Arahath Mahinda created history in the 3rd Century BC when he not only brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, but also catalysed the development of a rich civilisation on the island. This great achievement is unparalleled in the annals of Buddhism since the demise of the Buddha. Ven. Buddhagosa is held in high esteem among Sri Lankan Buddhists for translating the Sinhala Commentaries on the Tripitaka into Pali in the 5th Century AD.
The huge enterprise undertaken by King Dharmasoka and his son Arahath Mahinda was to spread the Theravada Dhamma cleansed of all impurities that had crept into it over time. The effort of Ven Buddhaghosa, in contrast, was to reintroduce some of these impurities back into Theravada. These impurities had been removed at the Third Dhamma Sangayanava sponsored by King Dharmasoka, where Ven. Moggalliputtatissa preached the Katavattu, which refutes and eliminates all these impurities. Katavattu has been good enough to be included in the Tripitaka. By this means metaphysical and transcendental features were removed from the Dhamma before it was brought to Sri Lanka. Ven. Buddhagosa in his translation of the Sinhala Commentaries into Pali has reintroduced these features into the Dhamma. His action had resulted in the introduction of ritual worship, and a larger than life image of the historical human being that was Buddha.
Arahath Mahinda after introducing Buddhism to Sri Lanka, worked tirelessly on two vital aspects, the practice of the Dhamma and the study of the Pali canonical texts. Historical remains of the facilities made available for the pursuit of these two aspects bear witness to the fact that people were interested in both. Ruins of libraries, lecture theatres and meditation cubicles abound in the country. Practice of the Dhamma was based on the three main features of the Gnana Marga (Path of Wisdom), ‘Dhana, Seela, Bhavana’. There were no rituals. Age old oral tradition was employed for the study of the suttas with designated disciples, in the ancient tradition of the Bhanakas who memorised the suttas and recited them at meetings for their revision. Arahath Mahinda facilitated the teaching process by arranging to make available the commentaries on the suttas in Sinhala.
It is this version of Buddhism that was written down at Aluvihare. Mahinda was careful to see that this Dhamma was established in Sri Lanka. In order to make sure that the correct tenets and dogma were studied he provided Sinahala commentaries. It was these Sinhala Commentaries that were translated into Pali by Ven. Buddhaghosa. But what was the need for this translation? One cannot think of any valid reason. Sinhala commentaries were needed for the teaching of the Dhamma to Sinhala people, and the original Pali version was available in the Tripitaka for reference when necessary. If Buddhagosa wanted to write his own commentaries in Pali he could have done that instead of translating the Sinhala version. He had a command of the Pali language but there is no evidence of how or where he learnt Sinhala with sufficient proficiency to translate complex works to Sinhala. Moreover, what has happened to the Sinhala commentaries is a mystery. Chronicles say they were burnt. Was it done to destroy the evidence? Were they destroyed by invaders? If so why only the Sinhala commentaries, why not all the written works? Did Mahaviharins collude with Buddhagosa in these activities?
Buddhagosa in his translations had made changes, added stories and anecdotes, which is not the accepted function of a translator or even a commentator. These additions are meant to raise the Buddha to a transcendental being, above the realm of this world, who is god like and could grant to humans what they pray for. Some stories describe people offering flowers and incense to Buddha (see Buddhagosa’s commentary on Kalinga Bodhi Jataka). What benefit did Buddhagosa and Mahaviharins, if they were involved, expect from these activities? In this connection Prof Marasinghe says; ‘ The hard work of Buddhagosa and the Mahavihara fraternity culminated in the formulation of a new ritual structure with attractive advantages to keep both the lay followers and the members of the Sanga happy and content
As a result, when we pass from the canonical Pali texts and the Pali commentaries we come into a totally new teaching different from the original’.
The Buddha was a normal human being. Prince Siddartha gave up lay life and went in search of an answer to the eternal suffering of humans and led a very simple life, often resting or sleeping under a tree. What he achieved did not make him a larger than life being or make him or his Dhamma a transcendental or metaphysical phenomenon. The Pali canonical texts still depict this Theravada Buddha (in Prof. Marasinghe’s words), who is totally different to the glorified Buddha in the Buddhagosa’s commentaries. Buddhagosa’s Buddha had accumulated merit in innumerable eons of samsara to achieve what he achieved. Here Buddhagosa asserts that achieving Nirvana is not possible without such accumulation of merit. Buddha has never said merit is necessary for achieving Nirvana, merit could be accumulated or that merit could be transferred from one person to another. Sri Lankan Buddhists make a futile attempt to do all this and the blame lies with Buddhagosa.
