Significance of Vesak Poya Seek spiritual beauty in isolation | Daily News


 

Significance of Vesak Poya Seek spiritual beauty in isolation

Enlightenment is a tough task in the crowds. The Buddha emphasized this factor in several suttas found in his teachings. The following is a brief extraction from the Satipatthana Sutta (translated by Venerable Soma Thera).

“And how, O bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu live contemplating the body in the body?

“Here, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu, gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty place, sits down, bends in his legs crosswise on his lap, keeps his body erect, and arouses mindfulness in the object of meditation, namely, the breath which is in front of him.”

Mind the keywords: forest (arannagato), the foot of a tree (rukkhamulagato) or an empty place (sunnagaragato). The Buddha had to leave his household life to seek the spiritual essence. Irrespective whether you are a monk or laity, this formula applies. Perhaps in a different way for the laity. The laity, of course, cannot approach the forest, the foot of a tree or an empty place in the literal sense. But they are in a position to manifest such environments in their own abodes.

Such an environment was offered by a strange visitor who knocked at our doors, coronavirus COVID-19. It ensured that we stay indoors for a seemingly indefinite period. And the wise among us must take it as a blessing and turn to the Buddha’s teachings in this Vesak eve. COVID-19 has given us a chance to manifest a forest, the foot of a tree or an empty place in the guise of isolation.

We are left to our own devices. The rest is up to us, for the Buddhas only point the way. We ourselves must strive. Easier said than done, but that opportunity shines right before us confined to home safety. With that in mind, let’s devote our attention to the significance of much-celebrated Vesak Poya.

Young ascetic Sumedha was steadfast in his attempt to achieve the highest spiritual realm - something only a few could reach. Remember the day he heard Dipankara Buddha was visiting the town. What he wanted was a definite prophecy that he would be a Buddha in aeons to come.

The locale, however, was congested with people and the young man could hardly think of seeing Dipankara Buddha. When he spotted the muddy road, his thoughts worked on so fast in a different plane.

He requested the great teacher and his retinue to walk over him. Dipankara Buddha saw the young man’s thought in his divine eye and knew the youth’s wish will materialise in uncountable aeons to come.

Dipankara Buddha prophesied ascetic Sumedha would be a Buddha named Gotama in the future. The day Buddha declared the solemn prophecy to his twenty-fourth successor was a Vesak Full Moon Poya day. Since then Sumedha had been reborn in many existences. He had to complete the thirty perfections, paramitas. And before his final birth, the Bodhisatva, or Buddha-to-be, was born in Thusitha heaven.

The divine creature inquired five affairs before expiring for the final birth: right time, right area, right continent, right cast and right mother. Then, as any Buddhist knows, the fully mindful divine being entered the womb of Queen Mahamaya to be sired by King Suddhodana.

A prince was born on a Vesak Poya and was named Siddharth, one who has found the meaning of existence. The queen passed away seven days after the prince’s birth.

The whiz kid declared the glorious verse, customary for all Buddhas, just after the birth: “I am the chief of the world. There is no equal to me. I am supreme. This is my last birth. No rebirth for me.” The teacher worshipped the teacher of the world, and then father worshipped the son.

Aspiring for enlightenment

Siddharth Gotama’s life was spent in royal luxuries until he realised life’s true nature. Moments later Siddharth renounced the princely life on a Vesak Poya. Yet ascetic life was not a simple thing for the prince.

The robed Gotama was trained in various mental skills under many teachers, only to get disillusioned that they do not have the truth he looks for. The right way to achieve the truth dawned on him one day. He directed the mind in the right meditation path. Moments later he reached enlightenment and conquered the world of sorrows on a Vesak Poya.

The Conqueror was heading to the city of Kusinara when he met Pukkusa. Pukkusa listened to the Dhamma and offered the Buddha two golden robes: one worn by the Buddha and the other by his assistant Ananda.

When the Conqueror was robed, his skin became clear dazzling the robe. Monk Ananda was amazed and the Buddha declared that the skin of a Buddha will be remarkably bright on two occasions: the night he attains Enlightenment and the night he passes into Parinibbana.

Third visit to Sri Lanka

The Buddha visited Sri Lanka on three occasions: first to Mahiyangana in January, second to Nagadipa in April, and third to Kelaniya in May, Vesak. On the second visit

made to Nagadipa, King Maniakkikha invited the Blessed One for the third visit to Kelaniya. And he visited Kelaniya three years after his second visit, with 550 arahants.

However, Nishantha Gunawardena, a Sri Lankan historian resident in the United States, mentions an interesting find in his The Lost Dynasty: The Buddha was not invited by King Maniakkhika but by a king named Panitha and his daughter princess Abhi Upaliya. Nishantha cites rock inscriptions at Balaharukanda and Bambaragastalawa that corroborate this find.

“...the rock inscriptions are more accurate due to the difficulty in changing or forging them. It was the national King Panitha who invited Gautama Buddha the second time. The regional King Maniakkhika is mentioned in a few other records.

