20 January, 2021

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Benefits Of Going To The Roots Of Buddhism

By Harsha Gunasena

Harsha Gunasena

Buddhism is not a social doctrine such as Marxism. It is a personal doctrine aimed at in depth understanding of the entity called self. However, the social impact of following this personal doctrine would be immense. Therefore, exploring into the Buddhist teaching is important to understand the essence in relation to popular practices of Buddhism.

The National Council for International Affairs of All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC) organized the International Buddhist Conference 2020 titled Buddhism’s Response to Covid-19 Pandemic for two day on 7 and 8 November from 2pm to 6pm through zoom technology with the participation of eminent Buddhist scholars from Sri Lanka and abroad. Being the Chairman of the National Council for International Affairs of ACBC Prof. Lakshman R. Watawala, who is the Vice President of ACBC as well, spearheaded the organization of the event. 

The conference started with the analysis of Suttas in Pali Canon such as Ratana Sutta and Girimanada Sutta but later it has devolved more time on meditation and mindfulness. It was discussed how mindfulness would remedy the mental stresses of all forms, not only that derived from Covid-19. 

Even Buddha sought medical advice and followed the same when he was ill. As world renowned meditation master S.N. Goenka once said there was no point of reciting a prescription given by a doctor rather than taking that medicine.

The most welcome outcome of the conference was that the President of ACBC, Jagath Sumathipala accepted that to acknowledge the coming Poya day, November 29 be a day of mindfulness on the request of most venerable Udairiyagama Dhammajiva thero, Chief Incumbent of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya forest monastery. The move of ACBC towards mindfulness is most encouraging.

Mindfulness was first discussed in detail by the Buddha. In one of the discourses, Satipattana Sutta where the Buddha dealt with mindfulness, it was declared as follows at the beginning:

“This is the only way, O bhikkhus, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely, the Four Arousings of Mindfulness.”

In the West, there was extensive research done in respect of the benefits of mindfulness and the medical doctors prescribe mindfulness meditation to their patients in order to overcome tension and stress. In several countries, mindfulness is taught in the schools so that children at a very tender age are accustomed to it.

As Buddha said in Satipattana Sutta there are various benefits of practicing mindfulness ranging from overcoming sorrow to the attainment of Nibbana, the supreme bliss. Therefore, overcoming tension and stress can also be included in this range of benefits.

Buddhism recommends everyone to do a noble investigation (ariya pariyesana) about oneself. What are we doing every day? We get various messages through our five senses and act by giving various interpretations to them. Buddhism suggests us to observe this process closely and get firsthand information about the way this machine works. If a simple example is given, we all know that the breath taken in should be cooler than the breath sent  out. The reason is that our body temperature is more than the temperature of the atmosphere. We get this knowledge by logic. 

In case we closely observe this process and know it by feeling the coolness and hotness of respective breaths, then that knowledge would be a complete knowledge. There is no logic in it. Similarly, the observation can be expended to mental statuses such as stress or anger. Origin of stress is a more subtle position. If a person can observe the process from that subtle position of stress to gross outcome of it, that very observation may lead to the eradication of the same.

Buddhism says that this machine works due to the relationship of causes and effects and there is no permanent entity within, and this can be understood through a close observation of one’s basic activities. 

The objective of the present day Bhikkus should be to direct the people to this close observation process rather than getting them engaged in the processes of rituals.  More importantly this observation process has no religious boundaries, and it is common to all human beings irrespective of the religions they belong. 

Therefore, it can be equally practiced by the members of all religions while keeping their religious identities intact. At the end they can align with the God if they so wish.

A person who goes along the way Buddha suggested by containing his ego would have very little chances of having ethnocentric or religion centric ideologies. Since he has to shed the five faculties which helped him at the beginning, faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration and  wisdom at the end, he may have to shed religious and ethnic biases at the beginning.  

The beauty in this process, when one is with oneself, the pain of the leg identified earlier as the pain of my leg, would reduce to a mere pain. Strong ethnic and religious identities would reduce to the level of mere human beings. 

Rabindranath Tagore said: “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”

It is perfectly in line with the way shown by the Buddha.

Therefore, mindfulness can be a remedy for one’s own sorrows and lamentation and also it would be a remedy for the basic social issues the country facing today. The country is deeply divided in lines of ethnicity and religion. Religion basically divides people. Mindfulness being dealing with one’s own body and mind with no religious rituals associated with it, is having a tremendous capacity of unifying all the human beings since human beings only without any discrimination can do it.

It is up to the Buddhists to get this double-edged benefit for the country and its citizens. The proposer of the day of mindfulness, most venerable Udairiyagama Dhammajiva thero is already doing this through his meditation retreats and activities of Sati Pasala focused on ground level specially aiming at school children irrespective of ethnicity and religion.

