23 April 2012

Buddhism in South East Asian Countries - I

Buddhism in Myanmar

Earliest Contacts with Buddhism 

There are four dominant ethnic groups in the recorded history of Myanmar: the Mon, the Pyu, the Myanmar, and the Shan.
Uncertainty surrounds the origins of the Mon; but it is clear that, at least linguistically, they are related to the Khmer. What is known is that they settled in the south of Myanmar and Thailand while the Khmer made northern Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia their home. These two peoples were probably the first migrants to the region, apart from Indian merchants who established trading colonies along the coast. The Mon with their distinct language and culture competed for centuries with the Myanmar. However, today their influence and language is limited to remote areas of the south.
The Pyu, like the Myanmar, are a people of Tibeto-Burman origin with a distinct culture and language. They lived in the area around Prome long before the Myanmar pushed into the plains of Myanmar from the north. Their language was closely related to the language of the Myanmar and was later absorbed by it. Their script was in use until about the fourteenth century, but was then lost.
The Myanmar people began to colonise the plains of Myanmar only towards the middle of the first millennium AD. They came from the mountainous northern regions and may well have originated in the Central Asian plains.
After the Myanmar, the Shan flooded in from the North, finally conquering the entire region of Myanmar and Thailand. The Thai people are descended from Shan tribes. The northeast region of modern Myanmar is still inhabited predominantly by Shan tribes.

The Region 

In the sixth century BC, most of what we now know as Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia was sparsely populated. While migrants from the east coast of India had formed trading colonies along the coast of the Gulf of Martaban, these coastal areas of Myanmar and Thailand were also home to the Mon. By this time, the Khmer probably controlled Laos, Cambodia, and northern Thailand, while Upper Myanmar may already have been occupied to some extent by Myanmar tribes.
As these early settlers did not use lasting materials for construction, our knowledge of their civilization remains scant. We do know, however, that their way of life was very simple — as it remains today in rural areas — probably requiring only wooden huts with palm-leaf roofs for habitation. We can assume that they were not organised into units larger than village communities and that they did not possess a written language. Their religion must have been some form of nature worship or animism, still found today among the more remote tribes of the region.
There were also more highly developed communities of Indian origin, in the form of trading settlements located along the entire coast from Bengal to Borneo. In Myanmar, they were located in Thaton (Suddhammapura), Pegu (Ussa), Yangon (Ukkala, then still on the coast), and Mrauk-U (Dhannavati) in Arakan; also probably along the Tenasserim and Arakan coasts. These settlers had mainly migrated from Orissa on the northeastern coast of the Indian subcontinent, and also from the Deccan in the southeast. In migrating to these areas, they had also brought their own culture and religion with them. Initially, the contact between the Hindu traders and the Mon peasants must have been limited. However, the Indian settlements, their culture and traditions, were eventually absorbed into the Mon culture.
G.E. Harvey, in his History of Burma, relates a Mon legend which refers to the Mon fighting Hindu strangers who had come back to re-conquer the country that had formerly belonged to them. This Mon tale confirms the theory that Indian people had formed the first communities in the region but that these were eventually replaced by the Mon with the development of their own civilization. As well as the Indian trading settlements, there were also some Pyu settlements, particularly in the area of Prome where a flourishing civilization later developed.
Also, it is assumed that some degree of migration from India to the region of Tagaung and Mogok in Upper Myanmar had taken place through Assam and later through Manipur, but the “hinterland” was of course much less attractive to traders than the coastal regions with their easy access by sea. A tradition of Myanmar says that Tagaung was founded by Abhiraja, a prince of the Sakyans (the tribe of the Buddha), who had migrated to Upper Myanmar from Nepal in the ninth century BC. The city was subsequently conquered by the Chinese in approximately 600 BC, and Pagan and Prome were founded by refugees fleeing southward. In fact, some historians believe that, like the Myanmar, the Sakyans were a Mongolian rather than an Indo-Aryan race, and that the Buddha’s clansmen were derived from Mongolian stock.

First Contacts with the Buddha’s Teachings

The source of information for many of the events related forthwith is the Sasanavamsa. The Sasanavamsa is a chronicle written in Pali by a bhikkhu, Pannasami, for the Fifth Buddhist Council held in Mandalay in 1867. As the Sasanavamsa is a recent compilation, many events mentioned therein may be doubted. However, as it draws on both written records, some of which are no longer available, and on the oral tradition of Myanmar, information can be included in this account with the understanding that it is open to verification.
There are many instances in the history of Southeast Asian tribes in which a conquering people incorporates into its own traditions not only the civilization of the conquered, but also their clan gods, royal lineage, and thereby their history. This fact would explain the visits of the Buddha to Thaton and Shwesettaw in the Mon and Myanmar oral tradition, and the belief of the Arakanese that the Buddha visited their king and left behind an image of himself for them to worship. Modern historiography will, of course, dismiss these stories as fabrications made out of national pride, as the Myanmar had not even arrived in the region at the time of the Buddha. However, it is possible that the Myanmar and Arakanese integrated into their own lore the oral historical tradition of their Indian predecessors. This does not prove that the visits really took place, but it seems a more palatable explanation of the existence of these accounts than simply putting them down to historical afterthought of a Buddhist people eager to connect itself with the origins of their religion.
The Sasanavamsa mentions several visits of the Buddha to Myanmar and one other important event: the arrival of the hair relics in Ukkala (Yangon) soon after the Buddha’s enlightenment.

The Arrival of the Hair Relics

Tapussa and Bhallika, two merchants from Ukkala, were traveling through the region of Uruvela and were directed to the Buddha by their family god. The Buddha had just come out of seven weeks of meditation after his awakening and was sitting under a tree feeling the need for food. Tapussa and Bhallika made an offering of rice cake and honey to the Buddha and took the two refuges, the refuge in the Buddha and the refuge in the Dhamma (the Sangha, the third refuge, did not exist yet). As they were about to depart, they asked the Buddha for an object to worship in his stead and he gave them eight hairs from his head. After the two returned from their journey, they enshrined the three hairs in a stupa which is now the great Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
It is believed in Myanmar that the hill upon which the Shwedagon Pagoda stands was not haphazardly chosen by Tapussa and Bhallika but was, in fact, the site where the three Buddhas preceding the Buddha Gotama in this world cycle themselves deposited relics. Buddha Kakusandha is said to have left his staff on the Theinguttara Hill, the Buddha Konagamana his water filter, and Buddha Kassapa a part of his robe. Because of this, the Buddha requested Tapussa and Bhallika to enshrine his relics in this location. Tapussa and Bhallika traveled far and wide in order to find the hill on which they could balance a tree without its touching the ground either with the roots or with the crown. Eventually, they found the exact spot not far from their home in Lower Myanmar where they enshrined the holy relics in a traditional mound or stupa. The original stupa is said to have been 27 feet high. Today the Shwedagon pagoda has grown to over 370 feet.
The Buddha’s Visits to the Region
The Myanmar oral tradition speaks of four visits of the Buddha to the region. While these visits were of utmost significance in their own right, they are also important in having established places of pilgrimage up to the present day.

The Visit to Central Myanmar

According to the Sasanavamsa, the city of Aparanta is situated on the western shore of the Irrawaddy river at the latitude of Magwe. The Sasanavamsa gives only a very brief summary of the events surrounding the Buddha’s visit to Aparanta, presumably because these were well known and could be read in the Tipitaka and the commentaries.
Punna, a merchant from Sunaparanta, went to Savatthi on business and there heard a discourse of the Buddha. Having won faith in the Buddha and the Teachings, he took ordination as a bhikkhu. After sometime, he asked the Buddha to teach him a short lesson so that he could return to Sunaparanta and strive for arahatship. The Buddha warned him that the people of Sunaparanta were fierce and violent, but Punna replied that he would not allow anger to arise, even if they should kill him. In the Punnovada Sutta, the Buddha instructed him not to be enticed by that which is pleasant, and Punna returned and attained arahatship in his country. He won over many disciples and built a monastery of red sandalwood for the Buddha (according to some chronicles of Myanmar, the Buddha made the prediction that at the location where the red sandalwood monastery was, the great king Alaungsithu of Pagan would build a shrine). He then sent flowers as an invitation to the Buddha and the Buddha came accompanied by five hundred arahats, spent the night in the monastery, and left again before dawn.
Sakka, the king of the thirty-three devas living in the Tavatimsa plane, provided five hundred palanquins for the bhikkhus accompanying the Buddha on the journey to Sunaparanta. But only 499 of the palanquins were occupied. One of them remained empty until the ascetic Saccabandha, who lived on the Saccabandha mountain in central Myanmar, joined the Buddha and the 499 bhikkhus accompanying him. On the way to Sunaparanta, the Buddha stopped in order to teach the ascetic Saccabandha. When Saccabanda attained arahatship, he then joined the Buddha and completed the total of 500 bhikkhus who usually traveled with the Master.
On the return journey, the Buddha stopped at the river Nammada close to the Saccabandha mountain. Here, the Blessed One was invited by the Naga king, Nammada, to visit and preach to the Nagas, later accepting food from them. The tradition of Myanmar relates that he left behind a footprint for veneration near this river, which would last as long as the Sasana (i.e. 5000 years). Another footprint was left in the rock of the Saccabandha mountain. These footprints, still visible today, were worshipped by the Mon, Pyu, and Myanmar kings alike and have remained among the holiest places of pilgrimage in Myanmar. In the fifteenth century, after the decimation of the population through the Siamese campaigns, knowledge of the footprints was lost. Then, in the year 1638, King Thalun sent learned bhikkhus to the region; fortuitously, they were able to relocate the Buddha’s footprints. Since then Shwesettaw, the place where the footprints are found, has once again become an important place of pilgrimage in Myanmar. And in the dry season thousands of devout Buddhists travel there to pay respects.

The Visit to Arakan

In Dhannavati, whose walls are still partially visible today, the Mahamuni temple is located on the Sirigutta hill. In this temple, for over two millennia, the Mahamuni image was enshrined and worshipped. The story of the Mahamuni image, at one time one of the most revered shrines of Buddhism, is told in the Sappadanapakarana, a work of a local historian.
Candrasuriya, the king of Dhannavati, on hearing that a Buddha had arisen in India, desired to go there to learn the Dhamma. The Buddha, aware of his intention, said to Ananda: “The king will have to pass through forests dangerous to travelers; wide rivers will impede his journey; he must cross a sea full of monsters. It will be an act of charity if we go to his dominion, so that he may pay homage without risking his life.”
So the Buddha went there and was received with great pomp by King Candrasuriya and his people. The Buddha then taught the five and eight precepts and instructed the king in the ten kingly duties, namely, (1) universal beneficence, (2) daily paying homage, (3) the showing of mercy, (4) taxes of not more than a tenth part of the produce, (5) justice, (6) punishment without anger, (7) the support of his subjects as the earth supports them, (8) the employment of prudent commanders, (9) the taking of good counsel, and (10) the avoidance of pride. The Buddha remained for a week and on preparing for his departure the king requested that he leave an image of himself, so that they could worship him even in his absence. The Buddha consented to this and Sakka the king of the gods himself formed the image with the metals collected by the king and his people. It was completed in one week and when the Buddha breathed onto it the people exclaimed that now there were indeed two Buddhas, so alike was the image to the great sage. Then the Buddha made a prophesy addressing the image: “I shall pass into Nibbana in my eightieth year, but you will live for five thousand years which I have foreseen as the duration of my Teaching.”
The Mahamuni image remained in its original location until 1784 when King Bodawpaya conquered Arakan and had the image transported to Mandalay where a special shrine, the Arakan pagoda, was built to enshrine the three-meter image. To have this image in his capital greatly added to his prestige as a Buddhist king, as it was one of the most sacred objects in the region. The king himself went out of his city to meet the approaching image with great devotion and “through the long colonnades leading to the pagoda, there used to come daily from the Myanmar palace, so long as a king reigned there, sumptuous offerings borne in stately procession, marshalled by a minister and shaded by the white umbrella.” 

The Missionaries of the Third Buddhist Council

The Third Buddhist Council was held in the reign of Emperor Asoka in the year 232 BC in order to purify the Sangha, to reassert orthodox teaching and to refute heresy. But the work of the Council did not stop there. With the support of Emperor Asoka, experienced teachers were sent to border regions in order to spread the teachings of the Buddha. This dispersal of missionaries is recorded in the Mahavamsa, a Sinhalese chronicle on the history of Buddhism:
When the thera Moggaliputta, the illuminator of the religion of the Conqueror, had brought the (third) council to an end and when, looking into the future, he had beheld the founding of the religion in adjacent countries, then in the month of Katthika he sent forth theras, one here and one there. The thera Majjhantika he sent to Kasmira and Gandhara, the thera Mahadeva he sent to Mahisamandala. To Vanavasa he sent the thera named Rakkhita, and to Aparantaka the Yona named Dhammarakkhita; to Maharattha he sent the thera named Mahadhammarakkhita, but the thera Maharakkhita he sent into the country of the Yona. He sent the thera Majjhima to the Himalaya country and together with the thera Uttara, the thera Sona of wondrous might went to Suvannabhumi... 
According to the Sasanavamsa, the above mentioned regions are the following: Kasmira and Gandhara is the right bank of the Indus river south of Kabul; Mahisamandala is Andhra; Vanavasa is the region around Prome; Aparantaka is west of the upper Irrawaddy; Maharattha is Thailand; Yona, the country of the Shan tribes; and Suvannabhumi is Thaton. The Sasanavamsa mentions five places in Southeast Asia where Asoka’s missionaries taught the Buddha’s doctrine, and through their teaching many gained insight and took refuge in the Triple Gem. There are two interesting features mentioned in the text. First, in order to ordain nuns, bhikkhunis, other bhikkhunis had to be present, and secondly, the Brahmajala Sutta was preached in Thaton.
The Sasanavamsa goes on to describe sixty thousand women ordaining in Aparanta. It states that women could not have been ordained without the presence of bhikkhunis, as in Sri Lanka where women could only be ordained after Mahinda’s sister Sanghamitta had followed her brother there. In this case, the author surmises that bhikkhunis must have followed Dhammarakkhita to Aparanta at a later stage.
The Brahmajala Sutta, which the arahats Sona and Uttara preached in Thaton, deals in detail with the different schools of philosophical and religious thought prevalent in India at the time of the Buddha. The fact that Sona and Uttara chose this Sutta to convert the inhabitants of Suvannabhumi indicates that they were facing a well-informed public, familiar with the views of Brahmanism that were refuted by the Buddha in this discourse. There can be no doubt that only Indian colonisers, not the Mon, would have been able to follow an analysis of Indian philosophy as profound as the Brahmajala Sutta.

Buddhism in the Mon and Pyu Kingdoms

While there is no conclusive archaeological proof that Buddhism continued to be practiced in southern Myanmar after the missions of the Third Council, the Sasanavamsa refers to an unbroken lineage of teachers passing on the Dhamma to their disciples.

The Mon

In a third century AD inscription by a South Indian king in Nagarjunakonda, the land of the Cilatas is mentioned in a list of countries visited by a group of bhikkhus. Historians believe the Cilatas or Kiratas (also mentioned by Ptolemy and in Sanskrit literature) to be identical to the Mon populations of Lower Myanmar.
The inscription states that the bhikkhus sent to the Cilata country converted the population there to Buddhism. In the same inscription, missions to other countries such as Sri Lanka are mentioned. It is generally believed that most of these countries had received earlier Buddhist missionaries sent by Buddhist kings, but as civilization in these lands was relatively undeveloped, teachings as profound as the Buddha’s had probably become distorted by local religions or possibly been completely lost. It is possible that these missions did not so much re-establish Buddhism, but rather purify the type of Buddhism practiced there. Southern India was then the guardian of the Theravada faith and obviously remained in contact with countries that had been converted in earlier times but were unable to preserve the purity of the religion.
As has been already mentioned, the first datable archaeological finds of the Mon civilization stem from the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati in the South of Thailand. They consist of a Roman oil lamp and a bronze statue of the Buddha which are believed to be no later than the first or second century AD. In discussing the Mon Theravada Buddhist civilization, we cannot remain in Myanmar only. For only by studying the entire sphere of influence of the Mon in this period, can a comprehensive picture be constructed. This sphere includes large parts of present day Thailand. In fact, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Yuan Chwang, who traveled to India in about 630 AD, describes a single Mon country stretching from Prome to Chenla in the east and including the Irrawaddy and Sittang deltas. He calls the country Dvaravati, but the annals of the court of China of the same period mention Dvaravati as a vassal of Thaton. We can, therefore, safely conclude that the Mon of the region formed a fairly homogenous group in which the distribution of power was obviously not always evident to the outsider.

The Pyu

Lower Myanmar was also inhabited by another ethnic group, the Pyu, who were probably closely related to the modern Myanmar. They had their capital at Sri Ksetra (near modern day Prome) and were also followers of the Theravada Buddhist faith. Chinese travelers’ reports of the mid-third century AD refer to the kingdom of Lin-Yang where Buddha was venerated by all and where several thousand monks or bhikkhus lived. As Lin-Yang was to the west of Kamboja and could not be reached by sea, we can infer that the Chinese travelers must have been referring to the ancient kingdom of Prome. This is all the more likely as archaeological finds prove that only about one century later Pali Buddhist texts, including Abhidhamma texts, were studied by the Pyu.
The earliest highly developed urban settlement of the Pyu was Beikthano, near Prome. However, its importance dwindled towards the sixth century, when Sri Ksetra became the center of Pyu civilization. A major monastery built in the fourth century has been unearthed at Beikthano. The building, constructed in brick, with a stupa and shrine located nearby, is identical to the Buddhist monasteries of Nagarjunakonda, the great Buddhist center of southern India. It is situated near a stupa and a shrine, a design which is identical to the one used in South India. Bricks had been used by the Pyus since the second century AD for the construction of pillared halls, which formed the temples of their original religion. Interestingly, the Pyu bricks have always been of the exact dimensions as those used at the time of Emperor Asoka in India. But the brick laying techniques used in the monastery in Beikthano were far inferior to the ones used in their southern Indian counterparts.
For such a major edifice as the monastery at Beikthano to have been constructed, the religion must have been well established at least among the ruling class. How long it took for Buddhism to become influential in Pyu society is difficult to determine, but some historians assume that the first contacts with Asokan religious centers in India took place in the second century AD. This would allow for a period of development of two hundred years until the first important shrine was built. Despite the Indian architectural influence, the inferior brick laying techniques found in Beikthano indicate that indigenous architects and artisans, rather than imported craftsmen or Indian colonisers, were employed in the construction of monasteries and other important buildings.
It should, of course, not be forgotten that the Pyu possessed an architecture of their own and a highly developed urban culture that had evolved quite independently of Indian influences. Theravada Buddhism found a fertile ground in this highly developed civilization. It is probable that the Pyu civilization was more advanced than that of the Mon. The Pyu sites found around Prome are the earliest urban sites in Southeast Asia found to date. The urban developments and datable monuments in Thailand and Cambodia are only from the seventh century. Older artifacts may have been found in Thailand, but they were not products of indigenous people and do not prove the existence of a developed civilization.
The information we have of the state of the religion in the Mon and Pyu societies during the first four centuries AD is very limited. However, by the fifth century, with the development of religious activity in the region, information becomes more substantive. The historical tradition of Myanmar gives the credit for this religious resurgence to a well-known Buddhist scholar, Acariya Buddhaghosa.

Buddhaghosa and Myanmar

Acariya Buddhaghosa was the greatest commentator on the Pali Buddhist texts, whose Visuddhimagga and commentaries to the canon are regarded as authoritative by Theravada scholars. The chronicles of Myanmar firmly maintain that Buddhaghosa was of Mon origin and a native of Thaton. They state that his return from Sri Lanka, with the Pali scriptures, the commentaries, and grammatical works, gave a fresh impetus to the religion.
However, modern historians do not accept that Buddhaghosa was from Myanmar while some even doubt his existence. Despite this contention, Eliot, in his Hinduism and Buddhism, gives more weight to circumstantial evidence and writes:
The Burmese tradition that Buddhaghosa was a native of Thaton and returned thither from Sri Lanka merits more attention than it has received. It can easily be explained away as patriotic fancy. On the other hand, if Buddhaghosa’s object was to invigorate Hinayanism in India the result of his really stupendous labors was singularly small, for in India his name is connected with no religious movement. But if we suppose that he went to Sri Lanka by way of the holy places in Magadha [now Bihar] and returned from the Coromandal coast [Madras] to Burma where Hinayanism afterwards flourished, we have at least a coherent narrative. 
The Sinhalese chronicles, especially the Mahavamsa, place Buddhaghosa in the first half of the fifth century. Although he spent most of his active working life in Sri Lanka, he is also credited with imbuing new life into Theravada Buddhism in South India, and developing such important centers as Kancipura and Uragapuram that were closely connected with Prome and Thaton. Proof of this connection can be found in archeological finds in the environs of Prome which include Pali literature inscribed in the Kadambe script on gold and stone plates. This script was used in the fifth and sixth century in southern India.
All in all, Myanmar has a valid case for claiming some connection with Buddhaghosa. It is, of course, impossible to prove that he was born there or even visited there, but his influence undoubtedly led to great religious activity in the kingdoms of Lower Myanmar.

Buddhism in Lower Myanmar: 5th to 11th Centuries

From the fifth century until the conquest of Lower Myanmar by Pagan, there is a continuous record of Buddhism flourishing in the Mon and Pyu kingdoms. The Mon kingdoms are mentioned in travel reports of several Chinese Buddhist pilgrims and also in the annals of the Chinese court. In the fifth century, Thaton and Pegu (Pago) are mentioned in the Buddhist commentarial literature for the first time. They were now firmly established on the map as Buddhist centers of learning. Despite this, Buddhism was not without rivals in the region. This is shown, by the following event some chronicles of Myanmar mention.
A king of Pago, Tissa by name, had abandoned the worship of the Buddha and instead practiced Brahmanical worship. He persecuted the Buddhists and destroyed Buddha images or cast them into ditches. A pious Buddhist girl, the daughter of a merchant, restored the images, then washed and worshipped them. The king could not tolerate such defiance, of course, and had the girl dragged before him. He tried to have her executed in several ways, but she seemed impossible to kill. Elephants would not trample her,while the fire of her pyre would not burn her. Eventually the king, intrigued by these events, asked the girl to perform a miracle. He stated that, if she was able to make a Buddha image produce seven new images and then make all eight statues fly into heaven, she would be set free. The girl spoke an act of truth, and the eight Buddha statues flew up into the sky. The king was then converted to Buddhism and elevated the girl to the position of chief queen.
Until now, archaeological finds of Mon ruins in Myanmar are meager, but at P’ong Tuk, in southern Thailand, a Mon city, dating from the second half of the first millennium AD, has been unearthed. Here, excavations have revealed the foundations of several buildings. One contained the remains of a platform and fragments of columns similar to the Buddhist vihara at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka; another, with a square foundation of round stones, seems to have been a stupa. Statues of Indian origin from the Gupta period (320-600 AD) were also found at the site. The Theravada Buddhist culture of the Mon flourished in both Dvaravati and Thaton. However, the Mon civilization in Thailand did not survive the onslaught of the Khmer in the eleventh century who were worshipping Hindu gods. In Myanmar, the Mon kingdom was conquered by Pagan. The Myanmar were eager to accept the Mon culture and especially their religion, while the Khmer, as Hindus, at best tolerated it.
The Pyu culture of this period is well documented because of archaeological finds at Muanggan, a small village close to the ancient ruins of Hmawza. There two perfectly preserved inscribed gold plates were found. These inscriptions reveal three texts: the verses spoken by Assaji to Sariputta (ye dhamma hetuppabhava...), a list of categories of the Abhidhamma (cattaro iddhipada, cattaro samappadhana...), and the formula of worship of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha (iti pi so bhagava...). At the same site, a book with twenty leaves of gold protected with golden covers, was discovered. It contained texts such as the paticca-samuppada (dependent origination), the vipassana-nanas (stages of insight knowledge), and various other excerpts from the Abhidhamma and the other two baskets of the Buddhist scriptures. The scripts in all these documents are identical to scripts used in parts of southern India, and can be dated from the third to the sixth century AD.
In addition to these golden plates, a number of sculptures and reliefs were found in Hmawza. They depict either the Buddha or scenes from his life, for example, the birth of the Buddha and the taming of the wild elephant Nalagiri. The sculpture is similar in style to that of Amaravati, a center of Buddhist learning in South India. There were also unearthed remains of Brahman temples and sites of Mahayana worship of east Indian origin; hence it would appear that several faiths, of which the Theravada was the strongest, co-existed in Sri Ksetra, the then capital of the Pyu. The script used by the Pyu is indicative of major links with Buddhist kingdoms in South India rather than with Sri Lanka. And it can be surmised that the bhikkhus of the Deccan and other regions of southern India were the teachers of both the Mon and the Pyu in religious matters as well as in the arts and sciences.
The inscriptions show how highly developed scholarship of the Pali Buddhist texts must have been in Lower Myanmar even in these early days. Learning had gone well beyond the basics into the world of Abhidhamma studies. Pali was obviously well known as a language of learning, but unfortunately no original texts composed in Sri Ksetra or Thaton have come down to us. Interestingly, some of the texts inscribed on these gold plates are not identical to the same canonical texts as they are known today. Therefore, the Tipitaka known to the Pyu must have been replaced by a version preserved in a country that had no close contact with the Pyu. This could well have been Sri Lanka, as this country came to play an important role in the history of Buddhism in Myanmar through the friendship between the conqueror of Lower Myanmar, Anawratha, and the king who drove the Hindus from Sri Lanka, Vijayabahu.
The finds on the site of the ancient Pyu capital confirm the reports of the Chinese pilgrims and also the Tang imperial chronicles of China which state: “They (the Pyu) dislike taking life. They know how to make astronomical calculations. They are Buddhists and have a hundred monasteries, with brick of glass embellished with gold and silver vermilion, gay colours and red kino... At seven years of age the people cut their hair and enter a monastery; if at the age of twenty they have not grasped the doctrine they return to the lay state.”
Both Buddhist cultures in the south of Myanmar, the Mon and the Pyu, were swept away in the eleventh century by armies of the Myanmar who had found a unifying force in their leader, the founder of Pagan and champion of Buddhism, Anawratha.

Theravada Buddhism Comes to Pagan 

The Beginnings of Pagan

Pagan is believed to have been founded in the years 849-850 AD, by the Myanmar, who had already established themselves as rice growers in the region around Kyauksai near Mandalay. Anawratha began to unite the region by subjugating one chieftain after another and was successful in giving the Myanmar a sense of belonging to a larger community, a nation. The crucial event in the history of Myanmar is not so much the founding of the city of Pagan and the building of its walls and moat, but more Pagan’s acceptance of Theravada Buddhism in the eleventh century. The religion was brought to the Myanmar by a Mon bhikkhu named Shin Arahan.
The religion prevailing among the Myanmar before and during the early reign of Anawratha was some form of Mahayana Buddhism, which had probably found its way into the region from the Pala kingdom in Bengal. This is apparent from bronze statues depicting Bodhisattas and especially the “Lokanatha,” a Bodhisatta believed, in Bengal, to reign in the period between the demise of the Buddha Gotama and the advent of the Buddha Metteyya. Anawratha continued to cast terracotta votive tablets with the image of Lokanatha even after he embraced the Theravada doctrine.
In India, Buddhism had split into numerous schools, some of which differed fundamentally from the teachings of Pali Buddhism, which is also called Theravada Buddhism (the doctrine of the Theras). The Ari, the monks or priests of this Mahayana Buddhist form of worship, are described, in later chronicles of Myanmar, as the most shameless bogus ascetics imaginable. They are said to have sold absolution from sin and to have oppressed the people in various ways with their tyranny. Their tantric Buddhism included, as an important element, the worship of Nagas (dragons), which was probably an ancient indigenous tradition.
At this time, the beginning of the eleventh century, the Buddhist religion among the Mon in Suvannabhumi was on the decline as people were disturbed by robbers and raiders, by plagues, and by adversaries of the religion. These most probably came from the Hindu Khmer kingdom in Cambodia and the north of Thailand. The Khmer were endeavoring to add Thaton and the other Mon kingdoms of the south to their expanding empire. Shin Arahan must have feared that bhikkhus would not be able to continue to maintain their religious practice and the study of the scriptures under these circumstances. He went, therefore, upcountry where a new, strong people were developing, prosperous and secure from enemies.
It is interesting to note that in this same period, Buddhism was under attack in other places as well. The Colas, a Hindu dynasty strongly opposed to Buddhism, arose in southern India, one of the last strongholds of Theravada Buddhism. They were able to expand their rule to include most of Sri Lanka between 1017 and 1070. The great Mon city, Dvaravati, a Theravada center in southern Thailand, fell to the Khmer, the masters of the whole of Thailand, who were Shaivaite Hindus. In the north of India, Muslim armies were trying to destroy what little was left of Buddhism there. “In this perilous period,” writes Professor Luce, “Buddhism was saved only by such valiant fighters as Vijayabahu in Sri Lanka and Anawratha.” 

Shin Arahan Converts the King

Shin Arahan arrived in the vicinity of Pagan and was discovered in his forest dwelling by a hunter. The hunter, who had never before seen such a strange creature with a shaven head and a yellow robe, thought he was some kind of spirit and took him to the king, Anawratha. Shin Arahan naturally sat down on the throne, as it was the highest seat, and the king thought: “This man is peaceful, in this man there is the essential thing. He is sitting down on the best seat, surely he must be the best being.” The king asked the visitor to tell him where he came from and was told that he came from the place where the Order lived and that the Buddha was his teacher. Then Shin Arahan gave the king the teaching on mindfulness (appamada), teaching him the same doctrine Nigrodha had given Emperor Asoka when he was converted. Shin Arahan then told the monarch that the Buddha had passed into Parinibbana, but that his teaching, the Dhamma, enshrined in the Tipitaka, and the twofold Sangha consisting of those who possessed absolute knowledge and those who possessed conventional knowledge, remained.
The king must have felt that he had found what had been missing in his life and a genuine alternative to the superficial teachings of the Ari monks. He built a monastery for Shin Arahan, and according to some sources, stopped all worship of the Ari monks. Tradition has it that he had them dressed in white and even forced them to serve as soldiers in his army. The Ari tradition continued for a long time, however, and its condemnation is a feature of much later times, and not, as far as contemporary evidence shows, of the Pagan era.
The Sasanavamsa gives an alternate version of Anawratha’s conversion according to which Shin Arahan had originally come from Sri Lanka to study the Dhamma in Dvaravati and Thaton and was on his way to Sri Ksetra in search of a text when he was taken to Anawratha by a hunter. The king asked him, “Who are you?” — “O King, I am a disciple of Gotama.” — “Of what kind are the Three Jewels?” — “O King, the Buddha should be regarded as Mahosadha the wise, his doctrine as Ummagga, his order as the Videhan army.”
This version is interesting in that Anawratha is portrayed as being a Buddhist with knowledge of Jataka stories, such as the Mahosadha Jataka referred to above, even before meeting Shin Arahan. This assumption that he was no stranger to Buddhism is supported by the fact that earlier kings had been followers of Buddhism in varying degrees. Caw Rahan, who died about 94 years before Anawratha’s accession, is said to have built a Sima and five Pagodas, and Kyaung Pyu Min built the white monastery outside Pagan. Kyaung Pyu Min is believed to have been Anawratha’s father.

Anawratha Acquires the Scriptures

Through Shin Arahan, Anawratha had now found the religion he had been yearning for and he decided to set out and procure the scriptures and holy relics of this religion. For he wished his kingdom to be secured on the original teachings of the Buddha. He tried to find the scriptures and relics of his new religion in different quarters. In his enthusiasm he did not limit his quest to Thaton, but also searched among the Khmer in Angkor, and in Tali, the capital of the Nanchao, a kingdom in modern day Yunnan, in China, where a tooth of the Buddha was enshrined. But everywhere he was refused. He then went to Thaton, where his teacher Shin Arahan had come from, to request a copy of the scriptures. According to the tradition of Myanmar, Anawratha’s request was refused, and unable to endure another refusal he set out with his army in the year 1057 to conquer Thaton and acquire the Tipitaka by force. Before conquering Thaton, however, he had to subjugate Sri Ksetra, the Pyu capital. From there, he took the relics enshrined in King Dwattabaung’s Bawbaw-gyi Pagoda to Pagan.
Some think that the aim of his campaign was mainly to add the prosperous Indian colonies of Lower Myanmar to his possessions, while others think he may have actually been called to Thaton to defend it against the marauding Khmer. Whatever the immediate cause of his campaign in the lower country, we know for certain that he returned with the king of Thaton and his court, with Mon artists and scholars and, above all, with Thaton’s bhikkhus and their holy books, the Tipitaka. Suvannabhumi and its Mon population were now in the hands of the Myanmar and the Mon culture and religion were accepted and assimilated in the emergent Pagan with fervor.
Initially the fervor must have been restricted to the king and possibly his immediate entourage, yet even they continued to propitiate their traditional gods for worldly gain as the new religion was considered a higher practice. Theravada Buddhism does not provide much in the way of rites and rituals, but a royal court cannot do without them. So the traditional propitiation of the Nagas continued to be used for court ceremonials and remained part of the popular religion, while the bhikkhus were accorded the greatest respect and their master, the Buddha Gotama, was honored with the erection of pagodas and shrines.
There were contacts between the new kings of Myanmar and Sri Lanka that are recorded not only in the chronicles of the two countries but also in stone inscriptions in South India. As the Hindu Colas had ruled Sri Lanka for more than half a century, Buddhism had been weakened and King Vijayabahu, who had driven out the Vaishnavite Colas, wanted to re-establish his religion. So in 1070, he requested King Anawratha of Myanmar, who had assisted him financially in his war against the Colas, to send bhikkhus to re-introduce the pure ordination into his country. It is interesting to note that the Culavamsa refers to Anawratha as the king of Ramanna, which was Lower Myanmar, also called Suvannabhumi. He was approached as the conqueror and master of Thaton, a respected Theravada center, rather than as the king of Pagan, a new and unknown country. The bhikkhus who traveled to Sri Lanka brought the Sinhalese Tipitaka back with them and established a link between the two countries which was to last for centuries.
Anawratha is mentioned in the Myanmar, Mon, Khmer, Thai, and Sinhalese chronicles as a great champion of Buddhism because he developed Pagan into a major regional power and laid the foundation for its glory. He did not, however, build many of the temples for which Pagan is now so famous as the great age of temple building started only after his reign. It is important to realize that his interest was not restricted only to Pagan. He built pagodas wherever his campaigns took him and adorned them with illustrations from the Jatakas and the life of the Buddha. Some maintain that he used only Jatakas as themes for the adornment of his religious buildings because that was all he possessed of the Tipitaka. Such a conclusion is negative and quite superficial. After all, during Asoka’s time Jatakas and scenes from the life of the Buddha were used for illustrations in Bharut and Sanchi, the great stupas near Bombay. We cannot therefore deduce that the builders of Bharut and Sanchi were acquainted only with the Jatakas. These edifying stories which teach the fundamentals of Buddhism so skillfully are singularly suited to educate an illiterate people beset by superstitions through the vivid visual means of the stone reliefs depicting these stories. It is almost unthinkable that the Mon Sangha, who taught Anawratha, had no knowledge of at least all of the Vinaya. Otherwise, they would not have been able to re-establish a valid ordination of bhikkhus in Sri Lanka.
Anawratha left behind innumerable clay tablets adorned with images of the Buddha, the king’s name, and some Pali and Sanskrit verses. A typical aspiration on these tablets was: “By me, King Anawratha, this mould of Sugata (Buddha) has been made. Through this may I obtain the path to Nibbana when Metteyya is awakened.” Anawratha aspired to become a disciple of the Buddha Metteyya, unlike many later kings of Myanmar who aspired to Buddhahood. Is this an indication that this warrior had remained a modest man in spite of his empire building?

Pagan: Flowering and Decline 

Anawratha was succeeded by a number of kings of varying significance to Buddhism in Myanmar. His successors inherited a relatively stable and prosperous kingdom and consequently were able to embark on the huge temple building projects for which their reigns are still remembered.
This is the time when kings such as Kyanzitta and others built pagodas, libraries, monasteries, and ordination halls. These kings must have possessed coffers full of riches collected from their extensive kingdom which they lavished on the religion of the Buddha. Their palaces were probably built of wood as was the last palace of the Myanmar dynasty. Though the palaces must have reflected the wealth and power of the rulers, the more durable brick was not deemed necessary for such worldly buildings. This is similar to views still found in rural areas of Myanmar today. The only structure adorned to any extent in a village is the monastery and the buildings attached to it, such as the rest house. The villagers are very modest with regard to their private houses and even consider it improper to decorate them. Their monastery, however, is given every decoration affordable.

Kyanzitta Strengthens Theravada Buddhism

Kyanzitta (1084-1113), who had been Anawratha’s commander-in-chief and had succeeded Anawratha’s son to the throne, consolidated Theravada Buddhism’s predominance in Pagan. In his reign, such important shrines as the Shwezigon Pagoda, the Nanda, Nagayon, and Myinkaba Kubyauk-gyi temples were built.
With the three latter temples, Kyanzitta introduced a new style of religious building. The traditional stupa or dagoba found in India and Sri Lanka is a solid mound in which relics or other holy objects are enshrined. The area of worship is situated around them and is usually marked by ornate stone railings. In the new style of building, however, the solid mound had been hollowed out and could be entered. The central shrine was surrounded by halls which housed stone reliefs depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life and Jataka stories. Kyanzitta’s aim was the conversion of his people to the new faith. Whereas Anawratha had been busy expanding his empire and bringing relics and the holy scriptures to Pagan, Kyanzitta’s mission was to consolidate this enterprise. Enormous religious structures such as the Nanda Temple attracted the populace and the interiors of the temples allowed the bhikkhus to instruct the inquisitive in the king’s faith.
Professor Luce writes:
The Nanda (temple)... he built with four broad halls. Each hall had the same 16 scenes in stone relief all identically arranged. The bhikkhus could cope with four audiences simultaneously. The scenes cover the whole life of the Buddha. When well grounded in these, the audience would pass to the outer wall of the corridor. Here, running around the whole corridor are the 80 scenes of Gotama’s life up to the Enlightenment. The later life of the Buddha is shown in hundreds of other stone reliefs on the inner walls and shrines. 
Kyanzitta’s efforts for the advancement of Buddhism were not limited to his own country. For in one of his many inscriptions, he also mentions that he sent craftsmen to Bodhgaya to repair the Mahabodhi temple, which had been destroyed by a foreign king. The upkeep of the Mahabodhi temple became a tradition with the kings of Myanmar, who continued to send missions to Bodhgaya to repair the temple and also to donate temple slaves and land to the holiest shrine of Buddhism.
Kyanzitta also initiated an extensive review and purification of the Tipitaka by the bhikkhus. This was the first occasion in Myanmar’s history when the task of a Buddhist Sangayana or Synod, comparing the Sinhalese and Suvannabhumi’s Tipitaka, was undertaken. It is possible and even probable that this huge editing work was carried out along with visiting Sinhalese bhikkhus.
By nature of Myanmar’s geographical position, external influences swept in predominantly from northern India, and therefore tantric Buddhism, dominant especially in Bengal, remained strong. However, Kyanzitta succeeded in firmly establishing the Pali Tipitaka by asking the bhikkhus to compare the ancient Mon Tipitaka with the texts obtained from the Mahavihara in Sri Lanka. In this way, he also made it clear that confirmation of orthodoxy was to be sought in Sri Lanka and not in any other Buddhist country. Though Mahayana practices were tolerated in his reign (his chief queen was a tantric Buddhist), they were not officially regarded as the pure religion. It is characteristic of Pagan that these two branches of Buddhism co-existed — the religion of the Theras, which was accepted as the highest religion — and the tantric practices, which included the worship of spirits or nats and gave more immediate satisfaction. Pagodas are often adorned with figures of all types of deities, but the deities are normally shown in an attitude of reverence towards the pagoda, a symbol of the Buddha. The ancient gods were not banished, but had to submit to the peerless Buddha. Tradition attributes to King Anawratha the observation: “Men will not come for the sake of the new faith. Let them come for their old gods, and gradually they will be won over.”
An approach such as this, whether it was Anawratha’s or Kyanzitta’s, would suggest that the practice of the old religion of the Ari monks was allowed to continue and that the conversion of the country was gentle and peaceful as befits the religion of the Buddha. Although later Myanmar chronicles refer to the Ari monks as a debased group of charlatans who were totally rooted out by Anawratha, this is far from the truth. A powerful movement of “priests” who incorporated magic practices in their teachings continued to exist throughout the Pagan period, and though they may have respected the basic rules of the Vinaya and donned the yellow robe, their support was rooted in the old animistic beliefs of the Myanmar. It should not be forgotten that the Myanmar first started to settle in the area of Kyauksai in the sixth century AD and that the “man in the field” was in no way ready for such highly developed a religion as Theravada Buddhism. The transition had to be gradual, and the process that started remains still incomplete in the minds of many people, especially in the more remote areas of the hill country.
The example of Kyanzitta’s son Rajakumar, however, shows how even in those early days the teachings of the Buddha were understood and practiced not only by the bhikkhus, but also by lay people and members of the royal court. Rajakumar’s conduct is proof of his father’s ability to establish men in the Dhamma and survives as a monument just as the Ananda temple does.
Rajakumar was Kyanzitta’s only son and his rightful heir. Due to political misadventures Kyanzitta was separated from his wife and therefore not aware of the birth of his son for seven years. When his daughter gave birth to his grandson he anointed him as future king immediately after his birth. Rajakumar grew up in the shadow of his nephew, the crown prince, but neither during his father’s reign nor after his death did he ever try to usurp the throne through intrigue or by force. He was a minister zealous in the affairs of state, prudent and wise. He was also a scholar of the Tipitaka and instrumental in its review, vigorously supporting his father in his objective to establish Buddhism. But he is best known for his devotion to his father in his last years when his health was failing. In order to restore the king’s health he built five pagodas which to this day are called Min-o-Chanda, “The Welfare of the Old King.” When the king was on his deathbed:
Rajakumar, remembering the many and great favors with which the king had nourished him, made a beautiful golden image of the Buddha and entering with ceremony presented it to the king, saying: “This golden Buddha I have made to help my lord. The three villages of slaves you gave me, I give to this Buddha.” And the king rejoiced and said “Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.” Then in the presence of the compassionate Mahathera and other leading bhikkhus, the king poured on the ground the water of dedication, calling the earth to witness. Then Rajakumar enshrined the golden image, and built around it a cave temple with a golden pinnacle. 

