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Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Dr. G. P. Malalasekera
4th Edition, Published by the
Ceylon Tourist Board
P. O. Box 1504, Colombo, Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka the followers of the four great world religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam -- have lived together for many centuries in perfect peace and harmony. Many sacred shrines, for example the shrine at the top of Adam's Peak (also called Sri Pada), are shared by the adherents of all four Faiths. During the pilgrim season, they went their way to the summit of the holy mountain, bringing various offerings, and there carry out their devotions with amity and concord. Of the over fourteen million people who constitute the population of Sri Lanka, 67 percent are Buddhists, and it is with their religion, Buddhism, that this brochure is concerned.
Buddhism is not merely a religion, it is also a whole civilization with its historical background, its literature, art and philosophy, its institutions, social, political and ethical and its code of moral conduct.
It had its origin, in the sixth century before Christ, in the Valley of the Ganges. From there, it spread throughout India. Two centuries later, a royal missionary Mahinda, son of the famous emperor Asoka (who renounced his conquests in order to follow the Buddhist way of life), brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Here it flourishes up to this day, its purity hardly affected by the vicissitudes of twenty-five centuries.
From the very outset Buddhism appealed most strongly to the cultivated and the intellectual.
The Buddhist monastery was everywhere the centre of education and learning. wherever it went, Buddhism enriched the language of the people among whom it spread and produced great works of literature, both of prose and poetry. Its achievements in the fine arts have been no less significant. It was Buddhism that first called architecture to the cause of religion. The paintings and sculptures in the cave-temples of Ajanta and Ellora command our awe and admiration. Some of the Buddhist statues, for example those in Nara and Kamekura (both in Japan), are unrivalled in their majesty. There are also numerous statues of the Buddha in our own beautiful Island, for instance the well known "Samadhi" statue in Anuradhapura (for long the capital of Sri Lanka) which so truly symbolises the central theme of Buddhism -- the spiritural calm that comes from perfect knowledge and the subjugation of the senses.
But greater than all these triumphs was the influence Buddhism exercised in moulding the character of the people who became its followers. It instilled into them its noble ideals of peace and gentleness, tolerance, kindness and hospitality, the care for the sick, the pursuit of the good and beautiful, and compassion towards all that lives and breathes. It is Buddhism's proud boast that not a single drop of blood has ever been shed in its name.
The Founder of this great movement was the Buddha, or Sakyamuni (the Sage of the Sakya Clan), or to give him his family name, Gotama (Gautama). We are told that his personal name was Siddhartha. The Buddha generally spoke of himself as the Tathagata, the One who had found the Truth. His father was Suddhodhana, the ruler of his people, and his mother Mahamaya. The pious delight to speak of the marvels that heralded his advent into the world of men and his birth in a grove of woodland.
The young prince was brought up in the lap of luxury; his education consisted not only of knowledge of the the wisdom which the great men of his time taught but also of skill in all the manly arts. At sixteen he married Yasodhara having won her favour by a display of his prowess.
Though he had every reason to be happy, the sorrows of the world around him filled his sensitive soul with restlessness and the more he pondered on the cruel realities of life, the more determined he became to find a way of escape from them.
"There is a getting born and a growing old, a dying and a being re-born. And from this suffering alas, an escape is not known, even from old age and death. When shall such escape be revealed?" And then he thought further. "Surely there must be a way out of this ill? Just as there is warmth as opposed to cold and light as against darkness, there must likewise be happiness as opposed to sorrow?" Thus he pondered, till one day, when he was twenty nine, soon after the birth of his only son, Rahula, he left home and family resolving not to return till he had succeeded in his search. For six long and weary years he wandered seeking knowledge from the famous philosophies of his day, going through innumerable experiences, that imposed severe strain on both body and mind. He was faced with numerous temptations but he overcame them all.
Then on a full-moon night in the flowering month of May, while seated under a peepul-tree, at the spot now known as Buddhagaya, he put forth a supreme struggle. the forces of Evil opposed him in vain. He rent asunder the veil of Ignorance and saw the Truth and thus became the Buddha, which means the Enlightened One. The word for enlightenment is bodhi and the tree under which the Buddha won Enlightenment came thereafter to be called the Bodhi-tree. The Sinlalese name for the month of May is Vesak. According to Buddhist tradition, three important events in the Buddha's life happened on the full-moon day of Vesak -- his birth, his enlightenment and his final passing away. Festivals are held to mark these events and are known as Vesak celebrations.
