H2.01   The pristine glory of Dighavapi - According to the University history of Ceylon…

H2.02   Arahat Mahinda's gift to Sri Lanka - Important event which occurred on the Full Moon Day of Poson...

H2.03   Buddha’s visits to Sri Lanka - For over two thousand years we Sinhalese...

H2.04   Unduvap Pasalosvaka Poya - Arahat Therini Sanghamitta arrived in Sri Lanka bringing the sacred bo-sapling...

H2.05   Sri Maha Bodhi - a living link with the past - Shortly after planting, eight shoots sprang up...

H2.06   The historic mission of Ven. Mahinda Thera 2307 years ago - According to the Mahavamsa...

H2.07   How the Vesak Poya was declared a holiday - The Director of National Archives recently traced the history...

H2.08   King Wessanthara and the cave he lived in exile - King Dharmashoka constructed, located and identified 84,000...

H2.09   From the Footprint of the Buddha - How should one value this great tradition…

H2.10   The sacred Bo tree was no dwarf Bonsai - The Bo Sapling brought to Lanka by…

H2.11   Major events of Buddhism - A Time line

H2.12   Bodhgaya to all humankind - The very word conjures up images of the sacred site…

H2.13   The existence of Buddhism before the arrival of Arhath Mahinda in Sri Lanka - Poson full moon day is associated...

H2.14   Ancient Buddhist links between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka  - The Palk Strait which lies between Tamil Nadu...

H2.15   Kusinara - the sacred site of Maha Parinibbana - Every person born to this earth has to face...

H2.16   The interaction between Hellenistic Greece and Buddhism

H2.17   Theravada Buddhism - A Chronology - This timeline chronicles some of the significant events and personalities...

H2.18   Heritage forgotten: Gandhara civilization site fading away...

H2.19   Buddhism's 'Dead Sea Scrolls' for sale to Norway - Saved from Afghanistan by top collector...

H2.20   In Afghanistan, 900-foot Sleeping Buddha eludes archaeologists - But researchers are finding and preserving other...








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H2.01   The pristine glory of Dighavapi

Walter Rupesinghe

Some thirteen miles east of Ampara is the ancient Buddhist shrine of Dighavapi hallowed by the visit of Lord Buddha.

According to the University history of Ceylon in the legendary accounts of the landing of Vijaya and his followers it has been recorded that the earliest arrivals founded settlements in places where water was available. One such settlement was at Dighavapi in the Gal Oya valley.

The Mahawamsa states that in the 3rd Century B.C., Uparaja supervised the construction of a wewa and that subsequently a prince holding the office of Uparaja resided at Dighavapi to superintend the cultivation and harvesting of crops in the eastern district. Thus since the days of Vijaya irrigation and food production were activities over which important members of the royal family exercised direct supervision.

The visit of Buddha

According to the account given in the Mahawamsa, when the Blessed one paid his third visit to Sri Lanka (the visit to Kelaniya) he had gone to Samanakuta (Sri Pada) and after he had spent the day as it pleased him at the foot of the mountain with the brotherhood he set forth for Dighavapi. When he had arrived there, he had seated himself with the brotherhood at the place where the Cetiya (thereafter stood) and given himself up to meditation to consecrate the spot (chapter one). Since the visit of the Buddha several Buddhist communities had lived in the area and Dighavapi had become an important place of pilgrimage and worship.

Dighavapi as a strategic staging post

In later years, Dighavapi, which is 9 yojanas or 81 miles from Mahagama, the capital of Ruhuna, was made an important staging post for Dutugemunu’s armies proceeding northwards to attack the fortress of Vijitapura on their way to Anuradhapura. The following passage from the University history of Ceylon makes very interesting reading:

"Dutthagamani anticipated the greatest military genius of modern Europe by acting on the principle that an army marches on its belly for his first act after gaining control of affairs in his own principality was to entrust to his brother (prince Saddhatissa) an intensive campaign of food production and to store provisions at Dighavapi, a base from which his advancing forces could be supplied with ease. The idelogical factor was duly taken into account. It was instilled into the minds of the soldiers that they were risking their lives and fortunes, not in their self interest, not for the aggrandisement of their king not even for their wives and children but solely for the glorification of the faith so dear to them for Dutthagamani and his advisers knew that men would give up their lives for a noble cause more readily than for personal gain".

We can well imagine what a hive of activity Dighavapi must have been in those memorable days with the ploughman giving court orders as he steered the plough through the fertile fields, comely maidens filling the air with their harvest songs, company commenders shouting orders to the troops being trained by them and everyone of them congregating in the gathering dusk on this consecrated ground to join the chaplains accompanying the armies to pay homage to the Blessed one. We can almost hear the haunting melody of the worshippers as they chant "sadhu, sadhu" expressing their gratitude for the blessings of another day now drawing to a close.

Little wonder then that Prince Saddhatissa who loved this place very dearly did so much to develop Dighavapi when he ascended the throne.

Building of the Dighavapi Cetiya

On the death of his brother, King Dutugemunu the mantle of Kingship fell on prince Saddhatissa. The new king ruled for eighteen years. He was a deeply religious king and a greater builder. Apart from completing all the construction work that had been undertaken by his late brother he built vihares all the way from Anuradhapura to Dighavapi at intervals of around ten miles.

He founded the Dighavapi vihara together with the Cetiya. For this Cetiya he had a covering of network made set with gems, and in every mesh thereof was hung a splendid flower of gold large as a wagon wheel. In honour of the eighty four thousand sections of the dhamma he also commanded eighty four thousand offerings (Mahawamsa Chap. xxxiii)

He also developed the environs of Dighavapi by constructing shrine rooms, dharmasalawas, monasteries, rest rooms, hospitals and all the attendant facilities which make up a great religious complex. By doing all this he enhanced the glory of Dighavapi which had found favour with the Enlightened One and the fame of Dighavapi spread far and wide.

Tragically with the passage of time Dighavapi suffered the fate of several other sacred shrines and went into decay. One is almost tempted to say that while other Buddhist shrines were kept alive in the memory of the people even in their ruined state Dighavapi was almost forgotten.

Restoration work

In recent years with the limited funds available the Archaeological Department made some attempt to undertake the restoration of this shrine but progress was very very slow. The department has located 35 archaeological sites in the Dighavapi complex. The archaeological area is a mere 42 square kilometres in extent. The area declared under the Archaeological department is only four hundred yards in radius of each site leaving the other areas unprotected under the Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of 1940. As a result of this there has been a great deal of illegal excavations, sand mining and enroachments in the open areas.

In a draft concept plan prepared by the Urban Development Authority a few years ago for the development of the Addalaichenai Divisional Secretary’s Division within which Dighavapi is situated a proposal was made for the declaration of the Dighavapi archaeological area under the UDA Act No. 41 of 1978 which would give the UDA power to control these unauthorised activities. At a conference held on 11th January 2000 presided over by the then Minister of Religious and Cultural Affairs it was decided that the Dighavapi archaelogical area will be constituted as a Special Development Area in consultation with the Archaelogical Department, all infrastructure agencies, the Local Authority, the Town and Country Planning Dept. and the UDA. Two high powered Advisory Committees were appointed to implement this programme. Not much progress has been made. It would appear that powerful forces have intervened to thwart the development of Dighavapi.

There are several ancient inscriptions in the area. In 1986 a gold leaf inscription 14 cms in length and 1.5 cms in width had been unearthed. The inscription had been deposited inside a reliquary made of thick gold sheets. The text of the inscription was as follows:

"Hail. The stupa (reliquary) of King Mahitisa (Kannittha Tissa) son of King Naka".

King Kannittha Tissa reigned from 164 — 192 AD.

The current status of Dighavapi is a great tragedy not only for the Buddhists but for all Sri Lankans. It is sincerely hoped that at least this Government will take positive and meaningful steps to restore Dighavapi to its pristine glory. If this is not done, I dread to think of what might happen when the proposed Interim Council takes charge of the administration of the northern and eastern provinces.

In recent months the electronic media has done much to highlight our ancient shrines in their Poya Day programmes. I would appeal to them to include Dighavapi hallowed by the visit of the Buddhist in one of the Poya Day programmes to provide more information to the Buddhists on one of the very important sacred places in our country.

14 9 2002 - Saturday Magazine, The Island





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H2.02   Arahat Mahinda's gift to Sri Lanka 

Pioneer educationist Marie Musaeus Higgins wrote this account of the significance of Poson poya

The very important event which occurred on the Full Moon Day of Poson Maase (June) is the coming of the Thera Mahinda to Lanka. The Thera Mahinda was the son of the great Buddhist King Asoka (Dhammasoka) of Maghada in Jambudwipa (India).

King Asoka who was an ally and friend of the King of Lanka, Devanam-piyatissa, wished that he should become a Buddhist as himself. So Asoka asked his son Mahinda, who was a great Buddhist Arahat, to go to Lanka and preach the Dhamma to King Tissa and his people. Asoka spoke to Mahinda and his Theras thus: "Ye shall found in the lovely Island of Lanka the wonderful Religion of the Conqueror (Lord Buddha)".

Mahinda was to take with him the Theras Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala and Baddasale. Mahinda had been for twelve years a monk at the time when King Asoka commanded him to go to Lanka.

Mahinda decided to visit his relatives first, before leaving India for Lanka, as he was sure that once there he would remain in Lanka till the end of his incarnation. So Mahinda preached to his relatives in India for six months and he visited his Mother Asandimitra and his Sister Sanghamitta (who was a nun).

He took besides the four Theras (a Buddhist monk who possesses the Iddhis), Sanghamitta's son the Samanera (a Buddhist monk who has not been fully ordained - a Novice), Sumana (mighty in the six supernormal powers) and the lay disciple Bhalluka with him and on the Full Moon Day of Poson Maase they rose into the air and alighted on the Mihintale Mountain in Lanka (about seven miles distant from Anuradhapura, the capital of Lanka). Here they waited for King Tissa who was just then on a hunting expedition and quite near. King Tissa saw a deer grazing at the foot of the Mihintale Mountain.

He sounded his bow-string, in order not to attack the deer when it was feeding, and when the deer took flight, the King chased it up the Mountain, and it ran to the place where Mahinda and His Theras were standing. It is said that this deer was really not a deer, but the Devaputra (the Deva-guardian of the mountain) of the mountain who had taken the shape of a spotted deer in order to guide King Tissa to the mountain to the Thera Mahinda.

When the Deva had accomplished this task, he, in the shape of the deer, disappeared and King Tissa saw to his astonishment the yellow-robed Mahinda standing there in the place of the spotted deer (Mahinda's six companions were not visible at the time, so as not to frighten the King).

Thera Mahinda called out to the King, after the latter had searched in vain for the deer: "Come here Tissa". More astonished than before was the King that the yellow-robed monk, whom he had never seen before, should know his name, and he thought at first that the yellow-robed monk must be a Yakka (a half demon who could change his shape whenever he liked). At that time Yakkas and Nagas (also half demons) are said to have lived in Lanka) in disguise. But he approached Mahinda and then the latter commenced a conversation with him which convinced him that this yellow-robed monk was a very learned man.

And the King's wise answers showed the Thera Mahinda that the King was ready to understand the new teachings which he had brought to him. King Tissa put his bow and arrow down, never to take them again for hunting and Mahinda said: "Out of compassion for you and your people we have come here." King Tissa then inquired whether there were more yellow-robed monks in Jambudwipa.

Mahinda showing now his six companions, said that the sky of Jambudwipa was glittering with yellow robes.

Mahinda now preached to King Tissa and his followers, who had come up the mountain by this time, his first sermon on "Conformity in Religion" and the king was so much impressed with the words of the wise Mahinda, that he invited the great Thera and his companions to his capital Anura-dhapura, where Mahinda began at once to teach the Dhamma.

Soon the whole Island of Lanka became Buddhistic, so convincing was the teaching of the first Missionary in Lanka.

King Tissa had the Island consecrated to Buddhism by Thera Mahinda and Buddhism became the religion of all Sinhalese over the whole Island (King Tissa and his subjects were Hindus by religion).

During his whole lifetime the Venerable Mahinda remained in Lanka, preaching and ordaining Sinhalese monks, and when he had completed his mission he passed into Pari-Nirvana. At the place where Mahinda and Devanampiyatissa first met, the successor of King Tissa, King Uttiya built the Ambastale Dagoba which stands yet on Mihintale Mountain and tell us about the great Thera Mahinda.

Even at the present day after two thousand years on the Full Moon Day of Poson maase, the event of Mahinda's "Coming to Lanka" and introducing Buddhism, is always spoken of because he was the first Buddhist Missionary and if it had not been for him the Sinhalese would never have known Buddhism.

Therefore let us think with love and gratitude of the Thera Mahinda, the son of the great King Asoka of India.

Sunday Times - 27 7 01





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H2.03   Buddha’s Visits to Sri Lanka

D. Amarasiri Weeraratne

For over two thousand years we Sinhalese have been brought in a tradition which says that the Buddha visited this island on three occasions during his life-time. Scholars and historians like Sir D. B. Jayatillaka in the 1921 October issue of "The Buddhist", and Dr. G. P. Malalasekera in his "Pali Literature of Ceylon", his PhD thesis, Dr. G. C. Mendis the first Ceylonese to undertake a scientifically minded history of our country, as well as Dr. S. Paranavithana, the doyen of Archeology in our days have all held that the legends of the visits is not historically true. Many Buddhists found it difficult to accept a verdict against a tradition accepted without hesitation for such a long period in our literature, poetry and entrenched in the religious ceremonies of the Durutu Full Moon Day, as well as the pilgrimages to Kelaniya and Sri Pada. Therefore to discredit this belief would go against the grain of Sinhalese Buddhism, and all its claims to be the chosen people of the Buddha, as stout defenders of the faith.

Many Buddhists who accept the Buddha’s visits are intelligent men. They are aware of the Buddha’s exhortations in the Kalama Sutra against beliefs that are not reasonable, and not founded on reliable sources. They also must have some reasons which at least to them appear to be tenable and sound.

Beliefs of such visits of the Buddha to this country are not peculiar to Sri Lanka. According to Sarvastivadin scriptures the Buddha had visited Kashmir. This too like the visits to Lanka are not mentioned in the Pali Canon. According to Burmese Buddhist works The Buddha had visited Burma. English Christians once believed that Jesus Christ had visited England. This belief had died out with the expansion of education and improvement in peoples standard of knowledge.

However this belief is said to prevail among a minor Christian sect. Similarly there are other Christian beliefs that are not supported by historical evidence. But the faithful orthodox believers do not abandon them. When these beliefs are discredited or shown to be historically untenable, they rush to a controversy to defend their beliefs.

