Village and the temple | Daily News


Village and the temple

Ever since Buddha had shown us the path to Nibbana, ever since the Sangha began to spread the teaching to the people around the world, there had been a very close relationship between the Sangha and the lay people. As the Sangha settled down in temples in human settlements the village and the temple became one single unit. The temple became the centre around which all life activities of the village came to be.

The deterioration of this close knit association began, or was initiated by the European invaders as they saw the threat to their rule and security, with the Buddhist monks guiding the people of this country. This is not an attempt to trace the history or to find fault, but to discuss how the village and the temple could come together once again, in the best interest of all of us.

Priorities have changed both for the Sangha and the laity. We are no longer an agricultural society when we could talk of the tank and the stupa. Today we are too busy, and for most of us 24 hours is not sufficient to stay on schedule. One reason could be that we are confused about our needs and our wants. Most of us are never satisfied with what we have or could achieve. We want more and more, even if we really need them or not. That is why we do not have the time to attend to our spiritual needs.

It applies even to our monks. Most of them too have more wants than what they need. If they follow the Buddha's way of life, their needs would have been very simple. Their pursuit of knowledge would have been under the guidance of their senior monks and from the Buddhist Pitaka and the Tika. They would have had more than enough time to contemplate on what they learn, and meditate in peace. They would have studied at a Pirivena, but not with the aim of passing examinations. Today they have to enter universities, not only to learn Buddhism and Pali, but also other subjects like science and even tourism. They have to earn wages as teachers in schools and universities, or engaged in politics. Today many of our monks are too busy to spare a few minutes to talk to the people in their village, except for organizing temple festivals or erecting more buildings and other structures in the temples.

However, since the monks do not have other responsibilities and obligations like the lay devotees, they could manage their schedule to spare a little time to associate and communicate with the people in the village.

We have to remind ourselves that the temple is just not a place for us to visit on a poya day to offer flowers, light lamps and pray. The temple is our refuge. It is the place we could go to, for our peace of mind. The temple has to be a calm and serene space, without distractions, any time of the day. It is a space where we could sit under the Bo tree or inside the shrine room and contemplate on what the Buddha taught. It is a sacred space where we could meditate, or simply close our eyes and our mind to the outside world for a few minutes.

In order to achieve this the temple space has to be clean. When we enter the temple, let us sweep the ground, clear up the old offerings, and tend to the temple garden, as we would do in our own homes.

It is not just a place for us to pretend to observe "sil" or the Eight Precepts, as we practice today. Let us arrive at the temple as dawn breaks, let us listen to a sermon, read, listen to, and discuss Dhamma topics, meditate through the night and leave for home only the following morning. Let us forget our daily routine, our business, our jobs and our responsibilities.

Today there could be practical difficulties in observing Sil overnight, because of household responsibilities, like sending off the children to school and preparing meals before leaving for work. It is because, even though Poya is a public holiday, the following day is not. One solution is to observe Sil on a Saturday, like our Sri Lankan Buddhists practice in other countries. Then it does not disrupt the family life, nor would it inconvenience anyone else.

If we wish to offer flowers to the Buddha, let us pluck just one or two flowers from our own garden. Let us light just one lamp and burn one incense stick.

Let our children go to the temple whenever they are free, not to study according to a strict syllabus, to pass examinations on Buddhist studies. Let the children get used to the temple atmosphere, to behave calmly and peacefully, and learn how to follow Buddha Dhamma in a simple way. Let them learn our cultural values.

Let our young people visit the temple in the evenings, to share their thoughts, to talk to the monks, to read books, and find ways to help each other and their neighbours. Let our elders too gather to help each other, and find ways to work together with the monks to help and guide the younger generations.

Let the monks be our mentors.

Let us seek their advice on public issues, and let the monks too give us confidence that we could receive helpful guidance from them, as we used to have in the past.

Let us get our temple to be a part of the village, a part of the community, and bring peace and unity among all people.

Let there not be any restrictions based on race, religion, class or caste.

If Buddha never discriminated people based on man created labels, if He could preach to the Brahmins and Jains, if he welcomed all human beings, let us follow the Buddha's way and let us make our temple be a sacred space for all.

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