20 October, 2018

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An Open Letter To Prof. Kapila Abhayawansa

By Sharmini Serasinghe

Sharmini Serasinghe

Sharmini Serasinghe

Dear Prof. Abhayawansa,

You may regard the following disrespectful, and highly impertinent, but I was educated within a system, where I was encouraged, to challenge my teachers. And the most adamant of them all, was my reverend Guru, the late Piyadassi Maha Thera.

Therefore, though you are not one of my esteemed teachers, I shall nevertheless, regard you as a teacher.

To start with, your post titled “God in the Buddha”  on Colombo Telegraph dated 10thJanuary, 2014, in response to Mr. Shyamon Jayasinghe and Dr. Jagath Asoka, I found quite intriguing, to say the least.

You start with by stating, that you got the idea “to write something revealing the true nature of popular Buddhist practices”. But having carefully studied your post, I find nothing cogently “revealing” of such, except to condone what you term, as “popular Buddhist activities”, introduced to the people of Sri Lanka, as Buddhism, by Buddhist monks, over 2500 years ago. Though these “activities” appear to have been borrowed from Hinduism, they are indeed harmless, but they are nevertheless, contradictory, to the Buddha’s teachings.

Therefore, what I did find “revealing”, is that your archaic views on Buddhism, are not applicable, in today’s context.

You, dear Professor, have cited the Buddha’s words, na āyatkeneva aññārādhanam vadāmi. Apica anupubba-sikkhā anupubba-kiriyā anupubba-patipadā aññārādhanam hoti”.-(M.I. 479), which translates into “I do not say that one can win the final knowledge at the very beginning. It is had from a gradual discipline, a gradual mode of action and conduct”.

Given the context in which you have stated the above, your interpretation of it appears to be, that the Buddha condoned and encouraged his followers, to engage in, what you term as “Popular Buddhist Practices”. You might be aware, that the Buddha categorically denounced such practices, as worshipping of objects, including himself, as a prerequisite to attaining “the final knowledge”.

monks_fighting colombo telegraphYou also go on to state, that most Buddhists, in all Buddhist countries, irrespective of the sect, perform popular ‘religious activities’, “We cannot say that all such activities are based on wrong beliefs”. If so, please do enlighten me and others such as myself, on the ‘right belief’ according to you, of such practices? As far as I know, the Buddha denounced such practices, as he meant Buddhism to be a philosophy and not a religion (Religion, defined as per the Oxford dictionary- “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”).

Did the Buddha (who was not a God), advocate the offering of flowers to perceived images of him, in order for one to be reminded, of the impermanence of life (anicca)? Similarly, did he advocate lighting oil- lamps, candles etc., in order to remind oneself of “wisdom illuminating the darkness of ignorance”? Also, did he ask of his followers, to keep watering Bo trees, which gave him shade, as he attained enlightenment?

I state once again, these are indeed harmless practices, obviously borrowed from Hinduism, but nevertheless,  have no relevance to the teachings of the Buddha. So why do Buddhist monks and academics, such as yourself, hold such superficial and hollow practices, in such high esteem, and propagate them as Buddhism, instead of the authentic teachings of the Buddha?

You claim, that “originally, such popular practices were introduced to the ordinary people by the Buddhist monks, in order to keep them away from the unrighteous and bad activities which are harmful to both themselves and others”.

Do you think it was ethically correct, of such Buddhist monks, to distort the Dhamma, in order to use it as a disciplinary tool? Perhaps, the people of yore, would have been better disciplined, and refrained “from the unrighteous and bad activities which are harmful to both themselves and others”, had they been taught Buddhism, as the Buddha intended it to be.

However, assuming that these distortions of Buddhism, did have some effect on our ancestors, to keep them in line, thousands of years ago, in today’s context however, such tactics, hold no water, as people are far more advanced intellectually, than their ancestors were, thousands of years ago.

You go on to state, “Moral sense can be implanted in their mind through the symbols. For an example, statue of the Buddha has been taken as an object for veneration as a means to be mindful on the virtues of the Buddha”.

Pray tell me then, why are there so many Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka today, besides those amongst the laity, with no “moral sense implanted in their minds” despite gazing at these ‘Buddhist symbols’, for so long?

