Remnants of a spiritual history:
The modern pilgrim visiting Buddha Gaya will undoubtedly be
overwhelmed by the palpable sense of the ‘sacred’ when approaching the
unconquered seat of the Buddha. The road that leads you to the sacred
precincts, teems with polyglot vendors and hawkers. Strange enough they
are adept at speaking to you in your language, exhibiting quite an
intimate awareness of your country. They will insist on keeping a
promise on your honour as a genuine Buddhist.
As you enter the enclosed area you meet the main entrance gate to the
Mahabodhi Temple. When you walk down you come upon the segment of the
Asokean pillar, introduced to the place from another site, probably the
place where the Ajapala Banyan Tree stood. On either side of the steps
leading to the main Temple, minor shrines are situated. Along the
corridors of these, monks and laymen from a vast variety of regions
practice their rituals. Tibetan Lamas, ritually pouring grains on metal
vessels continuously, form a familiar sight.
All these lead to the imposing main structure of the Mahabodhi
Temple. The main structure of the Temple is a 52 metre-tall tapering
spire. Bathed in the morning sunlight it rises majestically towards the
When you enter into the sanctum you cross a large threshold of solid
stone, and gaze upon the main statue-gilt image of the Buddha, seated in
the bhumi-sparsha mudra (posture of touching the earth to say: Earth is
A devotee at this holy site, when contemplating the moment in which
Ascetic Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, will find it
excruciatingly difficult to hold back tears of spiritual joy, on being
conscious, “Here I am, at the very spot where Supreme Buddhahood was
The main structure of the Mahabodhi Temple is a 52-metre
tall tapering spire. Bathed in the morning sunlight it rises
majestically towards the sky.
When you reach the sacred Bodhi Tree, which is the main object of
veneration for all Buddhists, you experience an inexplicable sense of
the holy. It was under this Tree that Ascetic Siddhartha Gautama sat,
2595 years ago. Today the Vajrasana (the unconquered seat) cannot be
seen, as a railing encloses that spot. Devotees circumambulate this
sacred spot, chanting. They are a multi-racial, multi-cultured host,
propelled by deep devotion.
The Buddha sat at this spot throughout the first week after
Enlightenment, absorbed in His inner tranquility. In the second week He
walked over to the slightly high ground next to the Bodhi Tree, and
gazed upon the sacred Tree in extreme gratitude. A shrine was built by
Emperor Asoka to mark this spot. The ambulatory, along which the Buddha
walked in the third week after Enlightenment, is marked by lotus-shaped
stone carvings and a raised ambulatory slab (a plinth). In the fourth
week he sat in the jewelled abode. At present visitors to this holy site
can view segments of the ruins of this jewelled abode.
According to tradition the fifth week after the attainment of
Enlightenment was spent under the Ajapala Banyan Tree. For this the
Buddha walked back to Sujata’s village. But, today, a fragment of an
Asokean Pillar, originally set up perhaps at the Ajapala Banyan Tree,
has been erected within the premises of the Mahabodhi Temple. However,
Emperor Asoka had a special pillar erected at Buddha Gaya. The
pillar-fragment at Mahabodhi Temple premises is not at all the original
Buddha Gaya Asokan Pillar.
The Buddha spent the sixth week after His attainment of
Enlightenment, at the foot of a Muchalinda shade, on the banks of a
lake. This spot is located a little beyond the Mahabodhi Temple. But,
today, in an artificial pond that has been dug out at a later time, the
statue of the Buddha is placed under the hood of a cobra, which
protected the body of the Buddha by encircling the Buddha with its
coils. This has reference to the story that while the Buddha sat in deep
contemplation under the Muchalinda shade, a sudden rain-storm arose. A
serpent-king came over, encircled the Buddha’s body with its coils and
protected the head of the Buddha by spreading its hood over the Buddha’s
The artificial pond, in which the statue of the Buddha is shown under
the hood of the serpent-king came into existence due, perhaps, to the
digging done to obtain clay for the construction of the Temple. The pond
is teeming with fish.
