By Kapila Abhayawansa –
Dear Sharmini Serasinghe,
I respect your attitude so as to challenge even the teacher because of the fact that I also belong to the tradition which maintains that a good thing even of the enemy and the mistake even of the teacher should be spoken (sastrorapigunāvācyadosāvācyāgurorapi). Therefore, in our tradition to which I respect, anyone has the right to criticize what one thinks as wrong.
I am really thankful to you for writing an open letter to me as I get the opportunity to clarify my opinions expressed in my letter and also to reply to the questions appeared in different comments to my article. I would like to mention here that my article entitled God in the Buddha has been written to publish in a newspaper considering the space available. So, I deliberately made it short and script. Though it was short, there were enough clues for a patient reader to understand my stand points over the present activities occurring in the guise of Buddhist activities. On the other hand, I do not like and also it is injustice in my opinion, to ascribe all the rubbish in the present society either to Mahawamsaor to original popular Buddhist activities.
You raised many questions in your letter on what I said about the popular Buddhist practices introduced by the ancient monks in Sri Lanka in order to implant the Buddhist virtues in the mind of the common people. Almost all your questions finally leads to a main question expressed as follows: “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?”
To this question what I have to say is already said by the Buddha himself to a question raised by a Brahamin called GanakaMoggallan. The question was “What is the cause, good Gotama, what the reason that; since nibbana does exist, since the way leading to nibbana exists, since the good Gotama exists as adviser, some of the good Gotama’s disciples on being exhorted thus and instructed thus by the good Gotama, attain the unchanging goal — nibbana, but some do not attain it?”
Dear Sharmini, do you know the reply given by the Buddha to that question?. The answer was “Even so, brahman, nibbana does exist, the way leading to nibbana exists and I exist as adviser. But some of my disciples, on being exhorted and instructed thus by me attain the unchanging goal — nibbana, some do not attain it. What can I, brahman, do in this matter? A shower of the way, brahman, is a Tathagata.” (M. III. I.).
I think that you can know very well how this answer of the Buddha is relevant to your question. Therefore, I believe there is no need to say anything more about it.
From most of the issues raised in your article I understand one thing. That is that you are not living in this world but in an ideal world. It seems to me that you think that when the pure teaching of the Buddha is given to the people, they at once highly embrace it and live in accordance with it. Though you and others in your caliber cannot understand the nature of the people, the Buddha correctly understood their nature in relation to his doctrine. The Buddha revealed it in the Ariya-pariyesana-sutta in the following way:
“This that through many toils I’ve won
Enough! why should I make it known?
By folk with lust and hate consumed
This dhamma is not understood.
Leading on against the stream,
Deep, subtle, difficult to see, delicate,
Unseen ’twill be by passion’s slaves,
Cloaked in the murk of ignorance.” (Translated by I. B. Horner)
I know the value, beauty, effectiveness of the real teachings of the Buddha. It makes us noble (sutavāariya-sāvaka) when it is really practiced. I am one of those who try their best to live in accordance with the Dhamma. But we have to face the reality. When someone reveals the bitter truth, it is the nature of many that they try to label him as a villain.
If you want to know my stand on present monk’s activities in Sri Lanka, read my article entitled “Activities Of Monks In The Guise Of Protecting Buddhism” appeared in Colombo Telegraph on 7th October 2013.
You may not be aware the fact that behavior of certain monks, specifically Assaji- punabbasakas, a group of monks amounting to 500 even during the life time of the Buddha were not so much of different from that of the present day yellow robed thugs. It is reported in the Vinaya that there were some groups of monks as well as nuns during the time of the Buddha who have given much of trouble to the Buddha by engaging frequently in mischievous activities. Chabbaggiya (group of six) monks and the nuns and Sattarasa-vaggiya (group of seventeen) monks were famous for those activities. They were not only miscreants and rebellious but also they openly protested against the disciplinary measures adopted by the Buddha. Anguttara-nikaya records a monk known as Kassapagotta of Pankadha protested at a discourse of the Buddha in which he advised with a monastic discipline. The Buddha himself admitted in the Laţukikopama-sutta that there were some monks who cause dissatisfaction to be nursed against him when he asked them not to do something. According to that sutta the Buddha himself reported this situation to other good behaved monks in the following way:
“Udāyi, some foolish persons here, on being told by me: ‘give this up’, speak thus: ‘But what of this trifling insignificant matter? This recluse lays too much emphasis on (exertion).’ But they do not give it up and they cause dissatisfaction to be nursed against me and against those monks who desire the training.”