By gazing at these ‘symbols’, why are they not “mindful on the virtues of the Buddha”, as they commit rape, robbery and murder, molest children, show intolerance of non-Buddhists and all the rest, that are offensive to Buddhism?

MonkYou go on to state further, “It should be accepted that the masses belonging to any religion do not have deep knowledge about both doctrinal aspect and the practical aspect of their religions. Therefore, they do not know what their religions mean. They merely take the religion only as a means of help in their grievances. On the other hand, only the popular rights and rituals introduced by the religious hierarchy become their religion as well as their culture”.

I am appalled at how you, a Professor of Buddhism, could relegate the Philosophy of Buddhism, to “any religion”. But for the purpose of argument, let me refer to Buddhism as “any religion” as it seems to suit your mindset better.

You say, “….they do not know what their religions mean.” Now, with regard to Buddhism, who is to blame for that? Is it not the Buddhist monks, and learned academics such as yourself, who have lead, and are still leading Buddhists, up the garden path, with your own superficial and hollow interpretations and theories of Buddhism?

With regard to “Popular Buddhist Practices” you add further, “In the real sense they were introduced by the Buddhist monks who were responsible for establishing Buddhism in Sri Lanka as substitutes for the existed religious customs in the Sri Lankan society when Buddhism came to Sri Lanka. They provide the Buddhist masses the way to achieve good qualities introduced by Buddhism as well as cultural entertainment and recreation”.

So you admit, “In the real sense they were introduced by the Buddhist monks who were responsible for establishing Buddhism in Sri Lanka.” Thus, according to you, learned professor, the Monks of yore, devised a concoction which they called Buddhism (NOT the genuine Dhamma, as preached by the Buddha), and introduced it to the people of Sri Lanka. No wonder this country is, in such a sorry state today!

You add further, “They provide the Buddhist masses the way to achieve good qualities introduced by Buddhism as well as cultural entertainment and recreation”.

Now, this statement of yours, coming from a Professor of Buddhism, would be hilarious, if it was not so pathetic. Honestly, are you trying to imply, that Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, as a source of “cultural entertainment and recreation”?

My dear Professor, since you seem to be living over 2500 years ago, I would like to inform you, that in modern Sri Lanka, we now have, a wide variety of “entertainment and recreation.” Besides night-clubs, casinos and the world’s-oldest-profession, you could also find alcohol, drug abuse and gambling, child molestation, rape, murder, intolerance and burning down places of religious worship of others, and a whole host of others, to keep our people, well “entertained”.

Therefore, we no longer need Buddhism as a source of “entertainment and recreation” BUT, we do need it, as the Buddha meant it to be, in order to salvage our people, from the depths they have sunk to, thanks to an indigenous fallacy, which people like yourself, appear to regard as Buddhism.

As per the rest of your post, I’m sure other readers are sufficiently, ‘broadminded and wise’, to figure it out for themselves!

Yours sincerely,

Sharmini Serasinghe

PS-

The Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C V Wigneswaran has suggested Sri Lanka’s history, to be rewritten. Likewise, it would be equally appropriate, to reintroduce Buddhism to Sri Lanka, sans all the idiocy, currently practiced in its name!

*Sharmini Serasinghe counts over thirty years as a writer and a journalist, in both the print and electronic media. She was also Director Communications, of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), under Secretary Generals Dr. John Gooneratne and Jayantha Dhanapala.

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Latest comments

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    Wo ho! Sharmini is breathing out fire! And she is hitting the sink out of the kitchen too! I like her venom very much because it completely shatters a massive blinker of “popular religion” myth built over a year upon year long duration in the country. But I think both Prof. Abhayawansa and Sharmini are correct. I don’t think it was the professor’s intention that people should go on only engaging in popular religious activities without paying attention to real and fundamental aspects of Buddhism. To me he sounded to present a balanced view on why this populist religion culture came into being and how people are tethered to it without getting free of it. Fair enough.

