Significance of Poson (and Politicians)

Significance of Poson

Daily News Editorial

A deer running for its life through the verdant jungle. A king in pursuit, with a deadly arrow about to be unleashed. A retinue eagerly waiting for the kill to applaud their King’s mastery of archery. Then a voice calling the King by name – Tissa, Tissa. No one would dare call the King by his name, so where did that voice come from?

The King wondered and looked up at mountain looming above him. There he saw a calm, peaceful sage-like figure with a group of followers beckoning him to come over. “Dear King (Devanampiyatissa), I have come from Jambudeepa with the message of the Buddha” were his words. Thus began the most famous exchange of words between Arahat Mahinda, Emperor Dharmasoka’s son and special envoy who brought Buddhism, India’s greatest gift to Sri Lanka. Before long, the Arahat and King Devanampiyatissa were having a very productive conversation which led to the King and his team embracing Buddhism.

Image from Island

This event, which occurred more than 23 centuries ago at Mihintale, would lay the very foundation for our civilization centred on Buddhism, irrigation and agriculture. Buddhism has been influencing our lives and society since then, becoming a way of life for millions of people. The values espoused by the Buddha have permeated our society, regardless of religious differences.

In the words of eminent scholar the late Dr. G.P. Malalasekara “if the criterion of the greatness of that movement be the beneficial influence it has exerted on the character on those who came under its sway, then certainly the mission of Asoka to Lanka has been among the greatest civilizing influences of the world for it bequeathed to the Sinhalese a gentleness of disposition, a love of peace, a nobility and refinement of character of which neither the ravages of times, nor centuries of ruthless warfare, nor the insidious attacks of modern commercialism have succeeded in depriving them”.

Today, Poson Poya Day, Buddhists throughout Sri Lanka will mark this momentous event that literally shaped our history and destiny. Pilgrims in their thousands will flock to Mihintale, the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka where Arahat Mahinda delivered the first sermon and also to nearby Anuradhapura, the very centre of the country’s Buddhist civilization and cultural ingenuity.

According to Buddhist chronicles, the Buddha himself had visited Sri Lanka during the 5th month, fifth year and eighth year of his Enlightenment. However, Buddhism did not gain a foothold in Sri Lanka until the advent of Arahat Mahinda, with the residents following various superstitious beliefs and practices. Buddhists believe that the Buddha himself pre-destined Sri Lanka to become the main centre of pure Theravada Buddhism.

One of the salient features of Buddhism is tolerance for other beliefs and religions. Sri Lankans of different faiths and communities have lived together in harmony for centuries. Even though we liberally use the term “ethnic conflict” to describe the war that ended in 2009, there was no animosity between the ordinary Sinhalese and Tamil people. It was politicians on both sides who created this monstrous conflict.

Today, there are attempts by certain politicians and their henchmen to sow the seeds of religious and ethnic discord again for their political advantage. Ethnic discord is the only way out for these politicians rejected by the masses at every turn. They will gladly pit one community against another if it achieves their political aims. The Police and Government agencies must take stern action against these rabble rousing elements aiming to destabilize the country.

These groups are spreading various canards to end the unity among various communities. One such blatant lie is that the Government is planning to take away Buddhism’s foremost state in the Constitution through the proposed new Constitution. The Government has on more than one occasion categorically denied any such move. Besides, no other religious community has asked for such a step at any time.

Religious leaders must come together to defuse any tensions at this moment when we are striving to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. They must act as a unifying force against the forces trying to tear the communities apart and warn the faithful on the sinister designs of such forces. No room should be allowed for any attempts to destroy the cohesiveness of the country’s social and religious fabric at this crucial juncture.

This Poson also comes right after one of the most calamitous events in recent history, a massive flood which killed more than 200 people. Most people have rightly channeled their Poson Amisa Pooja (material offerings) for the benefit of flood victims. It is indeed a time for helping each other and also reflecting on the impermanent nature of our very existence as espoused by the Buddha. The very resilience of Sri Lankans in the face of even the worst calamities such as the tsunami could be explained by the infusion of Buddhist thinking and values in our day to day life. Buddhism provides a refuge for our minds and this Poson, we should redouble our efforts to spread compassion to all fellow beings, human and animal