We should congratulate ACBC and its National Council for International Affairs for organizing this conference and paving the way for more important dialogue of finer aspects of Buddhism.

*The writer was the first President of Sati Pasala Foundation

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    Yes we are living beings. How do we live – by getting various messages and sensations through our five senses and act by giving various interpretations to the messages.
    That is consciously.
    But unconsciously we dream. We may feel as if we are going through a real life experience. Brain activity during the dreaming phase of sleep is remarkably similar to brain activity when we’re awake. Some might get a message in a dream and if it is of a religious nature, one may really believe and have FAITH in it. Even when awake one may have such illusory experiences.
    It is through mindfulness that one can analyse these perceptions. But shedding religious and ethnic biases at the beginning means you are more than quite a distance nearer to getting the best of mindfulness. That is indeed very difficult.
    But hopefully not impossible.
    It may be best if those of religious faiths, first accept that real Buddhist Philosophy is not a religion and mindfulness is a mind development exercise for all.

    • 5
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      I think Buddhism is probably the best philosophy, if a bit too other-worldly, but it is very difficult to find an actual practitioner. The Sri Lankan version is a hotch-potch of ethnocentric hypocrisy and superstition, with a good dose of snake oil thrown in. The ACBC itself is a microcosm of the religion as practised here. We have the Presidency apparently the property of one family. It is hilarious to see a recommendation of a “day of mindfulness” from a member of a family known more for running gambling dens than mindfulness. But then, this is a land like no other, yes ?

      • 4
        0

        Dear OC.
        I agree with you but reserve my judgement on : ….”from a member of a family known more for running gambling dens than mindfulness.”
        As I said in response to Dear Friend Simon below, whatever the relationship, even siblings, no two are alike and each a unique human being. I do not know this family but let us be charitable and embrace the good and cast aside the chaff. No offence but only exchange of views.
        There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us,
        That it ill behoves any of us to find fault with the rest of us. … J T Adams

        • 2
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          Ferryman,
          I have no personal objection to horse racing on moral grounds, unlike the ACBC. Just thought it’s an interesting juxtaposition!

          • 3
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            I know from your comments that you were sincere. It was Meththa on my part to “give the devil its due” by appreciating the goodness of even an evil one.
            It is by encouraging the goodness that we can get,even an evildoer to TRY, yes TRY, to appreciate goodness. Not by hatred – especially shown by some on CT. That path never ceases but likely to get worse and worse.

  • 11
    1

    Buddhism emphasizes mindfulness as the right method to transcend one’s ego and attain liberation. Whereas ethnicity, (conventional) religion, nationalism and other such phenomena are delusions created by the insecure ego to maintain itself. So by definition a true Buddhist will never identify him/herself with the identity markers thrust on him/her by the contingent nature of existence. That is, in order to exist at all, one has to be located at a certain place at a certain time. The matrix in which we find ourselves will mark us with certain labels. That’s it: our ethnicity, religion and nation are just labels to identify us for social purposes. They do play a useful social function. They are needed for social organization. But they cannot define our essence. Because we don’t have an essence. Realizing this is Buddhism. Realizing this is freedom. I have no doubt in my mind that Buddha is the greatest teacher that ever lived.

    • 6
      3

      Dear Ajay, buddhism promote s mindfulness but srilanken s sinhala buddhism aka BUDDAGAMA based on Mahawanse is doing their best no different to the affairs of Islam under ISIS, Please compare it the manner Madhumadawa led groups ran amok harmi6 innocient muslims in the aftermath of RAJAPAKSHE MADE EASTER SUNDAY DISASTER.😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎

  • 3
    3

    Dear Harsha

    It was so mindful of you to have shared the above. Thank you and make be so proud to be a Sri Lankan that I share a landscape with folks who practice such wonderful values in life…..who care and share our colonial past and post colonial hardships and the difficult journeys to date so mindfully for a better tomorrow.

    Very cool writing indeed. I very much hope all others also share their religious values too in this way for the said journey……..so we can all walk the talk.

  • 7
    1

    I have a question for the writer what qualities and requirements are necessary to become a Buddhist Monk in Sri Lanka? Can a Tamil speaking person become a Buddhist Monk?

    • 3
      1

      Ajith,
      Yes, but he can’t become the Malwatta Mahanayaka. Even Eagle Eye can’t.

    • 5
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      I do not know the real answer to Q1. but to guess that, you have to undertake to practise five precepts for a start. It requires any person (any ethnic or religious “label’) to say to himself to observe the five precepts (not necessary in front of a “monk” or “temple”) and diligently follow them and go up the mental states to the higher level of Dhasaseela. (The practice of saying panchaseela daily may be useful to remind one in the early stages, but not necessarily a daily routine once you have acquired the habit of true adherence to your undertaking – it is not an oath).
      Regarding Q2. Yes there are “Tamil” (labelled so) who have become monks.
      ” There are 22,254 Tamil Buddhists and eleven Tamil Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, Parliament was informed last morning.
      It was revealed that there are 470 Tamil Buddhists in the North.
      This was revealed by an answer tabled by Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunatilleke in response to an oral question raised by MP Buddhika Pathirana in the House. According to the answer the facts were based on a census carried out by the Department of Census and Statistics in 2012…. Daily Mirror 25 February 2016.

  • 5
    2

    Organised “religion” is the curse of mankind.
    Religion is unnecessary for one to perform his duties to his fellow humans.
    If this is done by all, every nation will prosper.

    • 5
      0

      Justice
      Yes organised religion is a hypocrisy. Religion per se, if practised in the essence of it, can be of help to many, in times of mental turmoil, a placebo may be, but the hierarchy of all religions, that has acquired “religion” and made it into a corporation strategy, exploit the adherents, with rituals to perpetuate themselves from the charity (money and worldly goods) passed on to them.

  • 4
    1

    First I need to tell what has happened to this Great Teaching of Gauthama Buddha today. For that, I reproduce a statement found in the book titled “Revolt in the Temple” published in 1953 to commemorate 2500 years of Buddha Dhamma.”Today, this great social revolution brought about by the Buddha has been nullified, and things have slipped back to almost where they started. Two Thousand Five Hundred years have taken their toll on Buddhism. The Buddha, who denounced the Gods, has Himself been elevated to the position of a God, and His images are worshipped in thousands of temples throughout the world with offerings of flowers, incense, and food. His Rationalistic religion has become largely an irrational one and His Sanga has degenerated into an exploiting class worse than the Brahmin priests whom HE overthrew. The Followers failed to grasp firmly the essential truth of the Doctrine have “Devoured” the Buddha’s “Revolt in the Temple” The original characteristic of the Master’s teachings have lapsed into the popular rituals, cults, and superstitious beliefs from which it had arisen”. I will continue in a while and let this be a preamble to my next comment to follow.

    • 5
      0

      Dear Simon.
      Thank you for bringing our minds back to that great book. Unfortunately though DCW was a true adherent, his wife was the opposite and connived with the Sangha of the day to cause much evil.That is why. whatever the relationship, even siblings, no two are alike and each a unique human being. (Some. even do not have. any human qualities)..

      • 2
        0

        Ferryman: Well said: “no two are alike and each a unique human being”. That is the very reason Buddha’s teachings lay the foundation on “YOU”. First “KNOW” you and start the journey. It is easy to say, but not easy to “KNOW” it. Thank you for prompting me to delve into that aspect in my continued comment I have posted today.

      • 3
        0

        F,
        Who was DCW’s wife ?

        • 4
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          OC, Wimala Wijewardana a controversial figure, alleged to have persuaded Talduwe Somarama to kill SWRD.

          • 2
            0

            Stanley,
            Aha! Thanks.

          • 3
            0

            Yes a former Minister of Health. She bought the ages old secluded property in Haputale – Adisham – and used it for her trysts being in the wilderness as it were. Now it is a Monastery of St. Benedict.

            • 2
              0

              Shocking!

              St. Anley

              • 0
                0

                Yes, St. Anley. The patron saint of multi- tasking.

  • 2
    0

    In drawing attention to the title of this article, “Benefit of Going Back to the Roots of Buddhism”, there is no other Teaching other than of Gauthama Buddha, that laid the very FOUNDATION on “ONE’S” “Burdon”, “Responsibility”, and “Accountability” for “FREEDOM” from all “Bondages”. HE said it in very certain language when declaring: “I cannot give you anything, other than to tell what I have achieved through hard work and the way that was realized”. Therefore it was very clear, that what is to be achieved will be dependent upon oneself and no other could give the desired freedom. This TEACHING came to the world under trying conditions that prevailed all sorts of “Bondages” existed under the social set up prevailed in terms of “Brahmanism”. In pursuit of this “FREEDOM”, it is imperative to FIRST, know who you are and what you need. This is not “Easy”. That initiative must be undertaken, first by “Shedding” all attachments (to teachings, dogmas, rituals, etc.) and be “FREE” to “Inquire”, “Examine” and, “Experience” all that you have come to “KNOW”. This is what is WANTED today and also what is LACKING badly. As the title suggests, this “ROOT” of the TEACHING is adapted to one’s life, the most “DESIRED” of one’s life of “FREEDOM” from all sorts of “BONDAGE:” could be achieved.

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