Buddhism misinterpreted

by Upali S. Jayasekera, The Island, Jan 10, 2009

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- When you enter certain Buddhist temples (in Sri Lanka) you can view statues of various ‘ gods’ in a wing of the temple. There are some temples where pictures of deities who claim to be incarnations of ‘gods’ being given pride of place and offerings made.

You see people crowded around statues of various ‘gods’, some on their knees, seeking protection, good fortune or favours from ‘gods’ under the guidance of ‘holy men’ wearing red and blue sashes, which practice is alien to Buddhism.

That is not Buddhism and the place is not a Buddhist temple proper. Such temples are apparently headed by bhikkhus who have either not studied the Buddhist philosophy or have purposely misunderstood the philosophy for commercial gain.

The Buddha’s record, no doubt, has been smothered in fantastic fiction through the piety of those who invented them in the past. Then again rituals and practices from other faiths have been absorbed leading to misinterpretation of Buddhism. Commercialisation of Buddhist places of worship has betrayed Buddhist teachings. All that despite rituals, rites and ceremonies being treated as useless and condemned as wrong in Buddhism.

There are bhikkhus when delivering Dhamma sermons who refer to "Thisthun Kotiyak Devi Devathavun" (thirty three billion gods) when that has no relevance to Buddhism and is a belief in Hinduism. Bhikkhus also invoke blessings of and seek protection from gods when Buddhism does not uphold such protection and does not recommend such process. Bhikkhus refer to a ‘heaven’ and even refer to the Buddha going to a heaven called "Thauthisa". That is fallacy. Thauthisa was the mountain resort palace of Sakka, King of the Deva clan named Darius who was close to the Buddha who had spent the Vas (retreat) period once in the palace in Thauthisa in Persia.

This is being misinterpreted as going to heaven of Thauthisa.

There are many who call themselves Buddhists but who are ignorant of the real principles in Buddhism. They offer flowers at a Buddhist statue and then proceed to a statue of a god, pray and seek favours or protection from such a god.

This is because the clergy is using the temple for income generation through rituals of other faiths by misleading the people, despite Buddhist teaching being that every person controls his own destiny and that success or failure is determined by the persons own deeds- good or bad- and his own efforts. A person’s salvation depends upon himself.

Buddhism does not promote fortune- telling, being superstitious or control of life by holy men . Buddhism stresses that good thoughts coupled with good behaviour will be rewarded with good life -a happy one.

Buddhists pay homage to a Buddha statue, Dagoba or a Bodhi tree for what they represent - Buddha, Dhamma. Such practice helps to develop a respectful mind towards the teachings of the Buddha but such veneration will not bring rewards or material benefits.

There had been bhikkhus in the past who were corrupt, selfish and who were not well versed in the Buddha Dhamma. Even today there are such bhikkhus, a negligible few. However, it is the unswerving faithfulness and devotion on the part of the Order of the Sangha that have preserved the Buddha Dhamma for so long. It will continue to be so.

On the other hand, Buddhists should make it a point to understand the basic principles of Buddhism and shun practices incompatible with the Buddhist teachings. The Sangha in turn should preach, teach and lead the laymen to follow the Buddhist teachings correctly without misinterpretation.