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Friday, October 22, 2010

Death and rebirth

Death and rebirth

From the earliest of times, men have speculated on the question why they are born and why they die. In ancient times, phenomena such as rain and fire were attributed to gods associated with them.

There was a creator god responsible for birth and another for destruction. With the passage of time, there developed the concept of one God, all powerful and omnipotent, who is responsible for our birth and who would judge our life at death and regard or punish us for our good and harmful actions, respectively.

The answer in Buddhism for our birth is that we are caught in a cycle of births and deaths called Samsara, in which beginning is inconceivable. The Buddha declared that it is because of our delusion of the true nature of things, we have the desire for life at the moment of death where ordinary people grasp for life.

Consequently we are reborn and continue our journey in Samsara with all its unsatisfactory features characterized by anicca, dukkha and anatta (impermanence, dissatisfaction and absence of a permanent, unchanging, eternal, self or soul).

Buddhist standpoint of birth

Man consists of mind and body. From a Buddhist standpoint what happens at death is that the physical body ceases to function. But what happens to the mind which is other part of man? A mind is a flow of thoughts. It has no location in the physical body and the Buddha did not indicate where the mind is actually located.

With the death of the physical body, the mind does not cease nor the mental forces and energies.

In fact in Buddhism, it is said that the will, the desire, the thirst to live is the greatest force and the greatest energy in the world and does not stop with death but continues to manifest itself in another form, producing re-existence which is called re-birth.

Presented differently, the most precious thing for all living beings is their own lives.

They would fight to the last or run away to save their lives. Proceeding from the known to the unknown, it could be presumed that at the moment of death although man is physically weak to resist death, he would mentally attempt to survive and is unlikely to face death with calm resignation.

The desire for life is so strong that the man will mentally grasp (upadana) another viable place such as the fertile ovum in a mother’s womb since the present body can no longer support his life. Thus the psychological process of life (bhava) will continue in the newly found place and birth (jati) would soon follow.

This is the process explained in the Buddhist law of Dependent Origination. Conditioned by craving, grasping arises; conditioned by grasping, becoming arises; conditioned by becoming, birth arises; conditioned by birth, old age, disease and death arise.

The last thought

The first mental strings of the new being in the womb of the mother will be the first thought. The process continues with the last thought of the previous life followed by the first thought of a new life. The distance between the place one has died and the new place of birth is of no consequence.

Once the Buddha, in reply to a question, said that to think of two cities: one close and other far away; it takes the same time. Similarly the time taken for the new birth, which follows the last thought of the previous life is the same, irrespective of distance.

Thus from a Buddhist standpoint, one is born not at the time that the mother delivers the baby but at the time that mental activity in a rudimentary form commenced in the womb.

Experiments have shown that if the mother is tensed and worried during pregnancy, it has an adverse impact on the baby.

It is also said that if the mother listens to a particular music frequently during the pregnancy period, sometimes when the same music is played after birth, there appears to be an element of recognition of that music by the baby.

There is another interpretation of rebirth called gandhabba where it is argued that at death, the deceased looks for a suitable place to be re-born.

However, this position does not appear to be consistent with the doctrine of kamma, an important part of the Dhamma. One’s birth and existence in the new life is largely determined by one’s Kamma, both in the previous life and the lives before and the last thought of the previous life.

One does not have a choice regarding the next birth. If there as a choice even a person who has led a life of villainy and extreme selfishness would desire a rebirth in a comparatively favourable environment.

In this connection, it should be noted that there is a possibility of one being born as a spirit whose existence is very brief between one human life and another. Such a case is mentioned by well known Buddhist scholar, Francis Story, in his book ‘Rebirth as Doctrine and Experience’.

In such a case, there is no interruption in the flow of thoughts from one life to another. The spirit life is a recognized plane of existence among the 31 planes of existence mentioned by the Buddha.

Past linked with present

It is also said in the Dhamma with regard to rebirth that one’s character is conditioned not only by one’s parents and the environment in which one lives, but also by past actions of previous lives.

The past actions of previous lives, both wholesome and unwholesome, are recorded in the mind and they influence one’s character and talents in this life. One’s knowledge, skills and spiritual progress developed in one life could be carried to the next.

It is indicated in the Dhamma that the Buddha at a very tender age engaged in the meditation on the breath (Anapana Sati) adopting the correct posture. He was not trained to do so in that life but that was a skill developed in previous lives.

This is why some children reveal talents at a very early age not gathered in that life. We notice some children take to music, swimming or meditation with alacrity which could be attributed to talents developed in previous lives.

It is also mentioned in the Dhamma that the last thought of this life plays a crucial role regarding the next place of birth. If one has made a serious effort to develop and maintain a purified mind then in all probability a wholesome thought would be the last thought.

The development of wholesome thought is an important ingredient in the practice of the Dhamma.

According to the Dhamma, all living-beings, humans, animals and others, are subject to death. The arahants or even the Buddha are not exempt from this law of nature. According to Buddhism, the cause of death is birth. Once born, one has to die. It is like a bullet fired from a gun.

Once fired, the bullet has to find its destination. The only way to avoid death is not to be born; and the only way not to be born is to overcome the desire for sense pleasures and life. The arahants who have totally eradicated the desire for sense pleasures and life and possess a fully purified mind will never be born again.

The explanation of the Buddha in this regard as indicated in Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 43, is as follows: “How is there is no rebirth in the future? By the cessation of delusion; by the arising of knowledge (vijja); by the cessation of craving, there is thus no re-birth in the future.”

So long as man is attached to existence through delusion and craving, death is not his end. He will continue his career in the rough waters of Samsara with its painful nature. It is only through the eradication of delusion and craving for sense pleasures and existence, the will to live, that the cycle of existence ceases.

Rewarding rain retreat & Tracing the Buddha’s time

Rewarding rain retreat

Before the dawn of the month of Vas, the rainy season, commencing from Esala, continues with Nikini, Binara. The Buddhist monks attend to their daily religious activities in indoors, confined themselves to their abodes, perform meditation, deliver sermon, meet their lay devotees at their respective temples.

The peak of the rainy season ends with offering a katina cheevara and the month of Vap is also known as the month of Katina.

The word katina means unbreakable. It is considered like a solid rock, the merit you gain in offering the Katina Cheevara for the Bhikkhus who have receives Higher Ordination or Upasampada, have the sole right to receive the Katina Cheevara or Katina Robe. The word Vas can be defined as the ‘rainy retreat’.

Flowers blooming

In our Sinhala culture, the season begins with the inter monsoonal rainy season considered as the cultivation season. The environment is pleasant and lively. The trees and flowers bloom. The people are happy energetic and get themselves involved in cultivation. For the peaceful co-existence, the tank, village temple and the advice of the Buddhist monks play a vital role.

