The Urban Dharma Newsletter - April, 2010
In This Issue: Buddhist Vesak
1. The Buddha a film by David Grubin
2. The Eightfold Path (Live Presentation) with Kusala Bhikshu
3. Green Monasticism / A Buddhist-Catholic Response to an Environmental Calamity
4. BUDDHISM TODAY AND AESTHETIC CREATIVITY by Ananda Guruge
5. The Meditative Gardener
6. Zen Peacemaker's
7. Vesak / An Observance of the Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment and Death
8. Vesākha / From Wikipedia
9. Rationality and Beauty of the Buddha Dharma By Prof: Y. Karunadasa PhD.
We are going into the Vesak season, a most important time for Buddhist’s around the world, below find three articles on Vesak… A film about the Buddha will air this month… And I’m giving a free presentation at Loyola Marymount Universtiy on the “Eightfold Path”… If you live in the LA area, you’re invited.
1. The Buddha a film by David Grubin
Premiering April 7, 2010 at 8 p.m. EST on PBS stations nationwide
The Buddha, a two-hour documentary for PBS by award-winning filmmaker David Grubin and narrated by Richard Gere, tells the story of the Buddha’s life, a journey especially relevant to our own bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion. The program was produced in conjunction with the exhibition Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art, organized by Asia Society Museum, New York, opening in March 2010. The companion website for The Buddha, launching in early 2010, will feature the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and sculptors, who across two millennia, have depicted the Buddha’s life in art rich in beauty and complexity. Hear insights into the ancient narrative by contemporary Buddhists — including Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.S. Merwin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Join the conversation and learn more about meditation, the history of Buddhism, and how to incorporate the Buddha’s teachings on compassion and mindfulness into daily life.
2. The Eightfold Path (Live Presentation) with Kusala Bhikshu
The Yoga Studies program invites you to a lecture by the Venerable Kusala Bhikshu as part of their Spring Lecture Series.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 / 7:30 p.m.
Location – Theological Studies Village, University Hall
(On the third floor of UHall in the Theological Studies Village.)
Loyola Marymount University (Main Campus)
1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90045
Registration – 'Free' and Open to the Public!
"The search for a spiritual path is born out of suffering. It does not start with lights and ecstasy, but with the hard tacks of pain, disappointment, and confusion. However, for suffering to give birth to a genuine spiritual search, it must amount to more than something passively received from without it has to trigger an inner realization." - Bhikkhu Bodhi
The Buddha in forty five of teaching explained two things: why humans suffer and how to end that suffering. The Venerable Kusala Bhikshu will explore the ins and outs of the Eightfold Path, how it can lead to the end of suffering, a lifestyle of simplicity and personal fulfillment. Through stories and personal insights, Ven. Kusala will demonstrate how to use and integrate the Eightfold Path into everyday life.
3. Green Monasticism / A Buddhist-Catholic Response to an Environmental Calamity
Edited by Prof. Donald Mitchell, and William Skudlarek, O.S.B.
For more than forty years—inspired by the pioneering dialogues of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the Zen master Daisetz T. Suzuki—Buddhist and Christian monastics have been engaged in interfaith colloquies about the similarities and differences between these two great spiritual traditions. In 1996 and 2002, practitioners from Catholicism and various Buddhist traditions met at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, the home of Thomas Merton, to discuss spiritual practice and the nature of suffering, respectively.
Green Monasticism is a collection of articles and talks from the third Gethesemani Encounter, which took place in 2008. The theme was the Buddhist and Catholic response to the environmental crisis. In addition to covering a wide range of Catholic thought, the essays come from both the Theravadan and Mahayana traditions and cover both North American and international monastic orders.
Table of Contents
Green Monasticism: A Buddhist-Catholic Response to an Environmental Calamity – Edited by Prof. Donald Mitchell, and William Skudlarek, O.S.B.
Introduction, William Skudlarek OSB
Section I: Thomas Merton and the Looming Ecological Crisis
* Paradise Regained Re-lost, Fr. Ezekiel Lotz OSB
Section II: Buddhist and Christian Teaching on the World and Our Place in It—Religious Vision and Ethical Choices
* Dependent Origination and the Causes and Conditions behind the Climate Crisis, Ajahn Punnadhammo
* The World as Created, Fallen, and Redeemed, Fr. James Wiseman OSB
Section III: Monastic Rules on the World and Our Life in It—Bringing New Awareness to Ancient Yet Living Documents
* The Monastic Rules of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism , Rev. Heng Sure, Ph.D.
