Urban Dharma Newsletter... February 3, 2004
This Issue: Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Buddhism in Sri Lanka
2. The Arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka ...by
3. Sri Lanka and Buddhism
4. Temple/Center/Website: Dharma Vijaya Buddhist
5. Book/CD/Movie: SERENDIPITY OF
ANDREW GEORGE ...By Ananda W. P. Guruge
Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Lanka is the oldest continually Buddhist country, Theravada
Buddhism being the major religion in the island since its official
introduction in the 2nd century BC by Venerable Mahinda, the
son of the Emperor Ashoka of India during the reign of King
Devanampiya- Tissa. Later, the nun Sanghamitta, the daughter
of Asoka, was said to have brought the southern branch of the
original Bodhi tree, where it was planted at Anuradhapura. From
that day up to the present, the Buddhists in Sri Lanka have
paid and are paying the utmost reverence to this branch of the
Bodhi Tree under the shade of which the Master achieved Enlightenment.
from Sri Lanka have had an important role in spreading both
Theravada and Mahayana throughout South-east Asia. It was in
Sri Lanka, in the 1st century AD during the reign of King Vatta
Gamini that the Buddhist monks assembled in Aloka-Vihara and
wrote down the Tripitaka, the three basket of the Teachings,
known as the Pali scriptures for the first time. It was Sri
Lankan nuns who introduced the Sangha of nuns into China in
433AD. In the 16th century the Portuguese conquered Sri Lanka
and savagely persecuted Buddhism as did the Dutch who followed
the British won control at the beginning of the 19th century
Buddhism was well into decline, a situation that encouraged
the English missionaries that then began to flood the island.
But against all expectations the monastic and lay community
brought about a major revival from about 1860 onwards, a movement
that went hand in hand with growing nationalism.
then Buddhism has flourished and Sri Lankan monks and expatriate
lay people have been prominent in spreading Theravada Buddhism
in Asia, the West and even in Africa.
of the most marvellous monuments in the Buddhist world belong
to Sri Lanka, and her sculpture is closely associated with the
early art of the Krishna valley and the later Pallava and Chola
kings, owing to the close relationship that existed between
south India and Sri Lanka. (above: Seven-metre-tall standing
image of the Buddha in a rare cross-armed pose at Gal Vihara).
to the Sri Lankan chronicles, the Mahavamsa, one of Ashoka's
sons, the monk Mahinda, supervised construction of monastic
buildings near Anuradhapura. Simultaneously, he sent to India
for relics. These, say the histories, included the Buddha's
alms bowl andhis right collarbone. Later a hair relic, and in
the 4th century AD, the Buddha's tooth would be taken to Sri
Lanka. The tooth is still preserved in Kandy where daily rituals
venerate the Buddha's tooth relic in Temple of the Tooth Relic,
Kandy 16th Century.
house the relics, stupas were built. Standing at 300 feet, Ruwanweliseya,
or the "Great Stupa" is regarded as one of the most
important stupas at Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka:
Much restored, the great dome, circled with old columns, is
still to be seen in Anuradhapura, now a great park. During major
festivals it is crowded with hundreds of thousands of devotees
in family groups, who picnic happily among the ruins and offer
puja at the Bodhi tree. There are other important monuments
nearby at Mihintale, the site of Mahinda's first sermon to King
Devanampiya-Tissa. The ruins of the later capital at Polonnaruwa
(9th century AD onwards), showing Hindu and Mahayana cultic
influence, are yet more elaborate.
stupa in Sri Lanka is a circular drum on a square base with
a long succession of compressed umbrellas forming a conical
top over a box-shaped harmika, of which the Ruwanweliseya stupa,
(above right) at Anuradhapura (3rd century BC) is a fine example.
The Arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka ...by
was on the memorable Poson fullmoon day in the month Jattha
(June), in BC 306, (i.e., 237 years after the demise of the
Buddha), that the Arhat Mahinda, the illustrious apostle of
Buddhism met King Devanampiyatissa (307-267 BC) of Sri Lanka,
atop the Mihintale rock (then known as Missaka-pabbata), situated
about 12 km. east of Anuradhapura. This confrontation paved
way for the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Mahinda, the profoundly sapient thera, came to Sri Lanka as
bidden by his father, the emperor Asoka (264-267 BC) of India,
who was earlier known as Chandasoka (Asoka the wicked), but
later, when he renounced armed conquests, he came to be known
as Dharmasoka (Asoka the pious). He proclaimed Buddhism, having
become a convert to the faith, throughout India, as the state
religion, and did everything for the propagation of Buddhism
in the country.
famous rock edicts read: "May the Dhamma last as long as
my sons and grandsons, and the sun and the moon will be, and
may the people follow the path of the Dhamma, for if one follows
the path, happiness in this and in the other worlds will be
attained." Even today, the Asoka Chakra (the Wheel of Asoka)
dominates the national flag of India. Asoka, earlier as the
viceroy of Udenipura (now Ujjain) in Avanti, fell in love with
a beautiful damsel named Devi, the daughter of a wealthy merchant
of Vidisa, who bore him two children. One was Mahendra (Mahinda)
and the other was Sanghamitra (Sangamitta), both of whom entered
the holy order of a bhikku and bhikkuni in fulfilment of the
wish of their father Asoka. Mahinda entered the order at the
age of 26 years, and elevated his spiritual position as an Arhant,
having destroyed all passions pertaining to mundane existence.
he came to Sri Lanka, he was 32 years old. It may rightly be
considered that he was the first real teacher of Sri Lanka,
who did much for the establishment of Buddhism in the island
and the uplift of the Buddha Sasana. He stands credited for
bringing about a socio-religious revolution in the country and
in promoting religious zeal among the people.
Arhat Mahinda postponed his mission to Sri Lanka until the time
was appropriate for him to undertake the mission, as the then
king Mutasiva (367-307 BC), was too old and feeble to understand
the doctrine of the Buddha. In order to mark time, first he
left for the Dakkhinagiri vihara to see his mother and other
kith and kin. He went there with the four theras, Itthiya, Utthiya,
Sambala and Bhaddasala and the novice Sumana samanera.
six month, they all left for Vidisagiri in Sanchi and lived
there until the death of King Mutasiva. The enthronement of
King Devanampiyatissa (the second son of Mutasiva), was found
suitable to fit the occasion, and Arhat Mahinda, with his companions,
left Vidisagiri vihara, bound for Sri Lanka. They were accompanied
by Bhanduka upasaka, the lay-disciple.According to Mahavamsa,
(Ch. 13:20), Arhat Mahinda and his companions, altogether six,
"rose aloft into the air that very vihara, and instantaneously
alighted atop the superb Missaka mountain (Mihintale), and stood
on the rocky peak of the delightful and celebrated Ambatthala."
This spot is now known as the aradhana-gala atop which the historic
Mahinda-Tissa confrontation took place.
this spot stands the Ambatthala chetiya of later times, built
by King Mahadatika Mahanaga alias Maha Deliyamana (06-18 AD).
On completion of the chetiya, the king held a splendid feast
known as the Giribhanda-pooja (lighting the whole city with
oil lamps), and an alms-giving known as Thulabhara-dana (offering
of gold equal to king's weight).
we are disposed to consider the mode of travel from Vidisagiri
in India to Mihintale in Sri Lanka, we might consider them having
followed the common routes of travel known at that time. It
is said that the normal course would have been to arrive overland
to a sea-port on the western coast of India, most probably,
Bharukacca, and thence to take vessel to the island. If they
had walked from the sea-port to Mihintale, many questions crop
up. How did they reach Mihintale, through thick jungle infested
with wild beasts? Who supplied meals to them en route, and who
provided shelter for the night? How did they escape the attention
of the king's spies who were on alert for intruders?
history tells us that Arhat Mahinda met king Devanampiyatissa,
when he was on a hunting spree towards the wilderness of Mihintale.
Chasing wild animals was his famous form of amusement, which
he did when he had the opportunity and leisure to do so. Seeing
a stag browsing in the thicket, the king's fine sportive spirit
could not brook on the idea of taking the grazing animal unawares.
