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Wednesday 16 April 2014

Buddhism betrayed

I am not a western sociologist by any means, but  an academic trained in the western sociological tradition could study what happened on the 14th of April this year when the Sinhala Buddhists “betrayed” Buddhism and did not engage in the usual Poya Day practice of observing the eight (ten) precepts and engage in other discussions and meditations involved with the “Sila Programmes”. The Sinhala Buddhists  could be accused of betraying Buddhism by a not very profound sociologist in the academia, for refraining from general poya day activities. Betraying Buddhism is not a story in the tradition of story telling in the western intellectual tradition and is not even a concept as such. It has no general value and is not a general explanation of a generalised phenomenon. The Sinhalas Tamils and others in Sri Lanka even if they are Christians are not good consistent story tellers, definitely not abstract story tellers, and we should not make the mistake of expecting them to come out with consistent stories (or so called theories) even if they were brought up by Jennings the much loved Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya before my generation entered the University to ape western stories.

This year the Sinhala new year and Bak Poya fell on the same day apparently for the first time after 1976. In 1976 I was a good western “scientist” though I knew that I was not capable of creating “theories”, and I was away from this blessed land. Thus for more than one reason I did not know how the Sinhala Buddhists behaved on that new year day and if the Buddhists had behaved the same way they behaved this year and had I known that, I would have included that in the booklet “Bududahama pavadeema” I published in the nineties as a reply to “Buddhism Betrayed” by a well known sociologist who in my opinion knew only to ape the masters.  

There is no one accepted “story” (theory) on the Sinhala new year. Though the Hindus in Sri Lanka and may be a few Muslims celebrate the new year it is not the case among Hindus and Muslims in other countries. There are some Theravada Buddhists in countries such as Thailand (Siam) who celebrate the new year” on the 14th but in none of these countries the new year in April is not celebrated as a “Neketh Keliya” (auspices series of events) the way Sinhala people do. Even among the Sinhalas it is the Sinhala Buddhists who take pride in the events giving it the importance that has been accorded over the years. The new year with or without the auspices times could be celebrated by all communities living in Sri Lanka making it a truly national event. The new year should not be confined to a religion or ethnic group. However, all credit should be given to the Sinhalas who initiated these celebrations.

A year like a second or a day is a unit of measurement of time. A unit of measurement of time is the time elapsed between two consecutive events in a given frame of reference. Strictly speaking in the universe there are no consecutive events as there are no absolute motions or absolute positions. All positions and motions are relative, and unlike the educated pundits who talk of motion of the earth, as if it is an absolute motion, I with my humble knowledge shared with the humble majority of people living in the country “know” that the Sun moves not only around the earth, but the path of the motion of the sun also rotates with respect to the earth. The latter knowledge is not shared by many people but those who are acquainted with astrology know these things, including the precession of the path of the motion of the sun relative to the earth.

The precession is called “poorvayanaya” in Sinhala and astrological systems that consider precession are called “sayana” and those that do their calculations without precession are called “nirayana”. Of course the ancient astrologers knew of both calculations and they knew the system that has to be adopted in a particular calculation. The ancients were aware of this knowledge and they knew all these without the telescopes, probably with their improved spiritual minds. It is true that this knowledge went to the west from our part of the world but people such as Galileo who could not boast of “extra sensory perceptions” had to resort to story telling or constructing theories or discovering theories to give an impressive nomenclature to story telling. The stories they came out were abstract and could not be grasped with sense organs. Who could grasp an inertial frame of reference or action at a distance with any sense organ? Leave alone these abstruse  concepts could any nut grasp the concept of a nut with sense organs. One could say that one could perceive a particular coconut with sense organs, even this is not the case as there is no sense organ that could grasp the coconut as a whole, but I agree if one says that one could grasp the hardness of the coconut. If the coconut cannot be grasped with the sense organs how could one grasp the generlaised “coconut” or worse the generalised nut. The knowledge that westerners created borrowing our concrete concepts was not the same as our knowledge but that is outside the scope of this article as an academic would say.  

What I am interested is in the origin of the new year and I have summarised some of these in my publication “Sinhala Aluth Avurudda”. There are at least two “years” we are interested in with respective to the new year. One is the standard new year or the western Christian year (after all western Christian knowledge is standard knowledge) that could be considered as the time elapsed between two consecutive events of the Sun crossing the celestial equator in its northward journey along what is known as the ecliptic (the path of the sun). This year is about 365.242190 “standard days”.  The other new year, of course, is the time elapsed between two consecutive transitions of sun from Pisces (Meena) to Aries (Mesha) , and this is about 365.256363 standard days (This results from the precession of the earth’s axis). As a result of this difference the new year  advances by about one day every 70.56 years (It does not matter which year is considered as the difference is not that significant).

There is a school of thought that claims that the new year is dawned on the day that the Sun is directly above Mannar at a certain time of the day. This happens around the thirteenth of April and the story tellers of this school are happy to pronounce that the new year dawns on this particular day since the days of Manu who is supposed to be the first king in Mannar. The story tellers are not very good at consistency and they conveniently forget that during Robert Knox’s time the new year dawned on 7th 8th or 9th of April, forgetting Manu and Mannar. However there may be something in this story and what I see is that a Neketh Keliya of the Yaksha Gothrikas (not the tribe of the western ape academia) is at the origin of the new year. The Vasantha senekilya of the ancients has been mixed with Shaka new year after the fourteenth century as could be deduced from the Gadaladeniya inscription, but we have retained the mixed new year even after we did away with the practice of Shaka Varsha most probably after the introduction of the Christian year (BC and AD).

What has this got to do with Buddhism betrayed? After the Yakshas became Buddhists (ref. Vargapoornikava by Ven. Manewe Wimalarathana Thero ) they would have adopted Buddhism and created what could be called the Hela Buddhist culture. The Hela Buddhist culture has given way to Sinhala Buddhist culture after about the fifth century, Asoka Buddhism becoming the prominent Buddhism and hence the significant religion of the country. The Sinhala Buddhism has Buddha at the apex (not in a so called hierarchy) and for all samsaric activities Buddhism is given the due place. However, for “laukika” activities (worldly affairs) Sinhala or better Hela traditions are given pride of place and new year is one such event. It is true that Sinhala Buddhists as in other cases have absorbed Buddhist values and rites such as going to the temple during the “punya kalaya” but they would not sacrifice the “Neketh Keliya” to observe eight or ten precepts forgetting “laukika” for “samsaric” activities such as attaining Nibbana. The sociologists who made a hue and cry over the Sinhala Buddhists “going to war” and shouted Buddhism had been betrayed from roof tops forgot or did not understand that “laukika” affairs such as protection of the country, culture and sovereignty took precedence over “samsaric activities”.

Nalin De Silva