BUDDHIST HISTORY PAGE 4
HISTORY ARTICLES INDEX - PAGE 4
Upali S. Jayasekera
This has reference to the letter written by ‘CR’ and published in The Island of January 15 under the heading ‘Alexander the Great visits Sri Pada - far fetched’. He ends the letter with a sting in the tail contending that the Buddha’s visits to Sri Lanka, recounted in the Mahavansa, are not historical facts.
The Buddha paid three visits to Sri Lanka. However, certain historians especially those prejudiced against Buddhism tend to cast doubts over the historicity of the visits just as much as they do not give credence to the great Aryan Persian Civilization that has played a big role in the world including India and Sri Lanka. On the other hand, the emphasis on Arahant Mahinda’s visit during the Asoka period has resulted in sidelining or even ignoring the Buddha’s visits to the country and the Thathagatha’s personal introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, these same historians accept creations and resurrections that have no scientific acceptance or archaeological evidence, as true!
The Buddha’s first visit was in the ninth month after Buddhahood on Duruthu (January) Full Moon Day.(1 B.E. or 528 B.C.) That was to Mahiyangana where the Yaksa Clan of the entire island was meeting in the Mahanaga Garden. On this visit, the Buddha not only won the Yaksas/Raksas to Buddhism but also succeeded in getting the Naga clan King Maniakkhika of Kelaniya, who came to Mahiyangana to meet the Buddha, to embrace Buddhism. It is after this visit that a Stupa with some hair of the Buddha enshrined, came to be put up at the instance of Deva Clan Prince named Mahasumana of Sumanakuta mountain area. This Stupa, after the Parinibbana or passing away of the Buddha was transformed to be the Mahiyangana Cetiya after Thera Sarabhu, brought the collar bone of the Thathagatha from the funeral pyre and enshrined in it.
The second visit was in the fifth year of Buddhahood (5 B.E. or 523 B.C.). The Buddha on seeing an imminent war between two Naga Kings - Culodara and Mahodara, uncle and nephew, over a Jewelled Throne, visited Nagadipa (Jaffna), settled the dispute and handed over the custody of the Jewelled Throne to Naga King Maniakkika of Kelaniya. On this visit the Buddha was accompanied by Samiddhi Sumana, a representative of Persian King Darius, who came to be referred to as Sakka (Sakkra), the King of Kings of Deva clan. Samiddhi Sumana brought with him a tree from Jetawanarama, which was also presented to Maniakkhika who in turn constructed a Cetiya covering the Jewelled Throne in Kelaniya and also planted the Na tree which precints is Kelaniya Viharaya.
Having spent the seventh Vas (Retreat) period in Tavtisa (in Persia) at the palace of Persian Emperor in Persepolis, King Darius, referred to as Sakka (Sakkra), the King of Devas (Persians were Aryan Devas) and eighth Vas period in Bhesakala close to Sunsumara Giri in India. The Buddha visited Sri Lanka for the third time (that was the last time, too) at the invitation of King Maniakkhika first arriving in Kelaniya, in 9 B.E. (519/520 B.C.) with 500 of his followers.
It was on this third visit that the Buddha placed an imprint of his left foot on top of Sumanakuta (Samanalakanda) on the invitation of a Naga Prince named Sumanasaman as he left his foot imprints in Narmada and Saccabaddha in India. The Sumanakuta, after the arrival of the colonialists also came to be called Adams Peak.
Sumanasaman was appointed the lay guardian of Sumanakuta by the Buddha. It is that Sumanasaman who is now being considered as the guardian deity of Samanala kanda and referred to as Saman Deiyo. He is, in fact, no God in the sense looked upon by those whose faiths consider God as all powerful. In addition to visiting Sumanakuta, the Buddha paid visits to Anuradhapura, Digawewa, Tissamaharama and Kataragama. Deva Clan Prince Visala, Mahasena, Samanibhara and Mahaghosa were appointed guardians of these places by the Buddha. Accordingly, Kataragama Deiyo to Buddhists is not Hindu God Skanda, but Mahaghosa who functioned as the guardian of the Buddhist place of worship and came to be regarded as a deity due to his fearless and valuable services rendered.
Archaeological evidence at
Mahiyangana, Kelaniya, Nagadipa and other places coupled with literary
evidence and the history of the movement of the Aryan population prove
the Buddha’s three visits to Sri Lanka, beyond any doubt.
H4.02 Buddhist heritage of Tamil Nadu and its links with Lanka
Dr. Nirmala Chandrahasan
The cultural affinities between Tamil Nadu our closest neighbour and Sri Lanka are many but little is known of the religious ties which bound the two countries between the early years of the Christian era and the 14th century AD, during which time Buddhism was prevalent in South India.
Buddhism came to South India before the 3rd Sangam period in the 2nd century BC. Pandit Hisselle Dharmaratana mahathera, in his Buddhism in South India states that there is evidence that Ven. Mahinda Thera, Emperor Asoka’s son also spread the Dhamma in Tamil Nadu. The Mahathera states "although the chronicles say he arrived through his supernatural powers, scholars are of the opinion that he travelled by sea and called at Kaveripattinam on the east coast of Tamil Nadu on his way to Sri Lanka". Dr Shu Hikosake Director Professor of Buddhism, Institute of Asian Studies in Madras in his book Buddhism in Tamil Nadu a new perspective also takes the same view. Hsuan Tsang the Chinese 7th Century, Buddhist monk, scholar traveller, mentions that in the Pandyan kingdom near Madurai there is a monastery built by Mahinda thera. He also mentions a stupa built by King Asoka in Kanchipuram. Stone inscriptions of the Emperor Asoka, Rock Edict no 3, refers to the Dhamma being spread in the Chola, and Pandya country (Tamil Nadu) and Tambapanni (Sri Lanka)
Buddhism flourished in Tamil Nadu in two phases, firstly in the early years of the Pallava rule 400-650 AD, and secondly in the Chola period mid 9th to the early 14th century AD. There were many centres of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu among them Kanchipuram, Kaveripattinam, Uraiyur and Nagapattinam. The Chinese Buddhist monk scholar, Hsuan Tsang who visited India in the 7th century AD, describes Kanchipuram as a flourishing city and states that most of its population was Buddhist. He says there were over 100 Buddhist monasteries and over a thousand Buddhist monks. He also mentions about the presence of 300 monks from Sri Lanka in the monastery at the southern sector of kanchipuram. The Pallava king Mahendra Varman in his Sanskrit work Mattavilasa Prahasana’ refers to the existence of many Buddhist Vihares chief of which was the Raja Vihare. Among the notable Buddhists scholars who were natives of or resident in the city, he mentions Rev. Dharmapala rector of Nalanda University was a native of the city as was Anuruddha Thera author of the Abhidammathsasangaha. Although there is evidence that the Ven Buddhaghosha was resident in kanchipuram for some time it is not certain whether he was a native of the city although he was in all probability from the Tamil country.
Outstanding Tamil monks
Dr Hikosaka in his book points out that during the Pallava period Tamil Nadu had outstanding Tamil monks who made remarkable contributions to Buddhist thought and learning. Among them we may mention Buddhadatta thera He wrote many books. In the Abhidhammaratana he gives a glowing account inter alia of Kaveripattinam and Kanchipuram and the Mahavihare at Sri Lanka. While he was in Sri Lanka he composed many Buddhist works such as Uttara Viniccaya, Ruparupa Vibhanga, Jinalankara etc. Another famous Tamil monk, Buddhaghosha, contemporary of Bhuddhadatta composed many Buddhist commentaries. Buddhaghosha made a remarkable contribution to Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He stayed and studied Buddhist precepts at the Mahavihare in Anuradhapura. The Visuddimagga was the first work of Buddhaghosha while in Sri Lanka. While staying at the Granthakara Pirivena at Anuradhapura he rendered Sinhalese commentaries of the Tripitakas into Pali. Another Important Tamil monk was Dhammapala; he lived in the Mahavihare at Anuradhapura and composed a commentary on Buddhaghosha’s work. Dr. Hikosaka concludes that a study of the three monks shows that Tamil Nadu Buddhists were closely associated with Sri Lankan Buddhists. It will be noticed that the monks used the Pali language in their treatises just as in Europe in the middle ages, the Christian monks used Latin.
The interaction between Tamil Nadu monks and Sri Lankan monks is also mentioned in the Mani Mekalai, the 6th Century Tamil literary epic by Sattanar. Among the other Tamil literary epics which show the influence of Buddhism are the Sillappadhihkaram, Valaiyapathi Kundalakesi and Jivaka Cintamani. The Manimekalai, is a Buddhist work, it expounds the doctrines and values of Buddhism. The book also mentions Tamil Buddhists in the island of Nagadipa off the coast of Jaffna. Since Tamil Nadu was largely Buddhist, one can easily conclude that the Tamil population in the north and east of Sri Lanka was also largely Buddhist. "The Tamil Buddhists who followed Theravada Buddhism shared common places of worship with the Sinhalese . There were also Tamil Buddhists who were followers of Mahayana Buddhism, and they had their own Mahayana temples", states L K . Devanda In his book Tamil Buddhism in Ancient South India and Sri Lanka. He points out that there are still some Tamil Buddhist establishments "Palli" in the East of Sri Lanka and possibly in the Jaffna peninsula. The best known is Velgam Vihare, which was renamed Rajaraja Perun Palli after the Chola emperor. Another was the Vikkirama Calamekan Perumpalli. Velgam Vihare also known as Natanar Kovil by the present day Tamils stands out as the only known example of a Tamil Vihare or Buddhist Palli. In the words of Dr Senerat Paranavithana –"an Ancient Buddhist shrine of the Tamil people"— some of the Tamil inscriptions found at the site record donations to this shrine and are dated in the reigns of the Chola kings Raja Raja chola and Rajendra Chola. It is the view of Dr Paranavithana that the date of the original foundation of the Vihare was considerably older.
Devanada writes today Buddhism in Sri Lanka is monopolised by the Sinhalese. There are even those who call it "Sinhala Buddhism", seemingly unaware of the fact that it is a universal religion. This notion was propagated only in the early 20th century by revivalists such as Angarika Dharmapala. Unfortunately he says today the Tamils of Sri Lanka also believe that Buddhism is a Sinhalese religion and alien to them, but this was not the case in the past. Unlike today the ancient Buddhist /Hindu civilization in Sri Lanka and the ancient Palli /Sanskrit place names has nothing to do with ethnicity. Hence the Pali, Sanskrit place names in the North and East of Sri Lanka are part of the Tamil Buddhist heritage. The author states that the Tamil politicians, scholars, intellectuals and the Tamil media should make every effort to educate the Tamil public to be aware that Buddhism was a part of Tamil civilization and in fact the most important part of the Tamil heritage of the north and east of Sri Lanka is its Hindu/Buddhist heritage. Hence the recent efforts by some elements t o place Buddha statues in these areas to mark their ethnic presence is entirely misplaced apart from being contrary to the universal values and teachings of Buddhism.
The situation in Tamil Nadu began to change after the 7th century with the rise of Vaishnavism and Saivism there was a significant increase in Hindu Braminical influence. The Buddhist and Jain institutions in Tamil Nadu came under attack and they began to lose popular support and the patronage of the rulers. The Chinese scholar monk, Hsuan Tsang records instances of Tamil Buddhist monks fleeing to Sri Lanka when they were worsted in religious debates and feared the repercussions of the rulers change of religion. Pandit Hisselle Dharmaratana Maha Thera writes, "Although Buddhism declined in the Tamil country from the 7th century onwards it was by no means eradicated. For several centuries Buddhism still survived though in a state of decline. The continuation of the Mahavamsa states that in the 13th Century King Parakramabahu of Dambadeniya brought down Buddhist monks and scriptures from the Chola country in Tamil Nadu to revive Buddhism in Sri Lanka. During this time there was a great deal of cultural exchange between South India and Sri Lanka". The chief of the monks who was brought from South India was Ven. Dhammakitti. He wrote the continuation of the Mahavamsa from the time of king Srimevan upto his time. The Ven Dipankara of Chola known as Buddhappiya came to Sri Lanka for his studies in Buddhism. He wrote the Pali poem Pajjamadhu (nectar of verses) in adoration of the Buddha. He is also the author of a Pali grammar. The venerable Buddhamitta and Maha Kassapa were also two monks from the Chola country of Tamil Nadu. They studied the dhamma in Sri Lanka and rendered great service to the of the religion, states Pandit Hisselle Dharmaratane Maha Thera. He goes on to say that this shows that up to the 14th century there were Buddhists monasteries and centres of learning in South India. There is also evidence that during the invasion of Magha of Kalinga in Sri Lanka and the destruction of Buddhist monasteries there, monks from Sri Lanka fled to and sought refuge in monasteries in Tamil Nadu. However after the 14th century Buddhism disappeared in South India leaving only traces of its heyday in the many ruins such as we find in Amaravati.
13 11 2013 - The Island
H4.03 The Karimun inscription
Ven. Shravasti Dhammika thera
Karimun Island is some 30 kilometres west of Singapore. Because of its strategic location right in the middle of the straits between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra ships passing between India and Java, Sumatra, or even beyond to China, in ancient times passed by and often stopped at Karimun Island. On the northern tip of the island is the earliest evidence of both Buddhism and of Indians in the general Singapore region. On March 9th, I and a few friends set off to have a look at this evidence.
The trip to Karimun takes an hour and a half and requires obtaining a one - day Indonesian visa. After landing and passing through customs we piled into two taxis and drove the 25 kilometres to Pasi Panjang. The surprisingly high jungle-covered mountain at the end of the island is half eaten away by an immense quarry. The granite from this quarry is shipped all the way to Singapore for constructing breakwaters, foundations and retaining walls. Right at the foot of the mountain is a small shrine surrounded by a metal railing. On the sloping rock sheltered by this shrine is six Sanskrit words written in Devanagri script from about the 8th or 9th centuries CE.
The inscription reads Mahayanika Golapanditasri Gautama Sripada. The meaning is clear enough and can be translated as "The sacred footprint of Gautama (was revered by) the Mahayanist scholar of Bengal."
Mahayanika refers to someone of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. This school was the dominant one in the Malay world until the 12th /13th centuries when it started to give way to Islam. Gola is probably an Indonesianized version of gauda, the ancient name for Bengal, and pandita means a scholar, in this case almost certainly a Buddhist monk. Sri means holy or lustrous, and pada is a footprint. We know from ancient sources that Buddhist monks, mainly from the great universities of Nalanda in Bihar, and Somapura and Jagaddhala in Bengal, travelled and taught widely in Sumatra and Java. No doubt it was one such monk who had the Karimun
inscription carved as a record of his visit. No estampage or tracing of the inscription has ever been published and it has been worn since it was first examined by archaeologists in late 19th century. So, I made a rough eye-copy. One of our party had the bright idea of tipping water over the inscription and immediately the letters became much clearer.
The footprint referred to in the inscription is a natural indentation in the rock to the left of the shrine. A little further on is a rock pool, possibly filled by water flowing down the incline when it rains. It seems probable that ships originally stopped here to replenish their water. Eventually someone saw the footprint-shaped indentation, identified it with the symbolic Buddha footprints seen elsewhere, and that in time seamen, merchants and pilgrims stopped here to pray for a safe journey or to give thanks for one successfully completed. Then at some time in the 8th/9th Century a Bengali monk stopped here and left a record of his visit in big bold Sanskrit letters. Our interesting day excursion ended just after sunset with our arrival back in Singapore.
26 03 2013 - The Island
H4.04 Memorable Journey of an Arahant
There is a great diversity in the range of the Buddhist ceremonies, festivals in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, Japan, China etc. This great religion and philosophy – Buddhism is today practised by many people in the world. These festivals are inter-wovened to the cultures in their respective countries. They focuses on Buddha's significant events, teachings of the Buddhist communities and other beleifs. The Buddhist ceremonies can be grouped into Theravada, Mahayana traditions. They have their own rituals.
