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Thursday, 18 August 2011






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Hatred-free mind, free of discomforts

Agga Maha Panditha Most Venerable Bellana Gnanawimala Thera is interviewed by the Daily News Buddhist Spectrum on timely topics related to the Dhamma.

Agga Maha Panditha Most Venerable
Bellana Gnanawimala Thera

Q: Should a Buddhist stick to a vegetarian diet?

A: Killing a living being is a violation of the first precept. As the Buddha said an individual's consumption of meat cannot be considered a sin if the person is not involved with the killing of that animal. Depending on the fulfillment of the following three conditions an individual may consume meat.

1. If you did not see the animal being slaughtered for your consumption.

2. If you did not hear that the animal was slaughtered for your consumption.

3. If it is not implied in anyway that the animal was killed for you, and you did not have even the slightest impression about it.

Monks have to depend on what is offered to them as alms. Imagine a situation where I was offered a meat curry at an alms-giving. Here neither I was involved with the killing nor was I aware that I'll be offered a meat curry as a part of my alms. In such an instance it cannot be called a sin.

The issue had been extensively discussed in the Vinaya books, the Discipline Code. During the time of the Buddha one of the Vinaya rules Devatdatta Thera wanted the Buddha to impose on the Sangha was to prohibit meat consumption. The Buddha did not agree with him. The reason is that monks cannot prepare their own meals, but have to depend on what they get while going on alms rounds (Pindapatha). They cannot choose their own food.

Q: Practising Metta meditation properly is said to bring immense benefits. How should one make use of it when dealing with difficult and ill mannered people in society?

A: The power of Metta is unlimited. Metta is a feeling of compassion born in your mind which is being felt by the person on whom you bestow it. If you develop compassion towards your enemy, that person's level of hatred will begin to cease gradually. You have to practise this methodically. Merely reciting verses won't do.

According to the Buddhist Literature the infuriated elephant Nalagiri was tamed by the Buddha with the power of extreme compassion.

Imagine a situation where you want to guide a person who has induldged in bad behaviour back to the right path. However unpleasant his/her sight might be, you should treat him with compassion and should always wish for his/her success. To observe good results you should create a practice routine. By continuously doing so you may be able to see a positive change in that person. Even in a situation where your subject is not in your close proximity, positive results could be observed by developing extreme compassion towards him/her.

Q: Anger management is a must when living in a society where you meet different types of people. But we often observe people getting into quarrels even over petty issues.

If you develop compassion towards your enemy, that personís level of hatred will begin to cease gradually

A: Mind is the fore-runner of all the conditions. You should always position yourself in the mind of the person who gets subjected to harassment and then you will understand what as unpleasant experience it is to be a victim of somebody else's anger. Just as you do not like to get harassed the other person too would not like it. Take yourself as an example and do not hurt others.

If someone is trying to harass or hurt you, try not to develop hatred towards him. Just think that h/she would have been your relative or close friend in one of your previous births which would mean it is not proper do bear malice towards him/her even though that person is harsh on you.

Out-of-control anger can lead to stress and other health hazards such as high blood pressure.

Q: Most of the time, the devotees do not know the meaning of the sutras they recite as they are in Pali. Will this bring the maximum results?

A: Knowing the meaning of what you recite will definitely bring better results. However even if you do not know the full meaning of the Gathas or Pirith, it will bring results when you recite or chant them with great veneration.

Q: Family Planning Methods are used by most families to limit the number of children born. What is the Buddhist interpretation?

A: Destroying a living being is a sin. Here what is done is controlling the chances of conception. It cannot be considered a sin.

Q: However if all resort to these birth-control methods would it not have a negative effect?

A: Not to a great extent. If there is a hindrance in one place the Gandhabbha will choose another womb.

Education of the Buddhist monks

University is the seat of higher learning for the youth. Is it so for the young Buddhist monks too? One of the principal developments that caused harm immensely to the community of Buddhist monks is the admission of them into the universities which are dominated by lay students and their activities. While we regret and lament over this historical and educational blunder we should condemn every administration that followed for failure to have taken steps to rectify this mistake in the name of Buddhism the greatest gift we as Sri Lankans do could offer to the world at large.

The students monks cannot be categorized on par with the lay students because each belongs to a different group of discipline with the monks ranking above the rest in all aspects that ensures a morally exemplary character. Their mental discipline, physical conduct and public life is determined by the Vinaya rules which are far superior to those which are applicable to the layman's discipline. The relevant Vinaya rules develop them into a category of men of a class of their own which is superior to the disposition expected of the lay student.

Adherence to Vinaya rules is a challenge, and non-commitment to respect them, indiscipline is inevitable. And, when they are made to move freely with the lay students, both male and female whose code of discipline is less rigourous, the monks when moving freely, naturally the tendency would be to turn out to be laymen in robes. The subjects both groups of students study could be common to all, but how they should conduct themselves in certain areas is wide apart and the path they have to take too, is different.

