Poson Reflections | Daily News

Poson Reflections

Legend has it that one fine Full Moon Poya Day nearly 2,330 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 in the country dared to call the King by his 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 Arahath 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 of Sri Lanka that continues to this day. Thus Poson can be called a watershed moment in Sri Lanka’s annals. To Sri Lankan Buddhists, it is second in importance only to Vesak, which marks the Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Passing Away.

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, the Boxing Day tsunami and now the Coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s State Poson Festival in Mihintale and the Lake House Aloka Pooja, which will be graced today by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, are being marked amidst a greater emphasis on health in the context of the pandemic faced by the entire world. As the Buddha espoused more than 2,500 years ago, “Arogya Parama Labha” – Health is the Greatest Wealth. These timeless words 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, having attained Enlightenment under the shade of a mighty Bo Tree.

Again, our affinity for Nature and the Environment goes back all the way to that initial interaction between Arahath Mahinda Thera and King Devanampiyatissa at Mihintale. Arahath 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. Mihintale is a sanctuary to this day. As the Buddha and Arahath Mahinda Thera espoused, respect for life and the environment is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism.

A UN report has 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 support human life. Ironically, Nature bounced back in a remarkable manner during the 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 50 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 the commitments to the environment and save the only planet we have.

The COVID-19 virus, which is said to have originated in animals and then jumped to humans (Zoonotic transmission) has taught us another lesson – it is good for the entire planet and our health if we keep away from consuming animal flesh. The farming of animals for human consumption is resource-intensive and is known as one of the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Abstinence from consuming animal flesh also resonates with the words of the Buddha, who enunciated compassion for all beings. Thus Poson should be an occasion to align our lives with the sublime teachings of the Buddha and the paramount need to save our Planet.

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