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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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).
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
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
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).
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