During the seventh week, the Buddha moved closer to the Vajrasana and
sat at the foot of a Rajayatana tree, reflecting on His attainment of
Today, around the Mahabodhi Temple, a vast variety of edifices can be
observed. The premises of the temple have been utilised extensively by
devotees to erect votive shrines. These minor shrines reflect the stupa-architectural
traditions of the devotees who offered them. Devotees perform endless
rituals at this shrine. Hundreds of Tibetan devotees, both lay and
clergy, perform the strenuous prostration-worship ritual, using
In the vicinity of the Mahabodhi Temple a market city has arisen.
Buddhist monasteries, sponsored by such Buddhist countries as Sri Lanka.
Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Tibet etc., perform a great service by
assisting the devotees. They are show-cases of the Buddhist
architectural traditions and styles of their countries.
The vendors, hawkers, and others of that ilk, are a characteristic
presence in Buddha Gaya city. Some of them are unexpectedly helpful.
Devotees coming away from the Mahabodhi Temple should do well to observe
the outer-walls of the main shrine. The minor niches in the walls of
this tall spire, are occupied by numerous statues - mainly of the
It is a human and specifically Buddhist duty on the part of the
devotees visiting this site, to remember with gratitude the restoration
of the Mahabodhi Temple and its adjuncts in the years after 1880 by such
great men as Sir Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of
Archaeology in India and British archaeologist J.D. Beglar, who, beyond
the call of mere professionalism, addressed the task of restoring
Buddhist sites, out of a sense of deference, adoration and admiration.
The inhuman vandalism in which some of these Buddhist sites had been
ruthlessly and heartlessly subjected to, shocked their sense of
humanity. The modern holy tourist must feel and equal sense of debt and
gratitude to Anagarika Dharmapala. He suffered and endured not only
mental but even physical assaults, in his unflagging resolve to see that
these Buddhist sites flourished, defeating the vandalish aims of uncouth
and inhuman marauders.
In the aftermath of Buddha Jayanthi 2550, Buddha Gaya and Mahabodhi
Temple should be especially venerated, since this is the centre where
the Buddha’s understanding, vision, Doctrine and the magnificent
cultural traditions associated with Buddhism, had their supreme and
After spending the seven weeks reflecting upon the Enlightenment He
achieved, the Buddha sat under the Rajayatana Tree, in serene
contemplation. The two merchant brothers Tapassu and Bhallika, while
travelling along for trade, came upon the Buddha.
They had the good fortune to be the first devotees to offer alms to
the Buddha after He had attained Enlightenment. They served the Sattu
dish (fried flour and bee’s honey). The two merchant brothers took
refuge in the Buddha and His Doctrine. There were only two Refuges at
the time, as the Third Refuge (the Sangha) had not come into being by
The Buddha presented some hair Relics from his head as objects of
worship. The stupa Shwedagon in Yangon, Mynamar, is considered the
sacred structure in which the hair Relics are enshrined.
ABHIDHAMMA IN A NUTSHELL – II:
The Worlds we live
A person with an ill-will mind is always engaged in nasty,
unwholesome evil act and spends a restless life. Such a person always
feels like living in a hell. Extreme attachment, aversion, hatred,
ill-will, ignorance, blindness are the feelings he always suffer with.
Such a person gathers plenty of unwholesome kamma and is reborn in a
place of suffering and continues the life in a place like hell. In
contrast, honest, virtuous and generous people who always engage in
wholesome acts of Charity (Dana), Righteousness (Seela), and Meditation
(Bhavana) would live with sensations of generosity, goodwill and wisdom.
Such person will spend a heavenly life and will be reborn in pure
heavenly places as a result of wholesome kamma gathered in this life.
This is natural law and together with law of kamma it is common to all
31 Realms of existence
There are 31 ‘Planes’ or ‘Realms’ of existence for a being to be
reborn during the long journey of samsara. These 31 planes are divided
1. Sensuous worlds
Kama Loka/bhava - 11
2. Form worlds
Rupa loka/bhava - 16
3. Formless worlds
Arupa loka/bhava - 4
11 types of sensuous worlds include the four states of misery, the
realms of suffering, the human realm where we live and six heavenly
realms occupied by Devas. Four realms of suffering are known as
Kamadugatti (states of deprivation or apaya). Rest of the 7 realms are
known as Kamasugatti.
The following chart summarises the 11 sensuous worlds.
