Commencement of the Buddha’s sublime mission
On Esala Full Moon Poya day:
Thousands of Buddhists world wide will gather at Isipathana in Benares, on Esala Full Moon Poya day to commemorate the great day that the Buddha’s sublime mission commenced with the preaching of ‘Dhamma Chakka Pawathna Sutta’ to the five ascetics.
Two thousand five hundred and ninety years ago, seeing the Buddha heading his way towards Isipathana, the five ascetics who were of the view that Siddratha Gauthama was returning to them, having failed in all the attempts made to attain Nibbana, were determined not to take any notice of his arrival.
But as the Buddha advanced towards them , they could no longer give him the cold shoulder. Kondangna, Vappa, Baddiya, Assaji and Mahanama, one time colleagues of Siddartha Gauthama got up from their seats as a gesture of homage and was ready to listen to his discourse.
Herds of deer would have roamed freely in Isipathana not knowing the content of the discourse the Buddha preached to the five ascetics.
But it was meant for all living beings, not only for humans. The Buddha’s unconditional love and compassion knew no limits and boundaries.The heart of his teachings lies in the Four Noble Truths which he expounded in this sermon.
The essence of “Dhamma Chakka Pawathna Sutta” is the explanation of the Four Noble Truths: The Noble Truth of Suffering or dissatisfaction or conflicts (Dukkha), the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path leading to the cessation of suffering.
“Bhikkus” said the Buddha addressing the five ascetics,” These two extremes ought not be practised by one who has gone forth from the household life. There is devotion to the indulgence of sensual pleasures, which is low, common, the way of ordinary people, unworthy and unprofitable; and there is self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy and unprofitable. “
“Avoiding both these extremes. the Thathagatha has realized the Middle path: it gives vision, it gives knowledge and it leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment to Nibbana. That Middle Path is simply the Noble Eight Fold path namely ,
1. Right view (Samma Ditthi) 2. Right thought (Samma Samkappa) 3. Right speech (Samma Vacha) 4. Right action (Samma Kammantha) 5. Right livelihood (Samma Ajiva) 6. Right effort (Samma Vayama) 7. Right mindfulness (Samma Sathi) 8. Right concentration (Samma Samadhi)
‘Dhamma Chakka Pawathna Sutta’ set in motion the great Buddhist tradition of the Sangha and the five ascetics who entered the Order at the end of the discourse became the first disciples of the Buddha.
Also it was on a Esala poya day that the Bodisatta was conceived in the womb of Queen Mahamaya, the wife of King Suddhodana of Kapilavatthu.
As finely described in the Buddhist literature, many a thousand years ago, one night, Queen Mahamaya went to sleep to see an unusual dream. The four Deva Rajahs (four guardian deities of the world) carried her with the couch to the foothills of the Himalayas where a snow white baby elephant awaited her arrival.
The baby elephant who had a white lotus in his trunk walked thrice round the couch of the sleeping queen and then entered into her womb from the right side of her abdomen. That unusual dream indicated the conception of Boddhisatta in the womb of Queen Mahamaya.
The birth of Prince Siddartha brought immense happiness to the King and the queen who did not have children for twenty years, on top of 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, about 2600 years ago.
It was on the same Esala full moon day that Prince Rahula, the only child of Prince Siddartha and Princess Yasodara had 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 universal suffering the Prince left home at the height of his youth.
It was on an Esala Poya day that the Buddha had explained Abhidhamma to Matru Divya Rajaya (his mother) in the Thavuthisa heaven .
Esala Poya also marks the beginning of ‘Vas ‘ season when Bhikkus stay in their own temples without going out for dhana for three months. 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 is ranked quite high in the order of importance to the Sri Lankan Buddhists as 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 arrived in Lankadeepa 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 the 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.
Highly interested 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 theras 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, out of great veneration, the king headed his way towards the Malvathu Viharaya by foot and invited these theras to establish the Higher Ordination in Sri Lanka.
Thus Sinhalese Samaneras, including Weliwita Saranankara, Thibbotuwawe Siddartha, Kobbakaduwa, Navinna, and Hulangamuwa Unnanse obtained higher ordination while Upali thera played the role of the instructor (Upadya) and Brahmajothi and Maha Punna thera appeared as teachers (Archarya). Subsequently 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.
Here in Sri Lanka almost the same importance is given to Esala Full Moon Poya day, just like for Vesak Poya or Poson Poya. The Esala festivity is already in the air with a lot of decorations and preparations for processions.
It will reach a climax when the Esala perehara of Kataragama starts parading through the streets shortly. The most grandeur of all- Kandy Esala Perehara will however commence in mid-August as usual.