Later Kings

Rajakumar’s nephew was King Alaungsithu (c.1113-67), who continued the tradition of his dynasty of glorifying the Buddha’s religion by building a vast temple, the Sabbannu Temple, probably the largest monument in Pagan. During his many travels and campaigns, he built pagodas and temples throughout Myanmar. The faith that Shin Arahan had inspired in Anawratha and his successors continued to inspire Alaungsithu. Shin Arahan, who had seen kings come and go and the flowering of the religion he brought to Pagan, is believed to have died during the reign of King Alaungsithu, in about 1115.
After the death of Alaungsithu, Pagan was thrown into turmoil by violent struggles for the throne. Several kings reigned for short periods and spent most of their time and resources in power struggles. One even succeeded in alienating the great king of Sri Lanka, Parakramabahu, by mistreating his emissaries and breaking the agreements between the two countries. Eventually Parakramabahu invaded Myanmar, devastating towns and villages and killing the king. The new king, Narapati (1174-1210), blessed the country with a period of peace and prosperity. This conducive atmosphere was to allow outstanding scholarship and learning to arise in Pagan.
Kyawswa (1234-50) was a king under whom scholarship was encouraged even more, undoubtedly because the king himself spent most of his time in scholarly pursuits including memorizing passages of the Tipitaka. He had relinquished most of his worldly duties to his son in order to dedicate more time to the study of the scriptures. Two grammatical works, the Saddabindu and the Paramatthabindu, are ascribed to him. It would appear that his palace was a place of great culture and learning as his ministers and his daughter are credited with scholarly works as well.
During the twelfth century, a sect of forest dwellers also thrived. They were called arannaka in Pali and were identical with the previously mentioned Ari of the later chroniclers of Myanmar. This was a monastic movement that only used the yellow robes and the respect due to them in order to follow their own ideas. They indulged in business transactions and owned vast stretches of land. They gave feasts and indulged in the consumption of liquor, and, though they pretended to be practicing the teachings of the Buddha, their practices were probably of a tantric nature. It would appear that they had a considerable amount of influence at the royal court and one of the main exponents of the movement was even given the title of royal teacher. Superstition and magic were gaining dominance once again and Anawratha’s and Kyanzitta’s empire was slowly sliding into decadence.
The last king of Pagan, Narathihapate, whom the Myanmar know by the name Tayoupyemin (the king who fled the Chinese), repeatedly refused to pay symbolic tribute to the Mongol emperors in Peking who in 1271 had conquered neighbouring Yunnan. He even went so far as to execute ambassadors of the Chinese emperor and their retinue for their lack of deference to the king. He became so bold and blinded by ignorance that he attacked a vassal state of the Mongols. The emperor in Peking was finally forced to send a punitive expedition which defeated the Pagan army north of Pagan. The news of this defeat caused the king and his court to flee to Pathein (Bassein). As the imperial court in Peking was not interested in adding Pagan to its possessions, the Yunnan expedition did not remain in the environs. When the king was later murdered and the whole empire fell into disarray, the Yunnani generals returned, looting Pagan. The territories were divided amongst Shan chiefs who paid tribute to the Mongols.
G.E. Harvey honors the kings of Pagan with the following words:
To them the world owes to a great measure the preservation of Theravada Buddhism, one of the purest faiths mankind has ever known. Brahmanism had strangled it in its land of birth; in Sri Lanka its existence was threatened again and again; east of Burma it was not yet free from priestly corruptions; but the kings of Burma never wavered, and at Pagan the stricken faith found a city of refuge. 

Contacts with Sri Lanka and the First Controversies

The contact with Sri Lanka was very important for the growth of the religion in Pagan. As was shown previously, it started with the friendship of Anawratha and Vijayabahu, both of whom fought for Buddhism: Anawratha to establish a new kingdom, Vijayabahu to wrench an old one from the clutches of the Hindu invaders. They supported each other in their struggles and then together re-established the Theravada doctrine in their respective countries, Anawratha sending bhikkhus to Sri Lanka to revive the Sangha, while Vijayabahu reciprocated by sending the sacred texts. The continued contact between the two countries was beneficial to both: many a reform movement, purifying the religion in one country spread to the other as well. Bhikkhus visiting from one country were led to look at their own traditions critically and to reappraise their practice of the Dhamma as preserved in the Pali texts. After the fall of the main Buddhist centers in southern India, centers which had been the main allies of the Mon Theravadins in the south, Sri Lanka was the only ally in the struggle for the survival of the Theravada tradition.
Leading bhikkhus of Pagan undertook the long and difficult journey to Sri Lanka in order to visit the holy temples and study the scriptures as they had been preserved by the Sinhalese Sangha. Shin Arahan’s successor as the king’s teacher left the royal court for Sri Lanka, returning to Pagan only to die. He was succeeded by a Mon bhikkhu, Uttarajiva, who led a pilgrimage to Sri Lanka in 1171. This was to cause the first upheaval in the Sangha of Pagan.
Uttarajiva traveled to Sri Lanka accompanied by Chapada, a novice who remained behind on the island in order to study the scriptures in the Mahavihara, the orthodox monastery of Sri Lanka and the guardian of the Theravada tradition. After ten years, he returned to Pagan accompanied by four elders who had studied with him. The Kalyani inscription, written about three hundred years later, relates that Chapada considered the tradition of the Myanmar bhikkhus impure. He had consequently taken four bhikkhus with him because he needed a chapter of at least five theras in order to ordain new bhikkhus. 
It is possible that the Myanmar bhikkhus, who seemed to have formed a group separate from the Mon bhikkhus, had paid more attention to their traditional worship than was beneficial for their practice of the Dhamma. It is also possible that there was an element of nationalist rivalry between the Mon bhikkhus and the Myanmar bhikkhus. As he showed a penchant for the reform movement, the Myanmar king Narapati seems to have accepted the superiority of the Mon bhikkhus, though he did not neglect the other bhikkhus. Chapada and his companions refused to accept the ordination of the Myanmar bhikkhus as legitimate in accordance with Vinaya. They established their own ordination, following which the Myanmar bhikkhus sent a delegation to Sri Lanka to receive the Mahavihara ordination for themselves.
After Chapada’s death, the reform movement soon split into two factions, and eventually each of the four remaining bhikkhus went his own way, one of them leaving the order altogether. “Thus in the town of Arimaddana (Pagan) there were four schools... Because the first of these to come was the school of the Elder Arahan from Sudhamma (Thaton) it was called the first school; while the others, because they came later, were called the later schools.” 

Scholarship in Pagan

It is surprising how quickly a relatively simple people absorbed the great civilization that arrived in their midst so suddenly. Even before the conquest of Thaton, Pagan possessed some ornate religious buildings, which is indicative of the presence of artists and craftsmen. It is quite likely, however, that these were Indians from Bengal and the neighbouring states. 
The type of Buddhism that had come to Pagan from India was an esoteric religion, as some old legends indicate. It was the jealously guarded domain of a group of priests, who made no attempt to instruct the people but were happy if their superiority remained unquestioned by a superstitious populace.
The advent of Theravada Buddhism with its openness and its aim to spread understanding must have been quite revolutionary in Pagan and obviously the people were eager to acquire the knowledge offered to them by the bhikkhus. Mabel Bode says in her Pali Literature of Burma:
Though the Burmese began their literary history by borrowing from their conquered neighbours, the Talaings (Mon)— and not before the eleventh century — the growth of Pali scholarship among them was so rapid that the epoch following close on this tardy beginning is considered one of the best that Burma has seen. 
The principal works of the Pagan period still extant are Pali grammars. The most famous of these is the Saddaniti, which Aggavamsa completed in 1154. Uttarajiva gave a copy of this work to the bhikkhus of the Mahavihara in Sri Lanka and it “was received with enthusiastic admiration, and declared superior to any work of the kind written by Sinhalese scholars.” 
The Saddaniti is still used to teach grammar in the monasteries in Myanmar and has been printed many times. B.C. Law regards it as one of the three principal Pali grammars along with the grammars by Kaccayana and Moggallana. K.R. Norman says: “The greatest of extant Pali grammars is the Saddaniti, written by Aggavamsa from Arimaddana [Pagan] in Burma...” Aggavamsa was also known as the teacher of King Narapatisithu (1167-1202) and was given the title Aggapandita. Unfortunately, no other works by this author are known today.
The second famous author of Pagan was Saddhammajotipala who has been previously mentioned under his clan name of Chapada. He was a disciple of Uttarajiva and is credited with a great number of works, but in the case of some it is doubtful whether he actually composed them himself or merely introduced them from Sri Lanka. His works deal not only with grammar, but also with questions of monastic discipline (Vinaya) and the Abhidhamma, which in later centuries was to become a favorite subject of Myanmar scholars. 
His work on Kaccayana’s grammar, the Suttaniddesa, formed the foundation of his fame. However, his specialty would appear to have been the study of Abhidhamma, as no less than four noted works of his on the subject attained fame: Samkhepavannana, Namacaradipani, Matikatthadipani, and Patthanagananaya. According to the Pitaka-thamain, a history of Buddhism in Myanmar, he also devoted a commentary to the Visuddhimagga by Buddhaghosa called the Visuddhimagga-ganthi. There are no written records that refer to meditation being practiced in Myanmar before this century. However, his interest in the Visuddhimagga is indicative of an interest in meditation, if only in the theory rather than in the practice. Another scholar of Pagan, Vimalabuddhi, also wrote a commentary concerning Abhidhamma, the Abhidhammatthasangahatika, in addition to another important grammatical work, the Nyasa, a commentary on Kaccayana’s grammar.
Other grammatical works of some importance were written, but none acquired the standing of Aggavamsa’s Saddaniti. However, a rather peculiar work worth mentioning is the Ekakkharakosa by Saddhammakitti. It is a work on Pali lexicography enumerating words of one letter.

Shan Rule 

Upper Myanmar

After Narathihapate had fled Pagan in fear of the Mongol army, he was never able to re-establish his authority, even though the Mongols supported the Pagan dynasty. The Mongol court in Peking preferred a united neighbouring country under a single ruler, but in spite of its efforts Myanmar was divided into several principalities mainly under Shan tribal leaders. These self-styled princelings paid tribute to the Chinese Mongol court and were nominally its subjects. The Shan, at this time still nomadic tribes in the north, broke into an already destabilized Myanmar like a tidal wave. They penetrated the entire region as far as the Mon country and established themselves as rulers in many towns and cities. The intrigues, fratricidal wars, and murders that make up the history of their courts are innumerable.
A division of the country into Upper and Lower Myanmar is somewhat arbitrary, as, after the fall of Pagan, the two regions were composed of many competing principalities. However, there were the two principle kingdoms of Ava in Upper Myanmar and Pago (Pegu) in Lower Myanmar. Hostilities between these two prevailed, as well as with the neighbouring smaller states including the Shan fiefs of Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya in Thailand. Intrigues within and between courts were rife. Sometimes these claimed victims only within the circle of the powerful and mighty, and sometimes whole towns were looted and destroyed, and their population massacred or carried off into slavery. 
But, in spite of politically unsettled conditions, the Sangha survived, because the new rulers, initially somewhat barbaric, soon accepted the religion of their subjects. Just as the Myanmar had adopted the religion and culture of the more refined Mon, so the Shan submitted to the sophisticated civilization of the peoples they subjugated. The Shan initially established their capital at Pinya in Upper Myanmar to the north of Pagan and transferred it to Ava in 1312. Ava was to remain the capital of Upper Myanmar until the eighteenth century.
The Sasanavamsa praises Thihathu, the youngest of three Shan brothers who wrested power from the Pagan dynasty in Upper Myanmar, as a Buddhist king who built monasteries and pagodas. He had a bhikkhu as his teacher and supported thousands of bhikkhus in his capital Pinya and later Ava. However, Pagan remained the cultural and religious capital of the region for the whole of the fourteenth century. Scholarly works were composed in its monasteries throughout this period whereas no such works are known to have been written in the new centers of power. The works of this period of scholarship were mostly concerned with Pali grammar.
Two generations later, a descendant of Thihathu secured himself a place in religious history as a great patron of scholarship. As in the courts of some previous kings, his court was also devoted to scholarly learning; and not only bhikkhus, but also the palace officials, produced treatises on religious subjects and the Pali language.
Although the political situation remained unsettled in Upper Myanmar throughout the fifteenth century, in the main, this affected only those in power and their usurpers. Consequently the Sangha appears to have flourished, while the traditional devotion to the support of the Sangha through gifts of the four requisites remained unchanged. The royal court, followed by the leading families, made great donations of monasteries, land, and revenue to the bhikkhus.
In approximately 1440, two Mahatheras from Sri Lanka settled in Ava. Here they joined a group of famous scholars, of whom Ariyavamsa was the most outstanding. The Sasanavamsa tells us of his great wisdom and humility in an anecdote.
The elder Ariyavamsa had studied the books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, but felt he had not gained real understanding. Eventually he came to a bhikkhu in Sagaing who kept his mouth always filled with water in order not to have to engage in meaningless chatter. Ariyavamsa did not talk to “the Elder Water-bearer,” as this bhikkhu was known in the Myanmar language, but simply performed the duties of a disciple to his teacher for two days. On the third day, the Venerable Water-bearer spat out the water and asked Ariyavamsa why he was serving him. When Ariyavamsa told him that he wanted to learn from him, the Venerable Water-bearer taught him the Abhidhammattha-vibhavani-tika, a subcommentary on the Abhidhammattha-sangaha. After two days, Ariyavamsa grasped the meaning and his teacher asked him to write a commentary on this book in order to help others to gain understanding.
During the composition of his first work, Ariyavamsa submitted his writings to the assembled bhikkhus on every Uposatha day, reading out what he had composed and asking his brethren to correct any mistakes they found. On one occasion, a visiting bhikkhu twice made a sound of disapproval during the reading. Ariyavamsa carefully noted the passages where the sound of disapproval had occurred. On reflecting on them in the evening, he found one error of grammar where he had used the wrong gender and also a repetition, an error of style. He approached the bhikkhu who had made the sounds during the reading and out of gratitude for the correction gave him his own outer robe.
Ariyavamsa composed several works in Pali: works on the Abhidhamma, on grammatical subjects, and a study of the Jatakas. But his very important contribution to Buddhism in Myanmar was the fact that all his writing was in the Myanmar vernacular. He was probably the first bhikkhu to write treatises on religious subjects in the local idiom, thus making the religion accessible to a greater number of people. The work by Ariyavamsa still known today is a commentary on the anutika (sub-commentary) of the Abhidhamma.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, a bhikkhu by the name of Silavamsa composed several epic poems in Pali. They were, of course, of a religious nature dealing with subjects such as the life of the Buddha, or Jataka stories. This genre was later very popular in the Myanmar language and there are many poems relating Jataka stories which were sung by bards throughout the country until recently. In the Sasanavamsa, however, Pannasami disapproves of bhikkhus writing or reciting poetry as he considers it to be in breach of the Vinaya rules. He says that because of this, Silavamsa’s name was excluded from the Theraparampara, a listing of eminent bhikkhus of Myanmar by ancient chroniclers.

Lower Myanmar

The Mon civilization in Lower Myanmar flourished after Pagan’s importance waned, once again reliving the era of glory that it had experienced prior to Anawratha’s conquest.
Wareru, the Shan ruler who had established himself in Martaban in 1287, was soon converted to Buddhism. He was a Shan peddler who had astutely wrested power from a son of the last king of Pagan, a son who had revolted against his father and founded an independent kingdom. Under Wareru’s rule, scholarship in the Mon monasteries flourished and a code of law was compiled which still forms the foundation of the legal literature of Myanmar. The Mon bhikkhus based this code on ancient Hindu codes of law which had found their way into Mon tradition through Indian colonisers and merchants.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century two respected Mon theras named Buddhavamsa and Mahanaga revived the tradition of their countryman Chapada in making a pilgrimage to Sri Lanka. There, they accepted new ordination in the Mahavihara monastery, the guardian of Sinhalese orthodoxy. The bhikkhus of the Mahavihara asked those ordained in other countries to revert to the lay-state before being re-ordained as novices and full bhikkhus, as it was considered of the utmost importance that the ordination be handed down in an unbroken tradition from the time of the Buddha. This was especially significant in Myanmar where there were some reservations about the continuity of the tradition. By disrobing, a bhikkhu forgoes the seniority he has acquired through the years spent in robes and, in this case, he also states that he considers his former ordination invalid. One can imagine that such a step is not taken lightly but only after careful consideration.

The Great Reformation of the Sangha

King Dhammazedi (1472-92) takes a special place in the history of the religion in Myanmar. He unified the Sangha in the Mon country and purified the order of the bhikkhus. He recorded his great service to the country in the Kalyani inscription, which will be quoted below.
Dhammazedi was a bhikkhu of Mon origin who taught one of the queens at the royal palace in Ava. This lady, Shin Sawbu, was the daughter of the king of Pago. She had been queen to several unfortunate kings of Upper Mynamar and had beeen conveyed into the hands of the subsequent kings along with the throne. She had become disenchanted with the life of a queen and desired to return to her native land. Dhammazedi and a fellow Mon bhikkhu helped her to escape and brought her back to Pago. Eventually she became queen of Pago, but after reigning only a few years she wished to retire and do works of merit. She found that the only people worthy of the throne of Pago were her teachers, the two bhikkhus. She let fate decide which would be the future king by concealing miniature imitations of the regalia in one of the two bowls in which she offered them their daily alms food.
She handed the throne over to Dhammazedi who had received the fateful bowl and spent the rest of her life at Dagon (Yangon) building the terrace around the Shwedagon Pagoda and gilding the sacred mound. The Shwedagon became what it is today chiefly thanks to Shin Sawbu’s munificence.
Dhammazedi assumed government in Pago after leaving the Order of the bhikkhus. He moved the capital closer to the Swemawdaw Pagoda and built several pagodas and shrines. His name is also connected with a collection of wise judgments and the translation of Wareru’s Code of Law into the vernacular. In 1472, Dhammazedi sent a mission to Bodhgaya to repair the temple and make plans and drawings of it.
Dhammazedi had received his education in monasteries of Ava which adhered to the Sihala Sangha. The Sihala Sangha was the faction of the Sangha of Myanmar that accepted only the Mahavihara of Sri Lanka as the ultimate authority in religious questions. King Dhammazedi knew from direct experience the state of the Sangha in Lower Myanmar and was determined to improve it. Having lived as a bhikkhu for so many years, he was also singularly qualified to change the Sangha for the better.
He chose twenty-two senior bhikkhus to lead the reform movement and informed them:
Reverend Sirs, the upasampada ordination of the bhikkhus of the Mon country now appears to us to be invalid. Therefore, how can the religion, which is based on such invalid ordination, last to the end of 5000 years? Reverend Sirs, from the establishment of the religion in the island of Sri Lanka up to this present day, there has been existing in this island an exceedingly pure sect of bhikkhus... Receive at their hands the upasampada ordination... and if you make this form of the upasampada ordination the seed of the religion, as it were, plant it, and cause it to sprout forth by conferring such ordination on men of good family in this Mon country... Reverend Sirs, by your going to the island of Sri Lanka, much merit and great advantage will accrue to you. 
At the beginning of 1476 the chosen bhikkhus with their twenty-two disciples embarked on the journey to Sri Lanka. They sailed in two ships, one taking about two months while the other needed six full months to arrive on the shore of the Buddhist island. They received the upasampada ordination at the Mahavihara from 17th to 20th July 1476. The return journey of the forty-four Mon bhikkhus was not so smooth, however. One group arrived home in August 1476, while the other group took three years to return to Pago and ten of the bhikkhus died en route. Following their return, Dhammazedi had a pure ordination hall(sima) consecrated and made the following proclamation:
May all those who possess faith and desire to receive the bhikkhu’s ordination at the hands of the bhikkhus ordained in Sri Lanka come to the Kalyani sima and receive ordination. Let those who have not faith and do not desire to receive the bhikkhus ordination of the Sinhalese, remain as they are. 
In order to confer the bhikkhu ordination outside the middle country (i.e. northern India), a chapter of five bhikkhus is needed, one of whom must be qualified to serve as preceptor (upajjhaya) and another as teacher (acariya). The latter two must have spent at least ten years in robes as fully ordained bhikkhus. So if Dhammazedi wanted to have local bhikkhus ordained in the new ordination, it was necessary to find two senior bhikkhus. Since those returning from Sri Lanka had been ordained for a period of only three years, they could not act as preceptor or teacher. Local bhikkhus who had not received the ordination of the Mahavihara in Sri Lanka were unacceptable, as otherwise the ordination would again have been invalidated by one who was not of pure descent. Fortunately, the two theras who had undertaken a pilgrimage to Sri Lanka at the beginning of the century and had received the Sinhalese ordination at that time, were still alive. As a result, one was able to act as preceptor and the other as teacher of the newly ordained bhikkhus. The stage was now set for the reformation and unification of the Mon Order of bhikkhus and soon the re-ordination of almost the entire Order of bhikkhus began. The Kalyani inscription records the number of 15,666 ordinations in hundreds of ordination halls newly constructed for the purpose.
It is interesting to note how forcefully the king reformed the Order through royal decrees that would hardly be tolerated today. He declared that all bhikkhus who were, for example, practicing medicine or other arts and crafts or who even slightly infringed on the Vinaya rules would be expelled. The king as a layman, however, did not have the power to defrock a bhikkhu who had not broken one of the four Parajika rules. Dhammazedi circumvented this by threatening to punish with royal penalties the mother, father, relatives, and lay supporters of bhikkhus whose behavior was not in accordance with the rules of the Vinaya.
It goes without saying that a king who could allow himself to take such drastic measures in regard to the Sangha must have had the support of a broad section of the Order and also the people. After years spent in robes, he was keenly aware of the problems of monastic life and because of this even senior bhikkhus respected and accepted his council. We can assume that all his actions to reform the Order were firstly discussed with his bhikkhu teachers and then implemented with their blessings. There being no such thing as a Buddhist Church with a central authority, the Sangha has little possibility to regulate itself. Only the committed support of a worldly power can protect the Order of bhikkhus from those who take advantage of the respect that is given to the yellow robe.
Dhammazedi’s support for the religion was so great that his fame spread well beyond the borders of Myanmar and bhikkhus from neighbouring countries such as Thailand came to his realm to receive ordination there. Though the reform movement did not spread to Upper Myanmar and cause the same mass ordinations there, it did not remain without influence in the kingdom of Ava and other principalities, and many bhikkhus came to the Mon bhikkhus to receive the Kalyani ordination.

The Myanmar Build an Empire 

Shan versus Myanmar

The beginning of the sixteenth century was one of the most difficult periods for Buddhism in Upper Myanmar. While the religious fervor of Dhammazedi still lived on in the kingdom of Pago in Ava, Shan rulers were endeavoring to bring about the destruction of the Sangha. A Shan king named Thohanbwa (?1527-1543) was particularly well-known for his barbarity. He destroyed pagodas and monasteries and robbed their treasures. Although he was a king, he was uneducated and ignorant. Hence fearing the influence of the bhikkhus and suspicious of their moves, he brought about the massacre of thousands. Under these terror regimes of the Shan rulers the Myanmar did not feel safe. Many, including learned bhikkhus, fled to Toungoo, the stronghold of the Myanmar race in the south. Despite the anarchy prevailing, some respected treatises on Pali grammar were written in Upper Myanmar in these years.
Better times, however, lay ahead for Buddhism in the Golden Land. Two successive kings of Myanmar origin from Toungoo would unite the country and fulfill the duties of Buddhist kings. The wars fought by these two kings, King Tabinshwehti (1531-50) and King Bayinnaung (1551-81), were long in duration and exceedingly cruel. They succeeded in gaining control of the Mon kingdom in Lower Myanmar and the kingdom of Ava. They conquered all of what is today Myanmar including the Shan states as far east as Chiang Mai, and made incursions into lower Thailand and Yunnan where some kings paid tribute to the Myanmar court.
Bayinnaung deferred to the Mon as far as culture and religion were concerned and dressed in Mon style. Under his royal patronage, the Mon Sangha produced scholarly works on grammar and the Abhidhamma and also helped with the collection and standardisation of a code of law based on the old Mon code compiled during Wareru’s reign.
Bayinnaung not only unified the country politically, but also made Buddhist principles the standard for his entire dominion. He forbade the sacrificial slaughter of animals, a custom still practiced by the Shan chiefs, the worshippers of certain spirits, and the followers of some other religions. He built pagodas and monasteries in all the newly conquered lands and installed learned bhikkhus in order to convert the often uncivilized inhabitants to gentler ways. The main religious building of his reign is the Mahazedi Pagoda, a majestic monument to the Buddha in the capital, Pago. He also crowned the main pagodas in Myanmar with the jewels of his own crown, a custom practiced by many rulers of the country. He continued in the tradition of Dhammazedi, in supporting the Sihala Sangha and in sponsoring the ordination of many bhikkhus in the Kalyani Ordination Hall near Pago. It is said that he built as many monasteries as there were years in his life.
It remains a mystery how a king who had such deep devotion to the religion of the Buddha and who was so generous towards it could spend his life fighting campaign after campaign to expand his realm. He caused bloodshed and suffering in the conquered regions and at home people starved because farmers were drafted into the army. However this may be, Bayinnaung seems to have been able to reconcile fighting expansionist wars with being a pious Buddhist.
After King Bayinnaung, Pago rapidly lost its significance. Bayinnaung’s son persecuted the Mon and consequently re-ignited racial tensions that would plague Myanmar for centuries. Later, Pago was to fall into the hands of a Portuguese adventurer who pillaged the pagodas and monasteries. Eventually the whole of Lower Myanmar, already depopulated by the incessant campaigns of Bayinnaung and his successors, was pillaged by all the surrounding kings and princelings. The country was devastated and people starved.
The Sasanavamsa records one major problem of the Vinaya during the sixteenth century. At the beginning of the century, the bhikkhus of Toungoo were divided over whether or not bhikkhus could partake of the juice of the toddy palm which was generally used to prepare fermented drink. The dispute was settled by a respected thera who decided that toddy juice was permissible only if it was freshly harvested.

Political Influence of the Sangha in Early Myanmar

What motivated the royal court probably remained largely a mystery to the ordinary citizens, except when they were pressed into service in the king’s army. There was little sense of collective responsibility as it is cultivated in today’s democracies. Everyone looked after himself and his immediate circle and governments were sometimes more of a scourge than a protection. Kings did not always provide a visible administration beyond appointing governors at whose mercy local people were. These governors often endeavored to establish independence as soon as they perceived inherent weaknesses in their masters. Many accumulated great wealth for themselves.
There was, however, one element in the policy of rulers which, with a few exceptions, remained fairly stable throughout Myanmar history. Most kings supported Buddhism and the Sangha provided a framework of continuity as no other entity could. Ray writes:
They (the kings) were good Buddhists and never did they waver from their kingly duty of acting as the patron-guardian of the faith of the country. Moreover, whatever their numerical strength, the bhikkhus were real spokesmen of the people and the monasteries were the popular assemblies as it were; and each king that came to the throne sought to win the bhikkhus over to his side. The best insurance of a peaceful life in Myanmar was to become a bhikkhu, as they were not drafted into armies or enslaved by conquerors and as long as the lay people had food to eat they were also fed. The bhikkhus not only provided a link between the people and those in power, they often played a role in the affairs of state. This is illustrated by an event which occurred in the middle of the seventeenth century and is related by the Sasanavamsa.
The king, Ukkamsika, popularly known as King Thalun, was a devoted Buddhist and thanks to him, learning flourished in Myanmar. The king’s son, however, tried to dethrone his father, and Thalun, taken by surprise, had to flee accompanied only by two companions. Coming upon a river, the only vessel in sight was the boat of a samanera. The samanera agreed to take them onboard as passengers, and they ended up in the samanera’s monastery where they revealed their true identities and asked for protection from their persecutors. They were referred to another monastery where lived a bhikkhu wise in worldly affairs. Following his advice, the bhikkhus formed a living wall around the monastery and, as no Buddhist will attack a man in robes, the rebels who had come to kill the king had to withdraw. Another example of the beneficial influence of the Sangha is their appeal for clemency to King Bayinnaung. Bhikkhus often tried to stay executions in accordance with the principles of metta (loving kindness) and karuna (compassion) and sometimes their efforts achieved success.
During one of Bayinnaung’s Thai campaigns, the peasantry around Pago revolted and razed the royal city to the ground. Bayinnaung, after hurrying back from Ayutthaya, captured several thousand rebels and was ready to burn them alive. It was the custom then to burn deserters from the army alive and obviously rebellion was considered to be a crime of similar gravity. The bhikkhus of all races intervened on behalf of the poor wretches and were able to save all from the pyre, except for seventy ring leaders, the most serious offenders.
There are several instances in Myanmar history when bhikkhus also mediated between contending kings or princes and helped to avoid bloodshed. This was often the case when cities were besieged and both parties realised that they could not win. The king who was besieged would normally take the initiative and send his bhikkhus to the king in attack. Often the bhikkhus were authorized to negotiate on behalf of the monarch. An armistice agreed by or in the presence of bhikkhus was more likely to be honored than a promise given without their blessings. Therefore, if the two parties were sincere in their offers to negotiate, they usually requested bhikkhus to be mediators and judges.

The Spread of Abhidhamma

The seventeenth century was a period of dynamic growth in the history of Buddhism in Myanmar. Many outstanding developments took place, and principal among these were the numerous translations of texts into the Myanmar language and the great increase in the study of the Abhidhamma. It is quite possible that the two developments were inter-connected.
In the first half of the century, Manirathana Thera translated the following texts into the Myanmar language: Atthasalini, Sammohavinodani, Kankhavitarani, Abhidhammatthavibhavini, Sankhepavannana. Of these five, only the Kankhavitarani, Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the Patimokkha, is not concerned with Abhidhamma. In the second half of the century Aggadhammalankara translated Kaccayana’s Pali grammar, the Abhidhammatthasangaha, Matika, Dhatukatha, Yamaka, and the Patthana into the Myanmar tongue. Later, the Nettippakarana was also translated.
It cannot be a coincidence that nine out of twelve translated works were texts of the Abhidhamma or its commentaries. The reason for these translations must have been a developing interest in the psychology of Buddhism among the Buddhist followers who could not themselves read Pali. Whether these were only bhikkhus or whether lay people were also interested in exploring the scriptures for themselves is difficult to determine now. However, what is known is that almost every boy and many of the girls attended monastic schools, whose curriculum was probably established by this period, if not earlier. Included in the curriculum were studies of the Mangala Sutta, Metta Sutta, Ratana Sutta, and the other parittas, as well as basic literacy which included some Pali. In addition a number of the Abhidhamma texts had to be committed to memory.
The intention behind these translations and commentaries in the Myanmar language was obviously to make the words of the Buddha accessible to a wider audience who would, then, not be solely dependent on the authority of the Pali scholars.
In the later half of the century, the bhikkhu Devacakkhobhasa designed a system for the study and teaching of the Patthana, the last book of the Abhidhamma, which in Myanmar is believed to be the highest teaching of the Buddha. The king at the time of Devacakkhobhasa was so impressed by the bhikkhu’s proficiency in these higher teachings and by his system of instruction, that he ordered the Patthana to be studied in all the monasteries of Myanmar. It is not unreasonable to assume that the king himself studied these teachings. Otherwise he would hardly have been in a position to appreciate them and make them compulsory reading for the Myanmar bhikkhus.
This emphasis on Abhidhamma in general and the Patthana in particular has survived in Myanmar to the present day. The movement, therefore, that began in the seventeenth century is still of great significance for Buddhism there. The Patthana, for instance, is ubiquitous in Myanmar. 
The twenty-four conditions of the Patthana can be found printed on the fans of the bhikkhus, on calendars, and on posters. In some monasteries, the bhikkhus are woken every morning by twenty-four strokes on a hollow tree trunk, while the bhikkhu striking the tree trunk has to recite the twenty-four conditions as he does so. Even little children learn to recite the twenty-four conditions along with the suttas of protection. As the Patthana is the highest and most difficult teaching of the Buddha, it is believed that it will be the first to be lost. In order to slow the decline of the Sasana, many people of Myanmar, bhikkhus and lay people alike, memorize the Patthana and recite it daily.
In Pagan, the Jataka stories and the history of the Buddha’s life were the main subjects of religious study. In later centuries, Pali grammar and the study of the Vinaya were foremost on the agenda. Dhammazedi’s reform movement drew the attention back to the foundations of all monastic life, the code of conduct for the bhikkhus as laid down by the Buddha himself.
Though stricter observation of the Vinaya would have to be re-emphasised in the future, its foundation was firm enough to insure that progressive reform movements would be instigated within the Sangha and not be dependent on external impetus. How far a bhikkhu was allowed to stray from the ideal had been defined in strictures that had become integral to the Sangha. Based on this foundation of sila (right conduct, morality), the Sangha was now free to give increased attention to higher teachings.
The age of the Abhidhamma had dawned. The Abhidhamma remained no longer the domain of a chosen few, but began to be studied by many. The wealth of translations from the Abhidhamma would suggest that in the seventeenth century it had become so popular that it may have been taught even to lay people. The Myanmar language had developed and had been enriched with Pali terms so that it could convey the difficult concepts of Abhidhamma. civilization had matured to an extent never seen before. Myanmar was ready to study the analysis of mind and matter as taught by the Buddha. The stage was being set for the widespread practice of insight meditation (vipassana bhavana) in later times.

The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries 

In the succession of rulers of the eighteenth century some were strong and despotic, while others were ineffective and withdrawn. Some tried to expand their power and fought wars, while others appeared satisfied with existing conditions. There were several wars with Thailand and the population of Myanmar had to bear the deprivations that war invariably brings not only to the conquered, but also to the country where the conquering armies are levied.
After a war between the Mon and the Myanmar in which the Mon initially attacked and then conquered Ava itself, the Myanmar king Alaungpaya (1752-60), who believed himself a Bodhisatta, crushed Mon resistance once and for all. After Pago had fallen into his hands in 1756, Lower Myanmar was devastated and many of the Mon survivors fled to Thailand or were deported as slaves.
Like Bayinnaung, Alaungpaya established a Myanmar empire, at the same time decimating the population of the country by drafting the peasantry into the army for campaigns against Ayutthaya (Thailand) and other countries. The Sasanavamsa does not comment on the atrocity of war. War is perceived as it is, cruel and pitiless — but it is the affair of rulers, not of bhikkhus. The manner in which rulers conduct their affairs is entirely their responsibility. Pannasami probably took very seriously the Buddha’s injunction that a member of the Sangha should not talk about rulers and royal affairs.
The Sasanavamsa pays much attention to a controversy which raged in monastic circles throughout the eighteenth century. At the beginning of the century, some bhikkhus began to wear their robes outside the monasteries as they were worn within them, that is, covering only one shoulder. Even when going on their daily alms round, they failed to drape the robe in the traditional way. When challenged as to the orthodoxy of this practice, they produced various interpretations and opinions, but could not validate their practice through the authority of the scriptures. Different kings endorsed one or other of the two opinions and bhikkhus of the orthodox school even died for their conviction when a king had outlawed the covering of both shoulders.
The most interesting aspect of this historical period of the religion is not so much the actual controversy as the power the king had in religious affairs. The kings of Myanmar were not normally expert in the Vinaya and yet they took the final decision in matters of monastic discipline after due consultation with the leaders of the Sangha. In the more than one hundred years that this controversy prevailed, different kings supported the orthodoxy of either view. This shows that this system is not entirely satisfactory. However, the right view which was in accordance with the Vinaya did eventually triumph due to the persistence of the majority of the Sangha. Only the worldly power was in a position to regulate the Sangha into which undesirable elements entered repeatedly. To keep the Order pure, it had to be always under careful scrutiny and bogus ascetics had to be removed. The kings of Myanmar in co-operation with the Sangharajas and the other senior bhikkhus had established a system of supervision of the bhikkhus by royal officials. In every township, the king’s representatives were responsible for ensuring that the bhikkhus adhered scrupulously to the rules of the Vinaya. Bhikkhus who transgressed were taken before religious courts and punished according to the code of discipline.
The controversy concerning the correct manner of wearing the robes came up for arbitration for the last time under Bodawpaya (1782-1819), the fifth son of Alaungpaya. He decided in favor of orthodoxy and thenceforth all bhikkhus had to cover both shoulders on the daily alms round. This ruling created one unified sect throughout Myanmar under the leadership of a council of senior bhikkhus appointed by the king. These were called the Thudhamma Sayadaws and the Thudhamma sect has survived in Myanmar down to the present day.
Bodawpaya appointed a chapter of eight eminent bhikkhus as Sangharajas, leaders of the Sangha, and charged them with the duty to safeguard the purity of the Order of bhikkhus. As a direct result of the discipline and stability created by the work of these senior bhikkhus, the Sangha prospered, and consequently scholarship flourished under Bodawpaya’s reign.
The name of the Mahasangharaja Nanabhivamsa is especially noteworthy in this respect. Nanabhivamsa was an eminently learned bhikkhu who had proven his wisdom even as a young man. Only five years after his ordination as a bhikkhu, he had completed a commentary (tika) on the Nettippakarana. Eight years after full ordination, at the age of twenty-eight, he became Sangharaja, and then Mahasangharaja, the title conferred by the king on the highest bhikkhu in his realm. Soon after this, he wrote his well respected “new sub-commentary” on the Digha Nikaya, the Sadhujjanavilasini. At the request of the king, he wrote a commentary on Buddhaghosa’s Jatakatthakatha and several other treatises.
The king was so devoted to the head of the Sangha that he dedicated a “very magnificent five storied monastery” to him and later many other monasteries as well. According to the Sasanavamsa, Nanabhivamsa was not only a scholar, but also practiced the ascetic practices (dhutanga) sitting always alone. He divided his time between the various monasteries under his tutelage and was an indefatigable teacher of the scriptures.
Scholarship flourished in the reign of King Bodawpaya and Myanmar was able, for the first time, to return thanks to Sri Lanka for nurturing the religion in the Golden Land. The bhikkhu ordination (upasampada) preserved in Myanmar was re-introduced to Sri Lanka where the Sasana had been interferred with by an unwise king.

The Amarapura Nikaya in Sri Lanka

In the later half of the eighteenth century, the upasampada ordination in Sri Lanka was barred to all except the members of the landed aristocracy. This was a result of royal decree probably issued with the support of at least a section of the Sangha. However, this was a flagrant defilement of the letter and the spirit of the Buddha’s instructions. The conferring of the upasampada ordination is dependent only upon such conditions as the candidate being a man, free from government service, free of debt, free of contagious diseases, and upon his having his parents’ consent, etc. Members of the lower castes had now only the possibility of becoming novices (samanera), a condition that created dissatisfaction. A sizeable section of ordained bhikkhus also disapproved of the royal order, but were in no position to defy it within the country. The only recourse for those of the lower castes desiring the higher ordination was therefore to travel to other Buddhist countries to ordain. At first, missions were sent to Thailand where Dhammazedi’s reforms lived on through the ordination conferred to Thai bhikkhus in Pago and through the scores of Mon bhikkhus who had found refuge in Thailand from the Myanmar armies.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, Sinhalese bhikkhus began traveling to Myanmar to find the pure ordination there. The fame of the then Mahasangharaja of Myanmar, Nanabhivamsa, influenced their choice. Scholarship had developed in all fields: Pali grammar, the Vinaya, the Suttanta, and the Abhidhamma. Myanmar had, after a long period of development, become the custodian of Buddhism.
The first delegation from Sri Lanka arrived in 1800 and was welcomed with a magnificent reception by King Bodawpaya himself. Nanabhivamsa, the wise Sangharaja, ordained the samaneras as bhikkhus and instructed them for some time in the scriptures. On returning to Sri Lanka, they were accompanied by five Myanmar bhikkhus and a letter from Nanabhivamsa to the Sinhalese Sangharaja. Five bhikkhus form a full chapter and apparently the Myanmar bhikkhus were permitted to ordain bhikkhus without class distinction. Even today, Sri Lanka possesses three schools, the Amarapura Nikaya, the Siyama Nikaya (Thai school), and the Ramanna Nikaya.
The Amarapura Nikaya was so called because King Bodawpaya had established his capital in Amarapura (between Mandalay and Ava) and the bhikkhus had received their ordination there. The Ramanna Nikaya was presumably founded by bhikkhus who had received ordination from Mon bhikkhus in the tradition of the Dhammazedi reforms and who had fled to southern Thailand from the wrath of the Myanmar kings. Both these schools were allowed to ordain bhikkhus without discriminating against the lower classes. Only the Siyama Sangha (the Thai ordination) continued to follow the royal command, and ordained only novices of the higher castes as bhikkhus. Missions from Sri Lanka continued to travel to Amarapura to consult with its senior theras and they were all given royal patronage and sent back with gifts of the Pali scriptures and commentarial texts.

