The Dream That Came True !
In October of 2003 we went on a pilgrimage to India, organized by the Mahamevnawa Monastery, with a group of around five hundred devotees. While there, we were engaged in a lengthy discussion with Ven. Pelawatte Seevali Thero – the former head of Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka, on the strategies to foster a Buddhist revival. The topic – ‘2550th Buddha Jayanthi’ was discussed there. As the Vesak Full Moon Day of year 2006 would mark the 2550th anniversary of Great Parinibbana (passing-away forever) of the Buddha, we discussed how to commemorate this rare event. There, it was decided that it would be auspicious to conduct a ten-day chanting of the Tipitaka led by all the temples in Buddha Gaya that follow the Theravada tradition. Accordingly, Ven. Seevali Thero and I met with the chief monks of all the Theravada temples in Buddha Gaya for a discussion. Though all of them liked the idea very much, they were unsure how to conduct such a chanting. Neither did we have any prior experience of such a thing. However, I developed all initial plans required as it was important that the chanting of the Tipitaka take place.
Upon returning to Sri Lanka with this exciting idea, I trained fifty monks of the Mahamevnawa Monastery on how to chant the Tipitaka appropriately. It was done in the Pali language. It was decided that monks from India, Bangladesh and Nepal would conduct the chanting together on one side, while monks from Thailand, Burma and Cambodia would do so separately. This was because of the distinct differences in the pronunciation. Monks from those countries found it difficult to pronounce the syllables as well as we do.
Our student monks were able to chant the Suttas from the Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya and other Nikaya texts successfully with much devotion. Accordingly, in the month of February of the year 2006 (in which the Buddhaya Jayanthi is celebrated as per the practice adopted in India), the chanting of Tipitaka led by the monks from the Mahamevnawa Monastery was inaugurated in front of the Vajrasanaya in Buddha Gaya. All the monks who participated, representing Theravada Buddhist countries, were greatly stimulated by this event. The chanting commenced with the Dhammachakkapawattana Sutta – the first sermon delivered by the Buddha. His Holiness Dalai Lama also participated at the inaugural ceremony and recited the Dhammachakkapavattana Sutta, according to the Theravada tradition, by following the script given to him by us. The chanting was a great success. All those who were delighted, requested strongly that the chanting to be conducted annually. The sponsorship and support was given by a lady belonging to the Mahayana tradition and also by the Sri Lankan devotees.
A very saddening fact that we observed during this event was that, none of the Indian monks were able to recite the Suttas with adequate clarity. No one had even provided them with any assistance in that regard. Therefore, during my whole of a three month stay in Buddha Gaya for the rainy season retreat in the year 2007, I trained a group, exceeding fifty in number, of monks who were from India and Bangladesh; on the correct way to pronounce and recite many suttas including Dhammachakkapavattana Sutta, Anattalakkhana Sutta as well as the Suttas in the Majjhima Nikaya etc. starting with the three refuges. This as well was a success.
While this chanting of Tipitaka continued annually, monks from Thailand showed a desire to assume the leadership role in the event. The lady belonging to the Mahayana tradition (mentioned earlier) was also induced for the same. Disgusted by this, I opted out of the chanting. The last chanting of the Tipitaka conducted under my leadership was held in the year 2008. In response to an accusation raised by some Sri Lankan monks, as to why only monks from Mahamevnawa Monastery participated in this chanting, it was decided to reduce the number of monks from the Mahamevnawa to twenty five, and to obtain the participation of monks from other temples to make up the balance. That too was done by us in all good faith, knowing well the value of an act of merit.
