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Pivotal point in Lankan history that beckoned national renaissance

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Advent of Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera

Poson Poya marks the advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, with the arrival of Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera bearing the message of the Gotama Buddha. It is a pivotal point in Sri Lankan history that beckoned national renaissance.

The ardent adherent that Emperor Asoka, who governed ancient India was, embarked on a Dhamma missionary programme in many countries. But long before this, he was known as ‘Chandasoka’ for his tyranny that succeeded in him conquering the entire network of neighbouring states. However, his battle against Kalinga, was a turning point in his life. Shocked by the brutal carnage of the war, Emperor Asoka was soothed by the sight of a samanera (novice bhikkhu) walking peacefully and gracefully by. A brief dialog with the monk, further placated the emperor. He realised the sinful consequences of war and vowed never to resort to violence. Emperor Asoka embraced Buddhism.

At the Third Sanghayana in 235 B.C., in order to propagate the Buddha Sasana, it was decided that Arhant bhikkhus would be deployed as missionaries to nine foreign countries including Greece, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. After all it was the Buddha’s own wish that his disciples “Go forth, O Bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit and happiness of divine beings and human beings. Let not two go by one way: Preach, O Bhikkhus, the Dhamma, excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end, both in the spirit and in the letter. Proclaim the Holy life, altogether perfect and pure.”

And Emperor Asoka’s own son answered the Buddha’s call, albeit centuries after the Buddha’s parinibbhana, on the behest of his preceptor the Ven. Moggaliputta Tissa Maha Thera, to visit Sri Lanka, which took place on Poson Poya. Consequently, Poson Full Moon Day is of utmost significance to all Sri Lankan Buddhists.

Sri Lanka at the time of the arrival of Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera was spiritually depraved, with its people worshiping the sun, moon, trees, rocks and even dead souls. King Devanampiyatissa (Beloved of the Devas), who ruled over Sri Lanka in 3rd century BC, was attending a national festival at Mihintale, Anuradhapura, where he met Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera. The king and some of his men were out hunting. Spying a magnificent dear, the king gave chase with bow and arrow in hand. As the king of the land the kill was his right. But he was stopped short when he heard someone call out “Tissa! Tissa! Stop!” King Devanampiyatissa looked for the one who dared to address him ‘Tissa’. He beheld the radiant Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera and his retinue of monks, shaven headed, draped in saffron robes, up on a high rock. The king forgot his desire for the hunt and approached the Buddha’s disciples with awe.

Seeing that he was ready, the Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera addressed the king:

 

Samana mayam Maharaja

Dhammarajassa savaka

Tam eva anukampaya

Jambudipa idha gata.

 

“We are samanas (peaceful ones/monastics), great king,

Disciples of the king of the Dhamma

Out of tender compassion for you

We’ve come from the Rose Apple Continent (India).”

 

Since Buddhism is not meant for the unwise, Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera gauged the king’s intelligence with a few quarried regarding their natural environment, according to the Mahavansa.

 

Maharaja, what kind of tree is this?

Venerable this is a mango tree.

Besides this mango tree do you find anymore mango trees?

Yes, Venerable there are plenty of mango trees.

Besides this mango tree, and other mango trees do you find any other trees?

Of course Venerable there are a variety of other trees.

Has thou, Kings folk O’King?

There are many.

Are there also others who are not Kinsfolk?

Yes, Venerable others are in majority than my Kinsmen.

Is there anyone besides Kinsfolk and others?

There is myself, the King.

 

Pleased with the Kings answers Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera went on to teach the king the Buddha Dhamma through the discourse of the Culahatthipadopama Sutta (Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint). In this sutta, using the analogy of a woodsman trying to track a big bull elephant, the Buddha explains how a disciple reaches complete certainty in the truth of the Dhamma, providing a full account of the gradual training in the path of awakening. “Start, set forth, observe the path of Enlightenment! Destroy the armies of Mara, as an elephant crushing a Bamboo Hut. This path leads to eradicate defilements bringing an end to the sorrowful cycle of births,” goes the sutta.

