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Friday, October 22, 2010

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.

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