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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meditation, heart of Buddhism

Meditation, heart of Buddhism

It’s easy saying “I’m enlightened”, but then something happens like that and you run a mile. Another monk in Hampstead at the time was just going for a walk in the afternoon when he passed a pub. He didn’t realise at the time that there was a big soccer match between England and Scotland on that day. It had already finished and the Scots supporters where in the pub getting drunk. Around this period, there was a popular TV series about a Kung Fu monk who, when he was small, was called “grasshopper.” These sozzled Scots soccer fans looked through the window of the pub and said “Och it’s wee grasshopper,” and this monk took fright.

These where big Scotsmen and they were very drunk. So he started running away, and they chased him all the way back to the Temple. “Wee grasshopper” was running for his life. He lost it. But the sort of practical letting go that Ajahn Chah did in Hampstead is something which gives you a sense that you are on the road to enlightenment.

Gradual path

Meditation-The best way to attain inner peace

The Heart of Buddhism is a gradual path, one step after another step, and you do get results. Some people say you shouldn’t meditate to get results. That’s a lot of hogwash! Meditate to get results! Meditate to be happy. Meditate to get peace. Meditate to get enlightened, little by little. But if you’re going for results, be patient. One of the problems with Westerners is that when they make goals, they are not patient enough.

That’s why they get disillusioned, depressed and frustrated. They don’t give their practice enough time to mature naturally into enlightenment. It takes time, maybe a few life times even, so don’t be in a rush. As you walk each step, there is always something you get out of it. Let go a little and you get freedom and peace. Let go a lot and you feel bliss. This is how I teach meditation both at my monastery and here. I encourage meditators to aim for these stages of letting go, these bliss states called Jhana.


Everyone wants to be happy, and the Jhanas are how you can achieve happiness, I mean real happiness, deep happiness. The only trouble is these states don’t last very long, only a few hours, but still they are very attractive. They arise through letting go, real letting go. In particular they arise through letting go of will, choice, control. It’s a fascinating thing to experience a deep meditation and understand how it comes about.

Through such an experience you realise that the more you control, the more you crave because of attachments, the less peaceful you get. But the more you let go, the more you abandon, the more you get out of the way, the happier you feel. Now this is a teaching of something very profound, much deeper than you can read in a book or hear in a talk and certainly much more useful than discussing these things over a coffee table. You’re actually experiencing something. This is getting towards the heart of religion, that which people call mysticism. You’re actually experiencing it for your self. In particular you are letting go of this “controller,” this “doer.”

Prime problem

Now that is the prime problem for human beings. We can’t stop messing things up. Very often we should just leave things alone but we can’t, we don’t. Instead we make a mess. Why can’t you just relax and enjoy yourself instead of always doing something?

It’s hard to stop in meditation, but the more you stop the more rewards you get, the more peace you get. When you let go in meditation, let go the will, let go of the control, when you stop talking to yourself, you get inner silence.

How many of you are fed up yet with this racket that goes on inside your head all the time? How many of you sometimes can’t get to sleep at night when there’s no noise from the neighbours but there is something even louder between your ears. Yak, Yak, Yak, Worry, Worry, Worry, Think, Think, Think! This is the problem with human beings, when it’s time to think they can’t think clearly and when it’s time to stop thinking they can’t be at peace. When we learn how to meditate we get this sense of being more balanced, and we know how to let go. We now how to let go to the point where all thoughts disappear. These thoughts are just commentaries, they’re just descriptions. The difference between thought and reality is the difference between, say, reading a book about New York and going to New York.

Which is more real? When you’re there, you smell the air, you feel the atmosphere, you sense the character, all of which are things you can’t write in a book. The truth is always silent. The lie is always with words.

When the Body Disappears

Remember “con men,” “con women” as well. These con men can sell you anything! There’s one living in your mind right now, and you believe every word he says! His name is Thinking. When you let go of that inner talk and get silent, you get happy. Then when you let go of the movement of the mind and stay with the breath, you experience even more delight.

Then when you let go of the body ,all these five senses disappear and you’re really blissing out. This is original Buddhism. Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch completely vanish. This is like being in a sensory deprivation chamber but much better. But it’s not just silence, you just don’t hear anything. It’s not just blackness, you just don’t see anything. It’s not just a feeling of comfort in the body, there is no body at all.