Thus we see that religious beliefs are not necessarily based on what is historically verifiable. The historian ask the question "Did this actually happen" and examines the evidence. He eliminates myth and legend which are not verifiable from reliable sources. That is why the leading Buddhist intellectuals of their day like sir D. B. Jayetillaka, Dr. Malalasekera, Dr. Paranavithana and objective authorities on the ancient history of Sri Lanka were not able to endorse this belief. With the rank and file of the followers of a religious enthusiasm and national sentiment override the dictates of reason and impede their impartial judgement. For instance, the orthodox Buddhist believes that the Buddha had supranormal powers. He could travel by air: He could subdue non human beings like Yakshas and Nagas.

Therefore, holding such beliefs it would not be unreasonable if they think that the Buddha could have visited Sri Lanka and had performed all the miraculous feats attributed to him in the Mahavamsa legend.

It is well known that during the time of King Valagamba the Abhayagiri Vihara became the rival of the Mahavihara &emdash; the headquarters if Theravada Buddhism, after its decline in India. The Abhayagiri drifted further and further away towards Mahayana and finally became the headquarters of Mahayanism in Sri Lanka. The Mahayanists had made many innovations and captured the popular mind. They resorted to the use of images for worship, relic-worship, talismans and charms. They resorted to protective pirith chantings with concocted Sutras not found in the Tripitaka. They had also cooked up a Sutra called Lankavatara according to which the Buddha had visited Lanka at the invitation of King Ravana and preached this discourse here. 

This had caught the popular mind along with other apostasies of the Mahayanists. Nowhere in the Pali Canon do we find reference to a visit of the Buddha to Lanka or preaching any sermon here. 

However not to be outdone by the Mahayanists in popularity, the Theravada Elders at the Mahavihara innovated the legend that the Buddha visited Lanka not once but three times. And details of the Buddha’s visit later became incorporated as history when the Mahavihara Elder Mahanama compiled his Mahavamsa. He took the legend from the earlier record called Dipawamsa. After that commentarial works to the Tripitaka, and literary works by Sinhalese authors all took these visits as facts and recorded them. Thus our literature, songs, poetry, and ceremonies connected with the Kelaniya temple and the Sri Pada shrine came to uphold the Buddha’s fictitious visits as sacred facts.

Tankavatara Sutra

In this connection, it should be remembered that the Dipawamsa and Mahavamsa - the sources from which we get this legend were compiled about 500 years after the Buddha in Sri Lanka. So the authors of these books were merely drawing on legends accepted and passed over to them by their ancestors. They could not have checked on the facts and verify them, as there were no literary sources or even reference to these visits in the life of the Buddha and his ministry as given in the Pali Canon. However, they had the Sutra called Saddharma-Lankavatara (arrival of the good Doctrine in Lanka) cooked up by the Mahayanists among their many apocryphal scriptures. 

It teaches that the Buddha visited Sri Lanka at the invitation of (the mythical king) Ravana. Ravana is the villain of the Ramayana who abducted Princess Sita to Sri Lanka. There is absolutely no evidence that prior to the arrival of the Sinhalese here there were civilised people with cities, kings, and the use of metals and iron. All archeological findings indicate that the people who lived here prior to the arrival of the Sinhala Aryans from North India were men in the tribal stage using only stone implements. They were hunters and did not know the arts, crafts, writing, and agriculture. Moreover the mythical Ravana lived some 1,000 years before the Buddha. Therefore the Lankavatara Sutra of the Mahayanists is pure fiction with regard to its historical setting. The compulsory vegetarianism it teaches is an attempt to make an option given by the Buddha a compulsory practice. 

Sinhalese Buddhism

Sinhalese Buddhism is not pure Theravada Buddhism taught in the Canonical texts. It is an admixture of the original teachings of the Buddha, with Mahayanist beliefs, and practices and elements taken from Popular Hinduism, e.g. worship of Hindu gods, observing caste in the Sangha, and debarring women from holy orders as Bhikkhunis. Thus it is not at all surprising that among the numerous adoptions from Mahayana popular beliefs and practices. The idea that the Buddha visited Lanka was freely and enthusiastically taken over by the early Sinhalese Buddhists.

The Island - 18 Jan 00 





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H2.04   Unduvap Pasalosvaka Poya

Arahat Therini Sanghamitta arrived in Sri Lanka bringing the sacred bo-sapling

Danister I. Fernando

About 2308 years ago, the magnificent full moon of the month of 'Unduvap' would have been fortunate in being able to witness certain allied events between India and Sri Lanka, pertaining to the propagation of the Teachings of the Buddha.

Namely: 1. The Arrival of Arahat Theri Sanghamitta in Sri Lanka from India.

2. The bringing of the southern branch (dakkhina shakha) of the Sri Maha Bodhi from India to be planted in Anuradhapura, and

3. The establishing of the Bhikkhuni Order in this isle.

It becomes clear, therefore, that all these three events are connected to one another and that the last two depend on the first - Theri Sanghamitta's arrival here. A resurgence of Buddhism in India under the Emperor Dhammasoka and the friendship between the Emperor and King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka, at that time, became the source for that above events to follow. Let us now reflect in retrospect.

We are aware of the fact that the mighty Emperor of India, Asoka, having given up his vast aggressive policy, turned ever to a policy of righteousness (Dhamma Vijaya) influenced by the lofty teachings of Shakyamuni the Buddha and directed a programme of astounding activities pertaining to Buddhism and for its propagation. His devotion to the religion was so strong, that he even permitted his dear son and daughter to be ordained at the tender ages of twenty and eighteen respectively. Included in his programme was the holding of the Third Great council (Dhammasangayana) as a result of which the dispath of missions abroad carrying the Buddha-Word was put into operation. The authenticity of these missions has been clearly proved particularly by several archaeological discoveries made at Sanchi and elsewhere.

It is interesting to note that Sri Lanka would have been of special significance to the Emperor that he in consultation with Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa, selected his own Son Mahinda Mahathera to lead the commission to Sri Lanka, with a retinue of five other monks, Ittiya, Uttiya, Sambala, Bhaddasala and novice Sumana and an Upasaka, Bhanduka.

Nevertheless, Mahinda Mahathera did not expedite his mission. Instead he came to Vedisa his mother's native place and made a careful study of the situation in Sri Lanka, whether the time was really opportune for the proposed mission. Mutasiva the then King of Sri Lanka (367-307 B.C), after sixty years of being a king, had been very old, and as such Mahinda Thera decided to avoid that period to come here. It was during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (307-266 B.C) that Mahinda Mahathera and the party left India for Sri Lanka. This shows clearly how methodical and wise Mahinda Thera would have been in proceeding with his responsibilities for a successful mission.

Mahinda Mahathera did not confine himself to preaching the Dhamma only. He gave much importance to the practical aspects as well, by ordaining Upasaka Bhanduka on the second day itself after the arrival. Other ordinations followed and the establishment of "Buddha Sasana" in Sri Lanka became a sound reality. The truth of the story of Mahinda mission is confirmed by a fresco at Ajantha in India. 'Samantapasadika', the Vinaya commentary and the chronicles describe in detail that with the birth of the community of monks in Sri Lanka, there arose a deep enthusiasm on the part of the womenfolk to enter the Bhikkuni order. In this respect it was queen Anuala, wife of a sub-king, Mahanaga and her five-hundred ladies-in-waiting who were serious about this appeal. They had listen to Mahinda Mahathera's inspiring discourses and had even gaine mental attainments. But according to 'Vinaya' rules Arahat Mahinda was not in a position to ordain women. He suggested the alternative of inviting his sister Bhikkhuni Sangamitta to Sri Lanka and thereby to establish the Bhikkuni order in Sri Lanka.

Of course, King Devanmpiya Tissa became very happy at this suggestion that he promptly made arrangements to send a group of messengers led by one of his faithful ministers, Arittha, to India, taking the joint invitation from himself and from Mahinda Thera to Emperor Asoka.

Emperor Asoka, naturally, would not have liked the suggestion to part with his daughter also, when his son had already gone; but after considering the situation well, he finally would have given his consent. As requested by Maha Mahinda Thera, arrangements also were made to take with her a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi under the shelter of which the Gautama Bodhisatta attained Enlightenment.

According to our chronicles the severing of the southern branch from the main Bodhi Tree provides a plethora of interesting stories which are mostly miraculous. It is said that the required branch had got separated on its own miraculously since it was considered highly sinful to cut a Bo-tree with an instrument.

The Bo-sapling, after it was separated from the main tree, was planted in a golden bowl with due respect and was made ready to be taken to Sri Lanka by Arahat Theri Sanghamitta, accompanied by others including eleven Arahat Bhikkunis.

Historical Sources say that the scene of her departure to Lanka leaving India and her great father, for good, was a solemn ceremony. The party left the country from the port known as "Tamara-lipti" (modern Tamluk). At that touching moment Asoka had been at the port personally, to see them off. As the royal vessel departed and gradually sailed away, Asoka, with feelings of deep emotion had stood gazing till the vessel faded away not to be seen!

After about seven days the vessel arrived at the Jambukola port in Northern Lanka. King Devanampiya Tissa received Arahat Therini Sanghamitta and party with the sacred Bo-sapling with great respect and honour. From there it was taken to Anuradhapura in 'perahera'.

There it was planted at a well attended lofty ceremony in the Maha Megha Garden. The Sri Maha Bodhi still stands magnificently receiving the veneration of million of devotees both local and foreign. It proudly bears the distinction of being the oldest tree on record of the whole world.

H.G. Wells, in his book, "The outline of History" says, "in Ceylon there grows to this day, a tree, the oldest historical tree in the world, which we know certainly to have been planted as a cutting from the Bo Tree in the year 245 B.C. From that time to this it has been carefully tended and watered. It helps us to realize the shortness of all human history to see so many generations spanned by the endurance of one single tree."

We have seen already that the main purpose of Theri Sanghamitta's arrival in Sri Lanka was to ordain Lanka lady-devotees. When the ceremonies connected with the planting of the Bodhi Sapling were all over Queen Anula and her ladies were duly ordaine and the Bhikkuni Order set up under the able guidance of Arahat Theri Sanghamitta.

Arahat Mahamahinda would certainly have given her necessary advice on this occasion. The Bhikkhuni Order thus established flourished in pristine purity.

All women irrespective of their standing in society, from all walks of life, who were desirous of entering the Order, received ordination under Arahat Sanghamitta, who did all in her power to raise Womankind from lower to higher levels of life - moral, intellectual and spiritual.

Arahat Therini Sanghamitta did a lot for the 'Buddha Sasana' in Sri Lanka. As all "Sankhara" are, she passed away at the age of 79, while she was living at the peaceful nunnery, "Hatthalaka". Her funeral was performed by the then King Uttiya with honour and extreme solemnity, in the vicinity of the Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura. When one sees the Sacred Bodhi, one also sees Theri Sanghamitta!

Sunday Observer - 10 Dec 00





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H2.05   Sri Maha Bodhi - a living link with the past

 Shortly after planting, eight shoots sprang up on the Sri Maha Bodhi. They were planted on the king’s orders at important shrines and settlements.

 Derrick Schokman 

The introduction of the Sri Maha Bodhi, or Sacred Bo Tree, to Sri Lanka is commemorated by Buddhists on Unduwap Poya or the full moon day of December.

Unduwap Poya is more popularly known as Sri Sangamitta Day, because it was the missionary nun Sangamitta who brought the Sacred Bodhi with her a branch of the original Ficus Religiosa under which the Buddha was meditating in Buddha-Gaya, India, when he gained enlightenment.

Sangamitta was the sister of the Apostle Mahinda, who was already in Sri Lanka. His missionary work during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa in the 3rd century BC had been singularly successful.

Many men and women wanted to be ordained to the priesthood as monks and nuns. But the rules of the priesthood forbade Mahinda from ordaining women. Mahinda accordingly requested the King to ask Emperor Asoka of India to send Sangamitta for this purpose. 

At the same time she could bring with her a branch of the tree under which the Buddha meditated, to be planted in Sri Lanka as an object of veneration that would keep devotees in mind of his teachings.


The King commissioned his nephew Prince Arittha to intercede on his behalf with Emperor Asoka. Arittha’s mission was successful. He returned along with Sangamitta and a chapter of nuns and the sacred Bodhi in a golden pot.

The King himself met them when they landed near Kankesanturai in the present Jaffna Peninsula and in a gesture of proud humility he took upon himself the duty of acting as a guard to the Sacred Bhodhi, which was placed in an ornamented temporary residence on the shore. 

Later this place was named Tissamaluwa (Tisamalai in Tamil) and the King had the Tissamaha Vihara constructed there in memory of the landing of the Sri Maha Bodhi. 

The sacred sapling was planted in the royal garden in Anuradhapura, where it still stands today, propped on platform upon platform, enclosed by white-washed walls and surrounded by altars laden with perfumed flowers &emdash; the oldest historical tree in the world. 


In old Anuradhapura, now declared a sacred city, the once ostentatious buildings are no more today than an inanimate patchwork of the stonemason’s and craftsman’s art. The only living thing is the Sacred Bodhi. 

It is fitting that the Sacred Bodhi, once part of the tree at Buddha-Gaya, continues to grow in Sri Lanka where the teachings of the Buddha, almost forgotten in India, continue to flourish.

The leaves of this unique tree were described by Robert Knox, an English captive in the Kandyan Kingdom during the 17th century, ‘as shaking in awe at what they saw in Buddha-Gaya.’ 

Shortly after planting, eight shoots sprang up on the Sri Maha Bodhi. They were planted on the king’s orders at important shrines and settlements. 

Of these eight ‘astapala bodhi’ only three are said to be still living at Mihintale, Isurumuniya and Kataragama. 

Even after Anuradhapura was given up as the capital city and the jungle tide began to invade the place, the Sri Maha Bodhi was protected by villagers. They lit bonfires around it at night to ward off wild beasts. 


The firewood required for this purpose was collected in toto for the whole year and brought there in a procession on the night of Nikini Poya, or the August full moon. It was known as the Daramiti Perahera or Procession of the Bundles of firewood. 

Today you can find a bodhi tree in the compound of almost every Buddhist Temple in the island. It attracts as much veneration as the Buddha statue in the shrine room. 

In the words of historian Paul E. Peiris: "It is doubtful whether any other single event in the long history of their race has seized upon the imagination of the Sinhalese with such tenacity as the planting of the Sri Maha Bodhi. 

"Like its roots which find sustenance on the face of the bare rock and cleave their way through the stoutest fabric, the influence of what it represents has penetrated into the inner most being of the people." 