    After a short period after Buddha’s demise Buddhism virtually vanished from India and it was due to the yeoman’s service rendered by Great king Dharmashoka after about two centuries post Parinirvana that Buddhism was revived. Before the advent of Asoka I don’t think in India there were the kinds of Buddhist symbols, stupas, places of worship etc. that were as prevalent, prominent and conspicuous as after Asoka made them to be as part of his Buddhism revival programme. The revival activities of Asoka clearly proves the point raised by the professor because purely direct, fundamental and core teachings of Buddha did not find lasting affiliations among general masses and after about two centuries Buddhism was almost history. Now with the popular Buddhism however it is still sustained among the masses even though not in the pristine, unblemished and Budddha’s-like way. We must be at least happy that it has survived thus far. If a young and beautiful girl of today’s generation who are far more advanced intellectually today as Sharmimi says and who has all the health facilities, beauty saloons and gadgets, various creams and perfumes, dazzling garments, internet, facebook and camera phones and all that coupled with young and beautiful friends of the same appearances, mindset and energy of the youth, were to be told, in accordance with the noble and fundamental truths as revealed by Buddha, that she is nothing but a walking skeleton, covered with flesh and blood, veins like wires, with bacteria within and without, having nine orifices oozing revulsive discharges, and countless orifices all over the body oozing sweat and odors……which will ultimately become gaga, senile, perish six feet underground and eaten by maggots and worms…., would she for a moment thereafter hang around this “great philosophy”? Don’t laugh, because that is what the whole of “today’s advanced” world is doing out there-bury reality and beautify the rot! So I think it is in this spirit of context that the professor has written his post. Sharmini asks whether Buddha advocated offering flowers etc. but again it is understood that the professor knew it very well and did not seem to imply such a untenable concept.

    Now having said all that, what sharmini says has great value. I view it that Sharmini hits the Mickey Mouse out of professor is just collateral damage. Sri Lanka as a state, people, culture and religion is in an appalling condition. The few populist peripheral Buddhist paraphernalia that had been invented as a means to achieve some sort of an appeal to not so intelligent masses have now swollen, cancerously spread, lopsidedly evolved and self-destructively displaced the real meaning of Buddha’s teachings. Endless arguments on whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy is of no real value to undertake because it will just waste our time and energy. I saw both of them were correct as the intended meaning by both, behind the two words, converged. Buddha’s doctrine has been so ridiculed, made trivially populist and uglily consumerized that there is a popular Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka, it is said, who while chanting pirith “casts pirith” by his watapatha towards the audience who are seated on the floor in front of him so that they may “absorb, inhale, catch or whatever” the pirith into their bodies! Such is the rot that has set in in the very religious psyche of Sri Lanka.

    It is therefore very important that Sharmini’s initiative be continued by other reform and reality seeking intellectuals. There has to be a complete purging of riff raffs from the system and a restoration of the doctrine. But I am afraid that is not going to happen in our lifetime because in every which way I look around there is not a single person who has the real religious discipline and understanding of Buddha’s doctrine, the necessary underwent psychological transformation, integrity and intelligent oratory skills. We are religiously doomed as well as culturally, socially, morally, governmentally, economically, democratically and internationally. This is the reality of Sri Lanka and its people. Sharmini’s kitchen sinks would just be in vein. Sri Lankan Sinhalese Buddhist [Edited out] would just pause for a second to see what this heck of a noise about Buddha and just carry on as ever while on the way home paying a visit to the “Buddha Bar” also. This is Miracle of Asia and Banana Republic courtesy Kurakkan Rajapakshas!

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      Silva,

      You are so right, and I enjoyed your sense of humour too.

    • 3
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      They the B/monks used to meet once in a while and concot stories which now goes as Buddhism.Omalpe Sobitha during the discussion with Wijedasa Rajapakse, used the term – Buddha laid down these laws-.Does not the fool remember that Lord Buddha did not lay down rules.In the recent production re-process to rehabilitate Buddhism in SL one joker says that Human rights is western concept. The jokers who formulated that document were all members of the Bhikku order.Do they not understand that was the first precept enunciated by the Buddha, which we repeat everytime we worship.

      • 0
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        Upali you are right. It is high time that the Sri lankan follow the French peasants and say let us get rid of these pests.

  • 1
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    There could be wicked minds behind sweet powdery faces. The fact is proven.

    Thanks!

