The Road Sign and the Path | Daily News


The Road Sign and the Path

Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya thero published “Amuthu Kathawak” (A Strange Story), The Inner and Outer sides of Buddhism, 90 years ago, in the Wesak Supplement of the Swadeshamitraya, Buddhist Era 2474 (May 11, 1930). It was described as a work of fiction about a person who found a place free of suffering. An English translation was published in the Daily News a few years ago.

The story is about a huge forest, where people are suffering from poisonous food and deadly animals. One courageous person sets out to find a way to escape this suffering. After a long and tedious journey he reaches the place where there is no suffering, no poison and no pain. He returns to the forest, with the good news and to show the path for the others to follow, so they could all escape the suffering. He showed the directions and erected a sign post. But the people stopped at the post and began to worship the post, by offering flowers, incense, food and drink. When the hero died, they began to worship his memorial, his relics and his statues.

To come back to the present, on Poson Day, we celebrate the arrival of Arhat Mahinda thero, who brought the message of the Buddha. The true honour and respect we can offer to the Buddha and Mahinda thero is by trying to learn what the Buddha taught, so we could find the path and move along to seek our own salvation, an end to our suffering. To achieve this we have to be ehi-passika.

Other than Ven. Ananda Maitreya thero’s “Strange Story” Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula, with his incomparable knowledge of all ancient Buddhist texts, wrote “What the Buddha Taught” over 60 years ago. It is one of the best books written in English, to explain the teachings of the Buddha to a lay person, even someone who has no previous knowledge of Buddhism.

He wrote, “I have aimed at giving briefly, and as directly and simply as possible, a faithful and accurate account of the actual words used by the Buddha as they are to be found in the original Pali texts of the Tripitaka, universally accepted by scholars as the earliest extant records of the teachings of the Buddha.”

However, the Pali texts were written a few centuries after the Buddha parinirvana. Till then the Doctrine of the Buddha had been transmitted orally. We would never know the exact words of the Buddha and even the language he had used. The accuracy of the words, passed down from generation to generation, is not known. When the first written words were translated, they could have occurred, because no one could ever do a completely accurate translation. This is true for all religious literature in the world, even the revealed religions. That is why Ven. Rahula reminds us, “It is always a question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing. The teaching of the Buddha is qualified as ehi-passika, inviting you to ‘come and see’, but not to come and believe.” Buddha’s word does not have to be accepted as “the Gospel Truth” or in blind faith.

Many of us have read Dr. Rahula’s book, in English, Sinhala or Tamil. It would also have been read by many non-Buddhists all over the world, as it is available in almost every major language. However, not many people seem to have grasped the teaching of the Buddha, even by reading a book written in such simple language. If the book had been read with interest, our present day society would have moved away from the kind of practices and traditions as described by Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitrey, 90 years ago.

The pandemic of COVID 19 has once again drawn attention to Amisa puja and Pati-patti puja. Amisa puja or the offerings of flowers, incense, even food and drink would be called material homage. This is what the people in Ven Ananda Maitreya’s story have been doing. These offerings do not show us the path and do not help us to take a single step along the path.

We also talk about Pati-patti puja or homage through practice. This is what we need as followers of Buddha Dhamma. Let us try to understand what Buddha taught. We need not read the entire Tripitaka or memorize it. It was before the words of the Buddha were written down, that all the Sutra had to be memorized and preserved. Listening to all the Sutra in a language we do not understand, or reading the entire Tripitaka in a translation, would not be paying homage to the Buddha. Each Sutra in the Tripitaka would not have been preached at the same time to all his disciples or devotees. Each Sutra would have been addressed to a limited audience, at a particular occasion, for a particular reason.

Arhat Mahinda in his first discourse, most appropriately taught the essence of the Dhamma. In this celebrated discourse of “Cula-hatthipadopama Sutta: The Shorter Elephant Footprint Simile”he too pointed out that the Dhamma must not be merely accepted, but verified each one by himself.

Let us perform Pati-patti puja, paying homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, Arhat Mahinda and all Sangha, by reading the Cula-hatthipadopama Sutta. Not just by reciting the Sutta, or listening to a recitation, probably in Pali. Let us read the Sutta, by ourselves, at our own pace, in whatever language that would help in better understanding of the Dhamma. Let us find the way to take at least a few steps along the Path.

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