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DateLine Sunday, 11 May 2008





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Government Gazette

‘Evam me sutan’:

‘Thus have I heard...’

“Buddhism is not merely a religion, it is also a whole civilisation, with its historical background, its literature and art, and philosophy, its institutions, social, political and educational, and its code of ethical conduct”

- Dr. G.P Malalasekera

With only seven days left for Vesak, with the structures of pandols beginning to obscure the billboards, with hitherto never seen young men arriving on your doorstep to demand donations for religious events, with massive banners claiming there will be the biggest dansal ever, here there and everywhere it is hard to stifle the question, how best should Vesak be celebrated?

The path to holiness Pic Nisansala Karunaratne

Religious traditions are, by their very nature, complex. In a sense the physical involvements of constructing pandols, conducting dansal often with the organizers forcibly throwing yellow coloured liquid down your throat, give meaning to the most commonplace human needs and symbolize the highest aspirations of the human spirit.

Yet, this should not be so. Rev. Prof. Kollupitiye Mahinda Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Kelany temple dismisses these celebrations connected with the secular world as “conventions” which are less important when compared to following the teachings of the Buddha.

He says, in simple terms everyone should eradicate three factors - desire, hatred and ignorance which can easily be done by observing the five percepts. “Lord Buddha mentioned repeatedly that we do not have any differences among us. He emphasized “oneness of society” and every Buddhist should follow this doctrine not only during Vesak but throughout the year.” says Rev. Prof. Mahinda Thera.

Bhikkuni Vijitha Nanda of the Sakyadeepa Meditation Centre, Panadura expresses the same view. She believes on Vesak full moon poya day Buddhists should go to the temple and purify their minds of anger, jealousy, revenge and see every human being as one’s kinsman.

“Going to the temple to simply light a lamp is not enough” says Bhikkuni Nanda. “One should look at the bo leaves and discipline one’s thoughts in the same way the Buddha defeated thanha, rathi, raga”.

Bhikkuni Kusuma the first and foremost among female monks in Theravada Buddhism in the country, defining Nibbana as the defeat of all attachments says the aim of every Buddhist should be that of reaching Nibbana.

She believes that on Vesak day everyone should try and overcome the concepts of the “me and the I and the ego”. “It is wrong to believe the “me and the I and the ego will come to an end with one’s death. It does not end there.

When you are born again, the me and the I and the ego come back. The best way you can overcome this is through Vipassana”. She quotes the greatest message of the Buddha as “Sabba papassa akaranam - kusalassa upasampada ..”

Engineer turned Buddhist scholar P Amaratunge too says what is important is to live according to the Dhamma preached by the Buddha and adds even though it is good to feed the hungry on Vesak day often this is not the case and it is the affluent who frequent the stalls distributing free food.

Dr. Raj Somadeva, Senior Lecture at the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology recalls the Vesak celebrations of the past by saying according to historical, as well as archaeological evidence, there were no celebrations at all in times of yore.

“There may have been special events held in the main monasteries to mark the Vesak full moon poya day and some kings may have organized a perahara or two but the common man had no time for Vesak celebrations.

His time was totally taken up with tilling the land and living in a feudal society he would never have gone to the temple even on a full moon poya day.” Dr. Somadeva believes the conventions of going to the temple, observing the five percepts etc, came much later in our history.

Dr. Priyanka Baddevithana, who has a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Kelaniya, explains, ‘Vesak’ is a word which has its roots in the Indian month of Sakai and is the most important day in the Buddhist calendar, being the full-moon day of the month, Vaisaka. Many cultural rituals and processions are woven into its celebration usually spanning for two or more days following the full moon day”.

According to Dr. Baddevithana “the three auspicious events celebrated by Buddhists the world over are the birth of Prince Siddhartha, his enlightenment to become Gautama Buddha his passing away, which share this day in the lunar calendar followed from ancient times in India.

“The three events occurred in India at Buddha Gaya, Lumbini and Kushinara respectively and the Buddhists celebrate the event of birth in a grand way by decorating their homes, temples and streets with bright illumination, and colourful lanterns.

The second event of enlightenment is celebrated with huge illuminated pandols depicting events before and after supreme enlightenment of the Buddha at major places of public gathering where people congregate in colourful clothing.

The third event is celebrated by observing eight precepts clad in simple white robes at temples where universal compassion of the Buddha and the higher canonical knowledge imparted are contemplated, discussed and meditated “.

It is hard not to wonder if the Buddha had rejected excesses or over-indulgence of sensual pleasures as they are not conducive to human happiness if these three great events should be celebrated through religious activities in a festive mood. Dr. Baddevithana has the answer.

“Vesak should not be commercialized, but those making a living with art and culture should be given a sober opportunity to use their talents and improve their economic condition in the spirit of vesak.

“Equanimity, serenity and bliss are associated with Buddhist wisdom and the three most auspicious events for Buddhists of the world should be according to the great teachings of the one who has dispelled the darkness of ignorance from his mind with the light of knowledge to eliminate all defilements and showed us the path to achieving the highest purpose of human existence”.

And so, with seven days left to celebrate Vesak “Evam me suthan...Thus have I heard....”


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas

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