Before the advent of Buddhagosa, there were no rituals, during a period of 700 years from the 3rd Century BC to the 5th Century AD. Though there were stupas like Thuparamaya and statues of Buddha and the Bodhi Tree, people treated these as objects of veneration for recollection of the Buddha and his attainment and not for ritual worship of the theistic kind. Buddha advised people to offer alms or give away their possessions to help them get rid of attachment to these objects that are impermanent, for it was the cause of suffering. But Buddhists of today offer alms expecting an accumulation of merit as an insurance for a better life in the next birth. The concept of accumulation of merit and its transfer were discussed and rejected at the Third Dhamma Sangayanava referred to above, and therefore these concepts were not brought to Sri Lanka by Mahinda.
Practice of ritual worship is associated with theistic religions and was never advocated by Buddha, who said that one could attain freedom from suffering by one’s own effort and not by the intervention of an external agent. Buddhagosa paved the way for the entry of ritual worship into the practice of Buddhism, and the belief that worship before stupas, statues, and Bodhi trees would result in the accumulation of merit and rewards. The uniqueness of Buddhism was ruined. Let me quote Prof. Marasinghe; ‘ Thus, all aspects of the new ritual Buddhism which changed the Theravada Buddhism into a system of worship, offering and prayer, like any other theistic religion, has been very carefully planned and smuggled into practice with several bonus packages for the operators’.
Lawyers Collective condemns Anti-Terrorism and Online Safety Bills
The Lawyers’ Collective condemns the latest version of the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Online Safety Bill gazetted in September 2023. The Government of Sri Lanka has failed to respond to the serious and fundamental concerns raised about the Anti-Terrorism Bill gazetted in March this year. The government also failed to adopt any transparent and accountable process through which the Bills were explained, justified and robust public consultation facilitated before they were gazetted. The definitions adopted for ‘terrorism’ and ‘false statement’, and related offences created under the two Bills are excessively broad and vague, and thus do not represent a measured and proportionate means of serving specific and necessary law and order objectives.
Indeed, the Anti-Terrorism and Online Safety Bills represent an attempt to institutionalise excessive executive discretionary power over a broad range of ordinary activities of the citizens of Sri Lanka. At a time when the country’s democracy quotient is at a historical low, attempts to rush into enactment dangerous laws that have a high potential to crush dissent and curb civil liberties causes much alarm. Citizens of this country are currently making a wide range of demands on their elected representatives and government officials in the context of the deep economic crisis and the bearing it has on their lives.
Democracy demands that the widest possible space be created at this time to hear citizens’ grievances and to engage citizens and citizen groups, especially vulnerable communities. The intolerance represented by the two proposed laws towards legitimate dissent, critique, opposition and organising around different ideas and solutions for governance in Sri Lanka is a direct threat to democracy, civil liberties and the role of the judiciary in protecting citizens’ sovereignty against executive capture.
Sri Lankan recent history is marked by terrible violence and social and economic devastation caused by repressive approaches to unrest and inequality in our society and polity. Having emerged from decades of war and violent insurrection, the government and opposition parties would be mindful of the responsibility that they bear towards the current and future citizens of this country. In this moment, the legal profession has a role and responsibility to act to safeguard people’s treasured freedoms.
The Lawyers’ Collective calls for the immediate withdrawal of the two Bills. The Collective also calls for the adoption of a transparent process of consultative law making and the proposal of executive and legal measures that are proportionate and responsive to the needs of the people. The Collective demands that the government desist from enacting laws that will harm the very foundations of democracy in Sri Lanka. Such laws that grant the executive excessive powers to curtail citizen’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and thought, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and liberty erode the sovereignty of the people that is the very basis of Sri Lanka’s constitution.
On behalf of the Lawyers’ Collective
Rienzie Arsecularatne, President’s Counsel.
