Tuesday, 28 September 2010

POSON Utsava - Poson Festival

(Stupa photo from Dinamina)
Poson celebration is one of the major Buddhist ceremonies in Sri Lanka and it only seconds to Vesak festival. This special ceremony is held in order to commemorate the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and also to pay gratitude to arahant Mahinda. As a result of King Dharmashoka’s Buddhist mission, arahant Mahinda and his missionary group, consisting of arahant Ittiya, Uttiya, Sambhala, Bhaddasala, Samanera Sumana and Upasaka Bhandhuka arrived in Sri Lanka on the full moon day of June in the year 236 of B.C. Arahant Mahinda was a son of Emperor Asoka. Since Emperor Asoka and Sri Lankan king Devanampiyatissa (beloved of gods) were unseen friends, Emperor Asoka (devanampriya priydarshi – beloved of gods) would have had special favour to Sri Lanka. That would be the reason for him to send his son to Sri Lanka.
Arahant Mahinda is respected in Sri Lanka with a special epithet, ‘Anubudu Mihindu’ which means the ‘Second Buddha Maha Mahinda’. It is not an exaggeration because arahant Mahinda was the person who introduced Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka. If Theravada Buddhism exists in the world today it is because of him. Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos are the major Theravada countries in the world. Sri Lankan culture is based on Theravada Buddhism. Written and spoken language, the Buddhist scriptural language Pali, arts, architecture, and Buddhist cultural are the heritage of Buddhism.
Unlike Vesak festival, Poson celebration is unique to Sri Lankan Buddhism since it is connected with the historical beginning of Sri Lankan Buddhism. Sri Lanka annually celebrates Poson ceremony on the full moon day (poya day) of June. Sri Lankan Buddhists who live in other countries do not forget to celebrate this special event every year. For instance, the story of arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka has been moulded in outdoor of Sri Lankarama temple in Singapore and every year Sri Lankans celebrate a grand Poson ceremony there.
During Poson celebrations, as same as in the Vesak ceremony, people give a special place for practice the Dhamma (pratipatti puja) observing eight precepts at monasteries. Amisa puja (various offerings, and giving dana) is practiced throughout the country by almost all the Buddhists. During Poson hundred thousands of people visit Mihintale, the historical rocky monastery, the place where King Devanampiyatissa and Arahant Mahinda met for the first time.
Among various meritorious deeds which are performed on Poson, some of the activities are very popular. For instance:
i. Observing eight precepts
ii. Pilgrimage to Mihintala Vihara
iii. Poson Perahera (Mihindu Perahera)
iv. Poson Torana
v. Dansela – offering free food and drinks
vi. Mintala Alokapuja

Observing eight precepts is one of the major parts of every full moon day in Sri Lanka. But for the Poson Poyaday, as a custom, thousands of devotees go to Mihintala Vihara to observe precepts. The main purpose of observing precepts at Mihintala Vihara is to pay the respect to their ‘Second Buddha’ Arahant Maha Mahinda Thera. Beside Vesak, Poson is the biggest full moon day for Sri Lankans to observe eight precepts. Many government schools organize eight precepts programmes for students during the Poson week. Except Sri Lanka, we do not find this kind of ‘sila vyapara’ (precepts programmes) for school children anywhere in the world.

During Poson many people arrange pilgrimage to Mihintala Vihara to respect Arahant Mahinda. Mihintala Vihara and Anuradhapura become the most crowded area during Poson. Government and social welfare organizations provide facilities for the people during their pilgrimage. The main purpose of the pilgrims is to climb the rock, (Mihintalava) on which the arahant Mahinda landed with his missionary group. [It is said that these 7 members who had psychic power had arrived there neither land nor water. It signifies that they appeared by means of psychic power].Poson perahera or Mihindu perahera is the most colourful event in the Poson festival. Poson perahera is held to pay gratitude to arahant Mahinda. The major part of the perahera is the image of arahant Mahinda. The image of arahant Mahinda is placed on a decorated floating vehicle and illuminated with electric lights adding an aura. If perahera is held in the night, it’s always a stately looking pageant. Usually, the image of arahant Mahinda is always in standing posture and very often it represents the Abhaya mudra (fearless gesture).
Apart from these events, there are many other religious and meritorious activities are done all over the Island. Some of them are:
i. Hospital service
ii. Blood donation
iii. Social service
iv. Helping needy
v. Freeing cattle (cows) from slaughtering and so on.

