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The Bhikkhu and the Sinhalese ruler

5 September 2017 12:02 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



The sacred bond that has bound the monk and monarch ever since the great philosophy was introduced to the island nation, Thambapanni over twenty three centuries ago, is unique in 
the world. 

The beneficiary of that alliance as expected has always been the latter. And through him the country has witnessed unparalleled strides in spiritual development and material prosperity as borne out by the chronicles. Following is an account of a few fascinating encounters between the two, manifesting the profound and overwhelming influence the Dhamma had on the unshakeable faith, candour and piercing intellect of the ancient Sinhala ruler.   


When the Arahant’s body was placed in the casket the pyre rose to the sky and travelled five yojanas

Having had nothing to offer the preacher the following morning he made an offering of his entire kingdom

King Dutugemunu having lost the ‘Chullangani’ War, retreated to the jungle mounted on a mare along with a minister named Tissa. When the king confessed that he was burning from acute hunger, Tissa pulled out a packet of rice he had brought, and was hidden, with him. When told to divide it into four, the king was reminded by the minister that there were only three of them. Said the king, “Brother Tissa, from the day I can remember, I haven’t had a meal before offering the bhikkhus. There will be no difference today”. When the minister complied with the king’s wish, he was further ordered the customary invocation (kalagosha) to bhikkhus be made.   

The minister questioned as to how monastic monks could live in the woods. “That is none of your concern. I will receive the ‘Aryan saints’ if I am of adequate faith to receive them, therefore do as you are told.” the king said.  

Tissa uttered the announcement thrice. It was heard by Maha Arhant Bodhimathumahatissa from his monastery with the divine ear. The Arhant told himself that the king has to be obliged and appeared in front of him by supernatural powers. “See, Tissa” said the king placing in the monk’s bowl two parts of rice and offered the bowl saying, “Venerable Sir, may there be no want for sustenance ever”. Tissa, unable to eat when the king went hungry, also put down his share in the bowl. Glancing at the mare close by, the king knew it too wished the same be done.   


The noble monk thought, ‘what business do I have with the palace in my old age’ and started drawing lines on the floor with his finger while reclining on his couch


The Arahant returned to the monastery and was able to feed everyone, constricting the contents of the bowl into condensed fractions with his thaumaturgic faculties. Reading the king’s mind and anticipating whatever would be left over, the Arahant threw the bowl in the air with adequate food in it. The bowl came to rest in the king’s hand. Unable to return an empty bowl, he cleaned, put his upper shawl in and threw it upwards, which returned to the bhikkhu. Later when the illustrious king lay dying beside the half completed Maha Stupa, containing a one-eighth portion of Buddha’s relics, bhikkhus commenced chanting the five Nikayas. The book of meritorious deeds written with his own hand was then got down by him and a reader began reading from the beginning. However none of what was read interested him. He directed the account on the Chullangani War be read and when reaching the end the king stopped the reader and inquired from the bhikkhus gathered which Deva World (Heaven)was most desirable. When told that Thusitha was the abode of all Bodhisaththas, he passed away and was born among Deva Puttas of Thusitha. Scripture cites the moving occurrence to signify the karmic effect of an act of enormous merit.   

King Dutugemunu’s brother was Saddhatissa (168 BC- 93 BC) who succeeded him to the throne. He made an earnest request from bhikkhus to name an Arahant whom he could worship. When they suggested the name of Maha Arahant Kujjatissa of Mangana, the king travelled a distance of five yojanas with a large entourage to greet the monk. When the Arahant enquired from other monks what the commotion outside was, he was informed of the king’s arrival. The noble monk thought, ‘what business do I have with the palace in my old age’ and started drawing lines on the floor with his finger while reclining on his couch. “Arahants do no such silly things with their hands, this doubtless is a worldling” said the king and turned back.   


A mystifying episode concerning the worshipper and worshipped in ancient Lanka was also based on the rationale of cleansing wisdom through absolute sila


When bhikkhus questioned Kujjatissa Thero why he confused the pious and respectful king in that manner, he said, “Safeguarding the king’s devotion is no task of yours, it is that of the old monk”. Later, when the time had arrived for his parinirvana (), he told the bhikkhus to have an additional casket placed in the pyre next to his and determined that the pyre along with the caskets should rise in the air and reach the ground in the presence of the king. When the Arahants body was placed in the casket the pyre rose to the sky and travelled five yojanas to the accompaniment of a myriad miracles occurring in its path. The king was first skeptical when informed of the wondrous spectacle being witnessed.   