But it was not until the December 2004 tsunami hit, the king reintroduced himself. Tsunami tore through the island exposing several rock inscriptions. Two of them bore the names of King Maniagiya and his mother. This is, in fact, King Maniakkhika.” (82pp)

King Maniakikha is commonly mistaken as a Naga king; naga means serpent in oriental languages. But scholars believe the king belonged to a clan named Naga. Following the Buddha’s sermon in Kelaniya, the king erected a shrine with the Buddha’s hair, utensils and the seat buried inside. However, the foreign invasions have resulted in damaging the original shrine.

The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara became more sacred following the Ven Mahinda’s arrival in Lanka to establish the Dhamma wheel officially. Mahawamsa - account of the great clan, if rendered into English - the official chronicle on Sri Lankan history written in the 5th Century CE, states King Devanampiyatissa’s brother Uttiya renovated the Dagoba along with the first quarters of the monks.

Parinibbana

Eighty-year old Gotama Buddha disclosed that his passing away, Parinibbana, would take place on the third watch of the night at Sal grove of Malla royal family. Maha Parinibbana Sutta gives an illustrious description of the Buddha’s last moment. We reproduce an excerpt from the translation of the sutta by Sister Vajira and Francis Story.

The Blessed One’s Final Exhortation

1. Now the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying: “It may be, Ananda, that to some among you the thought will come: ‘Ended is the word of the Master; we have a Master no longer.’ But it should not, Ananda, be so considered. For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone.

2. “And, Ananda, whereas now the bhikkhus address one another as ‘friend,’ let it not be so when I am gone. The senior bhikkhus, Ananda, may address the junior ones by their name, their family name, or as ‘friend’; but the junior bhikkhus should address the senior ones as ‘venerable sir’ or ‘your reverence.’

3. “If it is desired, Ananda, the Sangha may, when I am gone, abolish the lesser and minor rules.

4. “Ananda, when I am gone, let the higher penalty be imposed upon the bhikkhu Channa.”

“But what, Lord, is the higher penalty?”

“The bhikkhu Channa, Ananda, may say what he will, but the bhikkhus should neither converse with him, nor exhort him, nor admonish him.”

5. Then the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: “It may be, bhikkhus, that one of you is in doubt or perplexity as to the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, the path or the practice. Then question, bhikkhus! Do not be given to remorse later on with the thought: ‘The Master was with us face to face, yet face to face we failed to ask him.’”

6. But when this was said, the bhikkhus were silent. And yet a second and a third time the Blessed One said to them: “It may be, bhikkhus, that one of you is in doubt or perplexity as to the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, the path or the practice. Then question, bhikkhus! Do not be given to remorse later on with the thought: ‘The Master was with us face to face, yet face to face we failed to ask him.’”

And for a second and a third time the bhikkhus were silent. Then the Blessed One said to them: “It may be, bhikkhus, out of respect for the Master that you ask no questions. Then, bhikkhus, let friend communicate it to a friend.” Yet still, the bhikkhus were silent.

7. And the Venerable Ananda spoke to the Blessed One, saying: “Marvellous it is, O Lord, most wonderful it is! This faith I have in the community of bhikkhus, that not even one bhikkhu is in doubt or perplexity as to the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, the path or the practice.”

“Out of faith, Ananda, you speak thus. But here, Ananda, the Tathagata knows for certain that among this community of bhikkhus there is not even one bhikkhu who is in doubt or perplexity as to the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, the path or the practice. For, Ananda, among these five hundred bhikkhus even the lowest is a stream-enterer, secure from downfall, assured, and bound for enlightenment.”

8. And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: “Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!”

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

9. And the Blessed One entered the first jhana. Rising from the first jhana, he entered the second jhana. Rising from the second jhana, he entered the third jhana. Rising from the third jhana, he entered the fourth jhana. And rising out of the fourth jhana, he entered the sphere of infinite space. Rising from the attainment of the sphere of infinite space, he entered the sphere of infinite consciousness. Rising from the attainment of the sphere of infinite consciousness, he entered the sphere of nothingness. Rising from the attainment of the sphere of nothingness, he entered the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. And rising out of the attainment of the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, he attained the cessation of perception and feeling.

10. And the Venerable Ananda spoke to the Venerable Anuruddha, saying: “Venerable Anuruddha, the Blessed One has passed away.”

“No, friend Ananda, the Blessed One has not passed away. He has entered the state of the cessation of perception and feeling.”

11. Then the Blessed One, rising from the cessation of perception and feeling, entered the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. Rising from the attainment of the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, he entered the sphere of nothingness. Rising from the attainment of the sphere of nothingness, he entered the sphere of infinite consciousness.

Rising from the attainment of the sphere of infinite consciousness, he entered the sphere of infinite space. Rising from the attainment of the sphere of infinite space, he entered the fourth jhana. Rising from the fourth jhana, he entered the third jhana. Rising from the third jhana, he entered the second jhana. Rising from the second jhana, he entered the first jhana.

Rising from the first jhana, he entered the second jhana. Rising from the second jhana, he entered the third jhana. Rising from the third jhana, he entered the fourth jhana. And, rising from the fourth jhana, the Blessed One immediately passed away.

Vesak brings in an engrossing historical tale mixed with spirit and elegance.

 


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