Therefore, they pay the gratitude for those upasampada bhikkhus with the highest offer, which they consider as the higher merit they accrue by offering the katina cheevara to the Buddhist monks.

It is the firm belief of Buddhists that those who participate in Katina ceremonies, through this merit lived a happy life in this world as well as in the other world, when they cross the border.

The appointment of Sariputta Maha Thera as one of the Chief Disciples of the Blessed One took place on this important day of Vap Purapasalosvaka Poya. The other Chief Disciple was Moggallana Maha Thera.

Giragga samajja

He is one of the ten major disciples of the Gautama Buddha, the Enlightened One. Born in India in a village to the North of Rajagaha in Magadha, he and his best friend who grew up together Mugalan, became a follower of the famous Ascetic Sanjaya Bellattiputra.

Before joining him (Sanjaya) Sariputta and Moggallana went to witness a festival called giragga samajja. Thousand and thousands spectators watched this event. After witnessing this event, they realized, that these people who watched this Gala Event will not be in existence after hundred years. They realised the Truth of Impermanence.

Impermanent life

For example, I had the proud distinction of commentating from Pakistan, the 1996 World Cup between Australia verses Sri Lanka.

Just imagine, for a moment, none of us, the cricketers, umpires, spectators, match referees, commentators or millions of viewers who witnessed this World Cup, will not be there by the year 2096.

This proves that our lives are impermanent. Therefore, we must find a path to attain the Bliss of Nibbana and perform good deeds.

Sariputta and Moggalana both had hundred disciples each. Later all of them became the followers of the Blessed One.

Sariputta was regarded as the most brilliant disciple of Sakyamuni, Gautama Buddha. Another noteworthy significant event that took place on Vap Poya was the future Buddha to be born in Khetumati Kingdom, Maitriya Boddisatva in his long Sansaric journey, entered the monk order in an earlier birth on this Day.

Tracing the proud Sri Lankan history, Parakramabahu the Great performed the Katina Religious Ceremony in a grand scale, with pomp and glamour during the Vap season. With the attack of Kalinga Maga, Polonnaruwa kingdom fell into shambles and people were settled in Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Raigama and Kotte kingdoms respectively.

According to the history of Sri Lanka, the Buddhists centred round the monk and the temples and continued the tradition of offering Katina robe during the end of rainy season of Vap.

The Buddhist monks were their philosophers, guides, advisors and teachers.

Emperor Asoka

Going back to the golden era of Anuradhapura period, during King Devanampiya Tissa’s regime, the king sent an official delegation to meet Emperor Asoka, India’s foremost patron of Buddhism and the first monarch to rule over united India. He was also the emperor of India and the founder of Maurya dynasty.

Tracing the Buddha’s time

An idle question could be, ‘Why are books written?’. Some are written just to get rid of the writers’ itch while many are written with a specific purpose. Dr Vijaya Dissanayake, author of ‘A Revision of Dating the Buddha’ did have this specific Purpose in mind when he ‘debuted’ his book. A noble motive explicit in the title itself.

In fact, the scholarly enterprise of ‘Dating the Buddha’ does not begin with him. It has preoccupied the attention of academic luminaries of both the Eastern and Western worlds (strangely mostly Western scholars) for years that it is difficult even to give a clear tabulation of the whole exercise.

Just to attempt some clarity in the resultant confusion, according to this book we can locate ‘three chronologies’: the long chronology, the short chronology, the median chronology.

It is the median chronology that the author advocates. In fact the sub title of his book is ‘A Triumph of Median Chronology of the Dipavamsa’.

Some titles tell all and these do. It is not only the media chronology that the author extols but the Dipavamsa too.

The writer sounds so convincing thanks to a generous vocabulary, a talent for elegant phraseology and a richness of facts that one begins to cry about the things that the writer cries about.

Reading this book one begins to cry over the stepmotherly treatment of Dipavamsa (fourth Century), our first historical chronicle overshadowed by the much more polished second chronicle, the Mahavamsa (sixth Century).

The author himself describes the Dipavamsa as short, repetitive, inelegant, rather unscholarly and stodgy chronicle written in Pali verses yet contains a mass of invaluable information brought to Sri Lanka from the archives of the great Mauryan Empire by Ven Mahinda.

To get back to the three chronologies perhaps the longest could be reckoned as 544 BC (according to the book leaving aside incredible elongations by some Northern Buddhist states), marking the passing away of the Thathagatha.

In fact a person could query as to why bother of dating the Buddha when in 1956 we have already held the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations of 2500 years thus officially recognizing this year. But it seems that there will be a replay of the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations in 2017 celebrating the event going by Geiger’s calculation of 483 years or so.

At the other end is the short chronology spawned by a strong tradition in Tibet influenced by Shravasthi Vada which places Buddha’s entry into Nirvana to around 380 AD, which the eminent French savant Etienne Lamotte places almost on an equal footing with the long chronology.

Now going by the Dipavamsa and historians and scholars of the Western world, what the writer advocates through this book is the median chronology that places the passing away to a time phase circa 400 BC.

It is the lineage of the Maha Theras given very accurately in the ‘inelegant’ Dipavamsa that buttresses the author’s ideas.

Anyway what makes the book very interesting is not only this aspect but the wealth of information divulged in the process of presenting it.

There is perhaps the bouquets he gives to Western scholars for exerting themselves on digging up the life and times of the Buddha which come as a surprise.

Devadatta’s destiny

Buddhist prose:

Devadatta’s destiny

He was beavering away hours and days on meditation and now he achieved it, at last! He attained the goal of concentration to some extent, though it’s much lower than Sotapanna stage. He was drinking in the mental rapture. And then the celestial spirit appeared.

It was Mara, the Evil One. He was also known as the Death.

Mara took pains to introduce himself: “I’m Mara. At your beck and call, sir.”

Devadatta hardly fell for this kind of flattery. Even so he didn’t mind for the Death to carry on talking.

“We can do wonderful things together. I know your cousin disgraced you no end. First he left your sister to take the world for a ride. And later he took her son away. What kind of a father or brother-in-law he is. And all the same the world is after him, like there’s no other recluse. Time we had done something.”

Still seated in the meditative posture, Devadatta listened to the Death talk about his sister Yashodhara and her son Rahula. The monk could not be fooled by anyone - at least not completely.

That he knew as a sure thing. He could sense what Mara is up to. He was of course chosen to bell the cat. They say your enemy’s enemy is your friend - Devadatta took quite a liking to the truth as old as the hills.

Mara was using Devadatta as a cat’s paw certainly, and Devadatta wondered if he should actually mind that.

He too was hell-bent on getting the better of the Buddha. Even as a prince, Siddhartha was over the top. He was such a pain at times. Siddhartha posed every threat of outsmarting his peers. Now the opportunity waits, offered on a plate, to make things different.

Even so Devadatta was on tenterhooks.

