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Sunday, 15 May 2011

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The 2600th anniversary of the Buddha's Enlightenment:

Buddhism: A cross between philosophy and religion

May is the most important month in the Buddhist calendar. The Vesak Full Moon Poya Day which falls on May 17 is extremely significant for over 350 million Buddhists spread throughout the world because it marks the existence of their religion for 2,600 years.

On this Vesak Poya Day the 2600th anniversary of Enlightenment which is called the 'Sambuddhathva Jayanthi' will be celebrated on a grand scale. A number of elaborate arrangements are being made in many countries to celebrate the event.

Sri Lanka, more than any other country, can boast of being the repository (place or store house) of pure Theravada Buddhism. From the day Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Arahant Mahinda during King Devanampiya Tissa's reign, it has remained the state religion for many centuries.

Although the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British propagated various other religions, Buddhism was not banished from the country. Buddhist temples were destroyed en masse (all together) by the invading armies and bhikkhus were driven away from their abodes. However, Buddhism could not be wiped out.

Although Buddhists did not wage war against the invaders to protect their religion, they demonstrated their tolerance and patience with their enemies.to regain the position enjoyed by them.

Even before the western powers arrived on the island, and occupied the maritime provinces for more than four centuries, South Indian invaders dealt a severe blow to Buddhism by ruling the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa kingdoms for a long time.

Buddhist monks and laymen faced such calamities stoically (without complaint) and ultimately regained their lost rights and privileges.

Today Buddhism is so firmly rooted in the country that it will continue to be the centre of Theravada tradition in the entire world.Although Buddhism did not flourish in the country of its origin - India - due to the overwhelming Hindu influence, Sri Lanka has been able to maintain the status of the religion for many reasons.

For instance, Buddhism is a great philosophy and also a system supported by age-old rituals. Instead of propagating the religion through unethical means, Buddhism leaves its doors open for anyone to accept or reject it. In fact, the Buddha never expected anyone to accept his doctrine without questioning.

The Buddha,usually referred to as the "Light of Asia", was a wandering teacher who lived in the sixth century BC. He taught a new religion to the people in the kingdom of Magadha. His teachings were embraced by millions of followers for well over 2,500 years.

Gauthama Buddha is different from other religious leaders because He never claimed to be a god.

He was born as Prince Siddhartha in 624 BC and led a comfortable life in his palace. However, at 29 He renounced his worldly pleasures and became a wandering ascetic.

For well over six years He placed himself under different teachers and then practised austerities until He discovered for Himself the knowledge He had been seeking.

He attained Enlightenment or Buddhahood in 589 BC.The Buddha preached His doctrine for 45 years to his disciples and followers.

In 544 BC the Buddha attained Parinibbana.

The Enlightened One visited Sri Lanka on three occasions and one occasion He left His footprint on Samanthakuta (Adam's Peak). Although Buddhism is no longer the major religion in India, in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta He speaks of four places any Buddhist should visit.

The first is the place where Prince Siddhartha was born. The second is the place where He attained Enlightenment.The third is where

He delivered His first sermon- Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta. And the fourth is the place where the Buddha attained Parinibbana.The impact of Buddhism on our culture and civilisation has made Buddhists tolerant of all other religions.

It promotes discussions, debates and counter arguments.

It is a religion that invites anybody to investigate and then accept what the Buddha preached..Since Buddhism is of cross between philosophy and religion it appeals to many segments of society.

The Buddha was the greatest philosopher and it is a foregone conclusion.

Those who are not so philosophically inclined may approach Buddhism as a system of practices and rituals that pave the way for a happy and contented life in this world and beyond.

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