Code of ethics for both clergy and lay people
By Rohan L. Jayetilleke
With Portuguese rule in Ceylon since 1505, Catholicism became the established religion of the Maritime Provinces. Under the Dutch who succeeded the Portuguese in 1658, Reformed (Calvinistic) Christianity took root and Roman Catholics were severely persecuted or driven away from the maritime areas. These circumstances led to the Kandyan Kingdom becoming the repository of Buddhism and Sinhala Buddhist culture. But the Buddha Sasana was at a low ebb and a fraternity of white clothed non-celibates called 'ganninnases' had become the custodians of viharas.

To arrest this decay of Sangha Sasana, an attempt was made by King Vimaladharmasuriya (1591-1604) and King Vimaladharmasuriya II (1687-1707) to bring monks from Rakkhanga Desa (Arakan of Burma, Myanmar) but although upasampada ordinations were held, as there were bhikkhus trained to carry on the traditions, these ordinations had a stillbirth. However Samanera Velivita Sri Saranankara born in 1698 in Velivita village in Galagedera entered the order at the age of 16 as a pupil of Ven. Suriyagoda Rajasundera, who had received upasampada ordination from Arkanese monks in 1697 at Suriyagoda (Kadaroddawa) Vihara at Pujapitiya. This village has been immortalized by poet Sagara Palansuriya (Keyas) in 'Sudo Sudu', the opening verse of which gives it as 'Katuroda'.

When his teacher was executed by King Sri Vira Parakrama Narendrasinha (1707-39) on a charge of treason, young Sarankara retired to mountainous Alagalla (Kadugannawa) and began learning Pali from Levke Ralahami, who too had been exiled by the King. He formed the Silvat Samagama and was assisted by southerners Sitinamluwe, Ilipangamuwe, and Kadiragoda, who remained his lifelong friends.

Velivita Saranankara's ambition was to re-introduce Sangha Sasana with upasampada ordination and the first step was taken by despatching a delegation during the reign of Sri Vijaya Rajasinghe (1730-47). The King's officials and five pupils of Saranankara went to Siam (Thailand) but the ship foundered off the coast of Pegu and only two survivors managed to return to Sri Lanka. In 1745, a second delegation, led by Dorenagama Muhandiram, a survivor of the earlier delegation, went once again to Siam along with two officials of the King and five pupils of Saranankara like before. On the way, Dorenagama fell ill and an official of the King, Vilbagedera Nayide, led the delegation.

Reaching Siam in 1747, the request of the King of Ceylon was communicated to the Siamese King, Maha Tammaraja II (Boromkot - 1733-58). Meanwhile, back home things were uncertain once again because King Sri Vijaya Rajasinha had died and Vilbagedera had to return. But the new King Kirthi Sri Rajasinha (1747-82) showed the same zeal as the earlier King who had been his brother-in-law, and a delegation led by five officials including Vilbagedera headed for Siam once again.

This resulted in 25 Thai monks led by Phra Upali Maha Thera arriving in the island. A new ground (sima - visumgama) was consecrated at Pushparama (Malwatu Vihara) and the first higher ordination ceremony conducted on Saturday, July 20, 1753 on Esala full moon day in the presence of the King. Phra Upali Maha Thera was Preceptor (upaddya) with Brahamajothi Kammavaca and Mahapunna Kammavaca Thera as teachers. The first group of Ceylonese samaneras to be accorded Siamese upasampada were Kobbekaduwe Unnanse, chief incumbent of Poyama Vihara (older part of Malwatu Vihara, adjoining this vihara), Velivita Saranankara, Hulangamuwe Unnanse, Bambaradeniye Unnanse, Tibbotuwawe Unnanse and Asgiri Vihara chief incumbent Nawinne Unnanse. Although, the 250th anniversary was celebrated in Kandy on Vesak day this year, the anniversary falls only on Esala poya.

To commemorate Thai-Sri Lanka upasampada connections, a book titled 'A Constitution for Living' authored by the Thai Bhikkhu Phra Dhammapitaka (P.A. Payutto) was published by the Office of National Buddhism (314-316 Bamrung Muang Road, Bangkok, Thailand). Printed at the Religious Affairs Printing Press of the same organization in April 2003, 5000 copies were distributed free in Sri Lanka, by the delegation that held the Thai-Sri Lanka Buddhist Upasampada 250th anniversary exhibition at Senkadagala Buddhist Hall, in Kandy from May 14 - 18. It is regrettable that although Sri Lanka is deemed the centre of Theravada Buddhism, no organization like the Office of National Buddhism with a printing press to enable writers to get their work published exists here.

Some believe that Buddhism is so lofty and sublime that it cannot be practised by laymen in everyday life. This is a sad misconception, without the proper understanding of Lord Buddha's teachings. The Buddha has laid down a code of ethics for both the clergy and laity, which could be practised easily. Phra Dhammapitak (Thai Maha Thera) in the elegant 85-page book,'A Constitution for Living' quoting from the Thripitaka gives guidelines for leading a Buddhist lay life. The book is in Thai with English translations. The book contains two sections -- the Buddhist Discipline and a Constitution for Living. This is certainly 'gihi vinaya' for the laity for a fruitful and harmonious life.

