By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
JA displays a creative ingenuity that is a consequence of a mind that has got off the hook of the conventional framework he had inherited. JA suggests a pertinent point, namely that popular Buddhism hasn’t done away with the concept of an almighty God. I like to develop on that idea and assert that early Buddhism failed to take root in India and disappeared from the land of its birth due to its rational rejection of a Brahma who supervises us from the sky and who gives us good return for being good while punishing the bad. The masses were not ready for the Kalama sutra. How many of them are ready for that now? People reverted to the Hindu gallery of deities as that gave them solace, which pure reason could not deliver. Buddhism survived later and spread to other lands only by reincorporating the spiritual vacuum filled by the lost divine.
Sri Lanka practices a popular form of Buddhism that seems to assume a spiritual subtext. Buddha is worshipped as a God in our temples by the vast majority of the population. Our people say: “Budu Saranayi,” as the Christians invoke: “God bless!” How could a mortal Buddha who is dead and gone give us protection or sarana?
In many temples monks have added a kind of divine appeal after the pansil by pleading forgiveness from the Buddha: “mata kama karanu mena.” (Forgive me for my wrongs). This might evolve into a Christian kind of confessional someday and we may have to confess before the BBS Gnanasara! Furthermore, temples preach that the Buddha was all-knowing (like God). The Buddha himself did not claim such knowledge while he encouraged his followers to think for themselves and test for themselves if what he said was right. In iconic image Buddha is represented with a Christian-type halo.
Popular Buddhism also refers to miracles occurring. When I was working at Polonnaruwa the rumour spread that golden rays were emanating from the historic Somawathie Chaityaya, which I also joined in restoring. Thousands flocked to see and worship what later was found to be the reflection of the glass of a car!
Look at the depth of veneration that people give the Buddha. It is certainly not the detached genuflection that one gives a Guru, which is what Buddha basically had been. Again, just as Christians believe that Christ will come to earth Buddhists believe that the Buddha, too, will manifest again. At temple we give ‘Buddha poojawa,” namely samples of food to the statue. Examples and illustrations are many that go to bolster the point suggested by JA. Commentators can, perhaps, help this discourse by adding to such illustrations.
On a more serious and philosophical plane I wonder if the doctrine of Karma and rebirth presupposes a God or spiritual agent who does the job of assigning the dead to his/her subsequent post-mortal states as frogs, Kings or princesses?
I write as an atheist and a Buddhist minus rebirth
However, I feel a bit nonplussed to note how JA, having made such a valuable finding ends justifying a kind of miscellaneous eclecticism by supporting all religions and even accepting a God! From clarity he slips on to confusion. Would like to see him clarifying this U-turn.