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Lumbini – Birth and Rebirth

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by Bhante Dhammika of Australia

As is well-known, Lumbini is the first of the four major holy places in Buddhism, it being the place where the person who was to become the Buddha was born. Almost every account of the Buddha’s life, traditional and contemporary, recounts the incidents that supposedly occurred at his conception and birth: his mother dreaming of a white elephant before or as she conceived; giving birth to him while grasping the branch of a tree; and he emerging from her right side. Some later accounts even add that Mahamaya was a virgin when she gave birth. None of these stories are mentioned in the Tipitaka.

The only discourse in the Tipitaka dealing with the Buddha’s birth is the Acchariyabbhuta Sutta which relates several wondrous events that supposedly occurred before, during and immediately after the event. However, not all the ‘wonders’ it mentions should be dismissed as fantastic exaggerations; some may have been based on fact, while others may have had a didactic purpose.

For example, the discourse claims that Mahamaya gave birth while standing, which is by no means improbable. Little is known of ancient Indian birthing practices, but it appears that women commonly delivered in either a sitting, lateral or upright position. Interestingly, Britain’s Royal College of Midwives recommends upright birthing and says that it is quite safe if the midwife and other attendants are properly trained and prepared for it.

The discourse also says that a brilliant light appeared when the Buddha was born – not a star indicating a particular location as with the Christian nativity story – but one which allowed beings to think differently about each other. The sutta says: “When the Buddha came forth from his mother’s womb, a great immeasurable light more radiant even than the light of the gods shone forth into the world… And even in the dark, gloomy spaces between the worlds where the light of our moon and sun, powerful and majestic though they are, cannot reach, even there did that light shine.

“And the beings that are reborn in that darkness became aware of each other because of that light and thought, ‘Indeed there are other beings here’.” It would seem that this story was not meant to suggest that an actual light appeared when the Buddha was born. Rather, it is a literary device, an allegory, a way of saying that the advent of the Buddha would enable beings to become aware of each other, thus making empathy and understanding between them more likely.

Almost the only thing that can be said with certainty about the Buddha’s birth is that it took place in Lumbini, a place between the Buddha’s hometown and the main Koliyan town – Kapilavatthu and Devadaha. The birth is always depicted as happening in the open, with Mahamaya standing and grasping the branch of a tree, and although tradition says Lumbini was a garden, the Tipitaka says it was a village (gama) and King Asoka’s Lumbini inscription calls it a village too. So it is much more likely that she gave birth in one of the village houses or at least under some type of shelter.

The Buddha asked his disciples to try visit the places where the four pivotal events in his life occurred, one of these being Lumbini, and pilgrims must have started going there perhaps even while the Buddha was still alive. The first person we know of to have gone there was King Asoka who made a pilgrimage in 249 BCE. After that we have no records of Lumbini until the Chinese pilgrim Faxian went there at the beginning of the 4th century CE.

About two centuries later another Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang, visited but neither he or Faxian gave much information about Lumbini other than to mention a few landmarks and to say that it was a rather forlorn place. It seems that by the Muslim conquest of India in the 13th century Lumbini was already lost in the jungle, it’s very whereabouts forgotten. Nothing is known at all about it for the next 1,000 years until the second half of the 19th century. Buddhists still knew of Lumbini’s significance in their religion but it seems they made no effort to locate it, an endeavor task that was taken up by westerners.

As a knowledge of Buddhism by westerns and particularly by British scholars grew, so did an interest in the religion’s historical geography – an interest which grew into a passion and a passion that became a race, to discover the places associated with the Buddha, particularly where he was born and his hometown.

Initially, where the Buddha attained awakening (Bodh Gaya) and where he proclaimed the Dhamma for the first time (Sarnath) were identified with little trouble, then one by one, Kosambi, Savatthi, Rajagaha, Visali and Kusinara were located and excavated, but Lumbini and Kapilavatthu remained frustratingly evasive. The ancient texts all said these two places were near each other so scholars knew that if they found one they would be able to find the other.

The Chinese pilgrims had left fairly detailed information about in what direction and how far one was from the other and scholars argued with each other, sometimes with a great deal of bile, where Lumbini might be found. The more intrepid of those involved in the search even hacked their way through the jungle risking malaria and tigers in a determined effort to be the first to find either place.

Eventually, some of the more perceptive scholars thought the two places might lie somewhere across the British-Indian border in Nepal, in what was called the tarai. This sparsely populated and thickly forested strip of land ran along the India-Nepal border and was dangerously malarial and deliberately left like that by the Nepal’s government in order to deter unwanted foreigners entering the kingdom.

Nonetheless, a few British officers – Vincent Smith, Laurence Waddell and Alois Fuhrer had got managed to get permission to explore parts of the tarai through the good offices of the British authorities. Fuhrer claimed to have discovered several antiquities in the area but all of them were shown to be fraudulent.

Interestingly, on several occasions the British went remarkably close to locating Lumbini without knowing it. In 1816 their surveyors demarcated the India-Nepal border in such a way that Lumbini ended up being in Nepal a mere seven km north of Indian territory. As a result, today one often reads or hears the ridiculous claim that “the Buddha was Nepalese.” If the surveyors had explored the jungle a bit more they might have stumbled on King Asoka’s great pillar and perhaps put the border slightly to its north, and Lumbini would have been in India.

A little more than 60 years later they missed another chance. In 1880, Laurence Waddell, a doctor and passionate amateur antiquarian with a particular interest in locating the Buddha’s birthplace, had been posted to a district abutting the Nepalese border and some locals had informed him that there was a stone pillar in the jungle just across the border in Nepal.

