When I was nine years of age, I was taken by my father to Vajiraramaya to be ordained. When we got to know that the Most Venerable Madihe Paññasiha Mahanayaka Thera was residing at the Dharmayatanaya in Maharagama we went there. I was enthralled with what I saw at the Maharagama Dharmayatanaya, which was buzzing [...]

Sunday Times 2

Steering the Mahasangha on the correct path

The newly appointed Mahanayaka Thera of the Amarapura Sri Dhammarakshita Maha Nikaya,Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanyaka shares his views on the Mahasangha

When I was nine years of age, I was taken by my father to Vajiraramaya to be ordained. When we got to know that the Most Venerable Madihe Paññasiha Mahanayaka Thera was residing at the Dharmayatanaya in Maharagama we went there. I was enthralled with what I saw at the Maharagama Dharmayatanaya, which was buzzing with young monks; and even today I have vivid memories of my first impressions. When my father told the purpose of this visit to the Mahanayaka Thera we were directed to Venerable Ampitiye Rahula Thera. He told my father “Ah! This child is yet at an age of drinking milk. Please send him to school for another two years and bring him back.”

Even before the expiry of two years the Mahanayaka Thera sent a postcard to my father. The message was as follows. “Venerable Ampitiye Rahula Thera is coming to Trincomalee on September 24 (1964) for a sermon and on his return please send your son with him.”

Within a month of my coming to the Maharagama Dharmayatanaya, I was ordained and that was on October 25, 1964 under the tutelage of these two great monks. When introducing me, Venerable Rahula Nayaka Thera said with much glee that “I brought Ananda from Trincomalee to become a monk seated on my lap”.

Mahanayaka Thera of the Amarapura Sri Dhammarakshita Maha Nikaya,Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanyaka

Until I came to permanent residence at the Vajiraramaya (with the word ‘Siri’ added by me) in 2009, for 40 long years I was at the Maharagama Dharmayatanaya, a place hallowed by the presence of two great Venerable monks of rare qualities. Their exemplary life, their attitudes based on the Vinaya rules of discipline, their guidance and admonitions were a beacon light to the pupil monks living at the Dharmayatanaya of how a monastic life should be led.

The decline of the Sasana

Many say that we are witnessing a rapid decline of the Buddha Sasana. This so-called decline is to be seen in all four sectors of a Buddhist society, namely, monks and nuns and lay devotees, both men and women. A decline in the Sasana or the word of the Buddha does not happen automatically, it happens when there is a decline in noble practice. We also should accept the fact that much damage is done when the Dhamma is getting distorted both in written literature and in sermons. The Buddha once said that just as forests are lost by forest fires taking place in the forests themselves, the decadence of the Sasana occurs by the arising of impious forces within the Sasana itself.

The time has come for us to seriously reflect whether the objectives in the present education system for bhikkhus are met. There is no harm to make certain changes in bhikkhu education to meet current requirements. However, bhikkhu education should not lead them towards worldliness. On the contrary, it should invoke confidence in the Dhamma and bring about the necessary attitudinal changes to live the Dhamma. Language competence and some knowledge of modern technology will enable them to enter the modern world.Furthermore, some orientation will be needed to provide them the skill to use modern technology in an appropriate manner.

It will not be possible for us to stem the current trends of indiscipline among the members of the Sangha until and unless we reform the present system of bhikkhu education to meet modern needs whilst at the same time retaining the traditional value systems of bhikkhus in accordance with Sasana practices.

Unity of the Sangha

The dark clouds of imperialism still linger amongst us. The imperialists have realised that rather than invading a country to achieve their objectives it is far more cost-effective to achieve the same objectives stealthily over a period of time by creating dissension in a country and by arousing religious and racial disharmony. Promoting a multi-party political system is one such strategy. Terrorism unleashed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Prabhakaran is another stratagem. Religious conversions are another front. The UNHCR and its hostile activities in the guise of human rights violations, peace and reconciliation have the same objective.

