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Binara poya

Lamp of Dhamma lit at Vajiraramaya

The history of Sri Lanka’s Buddha Sasana reveals the immense contribution made by learned monks, scholars, erudite Buddhist missionaries and other public-conscious bhikkus in spreading the Dhamma in this country and overseas during a period of 2,300 years.

Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha

Among these members of the Sangha were language scholars, artists, sculptors and talented writers. Furthermore our history records the services of monks who guided kings, prime ministers and ministers in protecting and strengthening the Sasana. It is their noble efforts that have made it possible for us to live in this world today with our heads held high. We experienced an extremely dangerous decline in our values during the past three to four centuries of Western colonial rule. However we were fortunate during this period to have among us heroic and brave venerable bhikkus of the calibre of Walane Sri Siddhartha, Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Weligama Sri Sumangala, Ratmalane Sri Dhamarama, Waskaduwe Sri Subhoothi, Migettuwatte Gunananda, Pelaene Sri Vajiragnana, Kalukondayawe Sri Pragnasekera and Henpitagedera Gnanaseeha who in the latter part of our history enlightened the Buddhist clergy and laity and gave them the correct leadership.

The most Venerable Aggamaha Panditha Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake, who passed away five years ago, was another great monk who walked on the same path with firm determination. He was a noble Mahanayake with a high knowledge of the Dhamma and an equally high moral standard. He was a bhikku having extreme patience. He faced brickbats and bouquets with equanimity. Meeting challenges without fear he went forward to secure his noble objectives. The Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha also played a leading role in strengthening Buddhist power through the ‘Bauddha Balawegaya’ organised by L. H. Mettananda during the government take over of schools in the 1960s. When delivering sermons and during discussions, the Venerable Mahanayake always stressed the unity of Buddhists and harmony among Buddhists throughout the world. He actively encouraged Buddhists in this direction.

It is very significant that the Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake who did such a great service never got involved in party politics. For this reason he earned the full respect of all Buddhists. These qualities were a result of the intelligent way that his teacher the Venerable Pelaene Sri Vajiragnana trained his pupils. The bhikkus who resided at the Vajiraramaya in Bambalapitiya in the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s were noble bhikkus who won the hearts and minds of all those who visited the temple. The Ven. Vajiragnana too by his impressive personality, his manner of speech and writing reflected the qualities of the great and noble monks that figure in Buddhist literature.

It is to his credit that the Ven. Vajiragnana was able to guide his pupils on the same path. Every one of these student monks was well-built, good-looking and serene in appearance. Their friendly mannerisms, oratory skills and knowledge of the Dhamma attracted visitors to the temple. Among them was the Ven. Vagiragnana’s chief pupil the most Venerable Narada who was a leading Buddhist missionary, well-known both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

It was the Venerable Narada who at the request of Sir D. B. Jayatilleke and D. S. Senanayake - following discussions with the Ven. Vajiragnana - who went to settle a conflict among Sri Lankan soldiers who had been recruited by the British authorities to serve in Singapore during World War II. Not only was the Ven. Narada able to settle the crisis but also succeeded in establishing a Buddhist temple - Sri Lankaramaya - with the help of Singaporean and Sinhala Buddhists. The chief contributors to the maintenance of the Sri Lankaramaya are the Sri Lankan Buddhist laity and clergy. Even today the temple continues to serve the needs of Buddhists all over the world.

In addition to the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha, the other venerable bhikkus who brought fame to Vajiraramaya were Kamburugamuwe Mahanama, Ampitiye Rahula, Denipitiye Sumanasiri, Naotunne Gunasiri, Gorakane Chandima, Nuwara Eliye Pannananda, English scholars Soma and Kheminda (both Colombo Chettys), Bope Vinitha, Pelaene Rohana, several German monks, Kassapa who was a English doctor of medicine in lay life and the, well-known orator Piyadassi.

The greatness of the Ven. Pelaene Vajiragnana’s contribution is proved furthermore by the services of three other Vajiraramaya resident monks Venerable Weligama Sri Gnanaratana Mahanayake, Ven. Dr. Mirisse Gunasiri and Ven. Kapugama Sumanawansa.

