The Sunday TimesPlus

24th November 1996



Spreading the Buddha Dhamma

By Upali Salgado

The Vas season's religious activities end today, which is a full moon day. It was on this full moon day ("Il Poya") that the first sixty Arahants went out to preach the Buddha dharma. On that occasion, (that "Il poya day", about 2500 years ago) Gautama Buddha, the Perfect One said: "Go ye, O Bhikkus! go and wander for the welfare and happiness of the many in compassion for the world, for their good and happiness of gods and men. Let not two of you go in the same direction. Proclaim, the dharma that is excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end."

During the months August to November, when there is more rain than is usual in India and in Sri Lanka, one often hears at dawn, the reverberating sounds of drums followed by the sound of high pitched flutes. At dawn several processions headed by dancers tour the streets for several hours.

In these processions there is carried head high, a robe that is worn by Bhikkhus. This annual feature is seen only at this particular period of the year, in all Theravada Buddhist countries. This is one of the most important of Buddhist activities or rites performed for thousands of years.

When the Buddha had preached on Esala Poya day at the Deer Park, Saranath, to his former companions, the five ascetics who had led homeless lives like himself in search of truth, to end universal suffering (Dukkha) i.e.the Dhamma Chakka Pavaththana Sutta, which illuminated the world with the noble eight fold path, in the following month (August) the rainy (Vas) season began. It therefore became necessary that his disciples, who soon grew in numbers remained indoors, listening to discourses given by the Teacher.

The Bhikkhus remained indoors in caves and in "Kuties". As time passed this retreat became an annual feature. Thus was born the "Vas season" or "rains retreat", which ends with the full moon (Poya) of October - November.

The "Vas Pinkama" (Merit gaining activity spanning three months) is observed in all Buddhist temples and affords an opportunity for both the laity and the Bhikkhus to interact on matters concerning Buddhism.

The temple becomes a hive of activity. This season also gives an opportunity for the laity to look after the daily needs of the Bhikkhus by providing Dane, and looking after those Bhikkhus who are sick. Bodhi pujas, religious discussions, sermons and other religious activity take place in the temple.

Those who actively undertake to care for the needs of the monks and of the temple in general, do so with great piety spending considerable time and money. The needs of the temple such as effecting minor repairs to building and providing of adequate kitchen equipment, is looked into.

The Katina robe

The "Vas Pinkama" ends with the offering of the Katina Robe. This is the pinnacle of meritorious conduct of the season. Its importance lies when one considers the merit gained is said to be that great or bountiful, to qualify it to be the foremost meritorious act one could do.

According to the Buddha word, there are eight great meritorious acts one could do, viz - (1) offering to the Maha Sangha a Katina Robe (Pali - "Cheevara"), (2) offering of Atapirikara, (3) Building and offering a Sanghavasaya (Hall of residence for Bhikkus), (4) Building a shrine room, (5) offering of land to a temple, (6) writing and offering of Dhamma books, (7) constructing wells in the temple and (8) constructing toilets for use of the Sangha.

Of these eight great meritorious deeds, the offering of a Katina Robe which is carried head high, throughout the streets at dawn, in a colourful procession, accompanied by music, is considered the noblest of all meritorious acts one could do.

The merit gained by offering a Katina Robe cannot be erased easily, and stands good throughout one's samsara. It is therefore said that such merit is "unshakeable". The Katina Robe is just not an ordinary robe. It is especially prepared and dyed for the great event, with much piety.

The robe is finally offered to the Maha Sangha, who in turn, in accordance with the Vinaya rules, at a Poyage (seema) ceremony offers it by unanimous decision, to a deserving or virtuous ("Silvath") Bhikkhu, who during the entire Vas season had observed his vows with piety at the Temple.

The offering of a Katina Robe can be done only once a year in each temple and on a particular day, whereas one could offer other robes on any day of the year. Therefore, the merit one gains by this offering is said to be greater than what one would gain by building a stupa and having it crowned with a Pinnacle or Chattya. The offering of a Katina Robe also signifies the perpetuation or continuation of the order of the Maha Sangha.

The Vas season's religious activities end today, which is a full moon day. It was on this full moon day ("Il Poya") that the first sixty Arahants went out to preach the Buddha dharma.

They went forth to all corners of India, travelling on foot, from village to village, to dispel ignorance, to announce the rationality of Buddhism; to show the equality of man by breaking down Bhraminical caste barriers; to give women a better place in Indian Society, and to bring happiness to all animals, both seen and unseen. On that occasion, (that "Il poya day", about 2500 years ago) Gautama Buddha, the Perfect One said:

"Go ye, O Bhikkus! go and wander for the welfare and happiness of the many in compassion for the world, for their good and happiness of gods and men. Let not two of you go in the same direction. Proclaim, the dharma that is excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end."

For the love of a brave son

A plaque was unveiled to mark the setting up of Ranjith Fernando (Jnr.) Memorial Ward at the Sri Lanka Air Force Base Hospital in Ratmalana last week. The pledge -a fully equipped 23 bed ward is a father's tribute to a much loved son, who gave his life willingly and heroically for his country.

Ranjith Fernando (Jnr.)

Pilot officer Ranjith Fernando (Jnr.) was one of those who lost his life in the Antonov disaster an year ago. With the money he received as compensation, his father has pledged to donate a hospital ward to honour his young son's devotion to the cause for which he gave his life.

