By 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”.
You 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?
You 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!
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.