Aloka puja or offering of lights in the name of the Triple Gem and arahant Mahinda is one of the major events at Mihintala Monastery. In order to respect Arahant Mahinda, all the precincts of Mihintala vihara including the Mihintala stupa are eliminated with oil lamps and electric bulbs. It is a kind of repayment for his wisdom light by which he made Sri Lanka a Land of Dharma or a Dharmadvipa.
Dear Sri Lankans, pay your gratitude to our motherland with outmost respect.
SRI LANKA - The LAND like NO other!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Origin of Buddhism

When we talk about the origin of Buddhism we must consider the contemporary Indian religious and philosophical background of Buddha’s time. The Buddha as the founder of a new teaching, which is known as Buddhism today, appeared in a society where there were diverse types of religious and philosophical views. Among the great civilizations in the ancient time, India claims a unique place not only because of its amazing cultural and socioeconomic development but also having a great religious and philosophical achievement of the ancient world. The effulgence of its religious and philosophical implication can be traced as far back as to the Indus Valley Culture. Therefore, when the Buddha was born in the 6th century B.C., the religious and philosophical background was well known to Indian society, specially, through the Upanishad thinkers and the new religious movement of Sramanas. It was a mature and developed philosophical background. Apart from Brahmana priests, who mainly practiced textual studies and rites and rituals, there were some ascetics and various groups of sramanas who practiced meditation focusing on the development of the intellectual culture. Their homeless life was basically based on adibrahmacariyaka sila (brahmafaring life or religious life refrain from household matters) and abhisamacarika sila, which means a moral life with good conduct.

The Buddha explained that He rediscovered something which was practiced by the ancient Buddhas many kaplas (aeons) ago. According to the Buddha, the Dhamma always exists in this world but it lays hidden until a Buddha re-discovers it.

At the time when Buddhism was introduced to the Indian society, there were people who were ready to accept the Buddha's new message. We can state some important facts which caused for the success of introducing Buddhism to Indian society. The religious atmosphere at that time was peaceful and there was no threat for newly developed religions. As we find in the Indian religious history, the celibacy life was well reputed and accepted by the society with honour. Going from home to homeless life was a common practice in ancient India. It was a duty of a king to protect and help the religious groups. Therefore, religions enjoyed the royal patronage too. Specially, apart from the Brahmins, it was the time for Kshatriyas to going forth searching the truth. For example, Jaina Mahavira was a Kshatriya who had gone for homeless life before the Buddha.

Having spent 29 years as a royal prince, Siddhartha Gautama experienced the true nature of life, which made him to choose the homeless life. He left the palace seeking the answer for suffering and became a sramana following the ancient sramana tradition in India. He went to two meditation masters seeking the truth as other students did in the ancient time. He learned and practiced meditation under these meditation masters named Alarakalama and Uddakarama Putta. Sramana Siddhartha attained the highest jhanic level but he understood that it was not what he was seeking for. He left the both masters one after the other and entered the extreme asceticism following the way of self-mortification. The rigid asceticism was a common practice in ancient India. Ascetic Siddhartha followed various methods of self-mortification but he couldn't fulfill his wishes. Finally, he gave it up and selected the Middle Path as the way to realize the truth. He practiced Anapanasati, the practice of breathing in and breathing out, what he mastered under aforementioned two great masters. Finally, as a result of His great intutive knowledge and mindful practice,He realized the FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS and the DEPENDENT ORIGINATION of all phenomena and attained the Supreme Enlightenment (Sammasambodhi) under the Bodhi tree in Gaya.

Having attained the Buddhahood, the Buddha wanted to teach His Dhamma to others. But it was not an easy task to teach because the Dhamma He realized was deep, profound, subtle, and difficult to understand by the people who have dust in their eyes. The other thing was many ascetics and sramanas attached to either rigid austerities or rites and rituals. For instance, the Five Ascetics left the ascetic Siddhartha (the Buddha) when He gave up the practice of self-mortification.