* The Rule of Benedict, Sr. Judith Sutera OSB
Section IV: Monasticism vis-à-vis the Consumer Society
* The Monastic Instinct to Revere, to Conserve, to Be Content with Little, and to Share, Rev. Eko Little
* Christian Monasticism and Simplicity of Life, Fr. Charles Cummings OCSO
Section V: Contemporary Environmental Practices in American Monastic Communities
* Bad Practices Hidden or Justified by Ideology
o Saffron and Green in the Clear Forest Pool: A Reflection on the Four Noble Truths and Right Effort, Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni
o Complicity and Conversion, Fr. Hugh Feiss OSB
* Good Practices, Ancient and Emerging
o Good Practices of Buddhist Monastic Communities in North America, Ven. Thubten Semkye
o Good Practices of Catholic Monastic Communities in North America, Sr. Renée Branigan OSB
Section VI: Epilogue—Insights from Dialogue: Challenges to Living a Green Spirituality
* Birken: the Tradition of the Green Forest Monastery, Ajahn Sona
* The Monastic Challenge to Respond in Love, Sr. Anne McCarthey OSB
Section VII: Appendix
* The Spirituality of Interreligious Dialogue: Shaping a New Ecological Consciousness, Dr. Fabrice Blée
4. BUDDHISM TODAY AND AESTHETIC CREATIVITY by Ananda Guruge
BUDDHISM TODAY AND AESTHETIC CREATIVITY – A MISCELLANY OF RECENT ARTICLES, ESSAYS AND SPEECHES covers many areas of my personal interests in the field of Buddhist studies and action. I have shared these views, opinions, observations and concerns with many audiences in all parts of the world over the last decade. The decision to compile them into a single volume is in response to many requests I receive for copies.
These articles, essays and speeches portray a range of subjects on which most Buddhists and friends of Buddhism seek information, clarification, explanation and solution. I have done my best to share my knowledge and understanding. The treatment of each subject was determined by the nature of the invitation, the kind of targeted audience or readership or the requirements of the organizer or publisher. As such they are not exhaustive or complete. Time and space had necessitated brevity and precision. Some of the subjects dealt with here would require individual treatises if they are to be treated in adequate detail. In many instances, I have indicated where further research is required.
I have been fortunate that a large group of international friends, colleagues and acquaintances have circulated my writings through periodicals, felicitation volumes and Internet forums and that enabled me to limit what I needed to include in this volume. For example I have left out the articles contributed to Venerable Hammalawa Saddhatissa, Venerable Dhammavihari, Venerable Kakkapalliye Anuruddha, Saddhamangala Karunaratne and N. H. Samtani Felicitation Volumes and the Jagajjyoti Centennial Volume.
During the decade under review my output had been many times more despite intermittent health problems. It is my intention to bring out a compilation of Sinhala writings separately. I have also not included what is available through other media such as YouTube and www.closertotruth.com . This website is due to make available several hours of intense interviews I have had with Dr. Robert L. Kuhn on many philosophical and metaphysical issues from the Buddhist point of view.
The motivation for this publication came from a letter to the editor of Island Newspaper of Sri Lanka in response to an appreciation which Dr. Laksiri Jaysuriya of Perth, Australia and I from Los Angeles, USA wrote jointly on late Mr. Padmal de Silva of the University of London. We made reference to the vast array of articles which Padmal had published through Western periodicals on Buddhist approach to psychotherapy and ranked him as an outstanding contributor to the advancement of knowledge in this field. The writer complained that these articles were not accessible to readers in Sri Lanka and mentioned also that a similar situation existed with regard to my writings as well as the erudite contributions on a variety of subjects by Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya. As a remedial measure, I have agreed to a generous proposal of Mr. Sirisumana Godage of the Godage International Publishers of Maradana, Colombo to bring out in a series my complete works in Sinhala and English, commencing with articles published from the age of seventeen as a school boy of Dharmaraja College, Kandy.
My major works are in Sri Lankan editions. ASOKA THE RIGHTEOUS: A DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY has been translated into Sinhala by Jinasoma Weerasooriya and published by Sirisumana Godage following an initiative taken by His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse as Prime Minister. Professor Tissa Kariyawasam translated my MAHAVAMSA into Sinhala and once again it was published by Godage International Publishers who also issued a second edition of the original in English.
