By Kapila Abhayawansa –
Many readers of my previous article entitled ‘Does one deviate from Buddha’s teaching by worshiping Objects?’ have presented their comments ether in the way of praise or insult what I have mentioned there. In this regard, I follow the advice of the Buddha: neither gives way to jubilation nor to resentment. Some requested me to openly answer to the questions raised by them in their comments. So I decided to be fair to all by clarifying my stand.
There is an important characteristic of Buddhism to be understood by those who talk about Buddhism. Buddhism is consisted of the teachings of the Buddha presented in different ways (Aneka pariyāyena) to be compatible with the different intellectual levels of the people so as to people understand it according to their capacities. Buddhist canon which includes the teachings of the Buddha does not provide a unitary set of doctrine. The Buddha was not a physician who prescribed one and only medicine for all kinds of sufferings. Buddha wanted to take all people into his path of Dhamma, but not all in the same way. In this respect he followed different methods. The method prescribed to one level of people may be rejected by another level of people. But the validity of each method remains the same.
It seems that many people try to take Buddhism from the angles that they like and think that they have taken whole Buddhism. But they do not know that many parts of Buddhism are left out by them. Taking Buddhism from one angle leads one to grasp viewpoints. It is nicely pointed out by the Buddha in the Bahuvedaniya-sutta where the Buddha said to monks that if each monk takes one aspect of teachings differently preached by me and holds it is the only truth and all others are untruth, then they quarrel each other. That is what is going on here among us on the matter of respect to sacred objects.
One Mr. Amarekon Mudiyanse asked me to read some discourse to understand real Buddhism. He quoted there in his comment some discourses in the Silakkhandha vagga of Digha- nikaya. I too would like to ask Mr. Amarekon to read the same suttas again carefully to know whom the Buddha aimed at in preaching them. Those discourses are really aimed at the people who are going forth from household life to homelessness. The Buddhist practices prescribed in those discourses are meant for the monastic members who dedicate their life for noble way of life (Brahmacariya) and not for the ordinary worldings.
On the other hand, there are many discourses preached by the Buddha aiming at people who lead the household life. Such people did not expect from the Buddha the teachings which are difficult to practice while leading a household life. To know the difference of those two types of teachings I would like to quote here a request made by a householder known as Vyagghapajja. It runs as follows: “Venerable sir, we are laypeople who enjoy sensual pleasure, dwelling at home in a bed crowded with children, enjoying fine sandalwood, wearing garlands, scents, and unguents, accepting gold and silver. Let the Blessed one teach the Dhamma to us in a way that will lead to our welfare and happiness both in the present life and in the future life as well.”
This shows us clearly that such people did not expect teaching that leads to cessation of suffering. They hoped to follow a Dhamma which leads to welfare and happiness in this life and next life as well. The Pattakammasutta which mentioned about Panca Bali quoted in my previous article also was preached to a householder.
To come to our main point, I have to say that we have to accept the pragmatic value of popular religious rituals in Buddhism. Not only for the lay followers but also for the monastic members of Buddhism, the Buddha has prescribed some rituals like Upostha, Pavarana and the like, considering of the pragmatic value to the life of the Sangha. It is true that they do not lead to the ultimate aim of Buddhism. But no one can deny the value of them to the social life of people. This is not the occasion to specify the social value of Buddhist lay rituals. Anyway, by reading the discourses like Samannaphala quoted by Mr. Amarakone in his comment, some scholars like Max Weber came to the wrong decision that Buddhism is an A-social religion which does not have any social concern. We must not forget that there is no any social philosopher who had a unique social consciousness like the Buddha. He has properly and correctly understood the social needs of the people. It is the truth that a religion cannot survive among people when it neglects the social needs.
Mr. Amarakone asks me whether is there room for me to agree with at least some of the major ideas of Ms Serasinghe. I have to say that I am not a person like Ms. Serasinghe who comes to the absolute conclusion on the sensitive subject like religion. She categorically says that a person who respects the Bodhi tree violates the teachings of the Buddha. Such a categorical statement can be done only by a person who has the comprehensive knowledge of Buddhism. That is the point I objected to her Point of view. I accept that she has a sincere wish to see Sri Lankan people including the present president who follow and practice humanistic virtues recommended by the Buddha.
Many people think that the Buddhist rituals are the creations of Mahavamsa. Even before the writing of Mahavamsa, there were almost all Buddhist rituals prevailing among Sri Lankan Buddhists. Introduction of the homage of Bodhi tree to Sri Lankan Buddhist was made by the Venerable Maha Mahinada who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka and his sister, Bhikkhuni Sanghamittā. The Bodhi Tree represents the enlightenment of the Buddha who was the spiritual Master of Buddhists. Indian People still respect the Buddha as the greatest son ever born to India. It was made explicit by Indian government recently, inviting the president Obama to plant a sapling of Bodhi tree.
*Prof. Kapila Abhayawansa is currently the Vice Rector of International Buddhist College of Thailand