Analysis of the Bhikku Sasana during the lifetime of the Buddha - Lakbima News
Shakthi Sathkumara interviews
Ven.Dr.Walpola Wimalagnana Thera, Viharadhipathi of Gangaramaya, Peliyagoda,
Q. Reverend Sir, may we listen to a brief analysis of the nature of Bhikku Sasana, when the Buddha was living.
A. During the lifetime of the Buddha, his lifestyle itself was illustrious to keep the Bhikkus disciplined. At the same time, the conduct of the Bhikkus during the lifetime of the Buddha that was in keeping with the teachings of the Supreme Being was exemplary.
One day, King Kosala came to Jethavanaramaya in the city of Savasthi and having bowed before the Buddha, gently stroked the Buddha’s lotus feet with great reverence. Then the Buddha addressed the king thus: “King Kosala, You are the monarch of this great kingdom. From that exalted position of yours, why are you displaying so much of affection and reverence to me?
“To this question, King Kosala answered thus: “My Lord, I am aware of my exalted position. I am equipped with a four-fold army. I wield strength and power to do what I wish. But My Lord, when I preside over my Royal Court, I do not observe so much of harmony and serenity. The members assembled in the well of the Royal Court do not appear to be at rest. Some are coughing. Some are scratching their heads. There are those whispering to each other. Though the assembly is numerically minute, they cannot stand still. But when I see your audience in the preaching hall where thousands and thousands of Bhikkus listen to your sermons, there is pin drop silence and the surrounding is calm and serene notwithstanding the fact that there are no overseers or the four fold army. I am delighted with this situation. This is the reason for my devotion and reverence towards you.”
Incidents of this nature help us to understand the pattern of life led by the Bhikkus during the life time of the Buddha. Nevertheless this degree of discipline among the Bhikkhus lasted only for about two decades from the time of enlightenment of the Buddha. That period is reckoned as the “Patama Sambodhiya”.
“Patama Sambodhiyan pana Bhikkawe subbaja bhikku asssama Ovada pathigkaran” - “Only during the ‘patama sambodhiya’ period Bhikkus who obeyed my code of conduct existed. This word of the Buddha points to the fact that after the “Patama Sambodhiya” period, the Bhikku order tended to decline in discipline gradually.
Q. Venerable Sir, Can you tell us about sporadic dark eras of the Bhikku order in Sri Lanka?
A. Dark periods in the Bhikku order in Sri Lanka occurred from time to time from the good old days. But instances of renaissance are not sparse in the history of Sangha saasana, Dambadeni Kathikawatha explains how the Bhikku order declined during the reign of king Parakramabahu. Similarly, when we come down to the era of Kandyan Kingdom, the Bhikku order had declined to the extent that finding four priests who had received higher ordination was difficult. It was during this dark period that Ven.Welivita Sri Saranankara Thera took the initiative to reinstate the Bhikku Order in Sri Lanka. This state of affairs points to the fact that once in two to three centuries, there had been dark periods in the history of the Bhikku order in Sri Lanka.
Q. Is there any truth in the saying that the Buddhists of the present day are distancing themselves from Buddhism?
A. Today we are living in an exceedingly complex social framework. In general, the concept of simplicity which is stressed in Buddhism and therefore inherent in Buddhists is totally alien to us today. Instead of simplicity people are in the pursuit of wealth and try to amass things. They leave no stone unturned to satisfy unlimited desires. The society is so degraded so as to assess life in terms of money. In the past, the temple was the centre of all interests. The people got proper guidance from the temple to eke out a righteous living and lead a simple life. The path of living pointed out was harmless and innocent and free from falsehood, fraud or corruption. If misdeeds were present at all, they were minimal. In the course of time, education which was earlier temple-centered was invaded by foreigners and the young generation was distanced away from the temple. Children who grew up under the shade of the temple were confined to tuition class rooms. Temple education was a combination of moral as well as academic uplift but the tuition class has no place for morals. Consequently, the temple became a place of mere religious ritual. This state of affairs also curtailed the Bhikku’s role in a layman’s life. Thus there arose a perceptible gap between the village and the temple.
Under the competitive open economic system, people have no time to spare for the needs of the temple. Therefore the Bhikkus are left to themselves to look after the temple and their own needs. In a majority of temples, Bhikkus had to provide their own basic needs. Economic depression and restlessness are the cause of this deterioration.
Q. There is an apparent tendency among Buddhist priests nowadays to turn to modern technology. How does it affect the preservation of Buddhism in the long run?
A. Bhikkus are responsible to safeguard the concept of Buddhism as enunciated in the Dasadhamma Sutta, inspite of whatever the advancements made in the sphere of modern technology. Today, we are living in a computer age. The computer serves a multitude of purposes. Computers play a major role in the communication network. The knowledge of the Dhamma that can be accrued by going through several volumes over a number of years can be obtained within minutes on a computer. An incident taking place far away in the globe can be viewed live instantly because of modern technology. Technological advancement has heped in the basic needs of modern man. Under these circumstances, Bhikkus cannot live in isolation. Bhikkus must make use of modern technology in a meaningful and positive manner without ignoring the concepts and principles of Buddhism. If Buddhist priests embrace modern technology superseding the principles of Buddhism and ignoring the interests of the temple, and overlook their duty by the country, by the nation and their religion, it will cause great hindrance to the preservation of Buddhism. Bhikkus cannot escape their responsibility.
Q. Throughout this interview, we perceive you observing some sort of a problematic phenomenon in present day Buddhist society. What can the present day Buddhist priest do about this?A. There are a number of factors we have to stress as Bhikkus. One factor is that the role of social service open to the modern Bhikku is very much easier vis a vis the role played by Bhikku of the old days. Many of the Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka have significant funds to carry out social work. Some of them have state patronage. The Chief Incumbents of resourceful temples must join hands and take the initiative to bring about a religious renaissance,.The time has come for Buddhist monks to go beyond Jathaka stories and do something tangible for the welfare of the public. In some areas of the country, Buddhists live in dire poverty. They must be helped to till a plot of land or to build a roof above their heads.
The children of poor parents need education. Helpless villagers are in need of good roads. Resourceful temples can take the initiative to provide them with these basic needs. That will be more meaningful than criticizing those who are allegedly converting poor Buddhists into other religions. We appreciate some temples that are actively involved in social service. As Bhikkus it is time that we open our eyes to see to the need of the people. It is the bounden duty of Bhikkus to safeguard Buddhism.