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Sunday, July 29, 2007

The day that the Buddha delivered his first sermon...

The day that the Buddha delivered his first sermon...

by Samangie Wettimuny

One night, while in deep slumber, Queen Maya ,the wife of King Suddhodhana of Kapilavatthu in India (then known as Jambudipa) had an unusual dream in which she saw the four Deva Rajahs (four guardian deities of the world) carrying her with the couch to the foothills of the Himalayas.

There a snow white baby elephant, carrying a white lotus in his trunk walked thrice round the couch of the sleeping queen and entered into her womb from the right side of her abdomen.

Many a thousand years ago Queen Maya saw this dream on an Esala Full Moon Poya day, the buddhist literature reveals. In fact that unusual dream indicated the conception of Boddhisatta in the womb of Queen Maya.

About ten months later he was born to this world (his last birth) as Prince Siddartha. This great birth brought immense happiness to the King and the queen who did not have children for twenty years, more than all that the prince's birth was a great relief to the entire human race groping in the dark, not knowing the way out of suffering.

At the age of 29, the prince decided to leave his palace and beloved ones in order to find the way out of the universal suffering. Again this Great Renunciation too had taken place on an Esala Full Moon Poya Day, some 2600 years ago.

Great Renunciation

It was on the same Esala full moon day that Prince Rahula, the only child of Prince Siddartha and Princess Yasodara was born. He saw the whole world including his wife and child are suffering not knowing the way out of it.

Determined to find a way out of it, the Prince left home at the height of his youth. Buddhists strongly believe that his Great Renunciation is the boldest step that a man has ever taken.

As the Buddhist history reveals the Buddha had explained Abhidhamma to Matru Divya Rajaya (his mother) in the Thavuthisa heaven on an Esala Poya day.

Above all, Esala Full Moon Poya day is of great significance to the entire Buddhist community as it was on such a day, two months after the Buddha attained Enlightenment, that he delivered his first sermon, Dhamma Chakka Pawathna Sutta( the wheel of truth) to the five ascetics- Kondangna, Bhaddiya, Wappa, Mahanapa and Assaji at Isipathanaya in Benares (Baranasi).

The sermon consisted of the central teachings of the Buddha- the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. This set in motion the great Buddhist tradition of the Sangha , for popularizing the teachings of the Buddha firstly in India and later through out the world.

In his 'The Discovery of India' , Former Indian Prime Minister , Jawaharlal Nehru mentions how he almost sees the Buddha preaching his first sermon " At Saranath near Baranasi , I'd almost see the Buddha preaching his first sermon, and some of his recorded words would come like a distant echo to me through two thousand five hundred years."

Even in Sri Lanka today , Esala Poya marks the beginning of 'Vas' season when Bhikkus stay in their own temples without going out for dhana.

As the Buddhist history reveals the first Vas was observed by the Buddha and his first five disciples- the five ascetics at Isipathana in Benares.

Apart from this, Esala Full Moon Poya day ranks quite high in the order of importance to the Sri lankan Buddhists because it was on such a day that the Buddha Sasana was established in the country during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa.

Under the instructions of Mahinda Thera who visited Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century B.C (as the missionaries of Asoka Emperor of India), the King took necessary steps to ordain the children of the country and teach them Dhamma.

On the Esala Full Moon Poya day, Mahinda Thera preached Wassupanayikkandaya to the king and the group and on the same day the nephew of the king, Aritta and fifty five other children were ordained thus establishing Buddha Sasana in the country.

So keen in reestablishing higher ordination in Sri Lanka, King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha (1747 to 1780), invited 18 theras from Siam Deshaya( now Thailand) including Upali Thera to visit Sri Lanka in 1753. As Mahavamsa reveals these thera's arrived in the country by a Dutch Ship in the month of May and resided at Malwatu Viharaya in Kandy.

On the Esala Full Moon Poya Day of the same year, the king who went to the Malvathu Viharaya by foot ( He did that out of veneration) and invited these theras to establish the Higher Ordination in Sri Lanka.

Thus Sinhalese novice monks (Samaneras), including Weliwita Saranankara, Thibbotuwawe Siddartha, Kobbakaduwa, Navinna, and Hulangamuwa obtained higher ordination while Upali thera played the role of the instructor (Upadya) and Brahmajothi and Maha Punna thera appeared as teachers. (Archarya). Followed by the establishment of Higher Ordination in Sri Lanka, Siyam Nikaya too was established and up to this day it is also called' Shyamopali Maha Nikaya' indicating its origin.

Laying of the foundation for the Ruwanwelisaya and its enshrinement of relics by King Dutugamunu too had taken place on an Esala poya day as revealed by Mahavamsa.

In our country, of all the twelve Full Moon days, Esala full Moon Poya day is given much significance (just as Vesak and Poson Full Moon Poya Days) not only because it is related to great incidents of the life of Prince Siddartha (Later the Buddha), but also because quite a few of great incidents connected to Sri Lanka's Buddha Sasana has occurred on this great day.

Buddhists in Sri Lanka hence celebrate the Esala Full Moon Poya day today out of great veneration, with religious festivals and processions through out the country, yet anticipating to see the most grandeur one of all or rather the climax-the Kandy Esala Perehara in mid August.

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