The Buddha attained Enlightenment at the age of thirty five; thence-forth for 45 years till he passed away at Kusinara at the age of 80, he lived in unceasing activity, teaching and preaching. It is said that he slept but two hours at night. He travelled far and wide, except during the three rainy months, carrying the good news, the message of hope and happiness to all that would care to hear.
The being who thus became the Buddha was indeed yet a man though endowed with what we may call a heavenly humanity. In fact it is his essential humanity that shines out most brilliantly through the canonical records of his life and activities. He moved amongst men and women, not as superman or an incarnation of a god, but as very man himself, preaching to others that what he had become they could, everyone of them, become themselves; that we all of us are potential Buddhas.
His humanity and his great earnestness are the most striking thing about the Buddha. He was most anxious to tell the truth whether others liked it or not, though he chose his appropriate time and place to do so. It is said about his speech that it was always truthful, spoken at the proper season, purposeful and profitable and in exact accord with his own actions.
He was very quick to recognise the infinite variety of men's dispositions; he could feel the real need in each man's heart. The needs of men called forth in him an instant wish to help. His teachings were homely, yet full of wisdom. The stories he so often used to illustrate his teachings, the similes and metaphors that abound in his sermons, show how intimate was his knowledge of all classes of people, their customs and manners and their ways of life. He spared no pains to make men and women not just good but better, to help them become their best. His love was not limited to human beings, his kindness to animals, too, was profound. When the Buddha had attained Enlightenment, he proclaimed his realisation in no uncertain terms. "Wide open are the portals of immortality", he announced, "let those who have faith and courage, come and share therein". But it was not till seven weeks later that the Buddha decided to preach his first sermon. The scene was the Deer Park at Isipatana (Morden Saranath) near Benares. He selected as his audience five ascetics, who had been his erstwhile colleagues in the practice of asceticism. It is said that they were at fire reluctant to listen to him but so great was the force of the Buddh's personality that their reluctance was overcome and they became eager listeners.
The First Sermon
This first sermon is generally accepted as containing a resume of the Buddha's teachings. In it the Buddha declares that those who wish to lead a spiritual life should avoid the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-torture. Self-indulgence is low and self-mortification crazy; both are profitless. There is a middle way -- which leads to insight and wisdom; its fruit is serenity, knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbana, perfect peace.
The teaching is summed up in what came to be known as the Four Noble Truths, four facts which cannot be denied -- the fact that there is suffering in the world, the further fact that this suffering has its cause in the craving for personal satisfaction; the third fact that this suffering will cease when such craving is stilled, and fourthly, that that result can be achieved by following the Middle way, otherwise described as the Noble Eightfold Path, consisting of right views, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right rapture.
As will be seen, the motive of first sermon is eminently practical. Its purpose was to awaken recognition of the universality of suffering inherent in existence, to indicate its fundamental cause and to teach a way of deliverance through rightness in thought conduct and inner discipline. The description of the Path covers the whole training of the discipline.
Once deliverance is obtained from suffering, such freedom cannot ever be lost. There will be for those who have won it no more voyaging through continued existence, no more birth and no more death. The fundamental principle of all reality is that whatever has a beginning must in due course also have an end, and suffering is no exception to this rule. Herein lies the core of truth -- the impermanency of everything in this world of time and space. The recognition of this fact provides the means for removing this ill.
This first sermon contains all the essentials of the Buddha's teaching and the elements of the Buddhist ideal. It is founded on an understanding of the ultimate facts of life. When this understanding is attained the passions of sense are subdued, all ill-will disappears and conflict ceases. The winner of the goal no longer demands that the world shall minister to his gratification; he is delivered from the arrogance of claming the recognition of his own individuality. The cravings, on which his being had earlier been brought up, have died away and in the resultant calm there is intense but tranquil Joy.