In Sri Lanka, Buddhists lay special emphasis on monthly Purapasalosvaka Poya Days as an important religious day. Each Poya is connected with a significant event connected with Siddhartha Gautama Buddha's life, His disciples, or with an important event in the history of Buddhism.
The most important event that took place on the Purapasalosvaka Poya Day was the arrival of Arahant Bhikkhuni, Sangamitta to Sri Lanka, and the establishment of Bhikkhuni Sasanaya or Order of the Nuns in the country.
Further, on this Unduvap Purapasalosvaka Poya Day, she brought with her a sapling of the Jayasrimaha Bodhi Tree from Buddhagaya, India, where Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained the Buddhahood or Enlightenment. It should be mentioned here, Arahat Mahinda, son and daughter Arahat Sangamitta of Emperor Asoka, worked with commitment and dedication, worked with undaunted courage to established Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
These events changed the entire course of the Sri Lankan history. With the advent of Buddhism and the planting of Jayasrimaha Bodhi, during Devanampiyatissa era Buddhism was deep rooted in Sri Lanka. A new society, economy, culture, civilization, arts and crafts began.
It should be mentioned here, no visit by any foreign delegation, envoys, diplomats has created such an impact on the lives of the Sri Lankan as the visit of Emperor Asoka's son and daughter. It was a social, cultural, spiritual, revolution of the highest order.
The arrival of Sanghamitta with the Bodhi Tree, commenced a “Bodhi Culture”, which helped Sri Lankans to mould their character and helped them to be compassionate, kind-hearted men and women, who followed the five precepts to the letter at that time.
On this important Unduvap Purapasalosvaka Poya Day, it will be appropriate to trace the beginning of the Bhikkhuni Sasanaya, Order of the nuns, which was established by Mahaprajapati Gotami – foster mother of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. During the Buddha Era Maha Prajapati Gotami was elevated to the rank of the foremost nun. Buddha elevated two others, Khema and Uppalavanna as the two chief disciple nuns. Ten other senior nuns were Patachara (Highest Psychic Powers), Dhammadinna (Preacher of the Highest Order), Rupananda (Meditative Powers), Sona (Great Effort), Sakula (Divine Powder), Kundalakesi (Psychic Powers), Kapilani (Past Births), Kisagotami (Observer of difficult precepts), Sigalaka Matha (Posser of Great Faith). In Sri Lankan Buddhist history, we do not come across such renowned Bhikkhunis, except the famous Sanghamitta. It was Arahat Bhikkhuni Sangamitta that lit the torch of Buddhist revival.
The name of Sangamitta and Unduvap Poya were inseparable. Queen Anula, the consort of the sub king named Mahanaga with 500 of her attendant ladies, having listened to Arahat Mahinda's sermons were keen to enter the order. This could be done only by a Buddha or by the members of the Bhikkhuni Order. Hence, Arahat Mahinda suggested to King Devanampiyatissa that his sister Sangamitta was a Nun, and invite her Sri Lanka to establish the Bhikkhuni Order.
Buddhism makes no distinction of sex, caste, colour and creed. They can reach the highest attainments, provided they follow the five precepts, noble eightfold path.
Sangamitta not only gave ordination to Princess Anula and members of the Royalty, but also to all irrespective of their standing in the society. Womenfolks from all walks of life, society joined the order of the nuns. Sangamitta helped them to tred on the path to peace, purity and sanctity. She raised the women kind from lower to higher levels of life.
Buddhism is not only a religion, a philosophy, but a way of life. It is a religion of wisdom, where knowledge and intelligence predominates. The Greatness of Buddhism is that Buddhist Missionaries, disciples, Bhikkhus or Bhikkhunis, never preach the Dhamma or Doctrine to win converts, but to Enlighten.
The listeners and if the devotees believe in the sublime doctrine to follow it, even in Sangamitta's mission, she never converted anyone by force.
This Unduvap Poya is significant for another reason. It's the last Purapasalosvaka Poya Day in the 2011 calendar year. So, it will be the best time for you to recollect or go down memory lane and see whether you lived a truly a religions life, following the noble Buddhist principles.
Every Buddhist should observe five precepts in order to elevate himself morally and spiritually. Morality is the first step in the path towards eternal bliss. Without this base, there can be no human progress and spiritual advancement. After establishing the moral foundation, one can proceed to develop his or her mind and wisdom. This will help he or she to progress towards higher levels of mental development. This was what Arahat Mahinda who established Buddhism on Poson Purapasalosvaka Poya Day and Sangamitta who introduced the order of the nuns on Unduvap Poya Day did in propagating Buddha Dhamma. Today, Sri Lanka is the leading country which follow Theravada Buddhism.
While wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2013, I bless you!
Sabbitiyo Vivajjantu - (May all misfortunes be warded off)
Sabbarogo Vinassatu - (May all ailments cease)
Mate Bhavattvan Tarayo - (May no calamities befall on us)
Sukhi Dighayuko Bhava - (May you live long in peace)
H4.05 The history of the Kapilavastupura Relics
Prince Siddhartha Gautama Buddha Shakyamuni's birth place is Lumbini Gardens. It is located near Kapilavastu, in what is now Southern Nepal. In Lumbini, there is a stone column that Emperor Ashoka had erected commemorating the occasion of his pilgrimage in the year 249 BC.
“Twenty years after his coronation, King Devanampiya Piyadassi - Ashoka came here, commemorated his veneration, as the Buddha of the Shakya clan was born here.”
Devotees pay homage to the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics. Picture by Thushara Fernando
Kapilavastu is located in Central India. Buddha was born on the outskirts of this city. His father, Suddhodana, was the king of the country.
Kapilavastu was very close to the heart of Gautama Buddha. He, frequently visited his home city, even after Enlightenment and presented several discourses there. As a result, his father Suddhodana, attained the level of stream entry Shrota-Panna. Buddha's son, Rahula was accepted to the Monarch order as a novice - Shramanera at Kapilavastu.
Kapilavastu became famous in the Buddhist world, due to the fact that the Buddha's Relics were found in a Chaitya in this city. Presently, these Sacred Relics of the Buddha are in Sri Lanka, and thanks to the initiative taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Buddhist public in their millions pay their honour and respect to the Buddha Relics of Kapilavastu.
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, very kindly obliged to send the Sacred Relics to Sri Lanka. Although the Indian government took a firm decision not to send these valuable Relics of the Greatest son born on Indian Soil, due to the diplomacy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Indian government changed their firm rule and sent the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Buddhists are grateful to the Prime Minister of India and our President for enabling Lankan Buddhists to worship the most Sacred Relics.
During the Buddha era, the capital of Shakya Kingdom was Kapilavastu. The name of the ancient city Kapilavastu, was derived from the name of a sage Kapila. The city was constructed and planned by the kings of the Okkaka Clan. It was a made-up city.
From Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha to Kapilavastu, there is a distance of about 10 kilometres.
In 1858, an Indian historian named Lasath, discovered that Kapilavastu was situated in Gorakpur in Uttar Pradesh near the River Rohita. Then, one of the greatest archaeologists like our own Dr Senarath Paranavithana, the first Indian Archaeological Director/Commissioner Sir Cunningham, in 1863, unearthed the city of Sravasthi.
He was of the opinion that the city of Kapilavastu was situated at Uttara Pradesh Bhaski District in Aurangbad. In the meantime, an archaeologist, named A Fureher discovered the Ashoka Pillar in 1896. This threw more light and helped Indian archaeologists and historians find out where the city of Kapilavastu lies.
In the later part of the 19th century, an Indian archaeologist, Mrs Devabalamitra conducted research on Kapilavastu. In the research and excavation conducted by her at Tilaurokam in Pirawa main Stupa, they found a Relic Bowl. The detail accounts found in the excavations and Fa-hsein Reports revealed the this Pirawa may be the same Kapilavastupura Relics referred to earlier.
The Indian archaeologists did a marvelous job and in 1971, K M Shrivasta continued research on the city of Kapilavastu in Pipawa. The Indian government gave all necessary help and assistance to unearth their proud history. When Shrivasta unearthed the Eastern section of an ancient Stupa, he found in two compartments, a casket where the Buddha's Relics were found. In another research done in 1973 at the same place, they found some Terra-Cota seals where the words Kapilavastu, Devapura Viharaya, Oam and Bhikkshu Sasagasaya was inscribed.
The body of the Enlightened One, Gautama Buddha was cremated in a pyre with Sandalwood logs. It was handled by the Malla clan Rulers of Kusinara. It was a state or Royal Funeral for the Greatest Son of India, the Greatest Religious leader of the world.
The neighbouring kingdoms, Ajasatta of Maghda, Licchavis of Visala, Khastriya of Kapilavastu, Bhulya Khastriya and Koliya Kings, Malla Kings of Pava send their representatives to this state funeral and they were keen to obtain the Relics of the Exalted One - Gautama Buddha to their respective kingdoms. The kings of Malla stated that they are the sole owners of Great Buddha's Relics as, the Blessed one passed away in their kingdom. A problem was brewing regarding the Sacred Buddha Relics. On this occasion, an Educated Brahamin - Dhona, negotiated it and settled the issue by distributing the Buddha's Sacred Relics equally to all kingdoms and states of India at that time. During the reign of Kirthi Shri Megha, the king Guhaseeva sent her daughter Hemamala and his son-in-law Dhanta, the Most Sacred Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka.
While turning the pages of Sumangala Vihasini, an intersting story reveals that the Negotiator of the distribution of Buddha's Relics - Bramin Drhona, hid a part of a small relic of the Buddha, in his turban. The story goes to say that Sakka - Chief of Gods seeing this act, removed this valuable Buddha Relic from Drhona's turban and enshrined it in a Pinnacle Pagoda - Siluminiseya at the Sakkas abode or Heaven. The Brahamin Dhrona was very disappointed and he constructed a Stupa, enshring the bowl, where he distributed the Buddha Relics.
The Buddha's cremated remains are known as Relics. His ashes are said to have been divided into eight parts. The Sutra of the benefit of washing the Buddha's image mentions two kinds of relics. They are the Enlightened One's physical remains of the body and the other relics are called Dharma Body.
The Mauriya kings of Pippali, could not be present on time, when the Buddha Relics were distributed. They collected the Ashes and charcoal from the pyre of the Buddha and enshrined them in a Stupa. This Stupa was called Angaraseya or Angara Stupa.
On an earlier occasion when the Sacred Kapilavastupura Relics were brought to Vidyodaya Pirivena Maligakande, Maradana Sri Lanka in 1978, the scholar monk Most. Ven.Akuretiya Amarawanse Nayake Thera, composed two stanzas to worship the Most Sacred Kapilavastupura Relics.
Thousands of devotees gathered on the streets to view the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics being brought to Manelwatte Temple, Kelaniya. Picture by Lalith C Gamage
I quote the two stanzas and pay homage to the Gautama Buddha and worship the Enlightened one - the Exalted one.
Devadhiraja Nara Raja Varehi Vandhan
Sampujita Kapilavattu Puramramam
Vijjodhayakya Parivena Varopanitam
Vandami Buddhatanudhatu Mahan Mahaggham
Suddhasayehi Isirajavarehi Samma
Nimmapita Kapilavastupura Manungganm
Vijjodhayakya Parivena Varopanitam
Sambuddha Dhatu Malam Sirasa Namami
The exposition of Sacred Kapilavastu Relics were held throughout most parts of Sri Lanka and after Jayanthipura Viharaya, Anuradhapura, Agrabodhi Viharaya, Kantale on August 27 and 28.
It was taken to Naravita Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Temple, Gampola. Then it is on exposition at Sri Sumangala Pirivena, Wariyapola on August 29 and 30. The exposition of Sacred Kapilavastu Relics will be also held on August 31 and September 1 at Matara Kotikagoda, Rajamaha Viharaya, Matara. On Sunday, August 19, the exposition of the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics in Sri Lanka began at Manelwatte Temple, Kelaniya.
H4.06 India rediscovered and the Buddhist Resurgence
Upali K. Salgado
The legendary Mayan Civilisation in Guatamaia, South America, the towering high Pyramids and the well preserved Mummies of Egypt, the enchanting Greco-Ghandhara Art and sculpture of Northern Pakistan and Kashigistan in lower Mongolia, are just a few areas that have drawn the attention of a rare stock of men identified as Archaeologists, Egyptologists, Epigraphic and Philologist whos spent their most fruitful years working silently to unravel the engineering skills and art of buried civilizations. Whilst all this activity took place beneath the good earth history was created illuminating the lost landmarks associated with the ministry of Sakyamuni Gauthama Buddha.
Long before David Livingstone and Cecil Rhodes explored the, vast wilds of central Africa, another adventurer Godfrey Fawcett boldly ventured deep into the crocodile, scorpion and reptile lands upstream of the Amazon river of Brazil, (never did he return), the Silk Road linking the heart of central China with Persia and Greece was known. In 627 a Buddhist Chinese monk Xuanzang (better known as Hsuan Tsang), wearing long dark robes with prayer beads in hand, left the old city of Chang-an in north China, with an unquenchable thirst, to find for himself and bring back glorious suttas of the sage, Sakyamuni Gothama Buddha. His adventurous expedition covered good part of the Silk Road, that was known about five hundred years previously when the notorious waves of marauders of history, the Huns were a great threat to the the peace and stability of China.
Hsuan Tsang (Xuanzang) was born to an educated family, and in his younger days dwelled into religion. In that background, he yearned to travel to where the Buddha trod. On a great journey lasting several years he moved from Oasis to Oasis of Central Asia, known for extremes of climates, of wealth, strong winds and having difficult terrain to travel on. In one instance, he escaped death when a snow avalanche nearly buried him. Travelling on horseback, he joined caravans of traders who were interested in bartering their Chinese florid looking porcelain, alabaster ornaments silk and spices, beautifully woven Persian carpets. He passed through the great Central Asian Talakaman desert touching Bisnket and Tashkent from there on to the gates of rugged mountainous Afganistan,then to Peshwar, a wellknown border post in the Khyber Pass leading to the Indian Sub-Continent.
Alexander the Great
By that time there had been interaction with the Greeks which resulted, in Alexander the Great and his artists leaving behind their footprints of culture portraying the appealing Greco Ghandara sculpture in the Indus valley chiseled on white marble brought from distant Greece. This happened about five hundred years after the Buddha’s Maha - Pari Nibbana (demise)
It was in this era that the Greek Bactrian King Milander had long fruitful recorded conversations with the intellectual Buddhist monk Nagasena. Often the King appeared fascinated and also puzzled about the teachings of the Great Master Gotama Buddha. He therefore sought clarification before he accepted the word of the Buddha. Like Hsuan Tsang, King Milander was always like an explorer in search of something..... it was nothing but the TRUTH.
On one occasion, King Milander asked Nagasena, "Can there be any rebirth where there is no transmigration?" The monk replied, "Yes there can, just as man can light one lamp from another but nothing moves from one lamp to another; or as a pupil can learn a verse by memory from a teacher, but the verse does not transmigrate from the teacher to the pupil." Again, the vexed King asked Nagasena, "Is there any being who transmigrates from this body to another?" The monk replied "No there is not", the King then said, "if that is so, would there not be an escape from the result of evil deeds?" The monk said, "yes there would be an escape, if they are not to be reborn, but there would not be, if they were to be reborn. The mind and body process commits deeds either pure or impure, and because of that KAMMA, another mind and body process is born. Therefore this mind and body is not free from evil deeds."
