Two hundred and thirty years after the Parinibbana of the Enlightened One Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Arahant Mahinda Maha thera, on a Poson Full moon poya day
In the snowy peaks of Himalayas and in the valleys of Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra in Dambadiva the ancient Indian trees in the natural vegetation were laden with fruits and flowers during the month of Esala and it had been a festive season from time immemorial.
This festive season had been celebrated in ancient India even before the time of Gautama Buddha. Mention is made in Buddhist literature about a festival called “Giragga Samajja” which relates to Hinduism and Jainism; the latter denies the supremacy of Hindu Gods-the authority of Vedas and the distinction of castes.
Hindus and Jains celebrated this festival based on Deva Puja- offerings to gods and deities. In Buddhist literature mention is made of this festival in connection with the conception of Bodhisattva in the womb of queen Mahamaya.
According to what is mentioned in the history of Buddhist literature, in the year 623 B.C.-exactly ten months before the birth of Prince Siddhartha, queen Mahamaya, having observed sil to engage in religious duties according to the religious observances of the day, had retired for the day. At night she had dreamed of a white baby elephant with a white lotus in its trunk had conceived in her womb from the right side after pomading three rounds around her bed.
When consulted in the morning the following day king Suddhodhana’s Sooth Sayers declared that it was the conception of a blessed son. This incident took place on an Esala Full Moon Poya day.
Prince Siddhartha was brought up in absolute luxury in king Suddhodhana’s palace. He was well educated and being a scion of the warrior race he must have been specially trained in the art of warfare. At the age of sixteen he married his beautiful cousin, princess Yasodhara who was equal in age.
After his happy marriage he led a luxurious life, blissfully unaware of the vicissitudes of life outside the palace gates. However, with the march of time, truth gradually dawned upon him. Amid comfort and prosperity he realised the universality of sorrow.
One day he went out of the palace and came in contact with the stark realities of life. He saw a decrepit old man, a diseased person, a corpse and a dignified hermit. The first three sights convinced him of the inexorable nature of life and universal sickness of humanity. The fourth signified the means to overcome the ills of life and to attain calm and peace. Realising the worthlessness of sensual pleasures highly prized by ordinary men and the value of renunciation in which the wise seek delight, the prince decided to leave the world in search of truth and peace.
On Esala Full Moon Poya Day, at the age of twenty nine and two months, he renounced the world in spite of the news brought to him that a son was born to him.
Leaving the royal palace
Normally an ordinary father would have welcomed the joyful tidings, but prince Siddhartha, the extra ordinary father exclaimed “An impediment -‘a Rahu’- has been born. The infant son was accordingly named “Rahula” by his grandfather, king Suddhodhana. Thus in his twenty ninth year prince Siddhartha made his historic journey on Esala full moon poya day. Thus Bodhisattva renounced the world on prince Rahula’s birth day.
He only cast a glance on the wife and child and left the palace. He rode away from the kingdom on the back of his horse Kanthaka accompanied by his companion, Channa. After crossing River Anoma he ordained himself at the bank of the river. He gave his possessions to Channa to be handed over to king Suddhodhana. From then onwards he had no permanent abode and had only robes just sufficient to cover his body and a bowl to collect whatever was offered to him by the people when he went on begging. He strove hard with a few religious teachers such as Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputra, but he found that nobody was competent to teach what he sought.Ultimately he wandered in the district of Magadha in search of peace supreme and met the five Brahmin ascetics at Uruwela, a lovely spot of ground, a charming forest grove, a flowing river with pleasant sandy fords and a nearby village where he could beg for food.
Five Brahmin Ascetics
Among the five Brahmin ascetics there was ascetic Kondanna, the youngest Brahmin who predicted prince Siddhartha’s future. The other four were the sons of the other sages Baddiya, Wappa, Mahanama and Assagi. Ascetic Gautama, who followed strict asceticism with the five Brahmin ascetics in accordance with the belief that prevailed in ancient India that no salvation could be gained unless one followed strict asceticism in which great importance was attached to rites, ceremonies, penances and sacrifices.
