This book attempts to explain one of the many aspects of the culture complex of early Indo-Burmese history; at the same time it seeks to initiate another chapter in the history of the expansion of Indian religions and culture outside India’s natural geographical boundaries. The subject of this book is but little k own and very little has so far been done to elucidate the vague general ideas that exist amongst scholars about it. The materials used in this work are mostly archeological and drawn from literary sources, but only so far as they are substantiated by archaeological evidence so as to cover all relevant inscriptions, sculpture, paintings and monuments known from Burma.
This monograph, like my earlier one on Brahmanical Gods in Burma (Calcutta University, 1932), attempts to explain one of the many aspects of the culture- complex of early Indo-Burmese history; at the same time it seeks to initiate another chapter in the history of the expansion of Indian religions and culture outside India’s natural geographical boundaries. It was originally conceived as a part of a more comprehensive work on the History of Buddhism in Burma: From the earliest times to the British conquest, mainly from the historical point of view; but the importance of the subject, as subsequently it appeared to me, justified an independent treatment, and when Prof. Dr. J. Ph. Vogel, Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Archaeology in the University of Leiden, approved of my choice, I decided to present it as a dissertation for the Degree of Doctor in Letters and Philosophy of the University of Leiden which with the now well-known Kern Institute as an adjunct has developed into an important centre of Oriental study and research. The following pages embody the results of my researches in this particular subject.
The title of the dissertation, Sanskrit Buddhism in Burma, requires a word of explanation. Mahayana Buddhism in Burma was out of the question, as my researches led me to infer that the Sarvastivada was also at one time prevalent in Burma, as also Tantrayana and Mantrayana. The choice lay therefore between adopting either Northern Buddhism… or Sanskrit Buddhism…; but as Northern Buddhism is an expression to which exception has often rightly been taken by scholars, I adopted the latter, to indicate nothing more than those forms of Buddhism whose canons are supposed to have been written and preserved in Sanskrit. It is just a convenient title, and nothing more.
The subject of this dissertation is but little known, and very little has so far been done to elucidate the vague general ideas that exist to-day amongst scholars about it. The most important contribution was made by M. Charles Duroiselle in his admirable article on “The Arts of Burma and Tantrik Buddhism” in the An. R.A.S.I., 1915-16; but his work has not yet been followed up except in some meager and stray notices in the J.B.R.S., the An. R.A.S.I., and the An. R.A.S.B. which have been referred to in their proper places in the body of this monograph. No apology is therefore needed, I hope, when I venture to present the subject in the form of a short treatise,; but it must be considered as nothing more than a beginning in the study of a subject which requires further education; and I am almost certain that further archaeological research especially with regard to the wall-paintings of Pagan from their iconographic standpoint, and the examination of the contents of old monastic libraries in Upper Burma, will add to our knowledge of the subject.
The materials used in preparing this monograph are mostly archaeological, but it will be seen that I have also drawn from literary sources, but only so far as they are substantiated by archaeological evidence so as to cover all relevant inscriptions, sculpture, paintings and monuments known up to date from Burma. While a fair number of them have already been published in the Reports of the Archaeological Surveys of India and Burma, there has been incorporated information from a large number of sources that are here brought to light for the first time. Apart from new materials that are now made known, there will be found many instances where new interpretations of old materials have been put forward. Thus, I have been led to infer the prevalence of the Sarvastivada in Old Prome, the identity of the Samanakuttakas with the Aris, both branded as heterodox sects; to indicate the time when and place whence the Mahdyadna and its allied cults penetrated Burma, and the fact of their existence for a long time even after the glorious reformation of Anawrahta in 1057-1058 A.D. I have also given sufficient indications of the part played by the followers of these cults, whole number must have been considerable at one time, in the religious life of Upper Burma. Some of the identification marks and attributes in a numbers of instances are either absent or indistinct-, but the major conclusions based on them and on other materials, been summarized in the final chapter.
As seen on the map of Asia, Burma looks as if it were an outstretched hand of the Indian continent rather than a part of the South-East-Asiatic countries bordering the Indian Ocean, which collectively we know as Further India. Indeed, ethnologically and linguistically, and also geographically, Burmais more a component part of the whole area now covered by Burma, Siam, Indo-China and the Malay Peninsula, than of India proper to whose cultural influence she, like the rest of the countries of Indo-China, submitted herself for centuries. But notwithstanding that strong cultural domination by India, mainly exerted through the all-pervading faith of Theravada Buddhism, Burma maintained form the very beginning of her history a distinct political. Social, and even cultural character. Unlike Ceylon, Burma hardly ever merged herself into the currents and cross-currents of Indian historical and cultural revolution, and it is only with the British consequent unification of Burma with the Indian empire, evidently for administrative convenience, that the country came within the domain of practical Indian life and politics. Otherwise, there is no done, as a part of India. Her history runs a parallel course, so far as relations with India are concerned, with that of the other countries of Further India, and the islands of the Malay Archipelago, collectively known to historians as Indonesia. The Indo-Burmese chapter of the history of Burma can be understood in its proper perspective and real significance only when we take this vital historical fact into account. It is also a key to a better understanding of the history of Indian cultural influence in Burma.
Burma Professes the Buddhism of the Theravada school
Like Siam, Burma till to-day is professedly Buddhist, following the Pail canon of the Southern School. Nowhere else in the countries and islands once won over to Indian cultural enterprise is Indianism to-day a living and regulating factor of any importance; and nowhere an Indian faith is of deeper significance, or wields a stronger influence in the socio-political life of the people than Buddhism does in Burma. Indeed, Burma owes her spiritual and cultural existence to the undying appeal of Theravada Buddhism which has remained the chief factor in the life and character of the average Burman as of the entire Burmese nation.
The story of the introduction of Buddhism in Pagan in Upper Burma, repeated again and again in Pali and Burmese chronicles and Mon inscriptions of Burma, is much too well-known to need any description here. Suffice it to say that it was introduced from Thaton, the Talaing capital of Lower Burma, known in ancient days as Ramanndesa, the land par excellence of the Talaings, while Upper Burma was known as Mrammadesa, the land par excellence of the Burmese. This historic event took place in the third quarter of the eleventh century of the Christian era, in 1057, Or, perhaps, 1058, to be more exact, when Pagan was fast rising to importance.
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