When the body disappears that really starts to feel great. You know of all those people who have out of the body experiences? When the body dies, every person has that experience, they float out of the body. And one of the things they always say is it’s so peaceful, so beautiful, so blissful. It’s the same in meditation when the body disappears, it’s so peaceful, so beautiful, so blissful when you are free from this body. What’s left? Here there’s no sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. This is what the Buddha called the mind in deep meditation. When the body disappears what is left is the mind.

I gave a simile to a monk the other night. Imagine an Emperor who is wearing a long pair of trousers and a big tunic. He’s got shoes on his feet, a scarf around the bottom half of his head and a hat on the top half of his head. You can’t see him at all because he’s completely covered in five garments. It’s the same with the mind. It’s completely covered with sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. So people don’t know it.

They just know the garments. When they see the Emperor, they just see the robes and the garments. They don’t know who lives inside them. And so it is no wonder they’re confused about what is life, what is mind, who is this inside of here, were did I come from? Why? What am I supposed to be doing with this life? When the five senses disappear, it’s like unclothing the Emperor and seeing what is actually in here, what’s actually running the show, who’s listening to these words, who’s seeing, who’s feeling life, who this is. When the five senses disappear, you’re coming close to the answer to those questions.

What you’re seeing in such deep meditation is that which we call “mind,” (in Pali it’s called Citta). The Buddha used this beautiful simile. When there is a full moon on a cloudy night, even though it’s a full moon, you can hardly see it. Sometimes when the clouds are thin, you can see this hazy shape shining though.

You know there is something there. This is like the meditation just before you’ve entered into these profound states. You know there is something there, but you can’t quite make it out. There’s still some “clothes” left. You’re still thinking and doing, feeling the body or hearing sounds. But there does come a time, and this is the Buddha’s simile, when the moon is released from the clouds and there in the clear night sky you can see the beautiful full disc of the moon shining brilliantly, and you know that’s the moon.

The moon is there; the moon is real, and it’s not just some sort of side effect of the clouds. This is what happens in meditation when you see the mind. You see clearly that the mind is not some side effect of the brain. You see the mind, and you know the mind. The Buddha said that the mind released is beautiful, is brilliant, is radiant. So not only are these blissful experiences, they’re meaningful experiences as well.

How many people may have heard about rebirth but still don’t really believe it? How can rebirth happen? Certainly the body doesn’t get reborn. That’s why when people ask me where do you go when you die, “one of two places” I say “Fremantle or Karrakatta” that’s where the body goes! But is that where the mind goes? Sometimes people are so stupid in this world, they think the body is all there is, that there is no mind.

So when you get cremated or buried that’s it, that’s done with, all has ended. The only way you can argue with this view is by developing the meditation that the Buddha achieved under the Bodhi tree. Then you can see the mind for yourself in clear awareness - not in some hypnotic trance, not in dullness - but in the clear awareness. This is knowing the mind

Knowing the Mind

When you know that mind, when you see it for yourself, one of the results will be an insight that the mind is independent of this body. Independence means that when this body breaks up and dies, when it’s cremated or when it’s buried, or however it’s destroyed after death, it will not affect the mind. You know this because you see the nature of the mind.

That mind which you see will transcend bodily death. The first thing which you will see for yourself, the insight which is as clear as the nose on your face, is that there is something more to life than this physical body that we take to be me. Secondly you can recognise that that mind, essentially, is no different than that process of consciousness which is in all beings. Whether it’s human beings or animals or even insects, of any gender, age or race, you see that that which is in common to all life is this mind, this consciousness, the source of doing.

Once you see that, you have much more respect for your fellow beings. Not just respect for your own race, your own tribe or your own religion, not just for human beings, but for all beings. It’s a wonderfully high-minded idea. “May all beings be happy and well and may we respect all nations, all peoples, even all beings.” However this is how you achieve that! You truly get compassion only when we see that others are fundamentally just as ourselves.

If you think that a cow is completely different from you, that cows don’t think like human beings, then it’s easy to eat one. But can you eat your grandmother? She’s too much like you. Can you eat an ant? Maybe you’d kill an ant because you think that ants aren’t like you.

But if you look carefully at ants, they are no different. In a forest monastery living out in the bush, close to nature, one of the things you become so convinced of is that animals have emotions and , especially, feel pain. You begin to recognise the personality of the animals, of the kookaburras, of the mice, the ants, and the spiders.