So pleased with Maha Thera’s explanation of the Dhamma was he, that King Devanampiyatissa took refuge in the Triple Gem, becoming the first lay adherent in Sri Lanka. On the day following that decisive meeting with King Devanampiyatissa, Mahinda Maha Thera arrived at Anuradhapura, with his retinue of monks, where he preached the Petavatthu, the Vimaanavatthu, and the Sacca-samyutta to the royal household, which outlined the consequences of wholesome deeds and repercussions of unwholesome deeds.

On the 27th day following the arrival of Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera, a member of the Royal family, Prince Aritta, and a group of 50 others entered the order of Bhikkhus in Sri Lanka. Nearly 60 rock enclosures they occupied and the Mihindu enclosure, still exists at Mihintale. According to historical records, at the end of the first discourse, Sumana Samanera attained Arhanthood while 40,000 devotees attained the state of ‘Sovan’. Queen Anoma appealed to the King expressing her desire and that of her retinue to enter the Bhikkhuni order.

In consequence, Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera’s sister Theri Sanghamitta came to Sri Lanka, bearing the Right wing Bo sapling of the Jayasiri Maha Bodhi of Buddhagaya. The sacred bodhi, planted at the Mahameuna gardens Anuradhapura, is the worlds oldest tree and is venerated todate as is Aradanagala, Chethiy pabbhata, or Missaka Pawwa where Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera and his retinue descended on Poson Full moon Day. A great Stupa was built there enshrining relics of Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera.

Together Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera and Theri Sanghamitta laid the foundations for the great tradition of Theravada Buddhism. They were generous and diligent in their progressive missionary service.

The pious and devout Buddhist leader, King Devanampiyatissa, not only governed the country without hatred and prejudice for many years, but did much to establish and safeguard the Buddha Sasana.

The Sangha who descended from Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera engaged in Dhamma Missionary service, while the king and his ministers support them by providing four requisites and vital necessities. In turn citizens performed their duties and discharged their responsibilities as pious devotees.

The advent of Arhant Mahinda Maha Thera bearing Buddha Dhamma resulted in a resplendent moral civilization and social, economic and cultural endowments. Hence, Poson Poya is of great consequence to Sri Lankan Buddhists.



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Amusement ride brought to life on big screen Jungle Cruise

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By Tharishi Hewavithanagamage

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from screenplay written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, and Michael Green, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is loosely based on Walt Disney’s theme park attraction of the same name. After success of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, it comes as no surprise that Disney wanted to create another ride-based movie, this time featuring one of its first rides. The riverboat amusement ride was the only attraction to exist in the Adventureland themed section on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955. The live-action riverboat adventure stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti.

The film is set in 1916, and follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) in a fervent search for a mystical tree whose petals known as Tears of the Moon, are said to have healing properties. Her strong belief that she could bring about medical breakthroughs and save numerous lives, prompts her to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, deep into the Amazon rainforest.

With a map in hand, Lily along with her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) enlist the help of skipper and swindler Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to help navigate the vast waters of the rainforest. Coveting the mystical petals for their own goals are Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) and a team of 400-year old cursed conquistadors led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez). In a race against time, the bad guys and the jungle, Lily must place her trust in Frank if she is to ever reach the tree, but it’s easier said than done.

The latest Disney movie is definitely fun to watch. It’s a classic, and far too predictable, adventure, where a small group of protagonists venture into the unknown. The movie obviously borrows heavily from big screen hits like ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘The Mummy’ franchise, ‘Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid’ and even the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. This film is a patch-work of tropes.

The two-hour movie also packs a lot, which is precisely why the plot gets murkier as the audiences and protagonists cruise through. The big picture is brimming with smaller side stories which include characters that aren’t essential to the plot and in the end remain forgettable, like Paul Giamatti’s crusty harbormaster Nilo, who unfortunately falls into the margins of the movie. And scenes such as Prince Joachim talking to bees, makes the film utterly nonsensical. However, the strongest points of the movie are seen in the strengthening relationships and character development, which receive just about enough screen time to hold the story together. And while there is no overarching theme for this tale, it handles themes like women empowerment and exoticism.