Already Sri Lankan editions have been published of my novels SERENDITPITY OF ANDREW GEORGE and PEACE AT LAST IN PARADISE. It is proposed to bring out a Sri Lankan Edition of the first volume of this Trilogy FREE AT LAST IN PARADISE so that my complete Sri Lankan Trilogy on Freedom to Peace will be available to Sri Lankan readers at a reasonable price. In addition, I have donated all my archival material to the National Archives Department of Sri Lanka, where the Director Dr. Saroja Wettasinghe has already put them on display for the use of researchers.
Teaching, speaking and writing on various aspects of Buddhism have occupied a fair amount of my time and energy from my younger days as when the first ever Buddhist journal of the University of Ceylon was edited and produced by me as PATIPADA in 1948 at the age of nineteen years. Traveling to all corners of the world to meet diverse audiences to deliver speeches or moderate seminars or organize conferences has been a visible reward. But the real reward of sheer joy comes from meeting persons who recall what they have heard or read and tell how much the sharing of my views had contributed to their pursuit of the study of Buddhism. I expect no less from this volume.
Neither the intellectual preparation and the actual writing nor the travel around the world to deliver these speeches would have been possible without the generous support and encouragement of my family to whom I can never be too grateful. Once again, I express my indebtedness to my wife Darshanika, the children Anura, Mardhavi Sakuntala and Nisala Abhimana and my grandchildren Danielle, Matthew, Devanee and Tieschan. It is with justifiable pride that I include as a frontispiece a poem written by my grandson Matthew, age 17, who no doubt is inspired to carry on to the third generation the family tradition of a father and a grandfather who have many books and articles to their credit.
5. The Meditative Gardener
In this wise, down-to-earth book, Master Gardener and mindfulness meditation teacher Cheryl Wilfong lovingly offers us a rich bouquet of the Buddha’s teachings. Her gentle, friendly, and humorous tone creates a nurturing environment in which to practice mindfulness in our very own gardens. Wilfong invites us to stroll through our flowerbeds, appreciating them just as they are, and noticing the joy they bring us.
Let The Meditative Gardener be your guide. Beginning meditators will find practical easy-to-follow suggestions. Lapsed meditators can refresh their practice. And seasoned meditators will appreciate the variety of wisdom practices that can be transplanted into daily life in the garden.
While sitting, walking, or bending over (a gardener’s favorite position), become aware of the present moment. Notice feelings of happiness, pleasure, and calm as you take refuge from the busy world in the sanctuary of your garden. Observe the mind in a pleasure garden. Use naturally-occurring contemplation to gain insight into the Dharma, the laws of nature.
You may not have done all the weeding or planting you had hoped, but appreciate that you are doing the best you can. As you sit in the shade of your own back yard, simply hold this book in your lap. Allow The Meditative Gardener to help you nourish the seed of enlightenment that is already growing in your heart. Use the tools of mindfulness and kindness toward yourself to discover how to cultivate your garden and meditation practice at the same time.
6. Zen Peacemaker's
The mission of the Zen Peacemakers is to alleviate suffering in the world by promoting actualized spiritual practice that includes meditation, study, direct social service and multi-faith cooperation.
The Zen Peacemakers
* Inspiring Dharma students to practice meditation, study and service as a path to awakening;
* Teaching practices of socially engaged Buddhism and socially engaged spirituality;
* Doing direct service through Bearing Witness Retreats, Zen Houses, where our graduates manage holistic social service projects for disadvantaged people and communities, and Dharma work in prisons, hospice care, workforce development, job creation, HIV/AIDS supportive services and much more.
Definition of Zen
Zen is a way of awakening to the oneness of life realized and actualized through not-knowing, bearing witness and loving actions.
We seek to bear witness to the joy and suffering of the universe, and to realize and actualize the oneness and interdependence of life through study, practice and action for personal and social transformation. We seek to connect, train and empower Zen peacemakers throughout the world. We are committed to nonviolence, inclusivity, free expression and experimentation.
We envision an enlightened society where suffering is transformed into wisdom and compassion and all beings live in harmony and are relieved of the afflictions of hunger, war and disease. Spirituality and service are tools we use to help all beings find freedom regardless of race, religion, ability, gender or nationality.
Our purpose is to create a community of peacemakers enacting a vision of peace through the practice of meditation, the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers and social engagement, and to nurture an environment for the integration, realization and actualization of peacemaking as a path of enlightenment.
The Three Tenets serve as the foundation for the Zen Peacemaker's work and practice. They underlie our commitment to broad-based inclusivity, service, multi-faith celebrations and communion, and to a lifelong peacemaking path that integrates work, training and practice.