Depending on one’s past, kamma and consciousness arise at the time of
death; that being will circumnavigate these worlds and the rest of 20
realms during samsara.
The worst state of existence is at the realms of misery and getting
rid of those realms are harder than getting into them. However, it
should be noted that life in none of these 31 planes of existence are
There is a possibility for any being to fall into one of the realms
of misery based on kamma vipaka of their action. Neither the joy in 6
heavenly realms nor other 20 realms are permanent. Therefore the
ultimate joy is beyond these realms and that is to attain Nibbana to get
rid of all these realms.
As ordinary human beings, it is beyond our capabilities to visualise
all these 31 planes of existence. But the realm of animals (thirachchina)
and the human realm (manussa loka) could be seen by anybody so that the
existences of other realms are to be understood accordingly.
Consciousness pertaining to the sensuous-sphere (Kamavachara Chitthas)
Consciousnesses arise in the above explained 11 worlds are known as
Kamavachara Chiththas. They are three-fold and 54 in all:
1. Immoral consciousness (Akusala chiththas) - 12
2. Rootless consciousness (Ahethuka chiththas) - 18
3. Beautiful consciousness (Sobhana chiththas) - 24
12 types of akusala chiththas are again divided into three:
1. Consciousness rooted in attachment
(Lobha mulika) - 8
2. Consciousness rooted in ill-will or aversion
(Dwesha mulika) - 2
3. Consciousness rooted in delusion or ignorance (Moha mulika) - 2
All the above 12 types of consciousness are caused by immoral roots (akusala
hethu), that is lobha, dwesha and moha.
Some features of
All these consciousness arise with either of the three feelings or
sensations (vedhana) of;
(Somanassa) – Good-mindedness of the chiththa. It is a mental state
of happiness which is experienced at the time of consciousness arises.
(Domanassa) – Bad-mindedness of the chiththa. This is an unhappy
mental state which is experienced at the time of consciousness arises.
(Upekkha) – Neither pleasurable nor displeasurable state of mind
experienced at the time of consciousness arises.
In addition to the above three types of mental states of sensations,
there are two more physical sensations. They are Sukha, the feeling
which is easy to endure or the “Physical Happiness” and Dukkha, the
feeling which is difficult to endure or the “Physical Pain”.
There are instances where one acts prompted or induced by oneself or
another. Or the action is involved with much of deliberation and
premeditation. Consciousness arisen at such instances are Sasankharika.
In contrast in a spontaneous act without any self or external
inducement, the consciousness arise is featured with Asankharika.
A Manual of Abhidhamma by Ven. Narada Maha Thera,
The 31 Planes of Existence by Ven. Suvanno Maha Thera)
The Gems of Buddhist wisdom
In 1983 at the 21st anniversary of the founding of the Buddhist
Missionary Society, Gems Of Buddhist Wisdom was published with a
collection of various articles concerning different aspects of Buddhism
written in a simple and concise manner.
Ven. Dr. W. Rahula
Though the writers who have represented articles like Dr. W. Rahula,
Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda, Ven. Narada, Phra Sasana, Teh Thean,
Francis Story are well-known authors of scholarly treatises on Buddhism
and who are highly respected in academic institutions all over the
world, the way they have written the most serious aspects of Buddhism is
simple and straightforward, devoid of any pretentious, archaic or
pompous literary style.
At the publishers note, Tan Teik Beng, the president of Buddhist
Missionary Society, says “this book is not intended to be read from
cover to cover at one sitting” and the articles have also not been
arranged in any strict logical sequence so that they may be read in any
order. Tan Teik hopes that the one who reads this book would go through
each article mindfully, but at leisure, ponder the arguments presented
by each writer before proceeding to another article.
As one reads articles, one may become aware of a number of
repetitions, not only of the ideas presented but also of quotations from
the sacred texts. But this must have happened not because the writers
are dwelling on any specific theme but because at the end all articles
try to point a common aim, otherwise many of the writers are widely
separated in time and space too.
Ven. Dr. K.
What is this religion, Why Buddhism by Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
and The timeless message by Ven. Piyadassi are a few of the articles
which speak about general Buddhism. The Buddha by Ven. Narada and What
kamma is? by Ven. U. Thittila discuss the Buddha’s teachings. Facets of
life by Ven.
