Daily Archives: 06/04/2012

Happy Saka Dawa and Vesak Puja!

Today, as the full moon day of the fourth Tibetan lunar month, is the Tibetan observance of Saka Dawa and it is also Vesak Puja in Thailand and Poson Poya in Sri Lanka. Poson Poya commemorates the day in which King Asoka‘s son, the Arahat Mahinda, officially introduced Buddhism to Ceylon in the 3rd century BCE. In the Tibetan and Thai Buddhist traditions, today marks the celebration of the Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment, and Paranirvana. According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche of the FPMT, the karmic effects of meritorious acts which are performed on this day are multiplied exponentially – about 100 million times. He also offers some good advice and recommends the following specific practices for Saka Dawa:

1. Taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts
2. Doing Nyung Näs
3. Performing the Guru Shakyamuni Buddha puja

So to all of my Tibetan and Theravada Buddhist friends, I wish you a very happy and meritorious Saka Dawa, Vesak Puja and Poson Poya!

Superstitions, Blind Faith, and the Highest Blessing

In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha once explained that there are five qualities of a lay Buddhist which are the basic requirements for being what is considered a “jewel of a lay follower”:

“Endowed with these five qualities, laity (upasaka) is a jewel of a lay-follower, is like a lily, like a lotus with a hundred petals. Which five? He/she has conviction and faith (in the Buddha’s awakening); is virtuous; is not eager for protective charms & ceremonies; trusts in action (kamma) and not in superstition; does not search for recipients of his/her support outside [of the Sangha], and gives support here first. Endowed with these five qualities, laity (upasaka) is a jewel of a lay-follower, is like a lily, like a lotus with a hundred petals.”

Having conviction or faith (saddhā) in the Buddha’s awakening means that you should have the confidence that these teachings are capable of leading one to the “other shore” of awakening, and is therefore worthy of being practiced effectively. This, however, does not mean that you should ever have “blind faith” in any spiritual doctrine, as this is called ditthupadana or “view-clinging”.

The passage above also points out that lay Buddhists must not rely on mere superstition. Yeah, it may sometimes seem hard to reconcile this with what can be perceived as “superstition” and “ritual” in various Buddhist cultures throughout various countries. However, as Buddhism spread out of the Indian subcontinent, it was usually incorporated with the already existing cultural norms of a given society. A lot of local customs and traditions were adopted, adapted, or practiced alongside Buddhism.

It is clear that in terms of kamma (Skt. karma), no amount of luck or any charm will prevent you from being accountable for your own actions or circumstances. As I noted in my post on the Five Remembrances, this is kammassakata or karma which is our very own. More specifically, we are the owners of our own actions, heirs to our actions, born of our actions, related through our actions, and have our actions as our arbitrator. There are consequences to our actions, and whatever we do – for good or worse, it is to that which we will fall heir.

As I noted in my post Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?, we can only better our own condition by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which leads beyond the range of karma to the highest happiness of Nirvana. Therefore it is more beneficial to practice giving and develop virtuous behaviors, rather than rely on superstition and charms.

To be more specific, in the Sutta Nipāta (which most scholars believe contain some of the oldest discourses found in the Tipiṭaka) the Buddha explains what the highest blessings really are:

“Not to associate with the foolish, but to associate with the wise; and to honor those who are worthy of honor — this is the greatest blessing.

To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course — this is the greatest blessing.

To have much learning, to be skillful in handicraft, well-trained in discipline, and to be of good speech — this is the greatest blessing.

To support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupation — this is the greatest blessing.

To be generous in giving, to be righteous in conduct, to help one’s relatives, and to be blameless in action — this is the greatest blessing.

To loathe more evil and abstain from it, to refrain from intoxicants, and to be steadfast in virtue — this is the greatest blessing.

To be respectful, humble, contented and grateful; and to listen to the Dhamma on due occasions — this is the greatest blessing.

To be patient and obedient, to associate with monks and to have religious discussions on due occasions — this is the greatest blessing.

Self-restraint, a holy and chaste life, the perception of the Noble Truths and the realisation of Nibbana — this is the greatest blessing.

A mind unruffled by the vagaries of fortune, from sorrow freed, from defilements cleansed, from fear liberated — this is the greatest blessing.

Those who thus abide, ever remain invincible, in happiness established. These are the greatest blessings.”