It is the noble qualities of these monks that made the Vajiraramaya a leading establishment of the Sangha that helped to foster the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. The Ven. Kassappa guided foreign visitors and debated over the mass media on Buddhist practices and ethics.

When Nepal’s Juddha Samsher Rana misled the country’s king and got him to deport Buddhist monks, Venerable Mirisse Gunasiri, Venerable Piyadassi and Venerable Mahanama led by Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha - under the instructions of Pelaene Vajiragnana - visited Nepal and met the Nepalese king to solve the problem. As a result of the discussions the Nepalese bhikkus were granted permission to return to their country.

History records that during China’s liberation struggle led by Mao Ze Dong, the Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha as a young bhikku led a delegation of Sri Lankan monks to that country at the request of Chinese Buddhists and solved their problems amidst many difficulties. The delegation comprised Weligama Gnanaratana, Mirisse Gunasiri, Piyadassi of Vajirarama and Pamburana Mahanama.

The Vajiraramaya also issued small Dhamma publications including the monthly Bauddha Lamaya (Buddhist Child). Branches and sub branches of the Vajiraramaya were established both in Sri Lanka and overseas.

It is a great example to future generations of Buddhists - both the laity and clergy - that a statue of the late Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake (who did a gigantic service to the cause of Buddhism, the Sasana and the nation for around 70 years and rose to the highest position of the Amarapura Sri Dharmarakshita Sect) is put up at the premises of the Vajiraramaya.

After being the President of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabhawa he was also honoured with the title of Supreme Mahanayake of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya. Universities of this country and foreign Sangha Councils too honoured him for the great services he rendered to the cause of Buddhism and bringing fame to the Sangha Sasana of this country.

May Aggamaha Panditha and Vidya Visharada Madihe Pannaseeha be reborn in Sri Lanka.

The birth of Bhikkhuni Sasana

Of all Full Moon Poya days, which falls during the rainy season, Binara is of very special significance. During this period, members of the Buddhist Sangha observe the Disciplinary Code laid down by the Gautama Buddha. The Bhikkhus spend most of their time in meditation.

The beginning of the Bhikkuni Sasana was also recorded on Binara Full Moon Poya day. Meditation is one of the three major components of the Buddhist way; the other two being Morality or precept keeping which precedes and must always accompany the activity of Meditation and Wisdom, which is reached as a result of meditation.

The western reader is liable to misunderstand what Meditation means. They might imagine that it implies a ‘Relaxed’ and ‘Inactive’ state. In Buddhist view, Meditation is an activity in which one is engaged in subduing discursive thought, destroying or discouraging unwholesome mental states and initiating or nourishing wholesome mental states. If you analyze, there are two basic kinds of meditative practice.

The first, the development of concentration, where we give the mind a single object and rest there. It is called samatha. The second kind is the development of mindful awareness, in which we use the tranquillity that arises from concentration in order to see the impermanent, changing nature of all our experience. This is known as Vipassana.

What is the goal of Meditation? Well the goal of meditation is to become like a Buddha.

As Buddhists the last thing most people want to be. They are not interested in anything religious or spiritual.

They want peace of mind in mid of their everyday life and work. Meditation can be considered as a soothing balm to mind. It keeps you mentally and physically healthy.

The monks show undefiled devotion to Dhamma and observe the Vinaya Rules or the Code of Conduct keeping with sanctity of the occasion. The Bhikkhus spend most of their time in meditation. They are particularly concerned with their inner participation and mental development. They firmly believe that it will help them attain their ultimate goal their ultimate seal - ‘The Deathless State of Nibbana’.

It is during the month of Binara, the monks go to the Blessed One and obtain suitable subject for Meditation.

During the period, members of the Sangha, stay indoors as it is the rainy season and perform their special monastic rituals and attended to many religious ceremonies, meditate, deliver sermons, and engaged in meritorious and social activities.

The Ariyawansa Sutta epitomizes the exemplary life expected of a Monk and the Sutta is considered as the lifeblood of the Monks. According to the great commentator Buddhaghosa, Ariyawansa Sutta gives the whole of Buddhist Teachings in a nutshell.

