“O’ great King! the flora and fauna of the air and the earth have an equal right to live and move about in any part of this land as thou. The land belongs to all people and all beings and you are only the guardian of it.”-Arahat Mahinda
This ancient insight appears to include modern notions of public trust, custodianship of the environment and equality of all beings— it informs the ruler that he is only the protector of the land. The King, the birds and the beasts have an equal right to exist; it implies that all human beings too have the same right.
This appeared in the 3rd century BC and could be one of the earliest recorded messages on environment conservation, human rights and equality of citizens. Prior to this, it was likely that hunting was enjoyed by at least the elite classes but this practice altered under the Buddhist viewpoint of reverence for all life – killing was prohibited.
Mihintale, the perfect sanctuary for the sons of Buddha that they could find throughout the length and breadth of Ceylon - H C P Bell [former Director of Archaeology]
The river Mahenadi became red with the blood of his slain countrymen. The warrior-king Chandasoka who saw the tragedy of the Kalinga war, decided to shun violence and never to engage in battles. He realised the universal truth, ‘in a war, there are no winners or losers’. He was thereafter known as Dharma Asoka; Righteous Asoka.
The greatest treasure we inherit from our neighbour
The Mahavamsa records that the Buddha at Kushinara hours before the Parinibban told disciples “in two and a half centuries, an arahant named Mahinda will visit Lankadeepa”. It further states that Arahat Mahinda with a retinue of four others, would land at the mount Missaka, Mihintale on a Poson full moon day in the month of June; and during his stay he would deposit a Buddha relic in that most hallowed place known as Thuparama. It was a well-planned visit. The missions were made to study and be thorough with the revised version of the Dhamma as per conclusions of the third council. When the idea was initiated, the island was ruled by an old King named Mutasiva. They thought Mutasiva though a virtuous ruler, was old feeble and sick and unable to comprehend the Dhamma and make a successful implementation of the proposals, hence the visit was differed; in fact Arahat thera reached the South Indian coast and stayed on, learning the language of the islanders.
The King was shocked as nobody would dare identify him by name.
“Samanamayam maharaja - dhamma rajassa sravaka Thameva anukampaya - Jambudeepa idagatha”.
O great King!
We are Bikkhus,
Disciples of the lord Buddha,
Through compassion towards you,
We came from Jambudveepa
Emperor Dharmasoka and his Children
King Bindusara’s son Asoka ascended the throne in 269 BC. Prior to this for ten years, he was the viceroy or sub-king of Avanthiratta.
On his way to Ujjain, the capital of Avanthiratta to take charge of the assignment, he sought accommodation in the house of chief Sethi at Vedisa-Nagara. There he met Vedisa Devi, the daughter of the Chief and with the consent of the girl’s parents, married her. Two children Mahinda and Sangamitta were born of this marriage.
Two decades later in 247 BC, Emperor Asoka took the initiative in dispatching the dignified teachings of the Buddha to Sri Lanka. This he did through his own son Arahat Mahinda and his daughter Theri Sangamitta, who bore the southern branch of the Sacred Bodhi Tree under which Siddartha Gautama attained enlightenment. Emperor Asoka continued to sustain the establishment of Buddhism in the island. The concept of the Bo tree was introduced as a strategy to convert the mythological habit of worshiping trees to a generosity-oriented practice of paying respect to a tree that helped the enlightenment of Buddha. The Bo was selected especially in view of its unique feature in creating a calming, serene noise [Chala Patra] when the the edges of the leaves danced to the breeze when touched from the opposite direction.
Arahath Mahinda thera and his dignified companions, seven in all, after their arrival from India stood on Aradhana-gala, Mihintale and uttered the above verse. At first only Arahath Mahinda appeared and in a while the other six who arrived were sighted by the King. After exchanging pleasantries, Arahath Mahinda affirmed that Buddhism had been deeply entrenched in India.King Devanampiya Tissa while deer hunting near Ammbastale met Arhant Mahinda and his retinue, theras Itthiya, Utthiya, Sambala, Bhaddasala and Sumana Samaneras and following a brief dialogue that took place to check the intellect of the king, Arahath Mahinda delivered the Chulla Hasthi Padopama Sutra. The King listened to the discourse devotedly accepted the Dhamma and became a follower of the Buddha.