Upul Jayasuriya, President’s Counsel
Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
Geoffrey Alagaratnam, President’s Counsel
Dinal Phillips, President’s Counsel
Saliya Pieris, President’s Counsel
Lal Wijenayake, Attorney-at-Law
Upul Kumarapperuma, Attorney-at-Law
K.W. Janaranjana, Attorney-at-Law
Nuwan Bopege, Attorney-at-Law
Recently, I have made it a point to listen carefully to dhamma discourses by erudite Bhikkus , very specially on the consumption of meat by Buddhists and the Vinaya rules laid down by the Buddha on this subject.
To begin with it was one of the conditions which Devadatta insisted on as mandatory, which the Buddha in his profound infinite knowledge declined as impractical. He even cited instances where previous Buddhas declined such requests. What the Buddha said was that killing was not at all permissible, but the consumption of meat was left to the discretion of the persons concerned whether it be the lay persons or bhikkus.
Some may dislike meat out of sheer sansaric habit while others may relish it, but the Budhdha laid down certain important pre-conditions on the consumption of meat. He prohibited eating the flesh of 10 animal species like the lion, elephant, tiger, leopard, bear, horse, dog, cat, snake and human flesh.
On the other hand he prescribed an important Vinaya rule known as the ‘thri kotika paarishudda‘ which literally means that whoever gives it as an offering or consuming it must make sure that the meat comes from an animal which was not specifically slaughtered for the purpose. Meat bought at a market is without doubt such a meat and may be offered to and received by a Bhikku..
A previous Buddha has even assisted a bhikku through his infinite knowledge by suggesting that he should go begging for alms on a particular street where a lay dayaka was preparing a meal of rice with crab curry. The bhikku concerned was extremely pious but could not attain arahat status as he had an excruciating earache. No sooner he ate the crab meal his acute pain ceased and he concentrated his mind on the dhamma and attained Arahathood then and there. The layman who offered the crab meal noticed the difference in the Bhikku and was thrilled to know that he had given alms to an Arahat.. This hppy thought came back to him at the time of his death, whicn occurred very much later.
His Chuthi chiththa was so powerful that he was born in a splendid divine abode with a huge mansion which had the insignia of a large golden crab at its entrance to remind him and all of the crab meal which was offered to an Arahat.
A lay person once asked the Buddha whether it was correct to recommend the eating of foul smelling flesh like fish for instance and the Buddha has replied that tanha irrsiya krodha maanna dhitti are more foul smelling and should be eschewed completely if you wish to attain the bliss of Nibbana. Looking down on people who consume meat is also a sinful thought which should be avoided , as it does not benefit anyone.
Dear friends, I have tried to tell the English speaking folk who do not have the opportunity to listen to our Sinhala sermons some profound truths. They even do not know that there have been more than 500,000 Buddhas in the past aeons of time and a Mahaa Kalpa is an enomous space in time which only a Budhha can comprehend. The knowledge of a Sammaa Sambuddha is infinite.
Lastly a word of caution to those who obstruct the doing of good deeds. They cannot even receive the Anumodnaa Kusalaya by a mere wish of happiness at a good deed, [sadhu] but will certainly reap the evil rewards of obstructing good deeds, May you all be well and happy.
Cecil de Mel,
Tel. 011 2648565
Nuclear power for Sri Lanka
There is much talk at the moment of nuclear power generation for the country. The idea is certainly very good. We do need more energy to run the county and the future demand will be far higher than now.
I do understand that nuclear energy is clean, cheap and harmful effects on the environment are minimal. So far the thinking is fine; but it’s important to bear in mind that in case of an accident, the damage will be colossal as we have seen in Chernobyl. What a disaster that was! And in a country much more disciplined than us and with far better technological knowledge and experience. Our knowledge will be wanting.
If all does go well, it will be fine but in case of an accident I hate to think of the kind of disaster we shall have to face.
We have a reputation for using cheap material and also for taking short cuts. Our work ethic too is most wanting. A nuclear power plant needs to be handled with the greatest care. An accident will cause much irreparable damage.
If we do go ahead with the nuclear power proposal, the project (including, most importantly, construction) must be handled by those who have experience and an unblemished record.Nuclear power will be a must some time or other. We must tread the road towards it extremely cautiously.
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