The Buddha's teaching is fundamentally a teaching of emancipation. Just as the water of the sea has but one taste, the taste of salt, so has the Buddha's doctrine one taste, the taste of freedom.
The first sermon is also significant for what it does not contain: it gives no account of the creation of the world nor a history of the process by which sin and death came to beset mankind. It contains no promise of exemption from pain and evil in return for prayer or ritual or sacrifice, nor any support or favourable intercession by the divine powers. The Buddha does not call himself a saviour willing and able to take upon himself the sins of mankind. On the contrary, he declares that each man and woman must bear the burden of their own sins and seek emancipation therefore through their own efforts.
The Buddha asserts that no god can do for any man that work of self-conquest and self-emancipation which in the teaching of the Buddha, stands for "salvation". The Buddha claims only to be a guide, a teacher of the way, who having gained deliverance from suffering, declares that spiritual emancipation is no divine gift of grace but a conquest won by man's intellect and will, rightly ruled and directed by man himself.
The goal and reward of the higher life is not in any external state but in the attainment of perfect and tranquil mind. Nibbana (or nirvana) is the name givens to that goal. Peace and happiness are its synonyms.
"Happy is solitude of him who is full of joy, who has learnt the truth, who sees the truth. Happy is freedom from malice in this world, self-restraint toward all beings that have life. Happy is freedom from lust in this world, getting beyond all desires; the putting away of that pride which comes from the thought 'I am.'"
The first requisite for leading the good life is a realization that all conscious existence is enveloped in suffering. The world is on fire, burning with lust, ill-will and stupidity: how can there be laughter and joy? This body of ours is sickly frail; in a few years it breaks into pieces and ends in death.
The maladies of the body are only too well-matched by the ills of the mind. What anguish of mind there is in a single life-time what grief and dejection, what lamentation and despair. Not all the waters of the four great oceans can equal the tears shed by a single being in his long pilgrimage through the innumerable ages of his past. The scene of our days and years in full of change; all our pleasure must end, too brief is their satisfaction. Early and late Death goes his rounds, mowing down high and low, rich and poor, young and old, the mighty and the meek.
Other religions, too, have described man as a pilgrim through a vale of tears, called the world a bubble, the life of man but a span, full of sorrow from womb to tomb. But these religions also assure us that behind this transitory show lies God's eternity and that therein is security for those who do God's will. God, they say, has revealed in his commandments the conduct which enables men to share in his heaven. He is our Father and even though we must humble ourselves before his holiness, we may yet trust his mercy to forgive. Buddhism has no such consolation of possible mercy to offer. The laws that govern life are merciless and the Buddha refuses to be mealy-mouthed in his exposition of them. All existence without exception, is sorrow, he declared.
That this was an unattractive doctrine the Buddha himself realised, and we are told that for a brief moment after his Enlightenment he wondered whether it would be worthwhile carrying such a message to men who were blinded by passion and wrapped in the darkness of ignorance. But then he recalled that it was for this very purpose that he had laboured throughout countless lives. He knew that among men there were many whose minds were comparatively free from lust and ill-will and they would understand. In the world were men of many dispositions and capabilities, like lotuses in al pool, some blooming under the water, some on its surface, some emerging out of it.
The Buddha considered himself a physician; the illness of the world was desperate and a desperate remedy was required, nothing less would suffice. If by the sacrifice of his own life he could assure happiness to the world's creatures, he would have gladly laid it down. Many times, in his previous existences, while preparing for Buddhahood, he had given his life for others and one more life would have meant nothing to him. But, in the destruction of suffering, as the Buddha saw it, the shepherd laying down his life for his flock had no meaning.
Though he thus declared the world and all in it a mass of suffering the Buddha never showed any impatience with it; he was never angry with the world nor did he curse it. He thought of it as unsatisfactory and transitory rather than as wicked, as ignorant rather than rebellious. In his life there is no idea of suicidal sacrifice, no element of the tragic, no nervous irritability. He is never described as a man of sorrows; the cares of the world did not weigh him down. He did not consider himself as belonging to a race whose first pair had drawn upon themselves a sentence of labour and pain and involved their descendants in corruption. There was no need to call for repentence to escape an impending doom.
