Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The message of Arahant Mahinda loud and clear

With the expansion of scientific knowledge and development of technology, Buddhism is coming to be more and more correctly understood by a vast majority of non-Buddhists. This is partly because of their own keen search for truth. Therefore, it is a matter of paramount importance that Buddhists themselves make a keener in-depth study of their own religious heritage.

The message of Arahant Mahinda turns out to be the most fortunate we Sri Lankans have ever received, and that a little over two thousand three hundred years ago. At that time, during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, we apparently had reached a high level of culture. Our pre-Buddhist king of Anuradhapura at that time had taken to deer hunting as a royal sport. The arrival of Thera Mahinda in Sri Lanka marked a turning point in our history.

Within a couple of centuries we were turned away from hunting, both as a sport as well as an avenue for gluttonous eating. Sri Lankan kings like Amandagamini, Silakala, Aggabodhi IV and Mahinda III, who had by then taken to Buddhist life in earnest, imposed a ban on the slaughter of animals (‘ma ghatam karayi dipe sabbesam yeva paninam’ Mhv. 41.v.30) Our indebtedness as a country or nation to the source of this inspiration has to remain incalculable for all times. This is indeed the message the whole world today is looking up to, conscious or unconscious in the process of doing so. It is the message of Shakyamuni the Buddha, given to mankind as a whole, with no thoughts of chosen or selected people. His dhamma was more than mere good news to the poor and the oppressed. This is what earns for Buddhism its honoured title of ‘Fastest Spreading Religion’ in many parts of the world today.


At the time it was delivered, it was not meant to be Into-centric. Within a very short time, overriding barriers of ethnicity and physical terrain, it reached as far west as the Caspian Sea, over today’s Middle East regions of Afghanistan, Iran etc. In the north, it traversed over desert along oases of the ancient Silk Route, reaching China as early as 50 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Ming Ti. China, Korea and Japan came under its benign influence, reflecting to the world even today their cultural enrichment under the guidance and inspiration of Buddhism.

In the message of Buddhism, the world shall find comfort today in the face of threats of violence both at social and domestic levels, of rape and brutal murders prompted by sex excitement and evils of drug addiction, of pathetic devastation of mankind, at all ages, resulting from AIDS, HIV, STD or sexually transmitted diseases. The much debated problems of abortion, fatherless homes and unmarried mothers, witnessed all around us and everywhere, could very well be kept at a low ebb, only if sanity prevailed and the words of the Buddha were adequately heeded.

The Buddha clearly stated that the world would be saved through an understanding of and living up to the ideals of the Dhamma. ‘He who sees the Dhamma sees me’. He said (Yo dammam passati so mam passati). As a redeemer, he does not need to be reborn.


Delivered to the world more than two and a half millennia ago, and to Sri Lanka via Thera Mahinda a few centuries later, the primary concern of Buddhism is the regulation and revitalizing of interpersonal relationships within the human community.

That is where Buddhist religious living well and truly begins. This is why all Buddhist activities, no merely the rituals and ceremonies within and without the temples, begin with the voluntary acceptance and the pledge to keep and fulfil the basic code of ‘pancasila.’

They embody some of the fundamental human rights of respect for life and respect for property and a great deal more. Read no more and no less than verses 246 and 247 of the Dhammapada to discover the dynamism of this Buddhist approach to social problems. Answers to these lie not in prayer and supplication to forces outside man but in the total correction of human attitudes and approaches. The

The message....

Above verses emphatically assert that maladjusted relationships in society lead both to social disruption as well as to personal deterioration and disaster, literally digging out the very roots of one’s existence - ‘mulam khanati attano’.

Why then not be morally good? On this area of societal considerations or moral goodness in Buddhism, one only needs to be reminded of a very few basic sermons of the Buddha which He appears to have delivered at a very down-to-earth congregational level.

Moral goodness

One is the Veludvareyya Sutta or the sermon at the Bamboo Gate, preached to the lay community of the Veludvara village (S.V. 352-6). The main theme here is moral goodness and consequent moral harmony. (Sama-cariya and ‘dhammacariya’). The main thrust of the Buddha’s argument here is ‘Why not treat society in the same way you would like society to treat you? This is called ‘attupanayika dhammapariyaya’ or the self-testing method of the worth of moral goodness.

The other is the Saleyyaka Sutta wherein the Buddha provides us with an almost perfect legal document with which any Buddhist who wishes to regulate and discipline his life on Buddhist lines could do so without any infringement of the Buddhist rules laid down (M.I.285-90). This sutta discusses in detail the rules relating to the ten offenses through thought, word and deed - ‘dasa kamma patha’. We would call upon all those interested in the study of moral considerations in Buddhism as a religion to take a close and careful look into these two suttas and see their total implications. Morality or ‘sila’ implied therein does not imply a mere negative or exclusively personal purity, unrelated to the world one lives in.

In the message delivered in Sri Lanka as far back as twenty-three centuries ago, Thera Mahinda did not lost track of his thesis. With the assistance of the text of the Cullahatthipadopama Sutta (M.I. 175-84), Thera Mahinda placed the Buddha on the highest pedestal He deserves to be on, delineated his greatness as the teacher of gods and men and indicated that his path to salvation led one from the world of mundane pleasure of today’s over-exaggerated women, wine and song.

Intellectual maturity

Within a few days or weeks, this was followed by yet another course of Buddhist instruction. We are told that the Petavatthu and Vimanavatthu provided much material for his sermons to his new converts. We are particularly interested in his choice of the Petavatthu. It is no indication, as far as we feel, of the lack of intellectual maturity of his Sri Lankan audiences.

The Petatthu is more eloquent and more vehement as a warning that neglect and disregard of the moral instructions issued in Buddhism which could lead one in one’s next life, to a total loss of the prestigious human position which one presently enjoys. This is the very realistic sense in which the Buddhist concepts of ‘apaya’ and ‘niraya’ are to be viewed.

It is our firm conviction that today, with the expansion of scientific knowledge and development of technology, Buddhism is coming to be more and more correctly understood by a vast majority of non-Buddhists. This is partly because of their own keen search for truth. Therefore, it is a matter of paramount importance that Buddhists themselves make a keener in-depth study of their own religion.

The message of Arahant Mahinda has been good enough to outlive the lifetime of the world. The fountain from which it has been derived needs no revisionist updating. No authorised or unauthorised emissaries ever descend to earth to revise the original teachings of Buddhism which are declared as the teachings of all time: ‘esa dhammo sanantano’. No new bulletins ever need to be issued. Therefore, on this day of the Poson full moon our very kind admonition to our readers is “Sunatha dharetha charatha dhamme”. ‘Give attention to this teaching. Bear it well in your mind. Live your life in accordance with it.

May all beings be well and happy. May there be peace on earth and goodwill among men.

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