The Island





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H2.06   The historic mission of Ven. Mahinda Thera 2307 years ago

D. P. B. Ellepola

According to the Mahavamsa, the best available literary source of our ancient history, Mahinda Thera arrived in Sri Lanka on the Full Moon Poson Poya day in the year 236 Buddhist Era. This memorable day marks the Great Awakening in the annals of our twenty five centuries of recorded history.

Poson Full Moon day at the time was a day of festivity. Devanampiya Tissa with a band of followers was engaged in royal sport. The hunters were looking out for a stag to be shot at. The king was ready with his royal bow and arrows. Just then, he saw a stag grazing. Knowing well that it is no sport to shoot at an animal when it partakes any food, the king sounded his bow string at which the stag ran towards Ambastala, the highest peak in the Mihintale Mountain. The king gave chase and reached the very spot when he heard the words Tissa! Tissa! being uttered. He looked up towards the peak and saw Ven. Mahinda in the company of four monks and a layman. The sight pleased the king and on inquiry the chief among them radiant as the Sun’s rays in his saffron robes and shiny shaven head answered thus;

"Monks are we, Oh! great king, disciples of the king of Truth; Compassion towards thee are we come hither from Jambudipa" - Mahavansa Chap. 14 -

And so it came to pass the commencement of an era of virtue and wisdom. Most Venerable Mahinda Thera continued his missionary activity in great compassion until his death at the age of 80.

The period of island’s history under the reigns of Devanampiya Tissa and his brother Uttiya were an era of peace and prosperity. The country had already benefitted by the Aryanization of its culture. However, the country was in need of a more ethical and philosopical religion which could answer the problems of life here and hereafter and also challenge the mythical beliefs of the common folk. Introduction and propagation of Buddhism undoubtedly resulted in the growth of social cultured and economical status of Sri Lanka. The Sinhala race rose to a zenith of glory and grandeur to become one of the recognized nations in Asia. Literary activities received royal patronage. Art and architecture were bound to improve as monasteries, stupas assembly halls and vihares began to be built. Sculpture and painting developed which enriched the cultural heritage of the Sinhalese.

Sri Lanka was advantageous in that Devanampiya Tissa had established friendly relations with Asoka exchanging letters and gifts, which preceded the mission of Mahinda Thera. Another significant factor was that Aaoka had a special regard and affection for the people of Sri Lanka. This mutual understanding is further clarified by the fact that some of those that accompanied Mahinda Thera were Asoka’s kinsmen. The mission to Sri Lanka was therefore by far the most successful of Asoka’s missions.

Although Mahavamsa as well as other Pali chronicles describe the events in a very elaborate manner, there is absolutely no reason to disbelieve all details stated about the mission to Lanka. The Mahawamsa mentions in detail the arrival of the Bodhi Tree which occur six months later. Even if we set aside all literary evidence regarding these events, there are the archeological facts that are useful. The names of the famous monks of India at the time Moggaliputta Tissa Thera and two others referred to in our chronicles in connection with the mission to Lanka is also seen mentioned in pre-Christian Brahmi inscriptions on relic caskets excavated at Sanchi. Asoka’s Rupanath Edict seems to refer to the incident where the emperor consents his children Mahinda and Sangamitta entering the order of the monks and nuns, respectively. Scholars in the calibre of Dr. Wilhem Geiger and Dr. Rhys Davids are of opinion that the carved slabs of stone at the Sanchi Stupa Gate-way depicts the arrival of Mahinda Thera as well as the advent of the Bodhi Tree by Sanga Mitta Theri. These evidences would suffice for us to determine that the Buddhist missions to Sri Lanka together with some of its details are authentic and therefore historical.

In conclusion, I wish to quote Dr. G. P. Malalasekara Ph.D; D. Lit., on the subject of "The Conversion of Ceylon".

"The mission of Emperor Asoka to Ceylon was amongst the greatest civilizing influences of the world, for it bequeathed to the Sinhalese a gentleness of disposition and a nobility and refinement of character of which neither the ravages of time nor centuries of ruthless warfare, nor the insidious attacks of modern commercialism have succeeded in depriving them".





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H2.07   How the Vesak Poya was declared a holiday

Colombo East-West Group Corr. 

The Director of National Archives Dr. K.D.G. Wimalaratne recently traced the history leading to the declaration of the Vesak Poya Day as a holiday in Sri Lanka.

Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, being inspired by the Buddhist religious controversies with the Christians led by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera and other Buddhist monks established the Buddhist Theosophical Society in 1880 and the Buddhist Defence Committee in 1884 to bring about a revival in Buddhism, its education and culture in the country. The speaker was addressing a public meeting held recently at Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya .

The suppression of Buddhist activities by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English led to lethargy and inactivity of Buddhists. The Dutch had made Sunday a holiday and Poya Day a working day. The English continued this regulation. Lansage Don Andiris Dharmagunawardena who had donated the land to establish the Vidyodaya Pirivena was elected president of the Buddhist Defence Committee and Carolis Poojitha Gunawardena was appointed its Secretary. The Buddhist Defence Committee worked hard to revive Buddhism and Buddhist activities in the country. As a result the Vesak Poya Day was declared a public holiday by the English government on March 27, 1885. On behalf of the Buddhist Defence Committee Carolis Poojitha Gunawardena designed the Buddhist Flag and it was ceremonially hoisted on Vesak day at Deepaduttarama Vihara, Kotahena, the temple of Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera. Today the Buddhist flag designed by C.P. Gunawardena is universally accepted as the international Buddhist flag with some modification. This year the United Nations Organisation declared the Vesak Day an international holiday.

Author, poet, critic and educationist, Sandadas Coperahewa spoke of the contribution made by Vajiraramaya in Bambalapitiya to Buddhist education and Buddhist activities. Ven. Pelene Vajiragnana Thera the founder of Vajiraramaya was an eminent scholar, linguist, author, poet, critic, and above all a great educationist. He had realized that to impart a sound Buddhist education the educator had to be thorough in Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and English at least. He should also have an indepth knowledge of the Dhamma and the world. Most of his pupils Vens. Kotahene Narada, Kotahene Piyadassi, Pamburana Metteyiya, Madihe Panngnaseeha, Bambalapitiya Kassapa and others possessed such knowledge in abundance. And they have been successful in their Buddhist education endeavours. Ven. Narada and Ven. Piyadassi became two of the most recognized and internationally acclaimed Buddhist missionaries of the century.

The Bauddha Lamaya a magazine for the young started by Ven. Vajiragnana and edited by Ven. Metteyiya was the best magazine of its kind published in the country without a break for over 4 decades. Although it was meant for the young it had enough material for the grownups. Ven. Vajiragnana spoke and wrote few words but they were so rich and full of meaning. It was not his habit to waste words. His pupils followed this practice.

The Island - 20 June 00





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H2.08   King Wessanthara and the cave he lived in exile

Anura Jayatunge

King Dharmashoka constructed, located and identified 84,000 places of religious worship with the help of Upaguththa Maha Arahat.

General Cunningham named the Father of Archeology by the Indians was able to find the rock cave where king Wessanthra lived.

This cave was visited by two travelling monks from China in 521 AD and again in 629 AD.

General Cunningham was responsible for finding the religious places of Sankassa, Kusinara, Srawasthi and famous Thakshila.

General Cunningham was appointed Director of Archaeology in charge of India in 1870 and he has published more than 13 research papers about archeological excavations in India. He was born in 1840, the 2nd son of Alan Cunningham, a Scottish poet, and died in 1893, after being knighted for his findings in India. He was responsible for finding the religious places of: "Sankassa, Kusinara, Srawasthi, and famous Thakshila". He was named the "Father of Archaeology" by the Indians. Sir Cunningham claimed he was able to find the rock cave where King "Wessanthara" lived.

Construction of 84,000 places of worship

It is well known that King Dharmashoka constructed, located and identified 84,000 places of religious worship with the help of "Upaguththa" Maha arahat (who was a fourth generation Buddhist Arahat living during King Dharmashoka's time. Being a Arahath he was able to foresee the future as well as the past and on invitation of King Dharmashoka, showed him places dating back to Lord Buddha Kakusanda and Lord Budddha Konagama's time.

King Dharmashoka being true to his word, constructed more than 84,000 monuments in India and some of them have survived up to date.

Arahat "UpaGuththa" was a student of Arahath "Yasa" (who was a 3rd generation Arahath after Lord Buddha) and his capability to see the future is explained from the following incidents.

Kunala - son of king Dharmashoka

King "Dharma-shoka's" queen named Pad-Mawathi had a son named Dharmawardana, who was fondly called by King Dharmashoka as Kunala because of his beautiful eyes. Once he want to see Arahath "Yasa" at Kakuthya-rama temple who saw that Kunala will go blind in the near future for a sin committed in his previous birth. (He has removed eyes of five hundred animals to keep them from escaping back to the Jungle). Arahat "Yasa" asked him remember that "all beautiful things are of temporary nature and will get destroyed as time passes".

Another young wife of King Dharma-shoka named Thishyarakshita loved Kunala for his beautiful eyes, and when he refused to see her secretly, she sent orders under King's seal to remove his eyes. None came forward to carry out this order, as he was much loved by his men. But Kunala himself got his eyes removed telling " being the next King to be in line, he should always follow ruling Kings orders precisely

King Dharmashoka was very sick at this time and was not able to attend to his royal duties for some time, and he fainted when he found his son has lost his eye sight. He immediately wanted to destroy Queen Thishyarakshitha" (whom Kunala pardoned, chiming it was not his wish to harm even the worst enemy and it is said that Kunala regained his eyesight thus showing maithree or compassion to his enemies.)

King Dharmashoka kept his Queen in a closed house arrest thereafter and punished the kingsman who allowed his son "Kunala" to remove his eyes even after they saw the Kings seal.

King Dharmashoka constructed a large stupa or a pagoda about 100 feet tall where Kunala lost his sight.

Findings of General Cunningham- Based on Hue Sean (629 AD)

General Cunningham found this pagoda at Karmal near Thakshila, following the book of Hue-Sean who was a Chinese travelling Buddhist monk, who came to India in 629 AD. He lived in India for 16 years and came back to China in 645 AD. The document prepared by Hue-Sean, the places he visited in India, and monuments constructed by King Dharmashoka helped General Cunningham to find these places very clearly.

Hue-Sean claims that he came to Siva Rata in India and saw the following monuments constructed by King Dharmashoka. First one is the monument constructed to mark the place King Wessanthara was separated from his family, and again Hue-Sean has also seen a monument where King Wessanthara handed over his children to a Brahamin named Jujaka. He also claimed that he saw the cave where king Wessanthara lived.

Confirmation by Sun-Yun (521 AD)

This story is reconfirmed by another travelling monk named Sun-Yun who came to India in 518 AD and returned there in 521 AD almost 100 years before Hu-Sean.

Sun-Yun says he saw the cave in which King Wessanthara lived as a Brahamin, in exile, and a large flat stone where King Wessanthara used to sit. He says King Dharmashoka erected a monument in this place after being shown by Maha Arahat Upa-guththa.

He also claims that the temple of famous white elephant was located very closely and inside the temple there was a picture of King "Wessanthara" handing over his children to poor, a Brahamin, named Jujaka and all Tarter people weep when they see these pictures!

King Wessanthara who donated his children

King Wessanthara was the last human form of Lord Buddha, before elevating to heaven named Thaw-thisha. He was born again as Siddhartha Kumara in and became Lord Buddha named Govthama. Lord Buddha is the greatest being of all three worlds and having power to show the path of enlightenment for suffering human beings.

General Cunningham has published his findings in Archeological survey reports in India" including a diagram of the cave he identified, situated close to Sivi-Rata.

According to Buddhist history king Wessanthara would have been born over a very long period ago according to Budu Maga published by Upali publications. This completely contradicts the theory of evaluation where man has evolved from a basic ape and advanced with in a few years.

A small child enters the world crying, and leaves the world crying, facing the death as an old man. Any man who has read "Mahabarath" and "Buddhist Philosophy" (which ranges between 5000 years to 2500 years) is free to judge whether man is evolving towards the advancement or becoming an ape day by day.

The Island - 1 Dec 01





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H2.09   From the Footprint of the Buddha

How should one value this great tradition, and how should one regard the ancient monuments of Ceylon? There must naturally be a difference in valuation as the beholder is different. To the Sinhalese Buddhist, it must mean something more than it could mean to anyone else. But there is a millennium between the ancient tradition and the present. Besides, there is the rift which some five hundred years and more of foreign rule have made in ways of life and of thought. Just as the Indian settlers came to an island in which primitive cults were replaced by Buddhism, so it might seem that the West came to Ceylon in the sixteenth century, and has since then been responsible for a ‘spiritual’ and material conquest of the island. But in both these cases what truly belonged to it was never lost it persisted, ready to issue forth again. Recent events show how strongly it has flowed underground, and how intensely it can gush out.

Whether in the altered social and economic structure of Ceylon, where ‘all’s changed now’, these waters can be a healing sources or a bitter potion, only the collective wisdom of all the present-day inhabitants of Lanka, and not of the Sinhalese alone, must decide. But this would be the subject of another study.

Whatever the future may bring, to all those who come to the ancient monuments of Ceylon,, they must possess a value and a character. They may chasten our pride,, amaze our intellects or move our feelings, but it is well to remember that even their computations are values of limited currency. The sensibilities of the majority of men are so hardened today that if any one single priceless possession of the world’s art were to disappear, it would apparently make little difference to the sum of things. The scale of what we are now asked to comprehend is so vast, that it would be prudent to be unmoved if Charters were to be destroyed and a bomb obliterated Athens. It may be that only little of the ancient art of Ceylon could be placed beside the wealth of ancient Egypt, or Rome or India; but such things as the vahalkada at Mihintale, the moon stones at Anuradhapura, the statue of the king at Polonnaruva, and Sigiriya,, stand in their own right of excellence as records of artistic achievement in no need of support from comparative judgement or prejudice.

The aesthetic emotion has been variously described in various cultures, but one might,, in general, understand by it that state of feeling — of pleasure or joy — removed for the time being from practicality, and created by the contemplation of an artistic object which continues to stimulate our reactions. There is in the feeling created a species of growth which, as our senses return to the object, receives new impulses through our delighted attention to it. The Indian conception is thus put by Melle Auboyer in connection with the paintings of Ajanta: ‘The aim of the to produce in the spectator a psychic state called sentiment (rasa) or more properly savour. This is the science of the hidden significance of external appearances, of the formation of a traditional mental image to be projected to the sensibility of the spectator, arousing in him a subjective sentiment...The painter...determines the form and produces artificially in the spectator certain sentiments equally artificial but also beneficial in kind’.

The ground common to these descriptions is an area of feeling which the transformation of reality produces in the sensitive spectator. No such spectator confronting the best of the art of the ancient tradition of Ceylon could fail to respond aesthetically. There is, in ancient Buddhist thought an emotion described as a state of serene joy derived from the contemplation of a Buddha image - assuredly its strongest components may be religious, but in its essence this, too, is an aesthetic emotion. So whether one is a Buddhist or not, there could be aroused in one the emotion of Buddhalampiti as one stands before the sedant Buddha at Anuradhapura, or see the statues in the Gal Vihara Polonnaruva.

"Avkana" (pic by Nihal Fernando, Studio Times, "Sri Lanka: A Personal Odyssey")





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H2.10   The sacred Bo tree was no dwarf Bonsai

Godwin Witane

The Bo Sapling brought to Lanka by Theri Sangamitta 2300 years ago was no dwarf Bonsai. It was the right branch of the parent Bo Tree under which Prince Siddartha Gautama attained Enlighment - the Dakshina Saakawa. The Mural as illustrated by the famous artist Solias Mendis at Kelani Viharaya was his fertile imagination put into drawing.The description how the branch of the parent Bo Tree was obtained by King Asoka is explained in the Mahawansa, the Great Chronicle of the Sinhalese. Having got on to a platform to the height of the branch, King Asoka took red arsenic with a golden brush, drew a line and made "Satthiyak Kriya" affirmation of the truth, ‘If the great Bodhi Tree should go from here to the island of Lanka and if I am unalterably firm in the Faith of the Buddha, let the auspicious Right Branch of the Great Bodhi Tree sever by itself and be placed in the Golden Bowl here’

The Great Bodhi Branch severed itself at the time and stood above the Bowl filled with fragrant earth. King Asoka drew around the trunk of the Bodhi Branch ten arsenic lines, each three finger breadths apart. Behold ten big roots from: the first line and ten small roots from each of the others issued forth and dropped down in the form of a net. Seeing this miracle the King was greatly happy. Mahawansa says that the earth trembled and quaked at the miracle. It further describes how new Saplings sprung up from a ripe fruit. In actual practice the Southern Branch of the Sacred Bo Tree - Dhakshina Saakaawa, would have been planted in a great receptacle of huge proportions and tendered carefully by renowned Botanists until it grew in strength with the aid of a cluster of roots.

It was important that the Bo Tree should withstand inclement weather during its arduous voyage by sea from Tamlaripiti in India to Jambukolapatuna in Lanka. Although the artist had illustrated a tender tree safely in a begging bowl, the container in which the sapling was planted would have weighed heavy needing many hands to handle it conveying it to the sailing vessel by which it was taken to Lanka. This opinion was disclosed by a panel of learned professors at the recent discussion under Purana Sinhala Wansa Katha conducted by the famous actor and lyricist Mr. Jackson Anthony in the Swarnawahini. It is said that King Devanam Piyatissa of Lanka (250-210 B.C.) during whose reign the Bo Sapling was brought to Lanka he went to Jambukolapatuna and waded in the sea up to his hips in his royal garb to accept the Noble Gift sent by King Asoka. The Bo Sapling was brought to Anuradhapura in a procession in great pomp probably placed in a beautifully decorated heavy carriage drawn by elephants. This is a symbol of Faith to all Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

King Asoka took great interest in the propagation of Buddhism that besides sending a branch of the Sacred Bo Tree he despatched royal personages for securing of same. He sent his son and daughter and also relatives to establish in Lanka 8 of the tribes of Supra Devi, the mother of Arahat Mahinda and Theri Sangamitta. A son of Sangamitta, Sumana, too accompanied Mahinda in his first visit to Mihintale.

The sacred Bo Tree has great significance to the Buddhists the world over as it was under the shade of the Bo Tree at Buddha Gaya that Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained Englighment.

The Bo Sapling was planted in 288 B.C. in Anuradhapura which is today enduring the changing millennia. A large square with four entrances formed the courtyard of the Bo Tree. The stone wall measuring 274 feet from East to West and 338 feet from North to South and 10 feet in height enclosed the courtyard. The width of the wall or Prakaaraya was 5 feet. The Bo Tree was known as aswatha at the beginning but came to be known as Bodhi Tree after Bodhi Satwa attained Buddhahood under it. After the passing away of Buddha the Bo Tree became the symbol of His presence. Even during Buddha’s time Buddha Himself recognised the adequacy of the Bo Tree as a fitting symbol to respect and venerate Him in His absence. The various Chronicles provide information about the constructions and restorations carried out during the time of different monarchs at the Bodhi Shrine. King Vasabha (61-III A.D.) added a temple to the courtyard of the Bodhi Shrine.

The Bo Tree was neglected during the Cholian period. It was King Vijayabahi I of Polonnaruwa who restored the Bodhi Tree. A small number of dedicated Monks living in Monasteries in Anuradhapura continued to maintain the sacred precints without anybody’s patronage. The Sacred Bo Tree has survived for over 2300 years withstanding the test of time. At present the Sacred Bo Tree is under the care and protection of the National Army as well as under the supervision of the Director Botanical Gardens who tends to its health.

The propagation of a plant is done in various ways. The easiest is through the seed. Next comes grafting where a twig or bud of a parent tree is grafted to a smaller stock in order to obtain fruit within a shorter period.

There are very many trees where the propagation is difficult when the trees do not bear fruit. In this instance people resort to a method called ‘Layering’ Having selected a suitable branch of the tree or creeper a section of the bark is taken out called ring barking. To this spot is clamped a handful of earth enriched with fertilizer and a covering done by tying the ends like in a ‘Bond Aluwa’ of Thala guli. After careful wetting the spot daily with water roots spring up through the clamp of earth when it is severed from the parent tree and planted like a new plant. The Bo tree belongs to the family of Ehetu (fig) and Banyan (nuga) and all these belong to the family of parasitic plants. The fruits of these trees contain innumerable number of seeds and when birds eat them and drop their dung on trees or in crevices in buildings the seeds spring up and grow to huge dimensions sometimes swallowing the whole of the host tree. Once Wellawatta Market building appeared a jungle of Bo trees that had taken root on the walls and the roof.

26 5 2002 - The Island






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H2.11   Major events of Buddhism

c. 800-500 BCE

Composition of Hindu Upanishads

552-479 BCE

Life of Confucius

c. 500 BCE

Life of Lao-tzu

c. 480 BCE

Birth of the Buddha in Kapilavastu.

c. 450 BCE

The Buddha's enlightenment and first sermon.

c. 405 BCE

Death of the Buddha.

c. 405 BCE

First Buddhist Council, at Rajagrha.

c. 350 BCE

Second Buddhist Council, at Vaisali.

327-325 BCE

Alexander the Great in India.

c. 300 BCE

Buddhism arrives in SE Asia.

272 BCE

Emperor Asoka takes throne.

250 BCE

Third Buddhist Council, resulting in Great Schism and Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism

247 BCE

Mahinda introduces Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

200-0 BCE

Stupa construction at Sanci.

1st cent. BCE

Theravada Buddhist Canon (Tripitaka) completed in Sri Lanka.

1st cent. CE

Indian Buddhists settle in Southeast Asia.

150-250 CE

Life of Nagarjuna.

4th cent.

Rise of Vajrayana Buddhism.


Gupta dynasty in India; Buddhist philosophy and art flourish.

372 CE

Chinese monks bring Buddhism to Korea.


Fa-hsien travels to India.

c. 420

Schools of Tiantai, Huayan, Chan, and Jingtu appear in China.


Bodhidharma arrives in China.


Viniaya school founded in Korea.


Korea accepts Buddhism.

6th cent.

Burma adopts Theravada Buddhism.


Buddhism enters Japan from Korea.


Prince Shotoku sponsors Buddhism in Japan.

c. 589

Chinese Buddhist commentaries written.

c. 600

First diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet.


Life of Songtsen Gampo; establishment of Buddhism in Tibet.


Chinese T'ang Dynasty; golden age of Buddhism in China.

7th cent.

Mahayana Buddhism adopted in Indonesia.

8th cent.

Buddhism becomes state religion of Japan.


Japanese emperor orders a temple be built in every province.

c. 792-94

The Great Samye Debate decides on Indian Mahayana Buddhism as the form for Tibet.


King Langdharma persecutes Tibetan Buddhists.


Chinese emperor suppresses Buddhism.

early 10th cent.

Korea institutes a Buddhist constitution

11th cent.

King of Burma restores Theravadin monasticism. Mahayana Buddhism declines.

mid-12th cent.

Buddhism is virtually extinct in India.


During the Kamakura period in Japan, schools of Rinzai, Soto Zen, Jodo Shu (Pure Land), Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land), and Nichiren develop.


Mongols invade Korea, destroy Buddhist scriptures.


Mongolian leader Kublai Khan accepts Tibetan Buddhism.


Theravada Buddhism becomes state religion of Thailand.

14th cent.

Theravada Buddhism introduced in Laos.

15th cent.

Theravada Buddhism dominant in Cambodia.


Sonam Gyatso is titled the Dalai Lama by the Mongolian leader Altan Khan.


Japanese invade Korea.


Life of the fifth Dalai Lama and beginning of rule of Tibet by Dalai Lamas.


Life of Basho; Buddhist influence on haiku and the arts in Japan

17-18th cent.

Korean Buddhism revives after regaining independence.


Mongolian Buddhist canon translated from Tibetan.


Shinto reinstated as national religion of Japan.


Reformations of Korean and Chinese Buddhism.


Religious freedom introduced in Japan, with no official national religion.


Buddhism suppressed by Chinese communist government.


Tenzin Gyatso becomes the fourteenth Dalai Lama. China invades Tibet and suppresses Buddhism.


The Dalai Lama goes into exile.


Upon the death of Mao, Buddhism begins to revive in China.


International Network of Engaged Buddhists founded.


UK Association of Buddhist Studies founded.


Destruction of standing Buddha statues at Bamiyan by Taliban regime.


  1. John Bowker, ed.,

  2. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions (Cambridge UP, 2002).
  3. Damien Keown,

  4. A Dictionary of Buddhism (Oxford UP, 2003), Appendix VI, pp. 355-57.






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H2.12   Bodhgaya to all humankind

Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Bodhgaya: The very word conjures up images of the sacred site where Buddha attained enlightenment, under the shade of a magnificent Bodhi tree. After more than 2,500 years, it remains the most supreme and inspirational place of Buddhist worship in the world.

The historic site, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in June this year, will evoke much religious fervour this December when Bodhgaya is dedicated to all humankind. Massive celebrations have been planned and the city of Gaya will be then renamed as Gautam Nagar, the cradle of Buddhism.

But a tussle between the Bihar administration and the Bodhgaya management is delaying the dedication ceremony, according to an official associated with the development planning. And the failure to reach a consensus is also making the ambitious development plans rot, while the people await renewed interest in their city's development.

As the Bihar administration continues to insist on clearing the structures within the buffer zone, as required by UNECO, the grand dedication ceremony has been postponed to December with no date being fixed.

Elaborate plans are afoot to unearth the Buddhist heritage that remains buried and to restore the past glory. Gautam Nagar will be developed under a new development model. " The dedication ceremony will be an extremely elaborate and evocative one that would draw all attention to Bodhgaya again, said Director, Indian Tourism Development Corporation, Ashwani Lohani.

Lohani who was the driving force behind the initial plan to win UNESCO heritage status for the site, told The Sunday Leader that Bodhgaya's dedication will inspire the entire Buddhist world "with participation from all Buddhist countries and state patronage from India."

Boghgaya is a magnificent temple complex found in the state of Bihar in Eastern India, within the administrative district of Gaya. Administered by the Indian Mahabodhi Society, Bodhgaya is the one destination that draws the highest number of tourists from Buddhist countries.

Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its outstanding universal value, Bodhgaya is the 23rd such site in India and the very first in the state of Bihar. At present, there are 730 such sites the world over.

While the tussle continues, Indian authorities have made ambitious plans for Bodhgaya. As the dedication ceremony draws near, the Bihar administration is busy attempting to clear the unauthorised structures within the area that is to be declared as the buffer zone.

Ambitious plan

The plans primarily include a special project to unearth a buried city in the area once known as Uruvela, a master plan to develop 12 acres and promote massive religious tourism, all of which are a part of one ambitious plan.

Proposed in March 2000, the UNESCO World Heritage Site status announcement made in Budapest, in June, led to massive celebrations in all parts of India, particularly in the state of Bihar as people exchanged sweetmeats, lit crackers and played traditional music in a spirit of celebration. They will soon have more cause for celebration, when Bodhgaya is ceremonially dedicated to all humanity.

As the Bihar government prepares to launch a massive development programme in the city of Gaya, the Mahabodhi management entrusted with the administrative responsibilities and the protection of the unique site since1953 has called for the support of Buddhists world over to restore Bodhgaya to its past glory.

The proposed city of Gautam Nagar needs the urgent developing of a buffer zone around the Mahabodhi temple complex, removal of all shops, business establishments, government and residential buildings within the demarcated area forthwith to meet UNESCO requirements.

The Bihar Urban Development Ministry and the Maghad Division are to jointly introduce a three-phased development programme in Gaya, which will cover a buffer zone of 12 acres , create a meditation park, Buddhist museum and information centers, at a cost of US $ 1,765,500.

Buried city

The master plan will also include the creation of a backdrop, with appropriately landscaped lawns, flower beds, a deer park and meditation areas for monks and laymen.

Meanwhile, the Maghad Archaeological Development Project has also planned extensive excavations and conservation to reveal the buried ancient city of the Mahabodhi Complex with its many sanctuaries built by various kings of different countries, during the course of many centuries.

" It is an inspiring project. I think an orphan finally able to trace his mother would feel this excited - looking for the past link" an official involved in the project said.

Besides all the development work concerning the site, the Indian authorities are concerned about promoting religious tourism to Bodhgaya. Come December, there will be direct flights from Delhi to Bodhgaya daily.

It would augur well for Bodhgaya and the Buddhist people the world over to ensure that immediate action is taken to settle the minor political dispute and make way for the necessary development to take place. The place where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment should inspire people to seek truth and reflect upon life, than be grounds to a dispute that prevents Bodhgaya from achieving its full potential.

In the philosophical and cultural context, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex is of great relevance to the most important events in the life of Gautama Buddha, and hence forms much of the tangible heritage.

The temple itself, a grand 50 metre high structure is regarded as a significant component of the site, which is also one of the most ancient temple structures existing in the Indian sub continent, dating back to 6th Century BC. It is also believed to be one of the very few representations of the architectural genius of the Indian people in constructing a fully developed brick temple.

Living testimony

The complex itself forms another significant part of the site, which is living testimony to India's developed architecture and artistic finesse. It contains several well-preserved temple structures and the famous grand structure.

The sculptured stone railings are held to be 'an outstanding example of the art and architecture of the period of emperor Ashoka (3rd Century BC).