However, the Buddha decided to teach His first previous masters under whom He studied meditation. According to the Mahavagga, the Buddha thought that those two masters were wise and had less defilements. But unfortunately they had passed away. Then, the Buddha thought about any other suitable people to teach His Dhamma first. The the five ascetics, the five fellow friends who attended Him during His struggle to attain the enlightenment by practicing self-mortification, came to His mind. Knowing that they were living at Isipatana Deer Park of Benares, the Buddha went there to teach his new message to them. As we explained earlier, again the Five Ascetic rejected the Buddha several times though Buddha explained to them that he attained to the Buddhahood. But still they were reluctant to accaept the Buddha. Finally, the Buddha questioned them whether He had ever talked to them in this manner before. Only at that time ascetics paid attention to the Buddha. The Buddha delivered His first teaching to them which is named as the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, the Stutta of Turning the Wheel of the Dhamma. The Buddha's very first teaching ascetic Kondanna understood the Dhamma. Next He taught to the other four ascetics and they attained sottapanna one after the other.Then, the Buddha gave them ordination and they became His disciples. Finally they all attained the arahanthood after listening to the Anattalakkhana Sutta (Anantalakkhana). This is the origin of the Buddhist monastic order. Then, a prince name Yasa, a son of a millionaire came to the Buddha and became a monk. He too attained to the arahanthood. The fifty four friends of Yasa including, Vimala, Subahu, Punnaji and Gavampati listened to the Buddha and entered the order and attained to the arahanthood. In this manner the first 60 arahantas were formed in the Buddhist monastic order.

It was the time for the spread of the Dhamma to the mass. The Buddha adressed His sixty disciples and advised them that they are free from all cancers and bondages and qualified to teach the Dhamma to others. Advising them, the Buddha asked them to set forth their journey for the benefits, happiness, and well-being of the mass, divine beings and also for the sake of themselves. They were asked not to go TWO monks on one way and each individual had to go on different direction for the rapid spread of the new message. The Buddha too went on to Uruvela and where one thousand Jatila followers with Three Jatila leaders, Uruvela Kassapa, Nadi Kassapa and Gaya Kassapa were converted to Buddhism becoming monks. It was a huge success and great achievement of Buddhism because it helped to spread the message among the people rapidly. The Thirty Princes of Uruvela became the next group to enetered the Order. The great two sravakas of the Buddha, Sariputta and Moggallana together with two hundred fifty followers of wanderer Sanjaya, too entered. In this manner, the Buddhist Order expanded very quickly spreading the Dhamma far and near. If we considered the people who entered the Buddhist order in the very beginning of the sasana, all of them were either very educated or well disciplined ones. It made the Buddha’s missionary activity to go forward smoothly and effectively.

Later on due to influx of numerous disciples belonged to the various religious sects, people from every caste, profession, and social status, the number of Buddhist sangha increased rapidly. They spread the Dhamma all over the Indian subcontinent. The Buddha gave permission to the sangha to give ordination for those who were willing to enter the order. Having a wandering life, bhikkhus did a great service of spreading the Dhamma. The message of the Buddha went to the all categories of the Indian society and people enthusiastically accepted the Buddha Dhamma. Buddhism was a timely message, which was needed at that time where people had been exhausted due extreme views and ideologies of ancient Indian religious network.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Buddhist Pantings - The Life of the Buddha

This is the Great Birth of the World- Honoured One - Prince Siddhartha

Palatial Life of Prince Siddhartha

The Four Great Signs - (Satara Pera Nimiti in Sinhalese)

The Great Renunciation - Mahabhinishkramana of Prince Siddhartha

Austere practice or Self-mortification (Attakhilamathanuyoga) of Ascetic Siddhartha

The Great Enlightenment - Abhisambodhi
The First Teaching of the Buddha to the five ascetics. The Buddha delivered the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, the Sutta of Turning the Wheel of the Dhamma.

Preaching the Anantalakkhana or Anattalakkhana Sutta (The Sutta on the Characteristics of No-Self). Having heard this distinctive teaching, all the five Bhikkhus attained the arahanthood, which is the final stage of the Buddhist sainthoot. Beside the Buddha, they were the first arahantas in the Buddhist dispensation.

The Commencement of the First Buddhist Missionary Service with 60 Arahantas

Conversion of Beautiful Queen Khema

Consoling Patachara, the lady who was stricken by great grief due to loss of her two kids, husband and parents on the same day.
Helping Sunita who was a scavenger from untouchable caste (chandala). The Blessed One gave ordination to Sunita with a great compassion towards him. After entering the Order of Bhikkhus, Sunita attained arahantship.

The Establishment of the Bhikkhuni Order. Mahaprajapati Gotami, the Buddha's step mother requested the Buddha the ordination for ladies. The Buddha accepted her request with a great compassion towards womenfolk.