* * *

Devadattha loved the sight of trees in rows. That always provided shelter to him, a child, to scheme against his snobbish cousin. He was thoughtful looking at Esathu tree at the monastery’s backyard, when the attendant’s voice interrupted him.

“Elder Sariputta is here to see you.”

This is a visit he did not look ahead to. So the elder had the wind of what occurred the previous evening.

Developed minds do not require espionage. The monk gave instructions to the attendant.

“Invite him in, and look into his needs. I’ll be right back.”

Devadatta reached for outer robes, dressed up arranging them properly and paced out to welcome the elder at the front.

“Good day Venerable.”

“Good day to you too Venerable. Hope you are doing fine. I’m here on an important mission.”

“I guess I can figure.” Devadattha said.

“As an elder, you got to have second thoughts about this. We are not supposed to give in to Mara, you know.”

“Precisely.” Devadatta nodded his head in agreement.

“I know your feelings about the Buddha. But you cannot do something aghast like this. You will have to suffer so much.”

“I understand Venerable. I’ll think over it.”

“I hope you will, then. Got to leave now - I’m on an alms round now.”

“As you wish fit, Venerable.”

Devadatta stood up and bowed in respect to Sariputta. Although Devadatta is older in ordination, Sariputta is considered officially senior for being an arahant.

Devadattha fell into silence. Then the Mara appeared, once again.

“Did you give it a thought sir?”

“I’ve been thinking of it, Mara.”

“We can do it together sir. Just think what the Buddha has done. He left your sister and child alone. And took the child too from her later, without even asking. Can you tolerate that kind of things?”

Why does Mara keep on telling the same thing over and over again? Devadatta knew it was one way of convincing people.

“So how are you going to help me?”

“It’s nothing sir. Get closer to the king as a first step.”

Devadatta shook his head.

“That’s not going to work.”

“How do you know?”

“I know that.” King Bimbisara was in a higher mental plane that cannot be easily shaken by external forces. Devadatta knew this anyway, though Mara shall not know.

“Ok. But every question has an answer. Only thing is you should not give in.”

Mara said, still pained by the humiliation he and daughters had on the day Siddhartha Gothama enlightened.

“Enough homilies, Mara. Get on with your suggestions.”

“Make friends with Ajasatta, his son, then.”

Devadatta was thinking over it. Mara sensed the issue.

“You are a saint now sir. You have psychic powers, which even the other religious leaders can’t claim. Why don’t you work one of them?”

How can this evil being know his powers and abilities? Amazing, but disgusting. He had to think fast, and then had to take a decision throwing caution to the winds.

Devadatta was on a roll with the course of time. Ajasatta became a follower. He could talk around the prince not only to grab the kingship from father, but to send him to gaol too.

Still and all things went on the downside as well. The large rock he threw with heavy effort caused only a little pain in the Buddha’s foot-thumb.

The tusker, though fed with 16 pots of alcohol, astonishingly went calm before the Buddha.

The royal archers never carried the royal order - they chose to be the Buddha’s followers. There were moments Devadatta felt a little discomfited, though he could hardly get himself to regret. Suddenly he would want to back down, and the next moment he would thrust the thought aside. The Death was there always making sure his prot‚g‚ does not walk back the path.

But seasons change and so do men. It should be no exception even in Devadatta’s case.

* * *

“I know I’ve wronged you. I have an apology to make.” Devadatta said.

The Buddha remained silent. The monk took it for assent.

“I was a misguided man. I would have had time to amend things. But now it’s too late, now that I’m going to die soon.” It sounded all but a monologue. It was soothing in a way having to confess all thoughts that way.

“No Devadatta,” astonished, the monk looked at the Buddha, “you have never been too late. Take refuge in the Triple Gem, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. You will have to suffer for what you have done: trying to kill, physically hurt a Buddha and driving a wedge among the monk order. But remember this. You are not a loser.

You have strong virtues that will make you a Pacceka Buddha (private Buddha) in the future.”

Devadatta’s mind became clear.

He officially took refuge in the Triple Gems. He was ready, and took leave of the Buddha. The next moment turned out to be crucial. Devadatta could smell a whiff of smoke and waited for earth to split open.

Trying to gain back concentration, he saw the Death, putting on a helpless look, amid the burning hellfire. The monk smiled.

When it was finally time, Devadatta once again tried to read into the Buddha’s words: “You are not a loser.”

Symbol of compassion

Symbol of compassion

There blossomed forth into the universe the one human being Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha to relieve the humanity steeped in ignorance since life was begun on this earth. The great truth of life, the absolute, eternal, the supreme and the universal truth was unfolded to the world.

“The people suffer, because they are born,” he, by his super normal vision, insight, wisdom and intelligence was able to discover the cause of repeated births in the never ending cycle of Sansara.

This process, with all its sufferings, was the target and the gist of his teachings. Reaching Nibbana the state of non-existence, meaning no further birth, facing death for the last time bringing sansaric wondering and the journey to a close, was the highest goal to be achieved.

Thathagatha the perfect one gave the world this universal truth in no uncertain terms, to be followed by the matured intelligent, the pious and the interested. Thus he gifted to the humanity this unique teaching of his, that revolutionized the human thought making a profound contribution towards the moral and spiritual progress.

Mission of compassion

The Buddha was the noblest being born to the earth. He, as prince Siddhartha, with all the riches, power, glory and regal splendour, gave up his claim to the throne. Then as an ascetic he led an austere life, the conquest was made, the summit of bliss was reached. He realized the four noble truths and the eight-fold path and found the path of liberation, the greatest discovery of the master mind filled with compassion.

Overwhelmed by boundless and limitless compassion for the welfare of the humanity he spent all his life journeying in the kingdoms of North India. He could have led a life of ease but he attached no importance to his physical comfort, he walked all over from village to town showing the people, the way to a happier, nobler and righteous life.

To fulfill his mission he walked through the streets with the begging bowl and showed the way to liberation from suffering to millions, the entire humanity in Jambudweepa. Among the examples, too numerous to be mentioned, the story of Puthigathathissa is an outstanding one.

When the monk was in unbearable pain caused by skin disease with the wounds giving out a bad smell, his friends and companions left him alone. The Blessed One personally attended on him getting him washed, having his soiled clothes changed and comforting him with kind words, restored him to good health.

Brilliant Dhamma techniques

With his overflowing metta, he made the grief stricken mothers Kisa Gotami and Patachara almost gone out of their proper senses, realize the universal truth of death and thereby, come back to normal accepting the true facts. Kisa Gotami’s only child, stung by a snake, was dying and this unbearable sad event took her to Buddha for a remedy with the dead child in her arms.

He wanted her to bring a few mustard seeds from a house where no one had died which was far from being possible. Then she realized the bitter truth that death was universal, sparing none and that was inherent in every one born to this earth. Patachara’s case was even sadder.

