By Jagath Asoka –
Shedding the blood of a Buddha is a heinous crime. I am not trying to be a provocateur, but imagine for a moment, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk saying to his devout lay followers, “If you see the Buddha coming down on the road, kill him!” Of course, a Zen master used these words “Buddha, road, and kill” metaphorically, when he warned his disciple. This metaphorical Buddha can be a Buddhist monk that you venerate or your own self, if you have been striving to achieve nirvana. I think, it is much easier to understand this metaphorical road: your life or your chosen spiritual path. The Buddha is not a final point but points beyond himself to that ineffable being, virtues, and powers that is in all of us. If you have concretized all the virtues and powers on a figure, like the Buddha, all fix ideas must be killed, dissolved, or disintegrated. You must kill the image of God as well.
What is the insurmountable barrier for a Buddhist? Is it the image of the Buddha that we worship every day, the images that are so ubiquitous in Sri Lanka? When you have an image in front of you, you can worship this graven image, thinking about its inimitable virtues and powers. If you continue this activity every day, morning and night, without realizing that you, too, have these virtues and powers, what would happen to you?
Since Buddhism is not only an elite religion but also a popular religion, Buddhism provides bases or tools for meditation. Relic worship is very common in Buddhism. All these great stupas in Sri Lanka are reliquary mounds. Each one contains a relic. These stupas and Buddha statues are just tools for mediation on the Buddhahood and the Buddha powers within each one of us. For over two thousand years, we have been worshipping the Buddha statues, stupas, and relics and participating in rituals that are supposed to transform us spiritually; Even though the magic and majesty of all these sacred places and activities speak of exaltation of the spirit, furnish a base for mediation, and make the transcendent transparent, I am not certain whether we have any tangible evidence to show that we are spiritually any better now as a nation, compared to the inhabitants who lived before Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka. There has to be some correlation between religious activities of a nation and its spiritual growth. Even though there are so many Buddhist activities, discussions, books, and rituals in Sri Lanka, it seems like we—Sri Lankan Buddhists—are craving for something that we have not found, yet. Finding the Buddha within yourself is probably a Sisyphean task. We can meditate on the virtues and powers of the Buddha in front of a granite Buddha Statue, but if we do not find these powers and virtues within us we would remain without any spiritual transformation, just like the granite statue in front of us.
In a place like Pennsylvania, finding a Buddhist temple is like finding a Zoroastrian fire temple in Sri Lanka. Even though I have experienced numinous feelings in sacred places, I cannot say that sacred space is everywhere, because I have not experienced what the sanctity is, through lifelong meditation or the experience of living in sacred spaces; however, I have created a small sacred place for myself, the room in which I do my writing, a reconstruction of my childhood neighborhood where temples, mosques, and churches provided a symbolic environment, where spiritual life was possible. When I was a child, playing with my friends created timelessness and made me forget everything else that was happening in my life. I still play with my friends, and the writing I do for living and for fun has become another game that creates timelessness.
When I was a kid, Buddhist literature for lay people was not as ubiquitous as now. I think there are so many books on Buddhism, and most Sri Lankans are capable of reciting sutras and verses. Even though it is true that everything I know is what I read in books—with a little bit of reflection; however, I am not very good at memorizing things. Reciting what we find in sacred texts is somewhat similar to a person going into a restaurant, looking at the menu, and eating the menu without eating the meal that it describes. Even though I have not seen people eating menus at restaurants, menu eating is pretty common when it comes to religion.
Most of us do not seek illumination as a man whose hair on fire seeks a pond, do not participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world, do not believe that the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, do not do our thing without any attachment and worrying about the outcome, or live our lives that when we die, the people may mourn, and while we are alive they long for our company; however, most of us worship, read some sacred texts, participate in rituals, and hope that there is some continuation of life or heaven after death.
Perhaps, now is also the time to build our own sacred space where we can experience numen, find activities that create timelessness, stop eating the menus, kill the Buddha that we worship, and search for his virtues and powers within us.