Entering the stream of Engaged Spirituality, I vow to live a life of:
* Not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe
* Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world
* Loving actions towards ourselves and others
Zen Peacemaker’s Newsletter:
7. Vesak / An Observance of the Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment and Death - By Barbara O'Brien, About.com Guide
Vesak Puja is the most sacred holy day of Theravada Buddhism. Also called Visakha or Wesak, Vesak is an observation of the birth, enlightenment and death (parinirvana) of the historical Buddha.
Visakha is the name of a month of the Indian lunar calendar, and "puja" means "religious service." So, "Vesak Puja" can be translated "the religious service for the month of Visakha." In English, sometimes it is called "Buddha Day." Vesak Puja is held on the first full moon day of Vesakha. There are diverse lunar calendars in Asia that number the months differently, but the month during which Vesak Puja is observed usually coincides with May.
Most Mahayana Buddhists observe these three events of the Buddha's life at three different times of year. However, most of the time the Mahayana celebration of the Buddha's Birthday coincides with Vesak Puja. Exceptions: In Japan, Buddha's Birthday is observed every year on April 8, by the Gregorian calendar instead of a lunar calendar. The Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of Vesak Puja is called Saga Dawa Duchen and usually falls a month later, in June.
Observing Vesak Puja
For Theravada Buddhists, Vesak Puja is a major Uposatha day to be marked by rededication to the dharma and the Eightfold Path. Monks and nuns meditate and chant the ancient rules of their orders. Laypeople bring flowers and offerings to the temples, where they may also meditate and listen to talks. In the evenings, often there will be solemn candlelight processions.
Of course, in some places the religious observances are accompanied by more gala, and more secular, celebrating -- parties, parades, festivals. Temples and city streets may be decorated with countless lanterns.
Washing the Baby Buddha
According to Buddhist legend, when the Buddha was born he stood straight, took seven steps, and declared "I alone am the World-Honored One." And he pointed up with one hand and down with the other, to indicate he would unite heaven and earth. I am told the seven steps represent seven directions -- north, south, east, west, up, down, and here. Mahayana Buddhists interpret "I alone am the World-Honored One" in a way that "I" represents all sentient beings throughout space and time -- everyone, in other words.
The ritual of "washing the baby Buddha" commemorates this moment. This is the single most common ritual, seen throughout Asia and in many different schools. A small standing figure of the baby Buddha, with the right hand pointing up and the left hand pointing down, is placed on an elevated stand within a basin on an altar. People approach the altar reverently, fill a ladle with water or tea, and pour it over the figure to "wash" the baby.
8. Vesākha / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Vesākha (Pali; Sanskrit: Vaiśākha वैशाख) is an annual holiday observed traditionally by practicing Buddhists in South Asian and South East Asian countries like Nepal, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India. Sometimes informally called "Buddha's Birthday," it actually encompasses the birth, enlightenment (Nirvana), and passing away (Parinirvana) of Gautama Buddha.
In Mahayana Buddhist traditions, the holiday is known by its Sanskrit name, वैशाख Vaiśākha, and derived variants of it. Vesākha is known as Vesak or Wesak (වෙසක්) in the Sinhalese language. It is also known as बुद्ध पुर्णिमा/বুদ্ধ পূর্ণিমা Buddha Purnima or बुद्ध जयंती/বুদ্ধ জয়ন্তী Buddha Jayanti in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, 花祭 (Hanamatsuri) in Japan, 석가 탄신일 Seokka Tanshin-il (Hanja:釋迦誕身日) in Korean, 佛誕 (Mandarin: Fódàn, Cantonese: Fātdàahn) in Chinese-speaking communities, Phật Ðản in Vietnamese, ས་ག་ཟླ་བ། Saga Dawa (sa ga zla ba) in Tibetan, វិសាខបូជា Visak Bochéa in Khmer, วันวิสาขบูชา Visakah Puja (or Visakha Bucha) in Thai, Waisak in Indonesia, වෙසක් පසළොස්වක පෝය Vesak (Wesak) in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The equivalent festival in Laos is called ວິຊຂບູຊ Vixakha Bouxa and in Myanmar is called Ka-sone-la-pyae meaning “Fullmoon Day of Kasone” which is also the second month of the Myanmar Calendar.
The exact date of Vesākha varies according to the various lunar calendars used in different traditions. In Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar, it falls on the full moon Uposatha day (typically the 5th or 6th lunar month). Vesākha Day in China is on the eighth of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian calendar but falls in April or May.