This situation perhaps led the Buddha to decide to announce that he would permit deviation from minor rules if the monks’ desire were for him to do so.” (Mahaparinibbana-sutta.)
Though there were rebellious monks in the Sāsana, no one can say that all the disciples of the Buddha lived in the same way. There were thousands of monks who lived in accordance with the advice of the Buddha. It seems that you and many others like you are in the habit of killing all the bugs when one bites you.
Though you do not know but I know very well that there are many monks in Sri Lanka who are earnestly and honestly engaged in many welfare activities for the benefit of poor people while being themselves good behaved monks. I am proud to say that there are more than three four thousand monks all over Sri Lanka who studied Buddhism under me in their postgraduate studies. Avoiding inappropriate activities they really serve the people for their material and spiritual betterment. We are not Buddhist if we are ungrateful to the monks who sincerely engage in diverse philanthropist movement without publicity. Do you know how many schools are there in Sri Lanka in the name of Buddhist monks? If they did not start those schools against so many difficulties, most of the people in rural villages would have been victims of illiteracy and ignorance. In many cases the monks had to beg the people for money to pay the salaries to the teachers in the schools begun and run by them. Sharmini, you blame the monks as if they misled the people throughout the history of Sri Lanka. If you do not know services rendered by the monks in Sri Lanka read the book entitled NũtanaTherāpadānaSangrahaya (in Sinhala) authored by me.
In my letter I mentioned that early monks in Sri Lanka introduced practices such as Bodhipuja, Buddhapuja, cetiyapuja, dathupuja and so on to the ordinary people as a preparatory step to reach the subsequent step on the path of wisdom acknowledged by the Buddha. This is not the only thing that the early monks have done for the Sri Lankan people with regard to Buddhism. You may be aware that Venerable Mahinda preached Cula-hatthipadopama-sutta, Sacca-samyutta and many more discourses which contain the real teachings of the Buddha to the king Devanampiyatissa and to his royal crowd. They were not the ordinary people. It is reported that KaluBuddharakkhita has preached the Dhamma from Kālakārā-sutta near Kaludiyapokuna at Mihintale. These two ways of propagation of Buddhism were at work side by side throughout the history.
Quoting my article you say “Though these “activities” appear to have been borrowed from Hinduism, they are indeed harmless, but they are nevertheless, contradictory, to the Buddha’s teachings”. I say no, not at all. They are not borrowed from Hinduism and they are not contradictory to the Buddha’s teaching. It is true that there was a system of seeking the refuge of trees, gardens and so on in Indian society in order to get rid of suffering. That did not belong to Hinduism or Brahamanism. That system was practiced by some ascetics in the Sramanic movement. The Buddha refused to accept it as a refuge leading to cessation of suffering. It was recorded in the verses of 188 and 189 of Dhammapada as given below:
“When threatened with danger, men go to many a refuge, – to mountains and forests, to parks and gardens, and to sacred trees. But such a refuge is not a safe refuge, not the best refuge. One is not liberated from all evil consequences of existence (dukkha) for having come to such a refuge”
Remember this system is a kind of seeking refuge. If you want to know it in detail refer to Dhammapada commentary to verses 188 and 189. In Buddhist practice of Bodhipujā, Dhātupũjā and cetiyapũjā no any Buddhist go refuge of Bodhi tree Dhātu or Caitya. Really they were introduced not to seek refuge but to respect them as something that belonged to the Buddha.
The following is a remark in your letter: “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”. In my letter I mentioned only some of the popular practices. Offering dāna to monks in order to transfer merit to the departed ones, religious activities in funerals, going to the temples to listing to Dhamma, respect to the respectable people, spending the life at temples in the poya days with the observance of Atthanga-sila, reciting pancasila in important occasions etc also should be added to the list of popular Buddhist practice introduced by the monks.
