Reflections on Poson and Nature | Daily News


Reflections on Poson and Nature

Legend has it that one fine Full Moon Poya Day 2,328 years ago, King Tissa was hunting deer in a park close to the royal city of Anuradhapura. Then he heard someone calling his name. Since no one dared to call the King by name, he turned upward to see just who could denigrate the King in this manner. It was a sight that immediately calmed him down – a retinue of saffron-robed monks and a sage.

The visitor on top of the rock was none other than Arahat Mahinda, son of Emperor Dharmashoka in neighbouring Jambudvipa, present day India. He had brought the precious gift of the Buddha Dhamma to Sri Lanka. It did not take too long for the King and his 40,000 followers to embrace the timeless words of the Enlightened One. The King even earned the sobriquet “Devanampiya” (Beloved of the Gods) after he embraced Buddhism. This was the precise moment that started a Buddhist civilisation and an agri-based socio-cultural revolution in the land that continues to this day. Thus Poson can be called a watershed moment in Sri Lanka’s annals.

While Sri Lanka later on embraced a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural milieu, the tenets and ethos of Buddhism have permeated to every level of our society, regardless of ethnicity and religion. It is this unique adherence to the Four Sublime States – Metta (Loving Kindness), Karuna (Compassion), Muditha (Sympathetic Joy) and Upekkha (Equanimity) that has enabled Sri Lankans to wither any obstacle in life, be it the war, tsunami and now the Coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, this year’s State Poson Festival in Mihintale, which will be graced today by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is being marked under the theme “Arogya Parama Labha” (Health is the Greatest Wealth) in the context of the pandemic faced by the entire world. These timeless words of the Buddha, uttered more than 2,500 years ago, have never been more appropriate. The Buddha Dhamma gave prominence to two factors that are essential for life – health and the environment. This was not surprising, since the Buddha had realised the essential link between the two.

Again, our affinity for Nature and the Environment goes back all the way to that initial interaction between Arahat Mahinda Thera and King Devanampiyatissa at Mihintale. Arahat Mahinda stopped the King’s hunt, extolling that all life is precious and that we should radiate compassion towards all beings. He then tested the King’s intelligence with questions about the mango grove in Mihintale, which the latter successfully answered. From then on, ancient Kings declared Abhaya Bhoomi or sanctuaries where life was allowed to blossom freely. As Arahat Mahinda Thera espoused, respect for the environment is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism.

It is thus a happy coincidence that we are also celebrating World Environment Day (WED) today. Accordingly, the National Poson Festival will also have a component to mark the WED. This year, the WED theme is biodiversity – a concern that is both urgent and existential. Recent events, from bushfires in Brazil, the United States, and Australia to locust infestations across East Africa – and now, a global disease pandemic – demonstrate the interdependence of humans and the webs of life, in which they exist. This is a lesson for all of us here in Sri Lanka, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.

Biodiversity is the foundation that supports all life on land, air and below water. It affects every aspect of human health, providing clean air and water, nutritious foods, scientific understanding and medicinal sources, natural disease resistance, and climate change mitigation. Changing or removing one element of this web affects the entire life system and can produce negative consequences.

A recent UN report warned that human actions, including deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats, intensified agriculture, and acceleration of climate change, have pushed Nature beyond its limit. It would take 1.6 Earths to meet the demands that humans make of Nature each year. If we continue on this path, biodiversity loss will have severe implications for humanity, including the collapse of food and health systems.

This is no laughing matter – if, for example, bees go extinct, there is every possibility that all life on Earth could follow suit. The emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the fact that, when we destroy biodiversity and interfere with Nature, we destroy the very systems that supports human life. Ironically, Nature bounced back in a remarkable manner during the last 2-3 months of lockdown sans human activity, which in itself is a lesson for humanity.

Today, Nature is under severe strain due to a variety of factors from plastics pollution to fossil fuel usage. Many of the animals and plants that we now take for granted could be gone from our midst in just 30-40 years. If we continue burning fossil fuels, our coastal cities could be inundated by 2100 as a result of Climate Change and an associated sea level rise. It is time for the world to work together to honour commitments to the environment and save the only planet we have.

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