THE New Buddhism and its Eschatological Focus
Posted on August 24th, 2017

R Chandrasoma

In the exegesis of religion, the term eschatology refers to concepts and anticipations of things ‘post mortem’ – such as the immortality of the ‘soul’, rebirth, resurrection, metempsychosis etc. In most religions, the greater life lies in that which follows the extinction of this life and our current existence is thought to be a mere prelude or preparation for the redeeming life to come. (Let us ignore the Hells and other Punishment Centres that play a big part in popular religions). In this regard, Buddhism is fundamentally different in that the genuine pilgrim seeks a vision, revelation or fundamental  insight that negates life and puts an end to  the samsaric journey that enslaves us as karmic agents. The liberating truth is that there is a state of transcendence – a preparation of the mind – that abstracts us from the errors, follies and pains of samsaric existence. It is the acquisition of this redeeming (Nirvanic) vision that must be the ineradicable goal of the authentic Buddhist pilgrim.

What do we actually see in the kind of religious practice – nominally Buddhist – that is culturally rooted in Sri Lanka? There are Priests and Supplicants, ornate ceremonies and incense-filled chambers that are redolently holy. But what is that which is so ardently sought? Is it the liberating vision that frees us from the endless cycle of Births and Deaths? Or is it the fear of an afterlife with punitive terrors that drives us to seek the assistance of religious officiants (priests or Bhikkus) to ward off another round of existential misery? With rare exceptions, what is sought is a ‘better life’ which excludes such things as the tortures of manifold kinds in a multiplicity of Hells, degraded life as a ‘Prethya’ and the untold miseries of Animal Existence. In short, it is the karmic improvement of life rather than its radical cessation that is ardently sought.  In this transformative adventure the notion of samsaric merit transfer – a feature of Late Buddhism under Mahayanist influence – plays a key role and it is this development that has made Temple Services (Poojas and the like) so pivotally important – with Monks or Bhikkus  serving as ‘sacerdotal agents’.  That genuine Buddhist religious practice has  been upstaged by monkish rituals is an undeniable fact  . Suppose something meritorious is done – for example a ‘dana’ given to monastic residents of great piety. According to the prevailing orthodoxy, this pious action creates a transferable quantum of karmic ‘merit’ or ‘ping’ with the monks acting as ‘bankers’ or ‘transfer agents’. The word ‘bankers’ sounds impious but the accepted wisdom is that the good done by X can be transferred to Y with the sacerdotal acts of the monks – thereby imitating a ‘banking service’ with the karmic goodness treated as transferable capital. It is now the ‘standard’ belief that most of our dear departed ones are reborn as ‘Prethayas’ and that our ‘Buddhist Duty ‘ is to transfer ‘ping’ or transferable karmic merit to the fallen beings through services (dana) or poojas in holy places. The latter (poojas) can be roughly translated as hallelujahs to the Divine Beings.

It is not suggested that all this is a travesty of sincere religious practice – our point is that it is not Buddhism in its pristine meaning – where the religious effort is ideally singular and personal with Monks and temples as historic institutions rooted in an inalienable and distinctive religious culture. Many sincere Buddhists will reject the possibility of karmic transfer – but it has become the very foundation  of Buddhist practice in this country where sacerdotal (temple) services in favour of the departed dear ones have an institutional strength that is  indefeasible even in the practice of a religion that is quintessentially singular and personal.

6 Responses to “THE New Buddhism and its Eschatological Focus”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Before the arrival of Buddhism in the island, people worshipped ancestors. It is said that there are 330 million gods. Obviously they cannot be anyone other than ancestors. Therefore this practice is a blend of Buddhism and earlier beliefs. Ancestor worship practice still continues to this date in Sri Lanka. Although Buddhism is one aspect of Sinhalas, the other uniquely local practices must be preserved. Hindus or Muslims should not be allowed to hijack Sinhala ancestors as their gods.

    The Buddhist spiritual aspect is a different one. It is up to individuals to choose what they prioritise.

  2. AnuD Says:

    I am talking my experience. In order t understand buddhism, it needs to be practised and understand. Then we can understand how true the buddhism is. If not just intellectualizing. That leads only to wrong conclusions. Buddhism can be explianed with Quantum Dynamics.

  3. SA Kumar Says:

    Hindus or Muslims should not be allowed hijack Sinhala ancestors as their gods. ??? We-Saiva Thamilar have 660 million gods why we need one more ???

    The Buddhist spiritual aspect is a different one. ??? We call Raja yoga in Saivam

    You or me one person clearly confused !!! I hope that is me .

    inshallah !!!

  4. charithsls Says:

    How true you are Mr Chandrasoma, if you can conduct a campaign through your marvellous writing, to clean up the mess with rituals, Buddhists will appreciate it. Somewhere I heard or read, Buddhism is like a fine feather which goes & land anywhere without disturbing the ground it landed, meaning Buddhism spreads far & wide but does not change the culture of that population in anyway. Compare that with other religions Muslims & Christians where you have to change your ethnic names & identity etc.A good example quoted was, when Buddhism spread to some part of China where the cultural practice was to close the lid of the coffin while all the kith & kin turn their back to the coffin, to put inside the coffin of the dead all his valuables before the burial (to prevent others watching the valuables), it continued the same way after the population embraced Buddhism so sometime later people spoke of it as a Buddhist teaching! It is such a blessed teaching giving the onus to the practiser.Hinduism has crept in so much. No wonder, in this poverty stricken population, people want easy solutions rather than stick by Dhamma, in a way you can’t blame them specially when the Head of the so called Buddhist nation, be it MR,MS or RW make a regular beeline to famous Hindu Kovils in India to gain its Blessings. If I’m not wrong RW was (or may be still) a devotee of SaiBaba after whose death he was found to have made so much fraud by the police!
    One good Dhamma point you’ve made here is, it is absolutely true, Kamma is totally false in the SuperMundane Path.

  5. charithsls Says:

    A good illustration of how foolish the Buddhists are to embrace Hinduism; in my young days how much I adore Victor Rathnayake’s song ‘Oba yadumata Ava,Mayurasana matha’. I’m sure the singer & whoever who wrote the lyrics are ”good Buddhists’! Well,If I’ve any power I ‘ll ban the song & take them to task. Anyone should have freedom to sing & write but not to masquerade as it is Buddhism. How much it corrupts the unsuspecting young Buddhist minds (like mine) not to say loads of ”mature” Buddhists. There goes our Buddhists!

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    The Essence of Buddhism is in Dhana, Seela & Bhavana.

    Follow those three Precepts and we cannot go wrong.
    Bhavana brings Wisdom.
    Wisdom is essential for Survival of All.

    Rituals are shallow in comparison to the Dhana, Seela & Bhavana.

    Hinduism Core Teachings are in the Four Great Yogas.
    Raj Yoga is akin to Buddhism.

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