesses
the nobel path and is developing the noble path.
Thus it would seem that there is kind of right view that it purely of
a mundane nature, while the attainment of the supramundane path would
require the cultivation of the higher level of right view.
The cultivation of right view of the higher level would firmly set
one on the correct path and be the stepping stone to the practice of the
other seven factors of the noble eightfold path which would ultimately
result in the attainment of Nibbana.
A study of the Sammaditthi sutta and the Mahacattarissaka sutta would
be greatly beneficial to those in the quest of emancipation.
(Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Suttas have been utilised for
Significant and historical aspects:
A sculpture of Dipankara Buddha from Gandhara, present day Afghanistan
The young ascetic Sumedha was committed to achieve the highest
spiritual realm, only a few could reach. That day he heard Dipankara
Buddha was visiting his town. What he wanted was a definite prophecy
that he would be a Buddha in eons to come.
However the place was congested with people and the young man could
hardly reflect a way of seeing Dipankara Buddha. When he spotted the
muddy road, his mind worked in a different plane.
He requested the Great Teacher and his retinue to walk over him.
Dipankara Buddha saw the young man's thought in his divine eye, and knew
the youth's wish will materialise in uncountable eons to come.
Dipankara Buddha prophesied ascetic Sumedha would be a Buddha named
Gotama in the future. The day Buddha declared the solemn prophecy to his
twenty-fourth successor was a Vesak Full Moon Poya day.
Three major events in the Buddha's life
From then Sumedha had been reborn in many existences. He had to
complete the 30 Paramitas, perfections. And before his final birth, the
Bodhisatva, or Buddha-to-be, was born in Thusitha heaven.
The divine creature inquired five affairs before expiring for the
final birth: right time, right area, right continent, right cast and
right mother. Then, as any Buddhist knows, the fully mindful divine
being entered the womb of Queen Mahamaya. A prince was born on a Vesak
Poya day to the Queen and King Suddhana and was named Siddharth, one who
has found meaning of existence. The Queen passed away seven days after
the prince's birth.
The whiz kid declared the glorious verse, customary for all Buddhas,
just after the birth: "I am the chief of the world. There is no equal to
me. I am supreme. This is my last birth. No rebirth for me." The teacher
worshipped the teacher of the world, and the father worshipped the son.
Siddharth Gotama's life was spent amid royal luxuries until he
realised life's true nature. Moments later Prince Siddharth renounced
the princely life on a Vesak poya day. Ascetic life was not a simple
thing for the prince.
The robed Gotama was trained in various mental skills under many
teachers, only to get disillusioned that they do not have the truth he
looks for. The right way to achieve the truth dawned on him one day. He
directed the mind in the right meditation path. Moments later he reached
Enlightenment and conquered the world of sorrows on a Vesak Poya day.
The Conqueror was heading to the city of Kusinara, when he met
Pukkusa. Pukkusa listened to the Dhamma and offered the Conqueror two
golden robes: one worn by the Blessed One and the other by His assistant
Sumanakuta or Adamís Peak
When the Conqueror was robed, his skin became clear dazzling the
robe. Ven. Ananda was amazed and the Conqueror declared that the skin of
a Buddha will be remarkably bright on two occasions: the night he
attains enlightenment and the night he passes away.
80-year old Gotama Buddha then announced his passing away,
Parinibbana, would take place on the third watch of the night at Sal
grove of Malla royal family, and it happened to be a Vesak poya day.
Buddha visits the land of Nagas
The Buddha visited Sri Lanka on three occasions: first to Mahiyangana
in January, second to Nagadipa in April, and third to Kelaniya in May,
On the second visit made to Nagadipa, King Maniakkikha invited the
Blessed One for a third visit to Kelaniya. And the Blessed One visited
Kelaniya three years after his second visit, with 550 Arahants.
However Nishantha Gunawardena, a Sri Lankan historian living in US,
mentions an interesting find in his 'The Lost Dynasty'; Buddha was not
invited by King Maniakkhika but by a king named Panitha and his daughter
princess Abhi Upaliya. Nishantha cites rock inscriptions at
Balaharukanda and Bambaragastalawa that corroborate this find.
