President's gift to Bunupitiye Nagatissa thera, and the Plight of the Order of the Sangha.

by Charles.S.Perera

(September 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Prince Siddhartha was the son of the King Suddhodana a powerful King of the Sakyan Clan. When Prince Siddhartha was born, the King consulted the great sages who said that he is destined to be a Cakkavarti- a world conqueror to set order in the world to make it easy for the Buddhist monks to show the people the path to enlightenment, or if he were to renounce the worldly life he would be the Buddha.

The King Suddhodana ,who preferred his son to succeed to his throne and eventually become a Cakkavarti, provided him with all the luxuries of life to keep him attached to a princely life. He built him Palaces and parks each suitable for residence during a particular season, with musicians, dancers, and courtesans to provide him worldly pleasures.

At the early age of sixteen he was married to his beautiful cousin Yasodara. He became a father when he was 29 years. But by then he had a glimpse of the suffering of the people that shocked him into realising that the blissfully happy life he was enjoying is only a camouflage that hid the true nature of suffering outside.

With that realisation he had an instinctive feeling of a mission to understand the truth of suffering and find the way to end that suffering. He knew that it would be impossible to search for an abstract truth, living this worldly life of attachment to pleasures, and decided to renounce his princely life of luxury, pleasures, attachment to his dear Princess Yasodara and the new born son Rahula, and left the Palace to become an ascetic. That renunciation end up in his enlightenment, becoming the Buddha who found the truth of suffering, cause of suffering and the path to end suffering, and decided to impart his knowledge of deliverance from suffering to non-suffering . It is in that noble effort that the Buddha founded the Order of Sangha.

The Order of the Sangha consisted of those lay persons-the householders as they were called in the discourses of the Buddha, who gave up their worldly life of possessions, pleasures, and loved ones to become mendicants practicing four virtues to follow the path of emancipation, and by their example to make others follow the path.

The Buddha who gave up a Princely life, begged for his meals. Its said that the King Sudhodan came to the Budda and said,"Gauthama Buddha, my son, when you were the most suitable for the throne of a Sakvithi King, you left all of us and became a monk. Then you insulted me by begging for meals, walking house to house along the streets in my own town. The relatives laughed at me and they insulted me. …….."
The four restraining disciplinary rules set the Buddhist Monks apart from the lay persons, and made them worthy of respect and the honour of their followers. These rules are worth repeating for any one who reads them to understand who is a true disciple of the Buddha, a spiritual son of the Sublime One-a Buddha Putta.

They are,

(i) the Patimokkha samvara Seela- The disciple abides by the disciplinary code of 227 rules. He is perfect in conduct and behaviour. He perceives danger in the least offences.

(ii) the Indriya Samvara Seela-When he sees whatever object he does not adhere to the whole of it or any part of it.. He wards off all that is evil and unwholesome through which greed and sorrow would arise, if he would not guard and restrain his senses.

(iii) the Ajiva parisuddha seela: Where a monk does not acquire his livelihood in a way unbefitting to a monk.

(iv) the Paccaya sannissita Seela: Where he is guided by the rules pertaining to four requisites-food, robes, medicine and shelter–" wisely reflecting he makes use of his robes to protect himself from, cold and heat. He uses his alms food as a prop and support to his body. He makes use of his dwellings to keep off the dangers of weather, and to enjoy solitude. He makes use of medicines to suppress feelings of illness to reach freedom from suffering. (Buddhist Dictionary-Nyanatiloka BPS)

A Bikkhu who is disciplined thus is worthy of being honoured, worthy of offerings by the lay followers. When the Buddha had 60 disciples with him, he asked them to go out in to the world, not two in the same direction to spread his teachings, not to convert anyone, but to receive only those who come to them inspired by them, taking them as an outward example of the Dhamma they preach. They were all Noble Aryans who had attained purity of mind.

The Buddha had Kings as his devoted lay disciples. But the Buddha did not interfere into the state affairs of the Kings. He gave advise to the Kings only when he was asked. King Bimbisara was the King of Magadha, who was a disciple of the Buddha. In his later life he was imprisoned by his son Ajatasattu, and starved to death. But even then the Buddha did not intervene, as it was an affair of the Kingdom.

The Buddha was to show the path of deliverance from suffering, and in that noble mission he did not interfere in to the affairs of the State.

The Buddha spoke of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, as the Triple Gem. In one of his Suttas (Dhajaggha Sutta) Buddha tells his disciples that , if they have any fear, or terror that makes their hair stands on end, to think of the Buddha and his noble qualities, if not think of the teachings, or the Sangha.

In asking them to think of sangha to drive away fear or terror he describes the Sangha as follows: "…… …….Of good conduct is the Order of Disciples of the Blessed One, of upright conduct is the Order of Disciples of the Blessed One, of wise conduct is the Order of Disciples of the Blessed One, of dutiful conduct is the Order of Disciples of the Blessed One. This Order of Disciples of the Blessed One — namely those four pairs of persons,( the eight kinds of individuals) is worthy of offerings, is worthy of hospitality, is worthy of gifts, is worthy of reverential salutations, is an incomparable field of merit for the world.' "

Such are the incomparable qualities of the Sangha. Every Buddhist pays homage to the Buddha Dhamma and Sangha twice every day. In paying homage to the Sangha he says:

The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples has entered on the good way;
The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples has entered on the straight way;
The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples has entered on the true way;
The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples has entered on the proper way;
that is to say : the Four Pairs of Men, the Eight Types of Persons;
the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is fit for gifts, fit for hospitality,
fit for offerings, and fit for reverential salutation,as the incomparable field of merit for the world.