Though you don’t know, the Buddha encouraged the people to engage in all such virtues that led to such practices. Examine the duties of the children to their parent, and of the householders to religious advisers shown in the sigalovada-sutta. The purposes for which one’s wealth should be utilised are spelt out by the Buddha in the PattakammaSutta (AN). They are (i) taxes to the State (raja bali), (ii) gratuities to relatives (ñātibali), (iii) hospitality to guests (atithibali), (iv) donations to recluses (devatabali) and oblations in the name of departed relatives (pubbapetabali). In this list of bali what do you mean by devatā-bali and ñātipeta-bali. Is it not the encouragement by the Buddha to engage in those kinds of virtues?
Take for example offering flowers to the Buddha. Did you think even for a moment how effectively the monks utilized the practice of offering flowers to the Buddha in order to reflect the Buddhist virtues in the mind of the lay people? Pay your attention to the meaning of pali verse reciting at the time of offering flowers to the Buddha. All the Buddhists in Sri Lanka know that Pali verse and its meaning.
Pũjemi Buddham kusumenenanena – puññenametena ca hotu mokkam
Puppham milāyāti yathāidamme – kāyo tathā yāti vināsabhāvam
(I respect the Buddha with this flower. I may obtain the liberation by means of this merit; just as the flower fades away my body too is going to decay.)
You can realize even from this example what the Buddhist monks intended when they introduced the popular Buddhist practices. You request me to do enlighten you and others such as yourself, on the ‘right belief’ according to me of such practices.. I would like to ask you whether impermanence which is contemplated with the offering flowers is a right belief or a wrong belief. Do you think that respect to the worthy ones such as Buddha, Dhamma and the Sanghais based on a wrong belief? Then what is the meaning of the Buddha’s saying “pũjā ca pũjaniyānam etammangalamuttamam?. As a pupil of Ven. Piyadassi you may be knowing that even the Buddha made use of such type of tactics to compel the people for contemplation of impermanence. Example for that is the story of Cula panthaka. He was a neglected Samanera who was unable to recite even a single stanza by memory. Buddha has given a piece of white cloth only to rub on it. Ultimately seeing dust on the piece of cloth he was able to contemplate on impermanence. That is the purpose of introducing offering flowers to the Buddha.
To have a pleasant mind is itself a virtue according to Buddhism, looking at the face of the Buddha one may be able to have a pleasant mind. If one does any action verbally or bodily by the pleasant mind considered to be wholesome action according to Dhammapada. It says that manasā ce pasannena bhāsati vā karoti vā tato nam sukham anveti. Then is true to say that to have a pleasant mind is going against the teachings of the Buddha?
You further states, “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”.Dear Sharmini, denotation of the word worship of your usage is quite different from that of mine. I use the word worship in Buddhist context to denote the meaning of pũjā such as in the phrase “pũjā ca pũjaniyānam”. In Buddhist practices there is no way of worshiping objects. Objects are taken as the symbols. They symbolize the Buddha. Symbolizing the Buddha in the heart of the ordinary people Buddhist practices try to generate the Saddhā in the mind of the people. One who does not have saddhā cannot be a Buddhist. Here Saddhā does not mean blind faith. Contemplating on the virtues of the Buddha which are mentioned in the passage starting from ItipisoBhagavā people are compelled to have a truest on the Buddha without which one cannot becomes a Buddhist. You say that the Buddha categorically denounced such practices as a prerequisite to attaining the final knowledge. Direct prerequisite for the final knowledge is the noble eight fold path. Even for the practicing of noble eight fold path there is a prerequisite. It is none other than being a Buddhist. One can be a Buddhist by way of going refuge of the Buddha. Trust (saddhā) on the Buddha is the precondition for a being a Buddhist. Now, you may realize the causal relation between the Buddhist practices and the final knowledge of Buddhism.
When I consider the amount of questions that you raised in your letter, I would have to write a book. Though I do not want to drag this further, I would like to bring to the kind notice of you and others like you one important fact which is intentionally neglected or forgotten by so called broad minded people, .I put forward it in this way:
Ordinary people who perform the popular Buddhist practice are far more behind than the so called broad minded people who know Buddhism well comparing to the amount and the gravity of the crimes occurring in the Sri Lankan society. They are the master minds of different kind of crimes such as human rights violations, genocides, bribes, exploitations, cheating, false promises, and corruptions, abuse of power, women and child and so on. There is nothing that they do not do for the money and the power. We are trying to close the holes of ants while opening the holes for the elephants.
*Prof. Kapila Abhayawansa, Vice Rector, International Buddhist College, Thailand