"...the rock inscriptions are more accurate due to the difficulty in
changing or forging them. It was the national King Panitha who invited
Gautama Buddha the second time. The regional King Maniakkhika is
mentioned in a few other records.
But it was not until the December 2004 tsunami hit, the King
reintroduced himself. As the tsunami tore through the island it exposed
several rock inscriptions. Two of them bore the name King Maniagiya and
his mother's name. This is, in fact, King Maniakkhika." (82pp)
King Maniakhikha is commonly mistaken as a Naga (snake) king, but
scholars believe the king belonged to a clan named Naga. Following the
Buddha's sermon in Kelaniya, the king erected a shrine with the Buddha's
hair, utensils and the seat buried inside. However the foreign invasions
have resulted in damaging the original shrine.
The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara became more sacred following the Ven.
Mahinda's arrival in Lanka to establish the Dhamma wheel officially.
Mahavamsa, the official chronicle on Sri Lankan history written in the
5th century CE, states King Devanampiyatissa's brother Uttiya renovated
the Dagoba along with the first quarters of the Monks, Shrine.
Mahavamsa interestingly relates how the Blessed One headed to Adam's
Peak or Sumanakuta from Kelani on the Vesak Poya day. The 7359-ft-tall
conical mountain has a historic significance as Buddhists believe it has
the Buddha's footprint on it.
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
The mount is normally known as Adam's Peak for Christians and Shivan
Adipatham (Shiva's footprint) for Hindus. The mount obviously has become
the meeting place for people of diverse religions and ethnicities.
In Sinhala the mount is known as Sri Pada, a term derived from
Sanskrit denoting the Sacred Foot. The Sinhala Samanala Kanda, or
Butterfly Mountain in English, is named thus because of the butterflies
annually migrating to the region.
Legend has it that the Buddha placed his left footprint on the hill
summit and then strode across to Thailand, then Siam. In Siam the Buddha
is said to have left the impression of the right foot; this is called
Phra Sat, similar to Sri Pada. In his Bharhut Stupa General Sir A.
Cunningham has details about footprints: "Footprints of the Buddha were
most probably an object of reverence from a very early period -
certainly before the building of the Bharut Stupa - as they are
represented in two separate sculptures there. In the sculpture the
footprints are placed on a throne or altar, canopied by an umbrella hung
A royal personage is kneeling before the altar, and reverently
touching the footprints with his hands. The second example is in the
bas-relief representing the visit of Ajata-satru to Buddha. Here, as in
all other Bharut sculptures, the Buddha does not appear in person, his
presence being marked by His two footprints.
The wheel symbol is duly marked on both' (112pp). A cave temple
called Diva Guhava is recognised as the place the Buddha had a rest
during his Sripada Visit along with his retinue. The cave is said to
have the capacity to provide shelter for over 500 people.
Siripa samaya, the season of Sripa pilgrimage starts in December and
ends in May. "When the Teacher, compassionate to the whole world," goes
on Mahavamsa, account of the great clan, "had preached the doctrine
there, he rose, the Master, and left the traces of his footsteps plain
to sight on Sumanakuta.
And after he had spent the day as it pleased him at the foot of this
mountain, with the brotherhood, be set forth for Dighavapi."
Some historians however see the Buddha's visit to Dighavapi far from
being likely. As the chronicle states, the Buddha had Himself visited
the village and meditated consecrating the place. A shrine was later
erected on the place the Blessed One meditated.
Many works including Samantha Pasadika and Dipavamsa contain
allusions to Dighavapi.
The works mention the inhabitants of Dighavapi were Yakkas, with
links to pre-Aryan Kirat people in Northern India. As a legend goes,
while a novice monk was repairing a part of the shrine, he fell from the
top. He heard the shouting of his colleagues to recall Dhajagga Paritta,
a Sutta reciting the great qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
And finally, it is said, the novice monk was saved miraculously. The
area was later reconstructed by King Saddhatissa.
