Tag Archives: Buddhism

An Interfaith Message on Human Rights for Vesak Day 2013

A few of the hundreds of children setting in Buddhist meditation under a Bodhi tree during Sunday School at Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya in Colombo, Sri Lanka

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

Wesak 2013



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The Perehera commences on Esala Full Moon Poya Day on the month of July and Concludes on Nikini Full Moon Poya Day on the month of August. (click link to see source)

Esala Perahera is the grand festival of Esala held in Sri Lanka. It is very grand with elegant costumes. Happening in July or August in Kandy, it has become a unique symbol of Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist festival consisting of dances and richly-decorated elephants. There are fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances. The elephants are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional ‘diya-kepeema’.

The significance of this great event is to invoke blessings of the gods to give the farmers rain to cultivate their crops. This ritual is performed by carrying the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha through the city streets which is done with great ceremony.

(click on the photos below to see full size)

I first traveled to Sri Lanka in 2003 on a private tour for a meditation retreat and to visit ancient Buddhist sites. That's when these photos of the Perehera were taken during 2 night parades and the final day light parade. I went back in January 2005 to assist with rebuilding after the 26 December 2004 Tsunami. Although I have made many related trips since, including to Kandy, I have not attended this fantastic event since. Maybe next year.

The tooth relic was brought to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the year 310 AD and the first perehera was performed in Anuradhapura the first capital where the sacred relic was housed. Even as the capitals were shifted for security reasons due to invasions, the tooth relic went with it too and was much revered and always in the custody of the king. Finally finding a permanent resting place in the hill capital of the last Sinhalese kindom Kandy, It lies in the ?Dalada Maligawa? (Palace of the Tooth Relic) which was built by king Wimaladharma suriya in the 16th century. This three-storey building erected solely for the purpose of housing. The Sacred Relic still stands and is the most visited and important temple of Sri Lanka.

The ritual of the Perahera (Esela Perahera) continues in Kandy with more and more people attending each year to watch majestic tusker proudly parade the streets of the ancient Sinhalese kingdom followed by over more than a hundred elephants with the custodians and other officials dressed in the traditional Sinhalese attire of chieftains riding them. The sound of blowing conch shells and whip cracking starts off the excitement or the approaching perahera. The beating of at least three types of traditional drums, the Kandyan dancers, Acrobats, and other artists that perform in the light of flame torches certainly would take you back in a time machine.

The Cinnamon Peeler

On a photo excursion in the Sri Lankan countryside, I came upon this woodsman’s home in the middle of a small cinnamon holding. Cinnamon is cultivated over nearly all of the island and grows as a small tree or shrub. The trunk is cut down and the outer bark rubbed away. Then men like this one carefully slit and remove the inner bark in long curling strips. After it’s dried, it is processed into the powder or sticks that we use. The remaining wood is used for for firewood, fencing, etc. From a tree growing by the path, we’ll sometimes pluck a leaf and chew the stem for a refreshing cinnamon taste.

The next time you are baking with cinnamon, think about these fellows for a moment. Too seldom do we contemplate how our food is grown and gathered for us. At Buddhist retreats, during the one meal each day, we are instructed to hold each forkful of food for a moment and call to mind all the lives of all the hands that have touched it on its way to us.

This photo was processed in Photoshop using the free Out Of Bounds action created by Panos Efstathiadis.