Pursuing the animal, which fled in the direction of Silakuta
(the northern peak of Mihintale mountain), the king suddenly
came upon Arhat Mahinda and his companions.
a brief conversation to test the intelligence of the king, preparatory
to preaching the Dhamma, the thera delivered the discourse on
Culahastipadopama Sutta (simile on the foot of an elephant),
and converted those assembled to Buddhism (Mhv. 14:22). This
Sutta gives a clear idea of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and
describes how one is converted to Buddhism and becomes a bhikkhu,
the sublime qualities he practises and possesses, the things
from which he abstains, the various stages of spiritual development
in his life and his attainment of arhantship (the final fruit
of Buddhism, ceasing rebirth). Later, he preached to those assembled,
the Petavattu, Vimanavattu, Saccasamyutta, Devaduta Sutta, Balapandita
Sutta, Agghikkhandopama Sutta, Asivisupama Sutta, Anamataggiya
Sutta, Khajjaniya Sutta Gomayapindi Sutta, Dhammacakkappavattana
Sutta (the first discourse of the Buddha), Mahappamada Sutta
and the Cariyapitaka.
advent of Arhat Mahinda in Sri Lanka, brought forth a socio-religious
revolution, changing the life and habitat of the people. The
establishment of the Buddha Sasana in the island was the greatest
step taken by him to mould the character of the masses, leading
to spiritual awareness and morality. We observe that Arhat Mahinda
belonged to the school of vinayadharas, who advocated discipline
as the best weapon to fight against all evil.
King Devanampiyatissa inquired from Arhat Mahinda, whether the
Buddha Sasana had been well established in the island, the reply
was that it would happen only when a person of the Sinhalese
race studies the vinaya (code of discipline) and expounds it
clearly and explicitly. Accordingly, conversion of the king
and his people to the new faith can be regarded as the most
important event in the socio-religious history of the island.
The introduction of Buddhism, with a civilisation attached to
it, brought about a distinctive cultural pattern in the social
and religious life of the community.
Senerath Paranavitana, the late Archaeological Commissioner
of Sri Lanka, surveying the religious condition that prevailed
in the island, prior to the advent of Arhat Mahinda, says: "When
the missionaries of Asoka preached the doctrine of the Buddha,
it becomes clear that the great majority of the people worshipped
nature spirits, called the yakkas (demons), who were supposed
to dwell in rivers, lakes, mountains, trees etc.
worship of the sacred trees and groves was also connected with
this primitive forms of worship. The heavenly bodies received
the adoration of the people, and to a great extent influenced
their everyday life. The more intellectual among the people,
perhaps, followed the brahminical religion, i.e., Hinduism."
Arhat Mahinda came to Sri Lanka, he brought with him the Theravada
canon or orthodox Buddhism, preserved in memory by oral tradition,
and finally redacted at the Third Buddhist Council held at Pataliputra
(now Patna), under the leadership of the Maha Thera Moggaliputta
Tissa. According to Mahavamsa, Aritta and fifty-five of his
brothers were the first in the island to receive the pabajja
(ordination), at the hands of the Arhat Mahinda.
Mahinda and his companions spent 26 days at the Mahamegha park
in Anuradhapura, and later they retired to Mihintale to observe
the first 'vas' (retreat). When the king went to see him, he
delivered the discourse of Vassupanayikakkhandaka Sutta, The
King built for them 68 caves to shelter themselves.
succeeding years were marked by increasing religious activity
throughout the island. Buddhism spread to every town, village
and hamlet, where it was enthusiastically embraced. At the same
time, a large number of viharas, chetiyas and other religious
edifices soon dotted the island with everlasting grace. Arhat
Mahinda was now old, having lived for 80 years of which 60 years
he was a bhikkhu. After establishing Buddhism in Sri Lanka,
and labouring in its cause, his strenuous life came to an end.
He breathed his last in BC 259.
king at the time was Uttiya (267-257 BC), and when he heard
of the sad news, his sorrow was poignant. The corpse was brought
to the city of Anuradhapura for cremation, adorned in a golden
bier. After solemn obsequies, the body was cremated at a place
to the left of the Maha Thupa (Ruvanweliseya) of later construction.
The place was named Isibhumangana (Courtyard of the sages).
Thus ended the life of the illustrious thera, who was second
to Buddha in the island.
Sri Lanka and Buddhism
Lanka is an multi ethnic society and hence all major religions
are equally given prominence and probably the only country in
the world along with Singapore, where important days of various
religions are official holidays to allow for religious activities.
