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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 the masses.

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 spiritual lives.

Moral philosophy

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 great souled".

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 Patipada".

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.

Acchariya Manussa

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.

 

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