Besides the main temple complex, there are six other sacred spots including the sacred Bodhi tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment and the lotus pond where Buddha meditatedafterwards.

Referring to the grand architectural style manifested in the complex, the proposal forwarded by the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) to UNESCO canvassing World Heritage Site status said: "As such, it bears an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition and to the prevalent forms of architecture in the late Gupta Period, also known as the Golden Age of Indian Culture."

The Buddha is believed to have said to his closest disciple, Ananda Thero:

" There are four places Ananda, which the believing man should visit with feelings of reverence. The place Ananda, at which the believing man can say,

Here the Tathagata was born (Lumbini)

Here the Tathagata attained the supreme and perfect insight (Bodhgaya)

Here was the kingdom of righteousness set on foot by the Tathagata (Saranath)

Here is the Tathagata passed finally away in that utter passing away which leaves nothing whatsoever remain behind (Kusinagar)"

(Maha Parnibbana Sutta translated by T.W. Rhys Davis)

 20 10 2002 - Sunday Observer






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H2.13   The existence of Buddhism before the arrival of Arhath Mahinda in Sri Lanka

Dr. Keerthi Jayasekera

Poson full moon day is associated with the official introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by Arhath Mahinda around 236 B.C. This happened over 250 years after the passing away of Buddha. During this long period of time did Buddhism exist in Ceylon (Sri Lanka)? Mahavansa the great chronicle of Sri Lanka, Deepawansa the History of the Island and Samathapasadika the Pali translation of the Sinhala commentaries of the Vinaya Pitaka; mentions of three visits by the Buddha, during his lifetime to this island. First visit took place in the fifth month after the enlightenment. The Naga Maniakkhika of Kalyani, we are told, accepted the Buddhist faith during the first visit of the master. The second visit took place in the fifth year after the Enlightenment. This visit was to save two clans from an impending war. After settling there dispute the Buddha preached the Doctrine and eighty kotis of Nagas were converted. Three years later the Buddha visited the island again at the request of Maniakkhika, during which Buddha is said to have left the imprint of his foot on the peak of Sumana Mountain (Adam's peak).

What is interesting is the fact Mahavansa was written 1100 years, Deepawansa after 900 years, Samathapasadika after 1000 years after the passing away of the Buddha. Dr. E. W. Adikaram in his Ph.D (London) thesis, a brilliant masterpiece of original research, "Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon" says: "these visits are recorded only in the Deepawansa, Samathapasadika and Mahavansa. No mention of is made of them in any part of the Pali Canon. This negative evidence, though a weighty one, is not sufficient for us to arrive at a decision and deny the truth of this tradition. This tradition may probably have risen from the arrival, before the advent of Mahinda of some Buddhist missionaries from India and also from the existence in Ceylon of a considerable number of Buddhists among the earlier inhabitants, namely the Yakkhas and the Nagas.

The Mahiyangana thupa, says the grate chronicle, existed in Ceylon long before the arrival of Mahinda. When the Buddha first visited Ceylon the deva Mahasumana of the Sumanakuta Mountain requested the Buddha to give him something to worship. The Master took a handful of hairs from his head and gave it to the deva. The latter enshrined it respectively in a thupa which he built at the place where the Master had sat. After passing away of the Buddha, the Thera Sarabahu, a disciple of the thera Sariputta, brought the collar bone of the Buddha and deposited in the same thupa. Later Uddhaculabhaya, the son of king Devanampiyatissa's brother's, saw the wondrous cetiya and covered it over afresh and made it thirty cubits high. Still later king Dutthagamini, dwelling there while he made war upon the Damilas, built a mantle cetiya over it eighty cubits high". Dr. Adikaram goes on to say: "the arrival of princess Bhaddakacchana and her retinue too, brings us to the same or more decisive conclusion'. Bhaddakacchana was the youngest daughter of Pandu, a cousin of the Buddha. She is said to be very closely related to the Buddha, and one may rightly infer that she and her friends were not all ignorant of the teachings of there royal Kinsman.... Secondly we are told they came disguised as nuns (Pabbajita)... considering the locality from which they came and their connections with the Buddha’s family, it is very likely that this word (Pabbajita) signified Buddhist bhikkhunies".

What was the society like before the advent of Arhath Mahinda in Sri Lanka? Again we turn to Dr. Adikaram book.

1. Brahmanism, from the very beginning, since the arrival of Vijaya and his followers in about the year 483 B.C. the Brahmis enjoyed a prominent status in Ceylon. There were Brahmanas who came along with Vijaya to Ceylon. Upatissa was one of them. He founded the village Uppatissagama which was for some time the capital of Ceylon. The same Brahmana held the post of chaplain (purohita) to king Vijaya. Pandukabhaya as a young price received his education under the brahmana named Pandula. The son of the latter became in due course the chaplain to Pandukabhaya (394 - 307 B.C.). When Devanampiyatissa sent presents to Ashoka, the price Arittha was accompanied by the king's chaplain who was a Brahmana. The presence of these Brahmanas naturally implies the existence of there religious beliefs in Ceylon at that time.

2. Worship of Yaksas: King Pandukabhaya built a temple for the Yaksa Cittaraja. The conditions, in pre-Buddhist Ceylon of the Yaksa cult appear to have been exactly similar to those in North India in the time of the Buddha; and in spite of the adoption of Buddhism as the national religion of the earlier Yaksa worship flourished side among the masses and has persisted down to the modern times.

3. Tree Deities: Pandukabhaya fixed a Banyan tree near the western gate of Anuradhapura as the abode of Vaisravana, and a Palmyra palm as that of Vyadhadeva. Here we have two instances of the worship of tree deities in pre Buddhist Ceylon.

4. Patron Deities: the Vyadha-deva, mention above was the patron deity of the hunters. Another such deity was Kammara-deva, or god of the blacksmiths. In addition to those deities of particular trades these was also a guardian deity for the whole of Anuradhapura city.

5. Jainism: Pandukabhaya is said to have built dwelling places for the Niganthas (Jains) named Jotiya and Kumbanda. Another Nigantha called Giri lived in the locality where Jotiya was. The monastery of Giri was demolished by king Vattagamini Abhaya (29-17 B.C) and in its place was built the Abhayagirivihara, which in subsequent times, played an important part in the history of Buddhism in Ceylon. Ever since the arrival of Vijaya, there was a constant flow of immigrants to Ceylon from India.

6. Paribbajakas, Ajivakas etc: the Paribbajakas, a class of wondering teachers or Sophists and Ajivakas the followers of Makkhali Gosala (contemporary of the Buddha) too were known in early Ceylon. Pandukabhaya built a monastery for the Paribbajakas and another for the Ajivakas

...... As shown in the preceding pages, there lived in pre-Mahindian Ceylon, people belonging to almost every religious sect then existing -in India. Even Ajivakas who were, by no means, so numerous as the followers of the Buddha, are mentioned as living in Ceylon. How then is one to account for the absence of any Buddhists? The only explanation possible is that silence was observed with regard to there existence in order to create a dark background on the canvas on which the enthusiastic narrator of Buddhist history might successfully paint his glowing picture of Mahinda's miraculous conversion of the island.

Again, when we consider how rapidly the conversion of Ceylon (Lanka) took place, it is difficult to believe that the people were till then entirely ignorant of the teaching. After the very first discourse of Mahinda forty thousand people including the king embraced the Buddhist faith. His other discourses, too were equally successful (seven discourses followed in all) all these facts help us to conclude the Buddhism did exist in Ceylon (Lanka) before the time of Mahinda, though it was only after Devanampiyatissa's conversion that it became the state religion of the country. Moreover, it may be justly said that Mahinda's mission had as its chief aim not to mere introduction of the teachings of the Buddha to Ceylon but the formation of the monastic order and thereby the "establishment' of the Sasana in the island". The arrival of Arhath Mahinda took place 236 years after the passing away of the Buddha.

During this long period of over two hundred years how did Buddhism fare in India? In the "2500 years of Buddhism" the Indian government publication, Dr. A. C. Banerjee says, "the Buddha's saying and their commentaries were handed down orally from teacher to disciples. Unlike the Vedic texts, how ever not enough care was not taken for the preservation of the actual words of the teacher, not to speak of their interpretations. In the Mahaparinibbhana Sutta, the teacher apprehended that his sayings might suffer distortion, and so as noted above, he cautioned his disciples about the four ways in which his instructions were to be verified. A centaury is a long time, and about a hundred years after his passing, differences arose among the monks about the actual words of the teacher and their interpretations. Once the monks took the liberty of bringing dissensions to the Sangha, they went on multiplying till the number of sects reached the figure of eighteen in the second and third centuries after the Buddha's death". Writing in the same publication, Bhikshu Jinananda MA. PhD (London), Professor of Pali and Buddhalogy, Nalanda Post Graduate Pali institute, says: "Moggaliputta Tissa is reputed to have converted the Emperor Asoka to the Buddhist faith. According to the Mahavansa, he was born in a Brahmana family and learned the three Vedas before he was sixteen. He was however won over to the new faith by the Thera Siggava and very soon attained to Arhatship with all its attendant supernatural powers. It was under his influences that the emperor made over to the Buddhist order his son Mahinda and Daughter Sangamitta. These two crossed to Lanka and converted to the Buddhist faith.

....... The venerable monk instructed the king in the holy religion of the Buddha for a week. The king thereafter convoked an assembly of the whole community of Bhikkhus. He called the bhikkhus of several persuasions to his presence and asked them to expound the teachings of the blessed one. They set fourth there misguided beliefs, such as the doctrine of the external soul, and so on. These heretical monks numbering sixty thousands were expelled from the brotherhood by the king. He thereafter interrogated the true believers about the doctrine taught by the blessed one and they answered that it was Vibhajjavada (the religion of analytical reasoning). When the Thera corroborated the truth of this answer, the king made request that the brotherhood should hold the Uposahta ceremony so that the whole community might be purified of evil elements. The Thera was made the guardian of the order.

Thera Tissa thereafter elected a thousand bhikkhus of the brotherhood who were well versed in the three Pitakas to make a compilation of the true doctrine. For nine moths he worked with the monks and the compilation of the true Tripitaka was completed. This council was held in the same manner and with the same zeal as those of Mahakassapa and Thera Yasa (first and second Buddhist councils) respectively. In the midst of the council Thera Tissa set fourth the Kathavatthupakarana wherein the heretical doctrines were thoroughly examined and refuted. Thus ended the third council in which a thousand bhikkhus took part. One of the momentous results of this council was the dispatch of missionaries to the different countries of the world for the propagation of the Saddhamma. From the Edicts of Asoka we know of the various Buddhist missions he sent to far - off countries in Asia, Africa and Europe."

The third Buddhist council was held in Pataliputra (Present Patna) in the year 253 B.C. Megasthenes the Greek ambassadors to the Imperial Court of Chandraguppta (Asoka's Grandfather) has described in detail the beauty and splendour of the well planned city of gorgeous wooden buildings, which was 9 miles in length and 11/2 miles in breadth in the shape of a parallelogram. Greek Ambassadors to Bindusara (Asoka's father) was Deimachos and Dionysios was Greek Ambassador to Asoka at Pataliputra. Asoka's thirteenth edict, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is mentioned as one of the many countries in which conquest by the Dhamma had been made by him. Dr. S. Paranavitharana in his book "The Greek and the Mauryas" makes reference to Yavana (Greek) kings with whom Dharmasoka maintained friendly relations and the succession of rulers in the kingdoms founded by Alexander's general's, in the Magadha kingdom. It was Anatogona Gonata who maintained friendly relations with Dharmasoka, and gave permission for the preaching of the Buddha-dharma in their respective territories. Mahamahendra-sthavira, who according to these sources, was a brother and not a son of Asoka, is said to have visited all these three countries, and preached the Dharma some time before he came to Ceylon.

Dr. S. Paranavitharana in his book "Sinhalayo" says: "when saint Mahinda preached Buddhism for the first time in Ceylon, he gave the explanations, as he had received them from his teachers, of certain words and expressions in the Pali Sermons. These were handed down orally with great care in the monasteries; and later teachers continued to add to this exegetical literature".

(Writer is a Doctor of-Medicine and Master-of-Arts in Buddhist studies)


18 06 2008 - The Island






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H2.14   Ancient Buddhist links between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka  

Lakshman Jayawardane in Chennai


The Palk Strait which lies between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan land masses, is seen as a divider, separating two different distinct ethnicities, religions, cultures and political entities. But there was a phase in history, between the early years of the Christian era and the 14th century, when Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka enjoyed very close ties, thanks to a shared interest in Buddhism.

At that time, the Palk Strait was not seen as a divider. Then Buddhism was a bridge between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. The land of the Tamils has been called Tamilakum, which means a land where the language Tamil is spoken. Tamilakum was a region which had the north-east Ventcata hill or the Tiruppati hill, the southern part of the modern Andhra Pradesh, as its northern border, Kanniya Kumari or Cape Comerin as the southern border, the bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea as its eastern and western borders respectively.

The ancient Tamilakum encompassed modern Kerala too. Tamilakum was actually located in the southern part of the Indian peninsula. Present Tamil Nadu State is much smaller than the Tamilakum.

Now Tamil Nadu is the only land where the language Tamil is spoken. At present Tamil country is famous as Tamil Nadu. According to Historians, Buddhism began to make an impact on Tamil Nadu only in the 4th century AD.

Buddhism flourished in Tamil Nadu in Two phases. (1) The early years of Pullava rule (400-650 AD) (2) The Chola period (mid 9th to early 14th century AD). Buddhism had then enjoyed a very remarkable popularity in the Tamil soil.

Although Buddhism has almost extinct from Tamil Nadu, it has contributed a great deal to the enrichment of Tamil culture and has exerted a significant influence, both directly and indirectly, on the Tamil religious and spiritual consciousness, present as well as past.

It has expressed itself in exquisite artistic forms and given an enduring colour and richness to Tamil culture as a whole. It has exerted a profound influence on the existing religious and social institutions, language and literature as well as on art and architecture.

The fascinating story of the historical links - Golden threads between Buddhism in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka was narrated by Dr. Shu Hikosake Director Professor of Buddhism, Institute of Asian Studies in Madras in his book “Buddhism in Tamil Nadu a new Perspective.”

Dr. Hikosaka’s study is based on his doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Madras. In the conclusion he explains: “Thus Buddhism remained orphaned in all spheres without proper patronage and encouragement.

The Buddhist monks looked for greener pastures in the neighbouring countries. They found propitious soil in Ceylon and South East Asian countries. A comparative study of the development of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu and the neighbouring countries clearly shows the fact that when Buddhism was in decline in Tamil Nadu, it witnessed tremendous growth in the neighbouring countries.

