Sri Lanka celebrates Vesak Poya tomorrow though some confusion has been created over this thrice-blessed day marking the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama the Buddha. Some Buddhist prelates say Vesak should have been celebrated on May 29 as several other Buddhist majority countries like Thailand are doing. Another controversy arose when the Buddha Sasana Minister asked that Vesak pandals, dansal and other festivities be held not on Vesak day but on April 30 and the days after. He urged that people should be encouraged to go to temples on Vesak day to listen to bana sermons and also watch some special Vesak-related films that the ministry has prepared. Some Buddhists have objected to this proposal while others have welcomed it on the basis that it will stop the trend towards the commercialisation of Vesak.
Whether it be April 29 or May 29 what is vital is for Sri Lanka’s Buddhists to reflect deeply on some important dimensions of the Buddha Dhamma specially the issues connected to the situation in Sri Lanka today.
Scholar monks say that Gautama the Buddha when he began his world-changing mission gave up all his privileges including those in the royal palace. Prince Siddhartha totally emptied himself and tradition has it that his first robe was stitched from pieces of yellow cloth picked up from funeral pyre sites where people left behind pieces of yellow cloth. During his entire mission, which influences hundreds of millions of people all over the world more than 2500 years after him, the Buddha lived in a simple and humble way which is known in classical Sinhala as ‘Alpechchathawaya’. Unfortunately political and other leaders who loudly and proudly proclaim Buddhism are known today to be seeking personal gain or glory, perks or privileges and are mired in the vice of ‘Bahubhandavadaya’ which is the desire to accumulate more and more by way of wealth, property and possessions, power
The government has declared that poverty alleviation is one of its main goals and one of the important structural adjustments needed to achieve this is to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. As in most parts of the world, in Sri Lanka also it is believed that the richest one per cent of the powerful elite own more wealth than 50 per cent of the people.
Socio-spiritual analysts believe that an important step to bridge this gap is for our leaders -- in the political, social, religious and other spheres -- to live in a simple and humble way, stop wasteful expenditure or indulging in luxuries and extravagance. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka this hallowed concept is preached by many but few are those who practise it sincerely and quietly. When we live in a simple and humble way we will be able to save more and thereby share more with millions of people known to be caught in a poverty trap set up by a selfish and
Sharing more needs to go beyond just giving some money to poverty-trapped people. Their dignity as human beings needs to be restored and therefore measures must be taken to help them to earn their own living. This could be done by providing them the means for self employment or giving them productive and reasonably-paid jobs so that they will have an equal place in society and also an equal say in decision-making.
The Buddha’s main theme was, may all beings be happy. That means we need to live and work in a way that makes all creatures happy. It also means that everything created -- including the air, the sea, the trees and soil should be cared for properly and we need to be good stewards. In modern terms that means effectively getting involved in the battle against global warming or climate change.
Thus instead of focusing on dates we need to reflect on and more importantly live in the way the Buddha wanted us to so that it will be a happy and blessed Vesak for all.