Bodawpaya’s Relationship with the Sangha

Although King Bodawpaya would appear to have been a pious and devout king, his relationship with the Sangha was somewhat problematic. He supported it at times and even used it to extend his own glory, but at times he seemed almost jealous of the respect the bhikkhus received from the people. He realised that the bhikkhus were not respected out of fear, but were held in genuine esteem and affection by his subjects. His jealousy became apparent on different occasions.
At one time, he declared that from then on the bhikkhus were no longer to be addressed by the traditional title “Hpoungyi” meaning “The One of Great Merit.” This form of address was to be reserved for the king. Then again he tried to confiscate land and other goods given to the Sangha and to pagodas by previous generations. When the Sangharajas could not answer his questions to his satisfaction, he invited the Muslim clergy for a meal to test their faith. He had heard that they were so strict in the observance of their discipline that they would rather die than eat pork. Unfortunately for them, they did not display great heroism as they all ate the pork offered to them by the king. Bodawpaya is also reputed to have been beset by a form of megalomania. He wanted to force the Sangha to confirm officially that he was the Bodhisatta of the next Buddha to come in this world cycle, the Buddha Metteyya. On this issue, however, the Sangha was not to be bent even in the face of royal wrath. The bhikkhus refused, and the king was finally forced to accept defeat. Another expression of his inflated self-esteem was the Mingun Pagoda near Sagaing. It was to be by far the biggest temple ever built. Scores of slaves and laborers worked on its construction until funds were depleted. However, it was never completed and remains today as a huge shapeless square of millions of bricks.
To his credit, King Bodawpaya imposed the morality of the Five Precepts in his whole realm and had offenders executed immediately. Capital punishment was prescribed for selling and drinking alcohol, killing larger animals such as buffaloes, spreading heretical views, and the smoking of opium. Bodawpaya ruled the country with an iron fist and brought offending lay people as well as bhikkhus to heel. His successors were benevolent, but possibly they could be so only because of the fear his rule had instilled in the populace.

The Fate of Buddhism in Upper and Lower Myanmar

Bodawpaya’s successor, Bagyidaw (1819-1837), was the first of the Myanmar kings to lose territory to the white invaders coming from the West. The Myanmar court was so out of touch with the modern world that it still believed Myanmar to be the center of the world and her army virtually invincible. Hence the king was not unduly disturbed when the British raj, governing the Indian sub-continent, declared war on the Kingdom of Ava in 1824 (Bagyidaw had moved the capital back to Ava). It came to a battle near the coast in which the Myanmar general Mahabandhula achieved little or nothing against modern British arms. The Indian colonial government occupied all of the Myanmar coast as far south as Tenasserim in 1826 and forced the treaty of Yandabo on King Bagyidaw. In the treaty, he was forced to accept the new borders established by the Indian government and pay compensation to the invaders for the annexation of the coast of Lower Myanmar.
However, Bagyidaw made a very important contribution to the development of the Sangha and to the literature of Myanmar in general. His predecessor, Bodawpaya, had united the Sangha by resolving the dispute relating to the draping of the robe over one or two shoulders. Bagyidaw saw the necessity of creating stability for the Sangha. He felt that this could be achieved to some extent by bestowing on it a sense of its own history. He commissioned a work on the history of the religion starting from the time of the Buddha, which was to show an unbroken succession of the pure tradition from teacher to pupil. Its purpose was to praise the diligent theras and expose the shameless ones.
This work, the Thathana-lin-ga-ya-kyan, was composed at the king’s request by the ex-bhikkhu Mahadhamma-thin-gyan, a leading member of the committee appointed by King Bagyidaw to compile the famous Hman-nan-ya-za-win, The Glass-palace Chronicle, a secular history of Myanmar. The Thathana-wun-tha (Sasanavamsa)-lin-ga-ya-kyan was completed in 1831; and in 1897, it was printed in the form of a modern book for the first time in Yangon. Pannasami based his Sasanavamsa on this work. About forty percent of the Sasanavamsa is straight translation from the original work, about forty percent summaries and paraphrasing of the latter, and only some twenty percent Pannasami’s own work. Pannasami states in his introduction to the Sasanavamsa that his treatise is based on the works of the ancients (porana). The concept of mental property or copyright had not been born and there was no moral need to refer the reader to sources except to give authority to a statement. The only references that would lend authority to a treatise would be the scriptures, their commentaries, and sub-commentaries, but not a work as recent as the Thathana-wuntha-lin-ga-ya-kyan.
The preface to the original work in Myanmar explains the reason for its compilation. The king’s representative had many times pleaded with the author to write a history of the succession of [righteous] religious teachers so that the people would not become heretical. Apparently the king felt that the lack of a work recording the history of the pure religion in its entirety left scope for wrong views to arise. But with an authoritative record of the lineage of teachers, bhikkhus could not call on views of shameless bhikkhus of the past anymore in order to support their heresies. This is exactly what had happened again and again through the centuries and especially in the robe-draping dispute. The ekamsikas, the one-shoulder-drapers, had repeatedly dug out obscure teachers in order to support their point of view. This was to be made impossible once and for all.
Whether this has been successful is difficult to ascertain without a detailed study of the developments in the Sangha since the publication of this work. However, the fact that the original Myanmar chronicle was revised and translated into Pali for the Fifth Buddhist Council indicates that it was by this time considered a useful tool to put the king’s authority behind a well-defined orthodox lineage, thus making it easy to refute heresy by referring to the historical teachers.


King Bagyidaw never overcame his shock over the loss of part of his realm. He was declared insane and was removed from the throne by Tharawaddy-Min (1837-1846), King Mindon’s father.
In the reign of Tharrawaddy-Min, another mission from Sri Lanka visited Myanmar and was received by the Sangharaja Neyyadhammabhivamsa. Neyyadhamma instructed the two bhikkhus and the accompanying novice in the teachings and conferred the bhikkhu ordination on the novice. He is known for his critical emendation of the text of the Saddhammapajjotika and its translation into Myanmar. He was also the teacher of the later Sangharaja Pannasami, the compiler of the Sasanavamsa and one of the most influential theras at the time of King Mindon. Neyyadhamma showed the need for a recension of at least some of the Pali texts by editing the Saddhammapajjotika. His disciple, Pannasami, was to preside over the recension of the entire Tipitaka as Sangharaja under King Mindon.


Tharrawaddy-Min was himself deposed because of insanity by his son Pagan-Min (1846-52), the brother of Mindon-Min. Pagan-Min appointed Pannajotabhidhaja as his Sangharaja. In his tenure, scholarship received encouragement as the Sangharaja himself wrote a commentary and its sub-commentary in Myanmar on the Anguttara Nikaya. Other works of the time, all in the vernacular, are a translation of the Saddhammavilasini and commentaries on the Samyutta Nikaya and the Digha Nikaya. This is also the time when the author of the Sasanavamsa appears. He started his scholarly career with the translation into Myanmar of a commentary on the Saddatthabhedacinta. His next work was a comparison of the existing versions of the Abhidhanappadipika and the translation of his emended text.
In accord with the pre-eminence Myanmar had achieved in the Theravada Buddhist world, the kings of the country became less fierce and wars were fewer. The successors of Bodawpaya seem to have shown a genuine interest in religion as well as in improving the administration of the country. Upper Myanmar moved into a period of peace, which meant improved conditions for the bhikkhus.
The first half of the nineteenth century saw the translation of many Pali texts into the Myanmar language. Almost the whole of the Suttanta was now available in the vernacular and many commentaries and sub-commentaries on Suttanta, Abhidhamma, and the Vinaya were composed in it. This not only made it easier for bhikkhus with limited linguistic skills to study the texts, but also made them readily accessible to the laity. That people in a peaceful country have more time for the study of religion is obvious and soon Myanmar would see the first Buddhist texts printed on modern printing presses. This made it possible for a great number of people to acquire texts relatively cheaply without having to pay a scribe to copy them laboriously onto palm leaves.
Politically Pagan-Min was no luckier than Bagyidaw, as he lost the provinces of Pathein (Bassein) and Yangon (Rangoon) to the British, who were ever ready to create some pretext for war. So, in 1852, the Kingdom of Ava lost access to the sea and became increasingly dependent on the colonial power. Like his father, Pagan-Min was overthrown in a palace revolt. Although not a leader of the uprising, his brother Mindon was placed on the throne. He did not execute the deposed king as was usually the case after a revolt, but allowed him to end his days in dignity.

The Colonial Administration and the Sangha

The occupation by the British forces was of utmost significance for the Sangha as the British administration did not grant the traditional protection afforded it by a Buddhist ruler. In accordance with the colonial policy established in India, that the colonial government should be strictly secular, the new lords refused to take on the role of a Buddhist monarch and accept responsibility for the enforcing of the bhikkhus’ discipline. Without this, Buddhism in Lower Myanmar soon suffered and offending bhikkhus went unpunished. The colonial administration would recognise its mistake only much later, when it was too late, and when they were not able to establish control in the Sangha any longer. 

King Mindon

Even today King Mindon’s reign (1852-1877) is surrounded by the mystique of a golden era in the minds of the Myanmar people. No war occurred during the twenty-five years of his tenure and the king himself is said to have been of gentle disposition and adverse to violence. He even declared a dislike for capital punishment which was customarily inflicted by sovereigns for the slightest disobedience or even disagreement. He was not only held in esteem by his subjects, but even praised by a British envoy. The colonisers’ comments on the Myanmar and their kings were usually dictated by a parochial narrow-mindedness and a simplistic view that was only widened by contact with the conquered. Therefore General Fytche’s words describing King Mindon are all the more impressive: “Doubtless one of the most enlightened monarchs that has ever sat on the Burmese throne. He is polished in his manner, has considerable knowledge of the affairs of state and the history and the statistics of his own and other countries. In personal character he is amiable and kind and, according to his light, religious.”
King Mindon transferred the capital from Ava to Mandalay, the last royal capital before the British annexation of the whole of Myanmar in 1886. In the early years of his reign, Mindon strove to improve monastic discipline. Although a system of official investigation of complaints relating to bhikkhus’ misdemeanours existed, each king had to take his own initiative in re-establishing order in the Sangha.
Mindon found that the attitude of many members of the Sangha to their code of conduct was exceedingly lax. He therefore wanted all bhikkhus of his dominions to take a vow of obedience to the Vinaya rules in front of a Buddha image. He consulted the Sangharaja who convened an assembly of mahatheras, the Thudhamma Council. As opinions regarding the vow differed, the primate’s disciple, Pannasami, had to deliver a religious address in support of the king’s views. He reasoned that vows were also taken by the bhikkhus at the time of ordination and that if the king sincerely desired to improve the discipline in the Order, he should be supported. All agreed, and the vow was prescribed.
The greatest challenge King Mindon had to face as a Buddhist monarch was undoubtedly his duty to look after the spiritual welfare of his subjects not only in his own dominions, but also in the parts of Myanmar occupied by the British. Moreover, he and many of the leading sayadaws of his court were increasingly aware that the British were only waiting for an occasion to annex the whole of Myanmar. Mindon’s army clearly would not be able to stand up to the might of the Indian colonial government. Therefore, it was not only important to support religious activities in the occupied territories but it was also essential to prepare the religion for the time when it would have to survive without the support of a Buddhist monarch.
The British had made it clear at the outset that they would not take over the traditional role of the Myanmar kings, that of protector of the Sasana. The new masters’ religion, Christianity, rapidly gained influence through the missionary schools. The schools were popular because their education provided much assistance in securing a job and favor with the colonisers. Christian religious education was a compulsory part of their curriculum.
After the conquest of Lower Myanmar, many bhikkhus had fled north in order to remain within the jurisdiction of the Myanmar kings. Many monasteries in British Myanmar were left without an incumbent and whole villages were therefore bereft of the opportunity to receive religious and general education. King Mindon, aware of this situation, tried to convince bhikkhus to return to Lower Myanmar in order to serve their people. The king’s efforts proved successful and many bhikkhus returned to their places of origin. But soon it became clear that without the king’s ecclesiastic officials to control the discipline of the Sangha, many bhikkhus developed a careless attitude towards their code of discipline.
The Okpo Sayadaw, from Okpo between Yangon and Pago, had stopped many bhikkhus on their way to Upper Myanmar when the movements of bhikkhus out of the conquered territories was at its peak around 1855. He assembled the bhikkhus around himself teaching that the Sangha needed no protection from the secular power if it observed the rules of the Vinaya strictly. His monastery was the birth place of a movement of strict monastic discipline. He also emphasised that mental volition was what really mattered in the religion of the Buddha and that acts of worship done with an impure intention were worthless. He obviously felt that much of the Buddhist practice had become a ritual and that the essence had been lost. In addition to this, however, his movement also challenged the authority of the king’s Council of Sayadaws, the leaders of the unified Thudhamma sect, when he declared their ordination was invalid due to a technicality. As a result, he took the higher ordination anew together with his followers.
The Okpo Sayadaw was not the only critic of the Thudhamma sayadaws. In Upper Myanmar, the Ngettwin Sayadaw criticized many religious practices and maintained that a radical reassesment of religious teachings was necessary. The Ngettwin Sayadaw was also a source of inspiration for the Okpo Sayadaw and other reformers. He had been the teacher of Mindon’s chief queen and had also advised the king on many occasions. Interestingly, he was a driving force in a movement in Upper Myanmar that wanted to return to the fundamentals of the religion, but more radically than the Okpo Sayadaw. The Ngettwin Sayadaw, together with many other bhikkhus, left the royal city and went to live in the forest near Sagaing. He started to preach that meditation was essential for all bhikkhus and he required an aspirant to novicehood to prove that he had practiced meditation before he would ordain him. All the bhikkhus around him had to spend a period of the day in meditation and he emphasised that meditation was of much greater importance than learning. He advised lay people to stop making offerings of flowers, fruits, and candles to Buddha images, but to meditate regularly on the Uposatha days. Of course, his instructions that offerings to Buddha images were fruitless and merely dirtied the places of worship, caused considerable unhappiness with the traditional Thudhamma Council and presumably with many ordinary people. However, the Ngettwin Sayadaw never strove to form a different sect by holding a separate ordination as did the Okpo Sayadaw. His reforms were within the community and within a Buddhist society that was presided over by a king. The Okpo Sayadaw had no place for royalty in his view of the world and did not hesitate to confront the system that was still alive, though obviously doomed.
Two other important sayadaws of King Mindon’s reign deserve mention: the Shwegyin Sayadaw and the Thingazar Sayadaw. The Shwegyin Sayadawalso tried to reform the Sangha and his movement is still very much alive and highly respected in Myanmar today. He had studied under the Okpo Sayadaw, but when he returned to his native Shwegyin near Shwebo in Upper Myanmar, he avoided controversy in never rebelling against the Thudhamma Council. He introduced two new rules for his bhikkhus, that they must not chew betel and consume tobacco after noon. He also maintained that the Sangha must regulate itself without help from the authority, but he never doubted the validity of the traditional ordination ceremony.
The Thingazar Sayadaw was one of the most popular of the great sayadaws of his time. He was also part of the movement to return to the basics of the teachings and greatly emphasised the importance of practice as opposed to mere scholarship. Though he was greatly honored by the king and made a member of the Thudhamma Council, he preferred spending long periods in solitude in the forest. In the numerous monasteries built for him by the royal family and the nobility of the country, he insisted on the practice of the purest of conduct in accordance with the Vinaya. However, he did not involve himself in disputes with the extreme reformers or the Thudhamma council. He became very popular through the humorous tales he told in sermons preached in his frequent travels up and down the country.
King Mindon had no easy task. One section of the Sangha was pressing for far reaching reforms, yet it was the king’s duty to maintain a certain continuity of the traditional ways for the benefit of the people in general. What complicated the situation was the fact that the Sangha of Lower Myanmar felt more and more independent of the Buddhist monarch and his Thudhamma council of senior mahatheras. This is illustrated graphically by the Okpo Sayadaw’s declaration that the Sangha needed no regulation by the worldly power. This view gained popularity also in Upper Myanmar. Luckily, King Mindon’s devotion to Buddhism was genuine and he was not deterred by the difficulties confronting him. He was determined not to allow the Sangha to split into factions that were openly opposing each other. This he achieved to some extent through careful diplomacy and through the calling of a great Synod, a Sangayana, in the royal city of Mandalay.
The Sangayana, or Buddhist Council, is the most important function of the Buddhist religion. The first Sangayana was held during the first Rains Retreat after the Parinibbana of the Buddha; the texts to be regarded as authentic were determined at this time. There had been three more Sangayanas since, according to the Theravada tradition. The council convened by the great Emperor Asoka, whose missionaries brought Buddhism to Myanmar, probably provided the most inspiration for Mindon. The Fourth Council, the one prior to Mindon’s council, was held in Sri Lanka in the first century BC, at the Aluvihara near Matale, for the purpose of writing down the Tipitaka, which up to that time had been passed on orally.
King Mindon himself presided over the Fifth Buddhist Council, during which all the canonical texts were recited and the correct form was established from among any variant readings. The task took more than three years to accomplish, from 1868 to 1871. When the bhikkhus had completed their great project, the king had all of the Buddhist scriptures, the Tipitaka, engraved on 729 marble slabs. The slabs were then housed each in a separate small pagoda about three meters high with a roof to protect the inscriptions from the elements. The small shrines were built around a central pagoda, the Kutho-daw Pagoda, the Pagoda of the Noble Merit. To commemorate the great council, King Mindon crowned the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon with a new Hti or spire.
The Fifth Buddhist Council and the crowning of the Shwedagon Pagoda reminded all the people of Myanmar of the importance of their religion, as well as of the fact that the king and the Thudhamma Council of senior monks were still the guardians of the Sasana. The authority of the Thudhamma Council was greatly enhanced also in Lower Myanmar through the synod. Although the British had not allowed King Mindon to attend the raising of the new spire onto the Shwedagon, the crowning was a symbol of the religious unity of Myanmar which persisted in spite of the British occupation. The religion was also later to become the rallying point for the Myanmar nationalists who fought for independence from the colonisers.
King Mindon’s reign produced a number of scholarly works as well as translations from the Pali. Neyyadhamma, the royal preceptor, himself wrote a sub-commentary on the Majjhima Nikaya, which had been translated by one of his disciples under his guidance. A commentary in Myanmar on the Pali Jatakas was composed by Medhavivamsa and the compiler of the Sasanavamsa, Pannasami, put his name to a great number of works. One of the queens of King Mindon requested Pannasami to write the Silakatha and the Upayakatha. His teacher asked him to compose the Voharatthabheda, Vivadavinicchaya, Nagarajuppattikatha. He also wrote a commentary on Aggavamsa’s Saddaniti. Whether all these works were composed by Pannasami or whether they were composed under his supervision and control is difficult to assess. It is interesting to note that a majority of his works were composed in Pali, which was no doubt an attempt to encourage bhikkhus not to forgo Pali scholarship now that Myanmar translations were readily available. The calling of a great Buddhist council to purify the scriptures was part of this movement towards the revival of the study of the original texts.
During King Mindon’s reign bhikkhus from Sri Lanka came to Mandalay on several occasions to solve difficult questions of Vinaya and to receive the bhikkhu ordination in Myanmar. After Mindon’s death in 1877, his son Thibaw ascended the throne. He was weak and of feeble intellect, and his reign was short. In 1886, he lost his kingdom to the British empire and was exiled to India.
With the complete annexation of Myanmar by the British, a historical era came to an end. Theravada Buddhism developed in Myanmar over more than two millennia. The visits of the Buddha were the first brief illuminations in a country that was shrouded in darkness. The worship of the Buddha that is thought to have resulted from these visits and from the arrival of the hair relics, may have been merely part of a nature religion. The pure religion could not endure for long in a country which was yet on the brink of civilization. Later, however, the teachings of the Buddha were brought repeatedly to those lands by various people.
The visits of the Arahats sent out after Emperor Asoka’s council are historically more acceptable than the visits of the Buddha. Their teachings were understood and perpetuated possibly in Indian settlements along the coast and later in communities of people from central Asia such as the Pyu. Through their contact with India, these cultural centers of the Pyu and Mon could remain in contact with Buddhism. At first the important centers of Theravada Buddhism were in northern India and later in South India and then Sri Lanka. Through repeated contact with orthodox bhikkhus abroad, the understanding of Buddhism grew ever stronger in the minds of the people of Myanmar. The religion was distorted dozens of times through ignorance and carelessness, but someone always appeared to correct the teachings with the help of the mainstays of the Sasana abroad. Gradually the role was reversed: instead of traveling abroad for advice, the bhikkhus of Myanmar became the guardians of Theravada Buddhist teaching and their authority was respected by all. Eventually, when Theravada Buddhism had long been lost to India and its future was uncertain in Sri Lanka, it found a secure home in Southeast Asia, especially in Myanmar.

The Edicts of King Asoka


With the rediscovery and translation of Indian literature by European scholars in the 19th century, it was not just the religion and philosophy of Buddhism that came to light, but also its many legendary histories and biographies. Amongst this class of literature, one name that came to be noticed was that of Asoka, a good king who was supposed to have ruled India in the distant past. Stories about this king, similar in outline but differing greatly in details, were found in the Divyavadana, the Asokavadana, the Mahavamsa and several other works. They told of an exceptionally cruel and ruthless prince who had many of his brothers killed in order to seize the throne, who was dramatically converted to Buddhism and who ruled wisely and justly for the rest of his life. None of these stories were taken seriously — after all many pre-modern cultures had legends about “too good to be true” kings who had ruled righteously in the past and who, people hoped, would rule again soon. Most of these legends had their origins more in popular longing to be rid of the despotic and uncaring kings than in any historical fact. And the numerous stories about Asoka were assumed to be the same.
But in 1837, James Prinsep succeeded in deciphering an ancient inscription on a large stone pillar in Delhi. Several other pillars and rocks with similar inscriptions had been known for some time and had attracted the curiosity of scholars. Prinsep’s inscription proved to be a series of edicts issued by a king calling himself “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi.” In the following decades, more and more edicts by this same king were discovered and with increasingly accurate decipherment of their language, a more complete picture of this man and his deeds began to emerge. Gradually, it dawned on scholars that the King Piyadasi of the edicts might be the King Asoka so often praised in Buddhist legends. However, it was not until 1915, when another edict actually mentioning the name Asoka was discovered, that the identification was confirmed. Having been forgotten for nearly 700 years, one of the greatest men in history became known to the world once again.
Asoka’s edicts are mainly concerned with the reforms he instituted and the moral principles he recommended in his attempt to create a just and humane society. As such, they give us little information about his life, the details of which have to be culled from other sources. Although the exact dates of Asoka’s life are a matter of dispute among scholars, he was born in about 304 B.C. and became the third king of the Mauryan dynasty after the death of his father, Bindusara. His given name was Asoka but he assumed the title Devanampiya Piyadasi which means “Beloved-of-the-Gods, He Who Looks On With Affection.” There seems to have been a two-year war of succession during which at least one of Asoka’s brothers was killed. 
In 262 B.C., eight years after his coronation, Asoka’s armies attacked and conquered Kalinga, a country that roughly corresponds to the modern state of Orissa. The loss of life caused by battle, reprisals, deportations and the turmoil that always exists in the aftermath of war so horrified Asoka that it brought about a complete change in his personality. It seems that Asoka had been calling himself a Buddhist for at least two years prior to the Kalinga war, but his commitment to Buddhism was only lukewarm and perhaps had a political motive behind it. But after the war Asoka dedicated the rest of his life trying to apply Buddhist principles to the administration of his vast empire. He had a crucial part to play in helping Buddhism to spread both throughout India and abroad, and probably built the first major Buddhist monuments. Asoka died in 232 B.C. in the thirty-eighth year of his reign.
Asoka’s edicts are to be found scattered in more than thirty places throughout India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of them are written in Brahmi script from which all Indian scripts and many of those used in Southeast Asia later developed. The language used in the edicts found in the eastern part of the sub-continent is a type of Magadhi, probably the official language of Asoka’s court. The language used in the edicts found in the western part of India is closer to Sanskrit although one bilingual edict in Afghanistan is written in Aramaic and Greek. Asoka’s edicts, which comprise the earliest decipherable corpus of written documents from India, have survived throughout the centuries because they are written on rocks and stone pillars. These pillars in particular are testimony to the technological and artistic genius of ancient Indian civilization. Originally, there must have been many of them, although only ten with inscriptions still survive. Averaging between forty and fifty feet in height, and weighing up to fifty tons each, all the pillars were quarried at Chunar, just south of Varanasi and dragged, sometimes hundreds of miles, to where they were erected. Each pillar was originally capped by a capital, sometimes a roaring lion, a noble bull or a spirited horse, and the few capitals that survive are widely recognized as masterpieces of Indian art. Both the pillars and the capitals exhibit a remarkable mirror-like polish that has survived despite centuries of exposure to the elements. The location of the rock edicts is governed by the availability of suitable rocks, but the edicts on pillars are all to be found in very specific places. Some, like the Lumbini pillar, mark the Buddha’s birthplace, while its inscriptions commemorate Asoka’s pilgrimage to that place. Others are to be found in or near important population centers so that their edicts could be read by as many people as possible.
There is little doubt that Asoka’s edicts were written in his own words rather than in the stylistic language in which royal edicts or proclamations in the ancient world were usually written in. Their distinctly personal tone gives us a unique glimpse into the personality of this complex and remarkable man. Asoka’s style tends to be somewhat repetitious and plodding as if explaining something to one who has difficulty in understanding. Asoka frequently refers to the good works he has done, although not in a boastful way, but more, it seems, to convince the reader of his sincerity. In fact, an anxiousness to be thought of as a sincere person and a good administrator is present in nearly every edict. Asoka tells his subjects that he looked upon them as his children, that their welfare is his main concern; he apologizes for the Kalinga war and reassures the people beyond the borders of his empire that he has no expansionist intentions towards them. Mixed with this sincerity, there is a definite puritanical streak in Asoka’s character suggested by his disapproval of festivals and of religious rituals many of which while being of little value were nonetheless harmless.
It is also very clear that Buddhism was the most influential force in Asoka’s life and that he hoped his subjects likewise would adopt his religion. He went on pilgrimages to Lumbini and Bodh Gaya, sent teaching monks to various regions in India and beyond its borders, and he was familiar enough with the sacred texts to recommend some of them to the monastic community. It is also very clear that Asoka saw the reforms he instituted as being a part of his duties as a Buddhist. But, while he was an enthusiastic Buddhist, he was not partisan towards his own religion or intolerant of other religions. He seems to have genuinely hoped to be able to encourage everyone to practice his or her own religion with the same conviction that he practiced his.
Scholars have suggested that because the edicts say nothing about the philosophical aspects of Buddhism, Asoka had a simplistic and naive understanding of the Dhamma. This view does not take into account the fact that the purpose of the edicts was not to expound the truths of Buddhism, but to inform the people of Asoka’s reforms and to encourage them to be more generous, kind and moral. This being the case, there was no reason for Asoka to discuss Buddhist philosophy. Asoka emerges from his edicts as an able administrator, an intelligent human being and as a devoted Buddhist, and we could expect him to take as keen an interest in Buddhist philosophy as he did in Buddhist practice.
The contents of Asoka’s edicts make it clear that all the legends about his wise and humane rule are more than justified and qualify him to be ranked as one of the greatest rulers. In his edicts, he spoke of what might be called state morality, and private or individual morality. The first was what he based his administration upon and what he hoped would lead to a more just, more spiritually inclined society, while the second was what he recommended and encouraged individuals to practice. Both these types of morality were imbued with the Buddhist values of compassion, moderation, tolerance and respect for all life. The Asokan state gave up the predatory foreign policy that had characterized the Mauryan empire up till then and replaced it with a policy of peaceful co-existence. The judicial system was reformed in order to make it more fair, less harsh and less open to abuse, while those sentenced to death were given a stay of execution to prepare appeals and regular amnesties were given to prisoners. State resources were used for useful public works like the importation and cultivation of medical herbs, the building of rest houses, the digging of wells at regular intervals along main roads and the planting of fruit and shade trees. To ensue that these reforms and projects were carried out, Asoka made himself more accessible to his subjects by going on frequent inspection tours and he expected his district officers to follow his example. To the same end, he gave orders that important state business or petitions were never to be kept from him no matter what he was doing at the time. The state had a responsibility not just to protect and promote the welfare of its people but also its wildlife. Hunting certain species of wild animals was banned, forest and wildlife reserves were established and cruelty to domestic and wild animals was prohibited. The protection of all religions, their promotion and the fostering of harmony between them, was also seen as one of the duties of the state. It even seems that something like a Department of Religious Affairs was established with officers called Dhamma Mahamatras whose job it was to look after the affairs of various religious bodies and to encourage the practice of religion.
The individual morality that Asoka hoped to foster included respect (susrusa) towards parents, elders, teachers, friends, servants, ascetics and brahmans — behavior that accords with the advice given to Sigala by the Buddha (Digha Nikaya, Discourse No. 31). He encouraged generosity (dana) to the poor (kapana valaka), to ascetics and brahmans, and to friends and relatives. Not surprisingly, Asoka encouraged harmlessness towards all life (avihisa bhutanam). In conformity with the Buddha’s advice in the Anguttara Nikaya, II:282, he also considered moderation in spending and moderation in saving to be good (apa vyayata apa bhadata). Treating people properly (samya pratipati), he suggested, was much more important than performing ceremonies that were supposed to bring good luck. Because it helped promote tolerance and mutual respect, Asoka desired that people should be well-learned (bahu sruta) in the good doctrines (kalanagama) of other people’s religions. The qualities of heart that are recommended by Asoka in the edicts indicate his deep spirituality. They include kindness (daya), self-examination (palikhaya), truthfulness (sace), gratitude (katamnata), purity of heart (bhava sudhi), enthusiasm (usahena), strong loyalty (dadha bhatita), self-control (sayame) and love of the Dhamma (Dhamma kamata).
We have no way of knowing how effective Asoka’s reforms were or how long they lasted but we do know that monarchs throughout the ancient Buddhist world were encouraged to look to his style of government as an ideal to be followed. King Asoka has to be credited with the first attempt to develop a Buddhist polity. Today, with widespread disillusionment in prevailing ideologies and the search for a political philosophy that goes beyond greed (capitalism), hatred (communism) and delusion (dictatorships led by “infallible” leaders), Asoka’s edicts may make a meaningful contribution to the development of a more spiritually based political system.

The Fourteen Rock Edicts 

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has caused this Dhamma edict to be written. Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice. Nor should festivals be held, for Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, sees much to object to in such festivals, although there are some festivals that Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does approve of. Formerly, in the kitchen of Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, hundreds of thousands of animals were killed every day to make curry. But now with the writing of this Dhamma edict only three creatures, two peacocks and a deer are killed, and the deer not always. And in time, not even these three creatures will be killed.
Everywhere within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi’s domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochos rules, and among the kings who are neighbors of Antiochos, everywhere has Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Twelve years after my coronation this has been ordered — Everywhere in my domain the Yuktas, the Rajjukas and the Pradesikas shall go on inspection tours every five years for the purpose of Dhamma instruction and also to conduct other business.
Respect for mother and father is good, generosity to friends, acquaintances, relatives, Brahmans and ascetics is good, not killing living beings is good, moderation in spending and moderation in saving is good. The Council shall notify the Yuktas about the observance of these instructions in these very words.
In the past, for many hundreds of years, killing or harming living beings and improper behavior towards relatives, and improper behavior towards Brahmans and ascetics has increased. But now due to Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi’s Dhamma practice, the sound of the drum has been replaced by the sound of the Dhamma. The sighting of heavenly cars, auspicious elephants, bodies of fire and other divine sightings has not happened for many hundreds of years. But now because Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi promotes restraint in the killing and harming of living beings, proper behavior towards relatives, Brahmans and ascetics, and respect for mother, father and elders, such sightings have increased.
These and many other kinds of Dhamma practice have been encouraged by Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, and he will continue to promote Dhamma practice. And the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, too will continue to promote Dhamma practice until the end of time; living by Dhamma and virtue, they will instruct in Dhamma. Truly, this is the highest work, to instruct in Dhamma. But practicing the Dhamma cannot be done by one who is devoid of virtue and therefore its promotion and growth is commendable.
This edict has been written so that it may please my successors to devote themselves to promoting these things and not allow them to decline. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has had this written twelve years after his coronation.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: To do good is difficult. One who does good first does something hard to do. I have done many good deeds, and, if my sons, grandsons and their descendants up to the end of the world act in like manner, they too will do much good. But whoever amongst them neglects this, they will do evil. Truly, it is easy to do evil.
In the past there were no Dhamma Mahamatras but such officers were appointed by me thirteen years after my coronation. Now they work among all religions for the establishment of Dhamma, for the promotion of Dhamma, and for the welfare and happiness of all who are devoted to Dhamma. They work among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Gandharas, the Rastrikas, the Pitinikas and other peoples on the western borders. They work among soldiers, chiefs, Brahmans, householders, the poor, the aged and those devoted to Dhamma — for their welfare and happiness — so that they may be free from harassment. They (Dhamma Mahamatras) work for the proper treatment of prisoners, towards their unfettering, and if the Mahamatras think, “This one has a family to support,” “That one has been bewitched,” “This one is old,” then they work for the release of such prisoners. They work here, in outlying towns, in the women’s quarters belonging to my brothers and sisters, and among my other relatives. They are occupied everywhere. These Dhamma Mahamatras are occupied in my domain among people devoted to Dhamma to determine who is devoted to Dhamma, who is established in Dhamma, and who is generous.
This Dhamma edict has been written on stone so that it might endure long and that my descendants might act in conformity with it.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: In the past, state business was not transacted nor were reports delivered to the king at all hours. But now I have given this order, that at any time, whether I am eating, in the women’s quarters, the bed chamber, the chariot, the palanquin, in the park or wherever, reporters are to be posted with instructions to report to me the affairs of the people so that I might attend to these affairs wherever I am. And whatever I orally order in connection with donations or proclamations, or when urgent business presses itself on the Mahamatras, if disagreement or debate arises in the Council, then it must be reported to me immediately. This is what I have ordered. I am never content with exerting myself or with despatching business. Truly, I consider the welfare of all to be my duty, and the root of this is exertion and the prompt despatch of business. There is no better work than promoting the welfare of all the people and whatever efforts I am making is to repay the debt I owe to all beings to assure their happiness in this life, and attain heaven in the next.
Therefore this Dhamma edict has been written to last long and that my sons, grandsons and great-grandsons might act in conformity with it for the welfare of the world. However, this is difficult to do without great exertion.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart. But people have various desires and various passions, and they may practice all of what they should or only a part of it. But one who receives great gifts yet is lacking in self-control, purity of heart, gratitude and firm devotion, such a person is mean. In the past kings used to go out on pleasure tours during which there was hunting and other entertainment. But ten years after Beloved-of-the-Gods had been coronated, he went on a tour to Sambodhi and thus instituted Dhamma tours. During these tours, the following things took place: visits and gifts to Brahmans and ascetics, visits and gifts of gold to the aged, visits to people in the countryside, instructing them in Dhamma, and discussing Dhamma with them as is suitable. It is this that delights Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, and is, as it were, another type of revenue.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: In times of sickness, for the marriage of sons and daughters, at the birth of children, before embarking on a journey, on these and other occasions, people perform various ceremonies. Women in particular perform many vulgar and worthless ceremonies. These types of ceremonies can be performed by all means, but they bear little fruit. What does bear great fruit, however, is the ceremony of the Dhamma. This involves proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for teachers, restraint towards living beings, and generosity towards ascetics and Brahmans. These and other things constitute the ceremony of the Dhamma. Therefore a father, a son, a brother, a master, a friend, a companion, and even a neighbor should say: “This is good, this is the ceremony that should be performed until its purpose is fulfilled, this I shall do.” Other ceremonies are of doubtful fruit, for they may achieve their purpose, or they may not, and even if they do, it is only in this world. But the ceremony of the Dhamma is timeless. Even if it does not achieve its purpose in this world, it produces great merit in the next, whereas if it does achieve its purpose in this world, one gets great merit both here and there through the ceremony of the Dhamma.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not consider glory and fame to be of great account unless they are achieved through having my subjects respect Dhamma and practice Dhamma, both now and in the future. For this alone does Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desire glory and fame. And whatever efforts Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, is making, all of that is only for the welfare of the people in the next world, and that they will have little evil. And being without merit is evil. This is difficult for either a humble person or a great person to do except with great effort, and by giving up other interests. In fact, it may be even more difficult for a great person to do.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: There is no gift like the gift of the Dhamma, (no acquaintance like) acquaintance with Dhamma, (no distribution like) distribution of Dhamma, and (no kinship like) kinship through Dhamma. And it consists of this: proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for mother and father, generosity to friends, companions, relations, Brahmans and ascetics, and not killing living beings. Therefore a father, a son, a brother, a master, a friend, a companion or a neighbor should say: “This is good, this should be done.” One benefits in this world and gains great merit in the next by giving the gift of the Dhamma.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, honors both ascetics and the householders of all religions, and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds. But Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values this — that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one’s own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one’s own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought “Let me glorify my own religion,” only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.
Those who are content with their own religion should be told this: Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. And to this end many are working — Dhamma Mahamatras, Mahamatras in charge of the women’s quarters, officers in charge of outlying areas, and other such officers. And the fruit of this is that one’s own religion grows and the Dhamma is illuminated also.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.
Indeed, Beloved-of-the-Gods is deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered. But Beloved-of-the-Gods is pained even more by this — that Brahmans, ascetics, and householders of different religions who live in those countries, and who are respectful to superiors, to mother and father, to elders, and who behave properly and have strong loyalty towards friends, acquaintances, companions, relatives, servants and employees — that they are injured, killed or separated from their loved ones. Even those who are not affected (by all this) suffer when they see friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives affected. These misfortunes befall all (as a result of war), and this pains Beloved-of-the-Gods.
There is no country, except among the Greeks, where these two groups, Brahmans and ascetics, are not found, and there is no country where people are not devoted to one or another religion. Therefore the killing, death or deportation of a hundredth, or even a thousandth part of those who died during the conquest of Kalinga now pains Beloved-of-the-Gods. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods thinks that even those who do wrong should be forgiven where forgiveness is possible.
Even the forest people, who live in Beloved-of-the-Gods’ domain, are entreated and reasoned with to act properly. They are told that despite his remorse Beloved-of-the-Gods has the power to punish them if necessary, so that they should be ashamed of their wrong and not be killed. Truly, Beloved-of-the-Gods desires non-injury, restraint and impartiality to all beings, even where wrong has been done.
Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest. And it (conquest by Dhamma) has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni. 
Here in the king’s domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods’ instructions in Dhamma. 
Even where Beloved-of-the-Gods’ envoys have not been, these people too, having heard of the practice of Dhamma and the ordinances and instructions in Dhamma given by Beloved-of-the-Gods, are following it and will continue to do so. This conquest has been won everywhere, and it gives great joy — the joy which only conquest by Dhamma can give. But even this joy is of little consequence. Beloved-of-the-Gods considers the great fruit to be experienced in the next world to be more important.
I have had this Dhamma edict written so that my sons and great-grandsons may not consider making new conquests, or that if military conquests are made, that they be done with forbearance and light punishment, or better still, that they consider making conquest by Dhamma only, for that bears fruit in this world and the next. May all their intense devotion be given to this which has a result in this world and the next.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has had these Dhamma edicts written in brief, in medium length, and in extended form. Not all of them occur everywhere, for my domain is vast, but much has been written, and I will have still more written. And also there are some subjects here that have been spoken of again and again because of their sweetness, and so that the people may act in accordance with them. If some things written are incomplete, this is because of the locality, or in consideration of the object, or due to the fault of the scribe.