The monks of Tamil Nadu, who had left from their native land, have contributed a great deal for the growth of Buddhism abroad. In this sense we may say that the Tamil Buddhist genius was not destroyed but sublimated in another direction where it has grown with fresh vigour and vivacity.”

The earliest inscriptions in Tamil Nadu belong to the third century BC. They are written in Brahmi character of the time, on the walls of the natural caves in the Tamil districts of Madura, Ramnad and Tirnnelveli. They are of considerable interest to students of South Indian Buddhism.

It is learnt from these Brahmi inscriptions which palaeographically belong to 3rd century BC that Buddhism had come into Tamil Nadu even then. It was to Asoka and his son Mahinda that the introduction of Buddhism into Tamil Nadu may be attributed.

Epigraphical evidence seems to confirm this statement. In his Rock-Edict No. 3, Asoka says that his Dharma Vijaya prevailed in the border kingdoms of the Colas, Pandyans and at Tambapanni. But it was his son Mahinda who was responsible for the introduction of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu.

In this task, he was helped by Maha Aritta, a nephew of the Sri Lankan king Devanampiyatissa. Mahinda is said to have erected seven viharas at Kaveripattinum while he was on his way to Sri Lanka.

Some Indian scholars are of the opinion that Aritta or Maha-Aritta might have lived in the caves of the village of Arittapatti in Madura, which is in Tamil Nadu. According to Dr. Hikosaka Buddhism might have gone to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu, contrary to the general impression.

“Taking all evidence into account, we may fairly conclude that Mahendra and the Buddhist missionaries who went to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) could have embarked for the island from the East coast of the Tamil country. So, it is quite probable that the Tamil country received Buddhism directly through missionaries of Asoka.

Buddhism might have gone to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from Tamil Nadu by sea-route, a route by which one can reach Ceylon (Sri Lanka) easily. Since there existed close cultural affinities between Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the Tamil country from time immemorial, the Buddhist activities in India could have easily influenced in some way or other the Buddhism of Ceylon (Sri Lanka)” says Dr. Hikosaka.

It is interesting and appropriate to investigate the interactions of Buddhist monastic centres between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. The remains of a Buddhist monastery excavated at Kaveripattinum which could be assigned to the fourth century, are believed to be the earliest archaeological relics of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu.

During the Pallava period, Tamil Nadu boasted of “outstanding Buddhist monks who had made remarkable contributions to Buddhism thought and learning. A Buddhist writer Buddhadatta or Thera Buddhaatta as he is called lived during the time of Accyutarikkanta, Kalabra ruler of the Cola-nadu.

Under the patronage of this ruler, Buddhadatta wrote many books. In his book Vinayaviniccaya, he says that due to the patronage of this king he was able to compose this work.

In the Abhidhammaratara he gives a glowing account at Kaveripattinum, Uragapuram, Bhutamangalam and Kanchipuram and the Mahavihara at Ceylon (Sri Lanka). While he was at Sri Lanka, he composed many Buddhist works such as Uttara-viniccaya Ruparupa Vibhaga Jinalankara etc. Buddhaghosha, contemporary of Buddhadatta composed many Buddhist commentaries.

Buddhaghosha is a Tamil monk, who made a remarkable contribution to Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He stayed and studied Buddhist precepts at Mahavihara in Anuradhapura. The Visuddhimagga was the first work of Buddhaghosha which was written while he was in Ceylon.

According to Mahavamsa, it is a summary of the three Pitakas together with the commentary. When Buddhaghosha had been staying at Granthakara Pirivena at Anuradhapura, he completed his task of rendering Sinhalese commentaries of Tripitakas into Pali.

After a considerable period of religious service in Sri Lanka, he returned to Tamil Nadu. After Buddhaghosha, the important Theravada monk from the Tamil country was Dhammapala. Dhammapala lived in the Mahavihara at Anuradhapura.

He composed paramathadipani which was a commentary on Buddhaghosha’s work on Khuddaka Nikaya and Paramathamanjusa, which was a commentary on Buddhaghosha’s Visuddhimagga. A close study of the three Buddhist monks viz Buddhadatta, Buddhaghosha and Dhammapala shows that Tamil Buddhists were closely associated with the Sri Lankan Buddhists around the 5th century AD.

The interaction between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan monks finds mention in “Manimekalai”. The 6th century Tamil Buddhist work Manimekali by Sattanar, is perhaps the most famous of the work done in Tamil Nadu. It is a work expounding the doctrines and propagating the values of Buddhism.

The interaction between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan monks finds mention in “Manimekalai” which is set in the Tamil towns of Kaveipumpattinam Kanchi and Vanchi.

There is mention about the presence of wondering monks of Sri Lanka in Vanchi, which was the capital of the Chera Kings of Tamil Nadu. The Chinese traveller, Tsuan Tsang, wrote that there were around 300 Sri Lankan monks in the monastery at the Southern sector of Kanchipuram.





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H2.15   Kusinara - the sacred site of Maha Parinibbana

Every person born to this earth has to face death. Every one born, he or she has to die sooner or later. Dhammapada (a creation of the Buddha - an outcome of his wisdom) states “not in the sky not in the mid ocean nor in a mountain cave is found that place where abiding, one will not be overcome by death.” The gist of this sacred expression was experienced by the Blessed One with delight leading to Nibbana the ultimate bliss putting an end to the Samsaric journey, never to be born again. The Buddha’s last words uttered immediately prior to his Parinibbana were - “subject to change are all component things, strive on with diligence”.

All things are subject to the law of impermanence, was made very clear and well proved with his passing away. Maha Parinibbana sutta in Digha Nikaya (DN 16) describes the final days of the great Master and his leaving this world.

Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha after attaining enlightenment and realising the gift of eternal truth his concern was the welfare and happiness of all living beings. He was the embodiment of Meththa and Karuna love and compassion. He showed both by principle and practice.

He could have led a life of comfort. But he was more concerned with the welfare of the humans. Wandering from place to place on dusty, rough roads in North India he served the humanity. He said, “I proclaim you the Dhamma to get rid of worldly suffering” and his doctrine of Dhamma was made clear to all of them.

His service is beyond expression - too numerous to mention, something that no earthly being could do except the Blessed One.

After a successful ministry of 45 years, at the ripe age of 80, he bade goodbye to the universe.

Maha Parinibbana

Makutabandhana, cremation site of the Buddha

When Sakyamuni Gautama was getting ready for the final journey known as ‘Aayu Sanskara’ Ven. Ananda Thera who had a close watch of the Buddha failed for a moment to extend his invitation to live further.

His failure to do the needful, at the correct time gave the opportunity to Mara, to fulfill his objective of seeing the end of the Thathagatha. He compiled with the request of Mara with universal love and compassion towards all beings for the final deliverance from the miseries of existence.

Buddha knew his end was near and when he set out his last journey with Ananda Thera from Vesali, he told Ananda, “This will be the last time that Thathagatha will see Vesali.” They came to Pava where Chunda offered alms to the Buddha. That being the last meal, with great pain he continued his journey to Kusinara in the kingdom of Mallas.

Ananda was weeping when Buddha consoled him gratefully recalling his love and devotion to the Buddha and predicted that Ananda will certainly be an Arahat. He was anxious that Chunda should not be blamed and praised him of his good Kamma.

His last words to the disciples surrounding him was (Sabbe Sankara Anicca) mentioned earlier. With these words he passed his last breath on the robe laid slab of stone between the twin Sal trees.

The body of Thathagatha was taken to Mukthabandana Chetiya the sacred shrine of the Malla kings and it was cremated with due honour. The year was 483 BC. Later the relics were distributed among his followers who enshrined them in stupas. According to Pali chronicles, Emperor Asoka had opened the original stupas and redistributed the relics across his empire, to preserve them for future generations. Indian history reveals that Emperor Asoka well known for his effort to preserve the sacred places in his battle against the Moghuls is said to have constructed stupas and pillars in important sacred places.


Kusinagar is the last place associated with the life of the great master, who had been taken away from the universe. Buddha himself has mentioned in Mahaparinibbana Sutta Kusigagar as one of the four sacred sites of worship not to be missed by a true Buddhist.

Located in the north it had been a beautiful park originally covered with scenic splendour.

The sacred site at Kusinara stand today to tell us a most sorrowful and unforgettable incident of the Buddhist era.

The loss of the magnificent master to the entire humanity. The sacred temple premises with the Buddha image is crowded with pilgrims from far and wide. No devotee comes out without tears in their eyes.

Thanks to Asoka for tracing the holy spot. Subsequently the State Government of India took pains to restore the present temple, surrounding the statue to commemorate the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations to mark the 2500th year of the Parinibbana.

One can see the reclining Buddha image lying on its right side. This has been given a new touch, with more space for the pilgrims to worship the sacred image - the architectural marvel with much ease.

The statue - 6.1 metres in length has been carefully done out of one block of red sandstone brought from Mathura, during the Gupta period. It was discovered in a perished condition and the scattered pieces had been put together successfully.

The present pilgrims are in the habit of venerating the statue covering it with robes. This has been curtailed due to the heavy weight which would lead the statue to sink down, according to the Bhikkus in charge.

Hence the robes offered to cover are taken off after a few minutes. The sacred image is said to possess three poses at different angles, one smiling the other in pain and the third in the state of Parinibbana.






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H2.16  The interaction between Hellenistic Greece and Buddhism

The interaction between Hellenistic Greece and Buddhism started when Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor and Central Asia in 334 BCE, going as far as the Indus, thus establishing direct contact with India, the birthplace of Buddhism.

Alexander founded several cities in his new territories in the areas of the Oxus and Bactria, and Greek settlements further extended to the Khyber Pass, Gandhara (see Taxila) and the Punjab. These regions correspond to a unique geographical passageway between the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush mountains, through which most of the interaction between India and Central Asia took place, generating intense cultural exchange and trade.

Following Alexander's death on June 10, 323 BCE, his Diadochi (generals) founded their own kingdoms in Asia Minor and Central Asia. General Seleucus set up the Seleucid Kingdom, which extended as far as India. Later, the Eastern part of the Seleucid Kingdom broke away to form the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (3rd–2nd century BCE), followed by the Indo-Greek Kingdom (2nd–1st century BCE), and later still by the Kushan Empire (1st–3rd century CE). The interaction of Greek and Buddhist cultures operated over several centuries until it ended in the 5th century CE with the invasions of the White Huns, and later the expansion of Islam.

Some of the Edicts of Asoka describe the efforts made by Asoka to propagate the Buddhist faith throughout the Hellenistic world, which at that time formed an uninterrupted continuum from the borders of India to Greece. The Edicts indicate a clear understanding of the political organization in Hellenistic territories: the names and location of the main Greek monarchs of the time are identified, and they are claimed as recipients of Buddhist proselytism: Antiochus II Theos of the Seleucid Kingdom (261–246 BCE), Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt (285–247 B.C.), Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia (276–239 BCE), Magas of Cyrene (288–258 BCE), and Alexander of Epirus (272–255 BCE).

Buddhist missions at the time of Asoka (260–218 BCE)

"The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (4,000 miles) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni." (Edicts of Asoka, 13th Rock Edict, S. Dhammika)

Furthermore, according to Pali sources, some of Asoka's emissaries were Greek Buddhist monks, indicating close religious exchanges between the two cultures:

"When the elder Moggaliputta, the illuminator of the religion of the Conqueror (Asoka), had brought the third council to an end (...) he sent forth elders, one here and one there: ... and to Aparantaka (the "Western countries" corresponding to Gujarat and Sindh) he sent the Greek (Yona) named Dhammarakkhita." (Mahavamsa XII).

It is not clear how much these interactions may have been influential, but some authors have commented that some level of syncretism between

Hellenist thought and Buddhism may have started in Hellenic lands at that time. They have pointed to the presence of Buddhist communities in the Hellenistic world around that period, in particular in Alexandria (mentioned by Clement of Alexandria), and to the pre-Christian monastic order of the Therapeutae (possibly a deformation of the Pali word "Theravada"), who may have "almost entirely drawn (its) inspiration from the teaching and practices of Buddhist ascetism" (Robert Lissen).

Coin of the Hebrew King Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE), with eight-spoked wheel.

From around 100 BCE, "star within a diadem" symbols, also alternatively described as "eight-spoked wheels" and possibly infuenced by the design of the Buddhist Dharma wheel, appear on the coinage of the Hebrew King Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE). Alexander Jannaeus was associated with the phil-Hellenic sect of the Sadducees and the monastic order of the Essenes, themselves precursors of Christianity. These representations of eight-spoked wheels continued under the reign of his widow, Queen Alexandra, until the Roman invasion of Judea in 63 BCE.

Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have also been found in Alexandria, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel (Tarn, "The Greeks in Bactria and India"). Commenting on the presence of Buddhists in Alexandria, some scholars have even pointed out that “It was later in this very place that some of the most active centers of Christianity were established” (Robert Linssen, Zen Living).

A Greco-Buddhist statue, one of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara. Tokyo National Museum.

In the areas west of the Indian subcontinent, neighboring Greek kingdoms had been in place in Bactria (today's northern Afghanistan) since the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great around 326 BCE: first the Seleucids from around 323 BCE, then the Greco-Bactrian kingdom from around 250 BCE.

The Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius I invaded India in 180 BCE as far as Pataliputra, establishing an Indo-Greek kingdom that was to last in various part of northern India until the end of the 1st century BCE. Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek kings, and it has been suggested that their invasion of India was intended to show their support for the Mauryan empire, and to protect the Buddhist faith from the religious persecutions of the Sungas (185–73 BCE).

One of the most famous Indo-Greek kings is Menander (reigned c. 160–135 BCE). He apparently converted to Buddhism and is presented in the Mahayana tradition as one of the great benefactors of the faith, on a par with king Asoka or the later Kushan king Kanishka. Menander's coins bear the mention "Saviour king" in Greek, and "Great king of the Dharma" in Kharoshthi script. Direct cultural exchange is suggested by the dialogue of the Milinda Panha between the Greek king Menander and the monk Nagasena around 160 BCE. Upon his death, the honour of sharing his remains was claimed by the cities under his rule, and they were enshrined in stupas, in a parallel with the historic Buddha (Plutarch, Praec. reip. ger. 28, 6).

The interaction between Greek and Buddhist cultures may have had some influence on the evolution of Mahayana, as the faith developed its sophisticated philosophical approach and a man-god treatment of the Buddha somewhat reminiscent of Hellenic gods. It is also around that time that the first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha are found, often in realistic Greco-Buddhist style: "One might regard the classical influence as including the general idea of representing a man-god in this purely human form, which was of course well familiar in the West, and it is very likely that the example of westerner's treatment of their gods was indeed an important factor in the innovation" (Boardman, "The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity").