While the chanting of Tipitaka was being conducted at Buddha Gaya in February 2008, we were engaged in a discussion about the Buddhist Era (Year). An idea was put forward by me that the year 2011 would mark the completion of 2555 years from the Great Parinibbana and further, since the attainment of Enlightenment was 45 years prior to that, the year 2011 would also signify the completion of 2600 years from the attainment of Enlightenment – ‘Sambuddhathva Jayathi’. We discussed about this concept with our Ven. Pelawatte Seevali Thero as well as Ven. Gallehapitiye Pemarathana thero – who was in charge of organizing the activities relating to the chanting. The idea was received with great appreciation. I earnestly requested from Most Ven. Thirikunamale Ananda – Deputy Chief thero, to take this concept forward, as if it was presented by me; it would have been quite possible for the concept to get suppressed by certain monks. Ven. thero greatly appreciated my proposal.
I remained at the Budu Nuwana (Mahamevnawa) Monastery at Buddha Gaya for some time, thereafter. When I returned to Sri Lanka there were elegant banners shown everywhere; proclaiming ‘Let us Join in Practice to commemorate the 2600th Anniversary of the Enlightenment (Sri Sambuddhatwa Jayanthiya)’. I was greatly elated on seeing these. Had not I put forward this idea of mine on that occasion at Buddhaya Gaya, it would not have been possible at all to witness this awakening that is to be seen today. Even the ‘Sambuddhatwa Jayanthi Mandiraya’ that has come-up in Colombo would never have been constructed. None of the various meritorious activities, ceremonies, seminars and plans executed by the Government and leading monks; would have seen the light of day. To reminisce on the thought that all of these have occurred owing to the devout concept that arose in my mind, indeed gives immense pleasure.
In this way, as an enormous awakening was emerging in Sri Lanka stimulated by the Sambuddhatwa Jayanthi concept, I too thought in solitude as to what should be done through the Mahamevnawa Monastery. As a result; it was decided that a chanting of Tipitaka to be conducted for the duration of a whole year, at the selected main sites of the Mahamevnawa. It was thought as an attempt to train preacher (bhanaka) monks who would be capable of memorizing and retaining the content of the Tipitaka. Then we decided that by way of commemorative offerings of tribute, Sthupas be built and saplings of Sri Maha Bodhi Tree be planted. Accordingly, a 107 foot high colossal Stupa was erected, named the ‘Siri Gautama Sambudu Maha Seya’, at the Mahamevnawa Monastery located at Kundasale, Kandy!
The 2600th Sri Sambuddhatwa Jayanthi brings together several jubilations. The Esala Full Moon Day of the same year constitutes: the 2600th anniversary (Jayanthi) of the delivery of the very first sermon by supreme Buddha; and the establishment of the ‘Order of the Sangha’ i.e. the Arya Sangha Jayanthi. As such, it becomes a splendid Year of Triple Jubilees indeed! The chanting of the Tipitaka as well as the emergence of Sangha disciplined in the code of Dhamma Discipline (Vinaya) constitutes a felicitation of the Arya Sangha Jayanthi! The massive Stupa, named ‘Siri Gautama Damsak Maha Seya‘ opened on Esala full moon day, at the Mahamevnawa Monastery, Polgahawela constitutes a felicitation of the Dhamma Chakka Jayanthi!
At the time when the Supreme Buddha was alive, it was the practice observed by his disciples to place both hands together in a gesture of worship and greet each other by saying ‘Namo Buddhaya’, whenever they met. Owing to the influence of this ancient Buddhist practice, today, whenever Hindus meet one-another, they too bring their hands together and say ‘Namo Narayana’ or ‘Oh Namah Shivaya’. Some Buddhists too say ‘Namo Sairam’ when they enter the ashram of Sai Baba. But the words ‘Namo Buddhaya’ have been forgotten by the Buddhists. I realized that these old values must be rekindled. Accordingly, I made a request from devotees on this Sri Sambuddhatwa Jayanthi Vesak Full Moon Day that the greeting ‘Namo Buddhaya’ should be brought back into usage once again. This is a noble phrase that had been in use in our country for several centuries earlier. ‘Namo Buddhaya’ means ‘May this Salutation be to the Supreme Buddha’. The four-fold disciples, who have recognized the three refuges, use the phrase ‘Namo Buddhaya’ quite happily today.
