The Buddha’s visit home

Significance of Medin Poya Day

Medin Poya, which usually falls in the month of March, falls on February 28 this year. Poya days traditionally attached to a particular month have been falling at the end of the preceding month this year. For example, Duruthu Poya Day was on December 31, 2009 and Navam Poya was on January 29, 2010. Similarly, Bak Poya will fall on March 29. This pattern will continue until Vesak Poya Day, which will fall in the month of May as usual. The Poya Day that falls on April 28 is Adi Vesak this year.

By Iromi Dharmawardhane
King Suddhodana, the father of the Buddha, longed to see his son. It had now been close to seven years since the Buddha, as Prince Siddhartha Gautama, had left behind his father and mother, his wife, and his newborn child, along with his kingdom, to go in search of Truth and a permanent state of happiness which life could not offer. The King dispatched emissary after emissary accompanied by large retinues of men inviting the Buddha, now residing in the Veluwanaramaya Temple in Rajagriha, to visit the Sakya Kingdom of his birth in Kimbulwathpura.

These groups of emissaries, however, did not return nor did they fulfil their mission as they themselves became disciples of the Buddha upon meeting with him and hearing the Dharma. Subsequently, the King decided to send Minister Kaludai, Prince Siddhartha’s childhood playmate, hoping that he will be in a better position to persuade the Buddha to make a journey home. Kaludai agreed to take on the task, albeit on the condition that the King grants him permission to enter the Order of monks as well.

After one week of being ordained, (now) Arahat Kaludai presented the invitation to the Buddha and told him that his affectionate father was very anxiously waiting to see him. The Buddha conceded in silence.
It was on Medin Full Moon Day, about 10 months after attaining Enlightenment, that the Buddha, followed by about 20,000 disciples, began the two-month journey from Rajagriha to Kimbulwathpura by foot (so that people in towns and cities along the way will also benefit from the journey).

Upon reaching Kimbulwathpura, however, the Buddha was met with arrogance and indifference on the part of relatives older than himself who were sceptical of his Enlightenment. This was one of the occasions when the Buddha performed the “Twin Miracle” (Yamaka-pratihariya), simultaneously producing the two seemingly contradicting phenomena of fire and water, with the intention of dismissing doubts of those who lack the direct knowledge gained through sustained meditation. The Buddha is said to have alternatively produced flames from the upper part of his body and water from the lower part of his body and then similarly between the left and right sides of his body. Upon witnessing this miracle the King along with other relations came forward to worship the Buddha. However, it is important to note here that Buddhism does not gauge spiritual advancement by the ability to perform miracles, and the Buddha has declined requests to perform miracles saying, “...I dislike, reject and despise them.”

The Buddha expounded the Vessanthara Jathakaya to the same gathering of kinsmen and noblemen, describing how he had in a previous birth (as Prince Vessanthara) overcome all attachments and desires of the world by perfecting the virtue of ‘generosity’ (dana). Seeing others’ needs as his own, his heart had been charitable to the highest degree allowing him to give away his children and wife.

For most of us, still, the attachment we have for our family is so deep and the love we feel for them is so intense, that we will not part with them for anything. King Suddhodana’s plea to the Buddha when Prince Nanda (Suddhodana’s son and the Buddha’s half-brother) and Prince Rahula (Suddhodana’s grandson and the Buddha’s son) were ordained into the Order during the same visit to Kimbulwathpura, captures the pain associated with losing family: “Oh Blessed One, attachment towards the offspring generally penetrate into the bones, flesh and marrow of their parents. To the parents, there is no other treasure dearer than the offspring. Oh! Blessed one, please do not ordain any child, without the permission of the parents.” The Buddha responded to this appeal and made a rule that no child can be ordained in the future without the consent of the parents. This further reflects the Buddha’s great capacity for compassion.

During his time in Kimbulwathpura, the Buddha and his 20,000 disciples begged for alms going from house to house. King Suddhodana and Queen Maha Prajapathi Gothami were greatly embarrassed by this activity and told the Buddha that it was an affront to the Sakya clan to go begging for food in this way. To this the Buddha replied:
“Oh king, our clan is the Buddha clan. It is customary for our clan to beg for food in this manner. Royal lineage, Sakyawansa is yours. Mine is the Buddha lineage, Buddhawansa.”
At the end of the discourse King Suddhodana is said to have attained Sakadagami (the second stage of sainthood) and Maha Prajapathi Gothami, Sotapatti (the first stage of sainthood). The Buddha’s visit to Kimbulwatpura can be regarded as the greatest honor the Buddha has bestowed upon his beloved father, mother, other family members and kinsmen, and the Kimbulwathpura people as a whole, seeing that the entire kingdom was exalted through the Buddha Dharma.

Additionally and most importantly, it was during the Buddha’s visit to his homeland that he expounded the Ovada Patimokkha, the core teaching of the monastic rules for training (before the systematic codes of Vinaya were developed). Medin Poya Day is also called ‘Sangha Day’ for this reason. This teaching was given by the Buddha to a spontaneous gathering of 1,250 enlightened monks (Arahants):
“Patient endurance is the ultimate asceticism.
‘Nibbana is supreme’, say the Buddhas.
A renunciate should not oppress anyone.
To abstain from all evil,
To cultivate what is wholesome,
To purify one’s mind:
This is the Way of the Awakened Ones.
To speak no ill, to do no harm,
To cultivate restraint with respect for the training,
To eat enough but not too much,
To live apart and meditate,
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.”
As we go to the temple or meditate at home today, there is much to contemplate on a Medin Poya Day!


Observing Poya

In their religious observances, the Sri Lankan Buddhists have adopted from Indian tradition the use of the lunar calendar. The four phases of the moon are the pre-new-moon day, when the moon is totally invisible, the half-moon of the waxing fortnight, the full moon, and the half-moon of the waning fortnight. Owing to the moon’s fullness of size as well as its effulgence, the full-moon day is treated as the most auspicious of the four phases. Hence the most important religious observances are held on full-moon days and the lesser ones in conjunction with the other phases. In the Buddhist calendar, the full moon, as the acme of the waxing process, is regarded as the culmination of the month and accordingly the period between two full moons is one lunar month.

The religious observance days are called Poya Days. The Sinhala term poya is derived from the Pali and Sanskrit form uposatha (from upa+vas: To fast) primarily signifying “fast day.” Fasting on this day was a pre-Buddhist practice among the religious sects of ancient India. While the monks use the monthly moonless day (called amavaka in Sinhala) and the full-moon day for their confessional ritual and communal recitation of the code of discipline

(Patimokkha), the lay devotees observe the day by visiting temples for worship and also by taking upon themselves the observance of the Eight Precepts.
A practicing Buddhist observes the Poya Day by visiting a temple for the rituals of worship and, often, by undertaking the Eight Precepts. The Eight Precepts include the Five Precepts, with the third changed to abstinence from unchastity, and the following three additional rules:
6. To abstain from solid food after mid-day;
7. To abstain from dancing, singing, music, and improper shows, and from ornamenting the body with garlands, scents, unguents, etc.;
8. To abstain from the use of high and luxurious beds and seats.
If one decides to observe the Eight Precepts, one would wake up early, bathe and clad oneself in clean white garments, and go to the nearest temple. The incumbent monk administers the precepts to the entire group assembled for the purpose. Thereafter they would spend the day according to a set timetable which would include sermons, pujas, periods of meditation, and Dhamma discussions. At meditation centers there will be more periods of meditation and fewer sermons and pujas.