She lost both her children husband parents and all her possessions. Losing all her senses, she ran wildly, in the streets without her clothes on, until she met the Buddha, who brought her back to sanity by convincing her that sorrow is inherent in sansaric existence.

The Buddha said: “Long time have you suffered the death of your loved ones and while you were thus suffering, you have shed more tears than there is water in the four oceans. If you could have got over then, why not now?” Rajjumala, the harassed slave girl by the household, taking a rope with her was on her way to commit suicide.

She was rescued from the unwise act and brought before the Buddha who with his boundless metta advised her thus: “Sister you cannot find solace at the end of a rope, come join the order of bhikkhunis where you find solace.” Angulimala the dreaded murderer was subdued by Buddha by a few soothing words meaningful to the greatest height, to his deranged mind.

Angulimala, who was responsible for the ugly beastly act of his, threw away his sword and became a bhikkhu and later an arahant. The Buddha at his enlightenment fully understood the true nature of the world and its beings which was of true benefit to others.

Devadatta is another character that shows the depth of his compassion to the Buddhists. Devadatta was the worst enemy of the Buddha. To the great master there was no such person and no enmity at all.

With his overwhelming compassion, he sympathized with him and permitted him to enter the order of Sangha and went further in predicting that he will be a Pacceka Buddha, one day - this is the best example to show that the Buddha was the most truly and completely compassionate being in the entire universe.

The Buddha, over time, turned sinners into meritorious men. With his wonderful psychological techniques of Dhamma, turned the proud into humble, disobedient into obedient, enlightened the ignorant and inspired one and all. His compassion was endless.

Bliss of compassion

Metta or loving kindness, universal love or compassion, originates in one’s mind particularly in the minds of the enlightened ones. The Buddha is a symbol of compassion manifesting the spirit of Maithri.

It is a natural flow that radiates all over when one is deeply and sincerely wish for the happiness and wellbeing of all living beings without discrimination. Who else? It is Thathagatha the perfect one only symbolizes in all its perfection.

This is an important concept in the teachings of the Buddha inherent in him and if forms the basis of his doctrine.

It is only by loving kindness that one can eliminate ill-feeling towards others. It is only the loving hearts with loving kindness can be happy at the success of the others which means that there is no envy or jealousy whatsoever.

Arya Nikethanaya: The mission of restoring the old glory of the saffron robe

Arya Nikethanaya: The mission of restoring the old glory of the saffron robe

By Dawpadee Kawshalya

Today, many more aeons after the establishment of Buddhist monasticism and thousands of years after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, the country that boasted of an Order of ‘Maha Sangha’, probably of its purest kind is taken by a storm when it was revealed that annually about one thousand Buddhist monks leave the Order and return to the laity.

The high prevalence of disrobing among the present day Buddhist monks and its possible alarming consequences drove Ven. Mawarale Bhaddiya Thera look into a lasting solution to the problem. The result was his brain child, ‘Arya Nikethanaya’ that is being built in Mullegama, Homagama.

Elaborating on the issue Ven. Thera said today the Buddhist monks who are more open to material world with the educational and social opportunities do not know where to draw the line between the clergy and the laity.

“In some tuition classes and universities, we have come across instances where the students share their lunch with the monks. This diminishes the respect people have towards the Buddhist monks,” he added.

According to Ven. Thera, all of them who decide to leave the Order have one thing in common; their inability to understand the power, responsibilities and obligations bound to them with the saffron ‘cheevara.’ Various researches conducted across the country for the last five years revealed that those who decided to disrobe were mainly the ones who entered the Order due to poverty, malefactions, parents’ persuasion, depression and other family issues.

High prevalence of disrobing

Those who become Buddhist monks for all the wrong reasons, do not understand the gravity of that life, the importance of simplicity and the need to be exemplary characters to society. More often than not, after the initial stages of their life in a temple or in a pirivena, they begin to see the conflict between what they want and what they already get. The decision to leave the Order comes at a great cost. In most cases the parents urge their children not to disrobe until they finish their education. From the moment the idea of disrobing crosses their minds, they do not act like monks anymore. Their behaviour is constantly questioned, criticized and looked at with wonderment and disgust by the general public.

“This not only tarnishes the image of the Buddhist monk but also people begin to lose the faith they had on them,” Ven. Thera adds.

“When you look at the subject selections of some of the Buddhist monks who have enrolled themselves to state universities one can get a clue as to where their interests really lay. For examples, some of them go for subjects such as Political Science and International Relations,” he further said.

Stressing on the importance of remedying the current plight of Buddhist monks in the country, Ven. Thera said even though there are a numerous programmes being conducted islandwide to reduce the alarming numbers, they are only knowledge-oriented and that they do not focus on enhancing positive attitudes. Their priority is all on academic side which does not even offer different subject selections for the monks which can help improve the quality of their clergy life.

Arya Nikethanaya

“We are hoping to complete the construction of the foundation building before Sambuddha Jayanthi,” said Ven. Thera talking about the progress of the foundation.

Once complete, Arya Nikethanaya will conduct various programmes and training sessions for the Buddhist monks and those who wish to enter the Order.

First phase would be to train the youth who are intended to become monks. The incumbent monks of the temples can direct the youth who are intended to enter the Order to the foundation. The one-year residential training would provide them with an adequate knowledge on the essential ‘dhamma’ and ‘vinaya’ and will also raise their awareness on the responsibilities of a Buddhist monk.

At the end of the training, a complete progress report of the trainee, including his strengths and weaknesses, will be submitted to the incumbent monk of the temple leaving the final decision freely at the hands of him and the trainee.

The second type of training would be for the monks who are currently in the Order. The programme prepared for them mainly aimed at training them to lead a time-tabled life and thereby improve discipline and punctuality among them.

It will also focus on studying the ‘Thripitaka’, enhancing preaching skills which includes a complete training on conducting preaching programmes over television and radio channels and conducting ‘dhamma talks.’

Emphasizing the significance of learning international languages, Ven. Thera said the students at the foundation would be taught six languages, namely Tamil, English, Chinese, Japanese, German and Italian. They will also be given the much needed IT knowledge to keep themselves updated and thereby improving their preaching skills.

Training the Buddhist monks as counsellors is another modern feature brought forward by the Arya Nikethanaya. Here, the monks will be trained to help out and solve people’s problems, using both the Buddhist Methods and modern methods.

Their awareness will also be awakened on the two important areas such as human resource Management and physical resource management. “This will be of great help for them once they come to a stage where they have to manage a temple,”

According to him, meditation would be part of daily life in the Arya Nikethanaya. “The much needed curbing of mind would be one of the key points the instructors would be working on,” he added.

Apart from giving them the much needed academic knowledge, the monks will also be given a complete training on ‘Buddha vandana.’