The Kalinga Rock Edicts 

Beloved-of-the-Gods says that the Mahamatras of Tosali who are judicial officers in the city are to be told this: I wish to see that everything I consider to be proper is carried out in the right way. And I consider instructing you to be the best way of accomplishing this. I have placed you over many thousands of people that you may win the people’s affection.
All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men. You do not understand to what extent I desire this, and if some of you do understand, you do not understand the full extent of my desire.
You must attend to this matter. While being completely law-abiding, some people are imprisoned, treated harshly and even killed without cause so that many people suffer. Therefore your aim should be to act with impartiality. It is because of these things — envy, anger, cruelty, hate, indifference, laziness or tiredness — that such a thing does not happen. Therefore your aim should be: “May these things not be in me.” And the root of this is non-anger and patience. Those who are bored with the administration of justice will not be promoted; (those who are not) will move upwards and be promoted. Whoever among you understands this should say to his colleagues: “See that you do your duty properly. Such and such are Beloved-of-the-Gods’ instructions.” Great fruit will result from doing your duty, while failing in it will result in gaining neither heaven nor the king’s pleasure. Failure in duty on your part will not please me. But done properly, it will win you heaven and you will be discharging your debts to me.
This edict is to be listened to on Tisa day, between Tisa days, and on other suitable occasions, it should be listened to even by a single person. Acting thus, you will be doing your duty.
This edict has been written for the following purpose: that the judicial officers of the city may strive to do their duty and that the people under them might not suffer unjust imprisonment or harsh treatment. To achieve this, I will send out Mahamatras every five years who are not harsh or cruel, but who are merciful and who can ascertain if the judicial officers have understood my purpose and are acting according to my instructions. Similarly, from Ujjayini, the prince will send similar persons with the same purpose without allowing three years to elapse. Likewise from Takhasila also. When these Mahamatras go on tours of inspection each year, then without neglecting their normal duties, they will ascertain if judicial officers are acting according to the king’s instructions.
Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: This royal order is to be addressed to the Mahamatras at Samapa. I wish to see that everything I consider to be proper is carried out in the right way. And I consider instructing you to be the best way of accomplishing this. All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men.
The people of the unconquered territories beyond the borders might think: “What is the king’s intentions towards us?” My only intention is that they live without fear of me, that they may trust me and that I may give them happiness, not sorrow. Furthermore, they should understand that the king will forgive those who can be forgiven, and that he wishes to encourage them to practice Dhamma so that they may attain happiness in this world and the next. I am telling you this so that I may discharge the debts I owe, and that in instructing you, that you may know that my vow and my promise will not be broken. Therefore acting in this way, you should perform your duties and assure them (the people beyond the borders) that: “The king is like a father. He feels towards us as he feels towards himself. We are to him like his own children.”
By instructing you and informing you of my vow and my promise I shall be applying myself in complete fullness to achieving this object. You are able indeed to inspire them with confidence and to secure their welfare and happiness in this world and the next, and by acting thus, you will attain heaven as well as discharge the debts you owe to me. And so that the Mahamatras can devote themselves at all times to inspiring the border areas with confidence and encouraging them to practice Dhamma, this edict has been written here.
This edict is to be listened to every four months on Tisa day, between Tisa days, and on other suitable occasions, it should be listened to even by a single person. Acting thus, you will be doing your duty.

Minor Rock Edicts 

Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: It is now more than two and a half years since I became a lay-disciple, but until now I have not been very zealous. But now that I have visited the Sangha for more than a year, I have become very zealous. Now the people in India who have not associated with the gods do so. This is the result of zeal and it is not just the great who can do this. Even the humble, if they are zealous, can attain heaven. And this proclamation has been made with this aim. Let both humble and great be zealous, let even those on the borders know and let zeal last long. Then this zeal will increase, it will greatly increase, it will increase up to one-and-a-half times. This message has been proclaimed two hundred and fifty-six times by the king while on tour.
Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: Father and mother should be respected and so should elders, kindness to living beings should be made strong and the truth should be spoken. In these ways, the Dhamma should be promoted. Likewise, a teacher should be honored by his pupil and proper manners should be shown towards relations. This is an ancient rule that conduces to long life. Thus should one act. Written by the scribe Chapala.
Piyadasi, King of Magadha, saluting the Sangha and wishing them good health and happiness, speaks thus: You know, reverend sirs, how great my faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha is. Whatever, reverend sirs, has been spoken by Lord Buddha, all that is well-spoken. I consider it proper, reverend sirs, to advise on how the good Dhamma should last long.
These Dhamma texts — Extracts from the Discipline, the Noble Way of Life, the Fears to Come, the Poem on the Silent Sage, the Discourse on the Pure Life, Upatisa’s Questions, and the Advice to Rahula which was spoken by the Buddha concerning false speech — these Dhamma texts, reverend sirs, I desire that all the monks and nuns may constantly listen to and remember. Likewise the laymen and laywomen. I have had this written that you may know my intentions.

The Seven Pillar Edicts

Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: This Dhamma edict was written twenty-six years after my coronation. Happiness in this world and the next is difficult to obtain without much love for the Dhamma, much self-examination, much respect, much fear (of evil), and much enthusiasm. But through my instruction this regard for Dhamma and love of Dhamma has grown day by day, and will continue to grow. And my officers of high, low and middle rank are practicing and conforming to Dhamma, and are capable of inspiring others to do the same. Mahamatras in border areas are doing the same. And these are my instructions: to protect with Dhamma, to make happiness through Dhamma and to guard with Dhamma.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Dhamma is good, but what constitutes Dhamma? (It includes) little evil, much good, kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity. I have given the gift of sight in various ways. To two-footed and four-footed beings, to birds and aquatic animals, I have given various things including the gift of life. And many other good deeds have been done by me.
This Dhamma edict has been written that people might follow it and it might endure for a long time. And the one who follows it properly will do something good.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: People see only their good deeds saying, “I have done this good deed.” But they do not see their evil deeds saying, “I have done this evil deed” or “This is called evil.” But this (tendency) is difficult to see. One should think like this: “It is these things that lead to evil, to violence, to cruelty, anger, pride and jealousy. Let me not ruin myself with these things.” And further, one should think: “This leads to happiness in this world and the next.”
Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: This Dhamma edict was written twenty-six years after my coronation. My Rajjukas are working among the people, among many hundreds of thousands of people. The hearing of petitions and the administration of justice has been left to them so that they can do their duties confidently and fearlessly and so that they can work for the welfare, happiness and benefit of the people in the country. But they should remember what causes happiness and sorrow, and being themselves devoted to Dhamma, they should encourage the people in the country (to do the same), that they may attain happiness in this world and the next. These Rajjukas are eager to serve me. They also obey other officers who know my desires, who instruct the Rajjukas so that they can please me. Just as a person feels confident having entrusted his child to an expert nurse thinking: “The nurse will keep my child well,” even so, the Rajjukas have been appointed by me for the welfare and happiness of the people in the country.
The hearing of petitions and the administration of justice have been left to the Rajjukas so that they can do their duties unperturbed, fearlessly and confidently. It is my desire that there should be uniformity in law and uniformity in sentencing. I even go this far, to grant a three-day stay for those in prison who have been tried and sentenced to death. During this time their relatives can make appeals to have the prisoners’ lives spared. If there is none to appeal on their behalf, the prisoners can give gifts in order to make merit for the next world, or observe fasts. Indeed, it is my wish that in this way, even if a prisoner’s time is limited, he can prepare for the next world, and that people’s Dhamma practice, self-control and generosity may grow.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected — parrots, mainas, aruna, ruddy geese, wild ducks, nandimukhas, gelatas, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, vedareyaka, gangapuputaka, sankiya fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, okapinda, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible. Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another. On the three Caturmasis, the three days of Tisa and during the fourteenth and fifteenth of the Uposatha, fish are protected and not to be sold. During these days animals are not to be killed in the elephant reserves or the fish reserves either. On the eighth of every fortnight, on the fourteenth and fifteenth, on Tisa, Punarvasu, the three Caturmasis and other auspicious days, bulls are not to be castrated, billy goats, rams, boars and other animals that are usually castrated are not to be. On Tisa, Punarvasu, Caturmasis and the fortnight of Caturmasis, horses and bullocks are not be branded.
In the twenty-six years since my coronation prisoners have been given amnesty on twenty-five occasions.
Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: Twelve years after my coronation I started to have Dhamma edicts written for the welfare and happiness of the people, and so that not transgressing them they might grow in the Dhamma. Thinking: “How can the welfare and happiness of the people be secured?” I give attention to my relatives, to those dwelling near and those dwelling far, so I can lead them to happiness and then I act accordingly. I do the same for all groups. I have honored all religions with various honors. But I consider it best to meet with people personally.
This Dhamma edict was written twenty-six years after my coronation.
Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: In the past kings desired that the people might grow through the promotion of the Dhamma. But despite this, people did not grow through the promotion of the Dhamma. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, said concerning this: “It occurs to me that in the past kings desired that the people might grow through the promotion of the Dhamma. But despite this, people did not grow through the promotion of the Dhamma. Now how can the people be encouraged to follow it? How can the people be encouraged to grow through the promotion of the Dhamma? How can I elevate them by promoting the Dhamma?” Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, further said concerning this: “It occurs to me that I shall have proclamations on Dhamma announced and instruction on Dhamma given. When people hear these, they will follow them, elevate themselves and grow considerably through the promotion of the Dhamma.” It is for this purpose that proclamations on Dhamma have been announced and various instructions on Dhamma have been given and that officers who work among many promote and explain them in detail. The Rajjukas who work among hundreds of thousands of people have likewise been ordered: “In this way and that encourage those who are devoted to Dhamma.” Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: “Having this object in view, I have set up Dhamma pillars, appointed Dhamma Mahamatras, and announced Dhamma proclamations.”
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, says: Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted. At intervals of eight krosas, I have had wells dug, rest-houses built, and in various places, I have had watering-places made for the use of animals and men. But these are but minor achievements. Such things to make the people happy have been done by former kings. I have done these things for this purpose, that the people might practice the Dhamma.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: My Dhamma Mahamatras too are occupied with various good works among the ascetics and householders of all religions. I have ordered that they should be occupied with the affairs of the Sangha. I have also ordered that they should be occupied with the affairs of the Brahmans and the Ajivikas. I have ordered that they be occupied with the Niganthas. In fact, I have ordered that different Mahamatras be occupied with the particular affairs of all different religions. And my Dhamma Mahamatras likewise are occupied with these and other religions.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: These and other principal officers are occupied with the distribution of gifts, mine as well as those of the queens. In my women’s quarters, they organize various charitable activities here and in the provinces. I have also ordered my sons and the sons of other queens to distribute gifts so that noble deeds of Dhamma and the practice of Dhamma may be promoted. And noble deeds of Dhamma and the practice of Dhamma consist of having kindness, generosity, truthfulness, purity, gentleness and goodness increase among the people.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Whatever good deeds have been done by me, those the people accept and those they follow. Therefore they have progressed and will continue to progress by being respectful to mother and father, respectful to elders, by courtesy to the aged and proper behavior towards Brahmans and ascetics, towards the poor and distressed, and even towards servants and employees.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: This progress among the people through Dhamma has been done by two means, by Dhamma regulations and by persuasion. Of these, Dhamma regulation is of little effect, while persuasion has much more effect. The Dhamma regulations I have given are that various animals must be protected. And I have given many other Dhamma regulations also. But it is by persuasion that progress among the people through Dhamma has had a greater effect in respect of harmlessness to living beings and non-killing of living beings.
Concerning this, Beloved-of-the-Gods says: Wherever there are stone pillars or stone slabs, there this Dhamma edict is to be engraved so that it may long endure. It has been engraved so that it may endure as long as my sons and great-grandsons live and as long as the sun and the moon shine, and so that people may practice it as instructed. For by practicing it happiness will be attained in this world and the next.
This Dhamma edict has been written by me twenty-seven years after my coronation.

The Minor Pillar Edicts

Twenty years after his coronation, Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, visited this place and worshipped because here the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyans, was born. He had a stone figure and a pillar set up and because the Lord was born here, the village of Lumbini was exempted from tax and required to pay only one eighth of the produce. Beloved-of-the-Gods commands: The Mahamatras at Kosambi (are to be told: Whoever splits the Sangha) which is now united, is not to be admitted into the Sangha. Whoever, whether monk or nun, splits the Sangha is to be made to wear white clothes and to reside somewhere other than in a monastery.
That the True Dhamma Might Last a Long Time
The edicts of King Asoka are a remarkable record of one of the most remarkable events in human history: One man’s efforts to rule an empire with a policy based on Dhamma. Asoka’s policy had three prongs: administration based on Dhamma, instruction in Dhamma for the populace, and personal practice of Dhamma by the ruler.
The edicts are direct evidence of the second prong, and for the most part present Dhamma as a series of moral principles and rational behavior that should be common to all religions. However, a few of them are addressed to Buddhists in particular, and one of them — the Bhabru Rock Edict — deals with themes that are of interest not only to historians, but also to Buddhists of all times and places. It deals with what may be done to keep the True Dhamma alive for a long time, and Asoka’s recommendation is a list of passages from the Buddhist Canon that he says all Buddhists — ordained or not — should listen to and reflect on frequently. Here is the text of the edict:
“His Gracious Majesty, King of Magadha, bows down to the Sangha and — hoping that they are free from disease and living in peace — addresses them as follows: You know well the extent of my reverence and faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Whatever has been said by the Buddha has of course been well-said. But may I be permitted to point out the passages of scripture I have selected that the True Dhamma might last a long time: Vinaya-samukasa, Aliya-vasani, Anagata-bhayani, Muni-gatha, Mauneya-sute, Upatisa-pasine, and the Instructions to Rahula beginning with (the topic of) falsehood, as taught by the Blessed One.
“Reverend Sirs, I would like the reverend bhikkhus and bhikkhunis — as well as the laymen and laywomen — to listen to these passages frequently and to ponder on them. “For this reason, Reverend Sirs, I am having this enscribed so that they may know of my intention.”
As might be imagined, this passage has given rise to a great deal of conjecture ever since it was deciphered in 1840. Not the least of the questions is precisely which passages from the Canon Asoka is referring to, or indeed if he was referring to a Canon anything like what we have today.
Scholars have spilt a fair amount of ink sparring over the answer and have managed to reach a consensus on the identity of four of the passages: the Aliya-vasani is the Discourse on the Traditions of the Noble Ones (ariya-vamsa) (AN 4.28); the Anagata-bhayani are the four discourses on Future Dangers (AN 5.77-80); the Muni-gatha is the Discourse on the Sage (Muni Sutta) in the Sutta Nipata (Sn.I.12); and the Instructions to Rahula are the Cula-Rahulovada Sutta (MN 61).
The other three passages have proven more intractable. A number of scholars have favored the Nalaka Sutta as the Mauneya-sute — this, in spite of the fact that there is a Moneyya (Sagacity) Sutta in the Anguttara Nikaya (AN 3.23). The Upatisa-pasine (Question of Upatissa=Sariputta) is problematic because there is no one passage of that name and because Sariputta asks so many questions in the Canon. Some scholars have proposed the Sariputta Sutta in the Sutta Nipata, but archaeological evidence — votive tablets produced beginning with the time of Asoka and originating in the Buddhist pilgrim sites — show that Ven. Assaji’s answer to Sariputta’s first question about the doctrine, the answer that sparked a vision of the Dhamma in Sariputta when he heard it, has long been regarded as the ideal epitome of the Buddha’s teachings. This tradition may have connections with this very edict. Ask any knowledgeable Buddhists today what Sariputta’s most famous question was, and they will in all likelihood answer with this one.
As for the Vinaya-samukase, this has sparked the most fanciful conjectures, because the single reference to this word in the Canon is buried in a book hardly anyone reads: the Parivara (VI.4). The reference itself says nothing more than that there are four “vinaya-samukkamsa” — innate principles of the Vinaya — but the Commentary identifies them as the four Great Standards — most likely the four mentioned in the Mahavagga, dealing specifically with Vinaya, rather than the four in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, which deal with Dhamma and Vinaya together.
This seems to settle the question of which passages Asoka was recommending, but it raises another one: Why these? And why in this order?
Perhaps the best approach to answering these questions would be to read the passages and ponder on them, as Asoka suggested. So here they are. Most of them are self-explanatory, except for the first, on the innate principles of Vinaya, and the poem on the sage, which — being a poem — occasionally makes use of imagery that might be unfamiliar to a modern reader. Thus I include in the translation of The Sage a set of notes, drawing mostly from the Commentary, but also from other parts of the Canon and from works on ancient culture in general.
As for the Innate Principles of the Vinaya, the passage itself contains nothing unremarkable, but it seems so obvious on first reading that one might wonder why anyone would call attention to it. Actually, it is a fine example of the Buddha’s farsightedness in setting up a system of teachings and rules. There are bound to be a number of things not touched on in the rules, and this number is bound to grow as culture and technology change. An unenlightened approach to these changes would say either that anything not allowed is forbidden, or that anything not explicitly forbidden is allowed. The Buddha, typically, sets forth a system of interpretation that avoids both of these extremes and helps to ensure the long life of his doctrine and discipline by setting guidelines for expanding them to cover new objects and situations as they arise.

The Innate Principles of the Vinaya

Now at that time uncertainty arose in the monks with regard to this and that item: “Now what is allowed by the Blessed One? What is not allowed?” They told this matter to the Blessed One, (who said):
“Bhikkhus, whatever I have not objected to, saying, ‘This is not allowable,’ if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it goes against what is allowable, this is not allowable for you.
“Whatever I have not objected to, saying, ‘This is not allowable,’ if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes against what is not allowable, this is allowable for you.
“And whatever I have not permitted, saying, ‘This is allowable,’ if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it goes against what is allowable, this is not allowable for you.
“And whatever I have not permitted, saying, ‘This is allowable,’ if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes against what is not allowable, this is allowable for you.”
— Mv.VI.40.1

The Traditions of the Noble Ones

These four traditions of the Noble Ones — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives and priests. Which four?
There is the case where a monk is content with any old robe cloth at all. He speaks in praise of being content with any old robe cloth at all. He does not, for the sake of robe cloth, do anything unseemly or inappropriate. Not getting cloth, he is not agitated. Getting cloth, he uses it not tied to it, uninfatuated, guiltless, seeing the drawbacks (of attachment to it), and discerning the escape from them. He does not, on account of his contentment with any old robe cloth at all, exalt himself or disparage others. In this he is skillful, energetic, alert, and mindful. This, monks, is said to be a monk standing firm in the ancient, original traditions of the Noble Ones.
Furthermore, the monk is content with any old almsfood at all. He speaks in praise of being content with any old almsfood at all. He does not, for the sake of almsfood, do anything unseemly or inappropriate. Not getting almsfood, he is not agitated. Getting almsfood, he uses it not tied to it, uninfatuated, guiltless, seeing the drawbacks (of attachment to it), and discerning the escape from them. He does not, on account of his contentment with any old almsfood at all, exalt himself or disparage others. In this he is skillful, energetic, alert, and mindful. This, monks, is said to be a monk standing firm in the ancient, original traditions of the Noble Ones.
Furthermore, the monk is content with any old lodging at all. He speaks in praise of being content with any old lodging at all. He does not, for the sake of lodging, do anything unseemly or inappropriate. Not getting lodging, he is not agitated. Getting lodging, he uses it not tied to it, uninfatuated, guiltless, seeing the drawbacks (of attachment to it), and discerning the escape from them. He does not, on account of his contentment with any old lodging at all, exalt himself or disparage others. In this he is skillful, energetic, alert, and mindful. This, monks, is said to be a monk standing firm in the ancient, original traditions of the Noble Ones.
Furthermore, the monk finds pleasure and delight in developing (skillful mental qualities), finds pleasure and delight in abandoning (unskillful mental qualities). He does not, on account of his pleasure and delight in developing and abandoning, exalt himself or disparage others. In this he is skillful, energetic, alert, and mindful. This, monks, is said to be a monk standing firm in the ancient, original traditions of the Noble Ones. These are the four traditions of the Noble Ones — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — which are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives and priests.
And furthermore, a monk endowed with these four traditions of the Noble Ones, if he lives in the east, conquers displeasure and is not conquered by displeasure. If he lives in the west... the north... the south, he conquers displeasure and is not conquered by displeasure. Why is that? Because the wise one endures both pleasure and displeasure.
This is what the Blessed One said. Having said this, he said further:
Displeasure does not conquer the enlightened one.
Displeasure does not suppress him.
He conquers displeasure
because he endures it.
Having cast away all deeds:
who could obstruct him?
Like an ornament of finest gold:
Who is fit to find fault with him?
Even the Devas praise him,
even by Brahma is he praised. — AN 4.28
Future Dangers: I
Monks, these five future dangers are just enough, when considered, for a monk living in the wilderness — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. Which five?
There is the case where a monk living in the wilderness reminds himself of this: I am now living alone in the wilderness. While I am living alone in the wilderness a snake might bite me, a scorpion might sting me, a centipede might bite me. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me. So let me make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
This is the first future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk living in the wilderness — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
Furthermore, the monk living in the wilderness reminds himself of this: I am now living alone in the wilderness. While I am living alone in the wilderness, stumbling, I might fall; my food, digested, might trouble me; my bile might be provoked, my phlegm... piercing wind forces (in the body) might be provoked. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me. So let me make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
This is the second future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk living in the wilderness — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
Furthermore, the monk living in the wilderness reminds himself of this: I am now living alone in the wilderness. While I am living alone in the wilderness, I might meet up with vicious beasts: a lion or a tiger or a leopard or a bear or a hyena. They might take my life. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me. So let me make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
This is the third future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk living in the wilderness — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
Furthermore, the monk living in the wilderness reminds himself of this: I am now living alone in the wilderness. While I am living alone in the wilderness, I might meet up with youths on their way to committing a crime or on their way back. They might take my life. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me. So let me make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
This is the fourth future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk living in the wilderness — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. Furthermore, the monk living in the wilderness reminds himself of this: I am now living alone in the wilderness. And in the wilderness are vicious non-human beings (spirits). They might take my life. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me. So let me make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
This is the fifth future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk living in the wilderness — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
These are the five future dangers that are just enough, when considered, for a monk living in the wilderness — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. — AN 5.77

Future Dangers: II

Monks, these five future dangers are just enough, when considered, for a monk — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. Which five?
There is the case where a monk reminds himself of this: At present I am young, black-haired, endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life. The time will come, though, when this body is beset by old age. When one is overcome with old age and decay, it is not easy to pay attention to the Buddha’s teachings. It is not easy to reside in isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. Before this unwelcome, disagreeable, displeasing thing happens, let me first make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized, so that — endowed with that Dhamma — I will live in peace even when old.
This is the first future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
Furthermore, the monk reminds himself of this: At present I am free from illness and discomfort, endowed with good digestion: not too cold, not too hot, of medium strength and tolerance. The time will come, though, when this body is beset with illness. When one is overcome with illness, it is not easy to pay attention to the Buddha’s teachings. It is not easy to reside in isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. Before this unwelcome, disagreeable, displeasing thing happens, let me first make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized, so that — endowed with that Dhamma — I will live in peace even when ill.
This is the second future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
Furthermore, the monk reminds himself of this: At present food is plentiful, alms are easy to come by. It is easy to maintain oneself by gleanings and patronage. The time will come, though, when there is famine: Food is scarce, alms are hard to come by, and it is not easy to maintain oneself by gleanings and patronage. When there is famine, people will congregate where food is plentiful. There they will live packed and crowded together. When one is living packed and crowded together, it is not easy to pay attention to the Buddha’s teachings. It is not easy to reside in isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. Before this unwelcome, disagreeable, displeasing thing happens, let me first make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized, so that — endowed with that Dhamma — I will live in peace even when there is famine.
This is the third future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
Furthermore, the monk reminds himself of this: At present people are in harmony, on friendly terms, without quarreling, like milk mixed with water, viewing one another with eyes of affection. The time will come, though, when there is danger and an invasion of savage tribes. Taking power, they will surround the countryside. When there is danger, people will congregate where it is safe. 
There they will live packed and crowded together. When one is living packed and crowded together, it is not easy to pay attention to the Buddha’s teachings. It is not easy to reside in isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. Before this unwelcome, disagreeable, displeasing thing happens, let me first make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized, so that — endowed with that Dhamma — I will live in peace even when there is danger.
This is the fourth future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
Furthermore, the monk reminds himself of this: At present the Sangha — in harmony, on friendly terms, without quarreling — lives in comfort with a single recitation. The time will come, though, when the Sangha splits. When the Sangha is split, it is not easy to pay attention to the Buddha’s teachings. It is not easy to reside in isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. Before this unwelcome, disagreeable, displeasing thing happens, let me first make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized, so that — endowed with that Dhamma — I will live in peace even when the Sangha is split.
This is the fifth future danger that is just enough, when considered, for a monk — heedful, ardent, and resolute — to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.
These are the five future dangers that are just enough, when considered, for a monk — heedful, ardent, and resolute— to live for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.— AN 5.78

Future Dangers: III

Monks, these five future dangers, unarisen at present, will arise in the future. Be alert to them and, being alert, work to get rid of them. Which five?
There will be, in the course of the future, monks undeveloped in bodily conduct, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment. They — being undeveloped in bodily conduct, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment — will give full ordination to others and will not be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment. They — being undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment — will give full ordination to still others and will not be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline; from corrupt discipline, corrupt Dhamma.
This, monks, is the first future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
And again, there will be in the course of the future monks undeveloped in bodily conduct, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment. They — being undeveloped in bodily conduct, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment — will take on others as students and will not be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment. They — being undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment — will take on still others as students and will not be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline; from corrupt discipline, corrupt Dhamma.
This, monks, is the second future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
And again, there will be in the course of the future monks undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment. They — being undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment — when giving a talk on higher Dhamma or a talk composed of questions and answers, will fall into dark mental states without being aware of it. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline; from corrupt discipline, corrupt Dhamma.
This, monks, is the third future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
And again, there will be in the course of the future monks undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment. They — being undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment — will not listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, profound, transcendent, connected with the Void — are being recited. They will not lend ear, will not set their hearts on knowing them, will not regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples — are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping and mastering. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline; from corrupt discipline, corrupt Dhamma.
This, monks, is the fourth future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
And again, there will be in the course of the future monks undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment. They — being undeveloped in bodily conduct... virtue... mind... discernment — will become elders living in luxury, lethargic, foremost in falling back, shirking the duties of solitude. They will not make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. They will become an example for later generations, who will become luxurious in their living, lethargic, foremost in falling back, shirking the duties of solitude, and who will not make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline; from corrupt discipline, corrupt Dhamma.
This, monks, is the fifth future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
These, monks, are the five future dangers, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to them and, being alert, work to get rid of them. — AN 5.79

Future Dangers: IV

Monks, these five future dangers, unarisen at present, will arise in the future. Be alert to them and, being alert, work to get rid of them. Which five?
There will be, in the course of the future, monks desirous of fine robes. They, desirous of fine robes, will neglect the practice of wearing cast-off cloth; will neglect isolated forest and wilderness dwellings; will move to towns, cities, and royal capitals, taking up residence there. For the sake of a robe they will do many kinds of unseemly, inappropriate things.
This, monks, is the first future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
Furthermore, in the course of the future there will be monks desirous of fine food. They, desirous of fine food, will neglect the practice of going for alms; will neglect isolated forest and wilderness dwellings; will move to towns, cities, and royal capitals, taking up residence there and searching out the tip-top tastes with the tip of the tongue. For the sake of food they will do many kinds of unseemly, inappropriate things.
This, monks, is the second future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it. Furthermore, in the course of the future there will be monks desirous of fine lodgings. They, desirous of fine lodgings, will neglect the practice of living in the wilds; will neglect isolated forest and wilderness dwellings; will move to towns, cities, and royal capitals, taking up residence there. For the sake of lodgings they will do many kinds of unseemly, inappropriate things.
This, monks, is the third future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
Furthermore, in the course of the future there will be monks who will live in close association with nuns, female probationers, and female novices. As they interact with nuns, female probationers, and female novices, they can be expected either to lead the holy life dissatisfied or to fall into one of the grosser offenses, leaving the training, returning to a lower way of life.
This, monks, is the fourth future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
Furthermore, in the course of the future there will be monks who will live in close association with monastery attendants and novices. As they interact with monastery attendants and novices, they can be expected to live intent on storing up all kinds of possessions and to stake out crops and fields. This is the fifth future danger...
This, monks, is the fifth future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it.
These, monks, are the five future dangers, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to them and, being alert, work to get rid of them. — AN 5.80

The Sage

Danger is born from intimacy,
society gives birth to dust.
Free from intimacy,
free from society:
such is the vision of the sage.
Who, destroying what’s born
wouldn’t plant again
or nourish what will arise:
They call him the wandering, singular sage.
He has seen the state of peace.
Considering the ground,
crushing the seed,
he wouldn’t nourish the sap
— truly a sage —
seer of the ending of birth,
abandoning conjecture,
he cannot be classified.
Knowing all dwellings,
not longing for any one anywhere
— truly a sage —
with no coveting, without greed,
he does not build,
for he has gone beyond.
Overcoming all
knowing all,
With regard to all things:
unsmeared. Abandoning all,
in the ending of craving,
The enlightened call him a sage.
Strong in discernment,
virtuous in his practices,
delighting in jhana,
freed from attachments,
no constraints :: no fermentations:
The enlightened call him a sage.
The wandering solitary sage,
uncomplacent, unshaken by praise or blame.
Unstartled, like a lion at sounds.
Unsnared, like the wind in a net.
Unsmeared, like a lotus in water.
Leader of others, by others unled:
The enlightened call him a sage.
Like the pillar at a bathing ford,
when others speak in extremes.
He, without passion,
his senses well-centered:
The enlightened call him a sage.
Truly poised, straight as a shuttle,
he loathes evil actions.
Pondering what is on-pitch and off:
The enlightened call him a sage.
Self-restrained, he does no evil.
Young and middle-aged,
the sage self-controlled,
never angered, he angers none:
The enlightened call him a sage.
From the best
the middling
the leftovers
he receives alms.
Sustaining himself on what others give,
neither flattering
nor speaking disparagement:
The enlightened call him a sage.
The wandering sage
abstaining from sex,
in youth bound by no one,
abstaining from intoxication
totally apart:
The enlightened call him a sage.
Knowing the world,
seeing the highest goal,
crossing the ocean, the flood,
— Such — 
his chains broken,
without fermentation:
The enlightened call him a sage.
These two are different,
they dwell far apart:
the householder supporting a wife
and the unselfish one, of good practices.
Slaying other beings, the householder
is unrestrained.
Constantly the sage protects other beings,
is controlled.
As the crested,
blue-necked peacock,
when flying,
never matches
the wild goose
in speed:
Even so the householder
never keeps up with the monk,
the sage secluded,
doing jhana
in the forest. — Sn.I.12


Monks, there are these three forms of sagacity. Which three? Bodily sagacity, verbal sagacity, and mental sagacity.
And what is bodily sagacity? There is the case where a monk abstains from taking life, abstains from theft, abstains from unchastity. This is called bodily sagacity.
And what is verbal sagacity? There is the case where a monk abstains from lying, abstains from divisive tale-bearing, abstains from harsh language, abstains from idle chatter. This is called verbal sagacity.
And what is mental sagacity? There is the case where a monk who — with the wasting away of the mental fermentations— remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release and discernment-release, having known and made them manifest for himself right in the here and now. This is called mental sagacity.
These, monks, are the three forms of sagacity.
A sage in body, a sage in speech,
A sage in mind, without fermentation:
a sage consummate in sagacity
is said to have abandoned
everything. — the All. — AN 3.123
Sariputta’s (Upatissa’s) Question
Now at that time the wanderer Sanjaya was residing in Rajagaha with a large company of wanderers — 250 in all. And at that time Sariputta and Moggallana were practicing the holy life under Sanjaya. They had made this agreement: Whoever attains the Deathless first will inform the other.
Then Ven. Assaji, arising early in the morning, taking his robe and bowl, entered Rajagaha for alms: Gracious in the way he approached and departed, looked forward and behind, drew in and stretched out his arm; his eyes downcast, his every movement consummate. Sariputta the wanderer saw Ven. Assaji going for alms in Rajagaha: gracious... his eyes downcast, his every movement consummate. On seeing him, the thought occurred to him: “Surely, of those in this world who are arahants or have entered the path to arahantship, this is one. What if I were to approach him and question him: ‘On whose account have you gone forth? Who is your teacher? In whose Dhamma do you delight?’”
But then the thought occurred to Sariputta the wanderer: “This is the wrong time to question him. He is going for alms in the town. What if I were to follow behind this monk who has found the path for those who seek it?”
Then Ven. Assaji, having gone for alms in Rajagaha, left, taking the alms he had received. Sariputta the wanderer approached him and, on arrival, having exchanged friendly greetings and engaged in polite conversation, stood to one side. As he stood there he said, “Your faculties are bright, my friend, your complexion pure and clear. On whose account have you gone forth? Who is your teacher? In whose Dhamma do you delight?”
“There is, my friend, the Great Contemplative, a son of the Sakyans, gone forth from a Sakyan family. I have gone forth on account of that Blessed One. That Blessed One is my teacher. It is in that Blessed One’s Dhamma that I delight.” “But what is your teacher’s teaching? What does he proclaim?’’
“I am new, my friend, not long gone forth, only recently come to this doctrine and discipline. I cannot explain the doctrine in detail, but I can give you the gist in brief.”
Then Sariputta the wanderer spoke thus to the Ven. Assaji:
Speak a little or a lot,
but tell me just the gist.
The gist is what I want.
What use is a lot of rhetoric?
Then Ven. Assaji gave this Dhamma exposition to Sariputta the Wanderer:
Whatever phenomena arise from cause:
their cause
and their cessation.
Such is the teaching of the Tathagata,
the Great Contemplative.
Then to Sariputta the Wanderer, as he heard this Dhamma exposition, there arose the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye: Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.
Even if just this is the Dhamma,
you have penetrated
to the Sorrowless (asoka) State
unseen, overlooked (by us)
for many myriads of aeons.
Then Sariputta the wanderer went to where Moggallana the wanderer was staying. Moggallana the wanderer saw him coming from afar and, on seeing him, said, “Your faculties are bright, my friend; your complexion pure and clear. Could it be that you have attained the Deathless?”
“Yes, my friend, I have attained the Deathless. “
“But how, friend, did you attain the Deathless?”
“Just now, friend, I saw Ven. Assaji going for alms in Rajagaha: gracious in the way he approached and departed, looked forward and behind, drew in and stretched out his arm; his eyes downcast, his every movement consummate. On seeing him, the thought occurred to me: ‘Surely, of those in this world who are arahants or have entered the path to arahantship, this is one. What if I were to approach him and question him: “On whose account have you gone forth? Who is your teacher? In whose Dhamma do you delight?”’
“But then the thought occurred to me: ‘This is the wrong time to question him. He is going for alms in the town. What if I were to follow behind this monk who has found the path for those who seek it?’
“Then Ven. Assaji, having gone for alms in Rajagaha, left, taking the alms he had received. I approached him and, on arrival, having exchanged friendly greetings and engaged in polite conversation, stood to one side. As I stood there I said, ‘Your faculties are bright, my friend, your complexion pure and clear. On whose account have you gone forth? Who is your teacher? In whose Dhamma do you delight?’
“‘There is, my friend, the Great Contemplative, a son of the Sakyans, gone forth from a Sakyan family. I have gone forth on account of that Blessed One. That Blessed One is my teacher. It is in that Blessed One’s Dhamma that I delight.’
“‘But what is your teacher’s teaching? What does he proclaim?’
“‘I am new, my friend, not long gone forth, only recently come to this doctrine and discipline. I cannot explain the doctrine to you in detail, but I can give you the gist in brief.’
“‘Speak a little or a lot,
but tell me just the gist.
The gist is what I want.
What use is a lot of rhetoric?’
“Then Ven. Assaji gave me this Dhamma exposition:
“‘Whatever phenomena arise from cause:
their cause
and their cessation.
Such is the teaching of the Tathagata,
the Great Contemplative.’”
Then to Moggallana the wanderer, as he heard this Dhamma exposition, there arose the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye: Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.
Even if just this is the Dhamma,
you have penetrated
to the Sorrowless (asoka) State
unseen, overlooked (by us)
for many myriads of aeons. — Mv.I.23.5

Instructions to Rahula

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Rajagaha, at the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Feeding Ground.
At that time Ven. Rahula was staying at the Mango Stone. Then the Blessed One, arising from his seclusion in the late afternoon, went to where Ven. Rahula was staying at the Mango Stone. Ven. Rahula saw him coming from afar and, on seeing him, set out a seat and water for washing the feet. The Blessed One sat down on the seat set out and, having sat down, washed his feet. Ven. Rahula, bowing down to the Blessed One, sat to one side.
Then the Blessed One, having left a little bit of water in the water dipper, said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see this little bit of left-over water remaining in the water dipper?”
“Yes sir.”
“That’s how little of a contemplative there is in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie.”
Having tossed away the little bit of left-over water, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see how this little bit of left-over water is tossed away?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is tossed away just like that.
Having turned the water dipper upside down, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see how this water dipper is turned upside down?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is turned upside down just like that.”
Having turned the water dipper right-side up, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see how empty and hollow this water dipper is?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is empty and hollow just like that.
“Rahula, it’s like a royal elephant: immense, pedigreed, accustomed to battles, its tusks like chariot poles. Having gone into battle, it uses its forefeet and hind feet, its forequarters and hindquarters, its head and ears and tusks and tail, but will simply hold back its trunk. The elephant trainer notices that and thinks, ‘This royal elephant has not given up its life to the king.’ But when the royal elephant... having gone into battle, uses its forefeet and hind feet, its forequarters and hindquarters, its head and ears and tusks and tail and his trunk, the trainer notices that and thinks, ‘This royal elephant has given up its life to the king. There is nothing it will not do.’
“The same holds true with anyone who feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie: There is no evil, I tell you, he will not do. Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself, ‘I will not tell a deliberate lie even in jest.’
“What do you think, Rahula: What is a mirror for?”
“For reflection, sir.”
“In the same way, Rahula, bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts are to be done with repeated reflection. “Whenever you want to perform a bodily act, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily act I want to perform — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily act with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful bodily action with happy consequences, happy results, then any bodily act of that sort is fit for you to do.
“While you are performing a bodily act, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily act I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to affliction of others, or both... you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not... you may continue with it.
“Having performed a bodily act, you should reflect on it... If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily act with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it... you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction... it was a skillful bodily action with happy consequences, happy results, then you should stay mentally refreshed and joyful, training day and night in skillful mental qualities.
“Whenever you want to perform a verbal act, you should reflect on it: ‘This verbal act I want to perform — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful verbal act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful verbal act with painful consequences, painful results, then any verbal act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful verbal action with happy consequences, happy results, then any verbal act of that sort is fit for you to do.
“While you are performing a verbal act, you should reflect on it: ‘This verbal act I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful verbal act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both... you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not... you may continue with it.
“Having performed a verbal act, you should reflect on it... If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful verbal act with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it... you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction... it was a skillful verbal action with happy consequences, happy results, then you should stay mentally refreshed and joyful, training day and night in skillful mental qualities.
“Whenever you want to perform a mental act, you should reflect on it: ‘This mental act I want to perform — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful mental act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful mental act with painful consequences, painful results, then any mental act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful mental action with happy consequences, happy results, then any mental act of that sort is fit for you to do.
“While you are performing a mental act, you should reflect on it: ‘This mental act I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful mental act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both... you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not... you may continue with it.
“Having performed a mental act, you should reflect on it... If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful mental act with painful consequences, painful results, then you should feel distressed, ashamed, and disgusted with it. Feeling distressed... you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction... it was a skillful mental action with happy consequences, happy results, then you should stay mentally refreshed and joyful, training day and night in skillful mental qualities.
“Rahula, all those priests and contemplatives in the course of the past who purified their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts, did it through repeated reflection on their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts in just this way.
“All those priests and contemplatives in the course of the future who will purify their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts, will do it through repeated reflection on their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts in just this way.
“All those priests and contemplatives at present who purify their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts, do it through repeated reflection on their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts in just this way.
“Therefore, Rahula, you should train yourself: ‘I will purify my bodily acts through repeated reflection. I will purify my verbal acts through repeated reflection. I will purify my mental acts through repeated reflection.’ That is how you should train yourself.”
That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Ven. Rahula delighted in the Blessed One’s words. — MN 61
Whether King Asoka selected these texts on his own or had the advice of his mentor, Ven. Moggaliputta-tissa, no one knows. Still it is possible to derive from them a conception of Dhamma of which Asoka approved, whether or not it originated with him. One of the main points of this selection is that Dhamma is a quality of a person, rather than of doctrines or ideas. The central passage in the selection, and its only extended poem— The Sage — paints an idealized picture of the Dhamma as embodied in the deeds, words, and attitudes of the person who practices it. Only if the Dhamma finds concrete expression in people’s lives will it last.
The selection also shows something of the educational strategy Asoka might have had his Dhamma officials use in teaching his populace — Buddhist and non-Buddhist — to make the Dhamma a reality in their lives. The texts are not listed in random order. Instead, they follow a pattern to impress on their listeners first that the ideals of the Dhamma are timeless and well-tested, and that there is a need to realize them as quickly as possible. Then they analyze the ideal, present a picture of it in action, and end with the basic principles for putting it into practice.
The title of the first passage — the Vinaya samukase — is explained in the Commentary as follows: “Samukase” means that the principles are innately true, established of their own accord. Whether or not a Buddha arises to point them out, they are true in and of themselves.
The second passage, The Traditions of the Noble Ones, brings in the perspective of time that is to provide a recurring theme throughout Asoka’s selections. It looks back to the past to show how venerable, time-tested, and pure the traditions of the Dhamma are. 
It plays on the notion of the traditions of a noble family — unadulterated, not open to criticism or suspicion — that were so important in ancient India. It even plays on words: The traditions of a family were supposed to enable those who followed them to conquer their enemies (ari), while the noble traditions taught by the Buddha enable one to overcome one’s true enemy, displeasure (arati) in the mind.
Turning from the past to look at the future, the third set of selections — the four discourses on future dangers — presents a warning. The practice of the Dhamma should not be put off to a later date, because there is no certainty that the future will provide any opportunities for practice. First, there are the dangers of death, aging, illness, famine, and social turmoil in one’s own life. Secondly, there are the dangers of degeneracy in the religion, when those who are supposed to practice it ignore the noble traditions and teachings, and instead do many unseemly, inappropriate things simply for the sake of material comfort. The point of this set of passages, of course, is to give a sense of urgency to one’s practice, so that one will make the effort to take advantage of the teachings while one can.
The Sage, taking up the theme of danger, goes on to present an ideal of inner safety in the present tense, an ideal already embodied in the lives of those who have practiced the religion in full. It shows the actions and attitudes of one who finds his happiness not in relationships — and the home-building and food-raising they entail (all of which in Buddhism are viewed as symbolic of the round of death and rebirth) — but instead in the peace that comes in living a solitary life, subsisting on whatever food one may receive as alms, free to meditate in the wilderness.
The next passage — Sagacity — analyzes this ideal into three qualities of body, speech, and mind; and the sixth passage shows the ideal in action: Ven. Assaji, simply by the graciousness of his manner, inspires Sariputta the wanderer to follow him; and with a few well-chosen words, he enables Sariputta to gain a glimpse of the Deathless. This is thus no empty ideal.
This passage also contains what has long been recognized as the most succinct expression of the Four Noble Truths — suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation — just as the discourse on Sagacity contains one of the most succinct expressions of the goal of training one’s actions in body, speech, and mind.
The final passage shows how this goal may be brought about, focusing on the development of two qualities — truthfulness and constant reflection — that underlie every stage of the practice. Although the earlier passages focus on the monk as the ideal, this one shows that the practice builds on qualities that anyone — lay or monastic; man, woman, or child — can develop within. It also ends with a return to the theme of time, and the timelessness of the Dhamma: Whoever in the past, future or present develops purity — or sagacity — in thought, word or deed, will have to do it in this way, and this way only. There is no other.
It is possible to search in Asoka’s selection for passages that may have had personal meaning for him — the reference to the Deathless as the Sorrowless (asoka) state; the image of the peacock, the emblem of his dynasty; the image of the elephant who has given its life up to the king — but he himself would probably have preferred that Buddhists reflect on these selections to see what passages have meaning for them. The fact that the Dhamma is alive today is due in no small measure to his efforts. Buddhists today can carry on his work by doing as he asked: Reading and reflecting often on these selections and consistently applying the principles of truthfulness and self-examination to their own lives.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka

A Short History

State of Sri Lanka before the Introduction of Buddhism 

Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 236 b.e. (cir. 250 BCE) and became the national religion of the Sinhalese from that date. It is, however, necessary for a proper study of the history of Buddhism in the island to consider the state of the island and its social and political developments and the culture and character of the people immediately preceding this period. This will enable us to get a clear understanding of the manner in which such a far-reaching revolution in the beliefs, manners, customs and character of a people was effected by the introduction of this new religion and the progress in literature, art and culture that has been manifested through its influence.

