Poson: The gentle spiritual awakening
“Samanas (monks) are we, Oh
great king, disciples of the King of Truth (the Buddha). From
compassion towards thee are we come from Jambudipa (India).”
- Mahawamsa, Chapter 14
The word Poson makes the soul of Sri Lankans resonate with spiritual
vibration. This sacred Full Moon Poya day is intimately associated with
an unparalleled gentle revolution in the religious annals of mankind.
The Mihintale Aloka Pooja is conducted by the Associated
Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. annually
The story of this profound transformation is replete with rivetingly
We can vividly picture the series of impactful events that took place
on that revolutionary Poson Day, nearly 2,250 years ago.
Though centuries have passed since the day of that momentous episode,
we still conjure the series of events that took place on that occasion.
The monarch of the land, a devoted Hindu ruler at that time, had
declared Poson day a national holiday, by royal decree. King Devanampiya
Tissa was routinely perpetuating the tradition of observing the Poson
Full Moon Day as the occasion of the annual spring festival.
The scene shifts to the wooded plain under the shadow of the rock
that rose skywards from the surrounding forest. Located about eight
miles to the east of the capital city, Anuradhapura, this forested land
was the chosen hunting ground of the Monarch.
On this festive day, he conducted his royal chase in this wooded
region, well-known for its extensive mango groves. Accompanied by a
retinue of about 40,000 men, the Royal Hunter rushed through the wood,
armed with a bow and arrows, pursuing a stag he had targeted. (Even
while at chase, the Royal Hunter was alert to the proper ethics of the
game.) Seeing that the animal he targeted was eating, he thought it
unseemly to kill it when it was preoccupied.
The King thrummed his bow-string. The stag, alerted to the danger,
started running for its life. It is only then that the King gave it
chase, involved fully and totally in the spirit of the game.
Suddenly, his concentration was shattered by someone calling out to
him by his first name “Tissa”. This disturbed him to the depth and core
of his soul, as there was no one who could call him that intimately.
When he looked around, he beheld a solitary saffron-clad, shaven-headed
individual, standing on the rock. In a trice, five more persons appeared
before him, as if by some miracle. Awed by this vision, the King stood
there, very much nonplussed by it. Then, in a serene and subdued tone,
the saffron-clad stranger, Arahant Mahinda indicated the purpose of
their compassionate mission.
King of Righteousness
“Mighty King, we are the disciples of the King of Righteousness – the
Supreme Buddha. We have arrived in compassion towards you.”
At those calmly intoned, disarmingly soothing words, the weapons of
the chase in the hands of the Royal Hunter fell, involuntarily as it
were, to the ground. He knelt before the saintly sage, instantly
changed. Thus, shunning weapons became our cultural hallmark.
Mihintale, where Arahant Mahinda arrived
The seething thoughts of harming life left King Devanampiya Tissa’s
mind. His heart and soul were cleansed. Love and compassion dominated
his personality. He was ready to embrace the doctrine of non-violence
and love for all beings. Sudden enlightenment dawned upon him.
A sense of guilt assailed his inner-self. In that transforming
moment, he became an ardent devotee of the Buddhist faith, ready even to
offer his whole kingdom to the dispensation of the Buddha.
Such swift and comprehensive changes from evil to total goodness –
between one breath and another as it were – are indeed rare in the
progress of human spirituality. King Devanampiya Tissa possessed a
mindset inclined towards the timeless teachings of the Tathagatha,
because of the salutary influence of Emperor Asoka – the Righteous of
From that moment on, Sri Lanka inherited a gentle, compassionate
spirituality that has made this sacred island enshrine the eternal human
values upheld by the Buddha. Buddhism, introduced so dramatically by
Arahant Mahinda, to the wise King Devanampiya Tissa, has given our
indigenous culture its characteristic ethos.
On that historic Poson Day, Arahant Mahinda held the first IQ test in
Sri Lanka’s recorded history, to assess the Monarch’s intellectual
agility, to assure himself that the ruler possessed the potentiality to
imbibe the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. The great Arahant was
convinced that he did.
In historical hindsight, it becomes starkly clear that the Great
Missionary Emperor Dharmasoka (Asoka the Righteous) had a remarkable
awareness of Sri Lanka’s lasting role as the custodian of Buddhism.
He supervised a second crowning of King Devanampiya Tissa. He sent
his son, daughter, and two grandsons to strengthen the Buddhist culture
of our land.
He gifted us a sapling of the Sacred Bodhi Tree, sent along with his
daughter Theri Sanghamitta. Craftsmen skilled in a variety of
specialised tasks formed part of the Theri’s retinue.
One cannot help but wonder, whether there was any crucial reason for
Emperor Asoka to lavish all these unparalleled privileges upon us.
As a missionary emperor, he sent spiritual emissaries to many great
realms, but, those personalities did not possess the high stature of his
family members sent to Sri Lanka.
Why? What set off these special privileges?
The formal history of Emperor Asoka’s life is not quite clear about
his last days.