Monday, June 3, 2013

Buddhism and Culture

Daily News
R Liyanage
25 May 2013
We have more Buddha figures in Padmasana. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage
We normally speak of Buddhist culture which has been an integral part of our civilization coming from ancient times. Before the advent of Buddhism to Ceylon, there were Brahmi scripts in use, and King Pandukabhaya who was instrumental in studying his lessons under a brahmin gives eloquent evidence to have a stamp of proof to that effect.
Therefore, it should be noted when Ven Mahinda Thera who came with his retinue to Mihintale has a language akin to his spoken language of the King Devanampriya Tissa who went on hunting. The first sermon of Ven Mahinda convinced the King and the adherents of the King tenaciously embraced the Theravada Buddhism. The Minister Aritta who went with Royal gifts to the King Asoka throws evidence that there was a common language spoken by the two countries. It is also evident that second coronation of King Devanmpiya Tissa took place with the royal regale gifted to him and though they were friends King Devanmpiya Tissa paid allegiance to the Monarch Asoka who was also known as Piyadassi.

Buddhist arts

With the introduction of Buddhism to Ceylon, there was a turning point in the culture of Ceylon, and the art of sculpture and arts more Buddhistic was introduced to Ceylon. The earlier settlements of the Monks were in caves and it is stated that caves were gifted to monks. Those caves could be discerned at Mihintale. Mihintale is also known as Ambastale. However in the course of time, temples were built and generally known as pannasala. The main occupation of the Sinhalese was agriculture and in order to food those paddy fields large tanks were built and in evidence we have Tissawewa, Nuwara Wewa, Minneriya Wewa, Parakrama Samudraya and there were bumper harvests of paddy. Classical arts developed in addition to Buddhist art and Sigiriya frescoes shows the climax of Buddhist art which is generally called the Alokaya Mandiraya. However, Buddhist art of Degaldoruwa and in many prominent temples shows the Indian off shoot Buddhist art. Stupas in Ceylon are not the replicas of the Buddhist Stupas in India. The offloscene of Buddhist culture reached its height during the Anuradhapura period.
We have more Buddha figures in Padmasana (Lotus posture) and a few in Veerasana (heoposture). Samadhi Buddha figure is a classic example. Aukana Buddha figure is a workmen of far excellence. The incumbent Buddha figure at Galvihara denoting the Parinibbana of Buddha never excape of the eye of a good artist. It has been cut out of live stone. There is a consensus of opinion that the standing figure of Ananda with a sorrowful face is a great tribute to rock cut statues but the art critics have doubts why there is a lotus pedal which should be meant to Buddha.

Flourished arts

We have very fine artists and the figures at Gothami and Kelani Vihara are of excellent quality. Theravada Buddhism flourished in Ceylon, and most of thinkings through piety built huge dagabos and as a result we have the bubble shape Ruwanveliseya, Jetavanaramaya and Mirisavetiya.
We also inherited Buddhist literature from India and they are attakathas which were later translated into Pali by Buddha Ghosa. It is recorded in history there were more than 5000 monks occupied Lovamahapaya and it was covered with golden sheets. The Chinese traveller bear evidence to this effect and there was a procession conducted with the elephants and it was in full glory and grandeur. Our civilization turned out to be Buddhist culture and the prime place was given to Buddhism. Some intellectuals consider that Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy. Invariably like in India Buddhism took its firm roots here more than any other religion.
It should be noted though Buddhism became a live religion in Ceylon other religions like Jainism and Brahmanism existed side by side. King Asoka although he embraced Buddhism, he gave alms to jains and in his stone pillars disciphered in Brahmi scripts stated not to disparage any religion. He set up minor stone pillars in the North west of India with the admonitions of the Buddha for the good behaviour of the people.
Buddhist monks lived in Abeyagiri and Mahavihara and they were rivals at times when King Mahasena embraced Mahayana religion and the King was misled by an Indian who goes by the name of Tissa. When the King came to realise his mistaken views, they were reconciled. Mahayana Buddhism found no place in Ceylon. The greatest contribution was the Tooth Relic of Buddha from India and it was venerated for decades and centuries.

Sapling imported

Our greatest chronicle in history written by Ven Mahanama devotes a chapter in describing the import of sapling of the Sacred Bo tree and it was planted with all the glory at Mahamevuna Uyana and there was continuous rain for seven days. In our Buddhist literature, there is exaggeration and caricature of the character of Buddha. For instance, Gurulugomi, an erudite scholar in his style of writing (Hela Bhasa) never had such exaggerations but he is deeply read in Pali and Sanskrit. Our realm of Buddhism speaks for itself the virtues of Buddha.
We had blank verse sorely used for describing the Jataka stories of the aspiring Buddha. The most noteworthy feature and the supremacy of our language could be discerned by reading the Messenger poems such as Selalihini Sandesaya and many others. There is a break away from this tradition and it is Guttila Kavya. Thus not only prose but poetry had a phenomenal growth. During our current times our Sinhalese language had evolved as a new language. It is therefore evident that from Buddhist literature we have a fine written language expressing our sentimental feelings.

Village culture

Our Buddhist culture which is meant to the villagers had a new direction and today the language used for writing novels is close to the spoken language. In our beautiful settings in the villagers Buddhism had a good place but most of them hallowed by traditional views consciously or unconsciously have been motivated by selfishness, villainies etc and thus there are pretty squabbles over lands and fences which are rivalries much developed by them.

They are also torn with jealousy.

Though the temple has become a centre of Buddhist activities yet in their moral lives they are not good Buddhists and their minds are tempered with evil thoughts. On Poya days they gather with white wash clothes and take part in Buddhist activities and once they come to normal lives they gather demerits as they brush up with evil companions.
Yet we see that Buddhism has a place in the villages. The dynamic culture of the west and the impact of the western culture floating with imitative frency has changed aspects in culture more than ever before. Thus in coming contact with such a culture has fashioned the minds of our people for evil things.
We have got more cynics than good people who fight for their selfish motives. Though there is strong say in Buddhism we are being corrupted by trade and commercial activities and utter selfishness. We therefore cannot say that there is a Buddhist culture pure and to our heart’s desire.
In Madras in a factory Buddhist figures and icons were produced on commercial basis. It has become a fashion today, that in imitating the tradition of Christianity, Buddha figures are erected at prominent places, which is not a good feature. The figures of Jesus Christ or St Mary are common with the Christian churches.


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