If the government or the society allow the monks to degenerate themselves into a low lay-level discipline with which we are familiar today, it would be disastrous to the spiritual development of the people whose conduct and character should be moulded by the religion they believe in.

Sangha is one of the three gems of refuge, the Buddhists take shelter. However, the Sangha whom we honour and worship as one of the triple gems does not include the 'Sammatha Sangha' whom we meet in the campus or in the temples, but the 'Arya Sangha' meaning the Arahants.

They are those who have reach the last lap in their sansaric (cycle of births) journey. The former category of the Sangha in general, is a symbolic representation of the latter realized through leading a righteous life in their role as the Buddhist clergy. University is not the ideal ground where this development or goal could be realized.

The subjects the Buddhist monks should study should be those which enrich themselves in the knowledge and practice of the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma rules in the Vinaya Pitakaya. If they are to select subjects the way the laymen do select subjects as they have to seek jobs and bring up a family, the unique distinct moral and social existence of the monks will disappear from their disposition.

They should learn Buddhism and Pali at their highest standard together with such subjects as History, Buddhist civilization, English and other main religions. Then they will be intellectually equipped to meet the moral, spiritual and social challenges they have got to face in society.

To be continued

The Buddha, the greatest psychologist

The Buddha has declared that the human mind is luminous (pabahassaram), but it is defiled by intrusive (ugantukehi) defilements (Anguttara Nikaya). In the Dhammapada it is stated that in every human action the mind is the forerunner (Mano pubbangama Dhamma-Mano setta manomaya).

"O Monks, this subconscious mind is radiant, clear and lucid. It gets contaminated with the blemishes that come from outside", declared the Buddha (in Anguttara Nikaya).

There is no entity that is greater or more powerful than the mind. All the wonders and the so called miracles and scientific developments are the achievements of developed minds. Buddhists believe that the state of supreme bliss (Nibbana) too is a mental phenomena, a state of mind that arises when craving has been totally eradicated from the mind.

But according to Buddhism to be a perfect human being there are two important qualities that should be inculcated. These are compassion or loving kindness and wisdom or a heart cooled with compassion and ignorance being dispelled by wisdom. In brief one should extend loving kindness to all beings and one should have a perfect knowledge of all disciplines that are essential for life.

The Buddha never asked his disciples and the followers to perform magical deeds or miracles. Once when the Buddha was in the mango grove Pavarika, near Nalanda a householder called Kevaddha informed the Buddha that the people of Nalanda would admire if His disciples could perform some miracles. The Buddha offered him a straightforward reply and declared.

"Kevaddha, I never ask my disciples to perform miracles demonstrating higher mental power for the benefit of the ordinary layman." It is said that Kevaddha requested the Buddha thrice and the Buddha declined thrice. It is well-known what the Buddha told his disciples who have seen an ascetic who walked over water to cross a river. The Buddha asked the ferryman who worshipped the Buddha after returning from a trip across the river "How much do you charge as your fare?"

The ferryman replied that he charges half a masaka (Addhamasakka) which is a coin of low value. The Buddha turned to his disciples who wanted the Buddha to do a miracle and declared. "The ascetic's miracle is worth half a masaka. He could have mortified his body for a long period of time to achieve that yogic power. Why should I waste my valuable time that I have to use for the well-being of the people to perform a task that is worth only half a masaka? (Sarada, 1998). He declared that every person is a potential Buddha.

His advice is for self-development without depending on a third party development. Further the Buddha extolled the importance of observing the principle of practicing four treasures of giving namely making donations (dana), gentle speech (priya vachanaya), equality (Samanathmathawaya) and economic effort (Artha chariyava) in day-to-day lively activities. A Buddhist has to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, be aware of the three key features (Impermanence, suffering and soullessness) of life and the five laws (Pancha Niyama) of existence while contemplating on the law of causation (Patticca Sammupada) and engage in meditation for striving towards Nibbana by eliminating all evil.

The greatness of the Buddha lies in another aspect as He respected the freedom of the human mind. The Buddha has declared that one should not believe in anything simply because one has heard of it, it has been handed down from generation to generation (tradition and convention), because others believe in it, it is documented in religious books, or as told by ones teachers, elders and those in authority. One should observe and analyze by ones own effort and mind reason it out to accept or to reject it. This issue is well described in Anguttara Nikaya.

Most revered Dalada

The Dalada was brought to Lanka in the ninth year of the reign of Kithsirimevan. Since then the Dalada perahera has been held annually for about one thousand seven hundred years up to now uninterrupted. Even during periods of invasions from Soli, Pandi, Kerala, Portuguese, Dutch, English and the JVP insurrection the perahera pageant was held observing the customs, traditions and rituals associated with this event.