‘Jungle Cruise’ offers audiences an imaginative look at deeper areas of the Amazon. The titular jungle, Frank’s beloved boat and adorable pet Jaguar Proxima are CGI highlights, whereas most other effects, notably the ragtag supernatural conquistadors, who look like they hung out with Davy Jones for too long, fall flat.

The film also delivers meticulously choreographed action sequences that showcase each individual character’s physical prowess. Everyone gets a chance to throw a punch with good form, not just The Rock. The film also draws in ideas and references from the actual ride. The humor, a courtesy of Frank’s pun-laden jokes is an actual reference to the theme-park attraction. The ride is known for its corny jokes, all delivered by skippers who narrate the adventure to visitors. Everything comes together to make the film a fun-filled experience. It falls short of a strong plot but is driven forward by the performance of the two leads.

An unlikely pair, both Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt showcase their stellar acting skills. Blunt brings a strong charisma as an intrepid scholar and adventurer, breaking barriers in ‘a man’s world’ through her role as Dr. Lily Houghton. Blunt expertly navigates the character’s inner nerd and heroine in doing amazing stunts and even takes on Johnson’s muscular self. Johnson pours his heart and soul into his character Frank. At first glance Frank comes across as a rogue character with no depth and mainly supplies humor to the tale, but as the story unfolds Johnson taps into deeper aspects of the character. The Blunt-Johnson pairing oddly makes their banter fun, but the sense of awkwardness can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable in some scenes.

Jack Whitehall’s role as Lily’s not-so-adventurous brother McGregor, is Disney’s latest attempt to introduce a gay character, but fails to leave a deep impression. It also seems like it’s never a good adventure without the nefarious Germans trying to kill everyone, but Jesse Plemons brings more comedic relief than menace to his role as Prince Joachim. The conquistador villain Aguirre played by Edgar Ramírez, remains sidelined and underused.

At the end of the day, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is a fun summer adventure that everyone can enjoy. Although the film doesn’t meet the standards set by their cooler counterpart ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Jungle Cruise’ brings its own unique quirkiness that saves it from drowning completely.

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Astrologers suggested he be ordained

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Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera

Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera was an eminent scholar monk in the nineteenth century. He was the founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena.

He was born in the village of Hettigoda in Hikkaduwa on 20-01-1827.

As was the Sinhala custom, his horoscope was cast by an eminent astrologer who predicted that the child was under the evil influence of the planets and that he will have a life of misfortune, with a suggestion that he be ordained. The parents then consulted several other eminent astrologers who too, made similar predictions.

(As later events proved, the predictions happened to be from those who had not properly mastered the science of astrology, or due to the inaccurate time of birth recorded).

As per the predictions, his parents then decided to ordain him. With that in view, he was given only a temple-oriented education, with no formal schooling.

When he was about 14 years old, preparations were made to ordain him at an auspicious time. But, as the auspicious time was fast approaching, he was found missing.

After he was found, he told his father not to ordain him and bring the Buddha Sasana into disrepute, as his astrological predictions were adverse.

However, he was ordained later as Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, of his own volition.

Nobody ever thought, at the time, that he would one day be a scholar of great repute.

The following year, he sojourned at the Mapalagama Temple, in the Galle District during the Vas Season (rainy season) with his preceptor Mobotuwana Revatha Thera and several other monks.

This young Sumangala Samanera (novice) endeared himself to the devotees, with his disciplined demeanour and with his sermons, based on the Jathaka stories (stories of the former lives of the Buddha). One such devotee – John Cornelis Abeywardena, an English scholar (an ancestor of the present day Galle politician Vajira Abeywardena) volunteered to teach English to this young inspiring preacher.

