Monday, August 15, 2016

[Multiculturalism in Action Project 2016-17] Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan Culture Workshop

On 23 July 2016, the Multiculturalism in Action (MIA) Project invited Venerable Seegiriye Sumiththa Thero to give a talk on Buddhism and the Sri Lankan Community in Hong Kong.

According to Sumiththa Thero, Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Mahinda Thero, a prince of the Maurya Dunasy in India, in 247BC, in the month of Poson (June). Later, the Sri Lankan King sent a request to India for a Bhikkhuni (nun) to preach to the women folk. Theri Sanghamittai, sister of Mahinda Thero, went to Sri Lanka bringing with her a Bodhi tree and planted it in the Mahamewna Gardens. The Poson Festival is now celebrated annually to commemorate the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

Until 29 BC, Buddhist teaching in Sri Lanka was passed down orally. Sumiththa Thero said Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka were unique. Each of them should include the following components: sangharama (for residence), uposathagharaya (chapter house for discussions/activities), ponds, Bodhi tree, stupa, image house (for ritual performances), and pirivane (school for monks). Buddhist monasteries can be categorized into four types: 1) Cave temples; 2) Forest hermitages; 3) Buddhist institutions; and 4) Gramavasi temples. But all temples follow the same architectural pattern at entrance, for example, there should be a half-moon stone, guard-stones, and korawakgala on the sides of the steps.

There are differently shaped stupas.

A bell shape stupa in Columbo
Photo source: Michael Coghlan (Flickr)

In everyday life, rituals and festivals are highly influenced by Buddhism. For instance, through alms-giving people accumulate and transfer merits to dead relatives. Bodhi-Puja is another widespread ritual for people to get rid of evil influences.

People offering food to monks
Photo source: Embassy of Sri Lanka, Washing DC

The Sri Lankans in Hong Kong are enthusiastic in maintaining important Buddhist rituals. For example, Bodhi Puja and Poson Day are observed annually. A Dhamma school is established to teach children about Buddhist traditions and knowledge. Cultural Days have been organized to showcase Sri Lankan traditions such as the Ves Dance and Devil Dance.

Dhamma school in Hong Kong
Photo Source: Internet
Ves dance performance
Photo Source: Eranga Chandrasena

Sumiththa Thero said it has been a challenge for Sri Lankans to practice Buddhism in Hong Kong because there is no Sri Lankan temple. They sometimes organized their activities in a Thai temple in Tai Po, but in general it was not easy to book a venue. The Dhamma school, for instance, was organized once a month, instead of once a week as the usual practice in Sri Lanka. Sumiththa Thero concluded that the Sri Lankan community has initiated discussion with government officials to plan the establishment of a Sri Lankan temple. It is very much looking forward to be materialized in the near future.

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