Peace comes from within
PEACE COMES FROM WITHIN
By Dr. Tilak S .Fernando
The late Aggamahapanditha Balangoda Ananda Maithriya Thera was in London, in 1997, observing Vassa (rainy season) at the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, Kingsbury. The thero's, 99th birthday was on 23 August, and a dual-purpose ceremony had been organized by the Incumbent Monk at the International Buddhist Centre, Ven Galayaye Piyadassi Thero MBE.
The writer had the rare opportunity to meet up with the Venerable Monk and have an interesting pow-wow. Expressing his thoughts about the celebration of his 99- year long life's experiences, the Venerable Monk said: "99 years mean my life span is fast coming to an end", which for the Venerable Thera was, that, he was moving towards a new birth where the Thera would be more influential to propagate Buddhism in its pristine purity in the next life, which the ecclesiastic could not complete.
Born on 23 August 1898 to Heenmenike and Matthias Appuhamy, the young baby was named 'Punchi Mahattaya'. The infant's mother expired within two weeks of his birth, and the distressed father left the village; leaving the responsibility of bringing up the child to Dingirihamy Mudalali (child's uncle) and his wife Yasohamine.
At the age of nine, young Punchi Mahattaya was exposed to an orientation by Brahmacharya Walisinghe Harischandra, member of the Maha Bodhi Society, at Kumara Vidyalaya on the subject Buddhist way of life. Instantaneously the celestial fire within the young boy began to expand, and seemingly managed to persuade his guardians to give their consent to his wishes – to take up robes at the age of 15! Finally Punchi Mahattaya was ordained as a 'Samanera' (young priest) at Nandaramaya, the Udumulla Temple in Balangoda.
With ninety nine years of worldly experience, and added to that, being one of the erudite Buddhist monks in the country, the Venerable Thera explained how Sri Lankans happily upheld spiritual, cultural and religious values towards the latter part of the Colonial rule. The Venerable Monk's point of view was that ' Sri Lankan national leaders, who had not understood the very rationale of achieving freedom continued to act in the same manner as before, allowing the country to degenerate'.
"During the British rule, at least the Europeans listened to peoples' claims and their agitation, but our leaders turned a deaf ear to any public outcry which caused a steep decline in our cultural and religious values that led to a division of people into various political groups! During the Colonial era, unity among the Sri Lankans was at its best, which helped to preserve Buddhism and cultural values, but looking at the society today, moral, cultural, economic and spiritual values of the entire nation have debauched," the Venerable Thera continued.
Speaking on cosmology and Buddhist point of view, the Venerable Thera explained how Buddhists don't believe in any omnipotent God, but 'every man has the opportunity to be born in one of six deva worlds (heavens) if one lives a morally good and clean life'. 'There are some earth bound devas (Gods) too, who are very near to us and humans can transfer merit to some devas, but not to every deva. Merely by repeating gathas (stanzas) in parrot form or offering alms for the sake of name and fame the object of transference of merit would be a waste," the Venerable Thera asserted.
Interpreting three types of Buddhism practised in the world as Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana, the Venerable Thera referred to different schools of thought and diverse rituals and rites among various sects, but the underlying factor he said would be that "Buddhists are all united in the Buddha's Attangika Magga (8 fold path) and the most vital issue would be the unblemished qualitative life that leads towards one's spiritual progress.
On the question of soul and ‘athma’ interpreted by other religions, the most Venerable Thera gave a definitive example taking the solar system and the sun as an example, "A teacher, the venerable explained, who takes a class of young children, may use the conventional language and say to the students, that 'Sun is rising and setting', although there is no such thing, except the phenomenon takes place due to the rotation of the earth! However, when the same teacher takes an advanced class of pupils, he has to use his 'profound knowledge' and speak a different language altogether, that is palatable, using scientific examples; perhaps in a more philosophical approach"!
Likewise, the Venerable Thera explained how the Buddha's teachings varied according to the level of intelligence of the seekers of the truth. He used the words such as soul and athma as appropriate. But to those aspirants who had opened up their intelligence, the Buddha taught Vipassana Meditation – dealing with topics such as "what is life? What is man (matter + mind).
"Mind is a series of impermanent occurrences to be taken as unchanging in essence or 'soul' the monk elucidated; physical body is also a stream of material state subject to momentary change, and there is nothing to be taken as ego, entity or soul". This practice of understanding, one's own nature was not practicable to use in the ordinary world, the Buddha said, he emphasised.
Balangoda Ananda Maithriya Thera was a believer in paranormal phenomena; when enquired about the monk's personal outlook on ghosts (boothayas) he became very eloquent.
"When a man dies, he is born in a different world at times with a subtle body due to his attachment to his worldly affection. In that astral body form, the dead person can live for a limited spell till he ascends to a higher world with the help of transference of merit by his relatives/friends in the corporeal world. An astral body can travel faster than light because it moves with the mind. Some dead persons in that state can make their astral bodies become solid so that others may see it. Others are not able to do it and, therefore, they cannot show themselves".
Are Buddhists in Sri Lanka average, deep or just ritualistic? I bluntly put the question to the Most Venerable Thera. His reply was: "People in every village and town are now becoming more and more interested in the practice of meditation; it is especially encouraging to see it is mostly youth who are interested in Vipassana meditation. The uneducated are getting caught up in ritualistic practices that were not found some 50 years ago. But on the whole, Buddhism is now improving among the educated classes and it is a very good sign".
Looking back at the Venerable Monk's past long experience in life for nearly ten decades, the writer requested the venerable to comment on the 'laxity in discipline in some of the modern day monks' in our society.
"Some years ago Bhikkus were much engrossed in conforming to Vinaya (discipline). Even now in most temples there are many closely controlled monks. If there was a lax in discipline I can only think of the new university education, followed by monks and taking up teaching careers. Even among them, I am aware, quite a few who are trying to maintain highly disciplined order".
"Here and there, of course, you will always find black sheep, you can't avoid it. Even during the Buddha's time there were 250 Bhikkus who were living in a monastery misbehaving. They were dancing with women and sleeping with women. Women were singing and playing the harp and were entertaining the monks. Ultimately the Buddha had to send Ven. Sariputta to chase the undisciplined monks away. (Laughter...) My advice is, if you come across an undisciplined monk try and explain to him the purpose of becoming a Bhikku, in a loving and caring manner, otherwise if you condemn him, he will become incorrigible", the Monk asserted.
"At the age of 99 what future plans have you, most Venerable Sir?" I posed the final question. The answer was swift:
"To do some service to the Dhamma; whenever I get an opportunity. But the problem is that I never get a free moment whether I am in Sri Lanka, England or in the USA, and people gather to see me and seek advice".
"My main aim is to attain a higher level of mind development. My conscience says I am going to do it. I do not want to be born in heavenly worlds. When I am dead, I would like to be born in Sri Lanka as a human being to develop Buddhism further and propagate the Buddha's philosophy throughout the world in its pristine purity. I have this strong feeling and urge within me. Apart from that, as many people are aware, my aspiration is to attain Buddhahood in the distant future
Courtesy: Ceylon Today 5 October 2016