Vesak 2019 – more introspection, more religious quiet


State Ministers proclaimed that Vesak would be as usual but people generally observed it much more quietly and thus perhaps with more religious fervor and sanctity. Unfortunately the places of sil – temple halls and meditation centres - had less people since many observed the eight or ten precepts in their homes. The decorative lights at night were dimmer and dansalas and pandals reduced. In my opinion all for the better.

We celebrate on this Poya of May the birth and attainment of Buddhahood of Siddhartha Gautama, most definitely anniversaries to be celebrated. But he also died on a Vesak day at Kusinara. We do not mourn it as his passing away was his reaching Nibbana, but it cannot be commemorated in large throngs with music and much noise. Hence this year there was more piety and a concentration hopefully on the Buddha’s advice, particularly the cultivation of the noble qualities of metta (universal loving kindness), karuna (sympathy), muditha (sympathetic joy in others wellbeing) and upekkha (equanimity – unshaken by circumstances). These are of extra importance when the country has suffered tragedy and then begun to suffer conflict through retaliation prompted by anger, even ambition.

Blossoming trees

We don’t need the distraction of illuminations at night since Nature puts on such a show at this time of year. If you look up as you walk or drive along the streets of Colombo, and of course elsewhere, you see extravagant splashes and spreads of colour – the flaming red of Flambouyant; the bright sunny yellow of Esala cascades; the varied colours of Frangipani and I particularly noted the Na tress down Independence Avenue and elsewhere with their abundance of pink and greeny beige leaves.

Out of doors for

the Buddha

What does this extravagant flower show remind you of? The life of Prince Siddhartha continuing as Gautama Buddha. Born in a garden in Lumbini, Nepal, his first manifestation of being inclined to quiet reflection and meditation was at tender pre-teenage being found seated while the harvest festival was on in his father King Suddodhana’s principality. His first act of mercy was when out of doors he saved the bird shot at by his cousin Devadatta and refused to give the creature over. He won many a sporting contest out in the open, and, according to some narratives, the heart of 16 year old Yashodara. He saw the aged one, the sick one, the corpse all in the open which brought to him sharply the suffering that life entails though he was zealously guarded in his palaces with beauty all around. Seeing an ascetic on another surreptitious ride on his horse with Channa in attendance, he admired and longed for the serenity exhibited and thus the strengthening of his resolve to go seek an answer to why life entailed so much unsatisfactoriness with its inevitable ageing, decaying and dying.

He performed the final renunciation by cutting off his hair after he had left the palace when his son was born, and handed over to Channa his jewellery and rich clothes far from the palace. He had told his father and foster mother Prajapathi Gotami and Yashodara that he had to renounce lay life and go forth to seek the truth. He meditated; he starved himself; he went from ascetic to ascetic but was not satisfied. All this in the open. Then leaving the five companions he journeyed to Gaya and sat under a tree where he had his last solid meal as a seeker of the Truth. Crossing the River Neranjana he sat under a spreading bo tree and with great determination and striving he realized the truth of samsara and life and formulated the Four Noble Truths and a way out of dukkha following the Eightfold Path.

The Buddha stayed on in the vicinity of the tree that had shielded him sending it his gratitude, then continued going through in his mind what he had found for himself, by himself. He preached his first sermon to the five ascetics out in the open and walked about and preached.

Many were the gardens and buildings gifted him. It had to be that many of his sermons were preached out in the open.

At age 80, knowing his death was nigh he walked with Ananda Thera to Kusinara and opted to die out of doors. Asking for a place to rest to be set up between two sal trees, he achieved Parinibbana.

And thus the love and respect he showed Nature and the acceptance of trees, bushes and plants as living things to be protected, preserved and nurtured.

Post Script

To my way of thinking with many other women agreeing, the flak received by Minister Mangala Samaraweera on his saying Sri Lanka is not a Sinhala Buddhist country, is unjustified and goes to show how narrowly most of us think; blinkered with prejudice and small mindedness. He made a broadminded statement and true one; interpreted wrongly as disloyal and unpatriotic. Sri Lanka is a secular, multi-racial, multi-religious country with the majority population being Sinhala Buddhist. Period.

As everyone else I mourned the death of many and injury to more due to the Easter Sunday bombs. The recent retaliatory violence was despicable and the police and armed services very efficiently and with danger to themselves quelled the riots before they got out of hand. However, to me the saddest was seeing the three wheeler driver who takes me around on my errands with such care and consideration arriving for work after a week of staying home minus the white close cap he wears. I did not comment on it by felt so sorry for him, forced to not earn for one week and then having to give in to circumstances. I am glad the hijab etc are disapproved of and to be forsaken, since they are very Saudi Arabian, but not a cap one is used to.

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