Narada , The purpose of life, Can religion bring peace?, Religion in
a scientific age and Religion in a multireligious society by Ven. Dr. K.
Sri Dhammanadnda, Religious harmony by Teh Thean Choo and Ancient wisdom
and modern problems by Francis Story discuss the importance of Buddhism
in daily life.
However, as mentioned before, the reader may begin to see a common
aim arising out of these different writings, namely to clarify a number
of misconceptions regarding Buddhism and to stress the uniqueness of the
A close reading of these articles will surly prove to anyone that
Buddhism can stand up to vigorous scientific investigation and changes,
while at the same time going beyond science to give a man a purpose in
life and to help him understand the nature of his existence.
Thus I heard Thoughts of a septuagenarian
The much quoted Kalama Sutta is a distinctive Sutta in Buddhist text,
which instructs the disciples not to follow the philosophy because it
came down from ancestors, but to inquire and testify.
Verifying the Dhamma is the hardest task to do, since the average man
has no knowledge to do so. How do you testify a saintly philosophy with
all defilements in mind? The preliminary step, then, should be cleansing
the mind, and then attempting to contemplate the philosophy.
Thilak Ratnakara’s Ma Visin Mese asana Ladi attempts to examine the
crucial points in the society. The title is based on the starting line
of many Suttas, traditionally translated into English as ‘Thus I heard’
(later translations have dropped the archaic term ‘thus’). It came to
being with Ven. Ananda, Buddha’s philosophy storage, as he recalled all
the Suttas, and started reciting Suttas with this phrase.
Rathnakara’s work is a compilation of lectures delivered at various
places. He attempts to testify the popular concepts such as meditation,
gods and parent veneration.
Meditation is commonly considered as escaping from the practical
life. However Rathnakara eliminates the idea stressing that it should be
practised with a positive attitude. As taught in Buddhism, meditative
man transcends others even in the worldly life.
Rathnakara brings out an interesting account of a conversation with
the death. He questions the death why living beings are frightened of
it, and the conversation ends in an insightful note.
His message to the living beings is to be mindful of the impending
death, and live a righteous life. He introduces a guide to practise
meditation at home, starting early morning, sparing 10 minutes from the
The septuagenarian’s lecture collection also includes a reference to
Poson Poya, where the common belief is that Ven. Arahath Mahinda
preached the Chulla Hatthipadopama Sutta on the same day he set foot in
Lanka. Rathanakara logically comments that such an event is impossible,
since there was homework for the Arahath monk to do, that is, to inquire
the mindset of the King.
The concept of god is sensitive and often misunderstood in the
Buddhist context. Many believe Buddhism deny the existence of gods, only
because the philosophy condemns taking refuge of gods. This is not so.
Buddhism accepts the existence of gods, but believe on self-dependency
rather than taking refuge. Rathnakara explains this phenomenon in his
His interpretation about Tsunami in the Buddhist perspective also
sheds a fresh light. The unshaken Buddha statues were the talk of the
town during Tsunami period, and Rathnakara dismisses the common belief
that the statues were not shattered because of the concrete foundations.
He interprets it as the battle between spirituality and natural forces.
The bottomline mentions natural forces get beaten down when confronting
with spiritual forces.
Buddhism is being discussed over both print and electronic mediums on
a regular basis, attracting a considerable audience. However whether the
audience will actually follow what is discussed or lectured is the
question in focus. Rathnakara concentrates on this issue, and maintains
that both the lecturer and the audience should be vigilant from the
beginning to end.
Rathnakara’s lectures interestingly contains creative dialogues to
convey the message impressively. The conversation with Ven. Arahath
Maliyadeva creatively conveys the Buddhist interpretation of the
The book is published to mark the 70th birthday of the author, and
indeed portrays his maturity. However, the lectures are transliterated
almost as they are without editing. The mixture of the spoken and
written mediums appear here and there, harming the coherence of the
language flow. The best way to communicate a deep message is to respect
the language coherence. This error, we hope, will not happen in the
Ma Visin Mese Asana Ladi, save the mentioned goof, is a resourceful
guide for the leisure student of Buddhism.