Dharmasoka was a great courier. He sent Buddhist missionaries to several nations. Majjantika Thera visited Kashmir - Elandara. Dharmarakshita went to Maharashtra. Two monks were entrusted to travel to Myanmar. But of all these places and countries, the Emperor gave precedence to his missionary movement in Sri Lanka by sending his own son and daughter. If not for Emperor Asoka, Buddhism would not have spread to other parts of the globe. It would have died in the land of its birth or remained confined to India. His hard work also gave historical legitimacy to the survival of Buddhism all the way through the messages he left in stone inscriptions.
Twenty-three centuries after this sacred event, we observe today in this thrice-blessed land religious and ethnic hatred and numerous other divisions created by small groups of ‘Sinhala-Buddhists’ backed by political forces. Ugly violent displays of ferocity by a small section of saffron-robed monks in participation with boisterous mobs have become the order of the day.
Differences among humans vs Buddhist principles
The Buddha’s rejection of caste, race, ethnicity and class was not just ideological, he recognized people from all castes and creeds - Upali and Suneeta found respected places in the sasana. “Bikkus, all the rivers like the Ganges, Jamna, Achiravati and Sarabu once fall into the great ocean, they lose their former identities and names and are recognized as the great ocean.”
Rulers practised ‘Samantha Mata’, meaning equality; and restrained the exalted position of the king who must not consider himself superior to citizens. He must mete out impartiality to the people without fear or favour, maintain equality and impartiality. A significant section of ‘Buddhist monks’ today decorate the political platform that is divided into several camps; they even occupy the front row in carrying out political activity. There are many groups, some operating through the media, others on the political stage and still others on the streets; they have engaged in a unique destruction of the Sasana.
Poson poya is significant to all irrespective of race, caste, religion and other forms of diversity. The appearance of Arahath Mahinda thera, son of the great Emperor Asoka from ancient India, known as Jambudveepa, was tremendously useful in determining the fortune of the people and the nation and was unparallelled in human history. There was no structured religion prior to the arrival of Mihindu Thera, as such, people were engaged only in ritual-based worship of non-living things like celestial objects, rocks and trees-actions which they believed would appease the deities they believed in; the reverence of Yakkas and the dead were popular practices among them. Conforming to the Buddhist way and tradition, Arahath Mahinda made a step-by-step progress using skill and strategy to alter the lifestyle of the people. This resulted in breathing new life into the socio-religious reputation of the island. His mission was not to set up a new religion but to clean-up the Dhamma which has by now been progressive and to recognize the order of Bikkhu and bikkhuni sasana in the island. Arahath Mahinda, along with the King, according to Samantha padika, planned the city of Anuradhapura; it says the thera laid bouquets of flowers in several places where future Dagobas should be erected.
But of all these places and countries, the Emperor gave precedence to his missionary movement in Sri Lanka by sending his own son and daughter. If not for Emperor Asoka, Buddhism would not have spread to other parts of the globe.
The meeting with King Devanampiya Tissa at the Mihintale grove is one of the significant events which revolutionized the culture of the people of Sri Lanka. Today, Sri Lankans commemorate the 2,325th Poson Poya. King Devanampiya Tissa respectfully accepted the teachings of the Buddha and established it in the land. With the beginning of the Bhikku Sasanaya, all other fundamentals of cultured civilizations commenced to appear with inscriptions, religious rituals, art, architecture, song and dance forms; literature too flourished.
Let’s resolve with more dynamism and vigour to abide by and agitate for an alcohol and tobacco-free nation and avoid eating animal flesh slaughtered for consumption. King Tissa whose pastime was hunting, became a vegetarian: agriculture outshone butchery in ancient Dharmadveepa. Let’s construct our society through the right practice of the fundamentals of Dhamma principles.
May all beings be happy!