Saving Rajjumala, an innocent girl who was said to be a lifelong servent. The cruel mistress of Rajjumala severely punished her everyday. This poor gril decided to commit suicide but the Buddha prevented her doing so and finally she was free from slavery and became an addopted daughter of the employer.

Treating and caring a sick monk. The Buddha was the most compassionate teacher in the world. This is how He treated his disciples. The Buddha said that one who attends sick attends Him.

Consoling Kisagotami, the one who lost her one and only son. Kisagotami never believed that her beloved son had departed her. She looked for a doctor to cure her dead son and finally she came to the Buddha. Kisagotami was completely exhausted with grief and sorrow. The Buddha consoled her saying that He could cure her son but she was asked to bring a lump of mustard seeds from a house where there was no any dead occured in the past. She was very happy and ran to houses as many as she could. But all her effort was in vain because she couldn't find any single family whose relatives had never passed away. Finally she realized that everything is impermanent. She bade farewel to her beloved son and departed with a sobbing and bursting heart. Finally she was able to make up her mind and then went back to the Buddha. She paid attention to His great teaching. At the end of the taching she entered the Order of Bhikkhunis and attained arahantship.
Preaching the Dhamma to Anatapindika, the Millionaire of Savatthi, who was the main benefactor of the Buddha. Anathapindika spent 54 crores of golden coins and built Jetavanarama Monastery and offered it to the Buddha and His disciples.
Preaching to Vishakha, the main female benefactor of the Buddha. Vishaka spent 27 crores of golden coins and bulit Purvarama Monastery and offered to the Buddha and His disciples.

The great literary service of Buddhist monks. In the later period the Buddhist Monastery became the education institute for both lay and monastic community. The first University in the wold is the Nalanda Buddhist University in India established around 6th to 7th centuries C.E. In this manner the Buddhist Sangha did a great service in spreading the Dhamma and teaching some secular subjects as well.

The Fourfold Buddhist Community, Bhikkhu, Bhikkhuni, Upasaka, Upasika (monks, nuns, male and female lay followers of the Dhamma).

Stopping war - Because of the sharing of water of river Rohini, two groups of Buddha's relavtives called for a war. The Buddha appread in the middle of the river and questioned them which is more imporatnt, the water or their lives. They all accepted that they were wrong and stopped the war and became close to each other keeping unity among them.

Mahaparinirvana - The Great Passing Away of the Buddha. Having done a great service of 45 years at the age of 80, the Buddha attained parinirvana. The great light of the world was blown out in that way. All the sravakas and many followers both male and female came to see the Buddha and paid their last respect to their great master who was with full of comapssion and love. Arahantas observed and recollected the impermanent nature of all phenomena and paid their outmost repect to the Great Light of the Universe. The puthujjana sravakas and lay followers couldn't bear the sorrow and they burst into tears. They cried, wept and lamented over the death of the Buddha. Venerable Ananda sobbed and fainted. Eminent sravakas consoled him but he cried out thinking that to whom he would help in future because the compassionate Lord is departing him now.

It is said that having heard the passing away of the Buddha, king Ajatasattu (Ajasat) couldn't bear his sorrow and cried and lamented putting his hands over his head. He became unconscious and forgot almost everything.

The great funeral of the Buddha was taken place in the Sala Grove of the Mallas. All the kings of Malla kingdom paid their respect to the Buddha. Thousands of sravakas and millions of devotes attended the ceremony. They arranged the most beautiful and granderous funeral ever had taken place on this earth and burnt the Sarira of the Great Human Being who ever lived in this world with immesuarable qualities.

Pay Homage to Him, the Blessed One, the Worthy One the Fully Enlightened One! (Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa).

You can always say, Nmao Buddhaya...! Namo Buddhaya...! Namo Buddhaya...!

N.B. These nice and beautiful pictures are from one of Sri Lankan Buddhist temples in Australia. If anyone know the name of the temple, please kindly let me know. I am posting them on my blog for the arising of faith of Buddhists in the Triple Gem, the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Please, forgive me if anything wrong with my discriptions.


