Another enlightening treasure trove of Buddhist thought

Sunday Times, May 23, 2010

Book facts: Vesak Lipi 2010 - compiled and edited by Upali Salgado. Reviewed by Bradman Weerakoon

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- The story of Vesak Lipi which celebrates its 25th year of publication is itself a manifestation of a basic tenet of Buddhist practice that ‘the gift of the Dhamma excels all other gifts’.

Upali Salgado, my school friend of more than 70 years, has over the past quarter century of Vesak Lipi’s life been the sole producer, compiler, editor and publisher of this unique collection of articles on Buddhism which is released each year at the time of Vesak. It is his gift (literally, since it is given free) to the people of Sri Lanka and the world.

Those familiar with Vesak Lipi could look forward to another rich assembly of writings on a variety of subjects around the origin, growth and development of Buddhism.

Those new to the collection – or pot pourri – as the editor describes it, will be enlightened at the range and depth of the issues raised and the skill displayed in the placement of the textual content. Within the space of 135 pages lie a digest of thoughts expressed in prose, poems, quotations and colour images.

On a careful reading of this most attractively printed annual offering one comes away with a renewed appreciation of what Theravada Buddhism is about and what it means to the Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

Let’s take a look at the range of subjects on which one is informed and the erudite writers whose works have been selected. Ven. Kirinde Dhammananda Thera, on whether Buddhism is a religion, philosophy or way of life; Ven. Prof. Dhammavihari Thera, on the Buddhist attitude to the forest as an integral part of the world we inhabit; the Ven.Narada Maha Thera on the meaning, nature and cause of Kamma; Rajah Kuruppu on death and rebirth and why we are born and why we die; Nemsiri Mutukumara and Ven. Seelawimala Thera (London) on Sri Pada – the holy mountain on which the Buddha is believed to have placed His footprint; Dr. R. L. Brohier on the majestic statue at Buduruwagala; M. B. Dassanayake on the custodianship of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy and early British colonial policy on the subject, and several more short pieces on similar interesting issues.

Upali Salgado himself contributes two articles, one on the origins of the Buddha statue in India and icons such as the well known ‘Laughing Buddha’ which developed in Mahayana Buddhist countries like China and Japan. The other, traces the foundational work on the restoration of the Maha Seya – the Ruwanweli seya in Anuradhapura by Ven. Sumanasara Unnanse, a forgotten monk today.

While all the content informs and educates us once more, this reviewer was particularly taken by two presentations. One, the reminder in Daya Sirisena’s piece that within you is the origin of suffering. In the words of the Buddha Himself to His monks, ‘ Put aside all vain beliefs and religious performances for these things avail not against ignorance. In this fathom long body oh monks, equipped with sense and sense perceptions, I declare, within you is the origin of suffering and the cessation of suffering; also the way leading to that cessation.’ Would that in today’s commercial driven world this admonition of over 2500 years from the Enlightened One be more observed.

The second is the leaf from the Dhamma titled the ‘Will to Live’ by Ronald Russel. The Ascetic (or Bhikku or Sannyasi) ideal is set out unequivocally as the voluntary taking upon himself the rules of chastity, poverty, humility and obedience. Russel reminds us in regard to the latter two of these rules that ‘Possessions are bound up with AHANKARA and MAMATHKARA’ (I-ness and My- ness).

The ascetic is even advised not to sleep too often under the same tree in case he develops too much attachment to it. Humility and obedience strike at the deep roots of MANA (pride) in the will – to – live, which according to Buddhism, is ‘the last fetter to be cast off’. In these days when power and authority seem to be everything and everywhere, even where the temple is concerned, this reflection is worthy of the highest re- affirmation.

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