Early Traditions 

According to the early chronicles relating the historical traditions of Sri Lanka, a prince named Vijaya and his followers who came from India and landed in Lanka on the day of the Parinibbaana of the Buddha were the first human inhabitants of this island. When they came the island was occupied by “yakkhas” (sprites, demons). “Yakkhas” and “naagas” are also said to have inhabited Lanka in the time of the Buddha. A legend relating the existence of a great civilization before this time, under a king named Raavana, is also current though the early chronicles make no mention of it.
The Vijaya legend of these chronicles is taken by modern historians as a poetic expression of the actual aryanization of Sri Lanka in about the sixth century BCE The term “yakkhas and naagas” may refer to the aborigines who occupied the island before their arrival. No traces of an advanced civilization, however, have yet been discovered to support the Raavana legend. Archaeologists have discovered chert and quartz implements and tools at various sites, believed to have been used by aborigines of Sri Lanka, and they indicate that these people were a primitive tribe who lived by hunting. These aborigines have not left traces of a strong political organization or an advanced culture. The present Veddas are believed to be their descendants.

Colonization by Prince Vijaya and his Followers 

Vijaya and his 700 followers are described in the Lankan chronicles as a set of adventurous young men who, when they were banished from their Indian homeland Laala (or Laata), came in search of new land for settlement. Other legends, some of which are even older, relating how the first aryan inhabitants came to settle down in Lanka are found in several Pali and Sanskrit works. Most of them show that the settlement of early aryan settlers is due to the enterprise of the pioneering merchant mariners who came to this island for pearls and precious stones. Historians thus do not lay much reliance on the details of the Vijayan legend but they accept Vijaya as the first traditional ruler of the newcomers — the Sinhalese.
Vijaya, who was a Kshatriya, landed in Lanka, according to the chronicles, on the day of the Parinibbaana of the Buddha. He allied himself with an aboriginal princess named Kuveni and married her and with her influence soon became the master of the country. Later he drove Kuveni away and obtained a princess from Maduraa whom he made his queen. Maidens of high birth came from the Pandyan kingdom as wives of his followers.
Vijaya ruled from his settlement Tambappanni and his ministers founded other settlements like Anuraadhagaama, Upatissagaama, Ujjeni, Uruvelaa and Vijitapura. Thus the earliest settlements that were founded in the time of King Vijaya were located along the river banks in the northwestern region of Lanka like the Malvatu-oya and the Kalaa-oya.

Political Development and Social Organization after Vijaya 

Vijaya died after a rule of 38 years. Since he had no son to succeed him, before his death he sent messengers to his brother Sumitta in Sihapura to come and rule here. Sumitta sent his youngest son Panduvaasudeva, since he himself was king of Sihapura and was also too old. Panduvaasudeva, Vijaya’s nephew, arrived one year after Vijaya’s death during which period the ministers of Vijaya ruled the country. When Panduvaasudeva came he brought with him 32 sons of ministers.
The early chronicles preserve an episode which connects the Sakka family of the Buddha with the sovereignty of Lanka from the time of King Panduvaasudeva. According to this account, Bhaddakaccaanaa, who also arrived in Lanka with 32 other maidens shortly after Panduvaasudeva arrived, was the daughter of Pandu Sakka, who himself was the son of Amitodana, an uncle of the Buddha.
Panduvaasudeva ruled for 30 years and was succeeded by his eldest son Abhaya, who ruled for 20 years. Abhaya’s successor was Pandukaabhaya, the son of his sister Ummaadacitta. Pandukaabhaya was a great ruler in whose reign Anuraadhapura developed into a great city with well-marked boundaries. After a long reign of 70 years, Pandukaabhaya was succeeded by his son Mutasiva who ruled for 60 years. Mutasiva’s second son, Devaanampiya Tissa, succeeded him in 250 BCE, that is, 236 years after the accession of Vijaya.
These 236 years could be reckoned as a separate period in the history of Sri Lanka for it formed the background for the offical introduction of Buddhism, which occurred during the opening years of the next ruler, King Devaanampiya Tissa. During this period the aryan colonists founded settlements along the fertile river banks almost throughout the island. They chose the river banks because they were mainly agriculturists. Thus the regions watered by the Malvatu-oya, Kalaa-oya, Valave-ganga, Kirindi-oya, Menik-ganga and Kumbukkan-oya, the Kelani-ganga and some regions around the Mahaveli-ganga soon became populated. Anuraadhapura became a well-organized city with boundaries marked, lakes dug and hospitals and other buildings constructed. In the south, Mahaagaama (Maagama), became the center of activity. The majority of the aboriginal inhabitants were absorbed into the new community through intermarriage while a few withdrew to the Malayadesa, the highlands.

Pre-Buddhist Religion in Sri Lanka 

It is evident from the chronicles relating the early history of Sri Lanka that before the introduction of Buddhism in the reign of King Devaanampiya Tissa (250-210 BCE) there was no single religion which was widely accepted as the national religion of the country. Nevertheless, there was a wide range of religious beliefs and practices, different from one another, and each individual seems to have freely observed his religion according to his belief.
A noteworthy feature of the pre-Buddhist religion of Sri Lanka is that it was a mixture of the aboriginal cults and the beliefs of the aryan newcomers.
The worship of yaksas and yaksinis was a widely prevalent aboriginal custom of pre-Buddhist Lanka. King Pandukaabhaya, the grandfather of Devaanampiya Tissa, provided shrines for many of these spirits and also gave them sacrificial offerings annually. Some of these yaksas and yaksinis mentioned by name are Kaalavela, Cittaraaja, Vessavana, Valavaamukhi and Cittaa. Vyaadhadeva, Kammaaradeva and Pacchimaraajini, though not known as yaksas and yaksinis, also belong to the same category of aboriginal spirits. Trees like the banyan and palmyrah were also connected with the cults of these spirits showing that tree-worship was also prevalent.
Many scholars agree that these yaksas and other non-human beings are none but the spirits of the dead relatives and tribal chiefs who, the people believed, were capable of helping friends and harming enemies. This belief, as is widely known, formed one of the main features of the primitive religion and is extant even today.
Accounts relating the pre-Buddhist history of Sri Lanka also show a considerable influence of the religious trends of India on the society of Lanka. Several niganthas (Jainas) such as Giri, Jotiya and Kumbhanda lived in the reign of Pandukaabhaya and hermitages were constructed for them and other ascetics like aajivakas, brahmans and the wandering mendicant monks. Five hundred families of heretical beliefs also lived near the city of Anuraadhapura. The brahmans occupied a high place in society and their religious beliefs were also respected. The worship of Siva too may have been prevalent.
The account in the Mahaava.msa of the settling of the adherents of various sects by King Pandukaabhaya does not specifically mention the presence of any adherents of Buddhism among them. But the work refers to three visits of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, a statement which, though not corroborated by other evidence, has not been disproved. Legendary accounts also claim that two stuupas — the Mahiyangana and the Girihandu — were constructed before the introduction of Buddhism. Among the newcomers too there could have been some members who were acquainted with Buddhism, especially as Bhaddakaccaanaa, who arrived with 32 other maidens in the guise of nuns, was a close relative of the Buddha.

Emperor Asoka and Buddhism in India 

Buddhism as a form of religious expression gained ascendency in India during this period. Emperor Asoka was crowned, according to the chronicles, in the year 218 of the Buddhist era (i.e., 268 BCE). Like his father Bindusaara and grandfather Candragupta, Asoka was a follower of the brahmanical faith at the beginning of his reign. In the early years of his reign he followed an expansionist policy and in the eighth year of his coronation he conquered Kaalinga, in the course of which 100,000 were slain and 150,000 taken prisoners. But the carnage of the Kaalinga war caused him much grief and the king was attracted towards the humanistic teachings of Buddhism. According to the Sri Lanka chronicles, it was a young novice named Nigrodha who converted Asoka.
After the conversion of this great emperor Buddhism flourished under his patronage. He inculcated the teachings of the Buddha and set up edicts of morality at numerous places of his vast empire so that his subjects would adhere to them and his successors might follow him. He himself followed those morals and set an example to the others. The king is reputed to have built 84,000 stupas. The monks were lavishly provided with their requisites.
The king even permitted his son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamittaa to join the Order when they were twenty and eighteen years of age respectively. These two illustrious disciples became noted for their piety, attainments, learning and profound knowledge of the Dhamma.
Vast numbers joined the Order in the reign of Asoka solely to share the benefits showered on it by the king, and such people were not only lax in their conduct, but also held doctrines counter to the teachings of the Buddha.
It was this dissenting element that led to the holding of the Third Buddhist Council under the patronage of King Asoka in order to purify the Buddhist religion (Saasana). It was at this Council held by a thousand theras (elders) under the leadership of Moggaliputta Tissa, at Paataliputta, that the Pali Canon of the Theravaada, as it exists today, was finally redacted.
At this Council was also taken the important, decision of sending missionaries to different regions to preach Buddhism and establish the Saasana there. Thus the thera Moggaliputta Tissa deputed Majjhantika Thera to Kaasmira-Gandhaara, Mahaadeva Thera to Mahisamandala, Rakkhita Thera to Vanavaasi, Yona-Dhammarakkhita Thera to Aparaantaka, Dhammarakkhita Thera to Mahaarattha, Mahaarakkhita Thera to Yonaloka, Majjhima Thera to Himavanta, theras So.na and Uttara to Suvannabhuumi, and Mahinda Thera with theras Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala and Bhaddasaala to Lanka, saying unto the five theras: “Establish ye in the delightful land of Lanka the delightful religion of the Vanquisher.”

The Mission to Sri Lanka 

Mahinda was thirty-two years old when he undertook the mission to Sri Lanka. He had adopted the religious life at the age of twenty, mastered the doctrines and attained the highest spiritual life, i.e., arahantship. Pondering on the fitting time to come to Lanka, he perceived that Mutasiva, the ruler at that time, was in his old age, and hence it was advisable to tarry until his son became ruler. In the meantime Mahinda visited his relatives at Dakkhinaagiri and his mother at Vedisagiri along with his companions. His mother Devi, whom Asoka had married while he was yet a prince, was living at Vedisagiri at that time. Having stayed for six months at Dakkhinaagiri and a month at Vedisagiri, Mahinda perceived that the right time had come, for the old ruler was dead and his son Devaanampiya Tissa had become king.
Devaanampiya Tissa was the second son of Mutasiva. He was a friend of Asoka even before he became king but the two had not seen each other. The first thing that Devaanampiya Tissa did when he became king was to send envoys to Asoka, bearing costly presents. The envoys, when they returned, brought among other things the following message from Asoka:
“Aha.m Buddhañ ca Dhammañ ca Sanghañ ca sara.na.mgato upaasakatta.m vedesi.m Saakyaputtassa saasane tvamp’imaani ratanaani uttamaani naruttama citta.m pasaadayitvaana saddhaaya sara.na.m bhaja.”
“I have taken refuge in the Buddha, his Doctrine and his Order, I have declared myself a lay-disciple in the religion of the Saakya son; seek then, O best of men, refuge in these best of gems, converting your mind with believing heart.”
This message of Asoka was conveyed to King Devaanampiya Tissa in the month of Vesakha and it was the full-moon day of the following month Jettha (Sinh. Poson) that Mahinda fixed for his arrival in Sri Lanka. Among the companions of Mahinda were the theras Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala and Bhaddasaala, the saamanera Sumana who was the son of Sanghamittaa, and the lay-disciple Bhanduka who was the son of a daughter of Devi’s sister and had become an anaagaami (once-returner) on hearing a sermon of Mahinda preached to Devi.

Arrival of Mahinda 

Thus on the full-moon day of the month of Jettha in the year 236 b.e. (i.e., 250 BCE) Mahinda and his companions, departing from Vedisagiri, rose up in the air and alighted on the Silakuuta of the pleasant Missaka hill, presently Mihintale, eight miles east of Anuraadhapura. The thera alighted here for he had perceived that he would meet the king there on that day.
The first meeting of the king of Lanka and the thera Mahinda is graphically described in the chronicles of Sri Lanka. The full-moon day of Jettha was a day of national festival in Lanka. Men and women were engaged in amusing themselves. The king with a large party of followers went to Mihintale hills on a hunting expedition. 
There he saw the theras with shaven heads dressed in yellow robes, of dignified mien and distinguished appearance, who faced him and addressed him not as ordinary men addressing a king but as those to whom a king was their inferior. The conversation impressed the king and his immediate surrender to the wisdom and piety displayed by the thera was complete. Mahinda Thera in reply to the king’s inquiry as to who they were and whence they had come, said:
“Sama.naa maya.m Mahaaraaja Dhammaraajassa saavakaa tav’eva anukampaaya Jambudiipaa idhaagataa.”
“We are the disciples of the Lord of the Dhamma. In compassion towards you, Mahaaraaja, We have come here from India.”
When he heard these words of the thera, the king laid aside his bow and arrow, and approaching the thera, exchanged greetings with him and sat down near him. Mahinda then had a conversation with the king, and realizing that the king was intelligent enough to comprehend the Dhamma, preached the Cuulahatthipadopama Sutta. 
At the end of the discourse the king and his retinue of forty thousand people embraced the new faith. Having invited the missionaries to the city the king left for his palace. Mahinda spent his first day in Sri Lanka at Mihintale where he solemnized the first ecclesiastical act by admitting to the Order the lay-follower Bhanduka who had accompanied him from India.

Entry into the Capital 

On the invitation of the king, Mahinda and the other theras arrived at Anuraadhapura the following day. Going forward to meet the theras, the king respectfully led them into the palace where he himself served them with dainty food. After the meal Mahinda preached the Petavatthu, the Vimaanavatthu and the Sacca-sa.myutta to the royal household.
The people of the city who heard of the theras flocked near the palace-gate to see them and the king prepared a hall outside the palace so that the townspeople could see the theras. On this occasion Mahinda preached the Devaduuta Sutta (Majjhima Nikaaya, No. 130).
This hall too was not spacious enough for the vast gathering and seats were prepared for the theras in the Nandana-garden in the royal park, where Mahinda preached the Baalapandita Sutta, (Majjhima Nikaaya, No. 129).
In the evening the theras expressed their desire to go back to Mihintale. The king, who wished them to stay in his capital, granted to the Sangha the royal park Mahaamegha for their residence. The king himself marked the boundaries by plowing a furrow. Thus was established the Mahaavihaara which became the earliest celebrated center of the Buddhist religion. Having spent twenty-six days in the Mahaamegha Park, the thera returned to Mihintale for the rain-retreat (vassa). This was the beginning of the Cetiyagiri-vihaara, another great monastic institution of early Buddhist Sri Lanka.

Sanghamittaa and Women Disciples 

Many women of Sri Lanka, headed by Queen Anulaa, desired to enter the Order of disciples and thus it came about that emissaries led by the king’s nephew Arittha were sent to Emperor Asoka to obtain the help of female disciples to enable the women of Lanka to obtain ordination.
Sanghamittaa, the sister of Mahinda Thera, who had entered the Order and had received ordination, was sent out to Lanka at the request of the king and the people and on the recommendation of Mahinda Thera.

The message sent by thera Mahinda to Emperor 

Asoka pleased him very much, for in it he realized that the mission to Lanka had been eminently successful and the king and the people of Lanka had accepted the new doctrine with enthusiasm.

Arrival of the Sacred Bo-Tree 

Emperor Asoka decided on sending a token of the Great and Enlightened One to the land of Lanka and prepared a branch of the Sacred Bodhi Tree under which the Lord attained enlightenment. He planted the branch in a golden vessel and, when it had taken root, conveyed it to the ship, depositing it in the ship. He also sent a large number of attendants to accompany the tree. The chronicles mention that these were selected from the brahmans, nobles and householders and consisted of 64 families. Sanghamittaa Therii and her attendants embarked on the same ship as well as the ambassadors and messengers who came from Lanka.
The ship sailed from Taamralipti (Tamluk) and arrived at the port in Lanka in seven days. The port was known as Jambukola and was situated in the north of the island. The king of Lanka on hearing of the arrival of the ship had the road from Jambukola to the capital city of Anuraadhapura gaily decorated. He arrived in state and himself took charge of the Sacred Bodhi Tree. This tree was planted in the Mahaamegha garden of Anuraadhapura with great festivities and tended with honor and care. Up to this date it flourishes as one of the most sacred objects of veneration and worship for millions of Buddhists.

The Firm Establishment of the Saasana 

Arittha, the king’s nephew who had obtained the king’s permission to enter the Order of monks on his return from India, did so with five hundred other men and all became arahants. With the ordination of Anulaa and the other women both the Bhikkhu-saasana and the Bhikkhuni-saasana were established in the island. Separate residences for monks and nuns were built by the king. 
The Thuupaaraama-cetiya enshrining the right collar-bone and other bodily relics of the Buddha was built, and the Sacred Bodhi Tree was planted for the devotion of the laity. When these acts of religious devotion were accomplished, the king asked Mahinda Thera whether the Saasana had been firmly established in the island, to which the latter replied that it had only been planted but would take firm root when a person born in Sri Lanka, of Sinhalese parents, studied the Vinaya in Sri Lanka and expounded it in Sri Lanka.
Arittha Thera had by this time become noted for his piety and his learning and on an appointed day, at a specially constructed preaching hall, in the presence of numerous theras, the king and the chiefs, Arittha Thera was invited to give a discourse on the Vinaya in the presence of the thera Mahaa Mahinda. And his exposition was so correct and pleasing that there was great rejoicing as the condition required for the firm establishment of the Saasana was fulfilled by him.

Progress of Buddhism in Lanka 

Devaanampiya Tissa ruled in Sri Lanka for forty years. It was in the first year of his reign that Buddhism was introduced and from that time the king worked for the progress of the new faith with great zeal. Apart from the Mahaavihaara, the Cetiyapabbatavihaara, the Thuuparaama and the Sacred Bodhi Tree, he established numerous other monasteries and several Buddhist monuments. The chronicles mention that he built monasteries a yojana from one another. Among these monuments the Isurumuni-vihaara and the Vessagiri-vihaara are important centers of worship to this day. He is also credited with the construction of the Pathamaka-cetiya, the Jambukola-vihaara and the Hatthaalhaka-vihaara, and the refectory.
Thousands of men and women joined the Order during his reign. The king not only built vihaaras for their residence but also provided them with their requisites. It was not only in the capital city that Buddhism spread in his reign but even in distant regions like Jambukola in the north and Kaajaragaama and Candanagaama in the south.
The remarkable success of Mahinda’s mission and the rapid spread of the religion in a very short time were mainly due to the efforts of Mahinda and the unbounded patronage of King Devaanampiya Tissa. Apart from them the people of Lanka too were eminently ripe at this period for receiving and adopting the teachings of the Buddha. The people in the land were prosperous, their wants were few, and these were supplied by the fertile soil. There was prosperous trade, for merchants came from all lands to barter goods; their art was well developed, for in the leisure people enjoyed they were able to build cities and tanks, great and small, and to perform works both of utility and artistic value. Contentment reigned supreme. Where such conditions existed the people were ready to embrace new ideals that had the prospect of helping their culture and elating their thoughts and activities, and as such the new doctrine preached by Mahinda Thera fell on a fertile soil, where it soon rose to its full height. Hundreds of thousands of men and women rose to high spiritual attainments on hearing the new message and thus the Law of the Blessed One was firmly established.

The Passing Away of Mahinda and Sanghamittaa 

Both Mahinda and Sanghamitta survived Devaanampiya Tissa. Mahinda lived to the age of 80 years and Sanghamittaa to the age of 79 years. They spent nearly 48 years in the island. The former died in the eighth year and the latter in the ninth of the reign of King Uttiya, brother and successor of Devaanampiya Tissa. Uttiya performed their funerals with great honor and built stuupas over their relics. The king himself died in the following year, 286 b.e., after a reign of ten years.
The hierarchy of the disciples was continued in pupilary succession. Arittha Thera succeeded Mahinda Thera; he was in turn succeeded by Isidatta, Kaalasumana, Diighanaama and Diighasumana.

Invasion of Tamils and Restoration of the Saasana by King Dutthagaamani 

Twenty years after the death of Uttiya foreign usurpers from South India seized Anuraadhapura. Two of them, Sena and Guttika, reigned together for twenty-two years and another Tamil usurper, Elaara, reigned for forty-four years. The lack of interest of these Tamil rulers in the Buddhist faith and the vandalism of their supporters evidently retarded the progress of the religion. Furthermore, the Sinhalese rulers were not free to work for the religion during these periods of political unrest. Nevertheless, the people held strongly to their new religion and showed no signs of laxity.
It was a young prince from Maagama of the southeastern principality of Ruhuna who restored the lost glory of the Sinhalese and their religion. He was Abhaya, known to posterity by a nickname which means “disobedient,” Dutthagaamani. He was a descendant of Mahaanaaga, who had established himself at Maagama when his older brother Devaanampiya Tissa was ruling at Anuraadhapura. Kaakavanna Tissa and Vihaaramahaadevi were his parents.
After a thorough preparation for war Dutthagaamani defeated and killed Elaara in battle and became the ruler of Anuraadhapura. Thus the sovereignty of the Sinhalese rulers of Anuraadhapura was once more established.
Dutthagaamani reigned for twenty-four years. The advancement of the Buddhist religion was his main concern. The Ruvanveli-saaya, the most celebrated stupa in Sri Lanka, was his greatest work. The magnificent edifice of nine storeys and nine hundred chambers, called the Lohapaasaada, “the Brazen Palace,” was constructed by him for the use of the monks. Mirisaveti-daagaba was another of his works.
Dutthagaamani was not only a supporter of Buddhism but was also a zealous follower himself. Many episodes in the Pali commentaries depict him as a pious monarch. Under his patronage there flourished several learned monks during his reign.

Social and Cultural Development due to Buddhism 

It is well to find out the social and cultural development of the Sinhalese during the two centuries following their acceptance of the Buddhist religion. We have many incidents and stories in the Sri Lanka chronicles from which a definite idea regarding these conditions can be inferred. For instance, the Rasavaahinii, a Pali work composed in the thirteenth century of the Christian era, contains over a hundred stories of the life of the people during this early period. According to these stories, among the Sinhalese there do not appear to have been any caste divisions. Brahmans are mentioned as living apart in their own villages, and they were more or less counted as foreign to the Sinhalese. The members of the royal families were held in a class by themselves, and those of such families who aspired to the kingdom had to marry a member of a royal family or at least from a Brahman family. The rest of the people were grihapatis (householders with settled abodes).
The Candaalas (despised) were those without a fixed abode; they were despised on account of being tramps and vagrants with no fixed residence. In some cases the word Candaala was used in a self-deprecatory manner in order to indicate unworthiness. There is the instance of Prince Saali, son of King Dutthagaamani, who fell in love with a village artisan’s daughter, Devi (Asokamaalaa). In addressing the prince she said that she was a Candaali as she did not belong to a family into which a member of the royal family was allowed to marry. The two divisions of people merely appear to be those who had a fixed abode and those who had no fixed abode. There were at this time no special caste divisions for trades or occupations, for a householder or members of a family were, in general, expected to engage themselves in one of the three occupations, as traders, as artisans or as cultivators.
Prince Dighaabhaya, when appointed as governor of Kasaatota, required attendants and asked each chief family of a village to send one of its sons for service and sent a messenger to Sangha, the chief of the village. The chief called together his seven sons. The elder six asked him to send the youngest to the king’s service as he was idling his time at home without engaging in any work. “We six are engaged in such occupations as trade, industries and cultivation and work hard at our occupations.” Again, in another story, the father, a chief of a village, addressing his daughter regarding her husband, tells her that her husband is living in idleness, and like her brothers should engage himself in an occupation such as cultivation, industry and commerce. Thus it appears all trades were common, and the same family engaged in work as artisans, tradesmen and cultivators without distinction.
The religion of the Sinhalese during this period was purely and entirely Buddhist and the stories indicate much practical activity in religious affairs, both in endowment and maintenance of religious institutions and the practice of religious principles. The Orders of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis flourished during this period; a very large number of men and women entered the religious Orders. Some of the vihaaras (monasteries) had thousands residing in them. 
There were also large numbers who were practicing meditation in forests and rock caves. They were well supported by the laity. There were four classes of disciples: the novices (saamanera), bhikkhus (fully ordained), theras (elders) and mahaatheras (chief elders.) There are no Sangharaajas (heads of the entire Sangha) mentioned in any of the stories and no interference by kings or ministers in appointment or in giving ranks to the members of the Order. The affairs of the Sangha were managed by the monks themselves under well established rules of the Vinaya.
There appear to have been large numbers of disciples who had attained to the state of arahant, i.e., saints who had gained emancipation. In addition practically every man or woman was an upaasaka or upaasikaa, a devotee who regularly performed religious duties. The bhikkhus lived in their vihaaras during the rainy season and at other seasons traveled far and wide in the country, visiting villages, other vihaaras, and as pilgrims worshipping at shrines. Both laymen and bhikkhus are frequently mentioned as going on pilgrimages to Gayaa in India to worship at the sacred Bodhi Tree there. These parties of pilgrims sometimes crossed over to Southern India and walked all the way to Gayaa, taking about six months on the journey; sometimes they went by sea and landed at Taamralipti at the mouth of the Ganges and reached Gayaa in half the time.
The canonical scriptures had not been committed to writing at this time though writing was known. The bhikkhus learned the Dhamma and many committed to memory the scriptures or parts of them, thus preserving the tradition by frequent rehearsal. That the art of writing was probably introduced to Sri Lanka only after the introduction of Buddhism seems deducible from the circumstance that so far, no pre-Buddhist writing, lithic or other, has been identified. The earliest lithic records date back to the time of King Uttiya, successor of Devaanampiya Tissa.
The bhikkhus were the instructors of the people. This was practically a duty. The Dhamma was expounded individually on every occasion and sermons to congregations were also held from time to time. There is mention of the periodical expounding of the Dhamma at a temple. Each temple in a district sometimes took its turn once a year to preach the Ariyava.msa Sutta, which was continued each time for seven days; the gatherings on these occasions appear to be very large as in instances mentioned it is said that the crowds were so great that large numbers usually had to stand outside the hall for the whole night and listen to the Dhamma, the audience including bhikkhus and the laity. There is also mention of discourses by lay preachers well versed in the Dhamma employed by the king at halls of preaching.
It is not clearly stated whether brahmans who lived in brahman villages practiced their own religion. Mention is made of sannyaasis or yogis who practiced asceticism and sometimes lived in cemeteries scantily clad, with bodies covered with ashes, and as the story says, pretending to be saints while at the same time they led sinful lives. There is no mention of brahman temples or places of worship.
Women had a very high status in society during this period. Practically in every strata of society the position of women showed no distinction from that of men. They freely took part in every activity of life and their influence is well marked. Their character is depicted in most favorable terms; they were gentle, courteous and good natured, hospitable, tender and intelligent, ever ready to help others, to preserve the honor of their families, devoted to religion and country with untrammelled freedom of action. The position of women is further seen from the fact that monogamy was a definite institution. There is no mention of any other form of marriage. Women had freedom to choose their husbands.

Vattagaamani Abhaya 

After the death of King Dutthagaamani his younger brother Saddhaatissa ruled for eight years and did a great deal for Buddhism. He was succeeded by his sons Thuulatthana, Lanjatissa, Khallaata Naaga and Vattagaamani Abhaya, in succession. The period of Vattagaamani Abhaya, also known as Valagambahu, is noteworthy in the history of early Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Five months after his accession to the throne, in 103 BCE a brahman named Tiya (or Tissa) from Ruhuna, South Lanka, revolted against him. At the same time a Tamil army led by seven Tamil chiefs landed at Mahaatittha and waged war against the king. The Tamil army vanquished Tiya and defeated Vattagaamani in battle after which the latter fled and lived in exile for fourteen years.
These fourteen years of Tamil domination were disastrous to the cause of Buddhism, especially because the country was also ravaged by an unprecedented famine during that period. Food was so scarce during that time that even cases of cannibalism are said to have occurred. Many thousands of monks and laymen died of starvation. The monasteries were deserted. The Mahaavihaara of Anuraadhapura was completely abandoned and the Mahaathuupa was neglected. Trees grew in the courtyards of vihaaras. 12,000 arahants from the Tissamahaaraama and another 12,000 from the Cittalapabbata-vihaara passed away in the forest due to lack of food. While thousands of monks died in the country, many left the country and went to India.
As a result of the death of most of the learned monks there was even the fear that some parts of the scriptures would be lost. The Mahaaniddesa of the Sutta Pitaka, for instance, was on the verge of being lost, for this text was known by only one monk at that time. The monks, in their earnestness to preserve the teachings of the Buddha, subsisted on roots and leaves of trees and recited the scriptures, lest they should forget them. When they had the strength they sat down and recited and when they could no longer keep their bodies erect they lay down and continued their recitation. Thus they preserved the texts and the commentaries until the misery was over.

The First Schism 

After Vattagaamani Abhaya regained the throne he demolished the monastery of a nigantha (Jain ascetic) named Giri for having mocked him when he was fleeing. He built a Buddhist monastery called the Abhayagiri-vihaara over it, which he presented to a monk named Kupikkala Mahaa Tissa who had helped the king in his exile. Later, the monks of the Mahaavihaara imposed the punishment of expulsion on Tissa on the charge of improper contact with lay families. Tissa’s pupil Bahalamassu Tissa, who resented the punishment imposed upon his teacher, was likewise expelled from the Mahaavihaara. He then went away with a following of five hundred monks and lived at Abhayagiri-vihaara, refusing to return to the Mahaavihaara. There was thus a group of monks who broke away from the Mahaavihaara and lived separately in the Abhayagiri-vihaara, but they did not yet disagree with each other either in the theory or the practice of the Dhamma.
The actual schism occurred only when monks of the Vajjiputta sect in India came to Sri Lanka and were received at the Abhayagiri, not long after Tissa and his followers occupied that monastery. Tissa and his followers liked the new monks and adopted their doctrines. Thenceforth they came to be known as the Dhammaruci sect, after the name of the great Indian monk who was the teacher of the newcomers to Abhayagiri. There was no official suppression of the new sect, presumably because the king was in their favor, but the Mahaavihaara monks opposed them as unorthodox and heretical. From this time the Abhayagiri existed as a separate sect opposed to the Mahaavihaara.

Writing of the Sacred Books 

It is stated in the early chronicles that after the acceptance of Buddhism by the people in Lanka and after the formation of a hierarchy of disciples who were Sinhalese, a council was held under Mahinda Thera, where all the leading theras were present and the teachings were recited and authoritatively laid down, as was done in the third convocation held in India under the direction of Emperor Asoka. Theravaada was thus established in Sri Lanka and according to tradition and custom the various parts of the Tipitaka were learned by the members of the Order, committed to memory, and preserved as oral traditions. It was seen how, during the famine that broke out in the time of King Vattagaamani Abhaya, a great strain was put on the continuance of this form of preserving the teachings of the Tipitaka. When conditions became normal, the members of the Order considered that they could lose the teachings if any similar calamity or calamities were to occur in the future, and they decided that the time had arrived for committing these teachings to writing so that they might be preserved for future generations. The advent of schisms about this time might also have weighed strongly in favor of this decision.
Thus the members of the Order assembled at the Mahaavihaara at Anuraadhapura, took counsel together, and with the permission and encouragement of the king a convocation was held. The teachings were recited and scribes were engaged to commit to writing, on palm leaves, the Pali canonical texts (the Tipitaka) consisting of Vinaya, Sutta and Abhidhamma, and the Sinhalese commentaries. According to the Nikaaya Sangraha, a Sinhalese work of the fourteenth century dealing with the history of the Buddhist order, after the convocation at the Mahaavihaara at Anuraadhapura, the selected number of reciters and scribes, 500 in all, went to Alulena (Aluvihaara) cave temple close to Matale, in the central province. There in retirement they completed the work assigned to them and thus for the first time brought out in book form the teachings of the Buddha.

The Growth of Dissentient Schools 

About two centuries after the formation of the Dhammaruci sect at the Abhayagiri-vihaara, in the days of King Vohaarika Tissa (214-36 a.c.), the monks of the Abhayagiri-vihaara adopted the Vaitulyavaada. Thereupon the monks of the Mahaavihaara, having compared it with their own texts, rejected the Vaitulya doctrines as being opposed to traditional doctrine. The king, who had them examined by a learned minister named Kapila, burnt them and suppressed the Vaitulyavaadins.
Despite the suppression by Vohaarika Tissa, the Vaitulyavaadins began to assert themselves again and a few years later, in the time of King Gothaabhaya (Meghavanna Abhaya, 253-266 a.c.), the Dhammaruci monks of Abhayagiri again accepted Vaitulyavaada. When this happened, about three hundred monks left the Abhayagiri-vihaara to reside at the Dakkhinavihaara, founding a new sect known as Saagaliya. The king, having assembled the bhikkhus of the five great monasteries of the Theriya Nikaaya (Mahaavihaara Nikaaya), had the Vaitulya books examined, ordered the books to be destroyed, and expelled the Vaitulya monks. Sixty of them left for the Chola country in South India.
The struggle did not end here, for the adherents of the new doctrine were firmly established in South India and they planned to undermine the Mahaavihaara Nikaaya in Sri Lanka. With this object a very learned monk by the name of Sanghamitra came to Sri Lanka and obtained the post of tutor to the king’s two sons. Sanghamitra gained considerable influence over the young pupil, Mahaasena, and was able to instil into him the new doctrine and make him a follower of his views. When Mahaasena ascended the throne, the opportunity looked forward to by the Vaitulyans came. The new king became a great supporter of his tutor and as such persecuted the Mahaavihaara monks. The king, at the instigation of Sanghamitra Thera, ordered that no one should give food to the monks of the Mahaavihaara. The Mahaavihaara, as a result, had to be abandoned for nine years. The supporters of Sanghamitra destroyed the buildings of the Mahaavihaara and carried away their material to construct new buildings for the Abhayagiri-vihaara.
Two persons, a minister and a queen, came forward this time to suppress Vaitulyavaada and save the Mahaavihaara. The minister, Meghavannaabhaya by name, managed to persuade the king to rebuild the Mahaavihaara. The queen caused Sanghamitra to be put to death and burned the Vaitulya books.
But the king, who was yet favorable towards the followers of Sanghamitra, built and gave the Jetavana-vihaara to a monk named Tissa. Tissa, who was later charged by the Mahaavihaara monks of a grave offense, was expelled from the Order. The monks of the Sagaliya sect at Dakkhina-vihaara then came to reside in the Jetavana-vihaara. In the reign of Silaakaala (522-35) a Vaitulyan book called the Dharmadhaatu, which was brought to Sri Lanka from India, was kept at the Jetavana-vihaara and venerated. Thus from this time the monks of Jetavana-vihaara too became adherents of Vaitulyavaada. In the reign of King Aggabodhi I (575-608) a great monk and teacher named Jotipaala, coming from India, so exposed the fallacies of the Vaitulya doctrines that in his day they fell into disrepute and disappeared from Sri Lanka. Since that time the monks of the Abhayagiri and Jetavana vihaaras who adhered to Vaitulyan doctrines, abandoned their pride and lived in submission to the monks of the Mahaavihaara.
Intercourse with India was so frequent that from time to time other unorthodox doctrines occasionally found favor with certain monks, but these had no marked effect on the general progress or the stability of the Mahaavihaara Nikaaya.
For nearly three centuries after the time of Aggabodhi I the chronicles make no mention of the Vaitulyavaada or any other heretical teaching, until in the reign of King Sena I (833-53) a monk of the Vaajraparvata Nikaaya came to Sri Lanka from India and introduced Vaajiriyavaada, converting the king to his doctrines. It was at this time that teachings like the Ratnakuuta-suutra were also introduced to Sri Lanka and another heresy called Nilapata-darsana appeared. Sena II (853-87), who succeeded Sena I, managed to suppress these new doctrines. From his time until the Chola conquest in the early eleventh century there is no mention of any heretical sect in Sri Lanka. However, a survey of the religious monuments of that period clearly shows that their teachings survived side by side with the teachings of the Theravaada.

