The Sathya Sai Organisation of Australia and PNG in the ACT Region commemorated Buddha Poornima with a visit to the Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara (i.e., temple) in Canberra on Sunday, 26 May 2018.
This temple is situated on a quiet street in the suburb of Kambah, which is located about 20 kms south of the Canberra City. The temple serves the needs of the Sri Lankan Buddhist communities and other Buddhists living in Canberra and the surrounding regions.
The visit to the Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara during Buddha Poornima has become an annual event since 2016. The hour-long program began with 15 Sai devotees from different faiths assembling at the temple.
First, the Sai devotees brought offerings of candles and flowers. The flowers were arranged on trays and vases and then brought to the prayer room of the temple. Before the floral offerings were placed in front of the Lord Buddha’s statue, all devotees that were present touched the flowers and candles and participated in the offerings and prayer session. The offerings represent certain aspects of Buddhist teachings. For example, the flowers are symbols of impermanence and saṃsāra (the cycle of birth, death and rebirth), due to their short life span, and the candles symbolise enlightenment. After the offerings were placed in front of the Lord Buddha, all the attendees bowed by lowering their heads in a gesture of homage and reverence to the Lord Buddha statue.
Next, Dr Liyanage from the temple management welcomed all to the Program. Dr Liyanage said the Buddhist teachings were based on investigating the mind, finding out the causes of suffering and following the steps or methods for removal of suffering. Desire is the leading cause of suffering and the initial step for the removal of suffering is following the five precepts of Buddhism. These five precepts forbid killing of living beings, taking what is not given (or stealing), lust, false speech, and use of intoxicating drink or drugs.
It should be noted that on the personal level, the precepts help one to lead a moral life and to advance further on the spiritual path. On the social level, observing the five precepts helps to promote peaceful coexistence, mutual trust, a cooperative spirit, and general peace and harmony in society.
Dr Lyn Liyanage invited all to listen to the talk by the resident monk from the temple. The monk gave an talk on Buddhist teachings. He told all those assembled that life was divided into four stages: childhood, youth, middle age and old age and explained how each of these stages are impermanent. The monk explained that we cling to these impermanent states and things and expect happiness from them which are impermanent. The monk further explained that this is the reason we cannot attain real happiness and thus live in Dukkha (suffering). The monk gave a few practical strategies to escape Dukkha such as taking a self-audit of our thoughts prior to finishing up for the day, taking steps on how one can move away from unwholesome thoughts and learning to live like a Lotus Flower within the community. The monk then explained the lotus flower analogy – this is a widely used analogy in Buddhism. He explained that the lotus flower grows in muddy water but it symbolizes the purity of enlightened mind and represents nonattachment as it is rooted in mud (attachment and desire) but its flowers blossom on long stalks unsullied by the mud below.
Next, Indrani Sandanam, a Sai devotee from the Buddhist faith gave a talk on the similarities between the teachings of Lord Buddha and Sathya Sai Baba. She said there were numerous similarities between the teachings of these two great spiritual masters. She stated that Lord Buddha in his teachings has given the following rules or precepts:
1. abstain from taking life
2. abstain from taking what is not given
3. abstain from sensuous misconduct
4. abstain from false speech
5. abstain from intoxicants tending to cloud the mind
She further added that these precepts were rules or guidelines which help a person to develop the mind and character and to make progress on the path of enlightenment. She explained that these were very similar to the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba who taught us to help ever hurt never, and love all serve all.
Indrani focused on one aspect of their teachings that is very similar. Lord Buddha and Sathya Sai Baba both emphasised the need for contentment and peace within oneself. Lord Buddha said ‘The mind is like the water. When it is turbulent, it is difficult to see. When it’s calm, everything is clear’. Indrani said during Lord Buddha’s first sermon in Varanasi in India, he said that suffering in life is caused by desire and grasping and that there is a way out of suffering to find mental peace and contentment. She narrated the following short story to illustrate this further:
Lord Buddha was once walking from one town to another town with a few of his followers. While they were traveling, they happened to pass a lake. They stopped there and Lord Buddha told one of his disciples, “I am thirsty. Do get me some water from that lake there.” The disciple walked up to the lake. When he reached it, he noticed that right at that moment, a bullock cart started crossing through the lake. As a result, the water became very muddy, very turbid. The disciple thought, “How can I offer this muddy water to Lord Buddha to drink!” So he came back and told Lord Buddha, “The water in there is very muddy. I don’t think it is fit to drink.” After about half an hour, again Lord Buddha asked the same disciple to go back to the lake and get him some water to drink. The disciple obediently went back to the lake. This time too he found that the lake was muddy. He returned and informed Lord Buddha that the water was still muddy. After some time had passed, again Lord Buddha asked the same disciple to go back. The disciple reached the lake to find the lake absolutely clean and clear with pure water in it. The mud had settled down and the water above it looked fit to drink. So he collected some water in a pot and brought it back and offered the water to Lord Buddha.