Some sources indicate that the Buddha set foot on Kataragama
following the visit to Dighavapi. Legend has it that the Buddha met King
Mahasena (some sources identify the king as Mahaghosha) in Kataragama.
The King listened to the Buddha and erected a shrine - now known as
Mangala Ceitya - on the place he preached. The place is now called Kiri
Vehera, located close to the Hindu temple built by the same King.
According to a source discovered by Nishantha Gunawardena the Mangala
Ceitya contains the sword that Prince Siddharth used to cut his hair in
renouncing. However, as Nishantha adds, the source is yet to be
Vijaya arrives in Tambapanni
Prince Vijaya's visit to Sri Lanka - then called Tambapanni, an
island with golden sand - happened on a Vesak Poya. As commonly known,
Vijaya was exiled to Tambapanni because of the dreadful behaviour of him
and his associates.
His father, Sinhabahu, had no option other than exiling him, his
followers and their families numbering about 700, to the island shaving
half of their heads as a sign of disgrace. Vijaya's ancestors came down
from the kingdom of Kalinga, known as Orissa to the ancient, and Vanga
in Bangladesh and in eastern part of India.
The king of Vanga was married to the daughter of the king of Kalinga,
named Suppadevi. Mahavamsa then relates the episode of Suppadevi having
a sexual affair with a lion ending up with two children: Sihabahu,
lion-arms, and Sihasivali.
The lion had the family life in a cave, covered by a large rock to
block any attempt of escapade. But turn of events took a different shape
as the lion's family had escaped from the cave, and Sihabahu killing his
father with an arrow. Following the patricide, Sihabahu married his
sister and formed a kingdom in Sihapura city. The royal couple had a
series of twins, of which Vijaya was the eldest.
Rajavaliya, the chronicle on Sri Lankan kings, mentions Vijaya's
entourage spotted Adam's Peak and landed in Southern Sri Lanka - the
area that later became the Kingdom of Ruhuna. H. Parker, a British
historian, however, mentions it is the mouth of Kirindi Oya.
So started Vijayan dynasty, a reign of a King with a positive
attitude towards Buddhism, making the path clear for an official
introduction during King Devanampiyatissa's reign.
King "Beloved of the Gods" consecrates
King Devenampiyatissa - meaning 'beloved of the gods' - had his
second coronation on a Vesak Poya day. Mahavamsa goes on to describe the
moment of glory: "Grand miracles occurred during the consecration of
King Devanampiya Tissa. Jewels buried in earth rose to the surface,
pearls in deep oceans were washed ashore and piled up and bamboo trees
started to look like they were made out of silver. King Devanampiya
Tissa thought that these pearls and gems should be sent to his great
friend, King Dharmashoka of India.
King Dharmashoka and King Devanampiya Tissa were great friends for
many years but had never seen each other."
King Dharmashoka by this time was sending Buddhist missionaries to
countries around the world. He selected his son Mahinda Thera to be sent
to Lanka with the message of Buddhism.
Mahinda Thera and four other theras started out from India to visit
Lanka and ended up in "Missaka Pavva" (Mihintale). At this time King
Devanampiya Tissa was conducting a deer hunt close to Mihintale.
The god of the mountain wanted to show Mahinda Thera to the King and
disguised himself as a deer. King Devanampiya Tissa and his men chased
the deer. When the deer came near the mountain where Mahinda Thera was
standing, the deer disappeared. King Devanampiya Tissa saw Mahinda Thera
standing on the mountain.
Such is the meaningful influence of Vesak Poya day that intermingles
the events of both religious and historical significance.
What happened on Vesak Poya day?
Dipankara Buddha prophesies ascetic Sumedha.
Three major events in the Buddha's life: Birth, Enlightenment,
Buddha's third visit to Sri Lanka: Kelaniya, Sumanakuta, Dighavapi
Prince Vijaya lands in Tambapanni.
King Devanampiyatissa consecrates for the second time.
Benevolence and discovery of Nirvana
Among the Buddhists in Sri Lanka the tendency is to ask the last
question first. They all want to know what Nirvana is, the supreme state
of mind, which the Buddha achieved over 2500 years ago in India. The
Buddhist texts show the names of a large number of early disciples of
the Buddha who achieved that state as well.