The Buddha was, therefore, always happy; representation of him whether in word or stone or painting always depicts him with a countenance of serene joy. "Happy I seek my rest," he declared over and over again, "happy I rise; happy I pass the day, escaped from snare of evil". He described his teaching as "lovely in its origin, lovely in its progress and lovely in its consummation." One has only to read the outpourings of the hearts of his disciples as contained in the records to realise that their lives were irradiated with joy, with bliss ineffable.
This was because the Buddha had not only the recognition of the existence of suffering but also the sure knowledge of the way out of it.
While it is true that we do not find in Buddhism the consolation of a saviour willing and able to fight on our behalf, we do find in it the encouraging and enabling faith that man has within himself the strength and virtue that render him independent of all such consolation. It is the one religion that bids man, in no uncertain terms, to trust himself, that calls upon him to raise himself by his own exertion, to govern and control and form himself.
Thus was the clarion-call sounded of human liberty; "Be ye refuges unto yourselves; be ye your own salvation. With earnestness and high resolve, work out your salvation with diligence."
Law of Kamma
Just as man could work out his own salvation, he it was who had created his problems. It was not mere chance or an impersonal power that was responsible for the inequalities amongst men.
Nothing happened by chance, said the Buddha. He then proceeded to formulate the doctrine which came to be known as the Law of Kamma (Karma) which forms one of the most fundamental of his teachings.
Kamma (Karma) means action, doing work, business; and the Law of Kamma may be described as the Law of Cause and Effect. Very briefly stated it is this: everything that happens does so only by reason of some earlier cause and when that stops so does the result. Everything is the effect of some cause and is itself the cause of some other effect. This law, the Buddha declares, holds true this in every department of the universe. As far as man is concerned, this is the law that affects his happiness or sorrow. It has no origin in time; it is not a "command," therefore it cannot be broken. Thus, in Buddhism, there is no such thing as sin in the sense of a violation of God's "command."
No one can, however, disregard the law of Kamma without paying the penalty. It cannot be altered by beseeching, by self-torture or by offerings. No God can interfere with it. Gone therefore is the need for payers, ceremonies and rites, and the priesthood required for their celebration.
Thus for the role of God (or Creator) the Buddha substituted the rule of the Law of Kamma.
With the doctrine of Kamma is also connected that other teaching of the Buddha which speaks of man as wandering about in Samsara, continued existence, birth after birth. Before and behind us there stretches a vista of lives, past, present and to come, impermanent and unsatisfying, involving dukkha or suffering until by our own efforts we put an end to the process. This samsara too has a cause. It is the result of craving (tanha), the thirst for life in its widest sense -- the craving for pleasures which creates life, the craving for existence in the dying man which brings about another rebirth, the craving for power, for wealth, for pre-eminence within the limits of the present life. Once this fact is realised, that our suffering has a cause, men can break the bonds and escape from Samsara. They remain in bondage only because of their ignorance.
The Buddhist conception of Kamma has nothing to do with predestination. That which we have done in the past has made us what we are now; that which we are in the process of doing now is making what we shall be in the future. The future will be a process of becoming largely what we make it. It is always being shaped, but not finished.
Just as we have been making ourselves in all our previous lives, so now it lies within us to determine our future; there is no God that can stop our doing so. That past gives us certain tendencies and possibilities; it is for us to fashion them how we will. We are our creators, as well as our own enemies.
Evil Kamma can be overcome by the guidance of far reaching knowledge and of penetrating insight and it is here that the services of a good friend, a kalyanamitta become valuable, nay essential. A kalyanamitta is a good man who, having won knowledge, shows the path to others. The Buddha is regarded as the greatest of such kalyanamittas.
There are two observations commonly made regarding the Doctrine of Kamma. One is the question, can it be proved? The answer is No, not by ordinarily accepted canons of proof. But the Buddha says that looking back on his many lives and those of others he saw the workings of the law clearly and unmistakably. This knowledge was not his special prerogative but could be acquired and verified, by anyone willing to take the trouble. Till such time time the word of Master has to be believed.
The other observation is that it is "unjust" to suffer for ill deeds that are forgotten. Kamma is not concerned with "Justice." This observation is coloured by our conception of the law as being laid down by somebody and the penalty as being inflicted for a purpose.