The Nature of the New Doctrines 

It is opportune here to enquire about the nature of the new doctrines that were mentioned in the previous chapter as having been introduced into Sri Lanka from time to time since the first century a.c. It was the monks of the Vajjiputra sect in India who were the first to introduce a new teaching. The Vajjiputra sect is mentioned in the Sri Lanka chronicles as one of the groups that parted from the Theriya Nikaaya after the Second Buddhist Council to form a new sect. They thus evidently held some views different from those of the orthodox teachings. Buddhaghosa mentions in the Pali commentaries that the Vajjiputrakas held the view that there is a persistent personal entity, which is opposed to the accepted theory of anattaa of the Theravaada teachings. They also believed that arahants may fall away from their attainment.
These followers of the Vajjiputraka doctrines, residing at the Abhayagiri-vihaara, became adherents of the Vaitulya doctrines about two centuries afterwards, and until the beginning of the seventh century Vaitulyavaada became closely associated with Abhayagiri-vihaara and Jetavana-vihaara.
Like the Vajjiputra sect the Vaitulyavaada is mentioned in the Nikaaya Sangraha as one of the sects that arose in India after the Second Buddhist Council. The Nikaaya Sangraha also states that the Vaitulya Pitaka was composed by heretic brahmans called Vaitulyas who entered the Order in the time of King Asoka to destroy Buddhism. It has been noticed that the terms Vaitulya, Vaipulya and Vaidalya are commonly used as a designation for Mahaayaana suutras and hence the term Vaitulyavaada is used in the Sri Lanka chronicles to denote Mahaayaanism in general without having a particular Buddhist school in view.
The Vaitulyavaadins were considered even more heretical than the Vajjiputrakas. The Pali commentaries mention some of their heretical views. They held the view that the Buddha, having been born in the Tusita heaven, lived there and never came down to earth and it was only a created form that appeared among men. This created form and ânanda, who learned from it, preached the doctrine. They also held that nothing whatever given to the Order bears fruit, for the Sangha, which in the ultimate sense of the term meant only the path and fruitions, does not accept anything. According to them any human pair may enter upon sexual intercourse by mutual consent. The Diipava.msa used the term Vitandavaada in place of Vaitulyavaada and the Pali commentaries mention them as holding unorthodox views regarding the subtle points in the Dhamma, particularly the Abhidhamma.
Buddhaghosa also refers to the Vaitulyavaadins as Mahaasuññavaadins. The philosophy of the Mahaayaana as expounded by the great Mahaayaana teacher Naagaarjuna was Suunyavaada. Thus the fact that the first appearance of Vaitulyavaada in Sri Lanka took place shortly after Naagaarjuna’s teachings spread in South India, and that Vaitulyavaada is also identified with Suunyavaada of Naagaarjuna, suggests that it was the teaching of Naagaarjuna that was received by the monks of Abhayagiri-vihaara in the days of Vohaarika Tissa.
The book called Dharmadhaatu, which was brought to Lanka in the reign of Silaakaala, is described in the chronicles as a Vaitulyan book. The monks of the Abhayagiri-vihaara and the Jetavana-vihaara are connected with the honors paid to it. It has become evident that a book named Dharmadhaatu was known and held in high esteem in the tenth century in Lanka and it is quite probable that this book was a Mahaayaanistic treatise dealing with the doctrine of the three bodies of the Buddha found among the teachings of the Mahaayaana.
Vaajiriyavaada was introduced in the reign of King Sena I by a monk of the Vajraparvata Nikaaya. Scholars have pointed out that the Vaajiriyavaadins are identical with the Vajrayaanists, a school of Buddhism which flourished in eastern India about this time and which was an exponent of the worst phases of Tantrism. The Nikaaya Sangraha describes their writings as “secret teachings” and the Guudhavinaya, i.e., the “secret Vinaya,” is one of the compositions of the Vajrayaanists.
The Nikaaya Sangraha mentions that about this time the Ratnakuuta-suutra was introduced to Sri Lanka. In the Chinese Canon the second of the seven classes of the Mahaayaana-suutras is called the Ratnakuuta. The Niilapata-darsana, which was also introduced about this time, was also an extreme form of Tantrism. Blue has been a color often favored by Tantrists.

The Sacred Tooth Relic 

An important event in the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is the arrival of Buddha’s Tooth Relic, the left eye-tooth, from India about 805 b.e. (311 a.c.), during the time of King Sirimeghavanna, son and successor of King Mahaasena. Ever since this Sacred Tooth Relic was received in Sri Lanka it has been a national treasure of great value and a tangible token of the attachment of the Sinhalese to the doctrine of the Blessed Tathaagata. King Sirimeghavanna held a great festival for the Tooth Relic and decreed that it should be brought every year to the Abhayagiri-vihaara and the same ceremonial should be observed. Today it is enshrined in golden caskets in the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Daladaa Maaligaawa) in Kandy, which has become the center of devout pilgrims from all over the island and from Buddhist lands elsewhere.
Ancient customs and ceremonies are scrupulously kept up, offerings are made daily, and in honor of the Sacred Relic an annual festival lasting fourteen days is held in Kandy every year during August. The Perahera, or procession, on these occasions is conducted by the temple authorities with elephants, lights, music and dancers, and is witnessed by thousands of devotees. Chiefs in full ancient attire accompany the procession. Large tracts of land have been set apart as fees for services at this temple and the tenants of these lands have various services apportioned to them. The exhibition of the Sacred Relic itself takes place at rare intervals when tens of thousands of pilgrims find their way to the Temple to worship and view the Relic. A medieval chronicle, chiefly of the eastern part of the island, mentions the existence of the right eye-tooth and its enshrinement in Somavati Cetiya in pre-Christian times.
The Sacred Tooth Relic was in the possession of King Guhasiva of Kaalinga before it was brought to Sri Lanka. When he was about to be defeated in battle he entrusted it to his daughter Hemamaalaa: Hemamaalaa with her husband Dantakumaara brought the Sacred Tooth to Lanka and handed it over to King Sirimeghavanna at Anuraadhapura. From this date the Sacred Tooth Relic became the care of the kings of Lanka, who built special temples for it. During the many vicissitudes of the fortunes of the kings of Lanka, the Sacred Relic was conveyed from place to place where the fortunes of the king happened to take him. Replicas of the Sacred Tooth were made at various times and were owned by princes claiming the throne. About the year 1071 King Anawrahta (Anuruddha) of Burma sent various presents to King Vijayabaahu I of Sri Lanka and in return received a duplicate of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which he received with great veneration, and a shrine was built for it in Burma. The Portuguese, in one of their expeditions to Sri Lanka, claim to have captured the Sacred Tooth Relic at Jaffna in the year 1560. Jaffna was an outlying port away from the strongholds of Sinhalese kings and the relic said to have been found by the Portuguese in a temple at Jaffna appeared to be one of the several duplicates which had been made at various times. On this question Prof. Rhys Davids wrote in the Academy of September 1874: “Jaffna is an outlying and unimportant part of the Ceylon kingdom, not often under the power of the Sinhalese monarchs, and for some time before this it had been ruled by a petty chieftain; there is no mention of the Tooth brought by Dantakumaara having been taken there — an event so unlikely and of such importance that it would certainly have been mentioned had it really occurred. We have every reason to believe therefore that the very Tooth referred to in the Daañhaava.msa is preserved to this day in Kandy.”
In 1815 the British occupied Kandy. As usual the Sacred Tooth Relic had been taken to the mountains for security and one of the earliest tasks of the Agent of the British Government in the Kandyan Province was to arrange for the bringing back of the Relic with due ceremony. The houses and streets of Kandy were decorated, the surface of the streets whitened, and the Relic was brought in a magnificent procession. In 1818 there was a rebellion in the Kandyan provinces and the Sacred Tooth Relic was taken away from Kandy and hidden in a forest. After the suppression of the rebellion the British were able to find the Sacred Tooth Relic and bring it back to Kandy. The Sacred Tooth Relic continued to be in the custody of the British Government till 1853, when by order of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the charge was given over to the Diyawadana Nilame (lay custodian) and the chief monks of Malwatte and Asgiriya monasteries in Kandy.

Buddhaghosa Thera and the Compilation of the Pali Commentaries 

The compilation of the Pali Atthakathaa (commentaries) by Buddhaghosa Thera is another important event in the annals of Sri Lanka, which marks the progress of Buddhism. As has already been stated, the Pitakas or the teachings of the Buddha which were being handed down orally were committed to writing in 397 b.e. (89 BCE) and the commentaries on these, composed in Sinhalese, were also committed to writing at this time. Since this period much by way of exegetical works in Sinhalese was added from time to time and during the next five hundred years literary activity progressed considerably. By about 896 b.e. (410 a.c.), when King Mahaanaama reigned at Anuraadhapura, the fame of Buddhist literature in Sri Lanka was well recognized throughout India and tradition mentions Sinhalese Buddhist monks visiting India, China and other countries and introducing the literature produced in Sri Lanka. Monks from India and China also visited Anuraadhapura during this time to procure Buddhist books.
It was about this time that Buddhaghosa Thera came to Sri Lanka in the reign of King Mahaanaama (410-432). Mahaanaama succeeded to the throne 79 years after the death of King Sirimeghavanna, during whose reign the Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka, and three rulers, namely Jetthatissa II, Buddhadaasa and Upatissa I, reigned in between. The story of Buddhaghosa is given in detail both in the Mahaava.msa and the Sinhalese works composed in later times. According to these sources Buddhaghosa was a brahman youth who was born in the vicinity of Buddha Gayaa and became well known as an exponent of Veda and philosophy. He was such a proficient scholar that in his youth he was able to assert his knowledge among the great scholars of the time. He traveled from place to place, from one seat of learning to another, from one set of teachers to another, triumphantly asserting his knowledge and scholarship.
At a well-known Buddhist monastery at Tamluk, he met Revata Mahaathera, one well versed in the doctrines and philosophy of Buddhism. There he entered into discussions and found not a peer but one superior to him in knowledge and understanding. This made him join the Order of Buddhist monks as a pupil of Revata Mahaathera. At this vihaara he studied Buddhist philosophy diligently and produced a treatise on Buddhism, ¥aa.nodaya; he also planned to compose commentaries on the Abhidhamma and the suttas. His teacher at this stage advised him to go to Anuraadhapura before undertaking this work, as he said that in Lanka were preserved not only the Tipitaka, the teachings of the Buddha himself, but also the Sinhalese commentaries and various expositions of the teachings which were very valuable and of high repute.
Buddhaghosa Thera proceeded to Sri Lanka and stayed at the Mahaapadhaanaghara of the Mahaavihaara. He then asked the monks at Anuraadhapura for access to books for the compilation of commentaries. The learned theras at Anuraadhapura tested his knowledge and ability by setting him a thesis on which he compiled the well-known Visuddhimagga. They were so pleased with this work that he was given facilities for his projected work and books were placed at his disposal for the preparation of Pali commmentaries.
The old Sinhalese commentaries from which Buddhaghosa drew material for the compilation of his Pali commentaries are occasionally named in his works. The Mahaa (or Muula) Atthakathaa occupied the foremost position among them while the Mahaa-paccari Atthakathaa and the Kurundi Atthakathaa were also important. These three major works probably contained exegetical material on all the three Pitakas. Apart from these there were other works like the Sankhepatthakathaa, Vinayatthakathaa, Abhidhammatthakathaa and separate commentaries on the four âgamas or Nikaayas, namely, the Diigha Nikaaya Atthakathaa, Majjhima Nikaaya Atthakathaa, Samyutta Nikaaya Atthakathaa, and the Anguttara Nikaaya Atthakathaa. References to numerous other sources like the Andhakatthakathaa, the âcariyaa (or Teachers), and the Poraanaa (or Ancient Masters) are also found in Buddhaghosa’s works.
Utilizing the copious material of these commentaries and other sources, which sometimes contained conflicting views and contradictory assertions, Buddhaghosa compiled his Pali commentaries including all authoritative decisions, sometimes giving his own views but leaving out unnecessary details and repetitions as well as irrelevant matter. The first of such commentaries was the Samantapaasaadikaa on the Vinaya Pitaka. The Kankhaavitaranii on the Paatimokkha of the Vinaya Pitaka was compiled later. These books were followed by the commentaries on the four Nikaayas, the Sumangalavilaasinii on the Diigha Nikaaya, the Papañca-suudanii on the Majjhima Nikaaya, the Saaratthappakaasinii on the Samyutta Nikaaya, and the Manorathapuura.nii on the Anguttara Nikaaya. The Dhammapadaññhakathaa on the Dhammapada, the Jaatakaññhakathaa on the Jaataka, and the Paramatthajotikaa on the Khuddaka Nikaaya, are also ascribed to him. On the books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, Buddhaghosa compiled the Aññhasaalinii on the Dhammasanganii, the Sammohavinodanii on the Vibhanga, and the Pañcappakara.naññhakathaa on the other five books.
The voluminous literature which Buddhaghosa produced exists to this day and is the basis for the explanation of many crucial points of Buddhist philosophy which without them would have been unintelligible. His commentaries become all the more important since the old Sinhalese commentaries gradually went out of vogue and were completely lost after the tenth century. Buddhaghosa’s activities gave an impetus to the learning of Pali in Sri Lanka which resulted in the production of many other Pali commentaries and other literary works, and also established the pre-eminence of Sri Lanka as the home of Theravaada Buddhism.

The Pali Chronicles 

Some time before and after the compilation of the Pali commentaries by Buddhaghosa two important literary works of a different type were produced in Sri Lanka. They are the Diipava.msa and the Mahaava.msa, described in the foregoing pages either as the Sri Lanka chronicles or the Pali chronicles. These two works are the earliest extant literary records giving a continuous history of the activities of the kings of Sri Lanka from pre-Buddhistic times up to the end of the reign of King Mahaasena. Both works are composed in Pali metrical verses.
The Diipava.msa is the earlier of these two chronicles. It is not a compilation of one individual author but is the outcome of several previous works to which additions have been made from time to time, taking its present form about the fourth century a.c. The chronicle does not name any author but it has been held by some scholars, from the abundant material it contains about nuns, that the Diipava.msa is a work compiled and continued by nuns from time to time.
The Diipava.msa consists of 22 chapters. They contain accounts of the three visits of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, the ancestry of the Buddha, the three Buddhist councils and the different Buddhist schools which arose after the Second Council, the activities of King Asoka, the colonization of Sri Lanka by Vijaya, his successors, the introduction of Buddhism in the reign of King Devaanampiya Tissa and the activities of his successors, especially Dutthagaamani, Vattagaamani and Mahaasena. The narrative ends with the reign of Mahaasena (276-303).
The Diipava.msa has obtained its material from different sources of which the Sihala Mahaava.msatthakathaa (also called the Sihalatthakathaa or Poraanatthakathaa or merely Atthakathaa) was pre-eminent. Besides this there were several other sources like the Uttaravihaara Mahaava.msa, Vinayatthakathaa and the Dipava.msatthakathaa. By these names were known the records collected and preserved in the Mahaavihaara and the other monasteries.
The Mahaava.msa, which is the better work in its comprehensiveness, arrangement of facts and high literary standard, was compiled by a thera named Mahaanaama either in the late fifth century or the early sixth century a.c. It also covers the same period of history and its material is drawn from the same sources as the Diipava.msa, but it contains much more additional material presented in a better form.
The Mahaava.msa contains 37 chapters in all. They deal mainly with the same events as those of the Diipava.msa, but there are much longer accounts and greater details of the activities of several kings such as Pandukaabhaya and Dutthagaamani and events like the establishment of Buddhism and the rise of new schools.
These two chronicles contain many myths and legends. Yet they are among the primary sources for the reconstruction of the early history of Sri Lanka for they contain a great deal of historical facts, especially in the narratives dealing with the period after the 2nd century BCE, corroborated by epigraphical, archaeological and other evidence.
The Mahaava.msa has been continued in later times, at three stages, giving a connected history of the island up to modern times. This continuation of the chronicle, which is in three parts, is called the Cuulava.msa. The first part brings the history down to the twelfth century, the second part to the fourteenth century and the third part to modern times.

Political Unrest and the Decline of Buddhism 

The political situation in Sri Lanka from about the middle of the fifth century a.c. until the third quarter of the eleventh century a.c. was not favorable towards the progress of Buddhism. This period of Sri Lankan history is marked with continuous warfare between the reigning king and his rival claimants or the foreign invaders. Often when the reigning king was defeated in battle he fled to India and came back with a Tamil troop to regain his lost throne, and as a result the Tamils who thus settled down in Sri Lanka from time to time also became an important element even powerful enough to seize political power for themselves.
Such a political situation evidently did not give the rulers an opportunity to work for the religion and as a result the community and the monasteries were neglected. Some rulers like Aggabodhi III and Daathopatissa I even resorted to the evil practice of robbing monasteries of their gold images, precious gems and other valuables which had accumulated there for centuries, for the purpose of financing their military operations when the royal treasury had become empty. 
Daathopatissa I also removed the gold finial of the Thuupaaraama and the gem-studded umbrella of the cetiya. Relic chambers of stuupas were opened and valuable offerings were removed. Their Tamil soldiers were allowed to burn down monastic buildings like the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple and take away the valuables. The Pandya and the Chola invaders from South India who also attacked Sri Lanka several times during this period ransacked the monasteries and carried away vast treasures. These conditions necessarily worsened when Sri Lanka passed into the hands of the South Indian Cholas in 1017 and remained a part of the Chola empire until 1070.
Amidst this political unrest and the resultant religious decline several events important in the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka occurred. In the reign of Moggallaana I (495-512) the Sacred Hair Relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka from India and the king placed it in a crystal casket in an image house and held a great festival. The writing of the Mahaava.msa by a Mahaavihaara monk is ascribed to the reign of his successor Kumaara Dhaatusena (512-520). In the reign of Silaakaala (522-535) the Mahaayaana book, the Dharmadhaatu, was brought to Sri Lanka and in the reign of Aggabodhi I (575-608) the monk Jotipaala defeats the Vaitulyavaadins in a public controversy. Apart from these special events several rulers purified the Saasana and repaired the old and neglected monasteries. They also encouraged the recital of Dhamma.

Vijayabaahu I and the Revival of Buddhism 

In the year 1070 Vijayabaahu I succeeded in defeating the Cholas and becoming the king of Sri Lanka. Residing at Polonnaruwa, which he made the capital of his kingdom, he turned his mind to the noble task of repairing the damage that had been inflicted upon the national religion by the invaders. The great religious edifices, the pirivenas and the monasteries which were in utter destruction were restored and new ones were built. But the greatest of his tasks was the restoration of ordination of monks. 
When he found that the five ordained monks required to carry out an ordination ceremony could not be found in the whole island, he sent an embassy to his friend and ally, King Anuruddha (i.e., Anawrahta) of Burma, soliciting his help in restoring the Saasana in Sri Lanka. King Anuruddha sent a number of eminent theras who re-established the Saasana in Sri Lanka and instructed a large number of monks in the three Pitakas and the commentaries. The king also brought about a reconciliation of the three Nikaayas of the Mahaavihaara, Abhayagiri and Jetavana and restored their ancient monasteries to them. Thousands of laymen joined the Order.
The religious revival inaugurated by King Vijayabaahu led to a great intellectual re-awakening and a large number of religious literary works in Pali and Sanskrit were written. King Vijayabaahu also encouraged learned men to come and settle down in Sri Lanka and also induced his courtiers to engage in literary pursuits. These activities suffered temporarily with his death in 1110, but were revived after the accession of Paraakramabaahu the Great in 1153.

Revival of Buddhism under Paraakramabaahu the Great 

King Paraakramabaahu the Great (1153-1186) ascended the throne after a great struggle with rival claimants and even after his accession he had to suppress many rebellions. Being a great leader of men he was able to restore order and even carry his prowess as a conqueror to foreign lands including South India and Burma. He rebuilt the city of Polonnaruwa. King Paraakramabaahu also undertook the restoration of the ancient capital city of Anuraadhapura which had been neglected and abandoned after the Cholas had captured and devastated it about a century and a half earlier. The four great thuupas were overgrown with trees, and bears and panthers dwelt there. The king restored all the important monuments at Anuraadhapura and the entire Mihintale monastery.
But the most important task which the king performed for the establishment of the Saasana was its purification and the unification of the Sangha. In spite of the activities of King Vijayabaahu I there were by this time members of Sangha who were unfit to lead the monastic life. Some of the monks are said to have even supported wives and children. With a learned thera named Mahaa Kassapa of Udumbaragiri Vihaara (Dimbulaagala near Polonnaruwa) at its head, the king convened a Council of the leading monks of the dissentient schools and was convinced that the teachings of the Mahaavihaara were correct and their claims were in keeping with the Dhamma. Consequently with great care and patience, the king made investigations into the members of the schismatic schools. Many of the unworthy monks were persuaded to leave the Order and those who were not open to persuasion were expelled. Some monks were made to return to the status of novices. After that the three fraternities of the Mahaavihaara, the Abhayagiri-vihaara and the Jetavana-vihaara remained united.
Subsequent to this purification of the Sangha the king, with the assistance of the leading monks, proclaimed a code of regulations for the guidance of the bhikkhus. After the proclamation of that code the internal discipline of the Sangha was in the hands of the monks themselves and the king acted only when a necessity arose. The code of regulations enforced by King Paraakramabaahu became a royal proclamation. It gave directions for the proper observance of the Vinaya rules and dealt with the procedure that should be followed by his subjects who had become or who wished to become lay pupils, novices and subsequently ordained monks. The king also caused this proclamation to be engraved on the rock surface of the Uttaraaraama, presently known as Gal-vihaara, which exists to this day. It is now known as Polonnaru-katikaavata or the Paraakramabaahu-katikaavata.
The great interest taken by the king in the affairs of the religion coupled with internal peace and prosperity brought about a revival of Buddhist learning which created a rich literature during this period.

Compilation of Religious Treatises 

It has been mentioned earlier that Buddhaghosa Thera compiled the Pali commentaries to many of the texts of the Tipitaka in the early part of the fifth century. Buddhaghosa was, however, not able to compile commentaries to all the books of the Tipitaka due perhaps to the fact that the illness of his teacher Revata in India caused him to leave Sri Lanka before he finished the entire work. Fortunately, there were several other scholars who took up the work left undone by Buddhaghosa, and in the succeeding years they compiled commentaries to the rest of the texts of the Pali Canon.
Thus the commentator Dhammapaala Thera compiled the commentaries to the Udaana, Itivuttaka, Vimaanavatthu, Petavatthu, Theragaathaa, Theriigaathaa and Cariyaapitaka of the Khuddaka Nikaaya; all these commentaries are known by the name Paramatthadiipanii: Upasena Thera compiled the Saddhammappajjotikaa on the Niddesa. Mahaanama Thera compiled the Saddhammappakaasinii on the Patisambhidaa-magga, and Buddhadatta Thera compiled the Madhuratthavi-laasinii on the Buddhava.msa. The author of the Visuddhajanavilaasinii, which is the commentary on the Apadaana, is not known. Of these commentators Buddhadatta was a contemporary of Buddhaghosa; Upasena and Mahaanaama flourished about the latter part of the sixth century, and Dhammapaala about the latter part of the tenth century.
The political disturbances from the time of King Dhaatusena until the reign of Vijayabaahu I greatly hampered literary activities and as a result only a few religious works were composed during this period. About the end of the tenth century, a thera named Khema wrote an expository work on the Abhidhamma, called the Paramatthadiipanii. To the same period belongs also the Pali Mahaabodhiva.msa, which gives primarily the history of the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Anuraadhapura and the ceremonies connected with it. A poem entitled Anaagatava.msa on the future Buddha Metteyya is also ascribed to this period. To the tenth or the early part of the eleventh century belongs a Pali poem of 98 stanzas, called the Telakañaahagaathaa, in the  form of religious exhortations of a great elder named Kalyaaniya Thera, who was condemned to be cast into a cauldron of boiling oil.
King Vijayabaahu I, in whose reign occurred a great intellectual re-awakening, was himself a great patron of literature and a scholar of high repute. Many Sinhalese works including a Sinhalese translation of the Dhammasanganii are attributed to him but not one of them exists today. About this time a monk named Anuruddha composed the Anuruddhasataka, the Abhidhammattha-sangaha, the Naamaruupa-pariccheda and the Paramattha-vinicchaya. The first is a Buddhist devotional poem of 101 stanzas, in elegant Sanskrit. The second work is a compendium on the teachings of the Abhidhamma and is held in high esteem by all Buddhists of the southern school. The third and fourth are two short works in verse on the Abhidhamma, giving the reader a general idea of the subjects dealt with in the Abhidhamma Pitaka.
The reign of King Paraakramabaahu the Great ushered in another great epoch of literary activity. Three great scholarly monks flourished in his reign, namely, Mahaa Kassapa of Dimbulaagala Vihaara, Moggallaana Thera and Saariputta Thera. Mahaa Kassapa was the author of a Sinhalese paraphrase (sanne) to the Samantapaasaadikaa, which is now lost. He is also reputed to have written a sub-commentary to the Abhidhammattha-sangaha. It is probable that he was also the author of several other works such as the Mohavicchedanii, which is a treatise on the Abhidhamma, and Vimativinodanii, which is a commentary on the Vinaya. Moggallaana, a contemporary of Mahaa Kassapa, was the author of the Pali grammar, Moggallaana Vyaakara.na. He is also credited with the authorship of the Abhidhaanappadiipikaa, which is the only ancient Pali dictionary in Sri Lanka.
Saariputta was the most prominent scholar of the reign of Paraakramabaahu the Great. A clever Sanskrit scholar as he was, Saariputta compiled two works on Sanskrit grammar. Another work by him, the Vinayasangaha, was a summary of the Vinaya Pitaka. This work was known by several titles and was widely known in Burma. On this work Saariputta himself wrote a sub-commentary (ñiikaa) and a Sinhalese paraphrase. The most comprehensive and therefore important work of Saariputta is the masterly sub-commentary called the Saaratthadiipanii, which he composed on Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the Vinaya, the Samantapaasaadikaa. The immense and valuable information it contains shows that his knowledge was extensive and profound even as that of the great commentator Buddhaghosa.
He further wrote a Sinhalese paraphrase to the Abhidhammattha-sangaha of Anuruddha Thera and this paraphrase is still held in high esteem by modern scholars. Saariputta is also credited with the authorship of two other ñiikaas, the Saratthamañjuusaa on the Manorathapuura.nii and the Liinatthappakaasinii on the Papañcasuudanii, which are commentaries on the Anguttara and Majjhima Nikaayas, respectively, by Buddhaghosa. To this period also belong the ñiikaas on the other three Nikaayas of the Sutta Pitaka, collectively known as the Saratthamañjuusaa-ñiikaa. It should be mentioned here that the ñiikaas named above formed one of the major groups of Pali literature compiled during this period. As described in the Saddhamma-sangaha, a Pali work of the 14th century, Mahaa Kassapa and a large congregation of monks who assembled at the Jetavana Vihaara at Polonnaruwa decided to compose exegetical commentaries since the existing sub-commentaries on the old Atthakathaas were unintelligible. Acting on this decision they compiled ñiikaas, namely, the Saaratthadiipanii on the Vinaya Pitaka, the Saratthamañjuusaa in four parts on the first four Nikaayas of the Sutta Pitaka, and the Paramatthadiipanii in three parts on the Abhidhamma Pitaka.
These ñiikaas or sub-commentaries were works containing expositions of points in the Atthakathaas compiled by Buddhaghosa and other commentators, which needed further elucidation for their correct interpretation. There were ñiikaas compiled from time to time subsequent to the compilation of the commentaries, and what the council headed by Mahaa Kassapa performed was the bringing of these various ñiikaas together and making a synthetic summary of them. Though the Saddhamma-sangaha does not give any prominence to the part played by Saariputta at this council, it is well known that several ñiikaas were compiled either by him or under his supervision.
Several religious works written in Sinhalese also belong to this period. The Sinhalese exegetical works on which the Pali commentaries were based were preserved in the Mahaavihaara as late as the tenth century. Likewise there were the collections of Jaataka stories and the stories connected with the verses of the Dhammapada, in the Sinhalese language. A collection of stories from which the Pali Rasavaahinii drew material and a work called the Siihalaññhakathaa Mahaava.msa, on which the Pali chronicles were based, also existed in Sinhalese. None of these works is now extant. Several Sinhalese religio-literary works which were composed in or about the twelfth century are popular even today. Among them are the Sasadaavata, which is a poem on the Sasa Jaataka; the Muvadevdaavata, which is a poem on the Makhaadeva Jaataka; and the Kavsilumina, which is a poem on Kusa Jaataka. Gurulugomi’s Amaavatura and Dharmapradiipikaava and Vidyaacakravarti’s Butsara.na are also generally ascribed to the twelfth century.

Decline of Buddhism after Paraakramabaahu I and Restoration by Paraakramabaahu II 

After the death of Paraakramabaahu the Great there was much internal disturbance in the country caused by rival claimants to the throne and invasions by foreigners. As a result Buddhism was on the decline again. Paraakramabaahu’s immediate successor, Vijayabaahu II, promoted trade and religious relations between Burma and Sri Lanka but was slain after a year’s rule by a usurper. The usurper was, however, slain five days later by Nissankamalla, who thereafter reigned for nine years (1187-96). Nissankamalla was a great benefactor of Buddhism. He built several notable religious edifices in Polonnaruwa, his capital. Some of these, like the Ruvanveli-daagaba (now called Rankot-vehera), the beautiful Vatadaa-ge, the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple (Hetadaage), and the Nissankalataa-mandapa exist to this day. He made occasional tours in his kingdom, visiting places of religious significance like the Sumanakuuta (Sri Paada, or as called by the English, Adam’s Peak) and the Dambulu-vihaara. He built alms-houses at several important places and purified the Saasana by expelling corrupt bhikkhus from the Order.
The period of two decades that followed the death of King Nissankamalla was one of the most disturbed periods in Sri Lanka, during which time occurred several assassinations of rulers and invasions by foreigners. In 1214 a foreigner named Megha invaded, defeated the Sinhalese ruler and reigned for 36 years (1215-51). His reign was one of the most disastrous for Buddhism, for he plundered the monasteries and made them over to his soldiers to dwell in. The people were persecuted by torture and were forced to adopt a different faith. He also destroyed libraries containing many valuable books. The situation was temporarily saved by Paraakramabaahu II, who ruled from Dambadeniya from 1236 while Maagha was still dominating north Lanka. Paraakramabaahu II, who was a ruler of great learning, earned for himself the title Kalikaala Sahitya Sarvajña Pandita. He made efforts to restore the Saasana by bringing over monks from the Chola country in South India and holding a festival to admit monks to the higher ordination. He established several monasteries and pirivenas and encouraged learning. The king also held a great council of monks under the leadership of the great thera Aranyaka Medhankara and purified the Saasana. Subsequently, like Paraakramabaahu I, he formulated rules for the proper conduct of the monks, the code of these rules being known by the name Dambadeni Katikaavata. At Palaabatgala he constructed a great monastery for the hermit-monks who were full of virtue and were able to undergo strict austerities. Two succeeding kings, Vijayabaahu IV (1270-72) and Paraakramabaahu III (1287-93), took much interest in maintaining Buddhism and consolidating the efforts of their predecessor.

The Literary Revival 

The religious revival brought about by Paraakramabaahu II continued until about the fifteenth century, though there was not much political stability in the country during that period. The outstanding feature of the period is the compilation of a large number of religio-literary works. Paraakramabaahu II himself obtained teachers from India to teach Lankan monks. He persuaded his younger brother Bhuvanekabaahu to become a scholar and be a teacher to many thousands of elders. The king’s minister Devapatiraaja was a great patron of learning. To Paraakramabaahu II is ascribed the authorship of the Sinhalese translations to the Visuddhimagga and the Vinaya Vinicchaya, the Sinhalese poem Kavsilumi.na, the masterpiece of Sinhalese poetry, based on the Kusa Jaataka, and the Sinhalese prose work Daladaa-sirita. In the reign of Paraakramabaahu II lived the thera Dharmakirti who was the author of the Pali poem Daathaava.msa and the first part of the Cuutava.msa.
The Thuupava.msa on the erection of stuupas in Lanka, the Hattha-vanagalla-vihaara-va.msa on the history of the ancient vihaara at Attanagalla, the Rasavaahinii which is a collection of stories about ancient India and Sri Lanka, the Samantakuuta-va.n.nanaa on the Buddha’s visit to Sumanakuuta (Adam’s Peak), the Kesadhaatuvamsa on the history of the hair-relics of the Buddha, the Paarami-mahaasataka on the ten perfections (paraamitaa), the Saddhamma-Sangha which gives an account of the history and development of Buddhism in Lanka, are several of the religious works of merit composed in Pali from the time of Paraakramabaahu II until the fifteenth century.
A large number of Sinhalese works on religious subjects too belongs to this period. The Saddharmaratnaavalii, which narrates the stories of the Pali Dhammapadatthakathaa in Sinhalese, the Puujavalii which relates the honor and offerings received by the Buddha, the Pansiya-panas-jaataka based on the Pali Jaataka commentary, the Sinhala Bodhiva.msa on the history of the Bodhi Tree, the Elu-Attanagaluva.msa which is a translation of the Pali work, the Saddharmaalankaara, based on the Pali Rasavaahinii, the Guttilakaavyaya based on the Guttila Jaataka, the Kaavyasekharaya, based on the Sattubhatta Jaataka, the Budugu.naalankaaraya, which narrates the dispelling of the calamity in Vesaali by the Buddha, and the Loveda-sangaraava, containing religious instructions for the laity, are the standard works among them.

Embassy from Burma to Obtain Ordination 

As a result of this religious revival, the reputation of the Sangha in Sri Lanka became so well established that in the year 1476 King Dhammaceti of Burma decided to send twenty-two selected bhikkhus to Lanka to obtain ordination and bring back to Burma the traditions of Lanka. He sent these bhikkhus with numerous presents in charge of two ministers, Citraduuta and Raamaduuta. 
They came in two ships. The first ship with eleven bhikkhus and their attendants, in charge of the minister Citraduuta, arrived in Colombo and the other ship in charge of Raamaduuta with eleven bhikkhus and attendants arrived at Weligama on the southern coast of Lanka. These deputations were received with due ceremony and given a cordial reception by King Buvanekabaahu VI (1470-78), who reigned at Kotte (Jayawardhanapura), six miles from Colombo.
The king of Burma sent the following message to the chief theras of Lanka: “My Lords, I am sending many articles to be offered to the Sacred Tooth Relic, etc. and I request you to make an endeavor to offer these to the Sacred Tooth Relic. 
May the noble ones obtain facilities for the twenty-two bhikkhus and their pupils and the two ministers, Citraduuta and Raamaduuta, who are attending on these bhikkhus to assist them in worshiping, honoring and viewing the Sacred Tooth Relic if they are so fortunate as to get an opportunity to do so; after which may the Noble Ones be pleased with their endeavor to enable the twenty-two bhikkhus and their pupils to be ordained in the community of succession from Mahaavihaara fraternity founded by the great thera Mahinda by selecting such bhikkhus who hold an established high reputation and giving the ordination of Upasampadaa in the Siimaa (ordination hall) in the river Kalyaani, which has been made sacred by its association with our Great Lord.”
The request made by the king of Burma was duly granted, the bhikkhus were ordained in the Siimaa in the Kalyaani River. The minister Raamaduuta with twenty bhikkhus and thirty-three pupils, duly ordained, returned to Burma. The other minister, Citraduuta, and his party of bhikkhus were shipwrecked and six of these bhikkhus met with their death. The remaining ones reached their country.

Establishment of Mahaavihaarava.msa in Burma 

In Burma King Dhammaceti built an ordination hall, known as Kalyaani Siimaa, and the bhikkhus ordained there went by the name of Kalyaaniva.msa. At a later period ordination of this Nikaaya was carried to Siam from Burma. 
The connection with Burma at this period has an important bearing on the fortunes of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, for through these embassies the books that existed in Lanka were taken to Burma, Siam and Cambodia and the Mahaavihaara Nikaaya was established in these countries. This helped Lanka to reobtain the books and the ordination at a subsequent period, when ordination had disappeared in the island and the books were lost.

The Arrival of the Portuguese and the Persecution of Buddhism 

The political stability that was maintained by Paraakramabaahu II and his successors until about the fifteenth century began to weaken by the end of that century. At this time the Sinhalese king who ruled at Kotte was the head of a very small territory. The interior regions of the country were in the hands of several petty chiefs who did not care about the religion or the welfare of the people. The Moors on the other hand controlled the trade of the coastal regions. Economically too the country had sunk to such a very low level that by this time Sri Lanka had become dependent on India even for food.
Such was the condition when the Portuguese, who were engaged in discoveries and conquests in the East and were in pursuit of Eastern trade, landed in Lanka in 1505, when Vira Paraakramabaahu VIII (1484-1508) was ruling at Kotte. The Portuguese promised him military aid against his rivals and great riches from the trade which they proposed to establish. They then gained a foothold in Lanka by erecting a fortress on the rocky beach in Colombo and establishing many trading settlements. Before long the entire coastal region passed into the hands of the Portuguese and the kings of Kotte were entirely at the mercy of their allies. They even made several assaults on the interior of the country in order to become masters of the whole island.
The Portuguese arrived in Colombo in 1505 and, gradually occupying all maritime provinces, remained in their possession up to 1658. The Lanka chronicles as well as the records of their friendly historians describe them as cruel, inhuman, rapacious, bigoted and savage persecutors of Buddhism in their endeavor to impose their own faith — Roman Catholicism — on the people of Sri Lanka.
A few decades after the arrival of the Portuguese, King Bhuvanekabaahu VI (1534-1551), who ruled at Kotte, sought the assistance of his allies, the Portuguese, to ensure the succession of his grandson Dharmapaala to the throne. For this purpose an ivory image of Dharmapaala was sent to Portugal where a coronation of the effigy was held by the Portuguese emperor. When the Sinhalese ambassadors returned they were accompanied by a party of Franciscans who, under the direction of the Portuguese emperor and with the permission of the king of Kotte, preached the Christian Gospel in Lanka. Thus for the first time Christian communities were organized in the maritime provinces of Lanka. Dharmapaala, who had become a baptized Christian under the name of Don Juan Dharmapaala, as an expression of thankfulness to the Portuguese gave them a deed of gift (sannas) after his accession, transferring to them the Daladaa Maaligaawa (i.e., the Temple of the Tooth), the temple at Kelaniya and all the temple revenues in the island for the maintenance of the missionary establishments.
Thus there was the necessary assistance given to the Portuguese by the rulers of Kotte to suppress the national religion of the Sinhalese and propagate their own religion — Catholicism. With this support they set about their task. In their conversions they adopted two distinct methods, namely, inducement by offices and other temporal favors, and brutal punishment where inducement failed. People who wished to obtain high offices under them and who wished to earn the goodwill of those in power readily adopted the new faith and took up new Biblical names. Others who hesitated to give up their national faith and showed resistance were brutally punished.
There are lurid accounts of men thrown into rivers to be eaten by crocodiles, babies spitted on the soldiers’ pikes and held up before the parents, or crushed between millstones before the eyes of their mothers who later were to be tortured to death. Those who dared to worship in public or wear the yellow robe were put to death. Buddhist monasteries and institutions were destroyed and their treasures looted. Libraries were set on fire. Thus did the period of Portuguese rule become one of the darkest periods of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Persecution of Buddhism by Raajasinha I 

The Portuguese were not the only enemies of Buddhism at this period. King Raajasinha I (1581-1592), who was the son of Mayaadunne, a brother of Bhuvenekabaahu VI, ruled from Sitawaka when the Portuguese were holding power at Kotte. A gallant leader as he was, Raajasinha succeeded in gaining the confidence of the Sinhalese who opposed the Portuguese rule and winning several battles against the Portuguese, the battle at Mulleriyaawa being the most famous. But, as the chronicles mention, his popularity was shortlived. The foolish king, in his thirst for power, slew his old father with his own hands. Later, being seized with the fear of his crime, Raajasinha sought the advice of the monks for setting himself free from the sin. When the monks explained to him that it was too great a crime to be absolved, the king was provoked to anger.
He then became a follower of the Saivites, in whose advice he took refuge, and became an enemy of Buddhism. The chief Buddhist elder was stoned to death, and many other monks were buried neck-deep in the earth and their heads plowed off. Some others were put to the sword. The sacred edifices and the monasteries were pulled down, and the sacred books were reduced to ashes. The lands which had been endowed in earlier times to the monastic establishments were taken away and Sri Paada, the Sacred Footprint of the Buddha on Adam’s Peak, was handed over to the Saivites. Those monks who managed to escape from the king’s wrath disrobed themselves and fled.

Vimala Dharmasuriya’s Attempt at Restoring Buddhism 

In 1592, the year in which Raajasinha died, a Sinhalese ruler, Vimala Dharmasuriya I, ascended the throne of the hill capital, Kandy, and ruled for twelve years. Though he had been educated by the Portuguese and was originally favored by them, the king soon after his accession turned against them out of his love for the country and the religion.
Vimala Dharmasuriya I was a great patron of Buddhism of that time. After his wars with the Portuguese he set his heart on repairing the damage done by Raajasinha. Several Buddhist monuments were restored. Finding that there was hardly a single monk left in the country who was properly ordained, Vimala Dharmasuriya sent an embassy to the country of Arakan (now part of Burma) to obtain monks to restore ordination in Sri Lanka. The mission was successful; several monks led by the elders Nandicakka and Candavisaala came to Kandy and in the year 1597 an ordination ceremony was held in the Udakukkhepa Siimaa at Getambe, near Kandy, many men of noble families entering the Order on this occasion. The king also built a storeyed pavilion and, bringing back the Sacred Tooth Relic from the Delgamuvihaara where it was hidden, deposited it in the pavilion. The control of Sri Paada was taken from the Saivites and handed over to the Buddhist monks.

