Poson Reflections | Sunday Observer

Poson Reflections

28 May, 2023

As an Enlightened One who advocated an end to suffering and the endless circle of rebirth, the Buddha did not believe all that much in making predictions, unlike many other sages who lived during His time. But one of Buddha’s rare predictions had indeed come true.

Well before his Parinibbana (Passing Away), the Buddha foresaw that the Dhamma would survive in its purest form in the island next door. The Buddha was no stranger to this island which we now call Sri Lanka, having visited it thrice.

Although there is a debate among scholars whether the Buddha himself propagated the Dhamma here, there is no doubt that a confluence of factors led to Sri Lanka becoming a repository of the Dhamma later on. One was the rise of Emperor Ashoka, who saw the path to salvation through Buddhism, having conquered many lands and killed thousands. He gave up that all-conquering lifestyle and embraced the Buddha’s word, becoming known as Dharmashoka in the process.


Having seen the potential of Buddhism for changing lives and indeed, whole countries, Emperor Dharmashoka desptached delegations carrying the message of Buddhism to various countries in the region. He had a special place in his heart for the island next door, for he chose his own son, Arahat Mahinda, for the Dhamma mission there.

That seminal event at Mihintale, Anuradhapura, where the then ruling King Devanampiyatissa embraced the sublime message of Buddhism espoused by Arahat Mahinda and his retinue, marked a turning point in our history. It gave rise to a whole new civilisation based on Buddhism and later agriculture that continues to nurture Sri Lanka to this day. Although there are several other Theravada Buddhist countries, there is no other multi-ethnic country where Buddhism has permeated every segment of society and touched even the lives of followers of other religions. Indeed, many “Buddhist” practices are now followed by the other communities and religious groups. And Buddhist events such as Vesak and Poson are marked by everyone.

There are many who question why Sri Lanka is increasingly mired in crime and other vices, despite being the land of the Dhamma. This is a country which has around 10 24/7 Buddhist radio and TV channels, not to mention those giving prominence to other religions. This alone should ideally lead to a pious society. But the problem seems to be that people have veered away from the Dhamma (and also from the messages of the other religions), leading to a loss of moral values, compassion and merit (good deeds), in the relentless pursuit of material wealth.

Temple should become the focal point

This Poson, the temple should again become the focal point as the society’s moral compass that guides Buddhists on the correct path shown by the Dhamma. A similar approach should be undertaken by Churches, Mosques and Kovils around the country.

Bhikkhus rarely visit the homes of their devotees, except for religious functions associated with funerals. This should change. They should visit the homes of the faithful in the neighbourhood at least once a month and discuss any problems that they are facing. Perhaps such an open discussion could prevent the problems from assuming calamitous proportions that may even end up in murder.

The time-honoured nexus among the chief priest, school principal and the veda mahattaya (indigenous physician) no longer exists in many villages and towns. This tradition too should be revived, as they are the most respected in any given village and can advice the villagers in any situation.

Indeed, more attention should be paid to the discipline of schoolchildren. Two recent incidents have again highlighted the dire need for this. The mysterious death of a 16-year-old girl in Kalutara under questionable circumstances is one incident. Although the full details are yet to be revealed, the parents should have kept a closer eye on their daughter and advised her more sternly. In another incident, several schoolboys in Puttalam have reportedly assaulted a teacher who advised them on matters of discipline.

One common streak that runs through most of these incidents is the lack of religious (Dhamma) education. Although all Governments have made attempts to prohibit tuition classes on Sundays, when religious schools of all religions are usually held, they have proved to be unsuccessful.

The latest proposal is to make religious school attendance compulsory for all students, though we believe that this should be up to the parents and teachers. But some form of religious education, either in the regular school or in a dedicated Sunday school, is essential to arrest some of the alarming trends we witness in society today.

Establishment of the Sangha Order

The arrival of Arahat Mahinda not only marked the genesis of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, but also the establishment of the Sangha Order here. Historical records indicate that thousands of Arahats were present in Anuradhapura and several other cities at any given time. As indicated above, the Maha Sangha has a major role to play in moulding the character of young people and others in society through their sermons and advice. But with only around 32,000 bhikkus for the entire island, this is no easy task. Clearly, the Sangha Order has to expand and for that to happen, certain factors that prevent some young people from joining it must be addressed. Pirivena education should be expanded, with an emphasis on foreign languages such as French, Spanish and German so that our bhikkus can propagate the Dhamma in foreign lands, in the tradition of Arahat Mahinda.

Poson is the second most important event for Buddhists in Sri Lanka next to Vesak, which marks three important milestones in the Buddha’s life. Just as Poson was a turning point for our nation more than 2,000 years ago, it can also be a turning point in our very lives, if we seek to live by the tenets of the Dhamma espoused by the Buddha and Arahat Mahinda. We must get closer to the Dhamma (and whatever other religion we follow) and strive to lead pious lives. If practiced on a mass scale, it will lead to a society that knows no evil or vice.