Vesak (Vesākha, Wesak) was celebrated last week by many Buddhists around the world. It is believed to be the day on which the Buddha was born, the day he attained enlightenment and the day that his physical body died. Same date, different years.
My friend, Venerable Bellanwila Wimalarathana, is the chief incumbent of Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He is also a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
Bishop Duleep Kamil De Chickera is the 14th Anglican Bishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka and is also a member of AHRC.
Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana wrote a letter to Christians on his understanding of Christ at Christmas last year prompting Bishop Duleep Kamil De Chickera to reciprocate with this letter to Buddhists at Wesak.
His retelling of the Buddha’s message of compassion, respect and coexistence is worthy, I thought, of a broader audience so I’m passing it along to you.
An Open Letter from Bishop Duleep De Chickera to the Buddhists of Sri Lanka Forwarded By the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
A seekers vision
I write in my personal capacity as a disciple of Christ, a student of Buddhism and one who perceives the universal wisdom and values in world religions as gifts for all and not just the adherents of a respective religion.
This is not an attempt to teach you what you know better than I; but an expression of my profound respect for the Buddha and the potential I see in the Dhamma for compassion, contentment and coexistence for all life. I know you will be patient with any shortcomings in my perception of Buddhism.
Compassion for all life
I have never ceased to be stirred by the Buddha’s compassion for all living beings; and not humans only. This all inclusive compassion makes sense, since compassion for humans only, if accompanied with disrespect for other forms of life upsets the balance in an interdependent life system. Consequently compassion for humans only, is short sighted and counter-productive; it inevitably induces chaos for all forms of life, including humans.
Within this wider framework however this teaching has a direct impact on critical human relations such as ethnic discrimination, inter-religious tensions, economic injustice, political intolerance and the collapse of ethical norms that we wrestle with today. Since compassion according to the Buddha is never selective and will not endorse divisive and oppressive systems, it is full of potential to transform these exclusive and destructive trends into a just and integrated system for all life.
Liberation from Tanha
From my early adult days I have found the Buddha’s analysis of the cycle of life in the four noble truths, most enlightening. His discernment of Tanha as the cause of suffering is a precise explanation of the human dilemma. The inordinate greed for power, dominance, wealth and material resources that motivate many, leads to aggression, suppression and suffering which eventually destroys all; the greedy, the content and Mother Earth.
The objective of life is consequently to overcome Tanha. This path ranges from the simple life style, which demonstrates contentment; to detachment, that state of selflessness which rises above the enticement of the market, the arsenal and a false sense of prestige and is undoubtedly a sign of true liberation.
The fullest manifestation of selfless detachment is demonstrated in total renunciation; the ability to point to the way by getting out of the way. This profound insight into self-emptying is an indispensible lens for personal and social evaluation which our leaders and people cannot afford to ignore.
The Wisdom of Ahimsa
That the Dhamma is received through self-realisation and bears fruit in Ahimsa, (transforming non-violence) safeguards personal privacy and prevents social aggression. Just as the Dhamma cannot be subject to force or manipulation to bring enlightenment, recipients of the Dhamma cannot indulge in these tendencies and to the contrary strive to overcome them. This, in my understanding, is how surrounding forms of life are respected and the Dhamma shared with dignity in ever widening circles.
This refreshing option to violence is undoubtedly one of the reasons that has made Buddhism a world religion. Consequently it is those who are the vehicles of this enlightened, non-violent and compassionate teaching who will continue to sustain and commend Buddhism today.
May the Dhamma of the Compassionate One, shed enlightenment and emancipate our beloved Sri Lanka from greed and violence.
With Peace and Blessings to all living beings.
Bishop Duleep de Chickera