HSUAN TSANG travelled all over India and to Saranath, where at the Deer Park the Buddha preached His first sermon. At Saranath is the 145 ft tall DHAMECK STUPA. Then he went to Buddha Gaya the holiest spot for all Buddhists; and to Vaisali near Patna, where the Ratana Sutta was recited. HSUAN TSANG traveled to Sankasen (modern Sankassa) and then on to Kushinara where the Buddha passed away. Scholar Lal Joshi states that, at Kushinara (modern Kasinagar) remained for Buddhists the most sacred place of ancient times, until the end of the Gupta rule. This Chinese monk studied Sanskrit and returned to China with several Suttas and Buddha images, though some of them were unfortunately robbed on the way by bandits. He later translated these Suttas to be read in the libraries of Beijing. This celebrated explorer passed away at the age of sixty five in 664, and the grateful Chinese people have built in his honour a Temple containing many valued manuscripts. The Yogachara School in Beijing is yet another monument created to remember the great monk. In Chinese writings, HSUAN TSANG has been likened to a boat that crossed the great ocean of samsara (suffering). In the, process he faced great risks to his life, though he brought much happiness and learning to his followers
The Silk Road Relived
About 1400 years later, a spirited and gritty Chinese woman SUN SHUYUN, was born just 52 years ago, in 1960. In childhood she was nurtured by her devout Buddhist grandmother, to tolerate and live through Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. She had vivid unpleasant memories of sudden raids at night by the Revolution Red Guards to Temples where Buddha artifacts were destroyed. Also she witnessed the shooting of thousands who gathered at Tianain Square, Beijing, as they were said to have ideas not moving with New China’s Forward March to be Communist State. Having digested the famous Chinese epic THE MONKEY KING on which they believe, Chairman Mao had based a part of his LITTLE RED BOOK, this graduate from the Beijing and Oxford Universities was inspired to re discover the old SILK ROAD taken by their Idol Hsuan Tsang. She did not have to join the horse Caravans, or meet dangerous brigands and thieves enroute to India but moved on an archaic coal powered steam driven puffing noisy locomotive with a few carriages, all having hard seats of wood. When necessary, she travelled in a "relic" of a jeep, which often needed mechanical attention. Her journey’s last leg had to be by a small size Airplane as she was denied an entry visa at a border post - point of entry a few miles away from Pakistan.
Thereafter her travels were by train and other public forms of transport within the Indian sub-continent. On her way to India, she passed through Gaochang city, the second major oasis outside China and then to see the NINGRONG CAVE MONASTERY where the Bozeklil murals are. There are some fifty caves at this spot which had beautiful world famous Buddhist murals. Most of them have been vandalized by a German Explorer Albert van Lee Coq (1904 -06) for the Berlin Ethnographic Museum. Besides the Germans, the Swedes, Americans and Japanese had raced with each other to unearth antiquities of value, found in a rich civilization that had blossomed in central Asia. Mrs. SUN SHUYUN had travelled a ten thousand miles in one hundred and eighty days, paying homage to the Buddha at Saranath, Buddha Gaya, Vaisali and Kushinagar. On arrival at the Afghanistan border, a hostile climate prevailed. On 26th Feb. 2001 the Taliban Leader, Mullah Mohamed Omar Decreed:
"In view of the Fatwa of prominent Afghan Scholars, and the verdict of the Afghan Supreme Court, it has been decided to destroy completely all statues/idols present in Afghanistan. This is because idols are gods of infidels who worship them, and are respected even now, and may be turned into Gods again. Our Great god is ALLAH only, and all other false Gods must be removed"
Bamiyan situated about 250 km North West of Kabul, and is nestled between the Hindu Kush and Kohi-baba mountain ranges at an altitude on 2850 meters. The Big Buddha image 55 meters tall, Carb in the 6th Century AD. and a small Buddha image 38 meters tall were dynamited by the Muslim Taliban group to the horror and condemnation of the entire world, which was made known at all levels and in world forums. After this insensible fanatic behavior, there triumphed unsolicited, sympathy and a great fund of goodwill towards Buddhism from all parts of the world, as it is well known that Buddhism was a noble religion with no history of wars for religious conversion. From the ashes and dust of the dynamite at Bamia there arose a Buddhist awakening.
Other Pathfinders of Buddhist Glory and Worship
Straddling the generation of HSUAN TSANG, and SUN SHUYUN of our jet age, there lived in British Colonial India, an Archaeologist - a Colossus of his time, who brought out with his untiring efforts, light to recreate a Buddhist India. He was an Engineer in the Army. Major General SIR ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM, had on his own studied Sanskrit and the Chinese languages. On being released from the Army this military man turned Archaeologist became a key player to discover with the help of his Assistant Archibald Carlyle, several Buddha relics. As the first Head of the Indian Archaeological Survey, Cunningham followed Hsuan Tsang accounts referring to follow the path trod by the Buddha, during His Mission of forty years. At the age of forty seven, in 1861 Sir ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM began a fruitful exercise to devote the rest of his Life to unearth the buried Buddhist religion, in the very country it was founded. Very few people at that time spoke of Buddhism except those living in Ceylon. Burma, Siam, Nepal, Tibet, China, Mongolia and in Japan. In the West there were few books on the subject. Buddhist Scholars Etienne Lamotte, Louis De La ValLo Poussin, Oldenberg, Rhy Davids wrote on Buddhism much later in the 20th century. ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM concentrated his efforts to restore the 170ft tall Buddha Gaya temple which was first known as "Vajiraman Gaandhakuti". The structure dates beyond the 2nd century AD is majestic looking architectural masterpiece of Gupta Period.
Another who visited Buddha Gaya in 1868 was SIR EDWIN ARNOLD, KCIE, whose epic poem THE LIGHT OF ASIA aroused great interest in Buddhism all over the world and inspired ANAGARIKA DHAMMAPALA to visit the site and firmly resolve to take control of into Buddhist hands from the Hindu Mahantha. Largely due to his efforts through the Mahabodhi Society of India in Calcutta he urged the Indian Central Government to later (after his demise) appoint a Buddhist Committee drawn from several countries to,,Administer the temple which is today a World Heritage Site.
Restoring reclining Buddha
Archaeologist Archibald Carlyle was greatly responsible for restoring the 6.1 meter long red sand stone reclining Buddha image at Kushinara. This beautiful image was untouched by the Archaeological survey of India. When the Viharage housing it was rebuilt in time for the Buddha Jayanthi Celebrations in 1956. He also excavated the ARDHANA STUPA where in 1910, he found a copper vessel and plate indicating it was the place Gotama Buddha was cremated. Yet another Archeologist was JOHN MASHALL who did a tremendous amount of work between 1925 and 1940 to restore the Archeological park at Sanchi in Bopal state. John Marshall identified several beautiful gateways carved in stone which depict Buddhist Jathaka Stories and the bringing of the Sri Maha Bodhi sapling to Ceylon.
In search of Buddha’s Birth Place, Lumbini Gardens
Author Charles Allen in his book: THE BUDDA AND THE SAHIBS refers to the finding of a five foot nine inches tall polished stone pillar, where inscribed are four lines, which later with the help of Dr. Fuhrer, an Austrian residing in Vienna, were identified to be "Ashcan Brahmi. Dr. Fuhrer (Prof of lndology and Archaeology), revealed the sentences HIDE BUDHE- JATE SAKYAMINI – TI LUMMINIGAME when translated to be : "Here was the Buddha Born at Lumbini Village". Shortly afterwards, following upon traveller HUAN TSANG’S drawings he moved south, about 18km and identified Kapilavastupura the home of Prince Sidhartha Gauthama who became the Buddha. All these discoveries took place between 1895 and 1897, according to the Royal Asiatic Society Journals
Resurgent Modern Buddhist India
History records that long after Sakyamui Gotama Buddhas time, Muslim rulers, Akbar the Great, and Shivaji wiped out Buddhist worship in North India to great extent, leaving small pockets of Buddhism in Uttara Pradesh where the Theravada Buddhist doctrine survived. It modern times, it was left to a Scheduled Caste brilliant scholar and Lawyer, DR. BHIMRAO RAMJI AMBEDKAR (1891 – 1956) to lead the "Buddhist Revival. Like Mahathma Gandhi Dr. AMBEDKAR is today revered by millions who are Dialits (the lowest of Hindu Castes) of Indian society. He was a scholar from Columbia University who later became a Lawyer and a respected Political Leader in the Cabinet of Sri Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and V. Patel. They lead the Indian Nationalist Movements to gain Indians’ Independence. He was the chief Architect to draft the new Indian Constitution which was adopted in 1947. At a mass Rally held in Napur, along with over 30 thousand "scheduled" caste Indian’s he publicly embraced Buddhism, and thereby gave the lead to the revival of Buddhism in modern India. Today, India has a Buddhist population of over 100 million people in Uttara Pradesh, Madya Pradesh Maharatra Pradesh and around Guntur in the South East. Once again the scented flower of Buddhism bloomed in the land of his birth. Today the untouchable caste Indians of yesteryear are a reckonable political force and hold high positions in administration under a guaranteed percentage for employment in Government. The State of India has given patronage to the rightful place of Buddhism in the Country by using the Dhamma Chakka (Wheel of righteousness, used by Emperor Asoka the Great.)
27 11 2012 - The Island
H4.07 Portuguese arrival and Lanka’s colonisation
During the reign of King Parakrama IX in the Kingdom of Kotte, the Portuguese, the first European aggressors, arrived in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon on November 15, 1505, exactly 507 years ago today.
They came more by accident than by design. They never invaded the country. It was not their intention. Lorenze de Almedia was on a mission to intercept some Arab merchant vessels in the vicinity of the Maldive Islands, when his flotilla was driven by a storm to Galle on our Southern coast.
Then Sri Lanka was known to the world as the Delightful Land, Unknown Land, Hidden Land, known only for its fertility.
The Portuguese sought the permission of the King of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte to commence a work place to trade in cinnamon. They assured the King that trade was their sole objective. Believing the assurance the King agreed to the request. They built a factory in Colombo in 1518 and began a continuous presence in the country from there on.
They did not want to conquer this island. It was not their intention. It was the Sinhalese rulers of this country who compelled them to conquer the Maritime Provinces. The Portuguese merchants or industrialists entrenched themselves in the Kingdom and got themselves involved in the internal affairs of the country. Finally the power-crazy Sinhalese rulers wanted the services of the Portuguese nation to lend them (Sinhalese rulers) military assistance in their campaigns against each other.
The weak and irresolute nature of the King enabled the Portuguese to make him a puppet in their cunning hands. Finally the King was forced to agree to be a subject and pay an annual tribute.
The Portuguese merchants became the colonizers and then gradually went on to dominate the Maritime Provinces due to the internal disunity among the Sinhalese rulers. These rulers of Kotte and Sitawaka fought each other for supremacy. In this process they needed the help of the Portuguese against their rivals, many of whom were of the same families. They even promised to convert their subjects, Buddhists, to Catholicism for the purpose of getting military assistance. The eldest King of the Kingdom of Kotte who became severely dependent on the Portuguese to safeguard his crown, saw the gradual decay of the Kingdom of Kotte into ruins and finally became a puppet in the hands of the Portuguese, converted to Roman Catholicism and handed over the Kingdom to the King of Portugal by his last will and it was brought to the notice of the king of Portugal. He informed this victory to the Pope. He celebrated a mass and conferred an honorary title on the King of Portugal.
Immediately after they conquered the Maritime Provinces of the country, they established their places of worship and engaged in the process of converting the Buddhists and Hindus to their faith – Roman Catholicism. They converted the nobility to Roman Catholicism from Buddhism. Among them was Alagiyawanna Mukaveti whose works were ‘Dahamsonda Kava’ ‘Sevul Sandesaya’, ‘Dusso vada’, ‘Subhasithaya’, ‘Kusajathakaya’and ‘Munigunarathana Malaya’.
The Portuguese killed those who were reluctant to be converted to their faith. They demolished Buddhist temples and replaced them with their churches on the lands where these places of Buddhist Worship stood. As per a government record, they destroyed 256 places of religious worship, Buddhist temples, including Kelaniya Viharaya and Hindu kovils.
Educational institutions, such as those in Pepiliyana, Thotagamuwa and several other centres of oriental studies, were destroyed by these first colonizers. They unleashed ruthless intolerance and medieval European style Inquisition punishments on the non-believers by burning at the stake.
They ruled the Maritime Provinces of the country for approximately 135 years until they were driven away by their successors, the Dutch, in 1658.
It is clear that they left a desolate land to the ‘natives’, specially the Sinhala Buddhists.
17 11 2012 - The Island
H4.08 The Rift between Theravada and Mahayana – Its Historical Significance
Prof. N.A.de S. Amaratunga
The Buddhist Sanga experienced serious disagreement and discord after about hundred years from the demise of the Buddha. The reason was whereas the elder monks were deeply engaged in the study and dissemination of the dharma the younger monks, saddened by the loss of their beloved teacher, were busy in activities aimed at perpetuating his memory. These activities of the latter tended to enhance the image of the Buddha. Statues built in his memory became larger than life and Buddha tended to be "elevated" to a transcendental status. The elders did not approve this trend as they knew that there was nothing transcendent in Buddha’s preaching or in Buddha-hood. As these differences could not be amicably settled the Sanga broke up into several factions and two major schools that emerged from this unsettled situation were: Theravada and Mahasangika. The former was led by the elder monks and the latter comprised the younger generation.
The bone of contention appeared to be the respective position taken up by each faction regarding the concept of transcendence in relation to the Buddha and his Dharma. This seed of discord had remained throughout the history of Buddhism and grown to be the major fundamental difference between the main schools of Buddhism. Mahayana seems to have taken up this concept as its central philosophy and developed it further. Mahayana writings appeared in the 1st Century of the Christian era and these too appeared to be an attempt to transform Buddha-hood into a transcendental phenomenon (see- Saddharmapundarika sutra). Therefore it is important to find out whether there are any transcendental features in early Buddhism or later Theravada analyses such as the Abhidharma.
Before we look at this issue we would have to briefly see what is meant by transcendence in the context of religions. Basically it refers to a phenomenon that exists or manifests in a realm that is beyond this world. In this sense it is beyond experience in our life. Further its exact nature cannot be clearly described using the language we know. In this sense it is beyond language too. Hence it is a phenomenon that is beyond our experience and something we cannot comprehend and explain in words. Further it is the view of philosophers of religion that all religions have features of transcendence. God in theistic religions would qualify as the transcendental phenomenon. The exact nature of God is ineffable, beyond our experience and language. This is an essential feature of a religion, they say. In Buddhism Nirvana, they say, is the transcendental. In Mahayana Buddhism the Buddha and Nirvana are depicted as transcendental phenomena. In Buddhist writings the transcendent is referred to as "lokottara" as against "laukika" which means worldly.
First let us see what the Buddha’s view was regarding things that are beyond our experience. Buddha was beyond doubt an empiricist. He identified three methods of gaining knowledge practiced during his time and they were: 1) Authority of scriptures 2) Reason and 3) Experience. He rejected authority as a reliable means of gaining knowledge and cautioned against the over reliance on reason. He said he gained knowledge through experience. Buddha rejected mystic powers as capable of arriving at knowledge. He said his Dharma should be accepted after careful study. Buddha told his disciples that Buddha himself must be carefully scrutinized over a long period (Vimamsaka sutta). He told the Litchavi and Kalamas that nothing should be accepted without personally ascertaining the facts. This would mean that his dharma was not beyond this world and not beyond language. Any intelligent person could understand it. There cannot be anything transcendental and ineffable in such a doctrine.
Buddha gained his higher knowledge by a process of purification of the mind and training and intense concentration. It was a natural process and a causal process (Anguttara Nikaya). This higher knowledge was gained by his own effort and not endowed by inheritance, god or a mystic power. He had tried other methods (Attakilamathanuyoga – extreme self mortification) and found by experience that they do not work. During his time there were religious leaders who claimed to have higher knowledge gained by the grace of god. There were others who said their knowledge was not gained by a causal process (Niganta Natha). This method of gaining the higher knowledge that Buddha experienced is described in the Arya Astangika Marga. There is nothing beyond language in that description. Further it could be practiced by anybody without god’s grace or mystic intervention. There is nothing transcendental in the method.
The higher knowledge that the Buddha attained, Nirvana, too could be explained as Buddha did in the Samyutta Nikaya. Nirvana is defined as extinguishing of fire by covering it and depriving it of further fuel, by not feeding it, or by withdrawing the cause of its production (see A.Tilakaratne). What has to be extinguished is the fire that originates in our senses and burns with the fire of greed, hate and delusion. The purification of the mind of these defilements is the path to Nirvana. It is achieved by great effort and it is cultivated and earned in a gradual and systematic manner. Most importantly it is not gained by the intervention of an external mystic power unlike in theistic religions where the goal is transcendental and therefore external intervention is needed. Nature of Nirvana could thus be described in very clear terms. It could be experienced by following the path and reaching the goal. It was experienced by a historical human being who was born, lived and died in a natural process. Others too had experienced it by following the path taught by the Buddha.
Buddha had rejected all ideas about mystical, metaphysical and transcendental phenomena. He did not subscribe to the theory of a personal god or a creator god. He fought against such ideas that appeared in the Upanishads. The theory of "anithya" that Buddha developed was based on experience. A permanent state in life or matter in the world cannot be experienced. The life we experience is an impermanent phenomenon (anithya). Therefore permanence (nithya) which we do not experience is a metaphysical theory. Similarly there is nothing that we could identify as "I" or "me" or "mine" and therefore there cannot be a self or soul (anathma). A theory that identifies a self/soul (athma) is metaphysical which Buddha rejected. Same could be said about "ducca" (suffering) which we experience and its opposite "succa" (enjoyment). He rejected the concepts of "nithya", "succa" and "athma" that appeared in the Upanishads and propounded "anithya, ducca, anathma" instead. Hence Buddha could not have preached any metaphysical or transcendental doctrine in keeping with the empiricism he tenaciously adhered to.
Mahayana on the other hand seems to have latched on to the concept of transcendence, which as mentioned earlier was initiated by the younger generation of monks, hundred years after the pari-nirvana of the Buddha. Mahayanists had modified the Buddha’s preaching to support this idea. Saddharmapundarika suthra which is one of the earliest Mahayana writings and which was largely responsible for the emergence of Mahayana as a separate school of Buddhism devotes large parts of its chapters to expound the transcendent features of Buddha and his dharma. Buddha is depicted as incomprehensible to the ordinary. He could be comprehended only by other enlightened beings. The Arahath is qualitatively lower than the Buddha and what the Arahath has attained is not the final goal but a resting place on the way to enlightenment. Buddha is immortal, not the Arahath. Thus the historical Buddha has been transformed into a metaphysical phenomenon. It was these ideas which contributed to the conversion of Buddha into an avatar of Vishnu by the Brahmins as there was little difference between the Buddha these ideas created and Vishnu.
In order to support the theory of transcendence of Buddha-hood Mahayanists had to make the path to enlightenment, the Arya Astangika Marga, longer. They had to show that the path adopted by the Theravadins falls short of the final transcendent goal they manufactured. They contended that the Arahath of Theravada has not reached the final goal because the Arya Astangika Marga would take a person only part of the way. Only Mahayana (Great Vehicle) has the capacity to take a person to the final goal and not the other Hinayanas (Little Vehicles – Mahayanists referred to all other schools as Hinayanas). This would mean that the total elimination of the defilements, greed, hate and delusion, is not the final goal as Buddha taught in the Samyutta Nikaya. Mahayanists believed there is a further distance to go to attain immortality in a type of nirvana called "apratisthita-nirvana".
In Theravada there is no qualitative difference between Buddha-hood and Arahath-hood. Only difference is that it was Buddha who found the path to enlightenment and the Arahath followed that path. Both had attained "sopadi-sesa-nirvana" in which the five "skandas" ; "rupa, vedana, sangna, sankara, vingnana" still remain. They will remain so until total release is attained at physical death when they attain "nirupadhi-sesa-nirvana". Buddha had always drawn a very sharp distinction between "samsara" which consists of the above mentioned "skandas" on the one hand and nirvana, the cessation of "samsara" on the other. The immortal "apratisthita-nirvana" of Mahayana, however, would retain the five "skandas" or some of it which would be an incongruity according to Buddha’s preaching. In Theravada, nirvana is basically a state of non-rebecoming. This has been transformed into a state of immortality in Mahayana. Thus the Mahayana doctrine in regard to Buddha-hood and nirvana consists of transcendental, metaphysical and ineffable features rendering it very similar to other religions such as Hinduism. The uniqueness that Buddhism inhered due to its basis of empiricism has been totally removed by Mahayana making it vulnerable to distortion. As mentioned earlier even the Buddha had been made into an avatar of Vishnu as a consequence of these distortions.
Writings of some of the most eminent Buddhist philosophers such as Ven. Nagarjuna, Vasubandu and Dinnaga have been wrongly interpreted as expounding Mahayana thought (see DJ Kalupahana). Ven.Nagarjuna and Vasubandu have been wrongly identified as founders of Madhyamaka and Yogakara (Vingnanavada), the two main branches of Mahayana, respectively. The commentators of the above mentioned three great philosophers, namely Candrakirti, Sthiramathi and Dharmakirti respectively have been greatly responsible for these misinterpretations. Nagarjuna’s views on "sunyathava" described in his major treatise "Mulamadhymakakarika" had been misinterpreted as a new theory and later adopted as the foundation for the branch of Mahayana Buddhism that came to be known as Madhyamaka. According to Ven Nagarjuna himself, his views on "sunyathava" do not constitute a new theory and moreover he says he has no theory to be propounded. A careful study of "Karika" shows that what he says is true; it has nothing that could be taken as a cogent theory. On the contrary it is a refutation of all theories put forward by the substantialist Sarvasthavadins, the nihilist Sauthanthrikavadins and other schools of Buddhism active during his time. He was defending the "anathma" (non-self/soul) theory of Buddha. The word "sunya" had been used by the Buddha to emphasise the fact that the world is empty of self or what belongs to a self (Samyutta Nikaya). Ven. Nagarjuna uses the word for the same purpose. He says if anybody gets hold of ‘sunyathava’ by the wrong end it will be like grabbing a snake by the wrong end. It was Ven.Nagarjuna’s commentators and disciples who adopted the sunyathava as a dharma and developed it as Madhyamaka, a branch of Mahayana in Tibet and the Far East. Some present day commentators both local and foreign treat "sunyathava" as a doctrinal entity and equate it with Nirvana without foundation.
Similarly Vasubandu’s major work the "Vignaptimatratasiddhi", which does not contain any of the essential metaphysical idealist tenets of Mahayana, has been distorted by its commentator Sthiramati and presented as a Mahayana text (see DJ Kalupahana). Same could be said about Dinnaga’s work, a thinker who is considered as the father of Indian logic.
In conclusion it could be said that it is the notion of transcendence in relation to enlightenment or nirvana that differentiate Mahayana and set it apart from early Buddhism and Theravada. Such notions by and large do not conform to the empiricist foundation of Buddha’s preaching. Moreover such distortions would distance Buddhism from the people who need it now more than at any other time as they grapple with greed, hate and delusion.
27 01 2013 - Sunday Island
H4.09 A Tale Of Three Buddhas
The Masterpiece from the Ant hill
Little did I imagine, 60 years ago, when I began my career in government as a District Land Officer in the ramshackle old Kachcheri, on Inner Harbour Road, in Trincomalee that, almost 20 years later I would return as Government Agent – and be thrice blessed to recover sacred Buddhist relics from the protecting earth and, later, to be custodian of three wonderful images of the Buddha.
The land now described as the Trincomalee District was, for centuries, an integral part of Rajarata the ancient Sinhala kingdom. Its northernmost point was on the hill of Tennamarawadi, where there yet remained the ruins of a little stupa. Its southernmost point was near the inlet of Lankapatuna [now Ilankathurai], also marked with the ruins of a stupa, where the ship conveying Danta Kumara made landfall with Princess Hemamala carrying the sacred Dalada. Between these two points there were, along the coast, the Vatadage of Tiriyaya, Gokanna Vihara [now transformed into Koneswara Kovil] and the great stupa of Seruwila. Numerous other sacred sites dotted the land between the sea and the Kantalai reservoir. Prominent among these was the monastic complex of Vilgam Vihara. These ancient sites brought home to me the fact that I was now the custodian of a hallowed land that held "the ashes of our fathers and the temples of our gods.’’
I will briefly retell the account of my finding the relics at Vilgam Vihara in 1971:
"With mounting excitement I lifted out a perfectly hemispherical stupa of blue green crystal to the sound of more ‘sadhus’. It had a finger deep hollow to hold sacred relics. The stopper had fallen off and the hollow was filled with earth mingled with intriguing flecks of white. These, we presumed, were relics and were reverentially placed on a white cloth…" [from ‘Treasure by Starlight’ in "Tales from the Provinces"]
A Dubious ‘Sadhu’
Decades ago, a Government Agent represented every Department of Government in the District he administered. Archaeology was, thus, one of my responsibilities and had a personal resonance for me as my father, D.T.Devendra, was an eminent archaeologist.
One day I received a call from the Police Station in Uppuveli, on the outskirts of town, that they had taken into custody a presumed robber of ancient sites together with some artifacts. When I drove up to the Police Station I found several policemen curiously looking at the objects displayed on the table of the Officer-in-Charge. These were two Buddha images each about 10 inches in height, a saucer of little white ‘seeds’, a peacock feather, trays of jasmines, hibiscus and marigolds, a cluster of joss-sticks, an oil lamp (extinguished), skeins of yellow thread and other paraphernalia associated with ‘poojas’. In a corner of the room squatted a long haired man in a yellow verti and a necklace of large seeds looking most woebegone at the loss of his means of livelihood.
The Police Officer’s story was most interesting. He had observed a gradually increasing number of ‘devotees’ beginning to frequent a newly established ‘devala’ to seek blessings and pray for favours. Unobtrusive observation showed that the objects on the ’ were two obviously ancient Buddha images. The Police were well aware that ancient images were the property of temple bhikkus or the Archaeological Department, and not itinerant ‘sadhus’. The ‘sadhu’ in question was promptly taken into custody together with his "tools of the trade" on suspicion of having vandalized an ancient temple. Under interrogation he denied robbery and claimed that a man from a jungle village had sold it to him. Being a most resourceful chap he lost no time to set about establishing his own devala as a source of income and had built up quite a clientele with his genuine sounding mumbo-jumbo.
Both images and the saucer of little white fragments were duly handed over to me as the legal custodian of ancient objects in Trincomalee. When I got into my car Maharoof, my general factotum, reverently carried the ancient images placed on a white cloth on his lap. Back at the Residency I cleared the desk in my office room [equipped with an impressive old safe] and placed the images on it. It was time for a detailed inspection and I placed the images beneath the bright beam of my reading lamp.
Both statues were seated in ‘Samadhi’ mode, most popular ‘mudra’ in Sri Lanka’s sedent Buddha statues. The first I studied was of white, slightly rough textured ‘soap stone’. It was in pristine condition in spite of centuries of enshrinement in the enveloping dark and tons of earth of an ancient stupa. The features radiated serenity. What really entranced me, my wife and children, was that streaks of the original red paint that yet remained in the sculpted folds of the robe.
The other statue, though sadly damaged and crudely patched, was a sculptural gem. It was carved in smooth and transparent crystal. It had been split across the middle, probably by the rough tools of the temple robbers. The two pieces had been refixed in their original position but, tragically, pasted using some black substance. I do not think that, to date, I have seen such a lovely little statue. It is an exact replica of the famous Toluvila Buddha with its delicately moulded torso.
Several times that day I quietly came back to the room to contemplate the two images whose custodian I had become after many centuries. At last, I reverently placed them in the old Colonial wall safe.
As for the contents of the saucer, my father told me an interesting story. Some years ago he had been in Hiriwadunna near Sigiriya. Investigating an old ‘devala’ led him to the house of its ‘kapurala’. The man was not at home but his snot-nosed little grandson was around. When asked where the kapurala was, in all innocence, the boy came out with the amazing statement "He’s busy turning out relics [‘dathu ambaranawaa’]" – a cottage industry of the kapurala fraternity! The contents of the saucer from Uppuveli were pretty obviously such a product. However, to be on the cautious side, I placed the saucer in the safe. When I retrieved it a few weeks later – the saucer was empty. I will never know whether the constituent elements of a man made relic just dissolved or – did some real sacred relics supernaturally beam themselves out of the profane confines of the old English safe?
Some days later my father visited us in Trincomalee and, naturally, was fascinated by the statues. After a careful examination he pronounced both of them as typical of the Anuradhapura period over a thousand years ago. A stickler for correct action, he advised me against retaining the images in the Residency. They had to be handed over to the Archaeological Department without delay. I duly, but most regretfully, followed his instructions and lost the beautiful statues for ever – where they probably lie in some corner of a forgotten cupboard of the Archaeological Department.
From the Ant Hill
Way back in the 1970s Gomarankadawala was a remote, but lovely, village in the Vanni jungle. Not far from it, in a swampy patch of ground stood the stone pillars of an ancient shrine. This was the site of the hot-water spring of Rankiri Ulpotha. Gomarankadawala was also the Divisional ‘capital’ housing the Headquarters of my Divisional Assistant Government Agent [A.G.A] who headed the only Sinhala Division in Trincomalee District. Its claim to distinction was that it had been the easternmost outpost of the Kandyan Kingdom. Incidentally, it was, thus, governed by the Kandyan Marriage Ordinance which gave the Government Agent the legal authority to divorce incompatible couples, without lengthy Court proceedings.
A Unique Little Image
One morning, Mr. Y.B. Dissanayake, the A.G.A., came to meet me at the Kachcheri carrying a heavy little parcel wrapped in newspaper. He placed it before me and carefully unwrapped it to reveal an unusual granite image of the Buddha. What was most interesting was that it was not a free standing image. The sedent Buddha, not more than four inches in height, was recessed into its own shrine. This was a small solid ‘column’ with an alcove cut deep into it to hold the Buddha image on a pedestal. The alcove was surrounded by a neatly patterned arch. A stupa formed the roof of the shrine, its pinnacle sadly lost. This unique artifact had been found in a termite ant hill [‘humbaha’] by a peasant digging into it for earth to build his home. The Rajarata peasant was a law abiding man who promptly hastened to carry his find to the A.G.A. And now it lay on my desk – en route to its temporary sojourn in the Residency safe.
I have never in my life seen such a stone shrine. The unyielding granite had been carved with the utmost delicacy to give the inch high face of this little Samadhi Buddha a smile of gentle compassion. It is a masterpiece of the sculptor who had delicately chiseled the unyielding granite to carve this little gem. This image enthralled everybody who saw it. I had a replica made of tamarind wood by the sculptor of the Kovil Chariot and had it presiding over my Conference Room in the Kachcheri.[Is it yet there? I wonder]
Serendipitously, my brother Somasiri was staying with me in the Residency. He was Commandant of the Naval and Maritime Academy in the Navy Dockyard. Talking about the statue, now in the Residency, he suggested that his craftsmen may be able to cast a metal replica from a mould as a permanent souvenir once I had ‘surrendered’ the original to the Archaeological Department. This was done with great skill and the metal replica, looking almost stone-like [photo], now graces my home. As for the original, I presume it lies forgotten in the dim recesses of the Archaeological Department to which I duly handed over this unique masterpiece of the Sinhala sculptor’s art.
POSTSCRIPT: Many years later, on pilgrimage in Buddha Gaya, to my ‘serene joy and emotion’, I observed a few of these identical little shrines made as votive offerings to the Sacred Bodhi by our King Sri Meghavarna many centuries ago.
16 06 2013 - Sunday Island
H4.10 Commemorating Zheng He, the greatest navigator to visit Sri Lanka from China
Following is the ‘Zheng He’ oration delivered by Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Dr. Nalaka Godahewa at the Auditorium of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management
The tourism industry in Sri Lanka has reached a stage of unprecedented growth during the last two consecutive years following the end of the internal conflict in Sri Lanka. We have observed a 46% growth in 2010 and 31% growth 2011. The year 2012 also has got onto a fantastic start with tourists arrivals exceeding 100,000 per month in January itself.
While we are happy about these achievements, the focus of my speech today is not about tourism achievements of Sri Lanka, but about our relationship with another country which is fast becoming the world leader in tourism which is China.
In 2011, Chinese outbound tourism exceeded 65 m, which was about 14% growth compared to the previous year. Already China has become the main market for many popular tourism destinations in the world and world tourism organisation and the UNWTO has recommended the emerging tourism destinations across the globe to look at China as a key focus area.
The religious, cultural and historical relations between Sri Lanka and China date back to centuries. This relationship which was established during the period of ancient Silk Road period has strengthened by several folds at present.
Relationship with China
After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Sri Lanka was one country that recognised it at the initial stages. The official relationship between the two countries started in January 1950. The first bilateral agreement between the two countries which was the Rubber-Rice Pact was entered into in 1952.
After the formation of the People’s Government of the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956, ties between the two countries took a new turn. Diplomatic relations were established in February 1957.
The former Chinese Premier Chu En Lai came to Sri Lanka in 1957. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike who made a visit to China in 1961 and entered the history books as the first Sri Lankan Head of State to visit China. Subsequently relations between China and Sri Lanka were strengthened during the times of various governments.
In 2007, the relationship between the two countries reached 50 years. These relations were further strengthened with the visits made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to China in 2007 and 2008.
At present China is Sri Lanka’s leading trading partner. Similarly, Chinese assistance is being provided for many major development projects in Sri Lanka. The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall given to Sri Lanka as token of friendship; the Hambantota Harbour, Norochcholai Coal Power Plant, Colombo-Katunayake Expressway and the Performance Arts Theatre in Colombo are some of the projects China has established in Sri Lanka.
For thousands of years Sri Lanka was well known to all trading nations in the ancient world including China due to our fantastic geographical location as a maritime hub connecting the East to the West.
One of the earliest authenticated references to the Sri Lankan link with China could be found in the records of the Roman historian Pliny in 52 BC. He refers to a description provided by a Sri Lankan Ambassador to Rome about “men of light complexion, blue slit eyes, coarse voices and strange language who frequently visit the Port of Mantota,” which was a flourishing trading port in the island at that time. In all likelihood this Ambassador from Sri Lanka was referring to the Chinese traders who regularly called over at Mantota Port for their trade missions.
Chinese records about Ceylon
The collection of Chinese records about Ceylon documented by M. Sylvain Levy in the Journal Asiatique (1900 AD) provides verifiable data with our records in the Mahawamsa. Prof. W. I. Siriweera and Mahinda Werake documented 13 missions that had been sent to China by the Kings of Anuradhapura between 131 AD and 989 AD. In 428 AD King Mahanama is recorded as having sent a model of the Sacred Tooth Relic Shrine to the Chinese Emperor.
With the installation of the Tang dynasty in China 618-907 AD closer ties were established with Sri Lanka. Several Chinese monks visited the island in search of the Dhamma, in addition to the many Sri Lankan Buddhist monks who travelled to China.
It is observed that after the 8th century two-way missions between China and Sri Lanka decreased, the cause being the greatest persecution of Buddhism in China that occurred from 841-45 AD.
With the installation of the Tang dynasty in China 618-907 AD closer ties were established with Sri Lanka. Several Chinese monks visited the island in search of the Dhamma, in addition to the many Sri Lankan Buddhist monks who travelled to China.
There are many documented evidence of even diplomatic missions between the two countries from the 8th century onwards. Most of these missions have taken place in the 13th and 14th centuries and it is said that King Parakramabahu the 6th (1412-1467) alone dispatched six missions to China, one of the highest by a single King.
Famous travellers to Sri Lanka from China
History refers to a number of famous travellers to Sri Lanka from China. One of the earliest amongst them was the Chinese Buddhist monk Fa Hien who travelled along the Silk Road to India and from there by boat to Sri Lanka between 399 and 412 searching for Buddhist scripts.
Until his journey there had been no translation into Chinese of the entire Vinaya Pitakaya, or “the rules of the discipline,” of the Buddhist canon. Fa Xian’s goal was to obtain an entire version of the work to translate into Chinese.
He spent two years in Sri Lanka studying the Buddhist doctrine and then boarded a merchant ship to travel back to China, taking back a large volume of Buddhist scriptures that he later translated from Sanskrit into Chinese.
In his travelogue ‘An account of Buddhist Countries,’ he refers to the Abhayagiri Monastery which had developed into one of the main centres of education in the region and was home for more than 5,000 bhikkus from different parts of the world.
In his chronicles, he records that he was greatly moved to find a silk fan offered by a previous Chinese visitor to a Buddha image in Anuradhapura as he was away from home for 12 long years at that time.
The great Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan dispatched an expedition in 1284 from China to Sri Lanka searching for the tooth of Lord Buddha, one of the most holy relics of Buddhism. Aboard one of his ships was Marco Polo, an official representative of Kublai Kkhan.
Marco Polo was a European serving the Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan as a personnel emissary. He had travelled to many parts of the world on diplomatic missions. Marco Polo who is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential travellers of the ancient world, proclaimed Sri Lanka to be the finest island of its size in the entire world.
Greatest navigator to visit Sri Lanka from China
The greatest navigator to visit Sri Lanka from China perhaps was Admiral Zheng He, who visited the country first time in 1405. Zheng He was believed to have been the first sailor to establish a direct sea route between the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans as an alternate to the famous Silk Road by land. His voyages predated Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America by 87 years and were 114 years before Ferdinand de Magellan’s round-the-world voyage.
Zheng He came to Sri Lanka 100 years before the Portuguese who arrived in 1505. Zheng He came to Sri Lanka 233 years before the Dutch who arrived in 1638. Zheng He came to Sri Lanka 397 years before the British who arrived in 1802.
He came in a fleet of 317 ships with 27,800 sailors, the largest naval fleet world had ever seen. Despite some initial resistance, he didn’t try to colonise the country. Instead he became a true friend of Sri Lanka and visited the country six times during 1405 to 1433.
Born in 1371, Zheng He was Mongolian by race and lived in current Yunnan province in China which was an asylum for exiled members of former Mongol rulers. His family followed the religion Islam. He grew up speaking Arabic and Chinese. Elder males in family told tales of travel since they had made the pilgrimage to Mecca.
When he was an 11-year-old boy he was captured by the Imperial Chinese army during a war in which the rest of his family was killed. As was custom, surviving young males were castrated, making Zheng He a eunuch. He was then brought to capital and made a servant to Zhu Di, the fourth son of the Emperor. There he became a loyal and trusted servant of the crown prince and received an excellent education.
When Zhu Di became the 3rd Ming Emperor, Zheng He was made Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Naval Fleet. He undertook seven great voyages under the Emperor’s instructions. He died in 1433 in Calcutta in India during his seventh voyage.
Seeking knowledge and friendship
On each voyage, Zheng He was acting as the envoy and commercial representative of the Ming court. No matter what country he visited, he called on the ruler of the land, presenting to him valuable gifts in token of China’s sincere desire to develop friendly relations and inviting the host sovereign to send emissaries to China.
Zheng He travelled in a huge fleet of ships called Treasure ships, usually more than 300 ships at a time with more than 28,000 people on board. He made seven voyages between 1405 and 1433. His ships were much bigger than the ships Europeans used centuries later. They were strong and capable of handling difficult seas. Chinese had mastered the maritime technology at that time.
The ancient Chinese travelled the world seeking knowledge and friendship amongst nations. Though Zheng He’s voyages, he reached almost all parts of the world even covering Antarctica and Arctic. They rarely fought wars as they were quite diplomatic in the way dealt with foreign rulers.
During their travel they surveyed the sea routes and mapped continents they explored. Centuries later, Europeans started exploring the world. Some argue that they had access to the copies of these maps prepared by Chinese.
Zheng He explored the world almost 100 years before the Europeans. His first visit was in 1405. Christopher Columbus was the first European to reach America in 1498. Vasco Da Gama was the first European to come to India in 1497. Magellan’s fleets were the first Europeans to travel around the world in 1522.
Unfortunately when Zheng He returned to China after his last voyage the new Emperor decided to discontinue all foreign relations and cancelled all naval expeditions. He also ordered to destroy all evidence of previous naval expeditions.
For almost 500 years thereafter, Chinese rulers practiced an isolation policy and didn’t encourage interaction with the rest of the world. That’s why until recently the world didn’t know about this great explorer of the 14th century.
During his second visit to Sri Lanka in 1411 Zheng He visited the ‘Upulwan Devalaya’ in Devundara and donated the following: ‘1,000 pieces of gold; 5,000 pieces of silver; 50 rolls of embroidered silk in many colours; 50 rolls of silk taffeta, in many colours; four pairs of jewelled banners, gold embroidered and of variegated silk, two pairs of the same picked in red, one pair of the same in yellow, one pair in black; five antique brass incense burners; five pairs of antique brass flower vases picked in gold on lacquer, with gold stands; five yellow brass lamps picked in gold on lacquer with gold stands; five incense vessels in vermilion red, gold picked on lacquer, with gold stands; six pairs of golden lotus flowers; 2,500 catties of scented oil; 10 pairs of wax candles; 10 sticks of fragrant incense.’
Stone inscription in Galle
During this visit Zheng He also erected a stone inscription in Galle which was engraved in three languages then commonly used by travellers at that time; Chinese, Tamil and Persian. Admiral Zheng He brought the trilingual tablet which he planned to erect in Sri Lanka from China. It was inscribed in Nanjing before the fleet set out. The inscription was erected in 1411 when he visited Sri Lanka.
In 1911, a carved stone was discovered covering a culvert near Cripps Road in Galle. The finder, provincial engineer H.F. Tomalin, had it removed to safety. Scholarly excitement was immediate, but the inscriptions were only deciphered with some difficulty.
The Chinese letters, which are the best preserved in the inscription, records the offerings made by Zheng He and others to a Buddhist temple on the mountains of Sri Lanka (which could possibly be Adam’s Peak).The Persian is largely defaced, but what is readable makes it clear that this too lists offerings to the light of Islam. The Tamil inscription follows the same pattern and the beneficiary is Tenavarai Nayanar, a Tamil God.
The trilingual inscription is now in the National Museum in Colombo. A replica could be found in the Maritime Museum in Galle. We are now in 2011, exactly 700 years after it was erected and 100 years after it was found.
We are hoping to build a Zheng He Memorial Chamber inside the Maritime Museum in Galle in near future. Given that Galle is only one hour away from Colombo now due to the Sothern Highway, it is expected to become a key tourist attraction.
H4.11 Earliest 'shrine' uncovered at Buddha's birthplace
Archaeologists digging at Buddha's birthplace have uncovered remains of the earliest ever "Buddhist shrine". They unearthed a 6th Century BC timber structure buried within the Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal.
The shrine appears to have housed a tree. This links to the Buddha nativity story - his mother gave birth to him while holding on to a tree branch.
Its discovery may settle the dispute over the birth date of the Buddha, they report in the journal Antiquity.
Every year thousands of Buddhists make a holy pilgrimage to Lumbini - long identified as the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha.
Yet despite the many texts chronicling his life and teachings, it is still uncertain when he lived.
Estimates for his birth stretch as far back as 623 BC, but many scholars believed 390-340 BC a more realistic timeframe.
Until now, the earliest evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini dated no earlier than the 3rd Century BC, in the era of the emperor Ashoka.
To investigate, archaeologists began excavating at the heart of the temple - alongside meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims.
They unearthed a wooden structure with a central void which had no roof. Brick temples built later above the timber were also arranged around this central space.
To date the buildings, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques.
"Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the 6th century BC," said archaeologist Prof Robin Coningham of Durham University, who co-led the international team, supported by the National Geographic Society.
"This is the earliest evidence of a Buddhist shrine anywhere in the world.
"It sheds light on a very long debate, which has led to differences in teachings and traditions of Buddhism.
"The narrative of Lumbini's establishment as a pilgrimage site under Ashokan patronage must be modified since it is clear that the site had already undergone embellishment for centuries."
The dig also detected signs of ancient tree roots in the wooden building's central void - suggesting it was a tree shrine.
Tradition records that Queen Maya Devi gave birth to the Buddha while grasping the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden.
The discovery could aid conservation efforts at the holy site - which has been neglected despite its Unesco World Heritage status.
"These discoveries are very important to better understand the birthplace of the Buddha," said Ram Kumar Shrestha, Nepal's minister of culture, tourism and civil aviation.
"The government of Nepal will spare no effort to preserve this significant site." (Source: BBC)
26 11 2013 - Daily Mirror
Prof. M. M. J. Marasinghe
B.A. (Hon.) (Cey.); Ph.D.(B'ham); D.Litt.(Hons.(Kelaniya)
Former Professor and Head, department of Pali and Buddhist Studies;
Vice Chancellor (1987- 1993), University of Kalaniya
Buddhism was introduced into this Island during the reign of King Devanampiya tissa in the third century B.C. by the mission of Venerable Thera Mahinda. The Mahindian mission brought the Theravada form of the teaching as approved by the Third Buddhist Council which was held at Pataliputra under the patronage of Emperor Asoka. This meant that the Pali canonical texts served both as the source material and the reference books of the Sri Lankan Buddhist tradition. It, In other words, meant that the Sri Lankan Buddhist tradition derived its authority to act and to understand the teaching of the Buddha in accordance with the declaration of the authority of the Dhamma and the Vinaya as explained in the Maháparinibbána Sutta of the Dìgha Nikáya(D.11.123). Any transgression of the authority of ther Dhamma and Vinaya makes the relevant action, interpretation or adoption of ritual, wrong and illegal.
After introducing Buddhism to Sri Lanka, Venerable Mahinda took meaningful steps to see that the study of the Pali canonical texts and the practice of the Dhamma were given equal emphasis. The historical remains of infra-structure facilities provided for both types of disciples go to prove that the demand for both types of training did exist even through difficult social and political conditions faced by the country down to about the early part of the tenth century of the Christian era.
Another important observation which must be made here is the absence up to this time of any evidence of ritual activities of worship and offering (pújá) in connection with Buddhism. The construction of Pagodas enshrining the relics of the Buddha and the planting of the Bodhi did not generate the adoption of Hindu theistic type of worship and prayer. According to historical evidence, it is the adoption of offering food and garments to statues of the Buddha by King Sena 111 which opened the sluice gates for capitulation into Hindu theistic worship with all its attendant ritualism uncontrolled.
Up to this point in Sri Lankan history, the Buddha to the Theravadins was a human being, born into this world as other humans. He left household life, early in his life and attained Buddhahood after six long years of severe ascetic practices. He lived an extremely simple life, walked bare-footed and followed the age old ascetic practice of going round for his only meal of the day, if he did not have an invitation. He passed away at eighty years under a sála tree in a park at Kusinara, lying on his folded upper robe which normally served as his bed and seat throughout his life as the Buddha. This, very briefly, is a mere glance at the wonderful genius who had been glorified by the later writers who had neither deep nor clear understanding of the great man or of the unique Dhamma he gave to the world.
This Theravada Buddha, still preserved in the Pali canonical texts, is vastly different from the glorified Buddhas of the Pali commentaries of Buddhaghosa. It was as the result of the fruition of his merit, accumulated through innumerable eons of life in saísára that the Buddha attained Enlightenment in this life. In spite of Buddhaghosa's insistence on the indispensability of merit, the Buddha has never referred to, either accumulation of merit or past merit as a factor for Buddhahood or the attainment of nibbana. It must be noted here that the theory of accumulation of merit and the theory that merit can be donated to other parties are both alien to the Buddha's teaching.
It may be noted here that the Rájagiriyas and the Siddhatthikas (two Indian Schools of Buddhism) proposed that merit can be donated at the Third Buddhist Council ,but it was rejected by the Council as unacceptable according to the Buddha's teachings. It is not clear how and on what grounds that it came to be accepted by post canonical Sri Lankan Buddhism again, going against this decision of the third Buddhist Council . Statues of the Buddha came to be made, according to tradition by the first century B.C., under the influence of the Gandhara School of art. Thuparama was the first Cetiya built to enshrine the relics of the Buddha received from the Emperor Asoka. When the Mahácetiya was completed, it too enshrined a second receipt of the Buddha's relics. The Bodhi was planted at Anuradhapura when it was brought by Theri Saqnghamitta. All these did not mean to the Sri Lankan Theravadins of the period, the growth of ritual worship of the theistic type, covering each and every item. Instead, these objects of veneration served as objects of recollection of the Buddha and his attainments.
From the time of the third century introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, Hinduism as well as most other Indian religions known in India had their presence in this Island. Brahmins were held in high esteem in the Sinhala society. Pandukabhaya was educated by a Brahmin teacher The Brahmin advisor of King Devanampiyatissa was a member of the Royal delegation sent by Devanaqmpiyatissa to Emperor Asoka.
There is no evidence that either Hinduism or any other of the Indian religions present did have any serious impact to derail the Theravada Buddhist teaching from its two principal paths of training, the practice of the Dhamma by following the path of gradual training culminating in the attainment of nibbana producing many arahats and the study of the Pali canonical texts contributing to produce indigenous expertise of the Dhamma and the texts.
Not only did Venerable Mahinda establish the two principal paths of training for the firm foundation of the teaching in the Island, the meditative and the literary, he also provided Sinhala commentaries to explain the difficult Pali texts of the Dhamma and the Vinaya to help the native Sinhala readers of the texts. It is not at all clear why these Sinhala commentaries had to be translated into Pali.
An innocent explanation may be that it was intended to keep the interpretation of the texts in the hands of the bhikkhu Saígha who at the time were the only learners and the interpreters of the Pali texts. But even this explanation seems untenable when it is realized that the original Sinhala commentaries were burnt immediately after the Pali Commentaries were completed.
A careful examination of the contents of some commentaries of Buddhaghosa written in Pali shows that they have a rich content of stories and anecdotes not strictly falling within the function of a commentarial explanation of the original texts. For example, Buddhaghosa's commentary on the Kalinga Bodhi Jataka has an additional story of Venerable Ananda requesting the Buddha to leave some object to which his followers in Savatthi could pay their respects whenever he was away on his (dhamma cáriká) visits to other areas. Buddha accordingly, approves the planting of a seedling from the Sri Maha Bodhi of Buddhagaya at the entrance to the monastery at Savatthi.
The story raises several questions. First, the story of an Anandabodhi is out of context here as it is not found in the original Kalingabodhi Jataka Pali which Buddhaghosa was commenting on. Second, the statement that people went to see the Buddha carrying flowers and incense and being disappointed when they found that the Buddha was not there, is itself wrong because the Buddha as the human teacher was not an object of worship and offering when he was living. The word pújá, it must be noted, does not occur in the Pali canonical texts in the sense of a religious offering. The transition from veneration to worship and offering has taken several centuries after the time of the Buddha to be adopted by the Buddhists as the result of a theistic invasion, as it seems. The interpolation of stories like that of the Anandabodhi is evidence of the mechanism of introducing hitherto unaccepted rites and ritual into Buddhism. It also seems to tell us why they burned the original Sinhala commentaries of Venerable Mahinda, not to allow the secret leak out.
It is Buddhaghosa who claims in his commentary on the Ratana Sutta that it was first chanted by the Buddha to heal the city of Vesali of the devastating epidemic and affliction by non-humans. It must be noted here that Buddhaghosa's claim of an epidemic is not supported by any other literary or historical source. Further, the Vajjian tribal oligarchy was an exemplary tribal state, too strong for the neighbouring Magadhan Emperor to wage war as clearly stated in the Maháparinibbána Sutta of the Dìigha NBikáya. Thus, the story of an epidemic is another of Buddhaghosa's fairy tales used to make new rites and rituals acceptable by giving them religious sanction.
The acceptance that there are non-human beings (amanussá) and that they are a threat to man are both most probably Sri Lankan in origin. It is during the age of post-canonical Buddhism that both these had been smuggled into the Buddhist texts and the new rites and ritual structure. Not only the word amanussá(non-human), but the different non-human types discussed in the lately tinkered ??áná?iya and the Mahásamaya discourses are not supported by the other canonical texts which deal with the composition of the world of beings. According to Buddhaqghosa, the Ratana Sutta, which was the first blessing ritual approved by the Buddha goes against the Buddha's own teaching in the Sámaññaphala Sutta of the Dìgha Nikáya which declares all blessing rites and ritual as animal sciences (tiraccháana vijjá).The ritual has been smuggled into the Buddhist ritual structure through the commentarial story. An idea of the importance attached to the story and the importance of the function it was expected to serve can be gained when it is realized that it has been repeated in three commentaries.
Buddhaghosa, coming from south India was selected to translate the Sinhala Commentaries into Pali because of his expert knowledge of the Pali language. It is not clear how he managed to translate the Sinhala explanations of the texts without an equally deep knowledge of Sinhala. Nothing is said about how or whether he acquired such knowledge. On the other hand, if he was writing his own commentaries he could have done so, without bothering himself of the Sinhala commentaries because what was expected of him was the harmonization of the new ritual structure as sanctioned by the Buddha himself. And it is quite clear this exactly was what Buddhaghosa did and did so masterfully.
The hard work of Buddhaghosa and the Mahavihara fraternity culminated in the formulation of a new ritual structure with attractive advantages to keep both the lay followers and the members of the Samgha happy and contended. As a result, when we pass from the canonical Pali texts to the post-canonical Pali texts and the Pali commentaries we come into a totally new teaching different from the original.
The most important of these changes are those effected in the concept of the gods. Instead of gods who are merely a class of worldly beings, in the new Buddhaghosa religion, they have many functions to perform. They accept merit (punya) donated by people and provide them protection. Later on, they become the protectors and guardians of the Buddha and his teaching. It is important to note here that all these gods who were assigned these responsibilities were the South Indian Hindu gods who were in active service as Hindu gods in India, as they are now.
Nibbana, which is the goal of religious endeavour in Buddhism is to be attained through the threefold scheme of training of siìla (morality), Samádhi (concentration) and paññá (wisdom). But in the new Buddhism, nibbana cannot be attained as and when one wants to attain it. It is attainable only as the fruition of merit accumulated throughout the cycle of births in saísára.The Bodhisattva attained his Buddhahood in this life as the result of the fruition of his merit accumulated throughout the innumerable eons of life he spent in saísára( cycle of existences). It must be noted here that the Buddha has never referred to the need of the fruition of merit for one's nibbana.
Throughout the Pali canonical texts, giving is praised as the means to cleanse one of craving for worldly possessions because craving is one of the biggest obstacles to balanced mental development. This has undergone change in the new Buddhism to giving what one wishes to have back in abundance as his possessions in future lives in saísára. The bhikkhu who is recommended as the field of merit to receive the offerings as items of dána functions as the custodian who credits the giver's account.
Pagodas which enshrine the relics of the Buddha, statues of the Buddha constructed to remind the followers of the Buddha's attainments and the Bodhi planted to remind them of his attainment of Buddhahood after years of exertion are now converted into objects of sanctity, each possessing the power to respond to request and also generate merit each time an offering is made to or is worshipped .
The transition from respectful recollection to the acceptance that each of such objects did possess the power to answer requests and also generate merit which ultimately will result in nibbana upon accumulation to required level is in total disagreement with the Buddha's teaching. Merit is neither essential nor indispensable for the attainment of nibbana according to the canonical teachings. Merit becomes relevant as a stage of development prior to kusala and is replaced by kusala qualities upon progress on the path of spiritual development.
Merit (punya) according to Pali canonical Buddhism, is not a religious or a spiritual acquisition which is an end in itself. Living according to the dhamma and living righteously is described as following the path of merit. It leads to the next stage in the path of gradual training which is the development of kusala qualities. This in turn leads on to the development of concentration which leads on to the final attainment of nibbana. It may also be noted here that it is Buddhaghyosa who has given a new importance to punya by introducing ten meritorious actions which are not found in the Pali canonical texts. The ten meritorious actions are for the first time found in Buddhaghosa's commentary on the Dhammasangani. It is Buddhaghosa who uses patti for merit for the first time and the concept of donation or transfer of merit also for the first time, not supported by canonical Buddehism It may also be recalled here that the idea of donation of merit was rejected by the Third Buddhist Counci when it was raised by two Indian Schools of Buddhism.
Thus, all aspects of the new ritual Buddhism which changed the Theravada Buddhism into a system of worship, offering and prayer, like any other theistic religion, has been very carefully planned and smuggled into practice with several bonus packages for the operators. At the base of all rituals was the donation of merit to the gods with a request for their protection. It must be noted here that the gods whose protection was prayed for were not the gods like Sakka, but South Indian gods like Vishnu, Natha, Pattini,etc. who were entrusted with these duties in addition to their home duties of serving their Hindu followers .The composition of the offering for each god was so made to make the mediator between god and man enriched with sufficient economic and other benefits which they did not enjoy under the earlier form of canonical Buddhism.
21 05 2014 - The Island
H4.17 Thanthirimale Ancient temple in a valley of scenic beauty
The ancient place of Buddhist worship, Thanthirimale Raja Maha Viharaya is situated in a picturesque valley in the North Central Province, not far away from Anuradhapura, the glorious ancient capital of Sri Lanka.
The beautiful stream Malwatuoya, carrying the holy water of the sacred city, Anuradhapura flows by the side of the Raja Maha Viharaya. Malwatuoya and the beautiful lake “the wewa” situated by the side of the temple and the Dagaba constructed on a slab of rock add serenity to the environment.
The beauty of the environment, especially when it is illuminated by Aloka Pooja is such that a visitor to the place will invariably be inclined to ask himself or herself whether there is a more pleasant place than Thanthirimale.
History of Thanthirimale
Thanthirimale has a long history running back to the period when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera. The ruler of the country at that time was King Devanampiyatissa, mentioned in our chronicle, Mahawansa as Pruthuviswara” the Lord of the earth. He was a revivalist who provided the best of royal patronage in religious activities. King Devanampiyatissa was the first to identify Thanthirimale as a sacred place which had been touched upon by Gautama Buddha. Pruthuviswara or the king had learnt from Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera that the most important from “Dambakolapatuna” to Anuradhapura is Thanthirimale because it is the place used by the Thathagatha or Buddha to set foot on during His three visits to Sri Lanka, i.e. to Mahiyangana, Nagadeepa and Kelaniya.
Village of Brahmin Thiwakka
The name given to the place in Mahawansa is Thiwakka the village of Brahmin Thiwakka. This name had been changed in the course of time presumably due to the influence of the Tamil and Hindu culture after the invasion of South Indians.
Emperor Dharmasoka in India and his contemporary in Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa
According to our chronicle Mahawansa, the emperor Dharmasoka of Dambadiva –India had done everything possible for the sake of his friend and his counterpart in Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa who also had sought solace in Buddhism. The emperor Dharmasoka sent a delegation led by his own son, Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera to establish Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Action taken to establish the Order of Nuns in Sri Lanka
Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera found it impossible to establish Meheni Sasana in Sri Lanka due to the no availability of nuns here. King Devanampiyatissa had sent an envoy to the emperor Dharmasoka requesting him to send nuns to Sri Lanka with a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi.
According to the legendary information it was prince Aritta who had served as King Devanampiyatissa’s envoy who carried the message to emperor Dharmasoka realizing that his counter part in Sri Lanka had found solace in Buddhism as he had done earlier had his own daughter, Arahant Sanghamitta Maha Theri with a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi in Buddhagaya. Arahant Theri and her followers had disembarked at port Dambakola about three miles away from Kankasanthurai as archaeologists suspect.
King Devanampiyatissa receiving Sri Maha Bodhi on his head with devotion
According to Mahawansa King Devanampiyatissa had stepped in to the sea and proceeded until the water reached his neck when he saw the Sri Maha Bodhi being brought. He received Sri Maha Bodhi on his head after being brought to the shore. He had placed the Sri Maha Bodhi in a chariot and the ceremonial procession started early in the morning.
After the breakfast the procession had proceeded and the people had gathered on the road side to worship the Sri Maha Bodhi.
Thanthirimale – the important halting place of the procession taking the Sri Maha Bodhi
According to chronicle Mahawansa Thanthirimale was one of the important halting places of the procession bringing the Sri Maha Bodhi. This place in the village of Brahmin Thiwakka was cleared and cleaned to receive the procession and the whole area was covered with a layer of white sand. The village of Brahmin Thiwakka as described in Mahawansa was an extremely pleasant place similar to Isipathana “Rishis Descend” the grove in Benares where Buddha first preached His monks where Rishis descend from and ascend to the sky.
Chronicler of Mahawansa states that by virtue of devotion King Devanampiyatissa and his followers had eight Bodhi saplings had emerged from the fruits of the sacred Bodhi and one of them was later presented by the king to be planted at Thanthirimale. The Bo tree planted in that manner is standing at the Raja Maha Viharaya rich with foliage.
The king was delighted, enraptured and charmed at the sight of the Sri Maha Bodhi and the eight saplings.
Serenity of Thanthirimale not affected by adverse conditions or foreign invasions
The rock surface, adverse climatic conditions, the South Indian invasions or any other harmful incidents had not disturbed the tranquility, serenity and the sacredness brought about by this Bo tree. This Bo tree is distinguished from other Esathu Bo trees worshipped by Buddhists. The foliage of this Bo tree is bright in colour. Hence it is believed that it belongs to a particular species of Esathu Bo trees. In any event its glory and sacredness remains intact.
The main Buddha statue in the Samadhi or meditation posture
The main Buddha statue at Thanthirimale is in the Samadhi or meditation posture. The statue has the peculiarity of Polonnaruwa Galviharaya statues which are statues carved on rocks including the one in the reposing or sleeping posture. These statues are presumably belonging to the Polonnaruwa period.
13 06 2014 - Daily Mirror
H4.18 Comparison of the Mahindian and post-Mahindian eras of Sri Lankan Buddhism
Professor M. M. J. Marasinghe
The year 2014 brings the Sri Lankans to the fourteenth year of the twenty fourth century from the introduction of Buddhism into this Island, almost immediately after the conclusion of the Third Buddhist Council held under the patronage of Emperor Asoka of India. The Mahindian mission brought with them the Pali canonical texts of the Theravada tradition, as approved by the third Buddhist Council and these became the consultative texts or source books of the tradition thereafter. It may also be noted here that the Sri Lankan mission seems to be the only mission of the several sent out by Asoka to neighbouring countries and regions which was entrusted with such weighty responsibility. The Venerable Thera being more than well aware of the great responsibility which lay upon himself, made provision to see that the new teaching was firmly founded in the Island. This was achieved by providing facilities for two types of activities.
The first was the organization of a network to create and maintain an indigenous expertise on the Pali canonical texts, the indispensable source books of the teaching. As the Pali canonical texts consisted of three principal divisions each of which in turn consisted of many lengthy texts, the study and teaching of manageable units from each division was entrusted to carefully identify bhikkhus whose followers were entrusted with responsibility for the allocated unit of text. Monks known as Suttantika (expert in the suttas – discourses), Vinayadhar6 (expert in the disciplinary rules) and Abhidhammika (expert in the Buddhist metaphysics) show how they were known by their specialties of the tradition (Adikaram, EHBC,24). Thus, learning and education of the Pali canonical texts which formed the foundation of the Buddha’s teaching ensured that it was well established in the Island and each monk of the tradition grew up into seniority with a sense of great dedication and service to their followers.
The Pali canonical texts and their knowledge were in active use by the members of the Order which marked a significant difference from the present day arrangement where these texts are safely locked up in cupboards and very rarely tampered with. It is difficult to understand how the source material of such a tradition could get into the cultural content of a people who depend on enrichment by their content.
Second was by recognizing the need to provide facilities for those who desired to follow the meditative path of training to attain the extinction of suffering. The preparation of sixty eight caves in the Cetiyapabbata (Mihintale) for meditators within the first few weeks of Venerable Mahinda’s coming to Anuradhapura gives an indication of the importance with which the meditative path was considered an urgently required aspect of the Buddhist spiritual training.
Since the aim of training of the monk or layman according to the Buddha’s teaching was the attainment of Nibbanic peace, the final aim and direction of all activities of religion was aimed or targeted towards this final attainment. It must be kept in mind that the Buddha was the only religious teacher in world history who declared with proven certainty that the final goal of his religion was attainable in this life itself, that is while still living. The accumulation of merit was never needed as we will see later, for its attainment. Religious activities of the period seem to have been totally different from what they changed into in the next phase of development pioneered by Buddhaghosa and the Mahavihara fraternity, the era of entry into theistic ritual worship.
According to the Samantapa’sadika, the commentary on the Vinayapitaka by Buddhaghosa, Venerable Mahinda is said to have preached on the Petavatthu and the Vimanavatthu and the Sacca Saiyutta of the Saiyutta Nika’ya to the people of Anuradhapura when he met them on his first visit to the city. But, this seems to be what Buddhaghosa would have wished Venerable Mahinda to have discoursed on to the residents of Anuradhapura on his first encounter with them. This suspicion is aroused as neither ancestor worship nor any other form of primitive belief or ritual worship had ever drawn the attention of Venerable Mahinda not only during the first few days or months of his stay at Anuradhapura but during his long stay in the Island. It must be noted that Buddhaghosa would not have had to write his fairy tales into his commentaries to smuggle in the rituals if ritual worship was in active use at the time. In other words, if people were used to, at the time of worshipping the Bodhi and the Cetiya with flowers and incense and if healing rites like paritta was in use to dispel affliction by amanussa, the wording in the insertion of Buddhaghosa’s stories should have definitely been quite different.
Therefore, it is not possible to think that theistic ritual worship of the Buddhaghosa type was not yet in common religious use in the Buddhist tradition as irrationally palmed on to it by the traditional writers of the legends. The construction of Cetiyas to enshrine the relics of the Buddha, the planting of the Bodhi and the representations of the Buddha by statues or pictures did not mean the growth of ritual worship around these objects of veneration. None of these items of veneration had yet been endowed with the power to generate merit and bless their, worshippers. Buddhaghosa had to invent the historically unproved story of the Ananda Bodhi and the equally false Vesali famine to tell the Sri Lankans that these forms of worship with the associated powers and capabilities were part of the religion from the time of the Buddha to convince them, because these were not part of Buddhist practice at the time he was writing. It was Buddhaghosa who executed the theistic power enrichment of these objects of veneration.
Neither the acquisition of specialist knowledge in the assigned texts of the Pali canonical texts, nor the completion of the different stages of attainment on the path to nibbanic perfection did depend upon ritual compliance like theistic worship, neither before commencement, during, nor, after completion. This meant that ritual compliance of any type was not a mandatory requirement for completion of either of the two branches of Theravada Buddhism, the textual or the meditative. Thus, while the study of the canonical texts produced experts in the textual traditions, the Sinhaqla commentaries were prepared to assist the future learners of the Pali texts. The meditative tradition is said to have produced many arahants and the attainment of arahathood was never considered a difficult attainment which must await the required accumulation of merit (punya). At the time, it was said to have been gossiped that there were so many arahants traversing the skyline in Anuradhapura that housewives of the period grumbled that it was difficult to dry their paddy for finishing by mortar and pestle as the Nipuna type of milling was not available to them at the time. It may also be remarked here that the use of iddhi (psychic power) does not seem to mean physical locomotion of the subject to be seen by others according to the texts. Iddhi powers are definitely said to be part of the accomplishments of an arahant who has perfected himself in the six higher know ledges. The Buddha is never recorded in the canonical Pali texts to have made a public show of his iddhi powers. He has given his reasons for not exhibiting his iddhi powers in the Tevijjua Sutta of the Dygha Nikaya (D.1.212f).
The Mahindian tradition of Buddhism seems to have continued its productivity until about the fifth century of the Christian era when for some mysterious reasons the Mahavihara fraternity decided to use the expertise of a South Indian bhikkhu by the name of Buddhaghosa to translate the Sinhala commentaries of the Pali texts into Pali. It may also be noted here that nothing is said of Buddhaghosa’s knowledge of Sinhala. A close study of some of Buddhaghosa’s Pali commentaries seem to point to the possibility that he may not have much needed the help of the Sinhala commentaries for what he wrote into his Pali commentaries.
As commentarial assistance is needed to understand the original texts, from the point of assisting those who desired to study and understand the teachings of the Buddha, their task was made doubly forbidding, if they were not scared off from the task. What really happened in actual practice was that the canonical texts were retired into the protective safety of the temple and Pirivena libraries, of course made accessible for worshippers to pay their respects to and earn merit for their nibbana.
The new Pali commentaries to the canonical texts and the post canonical texts, full of stories and anecdotes which were, more often than not, anti or non canonical in substance, became very popular, especially as sermon material. Those who used these apparently were not aware of the contents of the original Pali canonical texts and believed all the non-Buddhist stories they read.
According to a story appended to the commentary on the Kalingabodhi Jataka, a sapling from the Sri Mahabodhi at Buddhagaya was planted at the entrance to the monastery at Savatthi upon a request to the Buddha by Venerable Ananda. He made this request on behalf of the residents of Savatthi who came to see the Buddha with flowers and incense in their hands, when he was away to the provinces on his visits and were compelled to leave the offerings at the entrance to his room in the monastery.
In his enthusiasm to tell the Sri Lankans that the Bodhi was worshipped with flowers and incense from the time of the Buddha, he seems to have disregarded the many discrepancies in his invented story. His insistence that residents of Savatthi came with flowers and incense in their hands to see the Buddha is unacceptable as the Buddha was the living human teacher who was visited by people to talk to and listen to him. He was not an object of worship. It is interesting to find that Savatthi where the Anandabodhi is claimed to have been planted had two monasteries Jetavana and Pubbarama at one of which the Buddha stayed when he was in Savatthi although Buddhaghosa does not say at which of the two it was planted. Also, the type of request if true should have come from many other cities and towns of Kosala and also of the neighbouring kingdom of Magadha as well. This type of request, it must be noted, is not found in any text of the Pali canon.
According to the commentary on the Ratans Sutta, it was preached by the Buddha at Vesali, the capital city of the Vajjis to rid the city of the devastating epidemic which had afflicted it and the harassments from non-human beings (amanussa’). The Buddha is said to have taught the sutta to Venerable Ananda who went round the city chanting the sutta, sprinkling water from the Buddha’s bowl.
Here too, if Buddhaghosa did not want to mis-interpret the canonical texts, he should have known that there are no beings called amanussa according to the Buddha. Further, there are no gods or other non-humans capable of inflicting harm, injury or ill-health upon human beings. The Atana’tiya and the Maha’samaya suttas of the Digha Nikaya stand out and do not fall in line with the overall philosophy of the Buddha on the amanussa and therefore cannot be regarded as part of the Buddha’s teaching at all. It may be noted here that blessing or healing rites such as paritta are classed as animal sciences (tiraccha’na vijja) in the Samannaphala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya (D.1.67f).
It is interesting to find that there are no literary or other evidence of a famine affecting Vesali, the capital city of the Vajjis. They were one of the most powerful and well organized tribal oligarchies of the Buddha’s day. They were too powerful for the neighbouring Magadhan Emperor to wage war on because of which he sent his Prime Minister Vassakara to consult the Buddha on the subject (D.11.72f). Thus, it is clear that the famine at Vesali which necessitated the chanting of the paritta blessing, like the worship of Anandabodhi just another of Buddhaghosa’s fairy tales written to install the rite into Buddhist acceptance, claiming approval from the Buddha himself.
An important clarification has to be made here between veneration and worship. Veneration of a religious object like the bodhi, cetiya or a statue of the Buddha is the respectful recollection of the teacher with whom the object is associated. Such recollection is an incentive to follow the path of the great teacher, but unlike in worship there is no power transfer from the object to the client. Worship as such is different as it has been taken from theistic (god) religions. Each god has to be worshipped with the things he approves of and presented in the language and the manner prescribed. It is the process of the worship with its language and symbolism which claims the transfer of power from the deity to the client worshipper and of course guided through by the authorized mediator priest.
It is clear that one objective which Buddhaghosa wanted to achieve through his network of commentaries — perhaps more relevant to those of the post-canonical Khuddaka Nikaya texts, was to install a system of theistic ritual covering all objects of veneration. What this meant in practice was the empowerment of all objects associated with the Buddha, with the ability or power to generate merit which is transferred to the client worshipper each time an object of veneration is so worshipped. Also, this merit so earned is accumulated to the credit of the worshipper’s nibbanic account. Another power which the objects of veneration did not possess and therefore was taken from the god religions is the power or ability to respond to the requests of the worshipper made of course with the pu’ja. offering.
Thus, in the Buddhaghosa religion merit (punya) becomes a very important, in fact, the most important acquisition. According to Buddhaghosa’s Buddhism one has to keep on accumulating merit in saisara until he has earned sufficient merit to attain nibbana. In his introduction to the Jataka commentary Buddhaghosa shows that the Bodhisattva had to spend many eons of life in sa’sara until he had gathered sufficient merit to attain Buddhahood.
Quite contrary what Buddhaghosa has said, the Buddha has never referred to the need of merit either for his Buddhahood or for any one’s attainment of nibbana. It is quite clearly stated that nibbana is attainable any day anywhere and is not subject to any pre-requisites. Merit is found in the Pali canonical texts. It is the opposite of demerit or papa. It is not the final or the ultimate goal of religious endeavor or an important stage in an individual’s maturity to nibbanic perfection, either. In the Dhananjani Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya the decision to opt for a lay householder’s life as against the life of training to attain nibbana, is described as undertaking the path of merit (punnai ca patipadai) (M.11.189)
According to an Anguttara sutta, it is the intensity of liberality (dana), and morality (sila) which determine rebirth as well as the conditions of life as a human being or a god in one of the six lower heavenly realms (A.1V.241; Marasinghe, GB.434). In his commentary on the Dhammasangani Buddhaghosa discusses ten meritorious actions which he explains as, (1) liberality (da’na), (2) morality, (Sila), (3) meditation (bhavana’), (4) respect for elders (apaciti), (5) service to superiors (Veyya’vacca), (6) donation of merit (pattanuppada’na), (7) thanksgiving for acceptance of merit (abbhanumodana), (8) instruction in the Dhamma (desana), (9) listening (savana), (10) rectification of view (dtthijjukamma) (Merit in Buddhism,94). It must be pointed out here that only the first three of these ten are found mentioned as meritorious actions in the canonical texts. Donation of merit was rejected by the Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputra when it was raised by two Indian sects. It is not clear on what authority Buddhaghosa included it in his list. It is not clear from what language Buddhaghosa found the word patti for merit (patti anumodana’). Patti, in Pali (pa+1 to go) means arrival and is not used for merit in the Nikayas.
Although the results of kammic deeds are not alienable according to the teachings of the Buddha, because they go only with the doers of the deeds, Buddhaghosa seems to have found donation of merit very useful because he was able to bring in the gods into the ritual system with this maneuver. According to the Pali canonical texts gods have no role to play either in the worldly or in the spiritual life of man. In the new ritual system of Buddhaghosa they accepted merit given by the people and in turn gave them their protection, as requested. Thus, merit was transformed into a very powerful acquisition, the accumulation of which only guaranteed the attainment of nibbana.
Accumulation of merit is not a teaching found in the Pali canonical texts. According to these, a person who does not go beyond the commission of meritorious deeds or deeds which are called punya kammas by proceeding to the cultivation of kusala qualities, will continue in saisa’ra (cycle of births and deaths) endlessly. Merit prepares the individual for entry into the process of training in the path to the attainment of nibbana which opportunity must not be wasted being fooled by Buddhagbosa’s non-Buddhism.
It must be noted here that the idea of merit has been totally misinterpreted and the gods too have been dragged into the new ritual system. This is piling up wrongs upon wrongs. No one can revise or add up to the Buddha’s teaching. The Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Digha Nikaya is very clear and definite on this point. The Buddha is recorded to have said, " Yo vo Ananda mays dhammo ca vinaqyo ca desito pannatto. So vo mam’accayena sattha"(Ananda whatever Dhamma I have preached or vinaya I have promulgated shall be your teacher after my parinibbana, D.11.154).
Therefore, it is quite clear that the bhikkhusangha however constituted is not vested with power to accept new interpretations or adopt new practices which are not in keeping with the Dhamma and the Vinaya. The entire ritual system including the empowerment of the objects of veneration with power to grant the wishes of the worshipper and to generate merit go against the canonical teachings and are hence unacceptable in their theistic dressings.
During the days of Venerable Mahinda Sri Lanka could boast of many arahants and also of experts in the Dhamma and the Vinaya texts of the tradition. From the third century B.C. until about the fifth century of the Christian era there seems to have been no major change in spite of the social and political problems which came upon the country during the period.
Both lines of productivity of the Buddhist tradition, the textual and the meditative, seems to have been edged out of activity by the two inter-connected events which took place during the fifth century A.D. The first was the translation of the Sinhala commentaries of the Pali canonical texts into Pali and destroying the Sinhala commentaries after completion of the translation. It is not known and is unprovable whether the new Pali commentaries were translations or were newly written. However; a close examination seems to point to the clear possibility that they could not have been pure translations as they were designed to promote the new ritual system.
The new merit theory has made the pursuit of the meditative path un-fulfilling because success has invariably to await the required accumulation of merit, of course going quite against the teaching of the Buddha. This resulted in making it of marginal appeal to aspirants. The study of the original canonical Pali texts has eventually become a rarely attempted exercise. As a result, the meditative as well as the systematic study of the canonical Pali texts seem to have shrunk almost to non existence while the ritual Buddhism has won popular acceptance largely through its showinistic features. While religious functions with mass participation are commendable, they must always be only preparatory for entry into the path of the spiritual development of the individual.
While the long line of those who opt to attain nibbana on the accumulation of merit has grown immeasurably long, productivity of the tradition has gone down to zero level. A careful analysis of what is taught and is practiced today shows that most of it is non-Buddhist or anti Buddhist when compared with canonical Buddhism It is, to say the least, totally un acceptable and needs immediate corrective counter measures.
11 07 2014 - The Island
Maha Seya: The mightiest dagoba
The story of the Maha Seya (also known as the Ruwanveli Seya, the Swarnamali Cheittya or the Hemamali Cheittya), the most venerated and mighty dagoba (stupa) at Anuradhapura which is said to be larger than the largest pyramid in Giza, Egypt, is associated with the Mahavamsa’s great king and hero of the Sinhalese- King Dutugemunu.