The most powerful factor to avert all these adversities and to assure the furtherance of the Buddha Sasana, the long standing existence of the bhikkhu Sangha and the protection of the Buddhists is the unity of the Sangha. The potency of the Sangha has weakened considerably because of their division according to nikaya, province, caste, political affiliations. The unity of the Sangha is not merely the taking of alms together or being together at meetings. It is necessary to go beyond in order to give meaning to their belonging to a single monastic order of the Sakyaputta. The Sangha should have the unsurpassed strength with which it was possible in the days of the past even to bring back rulers to the correct path, without fear.

Protection of the Buddha Sasana

From the time the 2550th Buddha Jayanti was celebrated in 2006, important pieces of legislation were in the pipeline for the protection of the Buddha Sasana. The 2600th Sambuddhatva year came into being in 2011. The Prime Minister has been mentioning that he will be getting Parliamentary approval for six bills pertaining to Buddhism. Even after the lapse of eight years, the inability of getting a single bill passed is indeed very regrettable. We have to accept the fact that this situation has arisen because sufficient interest was not taken by both the government and responsible members of the Mahasangha.

Sangha leadership

It will be for the advancement of the Buddha Sasana if responsible Mahanayaka Theras of the three Nikayas take joint action in a manner that will empower Sangha leadership. The allegations or complaints of complacency made by young bhikkhus in the face of emerging issues are to some degree not unfounded. If a Sangha leadership for the elimination of many inimical forces that have arisen against the Buddha Sasana both from within the Sangha society and without, and for resolving other problems that had arisen pertaining to the Sasana does not come into being without any further delay through joint action, many other destructive actions that will bring discredit to the Buddha Sasana and to venerable bhikkhus are bound to arise from among us.

In this regard, please observe what is happening before our own eyes In Thailand, which until recent times was set as an example for development. Theravada Buddhist tradition that was a source of strength to that country is gradually getting eroded because of her forgetting her roots and her implementing an alien economic system based on western economic paradigms that cater to Westerners. Today, many foreigners come to Thailand not in search of the Buddha Dhamma but to appease their sexual desires and to gamble. It may be that that country truly believed that promoting tourism helps economic growth. An uprising, both societal and political, on an intensity that we had never heard in the past, has arisen in that country because of their pursuing a hedonistic policy cutting off the traditional roots.

Are we not going on the same path? Please reflect. It should not be forgotten that pursuing an aggressive economic policy to achieve a higher growth rate disregarding the spirituality and cultural roots of the people living in that country will in the long run be counter-productive although temporarily and in the short run it will be seen as development.

Monks in party politics

One of the reasons for the division of the Sangha is their engaging in party politics like laymen. It is necessary to contemplate as to why for over 2300 years of the history of our country, even when the country was in great distress, the members of the Mahasangha did not enter into politics or become rulers. When they were invited to take such leadership to save the country they accepted the invitation only after setting aside their robes and becoming lay persons.

It is clear from such actions the depth to which they were conscious of maintaining bhikkhu dignity, the power of the robe, and the accomplishments of being a bhikkhu. Because party politics today has become a vicious path and bhikkhus entering politics has affected Sangha unity and the good name of the Sangha, the time has come for the members of the Mahasangha to refrain from entering into politics and instead engage in showing the correct path of progress to the nation, in bringing about the welfare of the people both in this world and next, and in acting without jeopardising the respectable position they hold in society. It is necessary to reflect whether the highest mission of the members of the Mahasangha is to lead exemplary lives as scions of the Buddha (buddhaputra) rather than becoming scions of the people at large (janataputra).

The Sinhala people always like to live in concord. The Hindu Tamil people too like coexistence and peace. Many of the Muslims are the same. Therefore it is essential not only to thwart the attempts of external forces to destroy that unity but also to hold each others hands in concord for the development of our nation and our country. In this regard the following words that were repeatedly uttered by the Most Venerable Madihe Mahanayaka Thera since 1965 need to be especially emphasised -”The unity of the Sinhala people is the foundation of national unity; the unity among the Sinhala – Tamil – Muslim population is the foundation of the unity of the Nation”.

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