By Manel Abhayaratna
Poson full moon day is significant to the large majority of people in Sri Lanka as it commemorates the day on which Emperor Asoka’sson, the Arahat Mahinda officially introduced Buddhism to this island in the 3rd century BC (247 BC) and with his teachings Sri Lanka became the centre of Theravada Buddhism. According to the ancient chronicles King Devanampiyatissa had gone on a spree to hunt deer in the jungle of Missaka (Mihintale) and suddenly the Arahat Mahinda appeared appeared before him. According to the ancient chronicles, the Arahat urged him to refrain from killing the animal. It is said that the Arahat obtained the attention of the king by calling him ‘Tissa’ and an interesting conversation followed after which the Arahat preached the CullaHatthipadoma Sutra to the king and his followers. Hearing the discourse all who were with the king embraced the new teaching and sought refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. One wonders whether all who go to Mihintale and Anuradhapura for Poson consider the significance of the day for it was then that Buddhism was introduced to the island and the followers were taught to adhere to the five precepts
Theravada Buddhism preserves the Buddha’s teaching in the original Pali language. The five precepts are also recited in Pali and the meaning is known to all Buddhists. Translated the first is perhaps the most important: “I observe the precept by abstaining from the destruction of life; I observe the precept by refraining from that which is not rightful for me to take; I observe the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct; I observe the principle of abstaining from falsehood; I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.” These are by no means commandments but moral codes which Buddhists should undertake with commitment.
The radio and TV stations air these precepts at least twice a day and in government and Buddhist school assemblies the stanzas are repeated daily. But when one hears of the murders that are committed regularly and the brutal hacking of persons, the sexual abuse of children as young as five and those of woman in their 70’s, one wonders whether the Arahat’s teaching has managed to not permeate into our culture? It appears that people have gone off the track. We are careful not to step on an insect and putting a stray dog to sleep creates quite a furor… But what about human life, young, old, and even babies who are killed with no compunction?
Daham pasals are held regularly and children taught the precepts of Buddhism but adult example is the greatest educator. But what do children see in the behaviour of the adults? In Parliament, the highest centre of legislative power, members representing the people use foul language, resort to character assassination and even fisticuffs. Political party members attack each other and others speak of getting rid of those who oppose them. Journalists disappear suddenly and corruption is rife with accountability of no account! Vandals attack places of religious worship and the human rights of every citizen are no longer recognized. Today, as people visit Mihintale and Anuradhapura and recall the teachings of the Buddha and the Arahat Mahinda’s visit to this island which makes us boast that Sri Lanka is the home of Thervada Buddhism, let them decide to follow the five precepts with greater commitment and loyalty.