Main features in the Buddhist
by Ven. Dr. Handupelpola Mahinda
Theravada Buddhists believe that the Buddha has demised,
and no more. But they offer flowers, lamps, incense,
sandalwood-powder, camphor, food and refreshments. This
sort of practices became a tradition even among the
Buddhists. But in theistic religions, that is, religions
which believe in an omnipotent, all-powerful god who is
the creator of the world and father of all creatures,
prayer means mainly supplication to God, petitioning
him, humbly asking him for guidance and protection, good
health and happiness and even forgiveness for sins
Idea of sin
Buddhists do not believe in such a God and there is no
idea of prayer also. Buddhists believe in Kamma but
there is no praying. Buddhists believe in Kamma but they
know there is no superior person or agent behind it, and
directing or administering. Being impersonal, it shows
neither mercy nor forgiveness. Hence the idea of sin in
Buddhist sense is not the transgression or disobedience
of laws lay down by a God.
According to the Buddhist point of view the world does
not depend upon its prosperity or progress on any
external agency and it is not constructed by anyone
outside. The image will help the devotee to recall the
great virtues of the unsullied qualities of the Buddha.
For the purpose of worship, it is even immaterial
whether there is an image or not, but he may find it
helpful for the concentration. Buddhists kneel before
the image and pay their respect to what that image
represents. They do not seek wordly favours from the
image. They reflect and meditate to gain inspiration
from his noble personality. They try to emulate his
perfection by following his noble teachings.
Though these ritualistic practices are adopted from that
of Hindus,Buddhists have given separate meanings to
them. While they offering flowers they say, ‘puppham
milayati yatha idham me, kayo tatha yati vinasa bhavam,’
meaning, the flowers, though they have fragrance and
beauty, get fade away on the altar. In the same way my
body becomes decay and finally die down. The offering of
flowers and incense is a bestowal of worship. An act of
homage, of adoration and of gratitude by them, though
the offering have no intrinsic value.
The three fold meritorious activities, called Trividha
punna kirya vattu starts from arms giving or liberality.
The two others been morality (Seela) and mental
development (Bhavana). The Buddhists are very keen to
practice these three meritorious activities.
1. Generosity (Dana) is practice in various ways.
2. Puggalika Dana (offering personally)
3. Sanghika Dana (offering to the
community of monks)
4. Upasaka Dana (offering to the devotees)
5. Balkapattu Dana (offering food to
dog and crows)
6. Abhaya Dana (Giving fearlessness)
7. Jeevita Dana (Grant of Amnesty)
8. Shramadana (Rendering free service)
9. Mataka Dana
(Alms giving in memory of the death)
10. Mataka Vastra Dana (Offering of a cloth in the name
11. Atma parithyagaya (Sacrifice of life)
12. Hisa Dandeema (Sacrifice of own head)
13. Le Dandeema (Blood donation)
14. Sareeranga Prithyagaya (Donation of parts of the
human body, eg. Kidney, eye etc.)
There is a common belief that giving some thing belongs
to a person without greed (loba) hate, (dosa) and
dilution (moha) is an act of merit. The four Danas
called Puggalika Dana, Sangika Dana, Upasaka Dana, and
Balukaputu Dana especially regarding the offering of
food and soft drinks. In Sri Lanka mostly in the festive
seasons of Vesak (May) and Poson (June) even in remote
areas, people organize places of free feeding, without
any difference of race, religion. etc. In most areas
Hindus, Christians and Moslems participate in these
activities with Buddhist. This is a charming a example
of religious tolerance and communal co-existence. This
sort of activities, induce and encourage the humanity.
The people travelling on road for religious homage are
invited and offered cooked rice, and other refreshments.
That shows giving makes people virtuous.
Generosity is a common practice encouraged by most of
the religions. Buddhists practice generosity for the
destruction of greed and attachment. After offering alms
they perform an act of transferring merits to the dead.
They are anxious to perform grant of amnesty, rendering
free service and blood donation in full moon days of
As a way of sharing merits with the departed relatives,
they offer white cloth to the community of monks and
that act is called Mataka Vastra Danaya (offering of a
cloth in the name of the dead). That symbolizes an
offering of a robe.
Some of the monks in early days, picked up rags covering
dead bodies and being cast away at cemeteries, in order
to make robes. The day after day of completion of
funeral rights Buddhists offer alms and it is named
Mataka danaya (alms giving in memory of the dead). In
the seventh day after the death, after three months, and
annually they offer alms to the community of monks in
the refugee camps, in the houses of aged or disabled.
That has become a popular tradition among Sri Lankan
King Sanghabodhi of Ancient Sri Lanka sacrificed his own
head for the well-being of the people. The historical
descriptions described, it as a characteristic of a
Bodhisatta. However homicide is not approved in the
Theravada tradition though Mahayana did.
Morality or Seela is also a good tradition in the
Buddhist life. Panchasila or five precepts is the basic
morality assigned to their lives. The Buddha formulated
five precepts which define the primary level of ethical
conduct. Buddhism admonishes to live in the society,
peacefully. In the culavyuha sutta, Buddha gave an
advice to learn others faiths even. (Sn) “parassa ce
dhamma mananujanam, balo mago hoti ninina panno” (One
who does not respect other person’s faith, is a wild
As a practical religion age long, there may additions
and omissions. At the very start, it was only way of
life, and later became a philosophy. Erecting of idols
started at the time of king Kanishka (78-100 A.D)
Becoming a religion, various rituals originated. In some
countries, there are a few hours of music, singing and
dancing with a short talk in between.
In some places Buddhism has covered with cults. Ven.
Chin Kung says by the name of Buddhism some are taking
advantage of the weaknesses of human nature. (Buddhism,
the Wisdom and Compassion and Awakening, pp 11-12).
The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions divides
Mahayana into two categories, such as, Tibeto-Mongol and
Sino - Japanese. Tibeto - Mongol Buddhism sees itself as
the inheritor of later Indian Mahayanist scholar - monks
and places much emphasis on philosophical precision.
Sino - Japanese Buddhism (Which includes Korean and
Vietnamese forms) developed tradition independently of
Indian Mahayana.Any tradition may claim superiority over
any other by various means. Theravadins often claim to
have preserved the original words of the Buddha, to
which, they say, Mahayana has made unwarranted
additions. Tibetan Buddhists point to the complexity of
their systems as evidence that they have the fullness of
the teachings in comparison with which the so-called
Hindyana, which is superficially similar to thearavada,
is said to be deficient.
To be continued