The 2009 date for Vesākha as observed by the Dhammayutika and Mahānikāya sects of Thai Buddhism was 8 May; 8 May 2009 was also Vesak in Sri Lanka. The 2009 date for Vesākha as observed in Singapore is 9 May.
The decision to agree to celebrate Vesākha as the Buddha’s birthday was formalized at the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950, although festivals at this time in the Buddhist world are a centuries-old tradition. The Resolution that was adopted at the World Conference reads as follows:
"That this Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, while recording its appreciation of the gracious act of His Majesty, the Maharaja of Nepal in making the full-moon day of Vesak a Public Holiday in Nepal, earnestly requests the Heads of Governments of all countries in which large or small number of Buddhists are to be found, to take steps to make the full-moon day in the month of May a Public Holiday in honour of the Buddha, who is universally acclaimed as one of the greatest benefactors of Humanity."
On Vesākha Day, Buddhists all over the world commemorate events of significance to Buddhists of all traditions: The birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha. As Buddhism spread from India it was assimilated into many foreign cultures, and consequently Vesākha is celebrated in many different ways all over the world.
The celebration of Vesākha
May 2007 had two full moon days, the 1st and the 31st. Some countries (including Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Malaysia) celebrated Vesākha on the 1st, while others (Thailand, Singapore) celebrated the holiday on the 31st due to different local lunar observance. This difference also manifests in the observance of other Buddhist holidays, which are traditionally observed at the local full moon.
On Vesākha day, devout Buddhists and followers alike are expected and requested to assemble in their various temples before dawn for the ceremonial, and honorable, hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). Devotees may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of their teacher. These symbolic offerings are to remind followers that just as the beautiful flowers would wither away after a short while and the candles and joss-sticks would soon burn out, so too is life subject to decay and destruction. Devotees are enjoined to make a special effort to refrain from killing of any kind. They are encouraged to partake of vegetarian food for the day. In some countries, notably Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for the celebration of Vesākha and all liquor shops and slaughter houses are closed by government decree during the two days. Also birds, insects and animals are released by the thousands in what is known as a 'symbolic act to liberation'; of giving freedom to those who are in captivity, imprisoned, or tortured against their will. Some devout Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the eight Precepts.
Devout Buddhists undertake to lead a noble life according to the teaching by making daily affirmations to observe the Five Precepts. However, on special days, notably new moon and full moon days, they observe the eight Percepts to train themselves to practice morality, simplicity and humility.
Some temples also display a small image of the baby Buddha in front of the altar in a small basin filled with water and decorated with flowers, allowing devotees to pour water over the statue; it is symbolic of the cleansing of a practitioners bad karma, and to reenact the events following the Buddha's birth, when devas and spirits made heavenly offerings to him.
Devotees are expected to listen to talks given by monks. On this day monks will recite verses uttered by the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago, to invoke peace and happiness for the Government and the people. Buddhists are reminded to live in harmony with people of other faiths and to respect the beliefs of other people as the Buddha had taught.
Bringing happiness to others
Celebrating Vesākha also means making special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the handicapped and the sick. To this day, Buddhists will distribute gifts in cash and kind to various charitable homes throughout the country. Vesākha is also a time for great joy and happiness, expressed not by pandering to one’s appetites but by concentrating on useful activities such as decorating and illuminating temples, painting and creating exquisite scenes from the life of the Buddha for public dissemination. Devout Buddhists also vie with one another to provide refreshments and vegetarian food to followers who visit the temple to pay homage to the Enlightened One.
Paying homage to the Buddha
Tradition ascribes to the Buddha himself instruction on how to pay him homage. Just before he died, he saw his faithful attendant Ananda, weeping. The Buddha advised him not to weep, but to understand the universal law that all compounded things (including even his own body) must disintegrate. He advised everyone not to cry over the disintegration of the physical body but to regard his teachings (The Dhamma) as their teacher from then on, because only the Dhamma truth is eternal and not subject to the law of change. He also stressed that the way to pay homage to him was not merely by offering flowers, incense, and lights, but by truly and sincerely striving to follow his teachings. This is how devotees are expected to celebrate Vesak: to use the opportunity to reiterate their determination to lead noble lives, to develop their minds, to practise loving-kindness and to bring peace and harmony to humanity.