The Buddha never described what Nirvana is since it cannot be
described in a manner an ordinary mind could comprehend. However he
showed the way, and the conditions necessary for achieving it. The
Buddha's Enlightenment means knowledge and vision of absolute reality
pertaining to man, society and the universe.
The central philosophy of Buddhism is that nothing happens in the
world without a cause. It is a particular cause that gives rise to a
particular effect. The result is always formulated by the cause itself.
"When this exists, that comes in to being; with the coming in to
being of this, that exists. When this does not exist that too does not
come in to being; with the cessation of this, that too ceases to exist."
This is the formula of causality in its simplest form which explains
the central philosophy of coming into being.
How does the average Buddhist set about to achieve this goal in life?
Firstly it is a subject of study in schools, Sunday schools conducted in
Buddhist temples, seats of higher learning like the Pirivenas and
Universities, attending Buddhist discussions, listening to sermons,
talks, observation of Sil on Poya days in the temples, Meditation
retreats and in particular more serious following meditation courses
offered under different meditation masters.
With so much of Buddhists ethics imparted to the people from their
young age, one does not see the desired effect in proportion to the
quantum of subject matter of inputs they receive. On the contrary, sad
to say, it looks more sterile than fertile. Every day one reads in the
newspapers in TV and Radio about the amount of violence directed by man
against man and animal.
Theft, robbery, murder, rape, drug and alcohol addiction, contract
murders, and worst of all incest, that is having sex with one's
children, which is something that happens among the animals. Father
murdering the son, son murdering the father, members of the same family
murdering each other are incidents reported in the newspapers every day.
Then there is suicide, in hatred towards society. Unfortunately Sri
Lanka records one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.
Degeneration has reached such low depths that one reads of how
Buddhist monks are murdered within the temple compounds and theft,
looting and pilferage of temple property takes place, antique Buddhist
images are taken away for sale and export.
Something is wrong somewhere, unless we remedy this situation, no
amount of building temples or constructing huge Buddha images,
conferring titles on Buddhist monks, and engaging in Buddhist
pilgrimages and promoting Buddhist missionaries abroad to spread the
word of the Buddha, is going to help.
One of the main reasons for this state of affairs is that the ethical
transformation of the society based on the impact of the Buddhist temple
on the society has failed to have its desired effect.
If one listens to the sermons of an average Buddhist monk it is all
'Dana' or gifting by the people to the monks and temples to obtain best
rewards in the next life. In other words it is an investment-oriented
Hence the average man gives with the hope of getting something back.
It is not an act of selfless giving, but selfish act of getting more in
a life unknown and unseen. The end effect of such an act is the
development of an unwholesome thought, which is totally opposite the
concept of giving up greed as the first step in the path to
Greed manifests differently, under different circumstances. When the
Buddha despatched the first set of 60 Buddhist missionaries to the
world, the advice to them was not to go and explain what Nirvana is but
to engage out of compassion for the welfare of the many. The psychology
of one who considers the welfare of others over his own is a
manifestation of what is called a wholesome thought.
It is the constant ability to cultivate wholesome thoughts, which
will lead to wholesome acts which will pave the way for that supreme
state of bliss, Happiness which is Nirvana.
When the petroleum sector or the transport sector launches a strike
action to win over demands for the betterment of their lives, they have
caused immense misery to the rest of the society.
Welfare of others is of no consideration to them. When Universities
are closed due to the actions of a group of students, intellectual
welfare of others is of no consideration. Of all the strikes, the
Hospital strikes are the worst.
These very people who are striking through an immense sense of greed
add to the suffering of those who are already suffering, and have no
conscious feelings of pity and sympathy for whom there is no other hope.
Ironically they, strikers themselves may have observed Sil on the
Poya day, done a number of 'Bodhi pujas' seeking relief for their own
problems or to pass their examinations, and to ward off illnesses of
their relatives, or to rid them of bad planetary effects.