Lord Buddha looked at the water, and then he looked up at the disciple and said,” See what you did to make the water clean. You let it be…. and the mud settled down on its own – and you got clear water. Your mind is also like that! When it is disturbed, just let it be. Give it a little time. It will settle down on its own. You don’t have to put in any effort to calm it down. It will happen. It is effortless.”
What did Lord Buddha emphasise here? He said that when one’s mind is agitated, it has to be left to settle down. It simply needs some time to calm down on its own. This story also highlights that it was only the disciple’s perception of whether the water was muddy or not that influenced his actions. The water always stayed the same but it was in how the disciple looked at it (that is how the disciple perceived the situation). Therefore, even in our own lives, it is not our circumstances but how we perceive these circumstances and respond to it that matters. If we find our mind disturbed, we need to give it some time to settle back without reacting.
Indrani explained that similarly, Sathya Sai Baba has also consistently emphasised the importance of maintaining one’s inner peace. Sathya Sai Baba has said “Be like the tortoise that can live in water or on land”. That is to say, cultivate the inner calm that helps you remain with the thought of God, whether you are alone or in a crowd. True inner solitude is when you are not aware of the crowd around you. When you are able to remain undisturbed by others, then you have perfect inner peace.
Indrani spoke of an interesting story narrated by Sathya Sai Baba as follows: Once, a disciple approached his Guru saying, “Master, please enlighten me with some knowledge!” The Guru was seated outside a cave. He said “Child, it is getting dark outside. I shall teach you inside the cave dwelling. Please go inside and light the small lamp lying inside.” The disciple entered the cave with a matchbox in hand, located the lamp and tried to light it. He struck many matches but the lamp would not be lit. He emptied the matchbox but remained unsuccessful in his attempts. He reported to the Guru, “Master, this lamp is not lighting.” The Guru asked the Disciple, “Why it is so? Let me have a look at the lamp.” The lamp was brought to him and he asked the disciple to check if it was filled with oil or something else. The disciple then discovered that it was water that was in the lamp and not oil. And as the wick was soaked in water, it would not burn. The Guru instructed him, “First, throw the water out and squeeze water out of the wick; next, pour some oil and also soak the wick in the oil. Then light it. It will surely burn brightly.” The disciple followed the instructions and was successful in lighting the lamp. Once the lamp was lit, the Guru turned silent. The disciple waited a while and asked, “Master, you said you would enlighten me with knowledge. When will you do that?” The Guru replied, “I have been doing that all the while. Didn’t you understand?” The disciple was confused. The Guru then explained, “How can the flame of knowledge be kindled if the lamp of your heart is filled with the water of worldly and materialistic impressions. And importantly your mind, the wick, is soaked in materialistic and worldly ideas? First, remove from your heart and mind all attachment to the outside world. Fill yourself with God’s love. Then I will kindle the flame by initiating you with God’s name. That itself will be the flame of knowledge which will enlighten you and lead you on your spiritual path.”
Through this story, Sathya Sai Baba has highlighted the importance of cleansing oneself of attachments to the material world to maintain a state of inner peace. He has said that this is a critical step on one’s spiritual journey. In this manner, both Lord Buddha and Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings are focused on one’s inner state and both these great spiritual teachers emphasised the importance of mental peace and how it can be achieved through right understanding and effort.
Indrani concluded her talk by noting that through the teachings of Lord Buddha and Sathya Sai Baba we all strive to maintain a sense of inner peace and effectively respond to all circumstances.
Finally, Murali, Devotional Coordinator of the ACT Region’s Sathya Sai Organization of Australia and PNG thanked all by acknowledging the temple committee, the monks, speakers and participants for all the assistance with the visit to the temple and concluded his talk by saying that he had found the tips and strategies provided by the monk useful, and invited all to have the light refreshments lovingly made by the Sai families from the Buddhist faith. The light refreshments in fact were in fact were a sumptuous lunch comprising of many of the Sri Lankan delights such as Milk rice and lunumiris (a Sri Lankan sambal paste), coconut roti, boiled mung beans, stir fried chick peas and a soya preparation.