The Peerless Buddha, often stated that the entire Dhamma can be summarized and condensed into Four Noble Truths.

Bhikkuni Order and Prajapati Gothami

When the Blessed One was residing at Nigrodharamaya in the city of Kapilavasthu, Mahaprajapathi Gothami, approached the Enlightened One, and requested permission for women to enter the Order. The Blessed One, turned down the request thrice. Mahaprajapathi Gothami, was the sister of Queen Mahamaya. She brought up Siddhartha, after Mahamaya died.

The Buddha left Kapilavasthupura, proceeded to the city of Vesali and resided at Kutagara. In the meantime, Mahaprajapathi Gothami, with 500 wives of princes, shaved their heads, wore yellow robes, met venerable Ananda Thero and humbly requested him to speak to the Blessed One to grant them permission to enter the Bhikkuni Order. Once again, Buddha turned down their request made by Ananda Thero.

As the Dharmabandagarika Ananda Thero consistently appealed to Buddha. Ultimately the Blessed One granted permission for Prajapathi Gothami and her 500 companions to enter the Order.

The permission was granted on Binara Full Moon Poya Day to womenfolk to enter the sasana. Thus Prajapathi Gothami became the first Bhikkuni in Buddhism with the five hundred Princesses.

Garu Dharma

It was after laying down strict rules and regulations, known as garudharma ata, the Blessed One granted permission to the womenfolk to enter the Order.

A nun attained higher order even 100 years ago, should worship and honour a Bhikku sans the date of his seniority; no Bhikkuni should engage in or perform Vas in an area where there are no Bhikkhus; the Bhikkunis should observe Poya rituals with the consultation of Bhikkhus, at the end of Vas or Rainy Retreat, Bhikkuni should end the Rainy Retreat in the presence of Bhikkus and Bhikkunisi; A novice Bhikkuni, should gain higher ordination in front of Bhikkunis, only after a trainings period of One year; she is entitled to obtain Higher Ordination; Bhikkunis should not advice Bhikkhus. Bhikkhunis should not advice Bhikkhus, but Bhikkus can advise Bhikkunis. These are the Garudharma that Bhikkunis should follow.

It was monk Ananda, one of the ten great disciples of Buddha, who explained the above conditions to Mahaprajapathi Gothami and stated “If you accept these conditions, the Blessed one will grant permission to initiate the Bhikkuni Sasanaya or Order.”

Mahaprajapathi Gothami facing the direction of the Blessed One, made this announcement.

“Venerable Sir just as young women and men would bathe and adorn themselves with garlands of Jasmine, so do I, most respectfully accept all those conditions laid down by the Blessed One.” With the advent of Emperor Asoka’s daughter Sanghamitta, to Sri Lanka, the Bhikkuni Sasanaya was established.

Sangamitta Therani, brought the sapling of the Jayasirimaha Bodhi from the parent tree from India, under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment 2596 year ago, during king Devanampiyatissa reign (237 - 277).

The Bo-Trees ficus religiosa belong to the genus fig of the Botanical family Maraceae. The word Bo is terminology, derived from the Pali word Bodhi signifying holiness, because it was under a Bo tree that Gauthama Buddha attained the Supreme Enlightenment.

Queens Mahamaya and Pajapathi

This marks the Buddha’s encounter with two most important women in his life: queens Mahamaya and Prajapathi. Mahamaya was a god in Thusitha heavens listening to her son delivering Abhidhamma. Prajapathi Gothami was the first woman to approach the Buddha on forming the Bhikkhuni, nun, order.

Prajapathi was the Buddha’s maternal aunt who raised him following his mother Mahamaya’s death. Death of her husband, King Suddhodana, made Pajapati think of leaving the worldly life. She was already a Sotapanna, and was waiting for an opportunity talk the Buddha around to establish the Bhikkhuni order.

