Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Poson" at Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara; Wisdom Quarterly; Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara

Poson full moon observance day is a festival celebrated on the Buddhist island of Sri Lanka.

It marks the  arrival of Buddhism in the 3rd century BCE. It is therefore of great historical and religious significance to the island's majority Sinhalese Buddhists, if less important to the nation's many Tamil Hindu, Indian and Maldivian Muslims, British and Portuguese Christians, and a tiny marginalized minority of indigenous aborigines, the Veddas.
The full moon day of June commemorates the arrival of an enlightened emissary from India, the arhat son of Emperor Asoka. Over 2,000 years ago Arhat Mahinda converted Sri Lanka's King Devanampiyatissa to Buddhism.

The center of celebrations is Mihintale, the ancient monastic complex where the royal missionary monk along with his enlightened sister gave a sermon to the island's ruler. Anuradhapura, the ancient capital, is also a place where large crowds of pilgrims converge. Mass religious observances and illuminated pageants are part of the celebrations.

For the island's Buddhists, this sacred day is second only to Vesak. Long lines of devotees dressed in white climb the many steps to the top of Mihintale stone outcropping -- a kind of Plymouth Rock (Mihinthalaya) -- first to the temple then to the pagodas (dagabas) adorned in the nearby hills. The top of the rock is where Arhat Mahinda delivered his initial discourses.
This area is called the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. With the establishment of a monastic order (Sangha) all the elements of a civilized society began to emerge: the art of writing, art, architecture, canals, reservoirs, song and dance forms, literature, all with royal patronage.
[Oh wait, all of these "civilizing" elements were here before. But the Sinhalese trace their dominant culture to the civilizing influence of the Dharma's appearance on the island; they even trace their genes back to northern and northwestern India so as to make them Buddhist-Buddhists and somewhat nationalist in character, which has been quite harmful to the other inhabitants of the island.]

Many religious activities are organized during Poson such as virtue (sila) campaigns, Bodhi tree rituals, dana-salas (freely donated food and refreshments), devotional songs, parades, and lanterns.
Many temple fill with Eight Precept devotees and pilgrims from all over the island to mark the event. The devout are clad in pure white -- just as in the Buddha's day -- with no adornments like make up on their way to temple. There they spend the next 24 hours actually practicing the Dharma in quiet contemplation or meditation.
Meanwhile, the rest of the village gathers on temple grounds after sunset to participate in less spiritual activities -- like reading sacred books, listening to saffron-clad monastics recite sutras (bhana), relate ancient stories from the Buddha's past lives (jatakas), or chant protections (parittas).
During the Poson Festival the selling of alcohol and animal flesh is usually prohibited, and slaughterhouses are closed. Emperor Asoka made such decrees in ancient India (Bharat) as well after becoming a Buddhist. More

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