The Buddhist monks who successfully complete the training will be sent across the world as ambassadors and to the North and East, where the citizens are in much need of food for their intellect at moment they are recovering themselves from the disruption caused by the thirty-year-old war.

Your contribution

More than monetary assistance it is building material we need right now, says Ven. Thera talking about the progress of the construction. “We would request the donors and philanthropists to donate building material such as sand, bricks, cement and granite.”

“Consider this your obligation to save the noble words of the Buddha to be heard by your children and the generations to come after that,” he added.

Those who wish to contribute can forward their donations to Abhimani Development and Education Foundation, A/C no. 0860-00041911-001 of Seylan Bank Millennium branch.

Further details can be obtained from 077-3846827 or 071-4027441.

Katinanisansa: Merit acquired by offering robes to the Maha Sangha

Katinanisansa: Merit acquired by offering robes to the Maha Sangha

By Gamini Jayasinghe

Katinanisansa is immeasurable and unmentionable merit acquired by the person who has offered wet season robes to a priest who had completed a period of rainy season sojourn. In a Buddhist temple Katina Cheewara Puja ceremony is held only once a year and hence the opportunity to acquire this kind of merit is very rare. There is valid reason to believe that the merit acquired by offering Katina or wet season robe supersedes merit acquired by engaging in any other kind of meritorious deeds. Merit acquired by offering Katina or thick robe to Buddhist priests to be used during the wet, cold season is eternal and will never be void, result less or retribution less

Katina Cheewara Puja

The word Katina has various meanings. It means hardness, roughness, sharpness staleness, firmness and the unshaken state. The nature of merit acquired is described according to above meanings. Accordingly the merit acquired by offering Katina surpasses the other kinds of merits. In the words of the Enlightened One the merit acquired by offering Katina cheewara is stable like the earth which does not tremble "Pathavireewa na Jatu Kampane", like the mountain Mahamera, which is supposed to be in the centre of chakkavata which is not shaken by strong wind, gale or storm "Na chalathi Meru rivati vayuna" and like the Diamond Rock which cannot be broken "Vajiramava na Bhunjane Ghanan". As such this unique act of merit is called "Katina Pinkama" This merit is magnanimous because the assembly of four kinds of followers , monks, nuns, lay male devotees and lay female devotees believe that this is especially efficacious in achieving total emancipation.

Efficacy of Katina cheewara puja - the character of Nagitha Thera

The efficacy of Katina cheevara puja is well explained in the character of Nagitha Thera. The merits acquired by offering a Katina had enabled him to live in the celestial world for 18 Kalpas. On 32 occasions he was born as Sakra, the Indradeva, and the high or chief god. He was the sovereign king, Sakwithi raja, the universal sovereign, a position attained by religious devotion and second only to Bhuddhaship.The merit acquired by him was sufficient for him to be born as the universal king on many other occasions but he had opted to forego such chances as he wanted to limit his journey in Sansara
Efficacy of offering Katina Cheevara in a nutshell

Thus Katinasansa or merits acquired by offering wet season robes is sufficient to be free from being subjected to vile or evil disposition, to be born in the divine world, to be born as Sakra, to be born as the Universal King, to be prosperous in all future lives, to be a leader in every future life to be born in the divine world and the world of men and never to be born in the hell and such like, to be born to high castes and never to be born to low castes, to be liked by every one in every future life, and above all Katina cheevara puja will pave way to Nibbana, the cessation of all desires and of re- existence which is the goal of Buddhism.

Buddhist priests who are entitled to receive Katina- robes for the wet season

The priest of the temple is entitled to receive the Katina- the thick robe for the wet season. The priest should have completed a period of "Vas" - the rainy season sojourn to be entitled for the Katina. He should be well versed in the proprieties of conduct and should be an observer of the properties of conduct as molests mildness, decorum, reverence, obeisance, submissiveness, religious obedience especially in the fulfillment of the duties of the priesthood. Though only the priest receives the Katina the people in all quarters acquire the merit.

Items to be offered in the Katina Pinkama

A list of items that can be offered in a Katina puja pinkama is given in the book titled "Katinanisansa." It is customary to offer Pirikara- robe for a Buddhist priest, "Depata Sivura"- Double robe, "Tanipata Sivura"-Single robe, "Andanaya"- undergarment. However, it is usual today to offer all the eight accoutrements or articles required by a Buddhist priest, viz, "Patraya"– bowl, "Andanaya" – undergarment, "Thanipota Sivura" – single robe, "Depata Sivura" – double robe, "Patiya" -girdle, "Pihiya" – knife or razor, "Indikatuwa" – needle and "Perahankadaya"– water strainer
"Dayakas"- donors or contributors are free to offer a piece of cloth as a "Katinaya". In such a case the piece of cloth should be sufficient to make either "Andanaya"-underwear, "Thanipota Sivura"-a single robe, or a "Depata Sivura" Double robe.

Items added to Katina by devotees overwhelmed with happiness

The sentence uttered by the devotees is itself an indication that various other items are included in the Katina Cheevara Puja.'Parivara Parikkarehi saddhin Iman Katina Cheevara Sanghassa Dema" This Pali term means that the wet season robe is offered together with the accoutrements.

"Ata Maha Kusal- Eight most efficacious merits

A person who wishes to enter the Order should possess “Atapirikara”-the eight accoutrements of a Buddhist priest. This is required for the higher Ordination also. "Avasa Puja - Offering of monasteries is the third in the list of eight most efficacious merits. Buddhist monks need shelters in order to avoid pestering and harassment caused by pests and mosquitoes and to avoid the ill effects of natural causes such as the heat of the sun, cold, wind and rain.

Sanghika Dana or presentation of alms to the priesthood including the Buddha "Buddha Pamukassa Sanghassa" is the fourth of the most efficacious merits. Offering of Dharma Books- "Dharma Lekhana", offering of land -"Khetta Dana" Offering of Buddha statuesVacca kuti" for the use of the clergy are the most efficacious merits. During the "Cheevara Masa" or the Katina Puja month all these efficacious merits are acquired by us in our temples.

Katina Cheevara puja is listed first among the eight most efficacious merits as enunciated by the Enlightened One - Gauthama Buddha. It should be mentioned that during the Ceevara month the other seven most efficacious merits arc also accomplished by the "Siv Vanak Pirisa - the company of the assembly of four kinds viz. monks, nuns, lay male devotees and lay female devotees.

The Robe presented as Katina

The robe is a tattered, yellow cloth. This is stitched not to suit the body of any individual but in a way to be used by any monk of any age or any physical size. On His way to Dhakkhinagiriya the Enlightened One while passing Magadha track of paddy fields had shown the terraces and divisions in the paddy field to Ananda Maha Thera and told him that the cloth should be cut and stitched in the manner in which the parts of the paddy field are connected.