Friday, 10 September 2010

The Buddhist View on the Human Being

The Buddhist standpoint of the origin of human being is very much different from the common view of the ‘divine creation’ (Issaranimmanavada) claimed by many theistic religions such as Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam etc. Since the man is not a divine creation, he is given autonomy (freewill) in Buddhism to decide his destiny. This freewill is not an irresponsible one but it always should accompanied with responsibility. The man is capable of judging what is correct and what is not. According to Buddhism the supreme enlightenment is the highest state (nirvana), which can be attained only by human being but not by gods, brahmas and any other beings. Though the Buddha did not give any definition on human being but the Pali commentators did. In several commentaries the definition has been given as follows. “Manassa ussannataya manussa”, meaning: “They are called ‘human beings’ because of the higher sense of mind”.
To be born as a human being is very auspicious thing because it is a rare birth compare to many other beings in this world. In the Balapandita Sutta, the Buddha has given a simile of a blind turtle who lives in the deeper water in the sea. The story goes as follows. “Bhikkhus, a man would throw into the ocean a plough share with a single hole in it. Then with the eastern winds it would be carried west and with the western winds carried east. With the northern winds it would be carried south and with the southern winds carried north. Then there is a blind turtle in the depths of the ocean and it comes up to the surface after the lapse of a hundred years. Bhikkhus this turtle with one eye to see would he put his neck in the plough share and yoke it to the hole to see light? … Bhikkhus, it is more likely that the blind turtle would put his neck in the plough share and yoke the eye to the hole to see light rather than the fool once fallen to hell would gain humanity”. So, the people should understand how precious this human life is. According to the Buddhist kamma theory, it is the kamma which is the decisive factor regarding one’s rebirth in the lower or higher realm with varied degrees. In the Cullakamma Vibhanga Sutta, the Buddha explained that among the human beings there are people in both higher and lower status because of their past kamma. But one can transform his destiny if he acts diligently. The Buddha said that human being have three periods of times in their lifetime to transform their destiny, the youth (adolescence), the middle-age, and the old-age. If these three periods of time are wasted at the last stage of the life, people
suffer thinking that they didn’t earn or learn during the active time period of life. They are as same as the cranes who looking at the water from the bank of the lake where there is no fish.

Above mention advice of the Buddha emphasizes that as a human being must develop his life improving human qualities. The success and the qualities of life do not come to us by nature but they must be acquired through our effort. Human world is one of the happy states. Same as other beings all the human beings expect happiness and reject suffering or unhappiness. We do everything expecting happiness. Some people even do harm for others expecting their own happiness. The misery is that those who harm others do not understand that other people also love themselves and expect happiness. There are lots of teachings in Buddhism which conducive to happiness of human beings. Teaching alone can do nothing but the practice or its application is the way to success and peace. In many Suttas the Buddha has explained social ethics should be followed by people for their own benefits and also others’. Before we do something, we should reflect on it again and again whether that action brings any harm to us and others.

People should know their duties and responsibilities well. The Sigalovada Sutta, the Mangala Sutta, the Parabhava Sutta, the Dhammika Sutta, the Vasala Sutta and many other discourses can be quoted here as examples. Whenever the duties are performed well there won’t be any problems in the society. Various crimes and disasters caused by human beings are the main causes for loosing peace and harmony in the world. If each one understands his or her duties and responsibilities, then peace and harmony will remain on earth. The human world looks like a purgatory state when it is corrupted by people. According to the Metta Sutta, the highest living in this world is to live with loving-kindness.

The basic principles for a Buddhist are the Five Precepts. Through the five precepts harmony, peace and security can be assured. If people follow the Five precepts, no matter where they live, peace and harmony will be there. The Four Sublime qualities, which are highly recognized in Buddhism are loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). These qualities can be practiced by human beings and they can live here as brahmas who always live free from hatred and ill-will. The Four Heart-winning qualities giving (dana), pleasant words (priya vachana), meaningful life (attha chariya), and equanimity ( samanattata- equability, equalization) too very important practices, which should be developed by each individual.

The human being is unique considering his language skills. No any other being can communicate as he does. Because of this special ability the man has won the world in many ways. But unfortunately, it creates many problems too when it is used in a wrong way. The Buddha explained that any kind of sinful act is possible for lire. Telling lies, slandering, harsh words and frivolous talk can be spoken by only human being. One wrong word or a bad word can destroy the whole world and also one good word can bring peace and harmony and happiness to the world. Realizing this specialty of the language the Buddha taught that even the one word which is well spoken is better than thousand words which are useless.

Anything in this world is can be given a price but the life of human being is priceless. It becomes priceless when life is spent in a proper way. Therefore, the Buddha taught that the meaningful single day is greater than meaningless hundred years.