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H2.17   Theravada Buddhism - A Chronology

John T. Bullitt

This timeline chronicles some of the significant events and personalities in the evolution of Theravada Buddhism that, in one way or another, figure prominently in the readings found elsewhere on this website. This is not meant to be a comprehensive chronology.

Because the sources I used in constructing this timeline (indicated by {braces} and listed at the end of this document) often assumed different dates for the Buddha's nativity, I have occasionally had to interpolate in order to fit events (particularly the early ones) onto a reasonably consistent timeline. Nevertheless, this chronology should provide a fairly clear picture of the relative sequence of events, if not the absolute dates on which they occurred.

For a general introduction to Theravada Buddhism, please see "What is Theravada Buddhism?".

[1]   CE[2]
-80   -624/-560
The Bodhisatta (Sanskrit: Bodhisattva), or Buddha-to-be, is born in Lumbini (in present-day Nepal) as Siddhattha (Skt: Siddhartha) Gotama, a prince of the Sakya clan. {
-51   -595/-531
The Bodhisatta renounces the householder life (age 29).
-45   -589/-525
While meditating under the Bo tree in the forest at Gaya (now Bodhgaya, India) during the full-moon night of May, the Bodhisatta becomes the Buddha (age 36).

During the full-moon night of July, the Buddha delivers his

first discourse near Varanasi, introducing the world to the Four Noble Truths and commencing a 45-year career of teaching the religion he called "Dhamma-vinaya."
Parinibbana (Skt: Parinirvana; death and final release) of the Buddha, at Kusinara (now Kusinagar, India) (age 80). {

During the rains retreat following the Buddha's Parinibbana, the First Council (sangayana) convenes at Rajagaha, India, during which 500 arahant bhikkhus, led by Ven. Mahakassapa, gather to recite the entire body of the Buddha's teachings. The recitation of the Vinaya by Ven. Upali becomes accepted as the

Vinaya Pitaka; the recitation of the Dhamma by Ven. Ananda becomes established as the Sutta Pitaka. {1,4}
100   -444/-380
100 years after the Buddha's Parinibbana the Second Council convenes in Vesali to discuss controversial points of Vinaya. The first schism of the Sangha occurs, in which the Mahasanghika school parts ways with the traditionalist Sthaviravadins. At issue is the Mahasanghika's reluctance to accept the Suttas and the Vinaya as the final authority on the Buddha's teachings. This schism marks the first beginnings of what would later evolve into Mahayana Buddhism, which would come to dominate Buddhism in northern Asia (China, Tibet, Japan, Korea). {
294   -250
Third Council is convened by
King Asoka at Pataliputra (India). Disputes on points of doctrine lead to further schisms, spawning the Sarvastivadin and Vibhajjavadin sects. The Abhidhamma Pitaka is recited at the Council, along with additional sections of the Khuddaka Nikaya. The modern Pali Tipitaka is now essentially complete, although some scholars have suggested that at least two parts of the extant Canon — the Parivara in the Vinaya, and the Apadana in the Sutta — may date from a later period. {1, 4}
297   -247
King Asoka sends his son, Ven. Mahinda, on a mission to bring Buddhism to Sri Lanka. King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka is converted. {5}
304   -240
Ven. Mahinda establishes the Mahavihara (Great Monastery) of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The Vibhajjavadin community living there becomes known as the Theravadins. Mahinda compiles the first of the Tipitaka commentaries, in the Sinhala language. Mahinda's sister, Ven. Sanghamitta, arrives in Sri Lanka with a cutting from the original Bo tree, and establishes the bhikkhuni-sangha in Sri Lanka.{
1, 5}
444   -100
Famine and schisms in Sri Lanka point out the need for a written record of the Tipitaka to preserve the Buddhist religion. King Vattagamani convenes a Fourth Council, in which 500 reciters and scribes from the Mahavihara write down the Pali Tipitaka for the first time, on palm leaves. {
4, 5, 6}
544   1
Common Era (CE) begins; Year 1 AD.
644   100
Theravada Buddhism first appears in Burma and Central Thailand. {
744   200
Buddhist monastic university at Nalanda, India flourishes; remains a world center of Buddhist study for over 1,000 years. {
ca. 1000   5th c.
Ven. Buddhaghosa collates the various Sinhala commentaries on the Canon — drawing primarily on the Maha Atthakatha (Great Commentary) preserved at the Mahavihara — and translates them into Pali. This makes Sinhala Buddhist scholarship available for the first time to the entire Theravadan world and marks the beginning of what will become, in the centuries to follow, a vast body of
post-canonical Pali literature. Buddhaghosa also composes his encyclopedic, though controversial, meditation manual Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification). Vens. Buddhadatta and Dhammapala write additional commentaries and sub-commentaries. {7}
ca. 1100   600's
Buddhism in India begins a long, slow decline from which it would never fully recover. {
ca. 1100? 1400?   6th c.? 9th c.?
Dhammapala composes
commentaries on parts of the Canon missed by Buddhaghosa (such as the Udana, Itivuttaka, Theragatha, and Therigatha), along with extensive sub-commentaries on Buddhaghosa's work. {7}
1594   1050
The bhikkhu and bhikkhuni communities at Anuradhapura die out following invasions from South India.{
1, 5}
1614   1070
Bhikkhus from Pagan arrive in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka to reinstate the obliterated Theravada ordination line on the island. {
1697   1153
Buddhist Council (the 5th by Sri Lankan reckoning; the 7th by Thai reckoning) in Sri Lanka. {
1708   1164
Polonnaruwa destroyed by foreign invasion. With the guidance of two monks from a forest branch of the Mahavihara sect — Vens. Mahakassapa and Sariputta — King Parakramabahu reunites all bhikkhus in Sri Lanka into the Mahavihara sect. {
1, 8}
1780   1236
Bhikkhus from Kañcipuram, India arrive in Sri Lanka to revive the Theravada ordination line. {
1823   1279
Last inscriptional evidence of a Theravada Bhikkhuni nunnery (in Burma). {
1831   1287
Pagan looted by Mongol invaders; its decline begins. {
ca. 1900   13th c.
A forest-based Sri Lankan ordination line arrives in Burma and Thailand. Theravada spreads to Laos. Thai Theravada monasteries first appear in Cambodia shortly before the Thais win their independence from the Khmers. {
ca. 2000   1400's
Another forest lineage is imported from Sri Lanka to Ayudhaya, the Thai capital. A new ordination line is also imported into Burma. {
2297   1753
King Kirti Sri Rajasinha obtains bhikkhus from the Thai court to reinstate the bhikkhu ordination line, which had died out in Sri Lanka. This is the origin of the Siyam Nikaya. {
2312   1768
Burmese destroy Ayudhaya (Thai capital).
2321   1777
King Rama I, founder of the current dynasty in Thailand, obtains copies of the Tipitaka from Sri Lanka and sponsors a Council to standardize the Thai version of the Tipitaka, copies of which are then donated to temples throughout the country. {
2347   1803
Sri Lankans ordained in the Burmese city of Amarapura found the Amarapura Nikaya in Sri Lanka to supplement the Siyam Nikaya, which admitted only brahmans from the Up Country highlands around Kandy. {
2372   1828
Thailand's Prince Mongkut (later King Rama IV) founds the Dhammayut movement, which would later become the Dhammayut Sect. {
ca. 2400   1800's
Sri Lankan Sangha deteriorates under pressure from two centuries of European colonial rule (Portuguese, Dutch, British). {
2406   1862
Forest monks headed by Ven. Paññananda go to Burma for reordination, returning to Sri Lanka the following year to found the Ramañña Nikaya. {
9} First translation of the Dhammapada into a Western language (German). {2}
2412   1868
Buddhist Council (the 5th by Burmese reckoning) is held at Mandalay, Burma; Pali Canon is inscribed on 729 marble slabs. {
2417   1873
Ven. Mohottivatte Gunananda defeats Christian missionaries in a public debate, sparking a nationwide revival of Sri Lankan pride in its Buddhist traditions. {
2423   1879
Sir Edwin Arnold publishes his epic poem Light of Asia, which becomes a best-seller in England and the USA, stimulating popular Western interest in Buddhism.
2424   1880
Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, founders of the Theosophical Society, arrive in Sri Lanka from the USA, embrace Buddhism, and begin a campaign to restore Buddhism on the island by encouraging the establishment of Buddhist schools. {
2425   1881
Pali Text Society is founded in England by T.W. Rhys Davids; most of the Tipitaka is published in roman script and, over the next 100 years, in English translation.
2435   1891
Maha Bodhi Society founded in India by the Sri Lankan lay follower Anagarika Dharmapala, in an effort to reintroduce Buddhism to India. {
2443   1899
First Western Theravada monk (Gordon Douglas) ordains, in Burma. {
ca. 2444   ca. 1900
Ven. Ajaan Mun and Ven. Ajaan Sao revive the forest meditation tradition in Thailand. {1}
2445   1902
King Rama V of Thailand institutes a Sangha Act that formally marks the beginnings of the Mahanikaya and Dhammayut sects. Sangha government, which up to that time had been in the hands of a lay official appointed by the king, is handed over to the bhikkhus themselves.
2493   1949
Mahasi Sayadaw becomes head teacher at a government-sponsored meditation center in Rangoon, Burma. {
2498   1954
Burmese government sponsors a Buddhist Council (the 6th by Burmese and Sri Lankan reckoning) in Rangoon.
2500   1956
Buddha Jayanti Year, commemorating 2,500 years of Buddhism.
2502   1958
Ven. Nyanaponika Thera establishes the
Buddhist Publication Society in Sri Lanka to publish English-language books on Theravada Buddhism. Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is founded in Sri Lanka to bring Buddhist ideals to bear in solving pressing social problems. Two Germans ordain at the Royal Thai Embassy in London, becoming the first to take full Theravada ordination in the West. {1, 2}
ca. 2504   1960's
Washington (D.C.) Buddhist Vihara founded — first Theravada monastic community in the USA. {
11; and Bhavana Society Brochure}
ca. 2514   1970's
Refugees from war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos settle in USA and Europe, establishing many tight-knit Buddhist communities in the West. Ven. Taungpulu Sayadaw and Dr. Rina Sircar, from Burma, establish the
Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery in Northern California, USA. Ven. Ajaan Chah establishes Wat Pah Nanachat, a forest monastery in Thailand for training Western monks. Insight Meditation Society, a lay meditation center, is founded in Massachusetts, USA. Ven. Ajaan Chah travels to England to establish a small community of monks at the Hamsptead Vihara, which later moves to Sussex, England, to become Wat Pah Cittaviveka (Chithurst Forest Monastery).
ca. 2524   1980's
Lay meditation centers grow in popularity in USA and Europe. First Theravada forest monastery in the USA (
Bhavana Society) is established in West Virginia. Amaravati Buddhist Monastery established in England by Ven. Ajaan Sumedho (student of Ven. Ajaan Chah).
ca. 2534   1990's
Continued western expansion of the Theravada Sangha: monasteries from the Thai forest traditions established in California, USA (Metta Forest Monastery, founded by
Ven. Ajaan Suwat; Abhayagiri Monastery, founded by Ven. Ajaans Amaro and Pasanno). Buddhism meets cyberspace: online Buddhist information networks emerge; several editions of the Pali Tipitaka become available online.


BE = Buddhist Era. Year 1 of the Buddhist Era calendar is the year of the Buddha's Parinibbana (death and final release), which occurred in the Buddha's eightieth year (480 BCE according to the "historical" timeline; 544 BCE by tradition).

The actual date of the Buddha's birth is unknown. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha's birth took place in 624 BCE, although some recent estimates place the Buddha's birth much later — perhaps as late as 448 BCE {1}. 560 BCE is one commonly accepted date for the Buddha's birth, and the "historical" date for that event that I adopt here.

Events in the timeline prior to -250 CE are shown with two CE dates: the date based on the "traditional" nativity of 624 BCE, followed by the date based on the "historical" date of 560 BCE. After -250 CE the "historical" date is dropped, since these dates are more appropriate only in discussions of earlier events.

To calculate the CE date corresponding to an event in the Buddhist traditional calendar, subtract 544 years from the BE date. The BE dates of well-documented historical events (particularly those in the twentieth century) may be off by one year, since the CE and BE calendars start their years on different months (January and May, respectively).

CE = Common Era. Year 1 of the Common Era corresponds with the year 1 AD (Anno Domini) in the Christian calendar. -1 CE (or 1 BCE — "Before the Common Era") corresponds with the year 1 BC ("Before Christ"). By convention there is no year zero; the day after 31 December 1 BCE is 1 January 1 CE.
Events of the last few decades are still too recent to claim any historical significance.


The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction (fourth edition) by R.H. Robinson & W.L. Johnson (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1996)
The Buddha's Way by H. Saddhatissa (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971)
Pali Literature and Language by Wilhelm Geiger (New Delhi: Oriental Books, 1978)
Beginnings: the Pali Suttas by Samanera Bodhesako (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1984)
Buddhism in Sri Lanka by H.R. Perera (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1966)
The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) (Introduction) by Ven. Bhikkhu Ñanamoli (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1975)
Indian Buddhism (second edition) by A.K. Warder (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980)
Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo by Richard Gombrich (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988)
The Forest Monks of Sri Lanka: An Anthropological and Historical Study by Michael Carrithers (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983)
The Progress of Insight
by Mahasi Sayadaw (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1994)
World Buddhist Directory by The Buddhist Information Centre (Colombo, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Information Centre, 1984)
Buddhism in Thailand: Its Past and Its Present by Karuna Kusalasaya (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 2005), note 3.






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H2.18   Heritage forgotten: Gandhara civilization site fading away


The Express Tribune, Jan 6, 2011

SWAT, Pakistan

The ancient seat of Gandhara civilization in Swat that was vandalized by religious extremists is crumbling due to the neglect of the authorities. The valley, once a popular tourist destination and seat of learning through the ages, was turned into a hotbed of violence when Taliban captured the valley in 2006 and started propagating orthodox version of Sharia through illegal FM radio station.

After surviving over 2,000 years, government apathy may lead to the stupa’s disappearance. Photo: Fazal Khaliq

The militants defaced Buddhist statues, monasteries and rock carvings. On October 8, 2007, Fazlullah’s militants defaced a 23-foot high, 7th century seated Buddha, carved in a rock in the lap of a mountain in Jehandabad village. It was the rarest piece of rock art in the region after the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001, says an official of the Swat Museum in Saidu Sharif.