In Japan, Vesākha or hanamatsuri (花祭) is also known as: Kanbutsu-e (灌仏会), Goutan-e (降誕会), Busshou-e (仏生会), Yokubutsu-e (浴仏会), Ryuge-e (龍華会), Hana-eshiki (花会式). It is not a public holiday. It is based on a legend that a dragon appeared in the sky on his birthday and poured soma over him.
It used to be celebrated on the 8th day of the fourth month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, based on one of the legends that proclaims the day as Buddha's birthday. At present, the celebration is observed on April 8 of the Solar Calendar since the Meiji government adopted the western solar calendar as the official calendar. Since the 8th day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar commonly falls in May of the current solar calendar, it is now celebrated about a month earlier.
In Japan, the general populace are not practicing Buddhists (and may be called casual Buddhists), so most Buddhist temples provide a way to allow the general public to celebrate and participate in only the aspect of the day being Buddha's birthday, providing the statue of baby Buddha and allowing the populace to worship or pay respect by pouring ama cha, a tea made of Hydrangea. In Buddhist temples, monasteries and nunneries, more involved ceremonies are conducted for practicing Buddhists, priests, monks and nuns. Also, there are public festivals made out of the day in some areas.
Vesak is celebrated as a religious and a cultural festival in Sri Lanka on the full moon of the month of May, for a duration of one week. During this week, the selling of alcohol and flesh is usually prohibited, with abattoirs also being closed. Celebrations include various religious and alms giving activities. Electrically lit pandols called toranas are erected in various locations in Colombo and elsewhere, most sponsored by donors, religious societies and welfare groups. Each pandol illustrates a story from the 550 Jataka Katha or the 550 Past Life Stories of the Buddha. In addition, colourful lanterns called Vesak koodu are hung along streets and in front of homes. They signify the light of the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. Food stalls set up by Buddhist devotees called dansälas provide free food and drinks to passersby. Groups of people from various community organisations, businesses and government departments sing bhakti gee or Buddhist devotional songs. Colombo experiences a massive influx of public from all parts of the country during this week.
9. Rationality and Beauty of the Buddha Dharma By Prof: Y. Karunadasa PhD.
As you all know, today, on this Vesak Day (2007), we commemorate and celebrate three events associated with the Life of the Buddha. The first is the Birth of the Buddha, the second is the Enlightenment of the Buddha, and the third is the Parinibbana of the Buddha.
As you all know, the Buddha is the founder of the religion that has come to be known today as Buddhism. The word Buddha is a title, and not a personal name. The personal name of the Buddha is Siddhattha Gotama. But what exactly is the meaning of the title Buddha? Both in Pali and Sanskrit the term 'Buddha' means 'One who is Awakened'. We should understand the term 'Awakened', not in a literal sense, but in an idiomatic sense. It means the One who is awakened from the slumber of ignorance, from the slumber of delusion. The term Buddha also means the One who is Enlightened, the One who is enlightened to the nature of reality, One who is enlightened to the nature of actuality. What this means is that the Buddha had gained an immediate vision, an immediate insight into things as they they truly are. This is what is called in Pali Yathabhutanana. And this is what Buddhism calls liberating knowledge, the knowledge that leads to complete emancipation from all forms of conditioned experience. If the Buddha is the Enlightened One, the religion he has founded can rightly be described as 'the Religion of Enlightenment'
What is unique about the Buddha as a Religious Teacher is that unlike other Religious Teachers the Buddha did not claim divinity. According to Christianity, for instance, the Christ is an incarnation of God; according to Islam, Mohommed, the founder of Islam, is a Prophet of God. Hinduism believes in what is called Avatara or Divine Descent. This means that from time to time God assumes different forms and descends downs to the earth, in order to convey to the human beings a divine message.
On the other hand, the Buddha did not attribute his knowledge to a divine source, or to some kind of transcendental reality. What the Buddha discovered through supreme human effort, he did not want to attribute to a divine source. What does this mean? This means that the Buddha took full responsibility for what He taught.
As a religious teacher the Buddha never claimed to be a Saviour, either. The role of the Buddha as a religious teacher is not to save, but to lead, to lead us from darkness to light, from ignorance to wisdom, from bondage to freedom. As the founder of a religion, the Buddha himself defines his position in this way: Tumhehi kiccam atappam/ Akkhataro Tathagata. This means: You yourselves ought to do what ought to be done. You yourselves should work out your salvation, Your emancipation. The Tathagatas show the way. What this really means is that the Buddha is a Guide, a Teacher, one who shows the way. It is up to us to work out our emancipation. This is precisely why in the early Buddhist discourses the Buddha is often referred to as Satta. The Pali word Satta means Teacher. The use of this word brings into focus the role of the Buddha as the founder of a religion. It clearly shows that as a religious teacher the role of the Buddha is not to serve as a Saviour, but to serve as a Spiritual Guide.