It was a time when some bhikkhus were engaged in native medical treatment. And Sumangala Thera, then still a novice, was to answer this question as to whether the bhikkhus could engage in such a practice.

He construed that it was harmless to treat the hapless, destitute patients, friends or relations, provided it was not for any material gain and that it was not a serious violation of the Vinaya rules.

While travelling by train, one day, this Samanera met a group of pilgrims from Siam (now Thailand), coming down south, after a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura.

The pilgrims knew only their Siam language and the Pali language, resulting in they being cut off from the local populace.

One of them, half-heartedly spoke to this Samanera in the Pali lanugage. It was then that he realised that he was spaking to a Pali scholar. This resulted in exchange of views between the two of them.

Later he continued with his higher learning under several reputed venerable preceptors and also authored several valuable books.

During the Vas Season, in that year 1858, he sojourned at the Bogahawatta Temple, in Galle, and commenced publishing a newspaper for Buddhists named “Lanka Loka”.

He was a close friend of Col. Henry Steele Olcott, who arrived in Ceylon in the year 1880.

During those colonial days, the first class compartments in trains were more or less reserved for the white masters. Quite often, these compartments were seen going empty, except for one or two of them, while the second and third classes were crammed. Though some Sri Lankans had the means to travel first class, they didn’t have the courage to do so. There were others who did not care a damn for the white skins and unhestatingly travelled first class.

One day Sumangala Nayaka Thera was travelling to Kandy and entered a first class compartment, occupied by two high- spirited Englishmen.

With characteristic arrogance they subjected the Nayaka Thera to a barrage of vulger comments and rude insults.

“This old fellow has, by mistake, got into this compartment” one of them said.

“No, this is not a mistake. He is purposely, fraudulently, travelling first class with a third class ticket.”

“Shall we hand him over to the Railway Authorities?” asked the other.

The Thera gazed at them silently with a benign smile on his face.

At Polgahawela, the train was shunted into a siding, for the train carrying Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor of Ceylon, who was returning to Colombo, after a holiday, was due at any moment.

The train arrived and the Governor’s special compartment drew up right alongside the one occupied by the venerable monk. Glancing out of the window, the Governor saw Sumangala Thera and a smile of pure pleasure shone on the Governor’s face. For he and the learned monk were close friends. Scholars both, they visited each other quite often and spent many hours in erudite discussion.

“My dear High Priest! Fancy meeting you like this!” said Sir Gordon, opening the door of his compartment and walking into the one occupied by the Thera. They were engaged in a lively conversation, in English, and the train was 11 minutes late.

With the Governor’s departure, the two louts now crestfallen and repentant at their boorish behaviour, profusely apologised to the Thera.

With a smile on his face, the Thera, accepted their apologies with a brief exhortation. Thereafter they were engaged in a lovely conservation till the journey’s end.

Once there was a clash between some Buddhists who went in a procession and some Catholics at Maggona, resulting in the death of a Catholic.

As a sequel, a Buddhist named Seeman Fernando was sentenced to death. On representations made by the Nayaka Thera to the Governor, Seeman Fernando was released.

One day, a group of pilgrims that also included some members of the Cambodian Royal Family, went to Kandy with the Nayaka Thera for an exposition of the Tooth Relic.

It was a non-event as no prior intimation had been made to the Dalada Maligawa authorities in time.

The next morning, the Thera was walking leisurely along the Nuwara Wewa, when Governor Gordon, who was going in a horse drawn chariot saw the Nayaka Thera and after greeting him indulged in a lively conversation. When he told him about the non-event of the exposition of the tooth relic the previous day, the Governor took immediate steps for a special exposition, directing the Government Agent to make the necessary arrangements.

In the year 1873, he founded the Vidyodaya Pirivena – a seat of Buddhist higher learning. It was his greatest service to Buddhism.

When the permit to have a perahera was first introduced at the turn of this centry, the Nayaka Thera, as Head of Vidyodaya, sought permission to hold the annual perahera of the Pirivena. Permission was at first refused, but mysteriously granted a few days later.