Buddhism, Hinduism, Christian and Islam are freely practised
in Sri Lanka and very often hand in hand with other religions.
Catholic and Anglican sectors of the Christianity is equally
followed in Sri Lanka.
did not represent another powerful invisible figure to preach
his knowledge and was his own master. To the layman he taught
how to live a good, sincere, happy and a purposeful life and
proposed some guidelines to follow to achieve these objectives.
Those who do good deeds are rewarded with positive results and
vice versa he said. He also said those who want to improve the
mind should practise to eliminate selfishness, hatred, anger
and ignorance. He said right view, right resolve, right speech,
right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness,
and right concentration will lead to cessation of sorrow.
and Sri Lanka
arrived in Sri Lanka around 2 century BC and has tremendously
influenced the lives of the people, their culture and the heritage.
Buddhist monuments include many of the remaining ancient ruins
ironically though the worship of physical items are not a aspect
of Buddhism. The Buddhist doctrine that is taught in Sri Lanka
is one of the least diluted form of Buddha's teaching.
Information Centres in Sri Lanka (by Andrew Quernmore, Reproduced
Ceylon Buddhist Congress
380 Bauddhaloka Mw
203 Olcott Mawatha
for Buddhist Studies
(Dhammaratna Memorial Meditation & Foreign Languages)
& Pali University
71b Huludagoda Road
20 Magazine Road
29 Rosmead Place
unlike in some religions did not represent another powerful
invisible figure to preach his knowledge. He was his master
and preached the knowledge he gained through enlightenment.
To the layman he taught how to live a good, sincere, happy and
a purposeful life and proposed some guidelines to follow to
achieve these objectives. For the intellectuals he said the
life is sorrow and taught the way to eliminate the sorrow, by
enlightenment. Enlightenment could only be attained through
improvement of knowledge thus the improvement of conscious or
mind hence some consider it as a philosophy. Worshipping is
not a requirement in Buddhism though many do it as a habit and
before Newton, Buddha said every action has a reaction including
in all conscious deeds. Those who do good deeds shall be rewarded
with positive results and those who do harmful actions (with
a evil intension) may experience in adverse results. The results
of our righteous or sinful deeds Buddha said shall follow our
soul in subsequent lives. Apart from heaven and hell he also
said there are other forms of lives after this life.
like in thousands of present day books which provide self improvement
techniques. Buddha provided an enormous amount of advice to
the layman to improve one's self. He said selfishness, hatred,
anger and ignorance prevent one from self improvement. One who
want to improve the mind should learn to eliminate these four
status of mind. He said right view, right resolve, right speech,
right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness,
and right concentration will lead to cessation of Sorrow.
is said to have supernatural powers such as reading others thoughts.
We already know some people possess super natural powers and
extra ordinary abilities. Such status could be achieved by improving
one's mind thought it is not the ultimatum of the Buddhism.
Self improvement or the learning process since the childhood
is a way of improving our mind or thinking. It is by improvement
of one's mind that the truth could be understood.
is not necessary for anyone (including Buddhists) to believe
in Buddha or his teaching if they do not wish to. It is up to
the individual to understand what he teaches.
the more we learn about Buddhism, the more we realize that it
has not only made man into a being worthy of his humanity but
also abundantly enriched the cultures of those lands to which
Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara
Vijaya Buddhist Vihara carries on the Theravada tradition of
Buddhism found primarily in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos
and Cambodia. The Theravada tradition is the oldest and most
authentic version of the Buddha’s teachings now surviving.
It preserves the original doctrines and practices taught by
the Buddha 2,500 years ago.
Vijaya Buddhist Vihara
1847 Crenshaw Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA 90019-6039 USA
SERENDIPITY OF ANDREW GEORGE ...By Ananda W. P. Guruge
Library, Bloomington, Indiana, USA
ISBN 1-4107-5701-3 (paperback) 2003, 566 pages.
Available from - http://www.1stbooks.com
$17.00 + postage
Guruge’s Free at Last in Paradise was an unusual
novel. It traced the history of the one hundred years of Sri
Lanka (then Ceylon), leading up to independence. The focus was
on the national and Buddhist revival and the related movement
for regaining independence. This was skillfully interwoven with
a personal story, too, of a boy: his growing up, his entering
the order of monks, his successful life as a layman for a time,
and eventual return to monkhood, achieving fame as a great scholar.
