Vesak awakens religious consciousness
The Buddha and members of the Sangha spread the Dhamma
Buddhism which originated in India became an international religion.
It was spread by members of the Sangha. The Buddha Himself travelled far
and wide spreading His Dhamma. Members of the Sangha had two
responsibilities: to remain celibate and to carry Buddha's message to
Unlike certain missionaries who came from European countries, the
Sangha never used force to spread the Buddha's doctrine. In fact,
Emperor Dharmasoka prohibited the use of force as a means of spreading
the Dhamma. He sent bhikkhus the world over to tell the people about the
advantages of Buddhism.
Buddhism has flourished over the past 2,600 years, influencing
literature and culture in many countries. It has greatly influenced the
development of art, literature and culture in Sri Lanka since its
introduction during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa. Today, Buddhism
has spread even to the West as it helps people to develop their
While promoting ritualistic practices, Buddhism has also appealed to
the educated segment of society as a moral philosophy. In fact, the
Buddha is projected as the foremost philosopher in the world. Buddhism
also has a fair share of psychology and Buddhist psychology is a popular
branch of study.
Buddhists all over the world have developed their ethical standards
based on non-violence preached by the Enlightened One. In practice,
Buddhism is tolerant. Buddhists believe that any religion that promotes
goodwill among human beings is worthy of respect.
In most Buddhist countries the killing of animals for food is
discouraged. In Tibet, for instance, it is illegal to kill animals for
food. The Tibetan Government has also banned blood sports. On certain
occasions, however, Buddhists have taken up arms against foreign
invaders. King Dutugemunu waged war against King Elara, a Dravidian
king, who ruled the Anuradhapura kingdom for 44 years.
Buddhism encourages self-discipline. Meditation is practised by most
Buddhists to control their thoughts and feelings. A spirit of gentleness
pervades in Buddhist countries.
In many Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, Buddhism
is the state religion.
Buddhism and Jainism
Buddhism and Jainism are independent religions. However, there are
certain similarities between the two religions. Both Mahavira, who
founded Jainism, and the Buddha were critical of some of the practices
of Hinduism. Both of them had no idea of establishing an organised
religion or a system of philosophy. The Buddha strove hard to find the
solution to human suffering and later extended His methods to others.
That is how Buddhism came to be known as a new religion.
"Buddha" means "The Enlightened One" or "The Awakened One". His
personal name was Siddhartha Gauthama. Similarly, Mahavira means "the
Both of them did not belong to the priestly caste. They were both
members of the warrior or Kshatriya caste. What is remarkable is that
both the Buddha and Mahavira rejected Hinduism and the caste system.
Both Buddhism and Jainism had no belief in an all powerful god or a
pantheon of gods. They also rejected the Hindu practice of animal
sacrifices to gods.
While Hinduism permits outright pursuit of worldly pleasures, Jainism
preaches a severe form of self-mortification. Buddhism, however, takes a
different stand. It represents the Middle Path or the "Majjhima
The Buddha showed to the world the value of the Middle Path. For
instance, He realised the futility of exhausting the body to attain
Enlightenment. When He decided to take some food after giving up the
practice of fasting, the five ascetics who attended on Him were
disappointed over the unexpected turn of events.
What is remarkable is that the Buddha was a human being who became an
extraordinary person or Acchariya Manussa solely through His will power.
He has made it very clear that He was not an immortal being or a god.
Although Hindus believe that the Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu,
the Enlightened One has rejected that view. The Buddha also does not
call Himself a saviour of others.
According to Buddhism, each individual has to find his own salvation
because both defilement and purity depend on the individual. The Buddha
has made it very clear that He was only a teacher - one whose mission is
to show the path of salvation. According to Buddhism, depending on
others for salvation is negative, but depending on oneself for one's
salvation is positive. Buddhism stands out in another aspect. The Buddha
never claimed a monopoly of Buddhahood which is a state of perfection.
He said anybody who followed the path shown by Him could achieve the
supreme state of perfection. What is necessary is grim determination and
commitment. By this proclamation, Gauthama Buddha had elevated the
creative power of man. He is perhaps the only religious teacher who gave
his followers complete freedom of thought.
While celebrating the 2,600th anniversary of Buddha's Enlightenment,
let us try to follow Buddhist principles to the letter. Vesak is the
ideal time to remind ourselves of the value of Buddhism as a religion
and a philosophy.