Despite the refusal, the Nayaka Thera had gone ahead with the arrangements to hold the perahera, and when a senior police officer on horseback brought the permit personally to the High Priest, he contemptuously rejected it and sent the officer away.

This incident was reported to the I.G.P. who, in turn, reported it to the Governor of the colony of Ceylon.

The Governor, a close friend and admirer of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, sent his Maha Mudliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, as his personal emissary, to respectfully request the learned scholar monk to come to Queen’s House to discuss the matter, as His Excellency feared that the act of the Nayaka Thera would be an undersirable precedent.

“I refused to accept the police permit for this reason,” the Nayaka Thera, told the Governor. “When I first asked for permission to hold the perahera, permission was refused. A few days later, permission was granted. This indicates that permits are given, not according to any law, but at the whims and fancies of police personnel, which is all wrong. That is why I refused the permit that was given on second thoughts. The freedom to practise the Buddhist religion and its rites have been guaranteed in the Kandyan Convention, and I shall be grateful if you and your minions will kindly remember that.”

The chastened Governor was profuse in his apologies to the outspoken scholar monk.

The Nayaka Thera was taken ill on the 21st April 1911 and passed away on the 29th (about 110 years ago).

Perhaps he would never have envisaged, that his much cherished Vidyodaya Pirivena would be no more on a tidal wave, in the years to come.

 

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Talented and versatile

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Shareefa Thahir is not only popular, as a radio personality, but she also has a big following on social media. Each time she uploads a new photo, or an event where she is in the spotlight, the ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ keep soaring. Shareefa does the scene at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Sri Lanka – 97.4 and 97.6) as an English announcer, and news reader, and she is also a freelance TV presenter, and news anchor, on Rupavahini.

Had a chat with this talented, and versatile, young lady, and this is how it all went…

1. How would you describe yourself?

In just a few words, I would say a simple, easy-going person. And, my friends would certainly endorse that.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I love myself, and I accept whatever laws I may have. So, obviously, there’s nothing that I would want to change in myself.

3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

Absolutely nothing because they are amazing…just the way they are (and that hit by Bruno Mars ‘Just The way You Are’ came to mind when you asked me this question!)

4. School?

Melbourne International, and Gateway College. I was the captain of my house and participated in athletics – track events, etc.

5. Happiest moment?

Oh, I will never forget the day I won the Raigam Award for my work on television.

6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Accept yourself and enjoy the tiny things in life.

7. Are you religious?

I believe in God, but I don’t think you should go about announcing it. I stay true to my heart.

8. Are you superstitious?

A little …..stitious! Hahaha! Just kidding – not at all!

9. Your ideal guy?

Someone who accepts me for who I am, and who is supportive in my journey…like I would be in his.

10. Which living person do you most admire?

I would say Jennifer Lopez, for the simple reason that she is still very energetic, and active, for her age (52), keeps herself in good shape, and still has a huge fan base.

11. Which is your most treasured possession?

Yes, I would say my talent.

12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?

My best friend as I would certainly need someone to chat with! Hahaha!

13. Your most embarrassing moment?

Saying ‘good morning’ to viewers on an evening live show!

14. Done anything daring?

Not yet. I wonder when I would get that opportunity to do something…real daring, like, let’s say, climbing Mount Everest!

15. Your ideal vacation?

A life without social media, in Greece, enjoying the beauty of nature.

16. What kind of music are you into?

Oh, I can go on and on about this; it depends on my mood. I love alternate rock, mostly, but I enjoy reggae, and pop, too.

17. Favourite radio station?

SLBC’s Radio Sri Lanka.

18. Favourite TV station?

Channel Eye (for obvious reasons).

19 What would you like to be born as in your next life?

Myself…again.

20. Any major plans for the future?

I’m hoping to start a new venture. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, as right now the scene is pretty dicey, with this virus being so unpredictable.

 

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