The Spirit of Vesak utterly adulterated




Attain the State of Nibbana

Reflecting on Vesak Poya just past, the conclusion is an opinion and judgement of paradoxes as most matters in Sri Lanka are. An example to prove this last statement: people you meet in a tragic situation or in times of strife are so full of kindness while doctors of the GMOA continue with their sudden strikes in the face of so much suffering caused to the poor, even deaths, when they are supposed to be healers.

Coming to my topic from that aside which validated my statement that what we Lankans are and do is full of paradoxes is that our behavior on this poya day that commemorates the three most significant happenings in the life of the Buddha, is so good and so stupid and irreligious. Paradoxical behavior. This was proven to me as I reflected on how others and I behaved this last Vesak poya day. There is validity in my opinion because the judgement is passed after active participation in more than sixty Vesak poyas in the past. I can well discern the positives and the negatives that have crept in.


The good

Buddhists generally are more in the religion now, not only in numbers of devotees but in the practice. Monks who preach bana are very different from those we knew many years ago. Did Ven Narada Thera ever make his listeners laugh or even smile though his bana was simple and pragmatic? But now very many monks are not only erudite but they know how to maintain the listeners’ attention. They introduce humour, preach the practical, and advice people to pay more attention and time and effort on prathipaththi pooja and not be concerned and too active in aamisa pooja – self development according to the Buddha Dhamma by giving of oneself to reflection and meditation, and not so much to giving alms. Their bana is very substantial in transferring what the Buddha taught. No more do they take a sutta of what the Buddha said and go analyzing it syllable by syllable making it esoteric and far removed from real life and living.

Many Buddhists observe sil and spend the day and often night too fully immersed in piety and knowing the true essence of what the Buddha taught and inspired, even implored people to follow. Meditation is slowly but surely taking precedence over rote repetition of gathas and worship in offerings made. Meditation is fast becoming popular judging from the many, young and elderly, who undertake retreats. I remember my mother who was pious and took solace from the travails of life in temple going and observing the eight and then ten precepts. Her meditation was mostly dwelling on the asubhas of the human body. There was then no leading devotees by meditation teachers and through example to samatha and even less to vipassana bhavana - calm and then seeing reality for what it is starting with body sensations.

This Vesak there were 750 persons in sil at the Narada Centre temple in Sarana Road, Colombo 7, observing to a large extent silence and listening to good and useful bana preachings. Ven Chandakitti Thera is excellent in his answering of questions that devotees present to him. Every single person was given breakfast and lunch and tea in the afternoon through the generosity of persons who are among those who come to the temple. A young persons’ association formed by youth sees to the distribution of food parcels and disposal of waste very efficiently. Thus the encouragement and facilitation of devoting the full moon poya days to religious observance.


The bad

Plenty and increasing. The fault lies mostly in this new way of observing Vesak, which is the result of commercialism and new trends which are deplorable and decadent.

Illuminations are part and parcel of Vesak, and admirable. It is aloka pooja: respect, acknowledgement and appreciation of the Buddha and what he taught and was to the world. Illumination, as he said, dispels ignorance with the radiance of the Dhamma. Many years ago we sufficed with the traditional atapaattam kuudu , the multi coloured ‘bucket’ lanterns and a few electric bulbs. The flickering light of the popular and much seen pol thel pahana not only served as an illumination but also conveyed the message of how transient everything, including life is. A gust of wind blows out the oil lamp; such our lives too. Now it’s more a frenzy of decoration; and frenetic sightseeing.

Pandals are OK and traditional too but what is this laser pandal on Galle Face Green that was advertised as the first such pandal in the world? Who wants Guinness or other records with regard to Vesak? Two friends went twice soon after the poya day to the Green to see this wonder erected by the Ports Authority and came away both times having only looked at a ghastly white cloth stretched across and a policeman mumbling that it was lit the previous night and ...Is laser lighting cheaper than the traditional hundreds of bulbs on a pandal?

My main grouse is the spirit of Vesak that prevails now. It used to be piety first and last. White clad figures wended their way to temples and in the evening returned to rest a bit and continue their immersion in religion. Younger ones went sightseeing. There was the usual noise of crowds gathered. Now the frenzied jostling and crowding; the pushing and pulling and the noise are all so contrary to the calm that should pervade Veak. It is a holy day. Of course one celebrates the birth of the Bodhisatva Siddartha Gautama and his attainment of Enlightenment under a bo tree in harshly dry Bihar. But to balance these two celebratory events is the Parinibbana – the dying of the Buddha at age 80, which is not really old age. This last is forgotten completely in the festivity of the Vesak Day, which is incongruous to say the least. It has to be a day of piety, reverence and dignity. The Buddha never wanted people to suffer privation or sorrow, not even sadness as everything is transient. It is said he often smiled and laughed. Monks who are meditators are thus. But the amount of noise, drinking and merrymaking that goes on in public places is shocking.

A friend living in Crescat Apartments said that the crowds walking to Galle Face or away from it were making such a din with shriek whistles, grating rattles and of course shouting at the tops of voices, that she was kept awake most of the two nights of May 11 and 12. Adrenalin seems to flow into the blood stream of some as they enter holy places like Mihintale. I have witnessed groups of boys annoying girls in other groups with loud comments, transistor radios blaring forth and the young men seeming as if they had imbibed. A person told me that he climbs Sri Pada off season since he cannot bear to hear the profanity of people who crowd the steps at the height of the season kunu harapa kiya kiya. Now noisy trippers have replaced to a large extent pious pilgrims of yesteryear. How different to the climb of then when only holy stanzas were recited and the very encouraging bestowing of God Sumana Saman’s blessing on ascending devotees.



Complaining is very easy and sanctimoniously pleasing too. That is what one reads in most opinion pages of daily newspapers. The complainer needs to go further and prescribe remedial measures.

A firm stand has to be taken by the Buddha Sasana Ministry to curb the noisy, disturbing-others merriment of Vesak. Temples must be advised strongly by the Ministry and then followed up by the police on reducing the sound their loud speakers emanate. The idea now is to drown the Islam muezzin and have all and sundry forcibly listen to bana and pirit chanting. The Narada Buddhist Centre amplifies bana preached but only so the sil aththas on three floors can fully hear. Whistles, rattles and even face masks should be banned and sellers fined for selling such trivial merchandise. The olu bakkas are so stupidly puerile. Temples and parents have vast responsibility in guiding youth on observing Vesak and other poyas suitably. There are recalcitrant young ones who will not heed parental advice and do not attend Buddhist Sunday schools or temples. They should be dealt with by the police. Discipline IS possible if cooperation is present and the undisciplined are given the message that near rioting in merry making will not be allowed and will be punished by the strong arm of law.

Let’s see how Poson poya is celebrated by eternal fun seekers. The Buddha Sasana Ministry must take action in this sphere.



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