Comment: Vesak Sirisara – Buddhist Annual 2563 – 2019


N. P. Wanasundera

The journal, a compendium of articles on the Dhamma and more especially how it should impact on life, is very timely since many Buddhists, usually in the habit of spending their time in temples and meditation centres having observed higher precepts, stayed homes this Vesak day. Hence to complement their hours spent in meditation or listening to bana over TV and radio, they may have very profitably read this year’s Vesak Sirisara by the Government Servants Buddhist Association.

The first article by Ven Siri Vajiraramaye Nanasiha Thera (formerly Deshabandhu Olcott Gunasekera) had me wondering whether he had the gift of the third eye to see the future. He prefaces his article with: "Why are there wars, conflicts and destruction, when the wish of everyone is peace, harmony and development." You will see why I got that question about his clairvoyance to sense future happenings since we are so soon after conflict and destruction when everyone was focused on peace, harmony and the country as a whole on the path of development. The Christians were to celebrate Easter Sunday; the Buddhists anticipatory of the commemoration of the three most important incidents in the life of Gautama Siddhartha and gathering in large numbers in temples and then participating in the festival of lights . Even those following Islam were to soon have their period of fasting.

I read the article avidly to find out the whys and wherefores encapsulated by the question asked and to find out what Ven Nanasiha has to say in reply to this query. Quoting the Buddha, the Ven Thera gives a good answer. He says we have not been successful in quelling conflicts worldwide with UN agencies and governments and NGOs striving so hard and spending so much to bring in peace and harmony "because our approach has always been palliative. We are trying to find solutions within a framework that we do not like to disturb. The Buddha on the other hand, always found solutions after determining or understating the root cause or causes of a problem and prescribed measures to eradicate those causes. He looked deep into questions or situations and provided lasting solutions that are within human reach through right effort and proper cultivation of the mind to view things in the correct perspective." Quoting examples from the time of the Buddha and his words of understanding and advice, also with modern day issues brought in, the Ven Thera gives us a believable picture of how peace can be gained and conflicts along with all attendant suffering eliminated. "What are the lessons for us? Out of compassion, we should relentlessly work towards a peaceful world that is without hostility, violence, hate speech and wars. This is our duty and responsibility as human beings. However, as long as there is envy and avarice within humankind because of the division of like and dislike due to desire or craving that evokes proliferation of thoughts that are not conducive to peace, harmony and development, it would remain a dream for perpetuity."

Prof. N A de S Amaratunga writes on ‘Ancient Philosophers who attempted to resurrect Buddha’s Dhamma" giving the reader a clear picture of what led to the First Council – Dhamma Sangayanava – called for by the senior monks in the Sangha since the younger ones were misinterpreting the Dhamma, and attempting to make the Buddha a transcendental phenomena, sharply contrary to the Buddha’s insistence he was a normal human being who lived and died as one. This second reason for the Council was a new idea to me. Seventy years after the Buddha’s Parinibbana a second council was held and the third in the 3rd Century BC by Emperor Asoka before he sent monks to propagate Buddhism in neighbouring countries. He also mentioned philosophers who gave various interpretations to the Buddha word. It is a scholarly article covering nine pages.

Asoka Mahinda Jayasinha in his article ‘May we attain Nibbana’ deals simply on what we should do and gives us the purpose of Dhamma knowledge and explains dependent origination. He ends his article thus: "Make the effort, arouse energy, apply the mind and strive. We should have as aworld view that: transient are all conditioned phenomena; strive zealously." K H J Wijayadasa titles his article ‘The true meaning of happiness in Buddhism’.

I was very interested to read his explanation as happiness is one happening or benefit we all seek earnestly and also I thought Mr Wijayadasa might show us how and why dedicated monks and nuns are so happy and radiate joyful serenity. Consider how the Dalai Lama is forever smiling; so also Ven Brahms.

He starts with the Pali word ‘sukha’ used both as a noun and an adjective. He says we spend much time, effort, money on seeking happiness but invariably experience sorrow too. But there is a state of being with neither happiness nor sorrow and that is assured knowing and practicing the Buddha Dhamma. He goes on to explain the Buddhist concept of happiness and then to ways and means of achieving happiness. Very succinctly he explains that though Buddhism is based on the Four Truths with dukka (suffering or unsatisfactoriness) a core consideration, the cultivation of piti or joy is a prerequisite of enlightenment. And adds that "Buddhists are reputed to be the happiest people in the world … Bhikkus are at the top of the list; for they live in the eternal present with no worries about the past or the future either." Dividing happiness under two categories, namely that which may be experienced (vedayita) and that which cannot be experienced (avedayita) he explains each very cleverly and clearly. Finally he leads the reader to The way forward to Nibbana: the ultimate Happiness. Clarifying Nibbana is dicey but Mr Wijayadasa succeeds in making the true meaning of Nibbana clear. He ends his erudite article thus: "When someone tastes the taste of freedom from all bondage he experiences real happiness called happiness of calmness or upasamasukha. It is the ultimate happiness that brings peace, calm and tranquility."

Ditte Ditta Maththan is the reply the Buddha gave a non Buddhist who asked him for the Dhamma in a nutshell. And that is the topic dealt with by Palitha Manchanayake. After a short analysis of Buddha’s answer, the author ends his exposition by saying that the meaning of the expression that is his title is" "if you have seen anything, confine it only to seeing" thus "the Yogi would not get attracted nor angered to any of the inputs that come through the six senses…."

Susunaga Weeraperuma contributing from France writes a 17 page interpretation as he understands it of the famous Buddha dictum: ‘Be your own liberator.’ The final article is also his: ‘social activities from a spiritual point of view’ being the text of an address he made to the Siva Nandi Society in Paris.

Dr Ananda W P Guruge deals with popular beliefs in Buddhism and debunks most of them, from rewards and retribution, sacred books, gods and other beings, protective rites and such like that have polluted pure Theravada Buddhism.

‘Death, rebirth and kamma’ are explained from a medical scientific perspective by Dr Sunil Seneviratne Epa while Economist and Chartered Marketer Deepal Sooriyaarachchi gives a detailed exposition of ‘Bodhisathva Ideal as a Leadership Paradigm’, He includes a clear table of paramis, defining each and stating their application by the executive; the paramis being dana, sila, nekkhamma, panna, viriya, sacca, adittana, metta and upekkha. I will not attempt giving even the gist of these two articles.

Three poetic compositions add much to the aesthetic value of the journal. Chandra Wickramasinghe titles his poem Mind Moments and Dr Erika Dias The Deep Deep Blue Sea. Claudia Weeraperuma from Argens, France, composes in poetic form Right Livelihood in which she has a young computer person cry out as she realizes blindness

"Ceaseless is my struggle here in cyberspace

From droves of teeny windows I have got to glean"

then realizes she has to go back to a job close to nature to save her eyes and mind:

"I’ll leave that job I held so dear,

Become a cleaner, carer, gar’ner, cook

With living, breathing things wherever I look."

The entire content of Vesal Sirisara 2019 is excellent; the moot point being that different aspects pertaining to Buddhism and varied subjects have been included in this the 84th edition. It is equally useful to the merely-interested-in-Buddhism and the knowledgeable. To the middling group to which I belong, the entire journal is much appreciated.


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