Parts of the Katina Cheevaraya

Katina Cheewaraya consists of an odd number of parts usually five or seven. These parts are called "Athu". The part at the centre is "Vas Athu" and parts on either side are "Ela Athu" Boarders about six inches are "Nuwawa Athu" The parts or Athu are separated by stitches known as "Kap Bindu"

There is a custom according to which it is not proper for the clergy to obtain Katina Cheewaraya on request. "Matarapi Pitarapi tun na Vattati" This means that Bhikkhus should not get "Katina" at request even from the mother or the father. It should manifest itself from voluntary sources.

All-night Pirith Chanting and the procession - Katina Perahera
At night on the day before the Katina puja day all-night Pirith Chanting Pinkama is performed. Pirith is chanted throughout the night. The procession which we call ''Katina Perahera" is started during the last quarter of the night from the temple and preceded to the chief dayaka's residence.

The perahera parades the streets and in the procession the Dayakas carry with them various items such as Tea leaves, Coffee, Sugar, Medicinal herbs, bedspreads, pillows and brooms. In the procession the Katina is carried under a canopy with all respects amidst the cries of “Sadhu” by the devotees.

Importance of Vap Purapasalosvaka Poya _October 2010

Importance of Vap Purapasalosvaka Poya


by Premasara Epasinghe

The Sinhala Buddhist calendar begins with Duruthu (January), Purapasalosvaka and follows with Navam (February), Medin (March), Bak (April), Vesak (May), Poon (June), Esala (July), Nikini (August), Binara (September), Vap (October), Il (November), Unduvap (December).

On Friday 22, 2010 dawns a very significant and important Purapasalosvaka, known as Vap. Before the dawn of the month of Vas, during the rainy season, commencing from Esala, continues with Nikini, Binara, the Buddhist monks attend to their daily religious activities indoors, confining themselves to their abodes, performing meditation, delivering sermons, meeting their lay devotees at their respective temples. The climax of the rainy season ends with offering of Katina Cheevara and the month of Vap is also known as the month of Katina.

The word "Katina" means "unbreakable". It is considered like a solid rock, the merit you gain in offering the Katina cheevara for the Bhikkus who have received higher ordination or Upasampada," have the sole right to receive the Katina Cheevara or Katina Robe. The world Vas can be defined as the "Rainy Retreat".

In Sinhala culture, the "Maha Season", begins with the inter monsoonal rainy season considered as the cultivation search. The environment is pleasant and lively. The trees and flowers bloom. The people are happy, energetic and get involved in cultivation. For peaceful co-existence, the tank, village temple and the advise of the Buddhist monks play a vital role. Therefore, they express the gratitude for those "Upasampada Bhikkus" with the highest offer, which they consider as the higher merit they will accrue by offering the "Katina Cheevera" to the Buddhsit monks. According to the following stanza.

Patavirivana Jatu Kampate –

Na Chalani Meru Riwani Vauna –

Vajiramicha na Bhijjate Ghanan –

Tamidhamato Katinanti Vucchati.

The merit you acquire from offering the Katina Robe does not shake like the earth and it is solid like a rock that cannot be shaken by the wind, like the mount of Vajjra.

It is the firm belief of Buddhists that those who participate in Katina Pinkama or Katina Religious Act or Ceremonies, through this merit live a happy life in this world as well as in the other world, when they cross the border.

The appointment of Sariputta Maha Thera as one of the chief disciples of the Blessed One took place on this important day of Vap Purapasalosvake Poya Day. The other chief disciple was Moggalana Maha Thera.

Who is this Sariputra Maha Thera?

He is one of the ten major disciples of Gautama Buddha, the Enlightened One. Born in India in a village to the North of Rajagaha in Magadha,he and his best friend who grew up together Mugalan, become a follower of the famous ascetic Sanjaya Bellattiputra. Before joining him (Sanjaya) Sariputra and Moggalana, went to witness a Gala sports or arts festival titled "Giragga Samajja" festival. Thousands and thousands spectators watched this event. After witnessing this event, they realized, that these people who watched this Gala Event will not be in a existence after hundred years. They realized the truth impermanence. (For example, I had the proud distinction of commentating from Pakistan, the 1996 World Cup between Australia various Sri Lanka. Just imagine, for a moment, none of us, the cricketers, umpires, spectators. Match referees commentators or millions of viewers who witnessed this world cup, will not be there by the year 2096. This proves that our lives are Impermanent. Therefore we must find a path to attain the bliss of Nibbana and perform good deeds. Sariputra and Moggalana both had hundred disciples later all of them become the followers of the Blessed One.

Sariputta was regarded s the most brilliant disciple of Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha. He was foremost in Wisdom among Buddha’s Arahat disciples as the Bodhisatva Manjusri was foremost in "Wisdom" among the Buddha’s Bodhisattva disciples.

The appointment of Sariputta Maha Thera as the chief disciple of the Enlightened One, took place on this red – letter day of Vap Purapasalosvaka.

Another noteworthy significant event that took place on Vas Poya Day was that the future Buddha to be born in Khetumati Kingdom, - Maitriya Boddisatva in his long sansaric journey, entered the Bhikkusasana in a ealier birth on a Vap Purapasalosvaka Poya Day.

Tracing the proud Sri Lankan history, the great Maha Parakramabahu performed the Katina Religious Ceremony on a grand scale, with pomp and pageantry during the Vap season.

With the attack of Kalinga Maga, Polonnaruwa kingdom fell into shambles and thus began, the "Drift to the South West" and people were settled in Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Raigama and Kotte Kingdoms respectively. According to the history of Sri Lanka, the Buddhists centre round the Bhikkhu and the temples and continue this tradition of offering Katina Cheevara, during the end of the rainy season – Vap. The Buddhist monks were their philosophers, guides advisors and teachers.

Going back to the golden era of Anuradhapura period, during King Devanampiya Tissa’s regime, the king sent an official delegation to meet Emperor Asoka, India’s foremost patron of Buddhism and the first monarch to rule over united India – Emperor of India, founder of Maurya dynasty. A Sri Lankan delegation led by probably the Foreign Minister Prince Aritta proceeded to India. This event was supposed to have taken place on a Vap Purapasalosvaka Poya Day. This shows, that Sri Lanka and India were closely linked and bound by the golden thread of Buddhism.

Further, King Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 B.C.) who was responsible for the introduction of Buddhism to the island, inquired from Venerable Mahinda Maha Thera (son of Emperor Asoka) who introduced Buddhism, whether Buddhism bas taken deep root in Sri Lanka. The monk replied it will be properly established in Sri Lanka once a Sinhala child is ordained. This incident also happened on a Vap Purapasalosvaka Day.

Sabbapapassa Akaranang

Kusalassa Upasampada


Ethan Buddanu Sasanam.