In this human story, love and other human emotions featured.
It was a remarkable book by any standards: original, multi-layered,
informative and touching.
author has now produced a sequel to this book: Serendipity
of Andrew George. This is an equally remarkable book;
it is equally readable – indeed ‘unputdownable,’
equally satisfying, and equally intriguing. It also, like its
predecessor, contains a wealth of information woven into the
novel. This time the information is about the religious, cultural,
historical and geographical aspects of the Island of Sri Lanka,
provided in a highly readable way as part of the story. One
almost gets the impression that this is an encyclopedia on Sri
Lanka, parading as a novel! I mean this not as a criticism,
but as a compliment.
setting is in the 1960s, a vibrant and exiting decade for the
Island. The title is based on a pun. Serendip was the
name by which the country was known to some foreign writers
of times past. The word Serendipity was derived from
it, meaning an incidental discovery or an apparent aptitude
for making fortunate discoveries accidentally. And the novel’s
theme is Andrew George’s Serendipity, literally and metaphorically.
Who is Andrew George? He is an American Academic, an anthropologist
by profession, who visits Sri Lanka (still known as Ceylon in
the ‘sixties) on a research award. He is unaware that
his own ancestral roots lay in the Island. This personal story
unravels in stages, until the final, almost dramatic, confirmation.
His great-grandfather was, in fact, the great scholar monk whose
life was covered in Free at Last in Paradise.
author uses a clever and unusual ploy in this story. The scholar
monk had written his own story (which we read in Free at
Last in Paradise), but had decreed that it should not be
published until the young schoolboy to whom he had entrusted
the task was seventy. This was to avoid any hurt that might
be caused to family and others mentioned in the book: so a safe
gap of time was needed. This young schoolboy who dutifully undertook
the task, was – wait for it – none other than Ananda
Guruge! Guruge, a highly regarded and top ranking civil servant
at the time of Andrew George’s visit, eventually confirms
the story of the latter’s ancestral roots. So the author
is also a character in the story, in fact a key one. There are
other real persons, too, such as Venerable Welivitiye Sorata,
Martin Wickremasinghe, A. T. Ariyaratne, Amaradasa and Lorna
Dewaraja, Cecil Lyons, Stuart Smith, Richard T. Arndt and David
Vickery, along with numerous fictional characters. The clever,
almost unique, mixing of the true and fictional characters is
another major reason why this book is so interesting. In the
hands of a less skilled author, the ploy of using himself as
a character might have failed or appeared as an unwarranted
intrusion. Here it is done unobtrusively and enhances the novel
rather than diminishing it.
addition to this story of Andrew George’s ancestry, which
emerges in stages, the book is a panoramic account of the Island.
Andrew George travels around the Island with various people
who show him places of historical and cultural interest, including
the early Sinhala cities and religious structures. He, ever
the observant anthropologist, asks questions, and the answers
he receives, sometimes in the form of disagreements and debates
among the ‘guides,’ are a wonderful education for
the reader, not just for him. The reader learns a great deal
about Sri Lanka, not just its ancient history and culture but
also its contemporary aspects – drama, cinema, poetry,
rituals etc. The multiplicity of cultures and subcultures, how
they have blended harmoniously in some ways and retained their
distinctive features in others, is an underlying theme throughout.
said in an earlier paragraph that this book is an encyclopedia
parading as a novel. It can also be seen as a travel guide.
If one uses it in that role, one will not be disappointed. The
wealth of information is truly amazing. Here we have Guruge
the scholar extraordinary: historian, linguist, purveyor of
literature, expert on art and architecture. He gives, through
his fictional characters, the most authoritative information.
When there are different theories and different versions of
an event, he exposes the reader to these opposing positions.
There is no dogma, but facts and a balanced interpretation of
them. This is, in short, an exceptional book. It entertains
the reader and educates him in equal measure, and the education
an author with exceptional talents, skill and wisdom can write
such a book. One never ceases to marvel at the talents, skill
and wisdom of Ananda Guruge.
say that one waits eagerly for his next novel is a gross understatement.
Institute of Psychiatry.
University of London.
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