Full Moon Poya Day of Unduvap – 2552

by Walter Wijenayake

(December 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today, December 12, 2008, falls the Full Moon Poya Day of Unduvap as per the Gregorian calendar. It is the 2552nd year since the final passing away of the Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gauthama Buddha.

The poya begins at 01.57 a.m. today and concludes at 10.07 p.m. tomorrow. The day set apart for the observance of sil is today.

Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka consider this day to be of special significance because Theri Sangamitta, the daughter of Emperor Dharmasoka, arrived in this country bringing with her a sapling of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi from Buddha Gaya to be planted in Anuradhapura and the establishment of Bhikkhuni Sasana in the island.

On her tour, she was accompanied by eleven Arahat Bhikkhunis, members of Kshatriya families, Brahmins, ministers and noblemen in the emperor’s court.

In accordance with recorded history, the emperor of India and the King of Sri Lanka, Emperor Dharmasoka and King Devanampiyatissa respectively, were friends though they had never seen each other. It is said that the king of Sri Lanka sent envoys to his friend in India with costly presents. In return the Emperor Dharmasoka gratefully sent an embassy of his chosen ministers with gifts and the following message:

‘I have taken refuge in the Buddha, His Dhamma and the Sangha. I have declared myself a lay disciple in the religion of the Sakya son, seek then even thou, O, best of men, converting thy mind with believing heart,take refuge in these best of gems.’ Thus was the ground prepared for the mission of Arahat Maha Mahinda Thera to Sri Lanka.

On a Poson Full Moon Poya Day, 236 years after the final passing away of the Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gauthama Buddha, the Arahat Maha Mahinda Thera arrived in Sri Lanka when King Devanampiyatissa ruled the country and established the Buddha Sasana and founded the Order of Sangha (Sangha Sasana). The king along with people in large numbers sought refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. When the Maha Thera had thus planted the faith in this country and constituted the Bhikkhu Sasana, there came the urge from the women-folk to enter the order of nuns, the Bhikkhuni Sasana.

Queen Anula, the consort of an Uparaja (Sub-King) named Mahanaga, with 500 of her attendant ladies, having listened to the discourses, gained mental attainments and implored Arahat Mahinda Thera to grant them ordination. As he was not able to give ordination to women-folk in accordance with the Vinaya rules, he suggested to the king that that his sister Sangamitta, who was then a bhikkhuni in India, be invited to come to Sri Lanka to bestow ordination on those desirous of it and thus establish the bhikkhuni order in Sri Lanka. The king then made all arrangements to dispatch a deputation to India headed by one of his ministers, Aritta to Emperor Dharmasoka, intimating to him the wish of Mahinda Thera and himself.

As suggested by the Arahat Mahinda Maha Thera, the emperor sent his daughter Arahat theri Sangamitta to this country with a sapling of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Theri Sangamitta left India from the port of Tamralipti (Tamluk). The ship arrived at the port of Jambukola in seven days. The King Devanampiyatissa received the Theri and the sapling with great honour and full of devout feelings. The Bo sapling was deposited in a golden casket and placed in a pavilion on the sea coast and ceremonies were performed for 10 days. After the conclusion of the formal ceremonies, the sapling was brought to Anuradhapura, placing it on a well- decorated chariot.

It was planted with magnificent splendour and ceremonially in the Maha Megha Garden where it still exists and receives the veneration of millions of devotees. Thus Arahat Sangamitta Maha theri was responsible for the introduction of the worship of the Bodhi tree at the invitation of the King Devanampiyatissa in 246 BC.

The main purpose of Arahat Sangamitta Theri was to introduce the Bhikkuni Sasana to this country. Queen Anula, the consort of Mahanaga, the Uparaja, along with a retinue of over 500 women expressed their desire to be ordinated as bhikkunis. The Maha Theri performed her historic task of conferring Pabbaja ordination on Princes Anula who was ordained as the first Sinhala bhikkuni in Sri Lanka. A thousand of her companions who had renounced the lay life and were observing Dasa Sil too were given Pabbaja on the same day. Thus there began a new era in the ecclesiastical life of the Bhikkuni Sasana.

She lived with the bhikkhunis at the ‘Upasika Viharaya’ which was enlarged by the addition of another 12 buildings. She gave ordination not only to Princess Anula and members of the royalty and higher strata of society, but to all, irrespective of their standard in society. Women from all walks of life joined the order, following in the footsteps of Buddha, who treated women with consideration and civility and pointed out to them too, the path to peace, purity and sanctity. She did all in her power to raise woman -kind from lower levels to higher levels of life. She worked with unflagging devotion and undaunted courage for the moral, intellectual and spiritual uplift of the womenfolk of this country.

Buddhism makes no distinction among sexes with regard to doctrinal matters. All follow the same doctrine and discipline, set forth by the Buddha.

Arahat Sangamitta passed away at the age of 79 while residing at Hatthaloka Upasikaramaya at Anuradhapura and her last rites were performed by King Utthiya at a place close to Sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

The bhikkhuni order established in this country, lasted for over a 1000 years

and disappeared after the fall of Anuradhapura to the Cholian invaders in 1015 BC. They ruled the country for about 60 years. Some monks managed to flee to India and Maldives islands and lived there till the country was liberated by the King Vijayabhahu I. The other monks fled to the interior and remote parts in Ruhuna and returned later. The nuns – the bhikkhunis- were not able to engaged in this procedure and as a result the bhikkhuni order became defunct and has never been revived. At this juncture, King Vijayabhahu I moved his capital to Polonnaruwa where the Sinhala culture and life-style came under Dravidian influence. Hindu gods were admitted to Buddhist temples. The South Indian caste system was copied here.

The practice of astrology, charms, talismen, all-night Pirith ceremonies were done, imitating Brahmin customs. The laws of Manu were adopted by the rulers. In this manner the woman were downgraded. They were not entitled to an independent life. The woman was to be under the control of a man as daughter, wife and in widowhood under a son. This was the state of affairs until the British conquered the island. The only religious freedom Sinhalese women had was to observe the eight or ten precepts on Poya days and get back to household life immediately after.

After all, Siam Nikaya, Amrapura Nikaya and Ramanna Nikaya were established in the island for bhikkhus. The women who aspired renunciation were told that they cannot be ordained as bhikkhunis, because in the absence of bhikkhunis the monks are not in a position to give them senior ordination (Upasampada) according to Vinaya rules. They were asked to wait until Maitriya Buddha appeared on earth.

Covering a new page in the history of Buddha Sasana on December 8, 1996 at the Mulagandhakuti premises, Saranath, in Isipathana in Uttar Predesh in India, 10 Dasa Sil Mathas from Sri Lanka were ordained.

These 10 bhikkunis were given residence at a special Upasikaramaya at the Maha Bodhi Centre premises in Saranath. They were taught Hindi, English, Bhikkuni Vinaya and higher knowledge of the Dhamma. Thus they were given a training course of one year.
- Sri Lanka Guardian