2021 Vesak for Sri Lanka
OFFERING OUR PRACTICE TO THE LORD BUDDHA
Dear Dhamma Friends,
May you have a joyful and uplifting Vesak at home, filled with deep thanks and respect for what we have received from the Lord Buddha!
Unfortunately, this will be our 3rd ‘Vesak at Home’, as Sri Lanka enters a new lockdown due to the escalating Covid-19 situation. It means that our Celebrations need to focus on being ‘inside’ – inside our homes and inside our hearts – and less on being ‘outside’ – making offerings at temples and monasteries, and celebrating in our communities and streets. Less on outer decorations and more on inner decorations of the mind.
Vesak is a time when we can reflect on how much we owe to the Lord Buddha and his Teachings. How much we have to be grateful for! And, the natural response is the wish to make offerings from our hearts to the Lord Buddha.
Recently, Venerable Ajahn Brahm gave a Dhamma Desana, entitled ‘Giving Freely’, to the Sangha and lay visitors at his Monastery. In that Desana, he mentioned when he makes an offering of his meditation to the Buddha, or his teacher Ajahn Chah, how much joy, gratitude and inspiration arises, and how that joy empowers his meditation.
Making Offerings to the Lord Buddha
We are all familiar with offering material things (amisa puja), such as candles, incense, flowers, water, drinks, foods, etc., which can bring up warm feelings of faith and devotion. But, what did the Lord Buddha consider the best offering, the highest honour to him?
“Any monk or nun or male or female lay follower who practices in line with the teachings, practicing properly, living in line with the teachings—they honor, respect, revere, venerate, and esteem the Realized One with the highest honor. So Ānanda, you should train like this: ‘We shall practice in line with the teachings, practicing properly, living in line with the teaching.’
Parinibbana Sutta (DN 16)
Tr. Bhante Sujato
Offering Our Practice
This is, of course, offering our practice of the Dhamma, Prathipaththi (Pali: Patipatti) Puja. How do we practise the Dhamma properly so we live in line with the Dhamma? Is it only by offering the Lord Buddha our meditation?
No, we practice properly by sincerely undertaking the Noble Eightfold Path to the best of our abilities. It is so important we do not expect ourselves to be perfect in practising the Path. Otherwise, we may feel discouraged and continually find fault with ourselves, which is the opposite of practising properly.
Practising the Path means through our practice of giving and sharing (dana); through our practice of morality (sila); and through our cultivation or development (bhavana) of good qualities in the mind. These are all offerings each and everyone of us can make to the Lord Buddha!
Giving and Sharing (Dana)
Giving and sharing (dana), is more than just offering ‘dane’ to the Sangha. It is an attitude of joyfully ‘giving freely’ to all we encounter, especially those we live with, to whatever extent we can, not expecting anything in return. It is giving whatever is needed, be it material support for the body, like the tireless care and attention of so many dedicated doctors, nurses and medical staff in this country are giving to those with Covid-19. It is also giving emotional, psychological, or spiritual support for the mind or heart, so vital at this time of Covid-19. The mental health and wellbeing of so many people throughout the world has been painfully challenged by this pandemic. We honour the Lord Buddha when we practice giving, with joy and enthusiasm!
Morality or Ethical Conduct (Sila)
Our practice of morality or ethical conduct (sila), in particular the 5 precepts, is such an important offering to the Lord Buddha, and to all those we encounter, especially at home. A truly ethical person gives a gift of freedom from anxiety and worry, a gift of peace and ease of mind to whoever they meet. Others don’t need to fear for their lives, property, or their partners, and they know that a moral person is truthful, and not befuddled by alcohol or drugs. A moral person is someone we can rely on, and feel safe with. We honour the Lord Buddha when we practice morality, sincerely and consistently!
Bhavana or Mental Cultivation
Our practise of Bhavana is the cultivation or reconditioning of our minds or hearts in order to develop positive qualities that lead to happiness, peace, wisdom and freedom.
We do this through our practice of Right Effort, letting go of negative qualities that bring darkness and difficulty to our hearts and minds, and instead developing positive qualities, such as friendliness, kindness, caring, joy for the happiness of others, acceptance, patience, tolerance, and wisdom. We need to do this practice 24 x 7, as much as possible, at home and wherever we are. This requires a lot of patience and kindness as we shed our old negative habits and repeatedly develop new positive habits. We also cultivate (bhavana) the mind by developing mindfulness in meditation and daily life, so that we know what we are doing, saying and thinking, now. This leads us deeper and deeper into meditation, where the mind becomes more and more pure, peaceful and energetically joyful, which in turn enables us to see things clearly, Vipassana. We honour the Lord Buddha through our practice of bhavana, cultivating the mind with energy and joy!
For a few moments, we can visualise the Lord Buddha, bathed in silvery moonlight, sitting in meditation under the Bodhi Tree, a delightful place, not far from the cool sandy banks of the peacefully flowing River Neranjana. We can imagine his peaceful appearance with a smile of deep inner contentment.
In our minds we can offer our practice to the Lord Buddha. Our practice of: giving, living ethically and kindly, developing positive qualities and emotions, and understanding.
And, when we do this we can allow a space for a feeling or a response to arise. It might be a feeling of: joy, or enormous gratitude, or enormous respect, or faith, or inspiration.
We can share/radiate whatever feeling we experience with those close to us and in ever widening circles to include all beings, seen and unseen.
The more we practice, and see the fruits of our practice, the more we will have to offer the Lord Buddha. We will develop deeper and deeper gratitude and joy, and stronger and stronger respect and faith in him. It will strengthen our sense of refuge, so we can face these stressful times, and bring us a sense of steadiness and safety. And, we will know this refuge won’t let us down!
At this time of Vesak, we can make an aspiration or intention to practise the Noble Eightfold Path to the best of our abilities and as much as possible, in order to offer this to the Lord Buddha, ‘Budu piyanan wahanse’ (Venerable Father), in our mind, in our hearts, like offering him the ‘highest honour’.
Ajahn Nissarano Thero