Six years of suffering
Accordingly for six long years he made a super human struggle practicing all forms of severe austerity as a result of which his delicate body was reduced almost to a skeleton. The more he tormented his body the further his goal receded from him.
Thus, strict asterism did not pave the way for his goal, Nibbana. He was by that time fully convinced, through personal experience of the utter futility of self mortification. He realised that his goal could not be reached either through constant attachment to sensual pleasures or through self mortification.
Hence he adopted an independent course – Majjima Patipada – the Middle Path. There are two extremes (antha) which should be avoided by a recluse - the constant attachment to sensual pleasures- Kamasukhallukanuyogaya – and constant addiction to self mortification- Attakilamatanuyogaya. He recalled how when his father was engaged in ploughing he would sit in the cool shade of the rose apple tree having attained the first Ecstasy.
He thought thus “Well, this is the path to enlightenment.” He realised that enlightenment could not be gained with an exhausted body. So he decided to have some food. The five ascetics who attended on him, disappointed at this unexpected change of method, deserted him and went to Isipatana, saying that ascetic Gautama had become indulgent. They maintained that he had ceased from striving and had returned to a life of comfort. At a crucial time when help would have been most welcome, his only companions left him but he was not discouraged.
After a substantial meal offered by Sujatha, a generous lady, he made a firm resolve not to rise from his seat until he attained Buddhahood. At night on that happy Vesak Full Moon Poya Day as he was seated under the famous Pippala tree at Buddha Gaya with his mind tranquilized and purified, in the first watch he developed that supernatural knowledge which enabled him to remember his past lives – Pubbenivasanussathi Gnana –Reminiscence of past births.
In the Middle Watch dealing with death and Rebirth of beings Catupapata Gnana perception of the disappearing and reappearing of beings.
In the last watch of the night he developed the super normal knowledge with regard to the destruction of passions – Asavakkhaya Gnana and comprehending things as they truly are, attained perfect Enlightenment – Samma Sambodhi.
Seven weeks after attaining Buddhahood the Enlightened One was on the lookout for someone who could realise the Truth – the Noble Truth He realised on his own on the Vesak Full Moon Day. His earlier teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputra came to His mind, but they were no more. Then it occurred to Him that His previous associates, the five ascetic monks – Pasvagamahanu- Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji would realise the profound Dharma. When the Buddha went to the five Brahmin ascetics in a bid to teach them the profound Dharma, the Noble truths they were reluctant to pay respect to Him as they were disappointed when He gave up fasting and penance. However, when they came to know that the Tathagata had been enlightened they paid respects and listened.
He expounded Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta-Turning the wheel of Righteousness- which the Tathagata had discovered on His own by avoiding the two extremes , the Middle Path – Majjima Patipada, which promotes sight, knowledge, peace, Vupasama, Higher wisdom, Abhinnaya, Enlightenment, Sambodhaya and Nibbana.
This excellent Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta which could not be expounded by any other ascetic, priest, god, Mara or Brahma was expounded by Gautama Buddha, on the first Esala Full Moon Poya Day two months
Ordination of Sri Lankans
Two hundred and thirty years after the Parinibbana of the Enlightened One Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera, on a Poson Full moon poya day during the reign of king Devanampiyatissa. Exactly a month later 56 Sri Lankans, including prince Aritta who took messages from King Devanampiyatissa to emperor Dharmasoka in Dambadiva , received Higher Ordination from Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera.
Work of Ruwanweli Seya
According to the Mahawansa King Dutugemunu saved the country from South Indian invaders and unified it. He also did much for the Sasana. The construction work of Ruwanweliseya was started on an Esala Full moon poya day.
Mirisawetiya, Lovamahapaya and Ruwanweli seya are the major contributions of king Dutugemunu. A detailed account of Ruwanweliseya is given in Mahawansa in three hundred and thirty nine verses.
The death anniversary of Ven. Welivitiye Sri Saranankara Sangharaja Thera is also commemorated on Esala Full Moon Poya Day.