The Buddha was in Kapilavatthu to intervene in a fight between Sakyans and Kolyans on right of water from Rohini river. Following the settlement, the Buddha preached the Kalahavivada Sutta which made 500 young men join the order. Their wives were ready to support Pajapathi’s cause.

The Buddha turned down Pajapathi’s plea, arousing mistaken concepts about his establishment. The Buddha always stressed the fact the woman can always achieve Nibbana being a laity.

Women entering the monk establishment will lead to more complications. If the monk order has the life span of 10,000 years, the Buddha went on to say, it will go down to 5000 years when women join it.

He likened the Bhikkhuni participation as a house full of women being vulnerable for smugglers. It will disturb the peace of Bhikkhu mind and make path for misuse, mostly.

Pajapathi however was donned with saffron robes followed the Buddha to Vesali on foot. They approached him at least with wounded feet. Monk Ananda interfered at this juncture earning much wrath in future. The Buddha finally granted Pajapathi’s request, with eight monastic conditions.

Question arose later on Pajapathi’s ordination. Nuns declared it is not formal and hence passed up holding any Uposatha, higher ordination, with her. The Buddha then stated Pajapathi’s uposatha is in order since he himself carried it out.

The monk community apparently started with the Buddha who had the authority to do so. With Pajapathi’s request and monk Ananda’s intereference, the Buddha established the Bhikkhuni order. When it comes to discipline, the Buddha seems to have been stricter for the Bhikkhuni by making 311 rules for Bhikkhunis, whereas 227 for Bhikkhus.

West gets to know Theravada

Until the late 19th century, the teachings of Theravada were little known outside of southern Asia, where they had flourished for some two and one-half millennia.

In the past century, however, the West has begun to take notice of Theravada’s unique spiritual legacy in its teachings of Awakening. In recent decades this interest has swelled, with the monastic Sangha from various schools within Theravada establishing dozens of monasteries across Europe and North America.

Increasing numbers of lay meditation centers, founded and operated independently of the monastic Sangha, strain to meet the demands of lay men and women — Buddhist and otherwise — seeking to learn selected aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.

The turn of the 21st century presents both opportunities and dangers for Theravada in the West: Will the Buddha’s teachings be patiently studied and put into practice, and allowed to establish deep roots in Western soil, for the benefit of many generations to come? Will the current popular Western climate of “openness” and cross-fertilization between spiritual traditions lead to the emergence of a strong new form of Buddhist practice unique to the modern era, or will it simply lead to confusion and the dilution of these priceless teachings? These are open questions; only time will tell.

Spiritual teachings of every description inundate the media and the marketplace today. Many of today’s popular spiritual teachings borrow liberally from the Buddha, though only rarely do they place the Buddha’s words in their true context. Earnest seekers of truth are therefore often faced with the unsavory task of wading through fragmentary teachings of dubious accuracy. How are we to make sense of it all?

Fortunately the Buddha left us with some simple guidelines to help us navigate through this bewildering flood. Whenever you find yourself questioning the authenticity of a particular teaching, heed well the Buddha’s advice to his stepmother:

[The teachings that promote] the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome’: You may definitely hold, ‘This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher’s instruction.’

[As for the teachings that promote] the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome’: You may definitely hold, ‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’

— AN 8.53

The truest test of these teachings, of course, is whether they yield the promised results in the crucible of your own heart. The Buddha presents the challenge; the rest is up to you.

A mother’s blessing

Buddha! Hero! Praise be to you!
You foremost among all beings!
You who have released me from pain,
And so many other beings too.
All suffering has been understood.
The source of craving has withered.
Cessation has been touched by me
On the noble eight-fold path.
I’ve been mother and son before;
And father, brother — grandmother too.
Not understanding what was real,
I flowed-on without finding [peace].
But now I’ve seen the Blessed One!
This is my last compounded form.
The on-flowing of birth has expired.
There’s no more re-becoming now.
See the gathering of followers:
Putting forth effort, self controlled,
Always with strong resolution
—This is how to honor the Buddhas!
Surely for the good of so many
Did Maya give birth to Gotama,
Who bursts asunder the mass of pain
Of those stricken by sickness and death.

 - Andrew Oldendzki


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