  • 2
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    Hi Confucius! (clarification within brackets are mine)

    Failing to find out the original Pali text, I was going through the English translation of Mahawansa to see what exactly Author Mahanama had written about Buddha’s 1st visit to Lanka. I found this interesting piece from a reader by the name Thilaka Randeni:
    “Our Lord Buddha never frightened the Yakka race. That is a big lie. Yakka people had heard from the merchants that there is somebody preaching a new ‘Dhamma’ so they sent a message through the merchants inviting Lord Buddha here. So the Thathagatha came to the ground of Mahiyanganaya where all the (Yakka) people gathered. This place called ‘sangraamabhumi’ So the author of Mahawamsa thought that there was a battle.”(As a reporter/author that’s how Monk Mahanama noticed it at the time. There was a serious storm and after the arrival of the Buddha it gradually subsided!)
    “But if now Lord Buddha visits ‘Keththaaraamaya’ do you suggest that he had come to watch a cricket match?”
    (We should be really proud of our heritage of ancient books written on ola leaves. However, we need to be careful when interpreting them! Thanks).

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      All these weeks, we have been discussing on Mahawamsa or the other scripts on this forum. At least half of us feel that Mahavansa was though written by Mahanama thero, it has left to be incomplete. And to that time, he had not even adequate sources to complete it – latter is clear to anyone. Since then, no doubt, lanken and international archiologists should have found more focusing on the topics. So What I ask myself is why none of the buddhist monks, other senior interlectuals or any others, after Mahanama thero seem to have done NOTHING with the rest of the completion of the great script? BUddhist professors or most sacred buddhist monks in and out of the country have failed to do so and why ?

      • 2
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        Upasika_Ammek seems to talk in ignorance. Seems to know nothing about the present writing project of Mahawansa.

        Thanks!

  • 4
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    Ms SS is crystal clear to those with open eyes, but, will she ever be able to crack open closed minds?

    • 1
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      SS to open eyes? First she must be given some brains.Swollen headed evil minded powder babes.

      Thanks!

      • 2
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        Sharmini, this fellow commenting as ‘yapa’ is a fake. He has hijacked my name and is trying to pass of as me.

        I have always been your fan and will never insult you like this ‘fake yapa’.

        • 0
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          I have never ever and will never become a fake. Everybody knows my originality and authenticity, that is why my name came up in the discussion even when I had never commented in CT, heve your name was so quoted by others?

          I can remember, in several cases you tried to hoodwink my name to undermine me. You imitators will never make anything new than repeating what others say and applauding what others’ say with blind faith and misunderstanding. Who are you, you will never ever will be able even touch my shit, you poor creature.

          Thanks!

          • 1
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            Dear Yapa

            We have imitators, perverts and thugs in abundance here on CT. Together they form a Mafia who think no end of themselves. Little do they realise that their tactics have no effect on anyone other than like minded Mafiosi. The name is imitated but what they write rarely goes beyond an Ad Hominem.

            Kind Regards

            OTC

  • 2
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    When one is in a debate one has to argue according to the topic given despite one’s knowledge and one’s personal beliefs. That is what Sharmini is at here.
    Buddhism is not a social cleanser as Sharmini expects it to be. It is for individuals liberate themselves from this unending Samsara individually by understanding it, practicing it.
    It is not a group therapy.
    What the monks do is to protect it preserve it and show the correct path to it.
    As this whole universe is imperfect there may be certain people and practices some find unacceptable.
    If for example, offering flowers helps one to attain inner peace, why should another lose his peace over it.

  • 3
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    Nak,

    What you say at the outset is correct.

    But I don’t agree that Buddhism is not a social cleanser. If Buddhism is practiced sincerely as per the Dhamma, with or without the rituals, it CAN be a social cleanser.

    But unfortunately, our Buddhist monks lay greater emphasis on rituals and not the Buddha’s teachings.

  • 3
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    sharmini, thanks for exposing the hypocrisy of these religious gurus who are still living in the stone age. when u see the yellow robed thugs behaving like animals, the lord Buddha would squirm in his grave. I once asked a monk what his contribution to the community was and he said that he meditates daily and eats only once in public but has several meals with whisky in private and does not mind a bit of action from time to time!! the silly sri lankans respect these pricks, what a sad situ indeed.

  • 1
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    Shamini Thanks for re-wailing those things and I know you are a good writer.

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