However, the Taliban are not the only ones guilty of wrecking such archaeological treasures; the local people have also destroyed archaeological sites to extract stones and bricks for use in the construction of their houses. In some areas, treasure-hunters pillage these sites in the hope of finding valuables and striking a fortune. Lying in the lap of calm and serene Jambil Valley on one side and the Marghazar stream on the other, Batkara Stupa is one of the most important and oldest Buddhist seats of learning in Swat Valley.

According to the Archaeology and Museums Department of Pakistan, it was the Buddhist monastery of Ta-Lo, visited by Chinese Buddhist pilgrims during the 5th and 7th centuries. It lies at the eastern end of the ancient capital known as ‘Udyana’ (garden) in the Hindu scriptures of Chich-Li (present day Mingora). The main stupa stands in the middle, around it, crowded stupas, veharas and columns, on the northern side stands a great building and further to the north and west  the inhabited area. The stupa underwent five reconstructions, each new one encasing the last from the 3rd century till the 10th century. The other monuments around have been accordingly co-related to the five building periods.

During the reign of Ashoka, Buddhism thrived in the Swat valley and spread to Central Asia and China from the 1st century BC to 4th century AD. Buddhism left its mark in the form of stupas, monasteries, art, coins, pottery and other artifacts.

Sadly, the site, which was once a prime tourist spot especially for Buddhists from across the world, and earned huge foreign exchange, has been deserted since violence erupted in the valley in 2006.

Site in-charge and archaeologist Sanaullah gave a glimpse into the site’s history, “There was an earth-mound here where farmers used to thresh their crops. When locals found some coins while digging, an Italian mission led by archaeologist Domenico Faccenna managed to excavate this site in 1956, that continued till 1962, and after clarifying the various steps of the construction, the mission established that the stupa was monumentalised by the addition of Hellenistic architectural decorations during the 2nd century BC, suggesting a direct involvement of the Indo-Greek rulers of north-western India in the development of Greco-Buddhist architecture.”

Before the militancy, he added, “some 20 to 25 groups of foreign delegates would visit the site; the majority of them were Buddhists. This was an important worship site for them and is particularly suitable for meditation due to its peaceful and serene location.”

Renowned historian Fazal Rabi Rahi, commented on the importance of the ancient sites, told the Express Tribune, “If such historical heritages existed in a developed country, they would really take great advantage of them. In European countries historical buildings and monuments are visited by thousands of tourists annually and generate a lot of income.”

Criticizing the role of the authorities concerned, Rahi said, “Though, thousands of Buddhist historical sites representing the Gandhara civilization exist throughout the Swat valley and can potentially earn millions in foreign currency, neither our government nor the Archaeology Department seem concerned about this and our precious heritage is in a state of decay due to their neglect.”

Hamayun Firas, a social activist and resident of Batkara lamented on the present situation of the stupa, saying that 30 years ago, the stupa was in a very good condition, its architecture was marvelous and the colours of every decoration and painting were visible, but if you visit it today, no sign of the sublime architecture is visible, even the statues carved into the walls have been broken and lost by the neglect of the concerned department.

“The other things which you will always see in these historical sites are stray dogs and drugs addicts.”

At Batkara, where 9,484 statues and 107 coins were discovered during excavation, there was a decorated stupa with stone and plaster carvings of the life of Buddha, painted, gilded and topped by umbrellas, today it presents a deserted wasteland due to neglect from the archaeology department and the local authorities.

The archaeology department officials were not willing to comment on the condition of the Batkara site, claiming they are not allowed to speak to the media by their higher authorities. Despite repeated attempts, the higher authorities would not respond.






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H2.19   Buddhism's 'Dead Sea Scrolls' for sale to Norway

Saved from Afghanistan by top collector, the manuscripts pose an ethical problem

Martin Bailey


LONDON, UK -Thousands of ancient manuscripts smuggled out of Afghanistan are now likely to be sold. Known as 'Buddhism's Dead Sea Scrolls', they belong to Martin Schøyen, a Norwegian businessman who is regarded as the world's greatest 20th-century collector of manuscripts. His library includes important examples from virtually every major civilisation around the world. Mr Schøyen, aged 60, now wishes to sell his entire collection to a public institution for £70 million in order to raise money for his human rights and development aid charity.

Mystery surrounds the origin of Mr Schøyen's Buddhist manuscripts, but Professor Jens Braarvig of the University of Oslo, who is heading the scholarly publication programme, believes that the overwhelming majority come from the Bamiyan area. 'Reports suggest they were found by local people taking refuge from the Taliban forces in a deep cave in the cliffside, within a few kilometres of the two giant Buddhas,' he told The Art Newspaper. Professor Braarvig says that this cache of manuscripts, although obviously very different, is of 'comparable importance' to the Buddha statues, which were destroyed by the Taliban last year.

It was in 1996 that the first group of manuscripts was discovered. The finders set off towards Pakistan, and after being chased by the Taliban in the Hindu Kush they managed to cross the Khyber Pass, eventually reaching Islamabad. There the manuscripts passed through dealers before being acquired by London specialist Sam Fogg, who sold the 108 fragments to Mr Schøyen. This was followed by further batches, which were considerably larger and usually included hundreds of folios and the occasional complete manuscript. Altogether around 15 separate consignments of Bamiyan material have been acquired by Mr Schøyen.

Latest arrival

The most recent batch of manuscripts reached Europe in July, and again passed through Sam Fogg to the Schøyen Collection. These texts are believed to have been purchased by a middleman in Bamiyan earlier in the year, but they are all small fragments and this has raised new concerns. Since the fall of the Taliban, talismans have been produced for sale in Bamiyan which incorporate a fragment of ancient Buddhist text. This new practice has not only pushed up market prices for manuscripts, but it also appears that folios are now sometimes cut up into small pieces in order to maximise profits for the seller.

Altogether the Schøyen Library now has eight complete Buddhist manuscripts, over 5,000 folios and sizable fragments from 1,400 different manuscripts, plus more than 8,000 small fragments. These are on palm leaf, birch bark or vellum, and some seem to have been damaged in antiquity. The majority of the texts are in Sanskrit, and most probably originated in India and were brought to Bamiyan by pilgrims. They include many previously unknown Buddhist texts, as well as some of the oldest surviving scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. The earliest manuscripts have been dated to around 100 AD, and hence the comparison with the Jewish scrolls found near the Dead Sea.

Professor Braarvig believes that nearly all of Mr Schøyen's Buddhist material comes from a monastic library near Bamiyan. This may well have been the monastery of Mahasanghika, whose existence was recorded by a Chinese traveller in around 633 AD. The texts come from a 600-year period (from around 100 to 700 AD) and much of the collection are in single folios, many of them damaged. It has therefore been suggested that the manuscript cache could have comprised damaged sheets which were recopied for the main library. 'When folios were copied, the discarded ones may well have been ritually buried in the cave,' suggests Professor Richard Salomon, of the University of Washington, Seattle.


Mr Schøyen has recently indicated that he wishes to sell his entire collection of 12,500 world manuscripts, ideally to the Norwegian State, for the National Library. The bulk of the Schøyen Library does not pose any special difficulties, but the fact that the Buddhist manuscripts were smuggled out of Afghanistan has sparked off an impassioned debate in Norway.

In a statement, the Schøyen Library points out that the Buddhist manuscripts are the only ones that do not come from old collections, 'but were acquired to prevent destruction, after requests from Buddhists and scholars. The statement goes on to address the question of whether these manuscripts should be returned to Afghanistan, after they have been published, and if peace, order, religious tolerance and safe conditions have been established in that country. But after analysing the history of Afghanistan, the Schøyen Library concludes that it is 'not the right and safe home for these manuscripts in the future.'

Bendik Rugaas, director of Norway's National Library, has already welcomed Mr Schøyen's proposal to sell his entire collection to the State. But even if the money is raised, and the sale goes ahead, this does not resolve the question of what should eventually happen to the Buddhist material. Although Mr Rugaas would be happy for the manuscripts to remain in Oslo, John Herstad, director of the National Archives, is among those who support the return of the manuscripts to Afghanistan when conditions are appropriate.


The story of the Buddhist manuscripts raises difficult issues. Professor Braarvig points out that the Bamiyan cave has not been examined by archaeologists. ?From a scientific point of view the fact that the exact find-spot is unknown and that proper excavations have not been carried out is deplorable, since the manuscripts are shorn of context,? he explained. Instead, it has been left to local looters to take the material, keeping the source of their treasure a secret.

But what would have happened if those fleeing the Taliban and seeking refuge in the cave had not been able to sell their find? Had the manuscripts not had a financial value, the fragile items might simply have been discarded or allowed to disintegrate. There was no Afghan government authority which could have stepped in to save the find. The Kabul Museum had already suffered serious damage and looting during the civil war, although this was to soon to be overshadowed by the deliberate destruction which took place under the Taliban early last year.

When Mr Schøyen began to buy the Buddhist manuscripts, he was purchasing items which had been smuggled (although no legal offence was being committed by dealers or collectors outside Afghanistan). In retrospect, following the Taliban's destruction of the giant Buddhas, Mr Schøyen's action may well be applauded, but at the time Unesco was opposing the acquisition of illegally exported antiquities. However, with the defeat of the Taliban, the situation is rather different and the purchase of manuscripts which have been illegally exported from Afghanistan this year is much more questionable.

The Schøyen case is unusual, because a single collector appears to have acquired the bulk of the material from a major find, despite the fact that it was separated into numerous separate consignments. It would obviously have been very unfortunate if the folios and fragments had been dispersed to dozens of private collectors, making it virtually impossible for scholars to study the material as a coherent group.

One fact, however, is indisputable, and that is that Schøyen has been generous in allowing scholarly access to the material and encouraging its prompt publication. This is now well under way: the first volume on the Buddhist manuscripts was published in Oslo by Hermes in 2000 and the second volume will be out later this month. Eight further volumes are scheduled within the next few years.

And as for the future, Professor Braarvig hopes that ownership of the Buddhist manuscripts will be very carefully considered. He personally believes that the Norwegian State should consider giving them back to Afghanistan, but only after conditions there are entirely suitable, and this could be many years away. Professor Braarvig's overriding concern is that 'Buddhism's Dead Sea Scrolls' must be accessible, both to scholars and the public.


The Art Newspaper, Nov 3, 2004







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H2.20   In Afghanistan, 900-foot Sleeping Buddha eludes archaeologists


But researchers are finding and preserving other ancient riches.


International News Network, August 7, 2007

BAMIYAN, AFGHANISTAN - After the Taliban fell, France sent Zemaryalai Tarzi to this Afghan valley on a quest bordering on the mythological. His goal: to find Sleeping Buddha, the reclining sculpture that, at 900 feet long, would be nearly 10 times the size of the Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Investigating Gholghola ruins: Dr. Tarzi's team of archeologists is planning to begin small test excavations near the citadel ruins to learn more about the Islamic Gorid Empire.
Mark Sapenfield - staff

He brought the ultimate treasure map – the journal of a 7th- century Chinese pilgrim who recorded every major monument in painstaking detail.

But six years later, there's no Sleeping Buddha. When it comes to this prize, the journal is frustratingly vague. And, Dr. Tarzi freely acknowledges, he has been otherwise occupied as he and other archaeologists have found, preserved, and worked to understand Afghanistan's other ancient riches, starting right here in Bamiyan.

What he has found are the remnants of the culture that built the Buddhas – one of the most lavish and powerful kingdoms of ancient Central Asia.

Recently Tarzi's colleague, archaeologist Mickaël Rakotozonia, stood in a steady drizzle, surrounded by mud-brick houses, and gestured to two ancient towers almost lost amid the jigsaw of earthen walls here.

Between these two towers, he speculated, might have been a gate into the Kingdom City of Bamiyan, home to the creators of the two stone Buddhas carved from a nearby cliff some 1,500 years ago and destroyed by the Taliban.

But the Buddhas are only the most obvious example of this country's ancient riches.

"My new discoveries have put old discoveries in the background," says Tarzi.

He and Mr. Rakotozonia will continue searching for the Buddhist's Kingdom City this summer and autumn and the team will perhaps also begin excavating test pits near Shar-e Gholghola, the citadel capital of the Ghorid Empire, which followed the Buddhists.

The white hill city, encrusted with the ruins of centuries past, was destroyed in the 13th century when Genghis Khan conquered Bamiyan. According to legend, he was so furious that his son was killed in the siege that he killed even the mice of the city, leading to the name Shar-e Gholghola, which means the City of Screams.

To the north, archaeologists are excavating the city of Balkh, supposed birthplace of the prophet Zoroaster and location of Alexander's marriage to Roxana in 327 BC.

But archaeology in Afghanistan makes for some peculiar working conditions. There are still mines on Shar-e Gholghola from 20 years of war. The same is true of the Red City, a three-tiered, 3rd century BC palace complex hewn from red stone and clinging to a cliff 1,500 feet above the floor of the Bamiyan Valley.

Sayed Nasir Modaber of Bamiyan's Department of Monuments says demining projects should begin this month.

Also conspiring against them is open warfare in much of the country and – perhaps worse – a decades-old network of smuggling that is systematically looting the relics of Afghanistan's past, sometimes to finance warlords and insurgents.

The statues in Afghanistan are gone, but archeologists continue to explore the Bamiyan monasteries.
Mark Sappenfield - staff

"If we add up the values of numerous objects looted and illegally sold these past two decades, it amounts to several billion dollars worth of art objects belonging and constituting Afghanistan's wealth and national heritage," said Abdul Wasey Feroozi of Afghanistan's Institute of Archaeology at a 2004 seminar.

More unusual, still, is the practice of refilling every site with dirt after an excavation is finished.

Indeed, when Rakotozonia stood beneath the two ancient towers of what could be the Kingdom City, there was no hint that he stood on last year's work.

He helped excavate this patch of ground last year, finding what appeared to be a warehouse for the Buddhist kingdom that ruled this valley from the 3rd to the 10th centuries AD. Now, it's as flat as a courtyard.

It is better than the alternative, though. Mir Zaka has become synonymous with the perils facing Afghan archaeology. During the civil war of the early 1990s, the treasure of the 5th century BC Greek fort was sold to finance warlords.

Mohammad Rasuli, director of the Institute of Archaeology in Kabul, remembers visiting the site, disguised as a businessman, and seeing bags of historical coins so heavy that two men needed to lift them. Ornaments, statuary, and stamps were packed away in containers and protected not only by men with machine guns, but also with antiaircraft guns.

In all, he estimates, some 4.5 tons of archaeological artifacts were lost, some of them even popping up in local markets. But even from such calamity, Mr. Rasuli draws optimism: "Afghanistan has hope that we have lots of Mir Zakas."


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The Roots of Violence

Wealth without work,
Pleasure without conscience,
Knowledge without character,
Commerce without morality,
Science without humanity,
Worship without sacrifice,
Politics without principles.

Mohandas K. Gandhi

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