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 Post subject: Upasampada ceremony
 Post Posted: Sat Feb 11, 2006 4:20 am 
Upasampada ceremony

By D. B. Kappagoda

It is a religious ceremony where a Samanera attains the status of a fully- pledged Buddhist monk committed to practise Vinaya rules. Upasampada or the Higher Ordination Ceremony is held annually in keeping with the rituals introduced from Siam (Thailand) as a revival of monastic life of the bhikkus. It was the time when the order of the Sangha had reached a low level in Sri Lanka. The decline began when the kings selected Kanda Uda Pas Rata as their kingdom with Senkadagala, their capital city.

The Buddhist monks become degenerated and they have been referred to as Ganinnanse, who only officiated at funerals performing pansakula- conferring merit on the dead and wishing nirvana bliss at the end of the journeying across samsara.

The monks were known for practising occult sciences which was taboo to their day-to-day life in viharas. The lives of these Buddhist monks who led a life of degeneration can be ascertained from the writings of foreign visitors to the Kandyan kingdom.

It was on a Poson Poya day during the reign of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1780), that the Upasampada Ceremony commenced and lasted for a month till Esala Poya, when the final ceremony was held in keeping with customary rituals at the centres of Siam Nikaya, namely Malwatta Vihara and Asgiriya Vihara in Kandy.

The revival of Buddhism was chiefly due to the efforts of a pious monk named Ven. Welivita Sri Saranankara thera who saw Buddhist values were fast disintegrating among bhikkus. It was not an easy task. He was convinced that the life blood of the Sasana was discipline and monks should receive higher ordination in keeping with Vinaya rules laid down in the Buddhist scriptures. This was because these practices went into disuse because of wars during this period. Several attempts were made in sending monks to be ordained in Siam but they were not successful. This was because the ceremonies held in Siam which were found to be alien to the people of Sri Lanka.

Ven. Welivita Saranankara thera then decided to invite a thera from Siam and perform the higher ordination ceremony in Kandy at which people could see and participate. Thus, the king made arrangements with the Dutch who were occupying the maritime provinces to provide him with ships to bring monks from Siam. The efforts made by the venerable monk was supported by Mohottala of Wilbagedara who braved the dangers of the sea journeying by sailing ships to Siam. The King of Siam received the emissaries from Sri Lanka and made arrangements to send Upali Thera and other monks to help in conducting Upasampada ceremony.

At the first ceremony held at Malwatta Vihara, in Kandy, Ven. Sri Saranankara after he was ordained, was declared Chief Sangha Nayaka or Sangharaja of the country. A proclamation was made by King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe which read, "from today I appoint you as the Sangha Nayaka thera of the Tri Sinhala". The king then made several donations to the first Sangharaja whose piety was well known in the country. The rituals connected with the Upasampada are conducted at the Poyage of the Malwatta as well as Asgiriya. The ceremonies are conducted in the afternoon and continue till late in the evening. The young Samaneras dressed in civil clothes accompanied by their chief monks enter the premises.

This is the last occasion when they wear civil clothes before entering the priesthood from the status of samanera. During the time of the Sinhala kings the ceremonies were conducted under the directions of the kings. Wahal nagayas means benediction of the king who provide robes for the ceremony. This practice is now followed by providing robes by the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The samanera has his begging bowl tied behind his back before the commencement of the Upasampada rites. It is to be noted that it is considered the only materialistic possession he should possess.

The Mahanayaka then decides to confer Upasampada. Before he decides to do so, he is questioned by two monks well versed in Vinaya.

He is asked whether he has bodily scars which disqualify him from being ordained. With the permission thus obtained from the Mahanayaka thera, the samanera proceeds with the begging bowl strapped behind his back with the members of Karaka Sangha Sabha consisting of 20 monks who confirm that the samanera is free from physical difficulties. When the ceremony is in progress the relatives and well-wishers are allowed to assemble at the Poyage to witness the proceedings. Afterwards the begging bowl is untied and handed over to the monk who has received his Upasampada.

The samanera is bestowed sil by the Mahanayaka thera. This was performed by holding the samanera's hand. The life of an ordained monk is to be simple and non-materialistic. The monks have been advised during the time of the Buddha to perform religious ceremonies and to bless the lay people at times of difficulties.
The ordanined monks have to continue with these practices and perform religious rites to laity to lead their lives in keeping with the teachings of the Buddha.

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