No place for miracles in Buddhism
There is another important aspect of the Buddha as a religious teacher, to which I must draw your attention. It is that as a religious teacher the Buddha did not endorse the exhibition of miracles to propagate his teachings. One day when the Buddha visited the city of Nalanda, the people of Nalanda came to the Buddha and said: Venerable Sir, This city of Nalanda is very affluent and prosperous, it is teeming with people. It would be a good thing if the Buddha could perform some miracles, so that the Buddha would be able to convent many people to his religion. On this occasion the Buddha said: There are three kinds of miracles.
The first is the miracle called iddhipatihariya This means the ability to perform such super natural acts as levitating, that is, going in the air like a bird, or walking on water, like a fish, or going through walls and parapets, or appearing in two different places at one and the same time The second kind of miracle is called adesana patihariya. It is some kind of hypnotism or mesmerism It is the ability to hypnotize or mesmerize someone and reveal the kind of thoughts that the person is having. Then the Buddha goes on to say that, he does not recommend, he does not endorse two kinds of miracles. The Buddha says that he is ashamed of these kind of miracles, that he 'detests1 them, that he rejects them categorically. Further, the Buddha goes on to say that there is another kind of miracle. It is called anusasani patihariya. Anusasani patiyariya means the miracle of instruction. It has nothing to do with exhibiting supernatural acts in order to win over others or to convert others. What is called the miracle of instruction is nothing but teaching the Dhamma through rational persuassion. Thus we see that the Buddha has elevated what we call teaching, through rational persuasion to the level of a miracle.
The Buddha said that this is the only miracle that he recommends, that this is the only miracle that he endorses. If the Buddha endorsed only the Miracle of Instruction, this has many implications. One implication is that the Buddha did not resort to unethical conversion by resorting to cheap and vulgar exhibition of supernatural power. If people resort to unethical conversion, this shows the bankruptcy of the message that they want to propagate. What I say here has great relevance to modern times when we see all around us some fundamentalist religions, resorting to unethical conversion. If the Buddha is called the Buddha, it is also because He attained the highest level of moral perfection, and the highest level of wisdom. Therefore the Buddha is considered and venerated as the Highest among all living beings, whether they are human or whether they are divine. Although Buddhism does not believe in a Creator God, according to Buddhist cosmology, there are gods or divine beings. Most of these divine beings are pre-Buddhistic gods. They have been adopted and assimilated by Buddhism, under certain conditions, in such a way that their recognition in no way goes against the fundamental teachings of Buddhism.
According to pre-Buddhist Hindu/Brahmanical teachings, these gods are eternal, all-powerful; some are omniscient. By performing petitional prayers people could get favours from them. But according to Buddhism they are no more eternal; they are no more all powerful; they are no more omniscient; they are no more the objects of petitional prayers. Like us human beings, they are all wayfarers in samsara. What is more, all these gods are inferior to the Buddha. Why? Because they are not free fom raga (passion), dosa (aversion), and moha (delusion). Buddhism even recognizes the Creator God of Hinduism who is called Mahabrahma. However, according to Buddhism he is no more the creator world, nor is he omniscient. There is this interesting story in one of the early Buddhist discourses to show that the Buddha is superior to Mahabrahma whom the followers of Brahmanism regard as the creator of the world. According to this account during the time of the Buddha there was a monk who was very much prone to metaphysical speculations. One day he came to be disturbed by a serious metaphysical problem.
The problem was this: where do the four primary elements of matter come to cessation without any residue. In modern terms, this means where does matter come to end. As you all know, this is a question to which nether religion, nor philosophy, nor science can give a satisfactory answer. So this monk thought no one in this human world will be able to solve this problem. Therefore he thought of referring this problem to gods. Since he had powers of levitation he first went to the lowest heaven, and put this question to the gods living there. There said that they themselves do not know the answer to this question. And that he should go to the next heaven. In the next heaven too he got the same answer. So he went from heaven to heaven, until he came to the topmost heaven where the Mahabrahma lives.