Similarly, the ‘Sri Gautama Bodhi Mandapaya‘ was inaugurated on Unduwap Full Moon Day in the year 2011 at the Mahamevnawa Monastery, Polgahawela. In this way, when there was much awakening created throughout the Mahamevnawa Monasteries, I began to contemplate on what should be done to make this awakening last over a long period of time. As a result, a thought arose that a Vihara in the likeness of a royal palace should be erected as a tribute to the attainment of enlightenment of. Accordingly, the construction of an incomparable Vihara, named ‘Siri Gautama Sambuddha Raja Maligawa‘ was planned by me. I put in a lot of effort to search through the internet for various structures of mansions, as well as of the colossal mansions for the Hindu deities in India. Ultimately, a brilliant design that is very unique and independent of any such mansion existing – came to my mind.
The palace, which is over hundred feet tall, is comprised of two floors. In the ground floor a marvelous statue of Gautama the Buddha seated on the Vajrasana depicting the moment of attaining invincible omniscience (Samma Sambuddhahood) is shown. The Vajrasana which emerges from a seat of elephants (Gajasana) display a row of mischievous tuskers. On either side of the statue the worshiping ‘Earth’ and the joyful Devas and Brahmas in their dancing posture are shown. Twenty four large paintings depicting various incidents in the life of the Buddha add imposing splendor to this grand temple palace.
On the right side of the door-way of the main entrance, the earth-shattering incident of making magnanimous donations by our Bodhisatva in one of his births as the king Vessantara can be seen. Just upon entering the palace, the four Buddhas: Kakusanda – Konagamana – Kassapa and Gaurama are illustrated above the massive door-way. If one looks-up just after entering the palace, our Bodhisatva swimming with his mother on his back (an incident occurred twenty immeasurable aeons ago), can be seen. On the left of this, the ascetic Sumedha being given the definitive prediction of Buddha-hood is shown. On its right side, queen Mahamaya’s dream is painted. The marvelous last birth of the Bodhisatva as the prince Siddhartha is depicted below that. On the left of this is a picture of the Deva – Santhusitha and Brahma – Ghateekara. On the right side a beautiful statue of god Sakka is sculpted. Next, a life-like statue of great Arahath Maha Kassapa who spent an austere way of life is placed. In the left hand side room a beautiful statue of the Buddha – in the posture of delivering the Dhammachakkapavattana Sutta is presented. This has been sculptured as Him being seated on the seat of deers (Migasanaya). As one proceeds after worshiping the main statue, a statue of the reclining Buddha in the Parinibbana Posture, is on the right side. Passing this statue, one can see a life-like statue of Arahant Ananda. Like in a royal palace, relevant paintings are fixed at appropriate places.
There are two sections on the upper story. The main section is named the ‘Vedahindina Maligawa‘ – where the sacred relics of the Buddha are deposited. The other section is named as the ‘Pattirippuwa’ (Octagon) and is assigned for bhikkus to engage themselves in meditation. The giant Buddhist flags that are well fixed at the top radiate like the rays of the Buddha from the upper story. On either side in the upper story statues of Buddha in the standing posture are to be found. In the centre is our Bodhisatva engaged in self-mortification, with full of determination. The completion of construction of the ‘Sri Sambuddha Raja Maligawa’ within a short space of just one year and with such a marvelous finishing, makes me think that this is a beneficial outcome of the wholesome deeds performed by us during this Samsara. It is evident to anyone who visits here, that the various activities carried out by me; with great faith and devotion in the dispensation of the Buddha Gautama, has resulted in the fostering the same among both devas and human beings. It is in this way that the concept of ‘Sri Sambuddhatwa Jayanthi’ that arose in the mind of a single monk was materialized for the well-being of devas and humans. That very thought makes be happy beyond words.
Ven. Kiribatgoda Gnanananda Thero