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DateLine Sunday, 17 August 2008

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Only a Buddhist can attain Nibbana

Any questions you have regarding Dhamma may be addressed to Dhamma Discussion, Sunday Observer, Lake House, 35, D. R. Wijewardene Mawatha, Colombo 10 or sajitha@sundayobserver.lk with ‘Dhamma Discussion’ as the subject line so that your questions can be directed to the appropriate individuals.

Answers provided by Professor Asanga Tilakaratne - Former Director, Post Graduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist studies, Kelaniya and Chairman of Dhamrivi Foundation.

Q: If one attempts to commit a sin, but does not succeed in accomplishing it, does it still become a sin, because of the volition (chethana)?

A: A deed only becomes a sin if certain aspects are fulfilled. For example, if one attempts to kill a living being - may it be human or animal - knowing that it is alive, decide to kill it, contrive a method to kill, attempt to kill and if the attempt is successful, then the person has committed a sin. All these prerequisites have to be fulfilled for a deed to become a sin.

However when the Buddha said ‘Chethana ham bhikkawe kamman wadami’ he indicated that volition or chethana is the root cause of all karma. But without the volition a deed does not qualify, in the first place as an act since it is involuntary and therefore does not qualify as a papa (sin), but only as an akusala.

However even akusala , when they reach the excessive state - in the case of greed, abhijjha and anger, vyapada - becomes a sin through the mind, but even this is not the same as committing a sin as killing.

Q: Is the precept of ‘Kamesu michchachara’ violated only when one engages in sexual intercourse?

A: Technically the precept is violated, only if one engages in sexual intercourse. But when considering the spirit of the precept, one may harm ones own morality, if one is involved in an extra marital affair, even if it is devoid of sexual intercourse.

Q: Lately in stead of ‘Buddhan jivitha pariyanthan saranan gachchami’ , in the Pali stanza chanted to worship the Buddha, some have opted to use ‘Buddhan jivithan yawa nibbhanan saranan gachchami’ , which of these is more suitable?

A: These Pali stanzas are not really the Buddha’s words. These were formulated perhaps long after the Buddha attained parinirvana. Some of these stanzas are not even included in the Thripitaka and is written by people who were not very familiar with Pali grammar and as a result these contain grammatical errors.

In this particular case the phrase ‘Buddhan jivitha pariyanthan saranan gachchami’ is more suitable, since it is grammatically more accurate. In any case it is advisable to know the meaning of the Pali stanzas you are using while worshipping.

Q: How does people belonging to the Vinayawardhana sect (who do not worship inanimate objects such as statues and pagodas), become followers of the Buddha?

A: Vinayawardhana is a sort of fundamentalism. Worshipping a Buddha statue, does not necessarily mean worshipping the image. All objects such as the Bodhi, the pogoda and the Buddha statue represent the Buddha.

The pagoda is not a mere heap of bricks. When you take a pagoda in a temple premises, and consider it as a symbol of the Buddha the problem about worshipping an inanimate object does not arise.

No one will worship a statue in a shop. People will only worship Buddha statues in religious places, such as temples or ones that are allocated for the purpose of worshipping. ‘Religion’ has two aspects - aesthetic/emotional and philosophical. The aesthetic/emotional aspect include such things as monks, monasteries and rites and rituals. For a large percentage, rituals have an appeal.

There can be some who may think that this aesthetic aspect of the religion is unnecessary, that one does not need to spend time on rites and rituals and that meditation is enough to attain nibbhana. But these rituals have an aesthetic value, which some people of society require. Thus the importance of worshipping these objects and carrying out rites and rituals can not be disregarded.

Q: According to Buddhism, is it a sin to marry a non Buddhist?

A: In Buddhism that distinction is not made. A spouse should be supportive enough to let the partner follow his or her religion. A good Buddhist should never try to impose restrictions on others.

The sin would be to convert to a religion that do not uphold the belief of Karma and the its results. Every religion on earth teaches to do good deeds. They also believe that these good deeds have good consequences. This can be taken as belief in Karma and its results.

At the time of the Buddha, Brahmins worshipped god Ishwara. But the Buddha never condemned this thinking. However he did condemn the religion of Makkaligosala, which denied the existence of Karma and its results.

The Buddha has said that the four stages - Sothapanna, Sakrudagami, Anagami and Arhath can only be reached through Buddhism and the Eight fold path only exists in Buddhism. Anyone including non Buddhists can go to heaven by doing good deeds. But only Buddhists can attain nibbhana.

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