Successors of Vimala Dharmasuriya I and the Arrival of the Dutch in Sri Lanka 

Vimala Dharmasuriya was succeeded on the throne of Kandy by Senarat, a man zealous in religious works. In his reign the Portuguese invaded Kandy and the king carried away the Sacred Tooth Relic to Mahiyangana for safety. Senarat’s son and successor Raajasinha II (1634-1687) was a great warrior but was not zealous. In his reign ended the Portuguese rule in the maritime provinces of Lanka, a feat which the king accomplished with the aid of the Dutch in June 1658.
It was as early as 1602 that the Dutch visited the court of Kandy, in the reign of Vimala Dharmasuriya I, seeking an alliance. In 1612 a treaty was agreed upon between the Dutch and King Senarat, the then king of Kandy, and in accordance with this agreement, in 1638 Raajasinha II sought Dutch assistance against the Portuguese. From that time the two European nations fought each other until in 1658 the Portuguese were expelled from the country and the Dutch came to occupy those regions which formerly were occupied by the Portuguese. They remained in possession until 1796, in which year they were ousted by the British.
The Dutch, whose religion was Protestant Christianity, followed a policy which was in marked contrast to that of the Portuguese. Extension of commerce was their main concern and since peace was essential to achieve this end, they even endured with subdued humbleness and patience whatever insult and provocation came from the Sinhalese. They even assisted the Sinhalese in two embassies to Siam which were sent to obtain monks to establish higher ordination in Sri Lanka.
The Dutch, however, had an established system of education throughout their territories. The school building was both church and school, the schoolmaster was both teacher and representative of the religion. Services were held regularly at these places; births and marriages were registered according to Christian rites. When the agent of the Church was so disposed, he was able to get those who did not attend church punished for the alleged offense. All civil rights and inheritance depended on a person’s church affiliation. No person who was not a Christian could hold even a minor office under government, no person who was not a Christian could get married legally or register the birth of a child.
There was, however, one redeeming feature of this system. The organization was so extensive that they had to employ Sinhalese as their teachers and agents of religion. The vast majority of these Protestant agents were at heart Buddhists; they were Christians only in the sense of their office. The people themselves followed this plan: they were Buddhists inwardly but were officially Christians, for the purpose of registering their marriages, the births of their children, for holding office, etc. Thus the efforts of the Dutch in the propagation of their religion did not affect Buddhism much. On the other hand the Portuguese, where they had priests and where they had established churches under the direct control of these priests, were able to look after the congregations and gradually established their religion in such centers. Most of them were zealous and earnest in their duties and took a genuine interest in the welfare of their flocks.

Vimala Dharmasuriya II and his Successors 

When the Dutch were occupying the maritime provinces, several Sinhalese rulers of the Kandyan kingdom made attempts to restore Buddhism. One of them was Vimala Dharmasuriya II (1687-1706), son and successor of Raajasinha II. He constructed a three-storeyed pavilion for the Sacred Tooth Relic. The king also made a pilgrimage to Sumanakuuta (Adam’s Peak) on foot. Seeing that the state of the Order of monks was unsatisfactory again to such an extent that not more than five ordained monks were found in the whole country, the king sent an embassy to Arakan and obtained monks for an ordination ceremony. With the help of these monks an ordination ceremony was held at Getambe, at the place where a similar ceremony had been held formerly in the reign of Vimala Dharmasuriya I. At this ceremony thirty-three novices were given higher ordination and another one hundred and twenty persons were admitted to the Order.
Vimala Dharmasuriya II was succeeded by his son Sri Viraparaakrama Narendrasinha (1706-1739), a just ruler, mindful of the welfare of the religion. He constructed a two-storeyed building for the Sacred Tooth Relic, provided the monks with their requisites, and induced several members of the laity to enter the Order. However, during his reign many a monk had resorted to scandalous practices.
His successor Sri Vijaya Raajasinha (1739-1747), also a pious ruler, induced many a young person to join the Order and also held several religious festivals. He spent money on getting religious books written, caused preaching halls to be constructed at several places, and took measures to educate the people in the doctrine. Discovering that the Order of the Sangha was almost extinct in the island, he sent two missions to Siam, with the help of the Dutch who lent a ship for the voyage. The first expedition proved disastrous due to shipwreck, and before the second mission returned the king died. Thus his attempt to restore higher ordination failed.

The Reign of Kirti Sri Raajasinha 

Sri Vijaya Raajasinha was succeeded by King Kirti Sri Raajasinha, whose reign proved to be one of the most inspiring periods for Buddhism in that century. At the time of his accession the Order of monks had sunk to very low levels of degeneracy. There was not a single monk in the whole island who had received the higher ordination. There were plenty of novices (i.e., saamaneras), but apart from a few skillful and pious ones among them the majority were leading a life unbecoming to monks. They set aside the study of Dhamma and Vinaya and resorted to the study of astrology, medicine and devil worship, led scandalous lives and engaged in cultivation of land and in trade. The older saamaneras ordained only the sons of their relatives so that they could obtain the immense wealth which the generations of kings and ministers had dedicated to the service of the Order. Kirti Sri Raajasinha was determined to set right this state of affairs. With the aid of the Dutch who gave a vessel for the voyage, the king sent an embassy to King Dhammika of Siam and re-established the higher ordination in Sri Lanka. Several hundreds were ordained and education was fostered. The king also proclaimed a code of conduct (katikaavata) for the guidance of the monks.

Velivita Sri Saranankara 

In all these religious activities of King Kirti Sri Raajasinha he was inspired and guided by a great personality, a saamanera who was distinguished for his piety, enthusiasm, learning and determination. He was Velivita Pindapaatika Sri Saranankara. Born in 1698 at Velivita, a village near Kandy, he became a novice at the age of sixteen as a pupil of an elder saamanera called Suuriyagoda. With great effort and devotion he studied the Pali language and the doctrine, for which purpose he traveled from place to place in search of books and tutors. Later he went about preaching the Dhamma, thus encouraging others to rise up for the welfare of the religion. These activities of Saranankara Saamanera soon made him popular as a teacher of great renown who devoted his life to his own welfare and that of others, a poet, preacher and controversialist.
Apart from his skill as a scholar he was also known for his austere practices. When he went round the country learning or preaching, he depended for his sustenance on the ancient practice of a bhikkhu, called pi.n.napaata, gathering his food from house to house in his almsbowl. For this he became known as Pindapaatika Saranankara. When King Vimala Dharmasuriya II reigned he was a saamanera, but his sincere devotion had pleased the king so much that he made a gilt casket set with seven hundred gems and presented it to Saranankara Saamanera, with many books. This king also provided the monk with the requisites and induced him to write several literary works.
When King Sri Vijaya Raajasinha came to the throne it was at the request of Saranankara Saamanera that the king sent two embassies to Siam. In the reign of King Kirti Sri Raajasinha, Saranankara Saamanera offered his fullest cooperation in his activities in the revival of Buddhism and the king depended upon the saamanera for guidance, advice and inspiration. He urged the king to send the embassy to Siam and himself wrote the messages that were taken to the Siamese king and the Sangharaaja of that country. The king’s ministers who constituted the embassy were chosen on his advice and this mission was successful mainly due to his exertions. After the return of the embassy Saranankara Saamanera was given higher ordination and was appointed Sangharaaja of Sri Lanka, the highest office conferred on a monk.
The activities of Saranankara Thera not only restored the higher ordination and the purity of the Sangha but also brought about a literary revival as a result of the impetus given by him to the study of the Pali language and the Buddha’s teachings.
Saranankara Thera himself compiled several important religious works such as the Munigu.naalankaara, a Sinhalese poem in praise of the Buddha, the Saaraartha Sangraha, a treatise on various doctrinal teachings in Buddhism. Abhisambodhi-alankaara, a Pali poem in a hundred stanzas on the life of the Buddha from the time of Dipankara up to his enlightenment, the Madhuraartha Prakaasanii, which is a Sinhalese commentarial paraphrase to the Pali Mahaabodhiva.msa, and the Ruupamaalaa, a work on Pali grammar. Several others who were pupils of Saranankara Thera also composed many literary works. The great monk died in 1778 a.c. at the age of 81.
The successors of Sri Saranankara Thera are known as belonging to the Syaamopaali Nikaaya, now popularly called the Siyam (Syaama) Nikaaya. Only those who belonged to what was regarded as the highest caste could obtain higher ordination in that Nikaaya. In the year 1799 a saamanera named Ambagahapitiya ¥aanavimalatissa, who did not belong to that caste, went to Amarapura in Burma to obtain higher ordination and on his return he established the Amarapura Nikaaya in 1803. Subsequently, in 1863 Ambagahawatte Sri Saranankara Thera established the Raamañña Nikaaya. These three Nikaayas exist up to this day, with no doctrinal differences between them.

The Arrival of the British and the End of Sinhalese Rule in Sri Lanka 

King Kirti Sri Raajasinha, whose reign, as was seen above, was one of the most fruitful for the cause of Buddhism, was succeeded by his brother Raajaadhi Raajasinha. A scholar of Pali, Sanskrit and Sinhalese as he was, the king himself composed the beautiful Sinhalese poem Asadisa-daa-kava and worked for the religion by taking necessary steps to preserve the purity of the Saasana. His nephew, Sri Vikrama Raajasinha, was the next and last king of Lanka. This ruler, who was in constant fear of the intrigues of his Adigar Pilima Talawe and his allies, had recourse to intoxicating drinks, hoping thus to forget his sorrows, and tortured all his enemies with appalling cruelty. There was general unrest in the kingdom and these conditions were evidently not conducive to the progress of Buddhism.
It was in 1796, during the reign of Raajaadhi Raajasinha, that the Dutch, who were defeated in battle, surrendered their territories to the British colony and Sir Frederick North was sent as the first British governor.
Before long North realized that the opportunity would come soon for them to possess the whole island, for Pilima Talawe, the Adigar of King Sri Vikrama Raajasinha of Kandy, disclosed his plans to ruin the king to the British governor himself. However, this plan of Pilima Talawe was revealed to the king, and the Adigar was beheaded in 1812. Ehelepola, who became the next Adigar, was detected in an attempt to organize a general rebellion against the king, and as punishment, the king tortured his wife and children cruelly. Subsequently the king punished all whom he suspected and as a result, unrest and disorder became the order of the day.
In these circumstances, Ehelepola appealed to the British for help. In January 1815 a British army marched to the capital city of Kandy and took the Sinhalese king captive. On the 2nd of March 1815, at a solemn assembly of the Kandyan chiefs and the monks, the king was deposed and his dominions were vested in the British Crown. Thus ended the glamour of the Kingdom of Kandy which had withstood the invasions and attacks of the Portuguese and the Dutch and for some time the English. Thus ended too the line of the Buddhist kings of Lanka who for 2301 years, from the accession of Vijaya in 486 BCE, brought glory and fame to their country and religion.

The British Attitude towards Buddhism 

It was seen in the previous chapter how the British occupied the low-country of Lanka in 1796 and the Kandyan territories in 1815. These territories remained in their hands until 1948, in which year Sri Lanka regained her independence.
Mention has already been made of the solemn assembly of the 2nd of March 1815 held in Kandy. At this assembly a treaty was signed between the British rulers and the Kandyan chiefs, by which the chiefs handed over the country to the British and the British promised to safeguard Buddhism, declaring its rites and ceremonies sacred and inviolate.
The inclusion of this clause referring to Buddhism in the very treaty by which the chiefs handed over the country to the British is very significant. On the one hand, it indicates how concerned the Sinhalese leaders were about the future of Buddhism even in the hour of their misfortune. On the other hand, the British had obviously considered that its omission would bring disastrous results.
However, the British attitude towards Buddhism soon caused dissatisfaction among the Sinhalese chiefs. The chiefs and the Buddhist monks realized that the British had no desire to respect the clause of the treaty relating to Buddhism, and that they were keen to convert the people to their own faith.
During the early years after the signing of the treaty the British governor took part in the annual ceremonies connected with the Sacred Tooth Relic and appointed the chief theras, as had been done by the Sinhalese kings in former times. This created resentment on the part of the Christian missionaries in Sri Lanka and the Christian authorities in England, and soon both practices were dropped, severing whatever connection they had with Buddhism. From 1847 the bhikkhus were required to elect and appoint their own chiefs and in 1853 the British government handed over the Tooth Relic from their custody to the Diyawadana Nilame and the chief monks of the Malwatte and the Asgiriya monasteries.
While thus violating the treaty of 1815 the British rulers even prohibited the Buddhists from enjoying some of the privileges that were granted to the followers of the Christian faith. Thus, for instance, even as late as 1805 no child could be legally registered without previous baptism by a Christian minister, and the clergy did not solemnize the marriage of unbaptized individuals. Further, only those who adopted the Christian faith were favored with government employment. This attitude of the British made vast numbers of Buddhists adopt the new faith without any understanding of its teachings. These people saw in Christianity “not only happiness in the world which is to come, but, what was more important to them, the promise of this life as well!”
Some of the British governors in their attempt to disrupt the Buddhist organization even tried to bring about disunity between the monks and the laity and also to win over some of the leading Buddhist monks to their side. For they realized that the monks were the main obstacle to their conversions and that as long as the monks and the laity remained united their attempts would not meet with great success.
Lastly, the British rulers gave all possible support to the Christian missionaries to carry out their educational and missionary activities. How these missionary bodies attempted the Christianization of Lanka will be discussed in the next chapter.

The Christian Missionary Activities 

From the beginning of the period of British rule several Christian missionary bodies engaged themselves actively in missionary activities in Sri Lanka. The Baptists had already started their activities in 1792. They were followed by the Wesleyan Methodists in 1814, the Americans in 1816, and the Church of England in 1818. These missionary bodies received every encouragement and assistance from the government.
The establishment of missionary schools in various parts of the island was one of the principal undertakings of these missionary bodies. These schools were manned and managed by the missionary societies with the assistance of the British government and were partly financed by public funds. The schools attracted large numbers of Buddhist children because they were the centers where young men were trained for high government offices. Hitherto the temple had been the village school and the monks were the instructors of the village children in secular learning as well as in spiritual wisdom. But under the British government temple education could not provide the learning necessary for government employment. Thus the Buddhist parents who wished to see their children in high government offices willingly sent them to the new missionary schools.
In these schools the children were molded according to the requirements of the missionary bodies. The authorities did not insist that one should become a Christian before admission, but each student was required to learn the Christian religion and to participate in the morning and evening religious services in the school. They had no opportunity of participating in their own religious observances. Almost every school had its own church. The lessons imparted to these children were arranged with a view to undermining their Buddhist religion. The teaching of the Buddha was criticized and condemned and the Buddhist practices were ridiculed. Buddhism was held up as a religion of the vulgar masses as opposed to the Christianity of civilized people.
This disparagement in course of time naturally had its expected result. People gradually began to give up their national faith for the new faith which they were trained to think of as more refined and cultured. It now became the fashion to adopt the Christian faith and Christian names and customs. Even those who did not embrace Christianity became indifferent to their own religion. When they grew up they did not even mind their conversion to any religion.
The missionaries also did not neglect the education of the girls. Convents were opened up with boarding facilities and in them the girls were brought up and educated with the utmost care until they were married in due time, with the sanction of the Christian guardians. The following table enumerating the assisted schools in Sri Lanka in 1886 belonging to the different denominations shows the extent of missionary activities in Lanka in the sphere of education:
English Bi-lingual Vernacular Total
Wesley Miss. 18 18 170 206
Rom. Cath. 25 5 175 205
C.M.S.         28 18 178 224
Amer. Miss         8 9 116 133
Baptist         1 5 32 38
Private         7 5 13 25
Hindu         0 0 5 5
Buddhist        0 1 11 12
Apart from the Christianization carried out through schools these missionary bodies sought conversion by distributing books and pamphlets which criticized and ridiculed the Buddhist religion and sang the praises of Christianity. For this purpose the missionaries themselves studied the doctrines of Buddhism and the Buddhist literature and also the Sinhalese language, thus enabling them to write tracts in Sinhalese attacking the Buddhist religion and extolling the virtues of Christianity. Christian preachers went about from village to village distributing these books and pamphlets and denouncing Buddhism and exhibiting the supremacy and the divine origin of Christianity.

Mohottiwatte Gunaananda Thera and the Buddhist Re-awakening 

When the Christian missionaries were thus active in towns and villages propagating their gospel and converting the Buddhists to their faith, the Buddhist monks were not able enough to offer much resistance. When the villagers assembled in the temple on Poya (uposatha) days, they attempted to refute the arguments of the Christian preachers in the course of their sermons, but this method was not very effective. It was at this time, about 1860, that a young Buddhist saamanera named Mohottiwatte Gunaananda appeared on the scene and challenged the Christian missionaries to meet him in open-debate. This young novice had obtained his early education in Christian schools and had thus studied the Christian scriptures and was also well versed in the Buddha’s teachings. He went from village to village making public speeches and held meetings in several Christian strongholds, often challenging the Christian clergy to face him in open debate. Soon he earned a great reputation for his eloquence and people flocked in thousands to hear him.
The Christian clergy at first took no notice of the challenge of this monk, but later, quite confident of their success they accepted the challenge. This resulted in three public controversies, one at Udanvita in 1866, another at Gampola in 1871 and the last at Panadura in 1873.
The Panadura controversy, which lasted for a week, was the most important of them all. It was the culmination of his efforts and it led to a Buddhist reawakening. The controversy was to take place in the presence of leading Sinhalese Christians and Buddhists. Rules were laid down so that the meeting could be held in a fair manner. The leading English newspaper of the time, The Ceylon Times, sent a special representative to report the proceedings. A complete report of all the speeches corrected by the speakers themselves was published in English day by day. The controversy ended with victory for the Buddhists. The Buddhist orator not only replied effectively to the fallacies of the Christian speakers, but also enlightened them on the principles and tenets of the Buddhist doctrine. When the Christians retired from the debate defeated, the Buddhists were overjoyed. Festivities were held in every temple to mark their triumph and the effigy of Gunaananda Thera was carried in procession in every village.
The triumph of the Buddhists over their Christian adversaries at the Panadura controversy flushed into their veins vigor and enthusiasm to work for the recovery of their lost glory.

Colonel Olcott and Buddhist Activities 

An American scholar named Dr. Peebles, who happened to be in Sri Lanka on a visit about the time of this Panadura controversy, was so impressed with it that he published its proceedings in book form on his return to America. The attention of Colonel Henry Steele Olcott was first drawn towards Buddhism by this report of the controversy which he happened to read in a public library in America. Olcott was an American by birth who had spent his early life as a very successful farmer and a colonel of both the army and the navy. At an early age of 43 years in 1875 he gave up all worldly fortunes and together with Madame Blavatsky formed the Theosophical Society for the quest of truth in all religions. Having read the reports of the Panadura controversy, he realized the importance of the teachings of the Buddha and in 1880 he came over to Lanka along with Madame Blavatsky to gain a first-hand knowledge of Buddhism. When his studies soon convinced him of the teachings of the Buddha, he embraced Buddhism and worked for the upliftment of the Buddhists in Lanka.
Olcott showed the Buddhist leaders of Sri Lanka that if Buddhism was to raise its head against the Christian missionary activities, they should open up Buddhist schools to educate their children. Under his guidance and leadership, and with the support of all the leading Buddhist monks, the lay Buddhist leaders in Sri Lanka at that time founded the Buddhist Theosophical Society on 17th June 1880. The primary objects of the society were the establishment of Buddhist schools, and the bringing together of Buddhist workers in a cooperative body without distinction of caste or position for the purpose of promoting the welfare of the Buddhists of Lanka.
At the time of Olcott’s arrival there were only three Buddhist schools in Sri Lanka which obtained government grants, one at Dodanduwa, another at Panadura, and the third at Bandaragama. In 1897, twelve years after the establishment of the society, there were 25 boys’ schools, 11 girls’ schools, and 10 mixed schools founded by the society. In 1903 there were 174 schools under the management of the society with an attendance of about 30,000 children. In 1940 the number of schools had risen to 429. Olcott and his supporters went from village to village appealing to the people to donate subscriptions for the maintenance of these schools, and funds were readily forthcoming. Several leading educationists of his day made his educational plans a great success. Mention should be made among them of C. W. Leadbeater, Bowles Daly, F. L. Woodward, A. E. Bultjens and Mrs. M. M. Higgins. Mrs. Higgins was particularly responsible for the successful education of the Buddhist girls. The leading Buddhist schools of the present day such as Ananda and Nalanda Colleges in Colombo, Dharmaraja in Kandy, Mahinda in Galle, Dharmasoka in Ambalangoda, Visakha in Bambalapitiya, and Museus in Colombo are outstanding examples of the success of his efforts.
Olcott pointed out to the Sinhalese Buddhist leaders of his time that they should have their own publications to give publicity to Buddhist and national opinion. For this purpose the Buddhist Theosophical Society started the Sinhalese newspaper, Sarasavisandarasa, in December 1880, and later its English supplement, The Buddhist, now a monthly of the YMBA, Colombo. Colonel Olcott worked hard to win back for the Sinhalese their lost rights. It was as a result of his efforts that the Buddhists of Lanka gained freedom to hold their Buddhist processions and that the full-moon day of Vesak was declared a public holiday. The present Buddhist flag is also a creation of Olcott which he appealed to the Buddhists to hoist on all important Buddhist occasions. His efforts also resulted in the appointment of Buddhist registrars of marriages.
Of the Panadura controversy and the consequent arrival of Colonel Olcott, it could justly be said that these two events jointly closed down a dark period in Lankan Buddhism and ushered in a new bright era.
This noble personality who awakened the Sinhalese Buddhists and showed them the path on which they should proceed passed away in 1907 while he was in India.

Other Activities of the Buddhist Renaissance Movement 

Apart from meeting the Christian opponents in open debate, Mohottivatte Gunaananda Thera and his companions had planned other devices to counteract the anti-Buddhist propaganda of the Christian missionaries and revive the Buddhist faith in the country. One of these devices was the establishment of a printing press whereby they could reply to the criticisms of the Christians and also publish books for the study of Buddhism.
Thus the first press, controlled by Sinhalese Buddhists, was established in 1862 under the name of Lankopakaara Press. It was a donation by the king of Siam. In the same year Mohottivatte Gunaananda Thera established the Sarvajña-saasanaabhivurddhi-daayaka Press at Kotahena, near Colombo. Consequently the Lakrivikirana Press was established in 1863 and the Lankabhinavavisruta Press in 1864.
In the meantime learned monks of the period, with the assistance of lay followers, brought about a revival of Buddhist learning. Pioneers among them were the venerable Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala, who founded the Vidyodaya Pirivena of Maligakanda in Colombo in 1874 and the venerable Ratmalaane Sri Dhammaaloka, who founded the Vidyaalankara Pirivena of Peliyagoda in Colombo in 1875. In these two great centers of learning a vast number of monks and lay people received education and in a short time the fame of these two pirivenas spread even in foreign countries.
The scholars whom these two centers produced opened up other pirivenas in different parts of the country and also contributed to Buddhistic studies by compiling and editing numerous books. It was also about this time that devoted scholars from foreign countries who happened to be in Sri Lanka evinced a great interest in Buddhism, its culture and literature, and created an interest in their kinsmen in the West through their valuable treatises. Turner, Tennant, Childers, Rhys Davids and Geiger were but a few among them.

Anagaarika Dharmapaala and the Buddhist Cultural Revival 

A different type of revivalistic activity was carried out by a group of lay Buddhist leaders just at this time, the foremost of this group being Anagaarika Dharmapaala. The fame of this great personality lies in his successful effort of reforming the Buddhist society in Sri Lanka, which had fallen into a very low moral state, and also in his activities in India for the purpose of reviving Buddhism in that country and for winning back the Buddhist sacred places there for their rightful owners, the Buddhists. We are presently concerned only with his social reformation in Sri Lanka.
Anagaarika Dharmapaala, formerly known as David Hewavitarana, was born in 1864 as the eldest son of a leading businessman in Colombo who had migrated to the capital city from Matara in south Lanka. The father, mother and the grandfather of the child were devoted Buddhists who were close associates of the venerable Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala Thera. At home the child was thus brought up in a Buddhist environment though he received his education in Christian schools. Those were the days when Mohottiwatte Gunaananda Thera was engaged in verbal battles against the Christian missionary activities, and young Dharmapaala had not only listened to the orations of the great speaker with much inspiration, but also had become a favorite of the monks by his constant visits to the temple at Kotahena. When Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky arrived in Lanka in 1880, Dharmapaala, then a youth of 16 years, naturally became a great favorite of the two foreigners through his association with Gunaananda Thera.
The speeches and activities of Colonel Olcott greatly inspired the young enthusiast. In 1883, consequent upon a brutal assault on a Buddhist procession by a Catholic mob at Kotahena, Dharmapaala left his Catholic school and in the following year became a member of the Buddhist Theosophical Society in Colombo, of which his grandfather was the president. At the age of 20 Dharmapaala obtained permission from his father to leave home and lead a celibate life as he wished to devote all his time to the welfare of the Saasana. From that time he stayed at the headquarters of the Buddhist Theosophical Society.
In 1886 when Colonel Olcott returned to Sri Lanka after a short stay abroad and planned to go round the country addressing public gatherings and collecting money for the Buddhist Educational Fund, Anagaarika Dharmapaala joined him as his interpreter. For this purpose he obtained leave from the Education Department where he was working as a junior clerk and subsequently vacated his post in order to dedicate all his life to the good of the religion.
As the interpreter of Colonel Olcott, Dharmapaala gained immense experience as a speaker. He now traveled throughout the country with or without his companion, Olcott.
Those were the days when the Buddhists of Lanka were reluctant to declare themselves Buddhists, for Buddhism was considered to be the faith of the unurbanized masses. It was the fashion at that time to become a Christian, to study English and other allied subjects, to adopt a foreign name and to imitate the dress of the foreigners and their customs and manners. Buddhism and Buddhist culture were subjected to ridicule and were the heritage of villagers in the interior.
Anagaarika Dharmapaala was the foremost among those who rose against this mentality of the Buddhists. Through his public speeches and numerous articles in newspapers and journals he vehemently opposed the habit of imitating foreigners in religion, names and customs. He emphatically pointed out that this tendency to imitate was a clear manifestation of a lack of the primary element of self-esteem. In keeping with his preaching he himself changed his name from David to Dharmapaala. The people listened to his sermons and attentively read his articles in journals and newspapers and were convinced of the truth of his philosophy. Gradually there came about a cultural revival. The people began to take pride in their religion, their language and their customs.
Above all, several younger men of his time joined the Buddhist forward movement to guide the destinies of future generations of Buddhists in Sri Lanka.
This great personality, who indefatigably gave his services for the revival of Buddhism in Lanka, India and other parts of the world, in his last days entered the Order as the venerable Devamitta Dhammapaala Thera. He passed away in the year 1933, while he was in India. To perpetuate his memory Sri Lanka and India celebrated his birth centenary in 1964-65.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the First Half of the Twentieth Century 

The leading men in the Buddhist community at the beginning of the twentieth century were inspired by the activities of Anagaarika Dharmapaala and they formed into organized bodies for the promotion of the Buddhist revivalistic movement. Among them were great personalities such as Sir D. B. Jayatillake, F. R. Somnayake, Valisinha Harishchandra and W. A. de Silva. To them the Buddhist revival was the national revival. 
These prominent men, whose names have gone into history, became active members of leading Buddhist associations like the Buddhist Theosophical Society (founded 1880), the Colombo Young Men’s Buddhist Association (1898), the Maha Bodhi Society (1891), and the Ceylon Buddhist Congress (1918), and worked with remarkable success to achieve the aims and objects of those organizations. Through such organizations these Buddhist leaders were able to unite and bring together all Buddhists in Sri Lanka, to inspire them to be active, to collect funds for educational and other religious purposes, to give the Buddhist children a sound religious and secular education, to do a great deal of social work and to raise the spiritual and moral standard of the people.
A great deal of literary work was produced during this period. The Vidyodaya and the Vidyaalankaara Pirivenas and their affiliated institutions, which numbered about 200, had produced many scholars who edited several canonical and commentarial works in the early twentieth century. Simon Hewavitarana, the youngest brother of Anagaarika Dharmapaala, had left a large legacy which was to be used for the printing and publishing of Pali books, and this greatly facilitated the production of books at this time. From about 1930 many modern scholars, both monks and laymen, have edited and published many more texts of Pali Buddhism and have also compiled several secondary works on the different aspects of Buddhism. To name these scholars and their publications is not necessary since they and their works are very well known.
A great enthusiasm was also created for the rebuilding of ancient Buddhist shrines in the old capitals of Sri Lanka. The Ruwanveli Daagaba was the first to receive attention. The other shrines too were renovated one by one and today the old city of Anuraadhapura has once more become a sacred city with the Catholic Church and the commercial sites which were in the city being moved to other places.
Sri Lanka has not only reorganized her Buddhist activities within the country but has also taken a leading part in sending Dhammaduutas, “messengers of the Dhamma,” abroad. In 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists was set up in order to bring all Buddhist countries together, and several conferences were held in the subsequent years.
It is a very significant fact that this revival of Buddhism in the twentieth century was accelerated towards the middle of that century as a result of the Sinhalese Buddhist leaders of the time gaining control of the reins of government. Ultimately in 1948 Sri Lanka regained its independence after a period of British rule of 133 years. The Buddhist leaders who worked indefatigably for the cause of Buddhism were also the Sinhalese national leaders who led the struggle for liberation from foreign rule. It was therefore to be expected that when these leaders gained national freedom and took over the reins of government from the British rulers, they were mindful of their national faith and its culture and therefore took the necessary steps to set things right so that Buddhism would once more receive its rightful place.

The Buddha Jayanti and After 

In the year 1956, on the 23rd of May, which was the Vesak full-moon day of that year, the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and other parts of the world celebrated the Buddha Jayanti. That was the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s Parinibbaana, a day specially significant to the Buddhists the world over on account of the tradition that it constitutes half the life-span of the Saasana and that from that year the Dhamma would flourish and spread far and wide.
The history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka from the closing years of the last century has clear indications that the prophecy, as far as Lanka is concerned, is coming true. In other parts of the world too it is seen that more and more people who were not Buddhists by birth are becoming interested in Buddhism.
The government of Sri Lanka, on its part, undertook numerous activities in commemoration of the Buddha Jayanti. A committee of leading Buddhist monks and laymen was appointed to advise the government on all matters relating to the Buddha Jayanti celebrations. Arrangements were made to translate the Tripitaka into Sinhalese and compile an Encyclopaedia of Buddhism in English and one in Sinhalese as well. It was also decided to compile other books dealing with the biography of the Buddha, his teachings and the history of Buddhism. The completion of the renovation of the Daladaa Maaligawa (the Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy, before the Buddha Jayanti and to aid the reconstruction of the Mahiyangana Thupa were among its other undertakings. A substantial grant was also given to the organization which was handling the construction work of a Sanghaaraama for the Buddhist monks at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. Arrangements were made to hold a World Buddhist Conference in Colombo in the following year.
From the Buddha Jayanti year it was noticeable that the Buddhists in Lanka applied themselves more keenly to the practice of morality taught in Buddhism while showing interest in the celebration of Buddhist festivals. More and more people observe the eight precepts on the Poya days and young children are given a sound religious education. The government on its part has given the necessary encouragement for this religious re-establishment. In January 1959 the Vidyodaya and the Vidyaalankaara Pirivenas were made two universities. The private Buddhist and Christian schools were taken over in December 1960 and are now managed by the government. The four Poya days of the month (i.e., full and new moon, and the two quarter moon days) were made the weekend holidays in 1966, instead of Sundays as in previous times. It has also been planned to start a new Bhikkhu University in Anuraadhapura.
Sri Lanka has today about 6.5 million Buddhists, which is about sixty-five percent of her total population. There are nearly 6,000 Buddhist monasteries all over the island with approximately 15,000 monks. Almost all the monasteries in the island have their Dhamma schools where Buddhist children are given religious instruction on the Poya days (previously on Sundays). The Colombo Young Men’s Buddhist Association conducts an island-wide examination annually for the pupils of these Dhamma schools. The children are provided with free books, by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and prizes are given to those who pass these examinations, including one on the Dhammapada, and this association spends annually a large sum of money on the religious education of children. In 1956-57, 163,180 children sat for the Dhamma examination.
The foregoing account will tell the reader of the vicissitudes that this great religion, Buddhism, had to face during its history of over 2,000 years in this isle of Sri Lanka. It had its tidal ebb and flow. During the four centuries of foreign domination Buddhism withstood all the assaults that almost crushed it.
Since Sri Lanka gained its independence in 1948, there has been a revival of the Buddhist religion and culture in the country, and this reawakening was particularly noticeable when the Buddha Jayanti was celebrated in 1956.
The progress achieved since the eighties of the last century may well be called remarkable. Yet, to the Buddhists of Lanka, this should not be a cause of complacency, for which there is no room in a world of change. It remains the duty of the present generation and the coming ones to preserve and strengthen these achievements against the corrosive forces of a materialist age, and to work devotedly so that the Buddha’s message of Wisdom and Compassion may take still firmer and deeper roots in Lanka and also spread its beneficial influence over the world.

Buddhism in Thailand: Its Past and its Present

People all over the world who are interested in Buddhism and keep in touch with its news and activities must have heard of the Buddha Jayanti celebrations held a few years ago in all Buddhist countries, including India and Japan. It was in 1957 or, according to the reckoning of some Buddhist countries, in 1956, that Buddhism, as founded by Gotama the Buddha, had completed its 2,500th year of existence. The Buddhist tradition, especially of the Theravada or Southern School such as now prevails in Burma, Ceylon, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, has it that on the completion of 2,500 years from its foundation, Buddhism would undergo a great revival, resulting in its all-round progress, in both the fields of study and practice. Buddhists throughout the world, therefore, commemorated the occasion in 1956-57 by various kinds of activities such as meetings, symposia, exhibitions and the publication of Buddhist texts and literature.
As to whether or not the tradition mentioned above has any truth behind it, the future alone will testify. However, judging from news received from all corners of the globe, it is no exaggeration to say that mankind is taking an ever-increasing interest in Buddhism. As a matter of fact, since the end of the Second World War interest in Buddhism as evinced by people in Europe, America, and Australia has reached a scale unheard of before. Any casual perusal of journals on Buddhism in any of these continents will convince the readers of this statement. It is a matter worth noticing that after the end of the First World War also, Buddhism made great headway in Europe and elsewhere. This phenomenon can perhaps be best explained by the fact that mankind’s spiritual thirst is more sharpened by calamities like war, and that in times of distress mankind realizes Truth better.

The Land of Yellow Robes 

Thailand is perhaps the only country in the world where the king is constitutionally stipulated to be a Buddhist and the upholder of the Faith. For centuries Buddhism has established itself in Thailand and has enriched the lives of the Thais in all their aspects. Indeed, without Buddhism, Thailand would not be what it is today. Owing to the tremendous influence Buddhism exerts on the lives of its people, Thailand is called by many foreigners “The Land of Yellow Robes,” for yellow robes are the garments of Buddhist monks. In view of the increasing interest the world is taking in Buddhism and in view of the fact that Thailand is one of the countries where Buddhism still exists as a living force it will not, perhaps, be out of place to know something of the story of how this great faith reached that country.

Buddhism in Thailand: Its Past

Different opinions exist about when, exactly, Buddhism reached that part of the world now officially known as Thailand. Some scholars say that Buddhism was introduced to Thailand during the reign of Asoka, the great Indian emperor who sent Buddhist missionaries to various parts of the then known world. Others are of the view that Thailand received Buddhism much later. 
Judging from archaeological finds and other historical evidence, however, it is safe to say that Buddhism first reached Thailand when the country was inhabited by a racial stock of people known as the Mon-Khmer who then had their capital, Dvaravati, at a city now known as Nakon Pathom (Sanskrit: Nagara Prathama), about 50 kilometers to the west of Bangkok. The great pagoda at Nakon Pathom, Phra Pathom Chedi (Prathama cetiya), and other historical findings in other parts of the country testify to this fact as well as to the fact that Buddhism, in its varied forms, reached Thailand at four different periods, namely:
I. Theravada or Southern Buddhism 
II. Mahayana or Northern Buddhism 
III. Burma (Pagan) Buddhism 
IV. Ceylon (Lankavamsa) Buddhism 
We shall now proceed to study each of these periods in detail.

Theravada or Southern Buddhism 

That the first form of Buddhism introduced to Thailand was that of Theravada (The Doctrine of the Elders) School is proved by various archaeological remains unearthed in the excavations at Nakon Pathom, such as the Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law), the Buddha footprints and seats, and the inscriptions in the Pali language, all of which are in rocks. Such objects of Buddhistic veneration existed in India before the introduction of the Buddha image, which appeared later as a result of Greek influence. Buddhism, therefore, must have reached Thailand during the 3rd century B.C., and it must have been more or less the same form of Buddhism as was propagated by the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka. This form of Buddhism was known as Theravada or Hinayana (The Lower Vehicle) in contradistinction to the term Mahayana (The Higher Vehicle); the two schools having sprung up soon after the passing away of the Buddha. When worship of the Buddha image became popular in India, it also spread to other countries where Buddhism had already been introduced. This is borne out by the fact that many Buddha images, especially those of the Gupta style, had been found in the ruins of Nakon Pathom and the neighboring cities. Judging from the style of the Buddha images found, it can also be assumed that the early Buddhist missionaries to Thailand went from Magadha (in Bihar state, India).
To support the view that the first form of Buddhism introduced to Thailand was that of the Theravada School as propagated by Emperor Asoka, we have evidence from the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Ceylon. In one of its passages dealing with the propagation of the Dhamma, the Mahavamsa records that Asoka sent missionaries headed by Buddhist elders to as many as nine territories. One of these territories was known as Suvarnabhumi where two Theras (elder monks), Sona and Uttara, were said to have proceeded.
Now opinions differ as to where exactly this land of Suvarnabhumi is. Thai scholars express the opinion that it is in Thailand and that its capital was at Nakon Pathom, while scholars of Burma say that Suvarnabhumi is in Burma, the capital being at Thaton, a Mon (Peguan) town in eastern Burma near the Gulf of Martaban. Still other scholars of Laos and Cambodia claim that the territory of Suvarnabhumi is in their lands. Historical records in this connection being meager as they are, it would perhaps be of no avail to argue as to the exact demarcation of Suvarnabhumi. Taking all points into consideration, one thing, however, seems clear beyond dispute. That is Suvarnabhumi was a term broadly used in ancient times to denote that part of Southeast Asia which now includes Southern Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaya. The term Suvarnabhumi is a combination of the words suvarna and bhumi. Both are Sanskrit words; the former means gold and the latter stands for land. Suvarnabhumi therefore literally means Golden Land or Land of Gold. Keeping in view the abundance of nature in that part of Asia just referred to, the term seems but appropriate.
The reason why scholars of Thailand express the view that the capital of Suvarnabhumi was at Nakon Pathom was because of the archaeological finds unearthed in the area surrounding that town. Nowhere in any of the countries mentioned above, not even at Thaton in Burma, could one find such a large and varied number of ancient relics as were found at Nakon Pathom. By age and style these archaeological objects belong to the times of Emperor Asoka and the later Guptas. Even the Great Stupa (Phra Pathom Chedi) at Nakon Pathom itself is basically identical with the famous Sañchi Stupa in India, built by Asoka, especially if one were to remove the shikhara or upper portion. Many Thai archaeologists are of the opinion that the shikhara was a later addition to the pagoda, a result, so to say, of the blending of the Thai aesthetic sense with Indian architectural art. Moreover, the name Pathom Chedi (Pali: Pathama Cetiya) means “First Pagoda” which, in all probability, signifies that it was the first pagoda built in Suvarnabhumi. This would easily fit in with the record of the Mahavamsa — that Theras Sona and Uttara went and established Buddhism in the territory of Suvarnabhumi at the injunction of Emperor Asoka. Taking cognizance of the fact that Asoka reigned from 269 to 237 B.C., we can reasonably conclude that Buddhism first spread to Thailand during the 3rd century B.C. It is interesting to note in this connection that the history of the penetration of Indian culture to Southeast Asia also started more or less during the same period.