The Doctrine of Anatta
One doctrine in Buddhism which separates it from all other creeds is its denial of any real permanent Soul or Self. This doctrine of No-Soul or Anatta as it is called, is the bedrock of Buddhism.
Now, what is this Soul the existence of which the Buddha denies? Briefly stated, the "Soul" is the abiding, separate, constantly existing and indestructible entity which is generally believe to be found in man from the moment of his birth up to the time of his death, and to exist after his death in some other place, either heaven or hell, for all eternity. This soul is regarded as being separate for each individual; it is a bit of the divine, a spark from God, implanted within each human being and destined, ultimately, to return to its Maker. As long as the "Soul" resides in man, it is the thinker of all his thoughts, the doer of his deeds and the director of the organism generally. It is the lord not only of the body but also of the mind; it gathers its knowledge through the gateways of the senses. Though it cannot be seen by the eye, nor reached by speech, nor apprehended by the mind, yet its existence is to be accepted on faith. Without immortality hereafter, so runs the argument, this life would not be worth living. The existence of a soul alone can ensure for each individual the fruits of his actions. Without it there can be no reward in heaven or punishment in hell, no recompense for one's deeds.
Such, generally speaking is the teaching of other religions, with a few minor differences in detail. Buddhism, on the contrary, denies all this and asserts that this belief in a permanent and a divine soul is the most dangerous and pernicious of all errors, the most deceitful of illusions, that it will inevitably mislead its victims into the deepest pit of sorrow and suffering. It is, in fact, says the Buddha, the root-cause of all suffering, because the belief in an separate self breeds egotism and selfishness; selfishness produces craving for life and life's pleasures -- tanha which plunges beings into the ocean of Samsara -- continued existence.
This doctrine of the denial of the Soul the Buddha arrives at by analysis; Buddhism is, for this reason chiefly, called the Vibhajjavada, the Religion of Analytical Knowledge. Man, says the Buddha, is composed of two chief parts, the physical body and the mind.
Let us analyse these two components and see if we can find anything permanent or divine them. The body seems to be our own and yet we cannot control it. It grows old and is subject to disease and finally it dies. What of the mind? It is even less permanent, for while the body lasts a while, at least in appearance, the mind or what is called the mind -- keeps perishing day and night, always changing. A man's mind, his character and aspirations must change and they do, or there would be no possibility of his higher development, progress and improvement. The same can be said of reasoning, the powers of discrimination and judgement, the will and the memory.
It may be argued, thus, -- "Yes, we agree that the Soul is not to be found in any of the parts of our body and mind but we say that the whole of our being is the Soul." This seems to be begging the question because the appearance of a whole is merely a delusion; what "whole" can there be in something in which every particle is constantly, continually changing? We cling to ourselves, hoping to find something immortal in them, like children who would wish to clasp a rainbow. Like the rainbow are all things; there is a process; a conditioning, but nowhere the least trace of anything permanent.
Life is thus merely a phenomenon or rather a succession of phenomena, produced by the law of cause and effect. An individual existence is to be looked upon not as something permanent but as a succession of changes, as something that is always passing away. Each of us is merely a combination of material and mental qualities; every person or thing or god is thus a "putting together," a compound. And this compound, this individual, remains separate as long as it persists in Samsara or existence as we know it. It is this separation which is the cause of life and, therefore, of sorrow. Life will continue as long as there is craving. It is Kamma, our actions, our thoughts and words produced by this craving, that keeps the process going.
If at death the craving for life has not been completely destroyed then this craving gathers fresh life, body and mind. The result is a new individual, but new only in a sense. There is nothing that passes from one life to another. It is the Kamma produced by us in our previous lives and in this life that brings about the new life. The new body and mind is merely the result of the previous body and mind. Just as this life is the result of the Kamma of past lives, so our next life is the product of that Kamma plus the Kamma of the present life.
What is important to the Buddhist is not death or rebirth, for these processes are always taking place even in our present life, but the fact that the life-quality which succeeds death is entirely in his own power, and that his future environment will depend entirely on him. Though the tendencies of a past birth influence the trend of mind-processes in a subsequent life, yet the mind has the power inherent in it of overcoming, at least very largely, the evil that might be transmitted.