This is the Sangha to who we pay homage. Are the Sangha to-day, the representative of the Great Noble Disciples of the Buddha, have the worthy qualities of a true Sangha ?

There are some, who are pious, respectable, following the path shown by the Buddha, but many are unfortunately far from the expected norm of a Buddhist Monk.

Is being a Director of a Company, a President of a Trade Union, Parliamentarian, or an Administrator,- keeping the Ajiva Parisuddha Seela ( the role for which the Buddha prepared his Order of Sangha )?

In an interview with Uditha Jayasinghe of the BottomLine on the 17 September, 2008 Bonupitiye Nagatissa thero, has said that a Buddhist Priest should be appointed to every Board of Directors of every Public Institution. Nagatissa Thera is sadly unaware that the role of a Buddhist Priests is not to combat corruption in the Companies of the public or private sector, but to follow the path shown by the Buddha and be an example to people, leaving the governance to the government.

Nagatissa thera had said that, he was offered the post by the President for the services he rendered during the Presidential elections, if it is so, it is a wrong decision taken by the President. The President should be requested by the Maha Nayake theros that the President should have consulted the Mahasangha in offering a government post to a member of the Order of the Sangha.

There was corruption even during the time of the Buddha, but his teachings was to change the minds of the people so that they would turn out to be honourable lay persons, who will not indulge in any form of corruption. Bonupitiye Nagatissa thero speaks of his work as the Director of the Cement Factory, as the most important work that can be done by a patriot. But he has forgotten that the vocation for which he donned a yellow robe is not to be a patriot, but a Buddhist priest first.

It is not only in Government Institutions there is corruption, but the Army and the Police Force were also accused of corruption. If that is so, Bonupitiye Nagatissa thera could propose appointment of Buddhist Priests to the Army and Police as well. If the Buddhist Priests wants to curb corruption, they can seek employment every where, such as the CTB, Fisheries Department, Health Services etc……..,? Then the lay people may have to take to doing the work of the Sangha !

This is a dangerous sign of the decadence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Bonupitiye Nagatissa is just talking to justify his claim to deviate from his vocation for which he donned a robe, to take over the role of a "householder"- to be a layman in robes.

It is the corruption of the Buddha Sasana that should occupy the interest of the Maha Nayaka Theros of Malwatta Asgiriya, and not to interfere into the affairs of the government such as demanding that S.B.Dissanayake should be admitted to the Parliament.

The admission or not of S.B.Dissanayake to the Parliament, is a secular matter that should not be the concern of the Maha Nayaka Theros. On the other hand the Maha Nayaka Theros could advice the President the danger of admitting a Buddhist Monk to the Board of Directors of the Lanka Cement Factory.

It would be wise for the Maha Nayaka Theros to call for a Council of the Sangha, to reorganize, reform, and revitalise the Buddha Sasana, and make a collective effort to make the Order of Sangha worthy of offerings, worthy of hospitality, worthy of gifts, worthy of reverential salutations, an incomparable field of merit for the world, as it had been before, weeding out Bikkhus with new ideas contradictory to the teachings of the Buddha.

In defence of his accepting the post of a Director in the Cement factory Nagatissa thera had said, that the leading priests of the Vidyalankara Pirivena released a decree stating that any act, so long as it is for the benefit of the public, and the development of the nation is acceptable for priests to perform. This is the very reason for the Mahanayaka Theros to intervene to make things clear to the Order of the Sangha, that no individual or groups of monks could interpret the Vinaya rules, or make directives that negate teachings, creating precedents that are harmful to Buddhism.

Siam Nikaya had failed in the past to maintain the high standard expected of the Monks of the Buddhsit order of Sangha. The other two Nikayas had been more progressive, though even among them there is now a decline of discipline.

I have met some Priests from the Siam Nikaya, who told me that all Priests are not expected to meditate, because according to them there are two categories of monks, one the literary monks –the Granta Dura, and the other the meditating monks-Dhamma Dura. This appears to be categories imagined by these monks. Buddha has not made that difference.

The main cause of the present sad state of the Order of Sangha is the University education to the Monks. If we are to make the Order of Sangha in Sri Lanka an example of virtue and discipline , Privena System of education has to be re-established.

Along with that the Priests in temples must invariably be made to take to meditation. For that to happen every temple should have necessary meditation huts and meditation instructors. In most of the temples the Priests have nothing to do, and therefore they get involved in activities not fit to a Priest. Empty minds are the devils workshop, therefore only way to correct the situation is to make the young monks to meditate. It should be made an essential part of the training of a monk.

All secular matters pertaining to a temple should be handed over to a Committee of lay Dayakas, so that even litigation could be handled by such Committees avoiding the Buddhists Priests having to attend Courts of Law.

One asks the question why it is always a layman who takes the cause of Buddhism, while the Order of the Sangha is busy secularising the Buddhism. There was then Anagarika, Dharmapala and Later L.H.Mettanada, who did yeoman service to Buddha Sasana. We have to await another lay Buddhist to call for reforms, and save Buddhism from its enemies inside and outside.
- Sri Lanka Guardian