Each one of those spiders has a mind just like you have. Once you see that you can understand the Buddha’s compassion for all beings. You can also understand how rebirth can occur between all species - not just human beings to human beings, but animals to humans, humans to animals. You can understand also how the mind is the source of all this.

The mind can exist even without a body in the realms of ghosts and angels (what we call in Buddhism Devas). It becomes very clear to you how they exist, why they exist, what they are.

These are insights and understandings which come from deep meditation. But more than that, when you know the nature of the mind then you know the nature of consciousness.

You know the nature of stillness. You know the nature of life. You understand what makes this mind go round and round and round, what makes this mind seek rebirth. You understand the law of Kamma.

The Three Knowledges

The First Knowledge. When the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, according to tradition he gained three knowledge’s. The first knowledge was the memory of past lives. When you get close to the mind, there are certain powers that come with that experience.

The powers are no more than an ability, a dexterity with the use of the mind. It’s like the difference between a dog that has been running wild and a dog that has been well trained. You can tell the trained dog to go and pick up the newspaper. It wags its tail and goes and picks up the newspaper for you. Some people have got their dogs so well trained that they can actually pick up the telephone. Maybe they could answer the telephone as well, then that would really save you a lot of time!

When you get to these deep states of meditation often, the mind becomes well trained.

To be continued

Parithrana, the greatest blessing

Parithrana, the greatest blessing

Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gautama Buddha emerged for the happiness and emancipation of humanity. The universal truth He discovered was a meaningful message to the mankind. He proclaimed that happiness was supreme among all belongings and His most sincere wish was the happiness and well-being of all living beings alike. This was nothing but love and compassion (Metta) boundless, extended to all without limitation. He saw life in reality.

His ultimate aim was “May all beings be happy safe and relieved from evils of life, sufferings of Samsara and attain Nibbana.” This is clearly stated in His teachings. The gist of Buddhism are the thoughts of Buddha himself. Buddhism is what has sprung form His intellect, to bless the people. The great Master’s parithrana recitals are an outstanding example.

Blissful message

In Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings a high position is accorded to Parithrana Desana. It is invariably a part and parcel of His teachings. The Buddha being a fountain of compassion spent all His time journeying from place to place in North India purely for human welfare for their intellectual awakening. These words of the Fully Awakened One was in Pali, the common dialect of the region, probably the language used by Him also widely understood by His disciples all over.

These discourses preserved in pali, the ancient language the Buddha spoke, is continued up to this day and it is a widespread Buddhist practice and ceremony to conduct Parithrana Desana. Early Buddhist literature reveals that people sought the advice and assistance of the Buddha who was widely known as a healer and a saviour at various times, when they were stricken with disaster and misfortune.

Through overwhelming love and compassion Parithrana was first evolved as a protection from great perils and upheavals such as disease, epidemics and terror caused by evil spirits.

Sakyamuni Buddha believed that a healthy environment filled with Dhamma fragrance will be a solace to the fear stricken stressful minds in minimizing the tension caused. The Buddhas approach to these problems and the soothing effect of Parithrana on human mind was of no small significance and it was soon realized to be the greatest blessing on earth.

Contents of Parithrana

The ancient Buddhist chant is derived from the discourses of Buddha himself, the very words of intellect selected to suit different situations.

The discourse on blessings (Mangala Sutta – from the Sutta Nipata) composed of 12 stanzas is said to have been delivered by the Buddha to clear the doubts of the Devas (Gods) when they were anxious to know the true meaning of “Blessings”. The great Master explained that it is not something transmitted from a divine source but a state of sublime peace and wellbeing, that develops in one’s mind due to righteous living, adhering to Dhamma, maintaining human dignity.

The Sakka the king of Devas is said to have requested them to radiate there loving kindness towards human beings and protect them. Because every stanza ends with the original words of the Buddha ie. “This is the Supreme Blessing” (Etam Mangala Muttamam) as being most noble and worthy, with its soothing effect on human mind.

Ratana Sutta - the Discourse on Jewels another discourse from Sutta Nipata, is said to have been delivered by the Buddha when the royal family and the people of the ancient city of Vesali requested the Buddha to save them, from the three menacing epidemics (plaque) disease, famine and evil spirits (Thun Biya – which Veedagama Maha Thera illustrates in convincing poetic language in his Buduguna Alankaraya) a valuable literary work on the virtues of the Buddha.

