Is Buddhism being betrayed in Lanka?

By B.W., an English Buddhist
I am British. I converted to Buddhism a few years ago in the UK. Who is a Buddhist? is a question that I have repeatedly asked myself after having visited your country. Many of us have read widely on Buddhism and cannot therefore come to terms with what we see around us in Sri Lanka. Hence our question.

The problem that confronts us is this - we have abandoned God because science has disproved creation and undermined the concept of an omnipotent God. We had been attracted to Buddhism which states that the human mind creates God, hell and heaven.

Buddhism takes up the position that we ourselves can be in the driving seat and steer our own lives without a supernatural God or Gods that can help us through life. Buddhism speaks of programming our computer - our brain, through meditation, and by leading a moral life of love for our fellow beings whilst being at the same time detached from this material world, for everything is impermanent, and material acquisitions will not bring peace of mind and happiness.

This, we Westerners find wholly attractive but what do we find here? What we find here which passes off as Buddhism is most disturbing to us, Here are some observations which we hope will elicit answers from erudite Sri Lankan Buddhists, Whilst we understand that the

Buddha paid homage to the Pipal tree that gave him shelter from the sun and rain – and what has come to be called the Bodhi tree, we cannot understand why people here worship every Pipal tree. Neither can we understand the concept of the statue worship why build beautiful statues, call them statues of the Buddha, (the Buddha was a great human being who would in those times have neither cut his hair nor shaved his beard - to look nice for that was totally against what he preached) at every street corner. The statues may remind us of HIS message to be gentle, be kind, to be thoughtful, to be caring, to be compassionate, to be loving, to be reasonable, to be generous, to be tolerant but what we have seen and discovered is the very opposite.

We do not see the message of the Buddha being practiced. We see that the Buddha has been transformed into a God to whom people make offerings, pray and even ask for forgiveness!

I have in recent times come across a booklet titled The Mirror of the Dhamma by two celebrated Sri Lankan monks, the Ven. Narada Thero and the Ven Kassapa Thero. On page 6 is the following sentence in Pali from a Gatha –

Buddhe yo kalitho dosa - Buddha kamathu tam mamam meaning

-– given as if

– the Buddha I have wronged, May the Buddha bear with me -

Did not the Buddha attain Nibbana and is this not the very anti-thesis of Buddhism? I found many such examples even one where the Buddha is asked to forgive any indiscretion by thought word or deed -

Kayena vacha chiitena, pamadena mayakatan; Achhayan Kamame Bhante Buri pagna Thathagathe

– which has been translated as

– If O Thathagatha, if I have committed any wrong by thought word or deed I implore you to forgive me!

In this same book have I found Gathas offering flowers, incense and even food to the Buddha - then you also Pray, repeat Pray in Paali at the Stupa I always thought that a Theravada Buddhist had no one to pray to. I am constantly reminded of the first and second Dhammapada which extols that the Mind of man is the forerunner of all things; and also another Dhammapada (in Paali) which states –

Aththahi aththano natho kohinatho parosiya.

Which in translation means: You and you alone are the master of your destiny.

I am indeed confused because unlike in Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada does not accept the concept of the living Buddha. What is being practiced is not Buddhism but Priest craft which has come to pass off as Buddhism. Yes you seem to be transforming the Buddha into a God and forgetting the essence, which is the message.

What are the principal components of the message, as we from the west understand it? (I presume that the Buddhists of Sri Lanka understand it to be the same). The central conception of Buddhism would be the Four Noble Truths namely the recognition of a universal symptom that our very existence is not wholly satisfactory, that we are all subject to decay, pain, grief, despair, separation, suffering and death.

The Buddha traced the cause of this situation and showed the way out of this unsatisfactory situation. This comprised the Four Noble Truths relating to our existence.

The Buddha set out ten precepts which if observed contributes to a moral life. He also us out the Eight-fold path such as Right Action, Right Speech, Right Effort etc and the ten characteristics we should cultivate to achieve perfection - which are referred to as the Das Parami – then there are the four pillars of Buddhism. Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity. the Buddha said that we should conduct ourselves in a moral manner and through meditation we could achieve wisdom - what is referred to as Sila, Samadhi and Pangna.

This, to us from the west, is Buddhism - not the worship of statues, trees and monuments, rituals and ceremonies. Why do you recite the great sermons preached by the Buddha in Paali as if they are Mantras (Pirith) - is it not the meaning of what HE preached that is important? - are you not missing the wood for the trees? Have you not created a Religion like all other religions of this world, in the commonest sense of that word, with a sort of God King (some have even incorporated the Hindu Gods) and called it Buddhism - to my mind it is an absolute sacrilege to refer to your religion as Buddhism - it has nothing to do with actual Buddhism, it is some pagan religion and the very anti-thesis of what the Buddha preached.

Could someone please explain.