Must this process of life after life always continue? It need not, says the Buddha; it is the purpose of the Buddha's teaching to tell us how it can be completely destroyed. And with the destruction of the process we reach Nibbana, a word better known in its Sanskrit form of Nirvana. It is the cessation of life as we know it; in a sense it is annihilation, but not the annihilation of self, for there is no self to annihilate. The fire has gone out because there is no more fuel to feed it. It is the annihilation of the illusion of self, of separateness. The whole of the clingings, affections for oneself, the desires, the appetites, the thirst, tanha, which surround or support this illusion are all destroyed together with the evil, the ignorance, the hatred and greed and the lust which accompany it. They die for lack of the nourishment that sustained them, never more to return. Nirvana is not merely a negative condition but a very positive state of bliss ineffable, of unbounded peace and joy, as is testified by the countless utterances of those that have attained it. "Aho sukham, aho sukham," they exclaim, "ah, what happiness, what bliss"; cooled are life's sorrows, gone all fear and they are joyful with much joy.
When the Arahant, the Perfect One, who has attained Nirvana, dies he is not reborn anywhere, for he is no longer subject to any of the laws that govern life and death. What exactly happens to him we cannot say, for all our thoughts, terms and modes of speech are bound up with the illusion of self and are therefore incapable of describing the state which the Arahant attains after death, a state which is the very antithesis of life as known to us. It is an experience, not speculation. All we can say about it is that is beyond and outside all conditionings. A well-known passage in the books describes it as a state "where there is neither solid nor liquid, neither heat nor air, neither this world nor any other, neither sun nor moon, arising nor passing away nor standing still, neither a being born nor a dying, neither substance nor development nor any basis for substance." It is the end of sorrow, to be known by freedom from distress and danger, by confidence, by peace and calm, by bliss and happiness, by purity and freshness. There is no particular spot where it is to be found, nothing to define it by. Such is the goal of the Buddhist, the attainment of which the Buddha taught to beings, the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path
This Path has already been referred to but a fuller explanation would be desirable. The Path consists of eight factors as follows:
1. Right view is
understanding the Four Truths.
The Buddha's teachings were not recorded at the time of their promulgation. Writing was then practically unknown and all learning was handed down from teacher to pupil by word of mouth. Tradition has it that three months after the Buddha's death five hundred of his immediate and pre-eminent disciples gathered together in convocation and agree upon what they considered were his most important utterances. They claimed to have remembered the Buddha's exact words, mostly in prose but some of them in the form of verses too.
These were later committed to writing but not till several centuries afterwards, when the original community of Buddhist disciples had split up into several sects. Each such important sect had its own collection of the scriptures. Only one of these collections is now to be found in any degree of completeness. This is the Canon of the School of Elders, known as the Theravada and written in an ancient India language called Pali. This Canon is regarded as sacred by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
Tradition has it that it was brought to Sri Lanka by Mahinda when he introduced Buddhism into the Island. Mahinda is also credited with having taught the commentaries to the Canon to the Sinhalese monks when he established the Order at the Maha Vihara (the Great Minster) at Anuradhapura under royal auspices. Both Canon and commentaries were handed down orally. The Canon was committed to writing in Sri Lanka in the first century before Christ. The Theravada Canon (called the Tipitaka, Tripitaka) consists of three sections, named Pitakas (Baskets). The first is the Vinaya Pitaka, a collection of 227 rules of Vinaya (or discipline) which is binding on monks and nuns. The second is the Sutta Pitaka, arranged in five groups (Nikayas), and consists of suttas (or discourses) which contain the basic doctrine of Buddhism. Generally speaking, a sutta purports to be the verbatim report of a discourse of the Buddha and contains particulars of the circumstances in which the discourse came to be preached.
The third collection is the Abhidhamma Pitaka, consisting of treatises of the "higher" or "further" doctrines (abhidhamma), philosophical and psychological in character and containing developments of terms and ideas found in the two other Pitakas. It is generally accepted that the Abhidhamma Pitaka is of somewhat later growth than the other two.