To restrain from doing evil –

To indulge in doing good –

To cleanse one’s mind –

This is the teaching of Buddhism.

Jangle (Jata) within, tangle without,

Mankind is entangled in a tangle,

I ask this question, Gotama

Who disentangles this tangle.

Buddha replied:

"When the wise man well established in virtue (Sila), develops concentration (Citta Samadhi) and wisdom (Panna), then as a Bhikku ardent and prudent, he disentangles this tangle".

Follow Buddhism’s Dynamic Path

May the Triple Gem Bless You.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hellenistic Greek influence in Buddhism

Hellenistic Greek influence in Buddhism

Buddhism, as it propagated through many countries in the world in the past centuries, had always coexisted and adapted to, and never dominated, the local cultures. In Japan Buddhism existed well alongside Shintoism.

An aniconic representation of Mara’s assault on the Buddha, 2nd century BC, Amaravati, India

In China it coexisted and harmonized with the native Confucians. In Thailand Buddhism embraced the native spirit worship. In Sri Lanka, too, Buddhism has adapted alongside the practice and culture of the Sinhalese and Tamils.

The interaction between Hellenistic Greece and Buddhism started when Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor and Central Asia in 334 BC, going as far as the Indus, thus establishing direct contact with India, the birthplace of Buddhism.

The length of the Greek presence in Central Asia and northern India provided opportunities for interaction, not only on the artistic, but also on the religious plane.

When Alexander conquered the Bactrian and Gandharan regions, these areas were under Buddhist and Jainist influence. Several philosophers, such as Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus, are said to have been selected by Alexander to accompany him in his eastern campaigns.

During the 18 months they were in India, they were able to interact with Indian ascetics. Pyrrho returned to Greece and became the founder of the school named Pyrrhonism.

The Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius explained that Pyrrho’s equanimity and detachment from the world were acquired in India. Few of his sayings are directly known, but they are clearly reminiscent of Buddhist, thought:

“Nothing really exists, but human life is governed by convention” “Nothing is in itself more this than that” (Diogenes Laertius IX.61)

Another of these philosophers, Onesicritus, is said to have learnt in India the following precepts: “That nothing that happens to a man is bad or good, opinions being merely dreams” “That the best philosophy [is] that which liberates the mind from [both] pleasure and grief” (Strabo, XV.I.65)

These contacts initiated the first direct interactions between Greek and Buddhist philosophy, which were to continue and expand for several more centuries.


Since their arrival to India under Alexander, Greeks have established their presence in the urban areas around present day Punjab and the Hindu Kush. Alexander himself established at least five known sizeable Greek settlements in the subcontinent including Taxila and Caucasus.

Buddhism was received well and spread quite rapidly among the Greeks of Alexandria of the Caucasus and Taxila to the point that in Asoka’s time (269 BC) these were main Buddhist centres.

For example, Mahavamsa says that one of the high monks present in the devotion of Ruwanweliseya to the Sangha in 137 BC was a Yona (Greek) monk called Dharmarikkita who brought 30,000 Greek monks from Alexandria on the Caucasus to join him.

Yet despite the rise and rise of Buddhism in these cities we also find that in both cities there was a strong following of the traditional Hellenic religion. As much as people took refuge in the Dhamma they also continued to worship the Greek gods.

In fact with the rise of Greco-Buddhist arts we suddenly see representation of the Greek gods either acting as guardian to the Buddha or are represented as Devas present during the great events in life of the Buddha’s, like the Devas in support of the Buddha during the Great Departure.

The Buddha, in Greco-Buddhist style, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara (Modern Pakistan)


During the two centuries of their rule, the Indo-Greek kings combined the Greek and Indian languages and symbols, and blended ancient Greek and Buddhist religious practices, as seen in the archaeological remains of their cities and in the indications of their support of Buddhism, pointing to a rich fusion of Indian and Hellenistic influences.

The Greeks in India even seem to have played an active role in the propagation of Buddhism, as some of the emissaries of Ashoka such as Dharmaraksita or the teacher Mahadharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek (“Yona”) Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist propagation (the Mahavamsa).

It is also thought that Greeks contributed to the sculptural work of the Pillars of Ashoka, and more generally to the blossoming of Mauryan art.

Although there is still some debate, the first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha himself are often considered a result of the Greco-Buddhist interaction. Before this innovation, Buddhist art was “aniconic”: the Buddha was only represented through his symbols (the Bodhi tree, the Buddha’s footprints).

In many parts of the Ancient World, the Greeks did develop divinities that could become a common religious focus for populations with different traditions: a well-known example is God Sarapis, introduced by Ptolemy I in Egypt, which combined aspects of Greek and Egyptian Gods.

In India as well, it was only natural for the Greeks to create a single common divinity by combining the image of a Greek God-King , with the traditional attributes of the Buddha.

Historians believe that many of the stylistic elements in the representations of the Buddha point to Greek influence: the Greco-Roman toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders, the stance of the upright figures. A large quantity of sculptures combining Buddhist and purely Hellenistic styles and iconography were excavated at the Gandharan sites..

Hellenic Buddhism

To understand the true perspective of this issue, first we must understand what ancient Greek religion was? The ancient Greek religion was mostly an orthopraxis religion: a system which adheres to a common practice. This differentiates the Greek religion from modern religions of the world.

The ancient Greeks would therefore have no determent learning a new philosophy or worshiping a God unknown to the Greek pantheon if they were to go to a different country. What they would be unwilling to do however would be to break customs.

Greco-Buddhism therefore is a form where the Buddhist religious and philosophical belief is practiced and integrated alongside Greek customs and reverence to the Greek Gods but also Greek philosophies.

In fact as Buddhism became more and more integrated into the life of the Indo-Greeks and some Greek Gods became seen as guardians of the Buddha and thus Guardian Gods of Buddhism.

The Greeks being a culture that adopted Buddhism also had Greek Gods who were associated as guardian Gods of Buddhism.

From a Hellenic viewpoint the Greek Gods can be guardian over many things, from guardian of cities to guardian of philosophies and for a Greek God to be a guardian of a philosophical and religious idea popular amongst the Greeks is not in contradiction to the general approach of the ancient Greek religion.

Hellenism and Buddhism are unique in that both that place equal emphasis on both the individual and on society.

Hellenism emphasizes a lot on an individual’s personal development but also on the individual’s duty to society and also the society’s duty back to the individual. Hellenism and Buddhism place a lot of onus on parents, teachers, elders, and society in general to develop an individual.

At the same time both view that every individual needs to contribute back and be a functional member of the society they belong to. Individuals at the very least are supposed to participate in the local economy and local civic duties whenever possible and to be good citizens or good community members.

Buddhist Information Centre almost complete

Buddhist Information Centre almost complete

The construction program of the Sambuddha Jayanthi Memorial has moved forward in several steps. The memorial could be seen in its complete structure in the vicinity of Tunmulla Junction, Colombo. The organizing committee anticipates to open the building on Vesak full moon poya day in 2011.

