Spirit of Poson

The Easter carnage spoilt this year’s Vesak celebrations. The government has made elaborate arrangements to celebrate Poson, which falls today, on a grand scale. What really matters is not the scale of celebrations as such but the significance as well as the spirit of the occasion; the advent of Buddhism changed the course of the country’s history. It was from an ethos fashioned by Buddhism that a great civilisation sprang on this land and flourished.

Much is being spoken about good governance these days. Poson reminds us of an important lesson King Devanampiyatissa learnt from Arahant Mahinda—he was only the custodian of his kingdom and not the owner thereof and it was his duty to look after people, animals and trees! Before preaching Dhamma, the wise Thera measured the king’s intelligence with a few questions, in what has come to be known as the first ever IQ test in the world.

Unfortunately, the present-day rulers who have undertaken to usher in good governance have paid no heed to Arahant Mahinda’s counsel. Ironically, a Catholic prelate had to remind them, in the sacred city of Kandy, recently, that they did not own this land. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith is his name.

Buddhism brought about a revolution in every sphere of life. Giant dagobas scraping the skies, fascinating edifices exuding mastery of architecture, vast reservoirs and other such engineering marvels that formed the bedrock of the country’s civilisation, wouldn’t have been possible but for the inspiration ancient rulers and their subjects drew from Buddhism. Perhaps, the most important of the achievements of the ancient Sri Lankans was popular morality, which we are afraid, is conspicuous by its absence, today. On Vesak Poya Day, we commented, in this space, on an extract from Ananda Coomaraswamy’s work, Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism, wherein a passage from a British Government Agent’s report (1870) is quoted. We repeat it today as it is related to Poson. The colonial officer has described how crowds of pilgrims converged on Anuradhapura during Poson and their exemplary conduct thus: "… these 20,000 men from all parts of the country come and go annually without a single policeman being there and, as the Magistrate, I can only say that anything to surpass their decorum and sobriety of conduct, it is impossible to conceive. Such a thing as a row is unheard of."

About one and a half centuries on, not even Parliament, which makes laws, can meet without brawls. The high incidence of homicide, suicide, alcoholism, rape, drug addiction and the like, plaguing the modern Sri Lankan society, points to the fact that today decorum and sobriety of conduct have fallen by the wayside. Sermons and religious activities are never in short supply in this country and the present-day Buddhists living in an IT-driven society are better conversant with the Buddha’s teachings than their ancestors. Temples are overflowing with devotees and vehicles are veritable mobile shrines with all kinds of religious symbols dangling from vanity mirrors or fixed on dashboards. Some ardent Buddhists even display bumper stickers promoting Buddhism! Sunday schools are well attended and religion is given pride of place on all occasions. TV channels are falling over one another to disseminate Dhamma. But, decadence is prevalent in all walks of life. This situation has arisen because Buddhists are becoming increasingly reliant on amisa pooja or material homage, which has taken precedence over the path that the Buddha deemed supreme, prathipaththi pooja or homage through practice, which is the only way to develop a mind unshaken and capable of being independent of external objects and pressures.

However, all is not lost. Let Poson be a time for reflecting on what has gone wrong and adopting corrective action.



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