The Buddha expressed the above sutta, emphasising the spiritual values of the Holy Triple Gem Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha as a remedial measure to bring back normalcy to Vesali. After the recital of the Parithrana, water was sprinkled around the city to be protected by the healing power of this powerful Ratana Sutta.

At the end of every stanza the Buddha blessed everyone saying – by this truth may all beings be happy and contented (Etena sacchena suvathi hotu).

Here too, Sakka the divine king instructed his retinue to listen carefully and fulfill their religious obligations to avert human misery. After grasping the sutta, he had got so delighted that he had added the last three stanzas on his own, in veneration of the Triple Gem.

Karaniya Metta Sutta

The discourse on universal goodwill is yet another discourse also from the Sutta Nipata, consisting of 10 stanzas, based on a meditative theme on loving kindness as the name suggests, which had been delivered during Buddha’s own lifetime. Sakyamuni Buddha came to the aid of 500 monks who had gone to the forest, to practise meditation. They had been disturbed and scared by evil spirits.

They approached the Buddha for a solution upon which he advised them to go back to the same place fully armed with ‘Metta’ for their safety. The Buddha then delivered this Sutta to allay their fears and practise loving kindness.

The main objective of this popular discourse was to instill strength and create self-confidence, which was a great success. The evil spirits having repented paid their due respect to the monks. This is therefore considered to be a very powerful and an important Sutta to achieve peace and happiness.

This is terminated with the expression “By the firm determination of this truth may I or you ever be well”. During Buddha time the entire humanity was benefitted, many disasters, misfortunes and human misery was done away with by reciting Paritta Suttas describing the highest qualities of the Buddha. This was first recited in early Sri Lanka to save the people from famine and plaque during the reign of King Upatissa (362 AD – 409). The recitation of Parithrana had gradually become a common practice and it is said that Attakatha had formulated a ritual to be followed in conducting monks to a house for Parithrana recitals. These Parittas, too numerous to be mentioned here handed down in Pali, spreading its sacredness is recited islandwide in most Buddhist homes for greater blessings.


The ancient Buddhist chant is supposed to be of therapeutic nature when it is conducted with pure love and compassion, it can absolutely bring peace, tranquility and healing to others. Every meaningful word of Buddha when recited, its soothing effect on man’s mind creates inner peace, serene joy, devoid of hatred and jealousy.

All unwholesome thoughts would disappear when undivided, absolute attention and concentration is given to the melodious chant and its vibration within its precincts. Since it is chanted in unison by an entire congregation of Bhikkhus in a serene tone, the impressive atmosphere thus created drives one to be completely free of evil thoughts and be filled with mindful spiritual virtues.

One may reap a stress free mind with protection from unforeseen danger and mental relaxation for better concentration on Buddha Dhamma – the key to Nibbana. Let the Motherland be blessed with Parithrana for Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Nawagamuwa Devalaya - Dedicated to goddess Pattini

Nawagamuwa Devalaya - Dedicated to goddess Pattini

It was the day of the ICC Cricket world cup finals. Sri Lanka was yet to play the biggest match of the season. With the intention of coming back before the commencement of the match, we started our journey from Colombo to the famous Nawagamuwa Devalaya around 9 a.m. Situated at the 13th mile post of Colombo-Rathnapura Road, 4km from Kaduwela Junction, it is one of the most visited devalayas of the country.

Nawagamuwa Devalaya is a shrine dedicated to Goddess Pattini. Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists offer poojas to the deity with the intention of getting blessings for children and pregnant mothers. On the day we visited, the place was full of devotees despite the match. History of this devalaya goes back to the Anuradhapura era. As the legend unfolds King Gajaba 1 (A.D. 114 - 136) came from India with 12,000 men as prisoners, bringing with him a Pattini anklet, he landed at a place close to devalaya. Devalaya was built enshrining the anklet.

“Other version of this legend is that Goddess Pattini arrived at this place from India with 12,000 devotees belonging to 16 castes. The men and women settled down in adjacent villages to serve the goddess,” said Nawagamuwe Podi Hamuduruvo Atigala Kunnarathana Thera.