The ancient view of Dalada Maliga

Though there are various other relics of the Buddha enshrined in several dagabas or pagodas throughout the island, there is no other relic of the Buddha that is held in such veneration and respect as the Tooth Relic in Senkadagala. Why is the Tooth Relic held in such veneration and a holy object by the Buddhists throughout the world. The sanctity it commands and deserves is due to many unique qualities of this sacred object.

Unique features

It is a common and accepted belief that it has divine powers. When there were prolonged droughts the ancient kings invoked the blessings of the Dalada to bring rains. History records of instances when the kings made offerings and fasts to bring rains. Even during the British rule an occasion is recorded where the Mahaweli was flooded and the devotees from Harispattu areas were unable to cross the river to come to Senkadagala. During the Dambadeniya Parakamabahu's reign the Tooth Relic performed a miracle by rising in the sky drawing the attention of the king and the people and finally settling down in a golden bowl offered by the king.

Queen Sugala

The relics showered its rays at this moment as mentioned in the Mahawansa. It was the belief among the Lankans that the ruler of the time should be the custodian of the Relic. No ruler who was not the custodian of the Relic was accepted as their king. When Maha Parakramabahu was the king in Polonnaruwa, Queen Sugala escaped to Rohana with the Tooth Relic. Parakramabahu's army recovered the relic near Ethimale in the present Moneragala electorate and the king held his second coronation having the relics in his possession and thus gaining people's acceptance as their king.

This is the reason why successive kings took the relics to their custody. When the kingdom changed to Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Kotte and Senkadagala the relic was taken to these capitals and kept in a Dalada Maligawa built for this purpose. The ruins of these edifices could be seen even today. With the Dalada we inherited a building architecture. Watadage, atadage, hetadage, etc are some of these architectural remains. The Sinhala language and literature was enriched with writings such as Dalada Siritha. Lord Buddha's palate and jaw are unique, in that no other human being had forty teeth in the dentition except the Buddha. All these teeth were uniquely and symmetrically positioned according to Budugunalankaraya.

While human teeth are identified as incisors, canines, molars and pre-molars, Lord Buddha's super human being teeth, are identified as sukla danta, chattarisath danta, sama danta and avivara danta. Naraseeha gatha confirms this.

Because of his teeth when the Buddha preaches he emanates a pleasant and soothing melody. The is the Brahmaswara Lakshana.

Buddha's blessings bestowed long life to God Sakka when he was nearing his life span. This incident is described in Seul Sandesaya.

It is believed that the gods and all celestial beings came daily to Kotte Dalada Maligawa to worship the Tooth Relic. Such are the divine powers of this holy object of worship which occupies the foremost position among the Buddha's relics which has won the acceptance of the Buddhists world over.

Journey to Senkadagala

Selalihini Sandesaya says it is the Buddha's teeth that first feels the blessings of the oral preachings of Dhamma by the Lord Buddha.

Many attempts were made by foreign invaders to capture the relic and keep in their possession by foreign powers, but all such attempts were foiled by our ancestors.

The tooth relic was brought to Abayagiri Vihara in Anuradhapura during the ninth year of the reign of Kithsirimevan (303-331 BC). The left tooth relic of the Buddha was in possession of king Guhaseeva of Kalinga Desh, now Orissa. When the king faced a threat of invasion by a rival he sent the relics to his friend Mahasen who was the king of Lanka at the time with his daughter Hemamala and son-in-law Prince Dantha.

When the relics arrived here Mahasen was dead and his son received the relics, who kept the sacred object in Abhayagiri Vihare and annually held the Dalada Perahera which has now become an annual religious pageant during the past one thousand seven hundred odd years.

There is no other Esala pageant that can be equal to this supreme and unique religio-cultural pageant held in the Senkadagala kingdom. From the time that the country was freed from Maga invasion by Bodiraja of Galahitiyawa in the present Udadumbara who assumed kingship as Wijayabahu III in 1232 AD the successive kings who protected the Tooth Relic in Beligala Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Kotte and finally in Senkadagala, Weera Parakramabahu Narendrasinghe of Kundasale up to 1749 for a period of over five hundred years are from Dumbara which is today divided as Uda Dumbara, Patha Dumbara, Meda Dumbara, etc for administrative purposes.

Dalada perahera

The festival season of the Sinhala starts with the month of Bhagiya (luck) month of Bak which is today the month of April. It is the month in which farmers collect the harvests of grains such as paddy, millet (kurahan - eleusine coralana), meneri (penicum miliare), Indian corn (zea mays or iringu) etc. and store them for future use. It is in this month that we celebrate the Sinhala/Hindu new year festival.

To be continued



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