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Friday, June 12, 2009

Unique cultural renaissance - /www.sundayobserver.lk

Unique cultural renaissance

Over the years, Sri Lankan Buddhists have been celebrating Poson Full Moon Poya day with much devotion and spirit. Devotees will observe sil, engage in religious activities, make Poson pandals, arrange `dansalas’ and reach out to the needy. Poson processions will parade through the streets and as usual people would line the streets to have a glimpse of it. Thousands of articles and books have been written on the significance of Poson Poya, but still there’s a lot more to say. It was on a Poson Poya day that the most crucial event in the entire history of Sri Lanka took place.

More than 2240 years ago on a Poson Full Moon Poya day, Arhat Mahinda accompanied by other theras such as Iththiya, Uththiya, Sambala, Baddasala, Sumana Samanera and lay adherent (Upasaka) Banduka appeared atop Mihintale in Anuradhapura whilst king Devanampiyatissa was engaged in hunting and preached `Chulla Haththi Padopama Sutta’ to the King. Thus the official introduction of Buddhism to the island by the missionaries of the Indian emperor Asoka marked the beginning of Sinhala Buddhist civilization. Mihintale Ambawanaya the place where the king embraced Buddhism was immediately named a santuary and to this day it continues to remain the country’s first wild life sanctuary.

Buddhism took a firm hold in the land under the patronage of the king, thus moulding the lives of all citizens. Since its advent in the 3rd Century B.C., Buddhism has helped Sri Lankan civilization ascend lofty heights. In fact Mihintale is not only the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, but also the place where our civilization and culture originated.

In fifteen out of its first twenty chapters, Mahavamsa deals with the spreading of Buddhism in the country. As Mahavamsa reveals there had been a great friendship between King Devanampiyatissa and Emperor Asoka of India and the latter had even assisted the former on the occasion of his coronation.

Third Dhamma Council

At the end of the Third Dhamma Council which was held under the Chairmanship of Moggaleeputta Tissa Thera, it was decided to send missionaries to various places - within the country and outside as well. As mentioned in `Samantha Prasadika’, at the end of the Third Dhamma Council, Moggaleeputta Tissa Thera and other bhikkhus had invited Arhat Mahinda to visit Sri Lanka and establish Buddha Sasana there. But Arhat Mahinda who was of the view that it was not the right time to visit the country decided to postpone the tour.

King Mutaseewa who ruled the country at that time was quite old and was not in a position to grasp a deep philosophy like Buddhism.As King Devanampiya Tissa succeeded to the throne, Arhat Mahinda decided to visit Sri Lanka.In fact Emperor Asoka’s mission in conducting the Council was to propagate the teachings of the Buddha around the world. Of all the most successful missionary group was the one which was sent to `Lankadeepa’ headed by Arhat Mahinda.

Mahavamsa refers to Arhat Mahinda’s visit as follows ;

“Maha Mahinda therancha, Theran Iththiya muthiiyan, sambalan Baddasalancha’ sake Saddhiviharaka.”

Buddhism is a deep philosophy and a high level of intelligence is needed to grasp the subject. So it was only after testing his level of intelligence that the Thera preached to him the Dhamma. The dialogue between the king and Arhat Mahinda is also known as an Intelligence test.

Arhat Mahinda (A.M.): O! Mighty King, What is this tree? (pointing at the Mango tree which was near by)

King (K): It is a mango tree

A.M.: Are there any other mango trees than this?

K: Yes, there are several

A.M.: Are there any trees other than this mango tree and other mango trees?

K: Yes, But those are not mango trees.

A.M.: Are there any trees other than those mango trees and the trees which are not mango?

K: Yes, It is this mango tree

A.M.: Do you have relatives?

K: Yes, several

A.M.: Are there any one who is not related to you?

K: Yes, several

A.M.: Are there anyone else other than those who are your relatives and non relatives?

K: Yes, It is me.

Satisfied with his level of intelligence, Arhat Mahinda preached *Chulla Haththipadopama Sutta to the king who soon became a follower of the Buddha. Then Arhat Mahinda ordained Banduka and preached Samachiththa Pariyaya Sutta to the gathering.

Arhat Mahinda spent the first night in Mihinthale itself where Banduka Upasaka was ordained.

The following day Arhat Mahinda arrived in Anuradhapura where he preached to the palace dwellers from Pethawaththu and Vimanawaththu. Subsequently Queen Anula with five hundred women entered the first stage of path to Nibbana.Since people from all parts of the country swelled the crowds, more space was needed to accommodate them.

As a result the grand elephant stall of the palace too had to be used as a `Dharmashala’. Later when the number of people increased even further, Nandana Uyana too had been used to accommodate the devotees to listen to Bala Panditha Sutta preached by Arhat Mahinda. More than thousand women had entered the first stage of Path to Nibbana

Pre Mahinda era

As recorded by Mahavamsa, the first event of religious significance that occurred in the country was the Buddha’s first visit to the country - to Mahiyangana in the ninth month of his Enlightenment on a Duruthu poya day. His second visit was to Nagadeepa on a Bak Amawaka Poya day in the fifth year of his enlightenment to settle a dispute between two Naga Kings - Chulodara and Mahodara over a gem-studded throne.

The Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka took place on the invitation of Maniakkitha Naga king of Kelaniya in the eighth year of Supreme enlightenment on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day.

Many Yakkhas and Nagas had established themselves in the three Refuges (Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha) during the Buddha’s visits to Mahiyangana and Nagadeepa respectively.

On and off, over the centuries groups of people had arrived in Sri Lanka from India. Some of them had even settled down in the country. Prince Vijaya who arrived here along with a retinue of seven hundred men, had even brought his Chief Queen from India while. several other women too had accompanied her. There could have perhaps been followers of the Buddha among them as his doctrine was said to be quite popular among Indians at that time.

Queen Baddhakachchayana, the Chief Queen of King Panduwasdevu was a niece of Prince Siddartha (She is a daughter of a cousin of the Prince Siddartha.) She arrived in the country with six of her brothers. Since the majority of the Sakyans were the followers of the Buddha, it could be assumed that this group could have been Buddhists.

As recorded in an inscription in Thiriyaya, the sacred hair relics of the Buddha which were brought in by two tradesmen - Thapassu and Balluka were enshrined in Girihadu Saya. As argued by historians, such tradesmen might have played a significant role in spreading the religion. As argued by many, sacred hair relics were brought in because there were already Buddhists in Sri Lanka at that time. Anyway, there is hardly any historical proof that Buddhism existed in the country prior to the arrival of Arhat Mahinda.

Official introduction

As firmly believed by all Sri Lankan Buddhists, it was only after the arrival of Arhat Mahinda that Buddhism was officially introduced to the country and there is enough evidence to prove that. “Buddha Sasana” was thus established. Prior to that there had been beliefs like Brahmana and Jaina.

Some had even worshipped the Nature, the Yaksas and the Nagas.

Under the patronage of Arhat Mahinda, King Devanampiyatissa established Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. For Buddhism to crystalize in the land, Mahinda thera had advised the king to ordain children of the country to be the future guardians of the Sasana.The country thus moved forward dramatically from pre history era into the full light of written history!

Prince Aritta, a nephew of the king was the first to be ordained under the name Maharitta Thera. Soon a lot of young ones followed him and they learned the Dhamma and Vinaya from Arhat Mahinda. Aritta Thera undertook steps to translate `Atuwa’ into Sinhala, Even today the Sri Lankan education system is largely influenced by the moral code of Buddhism. It was Arhat Mahinda who introduced Brahmi alphabet to the country. Modern Sinhalese letters are a gradual development of Brahmi letters.

Temple became the centre of Buddhist education from the 3rd century B.C upto the colonial era. The knowledge of the Pali Tripitaka that was orally handed down to the Sri Lankan Bikkhus by Arhat Mahinda was preserved by them for the posterity.

On the very first day when Arhat Mahinda arrived in Sri Lanka, King Devanampiya Tissa had offered him `Mahamegha Wanayaudyana’ (Mahamevuna uyana) as a gift. Tissaramaya was the first vihara that was offered to Arhat Mahinda.

Arhat Mahinda thera also took steps to arrange social events in order to make people’s life styles part and parcel of Buddhism. Processions, Bodhi festivals, ordination ceremonies, festivals for Vihara pooja, Chaitya pooja and Dhamma Desana are to some of such religious functions. Arhat Mahinda made it compulsory for Bikkhus to protect Buddhism.

The great thera who was said to have been 32 years old at the time he arrived in Sri Lanka, served the inhabitants of the country until his demise. His demise had caused an outpouring of heavy grief in the country and in commemoration of his service the term Anubudu is also being used when referring to him.

The arrival of Arhat Mahinda was soon followed by the bringing of a sapling of the historic Bo tree at Buddha Gaya under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment, by Arhat Mahinda’s sister, Sanghamitta therani. Her arrival paved the way for the establishment of Bhikkuni Sasana.

Being ordained by Sanghamitta Therani, Queen Anula became the first to join the Order of Nuns. People of 16 castes who arrived in Sri Lanka along with her for the protection of the Bo tree too made tremendous contributions in several spheres such as agriculture, architecture, sculpture and engineering. Religious and literary activities heralded the country on a new path. Religious legends and historical accounts relating to both India and Sri Lanka appeared on a large scale.

The introduction of Buddhism with a great civilization attached to it and the arrival of skilled labour brought about a remarkable change in the social and religious life of the country. Construction of Mahavihara, Chetiyagiri, Thuparama, Isurumuni Vessagiri Vihara, Thisa Wewa etc signify the creativity of that era even today. Buddhism and Sinhala literature are inseparable as the latter is enriched by Buddhist stories.

Arhat Mahinda and Sanghamitta Therani enacted a religious as well as a cultural renaissance in the country.

Sri Lankan Buddhists eagerly await the dawn of the Poson Poya day to commem

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