The pyre circled Thuparama Chetiya thrice and when it reached the granite stupa in Mihintale, the stupa rose from the ground along with its foundation and stood atop the pyre. Thousands beheld the incredulous sight and started raising loud cries in veneration. When the stupa returned to the ground the pyre began moving again. At that time Maha Arahant Mahavagga, an acquaintance of Kujjatissa Thero, was attending to disciplinary matters regarding some monks on the seventh floor of ‘Loha Prasadaya’- the copper roofed building with nine floors- when he heard the chant of onlookers. On making inquiries he was told of the strange happening and the passing away of his brother monk. “Friends, we have to honour noble personages like him,” he declared. He then excused himself from the monks, reached the second coffin within the pyre with his supernatural powers and passed into parinirvana, lying in it. When King Saddhatissa took with him fragrant flowers and perfumes to worship the pyre hovering above, it descended to the ground. The king then performed the funeral rites with boundless devotion and built a stupa enshrining relics of the Arahants , states the Anguttara nikaya attakatha.  It is also wise king Saddhatissa who went incognito on a moonless night and stood at the end of the audience listening to Arahant Kalabuddharakkitha’s sermon on Kalakarama Sutta under the Kaluthimbiriya tree at Kaludiyapokuna throughout the whole night. Having had nothing to offer the marvelous preacher the following morning he made an offering of his entire kingdom, which was returned to the king with the advice of how to rule it in peace and in line with the Dhamma. Such was the magnitude of faith of ancient monarchs of the country. The natural cave named Raja Lena, where the king sojourned prior to his arrival for the sermon that night, is clearly visible and is situated at a great height on an imposing mountain to the left of Kaludiya Pokuna.   

As perhaps destiny would have had it, King Kavantissa, father of the two great kings Dutugemunu and Saddhatissa, too experienced a similar spell-binding experience involving miraculous powers of another Arahant named Pindapatiyatissa of Magampura in the south of ancient Lanka as recorded in the Chapter on Ekadhamma Pali   

The explanatory segment of Dhiganikaya stresses that whoever who possessed morality (sila), also has wisdom within. Here questions are raised regarding morality.  Wisdom compliments morality and morality wisdom. “ ‘Monk, purify your morality, the first step of the path’ exhorted Buddha” – Uththiya Thera.   

A mystifying episode concerning the hallowed liaison between might and sanctity, between the worshipper and worshipped in ancient Lanka is also based on the rationale of cleansing wisdom through absolute sila. If one could sustain one’s unscarred morality in a life of sixty, eighty years, he would shatter all defilements through wisdom and attain Arahanthood at death, states the scripture. The case of Maha Sattiwassa Thero of Kanthaka Sala Monastery in the reign of King Vasabha stands apart on this score.   

The thero was in his deathbed when the great king arrived at the door of the hermitage and inquired of the sounds he heard. The sounds were those of the thero screaming in pain. ‘Not mastered an iota of contemplation on pain, not worshipping him now’ muttered the king and walked away to pay homage to the Maha Bodhi.   

“Venerable Sir, why are you shaming us in this manner. You placed the pious king in a predicament,” said the assisting monk.    “ Because he heard you screaming ,”. “Give me a respite” replied the noble bhikkhu, suppressing his pain. He reached the final state of sublimity and gestured towards the young monk, “Go, friend, you may make the king worship me now,” As instructed, he met the king and announced “You may worship him now”. The great king threw himself on the floor in front of the bhikkhu and exclaimed “Venerable Sir, it is not your Arahanthood that I worship, but the stature of sila you reached from a mundane plane”.   

It was such innate wisdom and sheer rectitude of the ancient ruler that went hand in hand with the sanctity of the superlative bhikkhu to establish a near perfect socio-religious culture on the hallowed land. Will it be unreasonable to expect a renaissance?   

Whatever, the single permanent truth in the world being its impermanence, the golden era of a remarkable civilization has long disappeared from the face of the earth. Yet the spirit and ethos of the immaculate doctrine nurtured and secured by admirable Sangha will prevail upon the blessed country in the next twenty five centuries for the well-being of mankind as foreseen by the Great Sage. That, is the uniqueness of a rich nation and its proud heritage.   

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