When Nihal Ranjith Fernando (Jnr) named after his father, was only twelve years old, he made a scrapbook. Entitled "The war Collection" the book is covered with various photographs and stickers of fighter planes, soldiers in action and heroes receiving medals. No one ever dreamt that the little boy too, would one day be a hero in his country. And they certainly never thought he wouldn't return home.

Ranjith's Father

Dr. Ranjith Fernando, seated at his desk in his private office at home, thumbs wearily through the book. "His was an infatuation with flying", he said. "First I thought it was merely a teenager's fancy free ideas after having lived overseas and travelled a good deal by plane."

But apparently, Junior's interest went far below the surface than that. When his father had suggested his pursuing Aviation as a career, he had been thrilled with the idea.

Straight after his ordinary levels at Royal College, the young man had qualified to commence a course leading to the Private Pilot's Licence (PPL), and at twenty one, was the youngest on record to obtain it, in the country.

Junior's ambition had been to join the National Carrier. However, he agreed with his father that he first needed more experience and maturity before joining Air Lanka.

Joining the Air Force had been another of his dreams. After constantly pleading with and discussing the issue with his father he had eventually received his blessings and was promptly recruited to the Transport Division of the Air Force.

For some time it had been smooth flying all the way. Although the issue of the ongoing conflicts in the country troubled him, Dr. Fernando understood, that there were certain, decisions that had to be made by his son alone. It was his profession, and the life he had chosen.

Dr. Fernando paused here and cleared his throat. "I thought I had nothing to fear until the day the first AVRO Aircraft was shot down by LTTE missile. Knowing the family would panic, my son immediately called and put us at ease, saying that even though all flights were grounded, he was required to do a "special flight" after which he would call back in the evening.

Oblivious of what was going on, Dr. Fernando had not been unduly worried. Late that night however, he had received a call from a high ranking Air Force official, who informed him exactly how brave his son had been.

"Immediately after the AVRO had been shot down, the Air Force Commander had visited the base and requested volunteers to fly to Palaly to boost the morale of the Air Force and Army, and it had been Junior who had volunteered. He had co-piloted a Y12 aircraft."

"The next time I spoke to him I advised him that his turn would come and until then to remain silent. I donÕt know if it was foolhardiness or bravery on his part, but somehow, that day Junior made me understand how important it was that he volunteered. So many people backed out, he said, and there are vital supplies of blood and medicine that needed to be flown over, so who would do it?" Dr. Fernando asked.

The tenth of November 1995, had been Dr. Fernando's birthday. when he received a card and a beautiful gold pendant (in the form of the letter "R" which is now around his father's neck) from his daughter on behalf of Junior, he was both surprised and touched.

Taking out the card Dr. Fernando held it out and broke down. It was a simple card...

"Dearest Daddy," it started. "I hope you could understand if I can't make it. I know the relationship between you and me has grown, and I am glad you are more like a friend than a father and I love you. I also appreciate the way you stand by me and let me make my own decisions....". At the bottom, he had added a post script.

"If something does happen to me, please do not regret; to fly in the Air Force is my decision and I thank you for not going against me. I will make some big decisions with regard to my career in due course and I will inform you as we have always discussed them before carrying them out."

Twelve days later, an Antonov 32 B Troop Transport Carrier on an Operational flight to Palaly with 68 commandos aboard was reported to have gone missing over enemy territory on its descent to land. It was co-piloted by Junior. His father never saw or heard from him again.

"I guess we can only speculate on what happened, since there has not been any news about the aircraft, or the incident since", his father said wiping the tears. "I received a notice saying that my son was killed in action, but I haven't been able to get a death certificate issued, on account of his body never having been recovered. Making up my mind would have been far easier if his body had been brought back, or at least if we know what happened."

A prominent Criminal lawyer, known for his toughness in court, Dr. Fernando revealed that the news had affected him in an adverse manner. "I find it difficult to talk to people about this.... in fact my memories of my son simply bring me pain. For that reason I wish I could erase him from my mind," he whispered.

A Buddhist, Dr. Fernando strongly believes in fate and the only consolation he has is the fact that his son was aware of the risks he was taking and would have died the way he had dreamt of....... behind the controls of a plane, defending his country.

Dr. Fernando conceded that the Air Force had been very helpful throughout, the family had been paid a sum of one million rupees as compensation for the loss of Ranjith (Jnr) and this was utilised for the construction of the 23 bed ward at the SLAF Base Hospital in Ratmalana.

Acknowledging that he was just one of the parents who had undergone such grief amongst all the others, Dr. Fernando said the only regret he had now was the fact that his son had not received the medal for his Act of Bravery during his lifetime, since it would have made him so proud and happy.

"I still write to the authorities asking them for news and even to the ICRC, but all I get in reply is nothing. The ICRC recently wrote saying they had decided not to probe into the matter, due to the circumstances of the event. And this from the "Tracing Coordinators" he said throwing his hands up in a helpless gesture.

His eyes brimming again, he concluded in a matter-of-fact way. "There is a moral to this story, you know. It took the death of my son, to make me realise that all these petty jealousies, the squabbling and fighting over minor matters and the rat race to fulfil one's ambition, at the end of the day means nothing. Nothing in life is permanent, nothing is certain."

Return to the Plus contents page

Read Letters to the Editor

Go to the Plus Archive


Home Page Front Page OP/ED News Business

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to or to