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Sunday, 15 May 2011

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Sambuddhatva Jayanthi:

Ushering in a revival of Buddhism



The Buddha visiting Kelaniya

Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gauthama Buddha, the blossom of humanity, unfolded to the universe the greatest truth of life. He clearly stated the fundamental laws that govern the universe and sansaric existence.

The truth He discovered and His entire philosophy were directed towards bringing about a meaningful transformation in human life.

His message of Dhamma and the code of ethics that He offered helped mankind reap the benefits of their existence, until they ceased to exist, after reaching Nibbana, the ultimate goal.

We, Sri Lankans should be proud and happy that this paradise isle of ours had the good fortune of being blessed with the supreme gift of the Buddha, His doctrine and the message of the Dhamma. Ever since, the island came to be a Dharmadweepa with the teachings of the Buddha shaping the destiny and future of the country.

The earliest chronicles give a vivid description of the sacred visits of the Sakyamuni Gauthama Buddha to Sri Lanka, long before the introduction of His doctrine here. These visits are considered the greatest gift to this land, relating the most miraculous events during the time of the Buddha, which in a way is more important than anything else.

The soil of Lanka has been sanctified and blessed by the Buddha on several occasions, as clearly supported by historical as well as archaeological evidence.

Modern scholars such as Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera, Dr. E.W. Adikaram, Martin Wickramasingha and Prof. Ralph Buultjens are of the view that Buddhism was known in this island much earlier and that Sri Lanka was the only country to preserve the original form of Buddhism, coming director from the Buddha's time.

Each visit of the Great Master occupies a unique place in the history of the island as one that brought about peace and harmony among the inhabitants.

Over the years, Buddhism had taken root firmly as a great faith and a remarkable philosophy and blossomed and flourished for over 2,600 years.

Preserved and practised


Maha Parinibbana

The Buddha well and truly knew that His Dhamma will be preserved and practised in Sri Lanka better than in any other country.

His vision and foresight have made this prediction a reality, culminating in the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi this year. History records that when Lord Sakra, the chief of gods, visited the Buddha prior to His Parinibbana, He had requested God Sakra to safeguard the future Dharmadweepa.

This is clearly stated in Maha Parinibbana Sutta:

Pathithisathi Devinda

Lankaya Mama Sasanam

Thasma Saparivasantham

Rakkan Lakkancha Sasanam

There is reference to the Vijaya episode too, which coincided with the Parinibbana of the Buddha. However, the sanctity and serenity bestowed by Him doing His visits had created a golden era unparalleled in sasanic history. Hence, the Buddha Himself had confirmed the island as a Dharmadweepa - a model centre in the Buddhist world with a solid reputation that spread far and wide in the universe. What more is necessary than the universally accepted fact of Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gauthama calling this island the Dharmadweepa?

The advent of Mahinda Thera, creating a golden era with its vast array of benefits, led the island to be re-identified as a Dharmadweepa in 247BC and thereafter Buddhism flourished with great splendour. The royalty extended their utmost support and patronage to establish Buddhism.

The kings became the benefactors of Buddhism; they donated land, built viharas and embarked on spiritual progress in its entirety. In the glorious Anuradhapura period, the most outstanding were Kings Devanampiyatissa, Pandukabhaya and Dutugemunu, who unified the island and made the greatest contribution to Buddhism, making it the Dharmadweepa.

However, unstable political conditions due to warfare made Buddhism suffer at various times. During the Polonnaruwa period, the Chola rulers certainly did not support Buddhism. It was Parakramabahu, Vijayabahu and Nissanakmalla who could restore Buddhism to its former position.

In 1213 AD, with the Magha invasion and consequent drift of the kingdom to the south-west, Buddhism was deprived of royal patronage and received a setback as never before. Hence, Dharmadweepa faced a very sad situation.

Revival

For the first time in the history of the island, it was a struggle by the people to drive away the foreigners who were completely alien in race, language, religion and culture and who gradually established their superiority over local customs.

To be very brief, during the period of eight kings lasting 153 years, the instability that affected Buddhism was remedied and saved by Welivita Sangharaja Thera to whom the credit goes for the revival and preservation of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

The dark age in the Dharmadweepa continued. To this land, with hardly any respect for Buddhism by the Imperialists, emerged Anagarika Dharmapala with his clarion call, "Awake Sinhala people, save Buddhagaya".

He also inspired and aroused the interest of Westerners in the study of Buddhism with his eloquent address to the Congress of Religions of Chicago in 1891. In addition there were patriots such as Walisinghe Harischandra, John de Silva, well-known novelist Piyadasa Sirisena, Tibetan monk S. Mahinda, Ven. Mohottiwatte Gunananda Thera and Ven. Panadura Sirisumangala Thera.

The publication of Sir Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia was another landmark event. The Panadura Debate aroused the enthusiasm of great personages such as Colonel Henry Steele Olcott and Madam Blavetsky who arrived in the island in May 1880, creating a new chapter in Buddhist education, with the establishment of the Buddhist Theosophical Society.

Together with those mentioned earlier, they became a massive force, providing leadership to the revivalist movement which fought hard to regain the lost Buddhist identity of a Dharmadweepa. Consequently, several Buddhist organisations emerged. In addition to the earlier BTS and Mahabodhi were Colombo YMBA, All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and the Ceylon National Congress.

Their main aim was to rebuild the Dharmadweepa on Buddhist national values and revive the Buddhist tradition, undoing the menace caused by Imperialism. Finally, there was the historic and joyous occasion of gaining Independence with every temple chanting seth pirith, evoking peace and harmony and blessing the Dharmadweepa and its people.

Dawn of a new era

The torch lit by the ancient royalty was carried forward by successive governments of Sri Lanka, preserving the ancient tradition, giving its due place to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, paving the way for the unique occasion of the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi, one of the most anticipated events in the Buddhist world.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa should be hailed as the greatest contributor towards this task, putting an end to chaos, confusion and turmoil created by three decades of terrorism which had been condemned by the entire world. The remarkable achievement, creating tranquillity and harmony for the peaceful co-existence of the people of the Dharmadweepa.

Nobody on earth should deprive the sacred land at this moment of joy, peace and harmony when this Dharmadweepa has its attention focused on this sacred historic event, the Sri Sambuddhatva Jayanthi. May it be the most successful event in the history of the Dharmadweepa!

 

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