The Buddha has not recommended these as a means to Enlightenment. I
think while being engaged in Sin to seek protection from the Divine is
spiritual hypocrisy, unlikely to be pardoned by the Gods to whom they
What did the Buddha do when confronted with the sick? It is said in
the Buddhist texts that sometimes the Buddha visited people on purpose
to instruct them. Some of them whom he visited were sick with some grave
Once in a young monk named Putigatta Tissa an eruption broke out
which covered his body with sores. His fellow monks, unable to look
after him, abandoned him. The Buddha visited this monk, washed him with
boiled water and attended on him like a good doctor before teaching the
Prince Siddhartha having acquired the secular knowledge in the royal
household of King Suddhodana, being fit enough to rule his father's
kingdom was not very happy with all what he experienced. Hence he
decided to go in search of happiness by taking to the path of
Having experimented out all the known ascetic practices for seven
long years, finally discovered the path to happiness in the middle way.
The Buddhahood was entirely acquired through empirical means without the
help of any being, divine or otherwise.
The Buddha did not stay in the forest where he discovered his own
enlightenment, on the contrary he came back to the very society he left
to share his new found wisdom, out of compassion for the suffering
mankind he once lived with.
The Buddha wanted to establish a society where maximum conditions for
the elimination of misery, due to selfishness, would be present.
According to the Buddha, only such a society upholding the value of
Human Ethics, could provide the suitable environment that would pave the
way to the establishment of a society, where the supreme ideal of human
happiness, Nibbana could be achieved.
Professor W. S. Karunaratna describes the characteristics of the
basic changes necessary, in the following passage: "Granted the
possibility for perfectibility of human life there have been, in the
history of human thought, two alternative answers to the question as to
how this perfection was to be realised.
One view is that human life can be perfected by an inner evolution in
the individual in terms of a thorough going catharsis of his mind and
spirit. The other view is that human life can be perfected only by an
outer revolution in the environment in terms of institutional change.
The first view is largely the one adopted by the exponents of the
religious life whereas the second view has largely been adopted by
politicians and Statesmen of all times and climes. In the teachings of
the Buddha we have a harmonious combination of these two views in so far
as the social philosophy of Buddhism is concerned."
Footsteps of this ethical pathway being with the five precepts: 1.
abstinence from destruction of life, 2. abstinence from taking what is
not given, 3. abstinence from sexual misconduct, 4. abstinence from
speaking falsely, 5. abstinence from drinking intoxicating strong
liquors, which is the cause of sloth.
The first two may be regarded as guarantees for the safeguard of life
and property. Thirdly when women are regarded like our own mothers,
sisters, or daughters according to their respective age, there is no
breach of faith of marriage, husband and wife can have perfect trust in
each other, the sacredness of home will be perfectly retained and peace
Fourthly Truth is the final end of Buddhism as a science, which is
the final standard of Buddhist morality. Fifthly intoxicating strong
liquors causes torpidity and sluggishness of the mind. Buddhism teaches
us to be constantly vigilant and have awareness all the time.
These five precepts are basic to all who profess the Buddhist faith,
throughout life. This is followed by eight precepts which are voluntary
to be observed on special occasions like Poya or Full moon days. The
five precepts are moral precepts, eight are religious vows.
Another category of Virtuous conduct, 'Ten good actions' differs from
the preceding two sets because these 'good actions' do not merely
include bodily 'actions', but also those of speech and thought. Speech
inherent in the human being helps to communicate thoughts and feelings
to others. It is well as long as it is used rightly and properly.
Evil comes when it is misused or abused, as the Buddha says: "To
every man that is born, an axe is born in his mouth, by which the fool
cuts himself, when speaking bad language". Lying, slandering, abuse and
foolish talk perhaps comprise the most serious cases of evil belonging
to speech; when we abstain we shall be free from the evil of speech.
Mere knowledge that the cessation of existence is Nibbana does not
amount to attaining to Nibbana. So says the Buddha: The most important
thing with spiritual enlightenment is therefore to experience it in our
own person. This is true of Buddhist morality too. Mere knowledge is of
In the Patika Sutta of Digha Nikaya we find the Buddha admonishing
Bhaggava, the Wanderer, saying: "Hard it is, Bhaggava, for you holding
as you do, different views, other things approving themselves to you,
you setting different aims for your self, striving after a different
aim, trained in a different system, to attain to and abide in the
deliverance that is beautiful. Look therefore to it, Bhaggava, that you
foster well this faith of yours in me."
