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Buddhism – බුදු දහම – Part 1 by Dr Praneeth Abeysundara

Buddhism – බුදු දහම – Part 1 by
Dr Praneeth Abeysundara
Senior Lecturer at Department of Sociology & Anthropology.
University of Sri Jayewardenepura

Today I’m going to give a brief introduction about the Buddhist doctrine or the Buddhist philosophy. According to the belief of a vast majority of scholars, the term “Buddhism” that we use to refer to the Buddhist doctrine and which is derived from English, is not accurate: in fact the suffix –ism can be commonly found in many English scholarly writings, especially in books written by people like Max Weber who use terms such as Islamism and Hinduism.

Sri Lanka is an Island located in the Indian Ocean. The birth of Lord Buddha and subsequently the origin of the Buddhist Philosophy take place in India. We receive the Buddhist philosophy during the era of King Dharmashoka and to be more specific, after the Third Sermon in India. Sri Lanka was then ruled by King Dewanampiyatissa. Amidst numerous obstacles such as enemy invasions and the continuous rise and fall of the kingdom, the clergy was still able to ascertain the continuity of Buddhism in Sri Lanaka.

Pali became very popular in Sri Lanka. In our University also, there is a separate academic Department for Pali and Buddhist studies. In fact the culture affiliated with Pali gave rise to a specific tradition; namely the “Vidyodaya tradition”. The University that was concurrently established with our University is Vidyalankara University in Paliyagoda. This later became what is today known as the University of Kelaniya. Before the establishment of Universities for post graduate studies in Buddhism, Universities such as the University of Pearadeniya and the University of Sri Lanka used to teach Pali and Sanskrit. Yet, Vidyodaya and Viyalankara Universities were world renowned for Buddhist studies.

Even today we can see that many investigations are being carried out both locally and internationally about Buddhism in Sri Lanka while many scholarly articles are being written in that respect.

After Dalai Lama enlightened the Western world with the teachings of the Buddhist doctrine and helped curb the suffering of people, there arose a significant interest for Buddhism in the Western world: Some people even converted into Buddhism and even those who did not convert endeavored to dutifully live according to the teachings of the Buddhist doctrine. Also, this gave way for the emergence of the tradition of mediation. There are various types of meditation such as Anapanasathi, Maithree and so forth. These types of mediation are prescribed according to the diverse characteristics of different individuals.

In the world we can see basically two categories of people: the vast majority that suffer in abject poverty and the minority that dwell in the lap of luxury. Yet the possession of wealth and riches has not succeeded in ascertaining that they lead contented and fulfilled lives. They lack the simplicity in life and thus they are on a continuous search for solace. In that quest what they first confront is the Oriental world.

In county like Sri Lanka, Pali and the language of Mahgada occupy a prominent place. The popular notion is that Lord Buddha taught the Buddhist doctrine in the language of Maghada. This became known as Pali in Sri Lanka. Throughout the centuries the clergy wrote down the teachings of the Buddhist doctrine and also took care to secure the continuity of the Buddhist teachings through the oral tradition.

In 1881 Sir Rees Davies founded a society called the Pali Text Society in England. Yet Sri Lanka has been denied the membership for that society. Thus, in collaboration with the Royal Asiatic Society, a Pali society was later established in Sri Lanka. In 1881, for the establishment of the Pali Text Society, Pali was taught to Sir Rees Davies by our clergy. Seventy three Sri Lankan individuals including the clergy and lay people helped Sir Rees Davies for the creation of this society. Yet today our contribution is not being given the due credit. The World Buddhist Congress was established in Sri Lanka in 1956 by Mr. Gunapala Malalsekara, who is renowned for his substantial knowledge in Pali language and Buddhist studies. Sri Lanka has been denied the credit for the establishment of the World Buddhist Congress as its headquarters is located in Thailand. Sri Lanka is only a member of that society.

All Ceylon Buddhist Congress was created in 1919 and before that Buddhist Youth Congress too was established. An eminent scholar who lived during that period is Sri D.B. Jayethilaka. These events took place at the time when British colonialism was there in Sri Lanka. Two hundred years have passed since the Kadian Treaty (‘Udarata Givisuma”) was signed in 1815 between the English colonials and the Sri Lankan rulers. According to a statement in that treaty, the British colonials should help us assure the continuity of Buddhism. Yet this was not actually practiced, being confined to a mere statement. As solution to this the lay people associated with the clergy in an endeavor to get a thorough understanding about Buddhist teachings and thus assure the continuity of the Buddhist doctrine and the Buddhist culture.

Through the Buddhist doctrine the clergy has taught us the art of living respectably. An important aspect in this regard is the notion of environment. The protection of the environment is in fact a significant feature in Buddhist teachings. During the period of Lord Buddha, kings and wealthy people used to build temples for the clergy and in these temples there was a special irrigation system to purify the water used for sanitary purposes before it was actually released onto the earth. Destruction of trees and pollution of water are heavily looked down upon in the Buddhist doctrine. I hope to discuss more about the validity of Buddhist teachings for a successful life style, in my future discussions.

The notion of piousness is a prominent feature in Buddhist teachings. This piousness should not be self-delusive. Buddhist teachings are closely linked with wisdom and they aim to bring about solace to the ignorant and the suffering individuals. The staunch belief in this beneficial nature of the Buddhist teachings, leads to the emergence of piousness. This subsequently results in the development of decorum and decency in the general comportment of the individual. We can relate this each and every aspect of life such the way in which one speaks and way in which we prepare and consume food, the way we dress and even how we think. In today’s society piousness is either self-delusive or it is not there at all.

Piousness is not enough to attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana. Wisdom should go hand in hand with piousness in order to gain Nibbana. Buddhism is exclusively for the wise people. Wisdom cannot be achieved merely though education. There are so many people who do not have a sufficient education, yet wise. Both the lay people and the clergy should be wise and pious.

In the life of Lord Buddha we can see great wisdom and great kindness. In today’s world self-delusion is rampant. This has a negative impact on the lives of the individuals.

There are two types of meritorious deeds in Buddhism: Those that we do to help others like giving thirsty man water and those that we do to elevate our own minds such as mediation. This helps one get rid of greed or avarice and ignorance. Achieving this is very difficult since all our senses are open to all kinds of negative temptations.

Lord Buddha in his teachings only guides us take the correct part. Lord Buddha has talked of religion as a ‘raft’. In other words it is a means to guide ourselves to the correct path and eventually leave the ‘raft’ behind in order to be free of all bindings. Thus it is obvious that the Buddhist teachings can be great help for us to lead fulfilling lives when life tries to knock us down. We will be discussing in detail about this in the future.

Translated by Dimuthu Dharmapala – English Department Undergraduate 

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