"In relation to the prosaic affairs of everyday life, religions may take two approaches: one is to ignore them completely, to concentrate wholly on the higher aim of merging with a Creator God or realizing the ultimate truth; the other is to go into great detail about such matters telling us how to organize our will, what foods to eat and what clothes to wear. These would seem to be two extremes," says the introduction.

A by-product of these two extremes is the modern day 'suicide-bomber' such as the Islamic militants of the Middle East and the Black Tigers of Sri Lanka who seek to avenge perceived injustices against their faith or their so-called egoistic 'homeland concept'. They are brainwashed on certain theories to become martyrs. Buddhism, on the other hand is a teaching of moderation, keeping to a middle path. The Buddhist ethics are guidelines only, with no compulsion for one to accept, for behaviour is based on timeless truths -- the positive wealth generated by living kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), blissful joy (muditha) and equanimity (upekkha). The aim is the ultimate goal of spiritual freedom, living in a world, yet above it, steering away from disinformation or brainwashing.

If one reads through 'A Constitution for Living' one will realize that in today's egalitarian society, accentuated by globalization, manipulated by conspicuous consumption, compassion fatigue instilled by both audio, video and the printed media, our traditional roles are torn asunder and in spite of the so-called 'enlightened' ideas, we are more confused than ever. It is in this scenario that Phra Dhammapitaka's work, gleaning very minutely from the Thripitaka and their commentaries, the teachings of the Buddha, is especially directed to laymen and laywomen. The role of wife or husband, their mutual duties and responsibilities are vividly brought out. In the chapter titled 'Virtuous Person', the author explains the 'manussa dhamma', qualities that make one human. He lays down three-fold 'sucarita' good behaviour as righteous bodily action, righteous speech and righteous mentality and elaborates on them in simple terminology.

In the chapter on the 'Ideal Person', the author describes a human being who is human as knowing principles, knowing causes (Dhammannuta); knowing objectives, knowing results (Atthannuta); knowing oneself (Attannuta); knowing moderation (Mattannuta); knowing occasion (Lalannuta); knowing company (Parisannuta); knowing persons (Puggalannuta). He describes in the very same way the Buddha explained them (Anguttara Nikaya IV. 113).

The role of the teacher and pupil, their inter-personal duties, obligations and responsibilities, are quoted from the Anguttara Nikaya. The teacher needs to be endearing (piyo), worthy of respect (garu), inspiring bhavaniya, capable of speaking effectively (vatta) patient with words (Vacanakkhamo), capable of expounding the profound (Gambharanta kattham katta) and not leading in wrongful ways (no cathane niyojaye). The student, quoting Anguttara and Digha Nikayas, should harken to the teaching, think wisely and practise in accordance with principles.

The author deals with every aspect of lay life and the exhortations of the Buddha for a harmonious life and urges that society should be permeated by peace, happiness and health, cohabitation between races, clans and religious faiths.

The role of the Buddhist monk vis-a-vis the community too is explained as was taught by the Buddha to his disciples, over his 45-year mission. Today politics and those elected by the people take centrestage. The author quoting Diha Nisya 111, 266, 290 and 240 puts down the ideal qualities of the elector -- having good conduct and discipline (sila); possessing much learning and experience (bahusacca), knowing good associations (kalyanamitta); being easily spoken (sovacassa); making an effort with the group's salutary activities (kimkaraniyesu dakkhata); being a lover of truth (dhammakamata); having effort (viriyarambha); being content, knowing moderation (santutthi) and putting head over heart (panna).

The chapter on 'The Contributor to Good Government' (A responsible member of state) quotes Digha Nikaya III, 220 and II, 73 brings forth the understanding of three kinds of supremacy (adhipateyya), namely supremacy of oneself (attadhipateyya), supremacy of the world (lokadhipateyya), supremacy of Dhamma (dhammadhipateyya) and the seven leads to prosperity (seven, aprathaniya-dhamma).

The seven 'aparihani-dhamma' are as follows: meeting often and regularly, regularly conferring on community affairs; meeting together, and doing together what needs to be done; neither instituting laws and regulations not communally agreed upon simply as expedients or personal ambitions, nor denigrating or abolishing things already instituted; upholding the main provisions established in the Constitution; honouring and respecting elders; honouring and revering shrines, holy places and national monuments, and organizing rightful protection, support and sanctuary to monks and priests.

Dealing with the Leader of the State, the author quotes Jataka Attakatha V 378 to give the 10 qualities of a righteous leader (dasa raja-dhamma). These qualities are sharing with the populace (dana); maintaining good conduct (sila); working selflessly (paricagga) working honestly (ajjava); deporting himself with gentleness and congenially (maddava); rejecting indulgence through austerity (tapa); adhering to reason, not anger (akkhodha); bringing tranquility through non-violence (avihimsa); overcoming difficulties with patience (khanti); not doing that which strays from righteousness (avirodhana).

'A Constitution for Living' is indeed a constitution, which should be followed by all -- the laity, the Sangha and the leaders of the country. This is a book that should be in every library and should be translated into Sinhala.

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