The story of how Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka has been told countless times, but it is nevertheless a fascinating one. One fine Full Moon Poya Day nearly 2,330 years ago, King Tissa was hunting deer in a park close to the Royal City of Anuradhapura. Then he heard someone calling his name. Since no one in the country dared to call the King by his name, he turned upward to see just who dared to do so. He was greeted with the sight of a retinue of saffron-robed monks and a sage.

The visitor on top of the rock was none other than Arahant Mahinda Thera, son of Emperor Dharmashoka in neighbouring Jambudeepa, present day India. He had brought the precious gift of the Buddha Dhamma to Sri Lanka. The King, his followers and indeed the entire population of Anuradhapura then embraced the words of the Enlightened One after Arahant Mahinda Thera delivered the discourse on Chulla Haththi Padopama Sutta (Simile on the Foot of an Elephant). It is a Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya (Middle-length Discourses of the Buddha of the Sutta Pitaka) that clearly explains the path to Nibbana, the ultimate goal of every Buddhist.

Today, on Poson Full Moon Poya Day, we celebrate that momentous event in Sri Lankan history. King Tissa earned the sobriquet “Devanampiya” (Beloved of the Gods) after he embraced Buddhism. This was the moment that started a Buddhism-based civilisation and an agri-based socio-cultural revolution in Sri Lanka that continues to this day. Thus Poson can be called a watershed moment in Sri Lanka’s rich annals. To Sri Lankan Buddhists, it is second in importance only to Vesak, which marks the Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Passing Away.

While Sri Lanka has embraced a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural milieu, the tenets and ethos of Buddhism have permeated to every level of our society, regardless of ethnicity and religion. Indeed, both Vesak and Poson are marked in various ways by non-Buddhists as well. Poson celebrations centre on Mihintale, where thousands of devotees converge to recall with gratitude Ven. Arahant Mahinda Thera’s journey to Sri Lanka. They climb the Mihintale rock with sheer reverence, following the very footsteps of Arahant Mahinda Thera and the thousands of Arahants who lived in Anuradhapura since. The journey to Mihintale has now been made easier thanks to the commencement of a new train service between Anuradhapura and Mihintale.

The adherence to the Four Sublime States mentioned in Buddhism – Metta (Loving Kindness), Karuna (Compassion), Muditha (Sympathetic Joy) and Upekkha (Equanimity) that has enabled Sri Lankans to wither any obstacle in life, be it the War, the Boxing Day tsunami, Easter attacks, the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn.