Sri Lanka is the only country where the Original Teachings of the Buddha has been preserved in its pristine purity ever since its introduction there in the third century BC It is also the country where flourished to date the sacred Bodhi Tree, a direct descendent of the original Bodhi Tree at Bodha Gaya in India. The Pall Tipitaka was also committed to writing for the first time in Sri Lanka and the honour of having the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha also goes to Sri Lanka. The glimpses of such a glorious heritage of Buddhism in Sri Lanka are presented here in twenty-six chapters written by various authors. For better appreciation, the material has been divided into eight parts. Of these, the first five parts five a comprehensive survey of — The history of Buddhism and its influence on Sri Lankan Culture; Pali Canon, and Commentaries; The Sinbala Sangha, Buddhist Shrines, Art and Architecture; and Buddhist Ceremonies and Festivals in Sri Lanka.
The next two parts five an overview of the India-Sri Lanka Cultural Interaction in the Past, and Sri Lanka’s Contribution to Buddhist Revival in modem India. The last part highlights Sri Lanka’s contribution the World Buddhism by way of the Buddhist Flag, and the World Fellowship of Buddhists, an International Organisation of all the Buddhists.
D.C. Ahir is a reputed scholar of Buddhist Studies and has made a notable contribution to the study of Buddhism.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
This historical survey of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is an inspirational work. Inspiration for it came after my short visit to Sri Lanka in January 1997 as guest of Venerable Mapalagama Wipulasara Maha Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Parama Dhamma Cetiya Pirivena, Ratmalana, Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka, and President of the Maha Bodhi Society of India.
I am thankful to my host, Venerable M. Wipulasara Maha Thera, and all other monks and staff of the Parama Dhamma Cetiya Pirivena. I am also thankful to Sri B.A. Rohana Wijesekera, Nemsiri Mutukumara, and all others who were kind enough to help me in various ways during my stay in Sri Lanka.
The glorious heritage of Buddhism, its history, culture and religious traditions, in Sri Lanka is presented here in twenty-six (26) chapters. Of these, eleven chapters have been written by me; ten chapters have been culled out from the Maha Bodhi journal, published by the Maha Bodhi Society of India during the last fifty years (1948- 1998); and the remaining five chapters have been derived from other sources. I am indebted to the authors and publishers of all the contributions included in this volume.
In particular, my thanks are due to Ven. Dr. Y. Dhammavisuddhi, ex-Prachina Pandita Professor, Department of History, University of Kelaniya, author of the paper on ‘Cultural Relations Between India and Sri Lanka in Pre-Colonial Times’, and the late Dr. L.P.N. Perera, Professor of Pali and Buddhist Studies, and Vice-Chancellor of Sri Jayawardenepura University, author of the paper on ‘The Vinaya and its Significance in the Sri Lankan Buddhist Tradition’. These two papers were presented at a Seminar on “India-Sri Lanka Cultural Inter-action’ held under the auspices of the Asoka Mission, New Delhi, organize by Ven. Lama Lobzang, from 31 July to 2 August 1990. But for these two essays, the story of ‘India-Sri Lanka Cultural Inter-action in the Past’, and the ‘Sinhala Sangha’ would have remained incomplete. I am also thankful to Sri A.G.S. Kariyawasam of the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy. His description of the ‘Poya Days’ gives an over-view of the Buddhist ceremonies and ritual observed in Sri Lanka in a very lucid manner.
Since Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon till 1972, the name Ceylon often appears in some essay, I have not changed that. However, ‘Ceylon’ appearing in the titles of the essays published prior to 1972 has been changed by me to ‘Sri Lanka’ to bring them in the line with other chapters.
Sri Lanka, a tiny Island, is situated in the Indian Ocean just off the southern end of India, At its broadest point, it measures 270 miles or 432 kilometers in length and 140 miles or 225 kilometers in width. Dainbulla, famous for its cave temples, marks its geographical centre. The Jewel island, as Sri Lanka is also called, has been known by different names in the past-Tambapanni, Taprobane, Lanka, Ratnadwipa, Sihaladwipa, Serendib, Zelyan, Ceylon. The present name Sri Lanka was adopted in 1972.
Though small in size, Sri Lanka has the richest Buddhist heritage. It is the only country where Theravada Buddhism has survived in its pristine purity for over twenty three (23) centuries. It is also the only Buddhist country where flourishes to date the sacred Bodhi Tree, a direct descendent of the original Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya in India. As the original Bodhi Tree no longer exists, the Sri Maha Bodhi at Anuradhapura is also the oldest historical tree in the world. Not only that, Sri Lanka is the country where the Pali Tipitaka was committed to writing for the first time in the shape of books by the venerable monks of that Island in the first century B.C. And the honour of having the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Great Buddha also goes to Sri Lanka.
As of today, Sri Lanka has over 12.5 million or 70 percent Buddhists of the total population of about 18 million. And the island has nearly 6000 Buddhist temples with over 17000 monks. Almost all the Buddha Viharas in Sri Lanka run Dhamma schools where Buddhist children are given religious instruction on poya days.
The glimpses of such a glorious Heritage of Buddhism in Sri Lanka; India-Sri Lanka Cultural Inter-action in the Past: Sri Lanka’s Contribution to Buddhist Revival in India; and Sri Lanka’s Contribution to World Buddhism are presented here in twenty-six (26) chapters. For better appreciation, these chapters have been divided into eight (?) parts.
Briefly, the first five parts of this volume cover:
(I) The introduction, development and progress of Buddhism in Sri Lanka from the third century B.C. to modern times, and its influence on the Sri Lankan culture.
(ii) The writing of the Pall Canon, its Commentaries and Sub- commentaries in the past, and their translation into English in modem times.
(iii) The Sinhala Sangha, its development and present status, and the role played by it in the development of Buddhism in South East Asia.
(iv) The Buddhist Shrines, their art and architecture, particularly, the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka (Anuradhapura Polonnaruwa and Kandy), and
(v) The significance of the rites and rituals, ceremonies and festivals : poya days, the festival of Tooth Relic at Kandy, and Vesak, the National festival of Sri Lanka.
Turning to India-Sri Lanka Cultural Inter-action in the Past, we find that after the advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the third century B.C. by Thera Mahinda, many sons of the soil came forward to don the yellow robes of monks and devote their lives to the cause of the Phamma. Hence, no more missionaries went from India to Sri Lanka. On the contrary, when in India, Pan gave way to Sanskrit; the Indian monks interested in Pall went to Sri Lanka where Pali flourished. The first Indian who went to Sri Lanka to quench his thirst was Buddhadatta. He was followed by Buddhagosha, the author of the celebrated Pali work, the Visuddhimagga. Budhaghosha went to Sri Lanka in the reign of king Mahanama (410-432 AD). Buddhaghosha was followed by Dhammapala in the 6th century AD. Significantly enough, the Pali Commentaries on the Tipitaka that we have today were written or translated by these three Indian monks. After the sixth century, there was thaw in the flow of Indian monks to Sri Lanka, and only in the 12th century Indian monks are seen going to Sri Lanka. Those who went to Sri Lanka in the second wave and engaged themselves in literary activities were: Anuruddha, Dipankara Buddhapiya, Kassapa, and Dhammakitti.
In the meanwhile, the Sinhalese Buddhists came on pilgrimage to Buddha Gaya in large numbers. And when king Meghavanna of Sri Lanka (362-389 AD.), with the permission of the Indian king, 5udragupta, constructed a Buddhist monastery at Buddha Gaya, the number of resident Sri Lankan monks increased manifold. Hiuen Tsang, who visited Buddha Gaya in 637 AD, saw 1000 monks in the Sri Lankan monastery. The presence of so many Sri Lankan monks at Buddha Gaya proved a boon later. When Buddhism declined in India, Sri Lankan monks came forward to take over the responsibility of performing Puja ceremonies at the Maha Bodhi Temple. This they continued to do till about the end of the 15th century. The presence of the Sri Lankan monks has also been registered at Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh where in the third century A.D. a devout Buddhist queen built a Sinhala Vihara for the specific use of the Sri Lankan monks.
As regards Sri Lanka’s contribution to Buddhist revival in India it is worth noting that the Buddhist Revival Movement in India began in 1891 with the arrival of Anagarika Dharmapala a great son of Sri Lanka. He was shocked to see the deplorable condition of the holy Buddhist shrines of Sarnath and Bodh Gaya. To protect these shrines from further desecration and destruction, he founded the Maha Bodhi Society of India in May 1891, and launched a systematic campaign forth revival of Buddhism in the land of its birth. Anagarika Dharmapala worked hard for more than forty years; reclaimed the sacred Buddhist shrines; established centres, and built the magnificent Mulagandhutt Vihara at Sarnath, the Holy Isipatana. After his demise in April 1933, the task 0f Buddhist revival initiated by Anagarika Dharmapala was ably carried forward by his disciple and successor, Devapriya Valisinha, who was General Secretary of the Maha Bodhi Society of India from 1933-1968. Inspired by the Anagarika, a number of Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka also devoted their lives to the cause of the Dhamma in India.
Brief life sketches of eight pioneer Sri Lankan monks are given here. The Buddhist revival movement in India gained momentum when some Indian Bhikkhus trained in Sri lanka came back, and started the Dhamma propagation work amongst the masses, and also worked hard to introduce Pall studies in Indian Universities. Of the nine Indian Bhikkhus trained in Sri Lanka, the first five were ordained and trained in Sri Lanka. They were Mahavira (1890), Dharmananda Kosambi (1902), Anand Kausalyayan (1928), Rahul Sankrityayan (1930), and Jagdish Kashyap (1934). The other four monks were ordained in India but trained in Sri Lanka.
Since the Buddhist revival movement in India was for over 100 years spearheaded either by Sri Lankan Monks or by Indian Bhikkhus trained in Sri Lanka, India is now following the Theravada Pall tradition in all respects. This is the greatest contribution of Sri Lanka to Buddhism in modern India.
We finally come to Sri Lanka’s contribution to World Buddhism by way of the Buddhist Flag, and the World Fellowship of Buddhists (W.F.B.), an International Organisation of all the Buddhists. For a small island like Sri Lanka, this is indeed a great achievement. Verily, the Buddhist World owes a great debt to Sri Lanka for not only preserving the Pall Tipitaka in its entirety and pristine purity through the ages but also for providing worthy symbols of unity for the modern Buddhist world.
Three appendices on:
(I) Buddha’s Three Visits to Sri Lanka,
(ii) Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s Visit to Sri Lanka in 1950, and
(iii) My Visit to Sri Lanka in 1997 have been added to make this study complete.
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