Moonstone with floral decor

“The well, which is believed to be the one that the Goddess Pattini used to bathe, can be found near the devalaya,” said the Thera. “The oldest building of the premises is the Pattini Devalaya. Viharageya and the other artefacts had been built later to accommodate the large number of devotees arrived at the place,” he added.

The temple, which is attached to the devalaya is Sri Sugathabimbaramaya. The first historical mention of the Nawagamuwa Pattini Devale is found during the Kotte period, in the ‘Godagama Sannasa’, it is said that King Buwanekabahu V (A.D. 1521 - 1580), a gift of oil is made for the Nawagamuwa Pattini Kovil Perahera.

This area was historically important even during the period of King Sitawaka. It is renowned that King Mayadunne (A.D. 1521 - 1580) had stopped at the Nawagamuwa Pattini Devale to make a vow before he went to war with the Portuguese in the Colombo Fort. According to the reports of the Portuguese, in 1550, the King of Portuguese sent 600 troops to help King Buwanekabahu V. They fought with King Mayadunne at Nawagamuwa. It is also recorded that in 1576, the Portuguese army destroyed Nawagamuwa Devale and established an army camp there.

The devalaya was rebuilt by King Mayadunne only to be destroyed again by the Captain of the Colombo Fort, leaving a pile of ruins. According to the Department of Archaeology some building materials, Dutch coins, and iron implements have been found during an excavation around the devalaya.

Dagoba of the temple Bodhisatva Statue

The Viharageya, which is believed to have been built in 19th century, is a beautiful building with paintings belonging to the Kandy era. It has four stone entrances and three Bodhisattva Statues. The inner part of the Viharageya has a long reclining Buddha Statue and a statue of God Vishnu. That ceiling is decorated with magnificent floral paintings. The door, which opens to the inner hall, is decorated with paintings of a flower and a picture of a worshipping ‘vamana’.

The stone pillars in front of the building are believed to be from a temple, which has been destroyed during the Portuguese period. The whole building is built on a stone foundation. The moonstone at the entrance, which belongs to the post Kandy period is rather different from what we see in other places. Instead of a liyawela this one has six petal flowers and tuskers.

There are also two doratupala figures and remains of a Makara Thorana. “The oldest shrine of the devalaya premises is the Galkanu Devalaya,” said Podi Hamuduruwo. This shrine is built of four stone posts. The remains of the original stone posts are still visible. Some people believe these as rubbles of the first Pattini Devalaya. However, this was rebuilt during the Katuwawala Sri Sumanathissa Thera, one of the Chief Priests of the Sri Sugathabimbaramaya.

The Maha Pattini Devalaya, the main shrine of the area, has been built during the 19th century. A gilded statue of the Goddess Pattini is enshrined in it. There are five other shrines stands in a row in front of the Maha Devalaya. Out of these Dedimunda, Kataragama and Vishnu Devalayas belongs to the 19th century, however others are built recently. During a recent research conducted by the Department of Archaeology, Viharage, Sangavasaya (the Monks abode), Galkanu Devalaya, Maha Pattini Devale, along with these three ancient shrines has declared as archaeologically important sites.

Ancient Devala

Old avasaya ge

In addition to that, a grove of Naa-tree, which is believed to be more than 100 years old, is also one of the protected sites. “The legend says that there is a white king cobra in this grove,” said Podi Hamuduruvo. “I have never seen him, but there are people who had spotted him,” he added. The procession of the devalaya is also unique. Unlike other shrines, Bulls are used for the procession instead of elephants. This is known as ‘Gon Pita Perehera’. “The jewels of Vishnu and Kataragama are taken on bulls back during the Perehera,” explained Podi Hamuduruwo.

Stories related to the devalaya are also interesting as much as its history. The most popular out of those is that once a Jak fruit has grown out of the wooden entrance of the devalaya. A villager who had come into the devalaya premises in search of his cow had spotted this well grown Jak fruit. The hungry villager had offered a portion to Goddess Pattini and had eaten the rest. Hearing this story the angry kapurala of the devalaya had cursed the villager. “However, it is said that the Kapurala himself had died from that curse,” explained the thera. “This devalaya is a place full of miracles. Unlike today, our ancestors believed that the deity punished the drunk devotees and never allowed to pass the devalaya with loose hair,” added the Thera.

Pix: Janani Amarasekara

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