Intrigued, he instructed one of his Indian workers to go there and make a copy of any inscription that might be on the pillar, which was done. However, the worker made a copy of a small piece of graffiti near the top of the pillar – Asoka’s now famous inscription being covered by centuries of rubbish and rubble at the time. When Waddell read the graffiti, which was of no significance, he gave the pillar no further thought, and thus missed having the honor of discovering Lumbini. In the end, that honor went to a Nepalese rather than a Briton.

A Nepalese nobleman named Khadga Shumsher (1861-1921) happened to be the governor of the province which included Lumbini at this time and he came to know about British interest in finding the Buddha’s birthplace. When he heard about the pillar he went to see it, dug away some of the earth around its base and revealed Asoka’s inscription. To cut a long and rather complicated story short, British scholars heard of Shumsher’s discovery, the Nepalese gave them permission to make a copy of the inscription, it was translated and the words “for here the Lord was born” (hida Bhagavam jate ti) finally confirmed the location of Lumbini.

Newspapers in India, Germany, Britain and even Russia all reported the news. Over the next 18 months at the request of the British Indian government the Nepalese gave permission for scholars to visit Lumbini, including some of the big names in Indian and Buddhist studies, including Prof. Rhys David, Vincent Smith, L Waddell, and Willium Hoey.

Right next to Asoka’s pillar was a small temple to a goddess called by the locals Rupam Devi, the interior of which some of these visitors tried to examine, but not being Hindus the presiding swami would not let them enter. However, Hoey managed to slip into the temple unnoticed and found that its principle image was actually an ancient much worn and damaged image of the Buddha’s birth.

Realizing the importance of Lumbini’s identification, in 1899 the British authorities managed to get permission from the Nepalese government to allow

 an archaeologist to come to Lumbini to do some excavations. Thinking that a Hindu would be more acceptable to the Nepalese they chose P. C. Mukherji although he was given only two months in which to do his exploration. Of many important discoveries Mukherji found was the missing part of the nativity image in Lumbini’s temple.

One would have hoped that the discovery of Lumbini would allow pilgrims to once again go there in keeping with the Buddha’s instructions that it would be uplifting for a devotee’s faith it they did so. But it was not to be. Nepal’s oppressive and reactionary Rana government was determined to prevent any outside influence into the kingdom, fearing, probably correctly, that it would endanger their grip on power.

Thus for the next 50 years it was almost impossible to visit Lumbini despite being only a few km from Indian territory. Despite such hinderances a few people, sometimes in disguise, managed to do so. A trickle of Indian, Burmese and Sri Lankan Buddhists were able to get to Lumbini, mainly because the border guards thought they might be Nepalese. A few Europeans managed to do it also.

For example, in 1933 the German Indologist Ernst Wald Schmidt teamed up with a small group of locals and accompanied them all the way to what he called “the Bethlehem of Buddhism.” But as soon as he got there a guard noticed him and demanded he leave, although they did allow him to have a look around before being accompanied back to the border.

In 1951 Nepal’s Rana regime was finally overthrown, the king, who had been confined to his palace for decades was freed, and the first attempt to establish a modern democracy in the country was made. In 1955 Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to the king of Nepal informing him that the coming year would mark the 2500 anniversary of the Buddha’s birth which was expected to be celebrated around the world and suggested that he develop Lumbini for the numerous pilgrims who were expected to visit the Buddhist holy places.

King Mahendra took the hint and with a development plan provided by the Indians, a reasonably good road was constructed from Lumbini to Nautanwa (which was to become the main India-Nepal border crossing), a tourist bungalow, post office and a small Theravadin vihara were built and a tube well was dug, all paid for by the king – 100,000 rupees all told. Further, he had a forest of sal trees planted a modest garden laid out and banned animal sacrificed being made in the temple, something he could do as many Nepalese believed, an incarnation of Vishnu.

On the big day of the 1956 Buddha Jayanti the king actually visited Lumbini and announced that from that day onwards that Vesak would be a public holiday.

It should also be noted that beginning in the 1930s but especially after 1951, the Newari Buddhists of Kathmandu, many of who had converted from Mahayana to Theravada, did much to help develop Lumbini: leading pilgrim parties, looking after pilgrims who came, petitioning the governments concerning problems at Lumbini, etc., chief among being Ven. Dhammaloka and Ven. Aniruddha, an alumni of Sri Lanka’s Vidyalankara Pirivana.

When, in 1967, the deeply religious Buddhist Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, visited Nepal he flew from Kathmandu to Lumbini and after his visit commented: “This is the most important day of my life” and then broke into tears.

On his return to Kathmandu, he met King Mahendra and discussed with him the possibility of further enhancing Lumbini’s sanctity. On his return to New York, he set up a UN committee to turn the nativity site into an international center for peace, got UNESCO involved who in turn hired the famous Japanese architect to draw up a master plan. Tange visited Lumbini and spent some time studing Buddhism and its history (he was not at all religious), and in 1978 his firm submitted its design.

The project to preserve Lumbini and landscape the sacred garden and surrounding park was supposed to be finished by1985, but bureaucratic indolence and corruption in Nepal slowed progress and in 2005 without ever seeing the completion of his master plan. Despite these and other setbacks, Tange’s master plan is largely finished and with most Buddhists countries and several bigger Buddhist organizations building temples there, Lumina has been reborn.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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