Again the Buddha tells Nigrodha, the wanderer: "Difficult it is,
Nigrodha for one of another view, of another persuasion, of another
confession, without practice and without teaching to understand that
wherein I train my disciples, etc.".
In 262 B.C. eight years after his coronation, Asoka's armies attacked
and conquered Kalinga. Having got horrified by the after effects of war,
Emperor Asoka embraced Buddhism and dedicated the rest of his life
applying Buddhist principles to the administration of his empire.
Edicts of Asoka are found in more than thirty places in India, Nepal,
Pakistan and Afghanistan. In his edicts were to be found principles for
state morality and individual morality. Both these types of morality
reflected the Buddhist values of compassion, moderation, tolerance, and
respect for all life. He undertook cultivation of medical herbs,
building of rest houses, digging of wells, planting of fruit and shade
Asoka made frequent tours inspecting his projects and meeting people
to see to their welfare. He also protected wild life. Asoka ensured
protection of all religions, their promotion, and fostering harmony
between them. Asoka recommended kindness, self-examination,
truthfulness, gratitude, purity of heart, enthusiasm, strong loyalty,
self-control and love of the Dhamma. In other words what Emperor Asoka
did was to promote Benevolence.
To undertake meditation to attain Nirvana without benevolence as an
ethical prerequisite, may lead to hallucinations and illusions, and
scrutiny of Buddhist texts to discover Nirvana will lead to delusions.
Perhaps this could be the reason why non of the edicts of Asoka has any
reference to Nirvana. Need of the hour is to know and cultivate
benevolence, which is the pathway to Nirvana and not to seek the
definition of Nirvana.
The fragrant abode which is my heart
It was by nectar of the Nine-fold
exalted doctrine of Buddha
which is spoken by the Eight-fold
sweet sounds of Brahma,
that peaceful serenity occurred in a ten billion heads
Somewhere in the Three Worlds,
the Ghost Realm, the Animal Creation and Hell.
When the holy feet of Buddha
is bathed with the rays of the crest-jewels
lined one after the other,
like auroras that give forth waves
that move on pressingly
goes in rolling-form beyond the shores
of the horizon of the great ocean.
Oh! The Buddha, Supreme Enlightened One,
No mind is not bent in reverence
to My Lord,
who showed forth the Noble Path of Purity
and Eternal verities and become the Buddha
by comprehending all their fullness
which should be known
and proclaiming the omniscience,
Numerous memberless masses should be trained
by the vivid meanings of realisation
Everything till the end.
The coolness of the springs
of nectar that flow non-stop
from the waterfall of the Four Noble Truths
that motivate like the top of a shrub
which is well-covered
with blooming flowers and fragrance
in the first month of the summer season
gives so much pleasantness.
How can it be determined
that there exists a Nibbana
which was not quenched by calm,
Realisation, Supreme Enlightenment
not appeased by the streams of Bliss
given by the leaderless Leader
who lead all beings.
It is a miraculous doctrine unheard before
That exhibited the Cycle of Life
with a Three-fold achievement
expressing a Twelve-fold manifestation
and a chain of independent origin
Portraying a wisdom of absolute Truth
devoid of problems and conflicts.
I worship the flower of Devotion
at the feet of the Enlightened One,
who forever lives in the fragrant abode
which is my Heart,
with the light of the mustard-oil lamp,
avoiding the darkness in it
from rows of fumigated containers
which bring out spirals of fragrance.
Till I live on this earth,
I fall on my knees
and with hands held up in reverence,
I bathe in the rays
that emanate from the toe-nails
of the Buddha's feet,
by adorning the caskets
With flowers of Compassion, Kindess and Thought,
and by restraining the three doors
of the Mind, Body and Word by praise
of the Three-fold minds
From beginning through the middle to the end.