The month of Poson (June) is of special importance to Sri Lankans, particularly those following The Buddha’s Teaching. Most of us are aware of the reason why this is so, but let us recapitulate that event that took place more than two thousand five hundred years ago.
Our closest neighbour, India, was a hub of culture during this time and a centre for all kinds of spiritual development. India offered a very stable environment for freedom of thinking and a safe platform for spiritual practise.
Prince Siddhartha, who was also looking for reasons for the ‘unsatisfactory’ nature of the human condition, left the home environment to retire to the forests in the North of India, now the state of Bihar, where he was unlikely to be disturbed in his quest to reach his goal. He was born in an area, then without borders but now known as Nepal, at the foothills of the Himalayan range of mountains. He went from teacher to teacher, all of whom were renowned to have achieved considerable spiritual development, but soon found that they did not satisfy his aspiration. After six years of severe self-mortification, which was then considered the route to ‘Nirvāna’, he was so disillusioned about these methods that he gave up looking for more teachers and left to develop his own method of salvation from the vicissitudes of the human condition – deterioration, ageing, illness and death. He found, amongst other things, mindfulness meditation to be one of the most useful techniques to develop his insight, through which he found the ‘knowledge’ he was looking for. From that time on, we have called him The Buddha, the Enlightened One; not a god, but a human being who achieved something magnificent through sheer effort!
Since the attainment of nibbana of The Buddha, His Teaching (The Dharma) has been the guiding light for all those who seek Enlightenment. His Teaching was introduced to this island of Sri Lanka around 250 years after His passing and it is our fortune that it is thriving in its pristine form right up to today.
Historically, Sri Lanka and India have enjoyed a cordial relationship, and this was instrumental in the transference of The Buddha Dharma during the reign of King Dharmāsoka of India. At that time, as was usual, our own King, Devānampiya Tissa, was maintaining good relations with Asoka, prompting Asoka to consider sending his emissary with the gift of The Buddha’s Teaching. This emissary was none other than his own son, Reverend Mahinda, who had entered the community of monks and had achieved the saintly state of Arahant-hood.
Rev. Mahinda arrived in Sri Lanka with a retinue of six other members of the Sangha community. He caught sight of Tissa, whilst the latter was on a hunting trip with his officials on a day like the Poson full-moon day. As the story goes, Rev. Mahinda called out to Tissa by name, surprising Tissa, who looked in the direction from which the voice came and saw the retinue on top of the Seela Koota rock, on the Missaka mountain in Mihintale, near Anuradhapura(the then capital city). The entourage was invited down and offered hospitality in the traditional way that Sri Lanka is still famous for today.
This visit by Rev. Mahinda led to a large number of devotees, including over five hundred royal and other noble ladies, entering the Sāsana – the Sangha community. Soon after, the whole country embraced Buddhism. The majority of Sri Lankans are still Buddhist, with the Buddha Dharma holding a prominent place here, despite a change in demography over the centuries. It is said that The Buddha Dharma will remain in this island for another two thousand years, as was the desire of The Buddha himself. We can only hope that this wish will hold for at least a few hundred years more, so that those who wish to tread The Buddha’s path may do so without any limitation.
May all beings be well and happy!