The custody of his teaching and its propagation was made, by the Buddha, the obligation of the members of the Order in the Sangha which he founded quite early in his career. It grew up to a well organised community, following democratic practices in its procedure, arriving at decisions by discussion and consensus. Membership of Order was open to all, regardless of caste or race or colour, except for persons suffering from infectious diseases and certain physical and mental disabilities, conscripted soldiers, debtors, slaves who had run away from their masters and minors, who had first to get the permission of their parents or guardians. "Just as rivers that flow into the ocean leave their various identities therein, so do various classes of people form a single community when they join the order."
The Order consisted at first only of men. Women were admitted later at the request of the Buddha's foster-mother and in deference to strong public opinion; in all matters of discipline monks were given priority over the nuns. This did not, however, imply that women were in any way inferior to men. What men could do, declared the Buddha quite emphatically, women could do equally well, sometimes even better. But, in some Buddhist countries including Sri Lanka, the Order of nuns did not last very long, for a variety of reasons. Attempts are being made to revive it. Elsewhere it has come down to the present day, though not large in numbers.
The rules of the Order are simple, the chief vows being those of celibacy and non-possession of worldly wealth. Abstinence from eating after mid-day and avoidance of all kinds of luxury are also required. A monk's equipment consists only of basic needs such as two sets of robes, a begging bowl, a razor, needle and thread. He is expected to spend his time in study and meditation, in recitation of sacred texts and listening to such recitation by others. He would preach on "sabbath" days or whenever there was need to do so. In earlier days the monastery was also the school and the monks were its teachers.
Twice a month the monks of a given area would gather together for a general ceremony of confession at which the prescribed rules, 227 in number, contained in a very old text, were recited.
At the inception of the Order and for quite some time afterwards, members of the Order would travel from place to place, except during the rainy season, and they had no permanent abode. They would subsist on alms which they would get when they went on their alms-rounds in whatever locality they happened to be.
But, in the course of time, as their numbers increased, there came into existence settled monastic establishments, and the corporate Order of the Sangha often received gifts of lands and buildings and various amenities were provided by rulers and other wealthy patrons.
Monasteries (and nunneries) have certain basic features common to most of them. There would generally be a residence for the monks (or nuns), a shrine-room, containing one or more statues of the Buddha, usually in the sitting posture, a stupa (also known as thupa, dagaba or pagoda) and, more often than not, a Bodhi-tree claiming descent from the tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment. The stupa can be of various shapes and sizes; in Sri Lanka the main part of the stupa is a hemispherical dome of solid masonry. Devotees would like to believe that every stupa contains some relic of the Buddha, usually a microscopic piece of bone, and those who erect stupas would go through a great deal of trouble and expense in order to obtain such a relic.
The Buddhist ceremony of worship normally follows a simple pattern and can be performed either at home (with members of one's family) or in a temple in groups, large or small. Flowers are offered at the stupa, the vihara and the Bodhi-tree; lamps (usually of clay) are lit and sweet-smelling incense is burnt in or near the shrines. In the temple, community worship is often led by a monk or one of the older members of the gathering. The worshippers recite a formula which indicates that the devotee "seeks refuge" in the Buddha, his teaching and order of the Sangha. This is followed by the Five Precepts whereby the devotee taken upon himself five vows -- to abstain from hunting life, from taking without the owner's consent what belongs to another, from wrongful indulgence in the senses, from speech which is false, slanderous, harsh or profitless, and from intoxicating drinks and drugs.
The Buddhists do not "pray" to the Buddha but in the ceremony of worship they usually chant various stanzas or formulas extolling the virtue of the Buddha, his teaching and the noble band of his disciples who have attained sainthood by following that teaching.
The object of this exercise is partly to render homage to those to whom homage is due and partly to stimulate in the devotee's mind a desire to cultivate similar qualities in his own person. Offerings of flowers etc. are symbolic gestures of honour and gratitude. No animal sacrifices have ever formed a part of Buddhist ceremonial anywhere and it is Buddhism's proud boast that not a single droop of blood has been shed in its name.
Source: The Research Institute for Pali Literature, http://www.ripl.or.kr
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last updated: 12-11-2005