You may not believe this story. What matters is the message that is sought to be conveyed by it. Through this story, a profound message is sought to be conveyed. The message is that exalted humanity is very much higher than divinity. A human being who is free from passion, aversion, and delusion is superior to Mahabrahma whom the followers of Brahmanism consider as the creator God.
The Buddha's Dharma is Alive
I hear some people say now that the Buddha is not living, how can the Buddha help us? What is the purpose in taking refuge in the Buddha if the Buddha is not living now? Our answer to this: It is true that the Buddha is not living now, but the Dhamma he has taught is very much with us. We can make use of the Dhamma although the Buddha is not living now. To give an example: Some of the scientists who had discovered many kinds potent medicine are not living now. However this does not mean that we cannot make use of these curative medicines even though those who had discovered them are not living now. When we use the term Buddha, we sometimes use it in the plural to mean many Buddhas. According to Buddhism, besides the historical Buddha who was known as Siddhattha Gotama, there had been an innumerable number of Buddhas in the remote past, and there will be an innumerable number of Buddhas in the distant future. This idea of a number of Buddhas has many important implications. One is that truth is not the monopoly of one individual being, of one particular Buddha. Buddhahood or Enlightenment is accessible to all.
This idea of plurality of Buddhas assures us that there is unbroken continuity in the discovery of Truth. It also provides with a rational explanation that living beings in the remote past as well the living beings in the distant future have the opportunities of realizing emancipation. This idea of a number of Buddhas contrasts well with some other religions which speak of a one single Incarnation or one single Prophet for all time, for all eternity. When we consider the vastness of space and the immensity of time and when we consider the almost infinite universe with its millions of world systems to speak of one saviour or one prophet for all time appears rather parochial The Buddhist idea of a number of Buddhas provides a cosmic dimension to the idea of the Buddha.
On this Vesak Day when we reflect on the spiritual qualities of the Buddha it is also important for us to reflect on the nature of the Dhamma. The Dhamma, as you know, is the body of teachings taught by the Buddha. This is what we call Buddhism today. Although Buddhism is called a religion in many ways it is different from many other religions. In point of fact, most of the ingredients that go to make the definition of religion are conspicuously missing in Buddhism. As you are perhaps aware, all other religions believe in a Higher Reality in the form of a God. In the case of theistic religions this Higher metaphysical reality is God. In the case of Hinduism it is the Cosmic Soul or Brahman. This idea is completely foreign to early Buddhism. So is the belief in a soul and immortality of the soul as final salvation. The soul is supposed to be the thing that connects man with that Higher Reality. When Buddhism denies the existence of the soul it also denies the existence of Higher Reality. This fact has many implications for Buddhism as a religion. That is why we have in Buddhism anthropology instead of theology, psychology instead of metaphysics.
No Ethical Injunctions On Humanity
Let us take the Buddhist teachings relating to ethics, what is called the theory and practice of moral life. Buddhism does not recognize a moral authority in the form of a God who imposes moral injunctions on us However. Buddhism recognizes a moral order which operates according to the principles of causality. This is what is called Kammaniyama The Buddhist morality is therefore not based on a theory of reward and punishment. If we do good things we will not be rewarded. If we do bad things we will not be punished. What Buddhism says is that unwholesome acts bring about evil consequences, wholesome acts bring about good consequences. Therefore it is up to us to do what ought to be done, and refrain from doing what ought to be not done.
As we all know Buddhism is the Religion of Enlightenment. Therefore it is through wisdom and insight and not through blind faith and devotion that the final goal can be realized. In Buddhism the accent is more on self-understanding, self-verification, and self-realization. This should explain why Buddhism gives its followers full freedom to inquire, to investigate, to examine. The Dhamma itself is described as ehi-passika.This means come and investigate, come and examine. This attitude of free inquiry is very well brought into focus in the well known Kalama Sutta. It's a discourse addressed to people who are confused when they are exposed to a number of contradictory views. In this discourse the Buddha says one must not accept anything just because it is laid down in religious texts, just because it is handed down from generation to generation, just because it is based on logic and reasoning, just because it conforms to our likings and inclinations, or simply out of respect to the teacher. What the Buddha says is that it is only when one is convinced that certain things are wholesome and that certain are unwholesome that one must decide to accept what is wholesome and reject what is unwholesome. There is a general belief among some that a critical attitude and a spirit of inquiry are not consistent with spiritual life. What is necessary is faith, and devotion. But the Buddhist position is otherwise. From the Buddhist perspective a critical attitude and a spirit of inquiry, rather than being detrimental, is very much salutary to the practice of spiritual life.
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