Buddhist Cultural Centre Director Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi Thera has taken steps to construct this building to mark the Sambuddha Jayanthi anniversary as a step to fill a void in the Theravada Buddhist world. The building will be the only Theravada Buddhist information centre in the world.

All Sri Lankans should therefore be familiar with the importance of this construction. The noble monks have been conserving the pure Theravada tradition all throughout. They did so by memorizing the teachings.

Sambuddha Jayanthi Memorial work in progress

In other parts of the world monks protect the teaching by acquiring more knowledge. It is recorded, however, that the pure Dhamma remains only in Sri Lanka. The present generation should conserve the teachings to the future generations too. It is their duty.

Well versed Buddhist scholars opine that Buddhism is the greatest world heritage one can see. It is the way to live in peace. It is the way to live a relaxed life. It is the way to face death in peace.

Since the day the Buddhist culture was established, Sri Lankans practised it as their own lifestyle.

Even following the introduction of many other cultures such as Hindu, Portuguese, Dutch and English our people still continue to practice their customs. The open economy, globalization and urbanization have mainly changed our people’s attitudes.

Now we have lost about half our core values and it’s time we had reformed our crumbling society. The construction of the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandira is one main avenue to reach the target of rehabilitation in the Sri Lankan society.

To make this objective come true the Buddhist Cultural Centre has been launching numerous programs since 1999. Publication of books is one leading program organized by the Centre. A large number of Buddhists was inspired to read, as a result. They shall continue reading these books, which are of a high quality.

According to the Centre’s agenda, they have implemented a number of training programs for newly ordained monks. As a first step books have been published giving guidelines for education. Publication of books for the students of Dhamma schools is also another program.

Of the programs they have recently launched Dhamma training programs for Bhikkunis and Dasasil Mathas, and donation programs for temples in difficult areas take a lead role.

The construction of the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandiraya is the pinnacle of all these programs. It will be the single roof under which all Theravada Buddhist information is gathered, especially with its large conference hall with the 600-seating capacity. Besides studies on Mahayana, Wajrayana and Thanthrayana Buddhism is also possible.

Half the construction is now complete. Rs. 200 million – the total estimate is Rs. 300 million - will be required to cover the rest of the construction, the organizing committee said.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who provided the land for the memorial, laid the foundation stone at the request of Ven Kirama Wimalajothi Thera. Former Urban Development and Sacred Area Development Minister Dinesh Gunawardana guided the construction project.

Interested citizens are requested to fund this program of national importance. This is quite a beneficial opportunity both local and foreign-settled Buddhists. Donations could be deposited at the Sampath Bank Plc, Nugegoda Branch, Sri Lanka Account No. 000360001601.

All cheques/ bank drafts should be drawn in favour of the Buddhist Cultural Centre crossed ‘Account Payee’. Credit Card payments can be made through the website:

Story of the white-clad Buddha

Story of the white-clad Buddha

And the man behind its making:

In the busy outskirts of the city there is a place for quietude. You probably pass it on your way to work. And you may even be the kind of Buddhist who stands up from your seat on the bus, to pay homage to this serene, white-clad statue. But did you stop to think who might have carved that tranquil smile on to the statue or painted-in those calm eyes?

“This is a rare type of Buddha statue, in it that it is a statue with the eyes displayed,” said Sama Vihara Chief Incumbent Ven Athapaththukande Ananda Thera. Built in the 1950s by the Wellawatta Spinning and Weaving Mills, Buddhist Society, the statue in question, the Sama Vihara Buddha statue in Havelock Town, is one of the very few such statues by the roadside, not to mention the most lifelike.

Buddha statue at Sama Vihara. Pictures by Ruwan de Silva

Ahangama Baas Unnehe, now aged 81, is the only one alive of the three entrusted with the task of building the statue. He was working in the Bogala flats, at the age of 27, when the Loku Baas Unnehe, by the name of Eliveris, 70 years old at the time, commissioned him and another for the work. “We knew from the very beginning that this was going to be special” said Noris Ahangama reminiscing.

The statue is believed to possess special spiritual powers, its soothing whiteness inspired by the Samadhi Buddha Statue. Ahangama claimes that this is due to the fact that the building was done in keeping with the auspicious times. The construction was carried out with the utmost piety. “Even the sand used, was washed and sprinkled with turmeric.”

There is an unwritten tradition among the sculptors, that work on a Thupa or a Buddha statue should not conclude the same year it commenced. Eliveris, Ahangama and the other were able to finish its construction, without a hitch, within the time frame assigned.

That it is a very attractive statue is a plain fact. Eliveris has claimed that he intended it to be the lifelike statue it is. Ahangama who has always been a pious Buddhist has worked on Thupas and Buddha statues all his life. “This statue was different from anything else I have worked on before or since” said Ahangama.

A huge cobra had been seen on site just before the commencement of the construction. Eliveris apparently took this as a positive singe, because he promptly conducted the pooja required prior to the building of the statue.

Chief Incumbent Ven. Ananda Thera explained that the introduction of an open economy in the late 1970s tolled the slow but sure death knell of the Sri Lankan garment industry at the time.

“All the land was sold for a fraction of their worth. Not to mention the equipment and metal sold for scrap by the government.” But for some inexplicable reason they could not move the statue as was their original intention.

Ven. Ananda Thera explained that the Sama Vihara was born out of a revolution. “The Wellawatta Mills were a workplace for people of all races and religions. Everybody unanimously objected to moving the statue.”

Apparently the Trade Unions were no match for the authorities. He explained that the Maha Sangha also intervened with a huge protest, for which they were bitterly punished.

Noris Ahangama

In fact the Sama Vihara was built nearly two decades ago with the intention of protecting the Buddha statue as well as to represent Buddhist rights in a multi-religious setting. It may be a small place but do not be misguided. All the religious and cultural rituals are performed as in any other place of worship. Monks spend their rain retreat in the Vihara and the statue is white-washed annually.

According to Ananda Thera many a pedestrian, students of the adjacent Lumbini Maha Vidyalaya and even foreigners prostrate before the statue.

It is believed that the statue possesses such power that it would bring any passer by to his knees. Even devout Hindus are known to stop and prostrate at the feet of the statue, on their way to the kovil.

“This is because we live in such religious harmony” said Ven. Ananda Thera. Nestled between several places of religious worship, such as the nearby Mayurapathy Kovil and the mosque, Sama Vihara stands for Buddhist identity.

Ananda Thera claimed that although the Vihara and the Buddha statue is in fairly good condition, it requires the immediate attention of the public as well as that of the Ministry of Buddha Sasana. “Nowhere else will you encounter such a statue that would soothe your mind.”

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