History records that Arahat Mahinda had informed King Devanampiyatissa that at Anuradhapura there was a spot consecrated by four previous Buddhas and in time to come, a large dagoba would be built, 120 cubits high, to enshrine several relics of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha. The king hearing of this was anxious to proceed with the construction himself but the Arahat had stayed him and foretold that one of his descendants, a mighty king, loved by his people, named Dutthagamini Abhaya (161-137 BC) would be the destined one to construct the dagoba. Therefore King Devanampiyatissa caused the prophecy to be engraved on a stone which exists today on the north side of the great dagoba, but the inscriptions are badly worn out.
The Mahavamsa and the Thupavamsa, the two Pali chronicles of ancient times, state that King Dutugemunu mustered support from over a 1,000 villagers of his kingdom to build this enormous dagoba in honour of the Buddha. In the Pali chronicles it is recorded that the King ordered that all his subjects who performed numerous deeds in regard to the construction work be paid. They performed their tasks in accordance with their caste.
At the building of the Maha Seya, the king supplied barbers free of charge and 1300 wagonloads of clothes rolled in bundles, honey, clarified butter and sugar.
The soldiers were ordered to bring rounded stones whilst the samanera monks brought clay.
As revealed in the Dipavamsa (Oldenburg’s translation) Dutthagamini built the stupa (at the foundation of which the following materials were used. Chunnam work, clay bricks, pure earth, a plate of iron, gravel, eight layers of rock stones, crystal, copper and silver. Skilled artisans to attend on the chunam were brought from India.
Present at the time of the laying of the foundation were the clever Indagutta Maha Thera, Dharmasena Maha Thera, the great preacher, Mahadeva, Uttara Thera and the learned Dharamarakkhitha Thera who had all come from Jambudeepa.
The king with great joy had enshrined in all four corners of the Maha Seya where wahalkadas were built, valuable treasures including gold and silver found in two villages, Archaragama in the north east and at a cave in Amtota in the south. Amtota is now known as Ridigama where the Ridi Vihare now stands (12 miles east of Kurunegala).
The Thupavamsa states that two traders who arrived at Amtota were attracted to a ripe jak fruit that looked too luscious to consume. They felt it should be offered to the Maha Sangha. At that moment, seven Arahants had arrived and after they had accepted the offering into bowls, the ripe jak had turned to treacle. One of the seven Arahants was Indagupta who showed a path to a cave where a large quantity of silver was found. The travellers were overjoyed and went with the silver in their cart to King Dutugemunu, who gladly accepted the gift which was used to complete the Maha Seya.
Although King Dutugemunu started to build this Maha Seya, he did not live to see its completion. The Mahavamsa vividly portrays the great King’s dying moments: “Lying on a palanquin, the king went thither and passed round the great chetiya (stupa) paying homage and was surrounded by the brotherhood of monks.” At that moment the king had a conversation with one of his renowned generals Theraputtabhaya, who said “O Great King, fear not this moment of death. Without conquering the foe, death is unconquerable. All that has come into this transitory existence must necessarily perish, also perishable is all that exists-thus did the Great Master (Buddha) teach. Mortality overcomes even the Buddhas, untouched by shame or fear.” The work was completed by his younger brother King Saddhatissa.
Several other kings who also ruled Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and had maintained the greatest dagoba had been mentioned in the Pali Chronicle King Aggabodhi1 fixed a stone Chattya ( umbrella) to the crown of the |Maha Seya; King Dhatusena (of Kalaweva fame) (AC 459-477) had also gifted another chattya to the Maha Seya. Two other well-known kings Parakrama Bahu 1 and Nissanka Malla, a Kshatriya king who ruled Polonnaruwa repaired the Maha Seya and showered veneration.
When the South Indian marauder Maggha invaded the northern territory of the island, he plundered the treasures enshrined and destroyed places of Buddhist worship. Thereafter with the spread of malaria the population drifted to other areas. The Maha Seya became neglected and gradually crumbled to remain as a 189-foot tall large heap of bricks and stone overrun with jungle and brushwood.
It was in this background that Ven. Naranvita Sumanasara Thera appeared, having travelled from his temple at Ududumbara in Kandy accompanied by devotees who travelled in a train of bullock carts on pilgrimage to the sacred city. With great piety and determination he resolved in 1873 to commence restoration work all by himself.
Recalling the glory in the time of the Sinhalese kings, he was deeply moved and Naranvita Sumanasara ‘Unnanse’ as he was popularly known, thereafter lived like a gypsy under a huge Na tree within 50 yards of the Maha Seya and slept in an abandoned bullock cart with a lantern and a fierce mongrel dog for company. The dense jungle was the home of bear, wild boar, monkeys, poisonous snakes, scorpions and the malarial mosquito. Yet he braved it all. There were no mechanised earth movers and electric saws to do the work. On full moon poya days when there arrived by cart, small groups of pilgrims, the monk would solicit their help to perform shramadana.
The Government Agent at the time, Mr. Dickson had seen for himself the restoration work and in an official dispatch to the Governor Sir William Henry Gregory he said, “The Maha Seya looked a beauty in purdah. As guardian of this damsel, we need give support to unveil the beauty there is.” Sir William visited the indefatigable monk and encouraged him with a personal donation of Rs. 1000 (then a princely sum). He also brought his efforts to the notice of Lord Carnavon, Secretary of State. This led to the appointment of H.C.P. Bell (1893- 1912) though not a trained archaeologist to frequently visit the site. He functioned as the country’s first Archaeological Commissioner and was assisted by S. Montague Burrows.
At that time John Still in his writings spotlighted the buried cities in the jungle. H.W. Cave brought out the Handbook for Ceylon and Hocart and Longhurst, both later Archaeological Commissioners took an abiding interest in the restoration and provided much-needed funds.
Prof Senarath Paranavitana (later Commissioner of Archaeology) was a junior in the department and had been set to Barg in India to study epigraphy and archaeology under Sir John Marshall (who along with Sir Alexander Cunningham excavated and restored the beautiful Sanchi at Bhopal State).
The Ruwanveli Maha Chetiya Wardana Samitiya (The Ruwanveli Seya Restoration Society) was founded by the Ven. Naranvita Sumanasara Thera in August 1902, with no newspaper publicity. The pioneer monk had by then won the hearts of the colonial administrators.
It is not known when the pioneer monk Ven. Sumanasara Unnanse died but restoration work continued unabated throughout the 1920s and 1930s . Enshrinement of Buddha relics in the ‘Satareskotuwa’ took place in December 1932 and eight years later, the pinnacle laying (crowning) with the installation of the Chuda Manikkya (Seinbu crystal) gifted by the Burmese Buddhists took place on June 17, 1940.
The large crystal was cut and polished at Chuda, a small township in Burma and was their offering to the Buddha Sasana. The Ven.Vinyalankara, Sangha Nayake of Burma arrived at the Mahamega Uyana along with a large group of Burmese monks. Amidst cries of Sadhu, Sadhu, the Seinbu chrystal was laid into position to crown the Maha Seya.
At the auspicious time, a twin seater aeroplane circled above the Maha Seya pinnacle and dropped jasmine flowers while a squadron of swallows dived low in salutation and circled around the Maha Seya thrice. This certainly was an unusual happening.
Sadly several of those who had conceived and contributed to the restoration were not amongst the living to witness the accomplishment of this great task.
On that starry night, thousands of devotees moved around the Maha Seya maluwa for many hours reciting the Maha Mangala, Ratana and the Karaniya Metta sutra, each one of the devotees carrying a lighted torch. Over 10,000 oil lamps had been lit. The sweet smell of incense filled the air. The Ruwanveli Maha Seya was electrically floodlit. Buddhist flags and illuminations were seen all over. Religious devotions with bakthi were taking place and reverberating deep into the stillness of the night was the sound of over 200 drums. It was a spectacular scenario, never witnessed before and lifted high the hearts of Buddhists who gathered there in their thousands.
(Vesak Lipi: Buddhist Digest 2015)
The miracle of Sankassa – fact or fable?
The founder of most of the world’s major religions are attributed with performing miracles. Jesus walked on the water, Muhammad flew to Jerusalem on the back of a winged horse-like creature, the Hindu gods performed too many miracles to mention. As spectacular as these and other miracles are, all of them pale into insignificance besides what is sometimes called the Miracle of Sankassa manifest by the Buddha.
What must have been one of ancient Sri Lanka’s largest, not to say finest, paintings graced the back right-hand wall of the great Tivanka Pilimage in Polonnaruwa and it depicts the Miracle of Sankassa. According to the Pali commentaries this is how this astonishing event unfolded. After preaching the Abhidhamma Pitaka to his mother in the Tavatimsa Heaven the time came for the Buddha to return to earth.
Sakkya, the king of the gods, created what amounts to three celestial escalators stretching from above the clouds, suggesting that they must have been at least a kilometre long, all the way to the earth, and ending in the town of Sankassa. The central one was made of gems, the left one of silver and the right one of gold. In all his majesty and glory the Buddha descended to earth on the central escalator-like ladder, Brahma on the left one holding an umbrella over him, and the lesser gods on the right one.
The commentary adds that people from thirty yojana around flocked to witness this spectacle, and you can well believe it. This must have been the most astonishing and spectacular thing that had ever seen, they must have been dumbstruck with amazement. Since them the Miracle has been celebrated in sculpture, painting and poetry. It has been mentioned and described in countless sermons. In fact, one of the earliest representations of events of the life of the Buddha, a bas relief from the great Bharhutstupa (100/150 BCE) is of this miracle.
However, despite how amazing it was, there are a few decidedly curious facts about the Miracle of Sankassa. Firstly, it is hard to understand why the Buddha decided to descend to earth in the obscure town of Sankassa, and it was a very obscure place. If fact Sankassa is only mentioned twice in the whole Tipitaka and the Buddha only visited it once, passing through it while on his way to somewhere else (Suttavibhanga I,4 and Cullavagga XII). One would think that such an astonishing performance would be worth a large audience such as could be had in a major city such as Savatthi, Rahagaha or Kosambi. Again, it seems odd that the Buddha would set down a Vinaya rule saying that a monk who has developed psychic powers must not display them in public, and then go and break this veryrule. When Venerable Pindola demonstrated his powers of levitation in front of a large crowd the Buddha scolded him in the strongest terms. "You are like a cheap woman who exposes herself for a few miserable coins" (Cullavagga V.8).
Perhaps even more odd is this. Nearly all suttas in the Tipitaka have a preamble stating where the Buddha preached them. So for example, the well-known Mangala Sutta starts: "Thus have I heard. Once when the Lord was staying at the Jeta’s Grove in Anathapindaka’s Garden…etc." We are told that the seven books of the Abhi dhamma were taught by the Buddha in the Tavatimsa Heaven before his descent to Sankassa and later recited them all to Ananda, as was done with nearly all his sermons. But strangely, nowhere in the Abhadhamma Pitaka do we read the words: "Thus have I heard. Once when the Lord was staying at Sankassa, having descended from the Tavatisma Heaven…etc." One would think that given the Abhidhamma’s importance it would have been natural to record where it was taught and the amazing miracle that succeeded it. But, strangest of all is this. Nowhere in the whole of the Tipitaka, some 45 volumes in an English translation, is the Miracle of Sankassa mentioned. Not in the four Nikayas, not in the fifteen books of the Khuddhaka Nikaya, not in the Vinaya, and not even in the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the very place one would expect to find some mention of it. Why should this be so?
There are several possible explanations for this strange omission. The first is that Ananda forgot it and consequently did not mention it during the First Council. I think we can safely dismiss this theory. It seems increasable that anyone could forget such an amazing event. And even if Ananda had forgotten all about it surely at least some of the 500 arahats attending the First Council would have heard about it, perhaps even witnessed it and reminded Ananda of it. Another possible explanation is that there was an account of the Miracle in the Tipitaka but it was accidently lost due to carelessness. Again this does not appear to be likely. Many suttas are repeated twice, three times or sometimes even more. One would expect something as spectacular as the Miracle to be mentioned several times and in great detail, and given this it is unlikely that each and every account could be lost. Thus we arrive at what would seem to be the most compelling explanation – that the Miracle of Sankassa never happened, that it is a later legend, a phantasmagoria that was created in the centuries after the Buddha. Those who find this explanation unacceptable are left with the problem of explaining why a miracle so overwhelming and stupendous failed to get a mention in the sacred scriptures.
However, if this conclusion is correct, if the Miracle of Sankassa is just a Cecil B. DeMille-like legend meant to arouse faith and a sense of wonder in a world and at a time bereft of science, this may not be a bad thing. Gently shedding glittering but improbable legends gives more room for the essentials of the Buddha’s Dhamma to get a hearing. Trying to convince young, well-educated people that three ladders made of precious metals and gems once appeared in the sky reaching from the clouds to the earth and the Buddha and dozens of heavenly beings walked down it to a small town in northern India, would be a very hard sell. And more so if they had just been told that "Buddhism is scientific."
Further, considering the Miracle of Sankassa to be a legend rather than fact may not weaken Buddhism but actually help strengthen it, particularly concerning the question of the authenticity of the Pali Tipitaka. Of course, traditional Buddhists believe that the suttas are an accurate account of what the Buddha taught, recited at the First Council and passed on without omission of error right up to today. Almost no Indologists or scholars of Buddhism accept this today. The better informed say that the core material in the Nikayas may date from the time of the Buddha to about 100 or perhaps 200 years after his passing, and that even the younger material reflects the ideas of the Buddha, if not necessarily his exact words. However, some scholars, mainly those following the American academic Prof. Gregory Schopen of the University of California LA are now saying that the Pali Tipitaka cannot be considered any older than later Sanskrit sutras which began appearing from around the turn of the first centuries CE. Schopen is a brilliant and prolific Buddhologist and argues his case well. But while scholars of Pali literature consider his position extreme he and others like him are having considerable influence on Buddhist studies in the West.
What has this scholarly debate got to do with the Miracle of Sankassa? Well, quite a lot actually. The story of the Miracle is recounted in numerous Mahayana sutras and early Buddhist Sanskrit literature. It is of course mentioned in the Pali commentaries, including the Jataka commentary, so we know it was accepted in the Theravada tradition. We know that the Miracle was widely considered to be part of the Buddha’s biography by at least 100/150 BC because it is represented in sculpture from Sanchi, Bharhut and Mathura. Most interesting of all is that king Asoka erected one of his mighty pillars in Sankassa where its broken remains with its elephant capital can still be seen. There is no inscription on the pillar so it is not known why Asoka chose this place to erect it, but it seems beyond argument that he did so to commemorate the Miracle. We don’t know when he erected it either but it must be sometime around 258 BCE when he is thought to have converted to Buddhism. Depending on when the Buddha died, and many scholars now consider about 483 BCE to be an acceptable date, this could mean that the Miracle was already widely known and considered "gospel" perhaps within 250 years of the Buddha’s passing. If this is so, then why wasn’t it included in the Pali Tiptaka? Why didn’t the Theravadins make a place for it in their sacred scriptures? To me the most compelling answer to this question is this – that the Pali Tipitaka was already closed, it was already considered so sacrosanct that no one would dare add anything new to it. Within approx. 250 years, and quite possibly much earlier, the doors were closed on the Miracle of Sankassa and the soon to be numerous other legends that were in the process of evolving. They were admitted into early Buddhist Sanskrit literature, into Mahayanasutras and into the Pali commentaries, but not into the Tipitaka. So paradoxically in classing the Miracle of Sankassa as a later legend one is at the same time asserting that the Pali Tipitaka is the oldest record we have of the Buddha and his Dhamma.
22 02 2016 - The Island