Mahayana or Northern Buddhism 

With the growth of Mahayana Buddhism in India, especially during the reign of King Kanishka who ruled over Northern India during the second half of the first century A.D., the sect also spread to the neighboring countries, such as Sumatra, Java, and Kambuja (Cambodia). It is probable that Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to Burma, Pegu (Lower Burma) and Dvaravati (now Nakon Pathom in Western Thailand) from Magadha (in Bihar, India) at the same time as it went to the Malay Archipelago. But probably it did not have any stronghold there at that time; hence no spectacular trace was left of it.
Starting from the beginning of the fifth century A.D. Mahayana Buddhist missionaries from Kashmir in Northern India began to go to Sumatra in succession. From Sumatra the faith spread to Java and Cambodia. By about 757 A.D. (Buddhist Era: 1300) the Srivijaya king with his capital in Sumatra rose in power and his empire spread throughout the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago. Part of South Thailand (from Surasthani downwards) came under the rule of the Srivijaya king. Being Mahayanists, the rulers of Srivijaya gave much encouragement and support to the propagation of Mahayana Buddhism. In South Thailand today we have much evidence to substantiate that Mahayana Buddhism was once prevalent there. This evidence is in the form of stupas or chetiyas and images, including votive tablets of the Buddhas and Bodhisattas (Phra Phim), which were found in large number, all of the same type as those discovered in Java and Sumatra. The chetiyas in Chaiya (Jaya) and Nakon Sri Thammarath (Nagara Sri Dharmaraja), both in South Thailand, clearly indicate Mahayana influence.
From 1002 to 1182 A.D. kings belonging to the Suryavarman dynasty ruled supreme in Cambodia. Their empire extended over the whole of present-day Thailand. Being adherents of Mahayana Buddhism with a strong mixture of Brahmanism, the Suryavarman rulers did much to propagate and establish the tenets of the Northern School. There is an interesting stone inscription, now preserved in the National Museum at Bangkok, which tells us that in about 1017 A.D. (B.E. 1550) there ruled in Lopburi, in central Thailand and once a capital city, a king from Nakon Sri Thammarath who traced his ancestry to Srivijaya rulers. The king had a son who later became the ruler of Kambuja (Cambodia) and who, more or less, kept Thailand under the suzerainty of Cambodia for a long time. During this period there was much amalgamation of the two countries’ religions and cultures. The stone inscription under consideration probably refers to one of the Suryavarman kings who had blood relationship with the Srivijaya rulers.
From the inscription just referred to we also learn that at that period the form of Buddhism prevalent in Lopburi was that of Theravada, and that Mahayana Buddhism, already established in Cambodia, became popularized in Thailand only after Thailand had come under the sway of Cambodia. There are no indications, however, that the Mahayana School superseded the Theravada in any way. This was due to the fact that Theravada Buddhism was already on a firm basis in Thailand when the Mahayana School was introduced there. That there were monks of both schools, Theravada and Mahayana, in Lopburi during those days, is indicated in a stone inscription in the Cambodian language, found in a Brahmanic Temple within the vicinity of Lopburi city itself.
Much of the Brahmanic culture which survives in Thailand till today could be traced to its origin from Cambodia during this period. Many of the Cambodian kings themselves were zealous adherents of Brahmanism and its ways of life. This period, therefore, can be termed Mahayana Period. Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindus, took its root deep in Thailand during these times.

Burma (Pagan) Buddhism 

In 1057 A.D. King Anuruddha (Anawratha) became powerful in the whole of Burma, having his capital at Pagan (Central Burma). Anuruddha extended his kingdom right up to Thailand, especially the Northern and Central parts, covering areas now known as Chiengmai, Lopburi, and Nakon Pathom. Being a Theravada Buddhist, Anuruddha ardently supported the cause of Theravada which Burma, like Thailand, at first received directly from India through missionaries sent by Emperor Asoka. However, at the time under consideration, Buddhism in India was already in a state of decline, and as contact between Burma and India was then faint, Theravada Buddhism, as prevalent in Burma at that time, underwent some changes and assumed a form somewhat different from the original doctrine. This, at a later stage, became what is known in Thailand as Burma (Pagan) Buddhism. During the period of King Anuruddha’s suzerainty over Thailand, Burmese Buddhism exercised great influence over the country, especially in the North where, owing to proximity, the impact from Burma was more felt.
It is significant that Buddhist relics found in North Thailand bear a striking Theravada influence, whereas those found in the South clearly show their Mahayana connections dating back from Srivijaya days. To a great extent this is due to the fact that, in their heyday of suzerainty over Thailand, the Burmese under Anuruddha were content with Upper Thailand only, while leaving the South practically to be ruled by their Khmer (Cambodian) vassals whose capital was at Lopburi.
From the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. the Thai people, whose original homeland was in the valleys between the Huang Ho and the Yangtze Kiang in China, began to migrate southwards as a result of constant friction with the neighboring tribes. In the course of their migration which lasted for several centuries, they became separated into two main groups. One group went and settled in the plains of the Salween River, Shan States, and other areas and spread on as far as Assam. This group of Thais is called Thai Yai (Big Thai). The other main group moved further South and finally settled in what is today termed Thailand. The latter group of Thais is called Thai Noi (Small Thai). The Thais in present-day Thailand are actually the descendants of these migrant Thais. Of course, in the course of their migration which, as said above, continued off and on for a long time, there had been a great deal of mixture of blood through intermarriage which was only natural. We should always bear in mind that there are several ethnic groups scattered through the length and breadth of Southeast Asia from times immemorial. But even today we can trace the language affinity of the Thais living in widely scattered areas such as Assam, Upper Burma, Southern China, Shan States, Laos, North Vietnam, and Thailand.
After struggling hard for a long time the Thais were able to establish their independent state at Sukhothai (Sukhodaya) in North Thailand. This was probably about 1257 A.D. (B.E. 1800). It was during the period of their movement southwards that the Thais came into contact with the form of Buddhism as practiced in Burma and propagated under the royal patronage of King Anuruddha. Some scholars are of the opinion that as Mahayana Buddhism had spread to China as early as the beginning of the Christian Era, the Thais, while still in their original home in China, must have already been acquainted with some general features of Buddhism. As the Thai migrants grew in strength their territory extended and finally they became the masters of the land in succession to Anuruddha, whose kingdom declined after his death. During the succeeding period, the Thais were able to exert themselves even more prominently in their southward drive. Thus they came into close contact with the Khmers, the erstwhile power, and became acquainted with both Mahayana Buddhism and Brahmanism as adopted and practiced in Kambuja (Cambodia). Much of the Brahmanic influence, such as religious and cultural rites, especially in the court circles, passed on from Cambodia to the Thais during this period, for Hinduism was already firmly established in Cambodia at that time. Even the Thai scripts, based on Cambodian scripts which, in turn, derived their origin from India, were invented by King Ram Kamhaeng of Sukhothai during the period under consideration.
Of the period under discussion it may be observed in passing that Northern Thailand, from Sukhothai District upwards, came much under the influence of Burma (Pagan) Buddhism, while in the central and southern parts of the country many Mahayana beliefs and practices, inherited from the days of the Suryavarmans and the Srivijayas, still persisted.

Ceylon (Lankavamsa) Buddhism 

This is the most important period in the history of the spread of Buddhism to Thailand, for it witnessed the introduction to that country of that form of Buddhism which remains dominant there until today.
About 1153 A.D. (B.E. 1696) Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 A.D.) became king of Ceylon, known in ancient days as Lanka. A powerful monarch and a great supporter of Theravada Buddhism, Parakramabahu did much to spread and consolidate the Dhamma of the Lord in his island kingdom. He it was who caused (according to some scholars of Southern Buddhism) the Seventh Buddhist Council to be held under the chairmanship of Kassapa Thera, of Dimbulagala in order to revise and strengthen the Doctrine and the Discipline (Dhamma and Vinaya).
As a result of the efforts of King Parakramabahu the Great, Buddhism was much consolidated in Ceylon and the news spread to neighboring lands. Buddhist monks from various countries, such as Burma, Pegu (Lower Burma), Kambuja, Lanna (North Thailand) and Lanchang (Laos) flocked to Ceylon in order to acquaint themselves with the pure form of the Dhamma. Thailand also sent her Bhikkhus to Ceylon and thereby obtained the upasampada vidhi (ordination rite) from Ceylon, which later became known in Thailand as Lankavamsa. This was about 1257 A.D. (B.E. 1800). Apparently the early batches of Bhikkhus, who returned from Ceylon after studies, often accompanied by Ceylonese monks, established themselves first in Nakon Sri Thammarath (South Thailand), for many of the Buddhist relics bearing definitely Ceylonese influence, such as stupas and Buddha images, were found there. Some of these relics are still in existence today. News of the meritorious activities of these monks soon spread to Sukhothai, then the capital of Thailand, and King Ram Kamhaeng who was ruling at the time, invited those monks to his capital and gave them his royal support in propagating the Doctrine. This fact is recorded in one of the King’s rock inscriptions, dated about 1277 A.D. Since then Ceylon (Sinhala) Buddhism became very popular and was widely practiced in Thailand. Some of the Thai kings, such as King Maha Dharmaraja Lithai of Sukhothai dynasty and King Borom Trai Lokanath of the early Ayudhya Period, even entered the Holy Order or Bhikkhu Sangha according to the ordination rite of Lankavamsa Buddhism by inviting a patriarch from Ceylon, Maha Sami Sangharaja Sumana by name, to be the presiding monk over his upasampada (ordination) ceremony. Many monasteries, stupas, Buddha images and even Buddha footprints, such as the well-known one at Sraburi in central Thailand, were built in accordance with the usage popular in Ceylon. The study of Pali, the language of Theravada or Southern Buddhism, also made great progress, and in all matters dealing with the Dhamma the impact of Ceylon was perceptibly felt.
However, there had been no antagonism between the different forms of Buddhism already in existence in Thailand and the Lankavamsa which had been introduced later from Ceylon. On the contrary they seemed to have amalgamated peacefully, and all had adjusted themselves to one another’s benefit. This is evident in all religious rites and ceremonies of Thailand. Indeed, somewhat characteristic of the Buddhists, there had been a spirit of forbearance in all matters. For instance, even today Brahmanic rites thrive side by side with Buddhistic ceremonies in Thailand and Cambodia, especially in the royal courts.
History repeats itself. Years after, when in Ceylon under King Kirtisri (1747-1781 A.D.) the upasampada ordination was lost due to a decline of Buddhism and upheavals in the country, Thailand (during the reign of King Boromkot, 1733-1758 A.D.) was able to repay the debt by sending a batch of Buddhist monks, under the leadership of Upali and Ariyamuni Theras, who in the course of time established in Ceylon what is known as the Siyamopali Vamsa or Siyam Nikaya, or Siamese Sect, which still is a major sect in that country. Upali worked and died in Sri Lanka, the country he loved no less than his own.
Today, for all purposes, Thailand can be termed a Theravada Buddhist country. There are, of course, a few Mahayana monks and monasteries, but they are mostly confined to foreign communities, chiefly the Chinese. All, however, live at peace and cooperate with one another.
So much for the past of Buddhism in Thailand.

Buddhism in Thailand: Its Present

According to the census taken in 1960 the population of Thailand numbers 25,519,965. Of this number 94% are Buddhists (the rest are mostly Muslims and Christians). This fact itself demonstrates more than anything else how influential Buddhism is in Thailand. In their long history of existence the Thais seem to have been predominantly Buddhists, at least ever since they came into contact with the tenets of Buddhism. All the Thai kings in the recorded history of present-day Thailand have been adherents of Buddhism. The country’s constitution specifies that the King of Thailand must be a Buddhist and the Upholder of Buddhism.
The term “The Land of Yellow Robes” has not been inappropriately applied to Thailand, for two things strike most foreigners as soon as they set foot in that country. One is the Buddhist temple with its characteristic architecture, and the other is the sight of yellow-clad Buddhist monks and novices who are to be seen everywhere, especially in the early hours of dawn when they go out in great numbers for alms. The two sights inevitably remind the foreigners that here is a country where Buddhism is a dominant force in the people’s life. Indeed, to the Thai nation as a whole, Buddhism has been the main spring from which flow its culture and philosophy, its art and literature, its ethics and morality, and many of its folkways and festivals.
For clarity and convenience we shall divide the study of the present state of Buddhism in Thailand into two parts, namely the Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order, and the Laity.

The Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order 

The Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order of Buddhist monks has been in existence in Thailand ever since Buddhism was introduced there. According to the 1958 census there were in the whole kingdom of Thailand 159,648 monks; 73,311 novices; and 20,944 monasteries or temples. These are scattered throughout the country, particularly more numerous in the thickly populated areas. The Bhikkhu Sangha of Thailand, being of Theravada or Southern School, observes the same set of discipline (Vinaya) as the Bhikkhu Sanghas in other Theravada countries such as Ceylon, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. In spite of the fact that the government allots a yearly budget for the maintenance and repair of important temples and as stipends for high ranking monks, almost the entire burden for the support of the Sangha and the upkeep of the temples rests with the public. A survey entitled “Thailand Economic Farm Survey” made in 1953 by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of Thailand gives the religious cash expenses of the average Thai rural family per year as ranging from 5 to 10 per cent of its total annual cash income. It may be added here that the report concerns the average Thai rural family, and not the urban dwellers, the majority of whom, in Thailand as elsewhere, are less inclined to religion than the country folks.

Two Sects or Nikayas

There are two sects or Nikayas of the Buddhist Order in Thailand. One is the Mahanikaya, and the other is the Dhammayuttika Nikaya. The Mahanikaya is the older and by far the more numerous one, the ratio in the number of monks of the two sects being 35 to 1. The Dhammayuttika Nikaya was founded in 1833 A.D. by King Mongkut, the fourth ruler of the present Chakri Dynasty who ruled Thailand from 1851 to 1868 A.D. Having himself spent 27 years as a Bhikkhu, the King was well versed in the Dhamma, besides many other branches of knowledge, including Pali, the canonical language of Theravada Buddhism. The express desire of the King in founding the Dhammayuttika sect was to enable monks to lead a more disciplined and scholarly life in accordance with the pristine teachings of the Buddha. The differences between the two Nikayas are, however, not great; at most they concern only matters of discipline, and never of the Doctrine. Monks of both sects follow the same 227 Vinaya rules as laid down in the Patimokkha of the Vinaya Pitaka (the Basket of the Discipline), and both receive the same esteem from the public. In their general appearance and daily routine of life too, except for the slight difference in the manners of putting on the yellow robes, monks of the two Nikayas differ very little from one another.

Organization of the Sangha

Formerly, and in accordance with the Administration of the Bhikkhu Sangha Act (B.E. 2484, A.D. 1943), the organization of the Sangha in Thailand was on a line similar to that of the State. The Sangharaja or the Supreme Patriarch is the highest Buddhist dignitary of the Kingdom. He is chosen by the King, in consultation with the Government, from among the most senior and qualified members of the Sangha. The Sangharaja appoints a council of Ecclesiastical Ministers headed by the Sangha Nayaka, whose position is analogous to that of the Prime Minister of the State. Under the Sangha Nayaka there function four ecclesiastical boards, namely the Board of Ecclesiastical Administration, the Board of Education, the Board of Propagation and the Board of Public Works.
Each of the boards has a Sangha Mantri (equivalent to a minister in the secular administration) with his assistants. The four boards or ministries are supposed to look after the affairs of the entire Sangha. The Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council which, by the way, corresponds to the Cabinet, consists of ten members, all senior monks of the Sangha. In addition to this, there is a Consultative Assembly (Sangha Sabha), equivalent to the National Assembly, the members of which number 45, selected from various important monasteries. The Sangha Sabha acts as an Advisory Body to the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council. Below the Sangha Sabha the administration of the Sangha continues to correspond to the secular administration of the country. All monks and novices (samaneras) have to live in monasteries which are scattered throughout the country. Each monastery has its abbot appointed by the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council in consultation with local people. It may be pointed out here that all religious appointments in Thailand are based on scholarly achievements, seniority, personal conduct and popularity, and contacts with monks further up in the Sangha.
There is a Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education which acts as a liaison office between the Government and the Sangha. In general the Department of Religious Affairs works in cooperation with the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council on all matters affecting the Sangha. For instance, it issues all legal directives concerning the entire community of monks; it keeps record of the Sangha’s property, such as lands etc.; it maintains facts and figures with respect to monks and monasteries. The Religious Affairs Department also prepares the annual budget for the upkeep of the Sangha functionaries and the maintenance and repair of temples etc. It may be added here that all temples and monasteries are State property.
In 1962, the Administration of the Bhikkhu Sangha Act of 1943 was abolished; a new one was enacted instead. By virtue of the new act, the posts of Sangha Nayaka, Sangha Mantris, and Sangha Sabha were abolished. In place of these there is a Mahathera Samagama (Council of the Elders) headed by the Sangharaja himself and consisting of not less than four and not more than eight senior monks (mahatheras) of the two sects (nikayas). The Mahathera Samagama, in collaboration with the Department of Religious Affairs, directly governs the entire Sangha.

Education of Monks

As is well known, the original idea of men’s entering monkhood during the Buddha’s time or shortly later, was to attain liberation from worldly existence in accordance with the teaching of the Master. Such an idea, of course, springs from man’s feeling of aversion to things mundane. In other words, in those far-off days, men entered monkhood with the sole intention of ridding themselves of life’s miseries and of obtaining spiritual freedom or Nirvana. Instances of such self-renunciation are found in the holy books of the Buddhists. With the passage of time, as is only natural, many of the ideals and practices of the early followers of the Buddha underwent modifications. Today, over 2,500 years after the passing away of the Buddha, though the ideal of becoming a Bhikkhu still remains very lofty among Buddhists of all lands, in practice it must be admitted that there have been many deviations from the Master’s original admonitions with regard to the whys and wherefores of man’s entering monkhood. Generalization of any subject matter is often dangerous but it will not be far from truth to say that today, in Thailand as in other Buddhist countries, the practice of Buddhist males entering monkhood is to a considerable extent prompted rather by the dictation of custom, the wish for education and other external considerations than by the desire to attain emancipation. Yet there are also many who join the Sangha through genuine love for a religious life and religious studies, or out of the wish to be of service to Buddhism and their country. Finally, in the Thai Sangha also those are not entirely lacking whose life is vigorously devoted to the aim of ultimate emancipation and to the guidance of others towards that goal. There have been, and still are, saintly and able meditation masters in Thailand, with a fair number of devoted disciples in Sangha and laity. There are also still monks — the so-called thudong bhikkhus — who follow the ancient way of austere living embodied in the “strict observances” or dhutangas.
In view of the above facts, there are two categories of Buddhist monks in Thailand. One comprises those who become monks for long periods, sometimes for life, and the other those who enter the Order temporarily. To serve in the monkhood even for a short period is considered a great merit-earning attainment by the Thai Buddhists. Even kings follow this age-old custom. For instance, the present ruler, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also observed the custom for a period of half a month some time ago. Government officials are allowed leave with full pay for a period of four months in order to serve in monkhood. The idea is to enable young men to gain knowledge of Buddhism and thereby to become good citizens. Life as a monk gives them practical experience of how an ideal Buddhist life should be. In rural districts the general tendency is still to give more deference to those who have already served in monkhood. Such people are supposed to be more “mature” than those who have not undergone the monk’s life. Moreover, in Thailand wats (monasteries and temples) used to be and are still regarded as seats of learning where all men, irrespective of life’s position, could go and avail themselves of education benefits. This is especially so in the case of economically handicapped males of the countryside. Instances are not lacking in which people have climbed high up on life’s status ladder after obtaining education while in monkhood. There are neither religious restrictions nor social disapproval against monks’ returning to lay life if and when they find themselves unable to discharge their duties as monks.
Cases exist in which, for some reason or the other, men have entered monkhood more than once, although such practice cannot be said to be in the esteem of the public. Looked at from this viewpoint, the institution of entering monkhood in Thailand, apart from being a way of gaining moral and spiritual enlightenment, is a social uplift method by which those not so fortunately placed in life could benefit. Judged from the ideal of adopting a monk’s life as enunciated by the Buddha, whether or not such practice is commendable, is a different story. The fact is that even today when modernism has penetrated deep into Thailand, about one half of the primary schools of the country are still situated in wats. With sex and crimes on the increase in the country, the cry for living a better Buddhist life is being heard more and more distinctly in Thailand today.
The traditional education of monks and novices in Thailand centers mainly on the studies of the Buddhist Doctrine (Dhamma) and Pali, the language in which the Theravada scriptures are written. Of the former, the study of the Doctrine, there are three grades with examinations open to both monks and laymen. Those passing such examinations are termed Nak Dhamm, literally meaning one who knows the Dhamma. The latter, i.e., the study of Pali, has seven grades, starting with the third and ending with the ninth grade. Students passing Pali examinations are called parian (Pali: pariñña = penetrative knowledge); in the Thai language the word parinna is used to mean academic degree. For example, monks and novices passing the first Pali examination are entitled to write “P. 3” after their names.
Generally the Dhamma and the Pali studies go hand in hand and take at least seven years to complete. The stiffness of the two courses, especially that of the Pali language, can be guessed from the fact that very few students are able to pass the highest grade, the Parian 9, in any annual examination. In the good old days when living was less competitive than now, passing of even the lower Dhamma and Pali examinations used to be of much value in securing good government posts. But now things are quite different; even those successful in the highest Pali examination, the 9th Grade, find it difficult to get suitable employment.
Of late there has developed a new outlook in the education of monks in Thailand. With the rapid progress of science and with the shrinking of the world, Buddhist leaders of Thailand, monks as well as laymen, are awakened to the necessity of imparting broader education to members of the Sangha, if the Sangha is to serve the cause of Buddhism well, “for the gain of the many, for the welfare of the many.” As a result of the new outlook there now function in Bangkok two higher institutes of learning exclusively for monks and novices. One is the Mahachulalongkorn Rajvidyalaya, and the other is the Mahamongkut Rajvidyalaya. Both are organized on a modern university footing and both seem to be making satisfactory progress towards that direction. Inclusion in the curriculum of some secular subjects not incompatible with monks’ discipline (Vinaya) is among the notable features of these two institutes; the aim is to give an all-round education to monks in order to enable them to be of better service to the cause of Buddhism amidst modern conditions.
So much for the education of ‘long-term’ monks. As for those who enter the Order temporarily, mostly for a period of three rainy months during the Vassa, or Buddhist Lent, the education is brief and devoted to the main tenets and features of Buddhism only. As pointed out above, such people enter monkhood either by their own genuine desire for knowledge of the Dhamma, by the dictum of custom or, as generally is the case, by the two reasons combined. Monks of this category return to lay life again as soon as the Lent is over. This is the reason why accommodations in monasteries (wats) are usually full during the Lenten period. Nowadays, owing to the pressure of modern life, the custom of temporarily entering monkhood is not so rigorously observed by people living in urban areas as by those in the countryside. The custom has its parallel in Burma, Cambodia, and Laos where Theravada Buddhism prevails.

Wats and Monks

The word “wat” means monastery and temple combined. It is the residence of monks and novices. There are about 21,000 wats in the whole of Thailand. In Bangkok alone there are nearly two hundred wats. Some big wats in Bangkok have as many as 600 resident monks and novices. Wats are centers of Thai art and architecture. Thai culture, to a considerable extent, flows from wats. Wat-lands and constructions thereon are donated by royalty, wealthy people and the public in general. The wat is the most important institution in Thai rural life. The social life of the rural community revolves around the wat. Besides carrying out the obvious religious activities, a wat serves the community as a recreation center, dispensary, school, community center, home for the aged and destitute, social work and welfare agency, village clock, rest-house, news agency, and information center. A wat is headed by a Chao Avas (the abbot) who is responsible for the maintenance of the wat discipline, the proper performance of religious services and rituals, and the general welfare of the inmates. Besides monks and novices, there are also the “temple boys” in wats, who assist monks and novices in various ways, such as bringing and arranging food, cleaning dormitories, washing yellow robes, etc. Usually these boys are related to resident monks in one way or another, and their stay is free of charge. Most of them are students whose homes are far away and who would, otherwise, find it impracticable to get education. This is especially so in Bangkok where accommodation is difficult to get and where all higher seats of learning of the country are situated. The census taken in 1954 reveals that there are as many as 119,044 temple boys in Thailand, which indeed is not a small figure. The institution of the wat, in itself a gift of Buddhism, therefore contributes in no small measure to the social welfare and progress of the Thai Buddhists. The benefits in this respect, of course, are more apparent among the lower strata of society than in the case of the fortunate few on the top.
Apart from engaging themselves in doctrinal studies and observing disciplinary rules (Vinaya) in general, monks are expected to be “friends, philosophers, and guides” of the people. Preaching to masses face to face or over the radio is one of the commonest ways by which monks help the promotion of moral stability among various members of the society. It may not be out of place to reiterate the fact that Buddhism lays great stress on the necessity of leading a morally good life in order to obtain happiness in life here and hereafter. In most of the ceremonies and rituals, whether private or public, monks’ cooperation and benediction are indispensable. Indeed, in the life of the average Thai Buddhists, from the cradle to the grave, monks are persons to whom they constantly turn for moral support.
The role of monks in rural districts is even more important, for there the local wat is not only the religious but also the social center of the community. It is at the wat that people come together and experience a sense of comradeship. Religious rituals and ceremonies held at wats are always accompanied by social activities: they are occasions for people, especially the young, to enjoy themselves in feast, fun and festivities. This aspect of the religious service helps the common folks to relax and satisfies their needs for recreation. Not a few matrimonial alliances started from contacts at wat premises. Acting as a moral and ethical example, monks are the most venerated persons in the countryside Thai society, remaining very close to the hearts of the people. In times of crisis, it is to monks that people bring their problems for counsel and encouragement. With few exceptions, the Sangha has well justified this attitude of respect and honor shown to it on the part of the laity and, on the whole, has lived up to the dignity of the Faith.

The Laity 

Throughout its over 2,500 years of existence Buddhism has been closely connected with the lay community. In Pali the word for a male lay devotee is upasaka; upasika is its female equivalent. In the history of Buddhism, right from the time of its founder, there had been numerous upasakas and upasikas whose faith in the Teachings of the Master had contributed largely to the dissemination of the Doctrine. Names of the Buddha’s munificent followers like Anathapindika, Visakha, Asoka, Kanishka, etc., are on the lips of Buddhists even today. Without the patronage of Emperor Asoka, Buddhism probably could not have spread so far and the course of its history might have been different. In India, the land of its birth, as well as in most of the countries where its Message has been accepted, Buddhism has received unstinted support from people of all classes, especially the ruling class. History of the movements of Buddhism in China, Japan, Burma, Ceylon, Tibet, etc., amply justifies this statement. In the case of Thailand too, ever since its introduction to that country, Buddhism has been warmly received and patronized by kings and commoners alike. It is well-known that many of the Thai rulers, not satisfied with being mere lay-devotees, got themselves ordained into monkhood and became famous for their erudition in the Dhamma. King Mongkut, Rama IV, probably stands out as most distinguished among this class of royal devotees. The custom of Thai males entering the Sangha also contributes much to the better understanding and cooperation between the lay community and the monkhood. After all, personal experience is better than mere theoretical knowledge.
The Buddha himself, in one of his discourses, exhorted his followers to discharge their duties well so as to enable the Dhamma to endure long in the world. One of the duties of the lay followers, as taught by the Master, is to look after the needs of monks. Hence it is the traditional practice with lay followers in all Buddhist countries, especially those following Theravada Buddhism, to see that monks do not suffer from lack of the four requisites, namely food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Although in the present age of competitive economy, when life in any field is not so easy, nobody can say in fairness that monk-life in Thailand suffers greatly from shortage of the above four requisites. As Bhikkhus are not allowed to follow any occupational activities, it is clear that they entirely depend on the laity for their existence. In return for this spontaneous support offered them by the public, monks are expected to live exemplary lives for the benefit of themselves as well as of those who look to them as teachers and guides. We have already seen what moral influence monks have upon the people.
Cooperation between the laity and the Bhikkhu Sangha in Thailand is close and spontaneous. To a very great extent this is due to the fact that in an average Thai family some of its members are certain to be found who have for some time served in the Sangha. To the masses yellow robes are symbol of the Master, and Bhikkhus are upholders of the Dhamma, to be deferred to in all circumstances. It is interesting to note that Bhikkhus or Samaneras found guilty of committing crimes are formally divested of their yellow robes before legal action is taken against them by the State, and this is done invariably under permission of the chief monk or the abbot.
“To do good” (kusala kamma) is a cardinal point in the teachings of Buddhism. Consequently the idea of performing meritorious deeds is very deeply ingrained in the minds of Buddhists. Ways of doing good or making merit (puñña) among the Thai Buddhists are numerous. A man gains merit each time he gives alms to monks or contributes to any religious rituals. To get ordination into monkhood even for a short period, of course, brings much merit. Besides, there are other ways of merit-earning, such as releasing caged birds or freeing caught fishes, plastering gold leaf on Buddha statues or religious monuments, contributing to the construction of a new temple or the repair of an old one, etc. “The Law of Karma” that each action has its corresponding result and the belief in rebirth are two important factors in molding such attitude towards life among the Buddhists. Though Nibbana (Sanskrit: Nirvana), the highest bliss in Buddhism, is aspired to by all good Buddhists, the vast majority of them still think it is not so easy to reach and that they will be reborn again in this world, in heaven or some other world, or — at the very worst — in hell. Hence, as long as they live they must try to do good in order to ensure good results in this very life as well as in the life to come. “Be a light unto yourself. Each man must strive for his own salvation”— these were the Master’s words. In view of this, Theravada Buddhism is often said to have individualistic temper. Nevertheless, it is very tolerant, as the long history of its existence will prove. Indeed, the characteristic tolerance of Buddhism, for instance in Thailand, has always permitted the absorption of many beliefs and practices from other sources which have often served to supplement or expand its concepts or to fill gaps. Animism and Brahmanism may be cited in this connection; the two being important supplements of popular Buddhism in Thailand. A foreign writer has rightly observed that the attitude of the Thai masses towards their religion is of an easy-going nature. They do not bother to distinguish among the various components of their religion; for them it is all of a piece. Only the sophisticated few are concerned with doctrinal logic and purity. Of course, they too know much about its legends, its festivals, its ideals, and its general message that “good will render good.” On the whole it can be said that the Thais enjoy their religion. Religious observances are to them as social and recreational as sacred occasions. And for the vast majority, Buddhism suffices in that it enables them to feel and believe and enjoy.

Buddhist Organizations and the Revival of Buddhism

Organizations among the lay Buddhists of Thailand are recent establishments. Prominent and oldest among them is perhaps the Buddhist Association of Thailand, under Royal Patronage, which now is about 30 years old, having been established in 1933. Having its head office in Bangkok, it maintains branch organizations in almost all major districts of Thailand. Its membership is open to both sexes, irrespective of class, creed, and color. The aim and object of the Buddhist Association of Thailand is to promote the study and practice of Buddhism and to propagate its message in and outside Thailand. Besides arranging regular lectures and discussions on topics concerning the Dhamma, the Association also publishes a monthly journal in the Thai language on the teachings of the Buddha.
Another organization is the Young Buddhists Association which came into being at the close of the Second World War. As its name implies, the Young Buddhists Association takes care of the interest of the young in matters concerning Buddhism. Its primary object is to encourage the young to imbibe the tenets of Buddhism and to live a virtuous life. Chief among its activities are arranging regular lectures and discussions on the Dhamma, issuing publications on subjects dealing with Buddhism in general, and sponsoring meetings of the young on the platform of Buddhism. The Young Buddhists Association also has branches in the districts.
As said earlier the end of the Second World War saw a great revival of interest in Buddhism throughout the world. Even in countries like Thailand where the Doctrine of the Awakened One has been traditionally accepted for generations, people seem to be increasingly eager to know more about the Dhamma. Strange as it may seem, this is partly due to the interest the Occidental World has taken in Buddhism. 
In times past religion has been more or less regarded in Thailand as “solace of the old.” But with the impact of the West in most matters and with the general interest shown towards Buddhism by Western intelligentsia, the Buddhists of Thailand, especially the younger generations who came into contact with the West, began to evince an inquisitive attitude towards their religion — a heritage which they have all along accepted as their own but which they have cared little to know about its true value. This is no attempt to belittle the exceedingly great importance the Thais attach to their religion. But human nature being what it is, the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” is in most cases not very far wrong. In the Thai language also we have a proverb “klai kleua kin dang” which may be rendered in English as “to have the folly to resort to alkali when one is in possession of salt.”
Having taken root on the soil of Thailand for centuries Buddhism has naturally attracted many appendages to its fold, some of which are not quite in conformity with the teachings of the Master as contained in the Canon (Tipitaka). Many leaders of Buddhistic thought in Thailand have, therefore, come forward to try to purify the Dhamma of the many impurities that have crept into it. Notable among the reformatory groups are the Dhammadana Association in Jaiya, South Thailand, under the leadership of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, and the Buddha Nigama of Chiengmai (North Thailand) started by Paññananda Bhikkhu. The two organizations are showing good efforts in the field of awakening the Buddhists of Thailand to the pristine teachings of the Buddha as treasured in the Pali Tipitaka. The mission is admittedly a difficult one but already a promising start has been made in this direction. Much will also no doubt depend on how things transpire in other spheres of human activities, chiefly economic, social and political. The present is an age of conflict — conflict between mind and body, between spirit and matter. Man must find harmony between the two if peace be his aim in life. And to this task of finding harmony within man Buddhism could contribute in no small measure.

Buddhist Culture, The Cultured Buddhist

Buddhist Culture

For over twenty-five centuries, Buddhist ideas and ideals have guided and influenced the lives and thoughts of countless human beings in many parts of the world. As lay Buddhists, our own experiences and discoveries in life are not enough to give a true perspective on life. To bring ourselves closer to the ideal of a well-balanced man or woman, we need to acquire, at least in outline, what is called a cultural grounding in the Buddha-Dhamma.
Culture reveals to ourselves and others what we are. It gives expression to our nature in our manner of living and of thinking, in art, religion, ethical aspirations, and knowledge. Broadly speaking, it represents our ends in contrast to means.
A cultured man has grown, for culture comes from a word meaning “to grow.” In Buddhism the arahant is the perfect embodiment of culture. He has grown to the apex, to the highest possible limit, of human evolution. He has emptied himself of all selfishness — all greed, hatred, and delusion — and embodies flawless purity and selfless compassionate service. Things of the world do not tempt him, for he is free from the bondage of selfishness and passions. He makes no compromises for the sake of power, individual or collective.
In this world some are born great while others have greatness thrust on them. But in the Buddha-Dhamma one becomes great only to the extent that one has progressed in ethical discipline and mental culture, and thereby freed the mind of self and all that it implies. True greatness, then, is proportional to one’s success in unfolding the perfection dormant in human nature.
We should therefore think of culture in this way: Beginning with the regular observance of the Five Precepts, positively and negatively, we gradually reduce our greed and hatred. Simultaneously, we develop good habits of kindness and compassion, honesty and truthfulness, chastity and heedfulness. Steady, wholesome habits are the basis of good character, without which no culture is possible. Then, little by little, we become great and cultured Buddhists. Such a person is rightly trained in body, speech, and mind — a disciplined, well-bred, refined, humane human being, able to live in peace and harmony with himself and others. And this indeed is Dhamma.
In order to grow we also have to be active and energetic, diligent in wholesome conduct. There is no place for laziness and lethargy in Buddhism. We must be diligent in cultivating all aspects of the Dhamma in ourselves at all times. If we develop as good individuals, we automatically become cultured members of our society, mindful both of rights and duties. Buddhism addresses itself only to the individual thinking person. It has nothing to do with mass movements, for “masses” are just collections of individual men and women. Any true social development must therefore begin with the transformation of each individual person.
In this way the ethical dilemmas of an economically developing country like Sri Lanka, with a background of Buddhist culture, are resolved, for a true lay Buddhist will aim at personal progress in worldly matters only on the foundation of the Noble Eightfold Path. Progress by way of adhamma — unrighteousness — well inevitably bring in its trail disaster, pain, and suffering to individual, community, and nation.
Such a misguided policy implies disbelief in kamma and its effects. Reject kamma and one is rootless. Rejection is the result of blinding greed for quick material gain and sensual pleasures, conjoined with delusion about the true nature and destiny of man and life. It also signifies acceptance of the philosophy of expediency — that one should “get the most that one can” out of this single fleeting life on earth guided largely by one’s instincts, subject to the laws of society, which the affluent and powerful often circumvent with impunity. Such a short-sighted and mistaken view ultimately leads to individual and social tensions, to restlessness and conflict, and to the spread of indiscipline, lawlessness, and crime.
Buddhism distinguishes between emotions that are constructive, such as metta and karuna, and those that are destructive: anger and jealousy, for instance. It encourages the cultivation of the former to eliminate the latter. Human beings can both think and feel. When the Buddha taught the Dhamma, sometimes he appealed to reason, sometimes to the emotions, and sometimes to the imagination, using such means of instruction as fables, stories, and poetry. Buddhist culture, too, manifests in other forms than that of a fine character, such as in the field of literature — the Jatakas, the Theragatha and Therigatha, for examples — philosophy, art, architecture, and sculpture.
Art is basically a medium of human communication. It can help in the education of the emotions and is one of the civilizing agencies of humankind. The work of the artist, whether painter, dramatist, sculptor, or writer, is worthy of study because it has a certain expressiveness that both reveals and stimulates fresh insights. The artist sees new meanings in objects and experience that ordinarily escape the rest of us, and thus he creates new values and insights in life.
Rightly viewed as the expression of the good life, and as an aid to living it — and not for mere enjoyment and appreciation — art can therefore ennoble us. For example, the tranquillity and peace that one sees in the Samadhi statue of the Buddha elevates the mind, stimulates confidence, and induces reverence for the Dhamma. In all Buddhist lands, the images of the Buddha and the Bodhisatta have become the typical form of artistic expression.
Buddhist culture is perennial and so is as fresh today as it was in the Buddha’s time 2500 years ago. It is also self-sufficient, self-consistent, and self-sustaining. Based as it is on eternal verities, verifiable by individual experience, it is never obsolete, and animates the progress that seems to kill it. Nor does its content change with context.
The impact of Buddhism on world culture was truly significant. In it, there is no intellectual error, based as it is on reason and on the bedrock of personal experience. It is free from moral blindness, for its ethics is truly lofty, guided by a rational basis for such an ethic, namely, personal evolution in terms of one’s own kamma. It engendered no social perversity — hate and intolerance were for none, limitless loving-kindness and compassion were for all. The doors to deliverance were open to anyone who wished to enter them. Its thrilling message of reason, universal benevolence, flaming righteousness, social justice, hope, and deliverance in this very existence by one’s own exertion — all had a fertilizing and liberating influence on thought and action wherever Buddhism spread.
To the thinking person, Buddhism offered a rational, practical, and balanced way of deliverance from all life’s sorrows, and the certainty of the perfectibility of man, here and now solely by one’s own effort. To the humanist it gave an all-embracing compassionate vision, inspiring ameliorative action as a pre-condition for the realization of the highest spiritual attainments.
Even to have a general idea of its achievements, in the manifold ways it has expressed itself in society, is an education in the art of living. Buddhism gives perspective to the whole of life. Nothing in life is seen as more important than it really is. A cultured Buddhist can tell the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, the true from the false. He can weigh the evidence skillfully, and his Buddhist cultural background makes his judgment a wise one.

The Balanced Personality

The Buddha-Dhamma is not a fiction to be read and forgotten. It deals with life — with real life, the life that you and I lead every day, the value and worth of which is greatly enhanced when the Dhamma is translated into action and built into our character by constant effort and practice.
The ultimate aim of the Buddha-Dhamma is Nibbana — emancipation from suffering. The immediate objective is to help us to understand and solve the problems that confront us in our daily life, to make us well-rounded, happy, and balanced men and women, able to live in harmony with our environment and our fellow beings. Balance, however, though it is an aim worth striving for, is not easily struck in the contemporary world, with its false ideologies and illusory values.
In contrast to the relative, often false values of our age, the Buddha’s teaching is a revelation of true and absolute values. Its truth can be tested and tried in one’s own experience. Buddhism teaches clear thinking, self-control, and mental culture as means to these ends. One who builds his daily life upon this firm foundation of appropriate knowledge and clear-sighted ideals is assured of progress and success even as a layman.
The Buddha-Dhamma is, then, a guide to daily life, and its basic principles are of great practical value in the art of living. The householder, while involved in his responsibilities and commitments, will not lose sight of the ultimate goal, Nibbana. Rather, he should consider lay life as a preparation and training ground for its realization.
The Discourse on Blessings (Maha-Mangala Sutta) states that one of life’s true blessings is to have “a mind properly directed” (attasammapanidhi). This means that one must discover one’s proper place in the world, decide on a proper aim, and find the proper way to achieve it. A happy and balanced person is one who has a worthy aim in life, a clear course of action to follow, and a simple but sound philosophy of life as a guide. “Philosophy” here is a keen desire to understand the nature and destiny of man in the universe. Without a philosophy, life is stale, flat, unprofitable, and meaningless. A philosophy enables one to live harmoniously with the world and one’s fellow beings by a process of adjustment based on true knowledge.
In Buddhism, mind predominates over matter. A characteristic feature of mind is purpose. To make the best use of our life and our kammic inheritance we must choose a practical aim in life and devise a plan to achieve this aim. Then we will become what we want to be.
The more we find out about ourselves by means of self-observation and self-analysis, the better will be our chances of self-improvement. In addition, we should ask ourselves how far and to what degree we are generous, even-tempered, natural, kind, considerate, honest, sober, truthful, heedful and observant, industrious, energetic, cautious, patient, tolerant, and tactful. These are some of the qualities of a well-adjusted Buddhist. We should try to improve ourselves where necessary — a little practice every day is all that is needed. We should be aware that the more often we perform a right action, the more easily will it become a habit. By force of habit it ultimately becomes part of our character.
Sati or bare attention is an important aspect of mindfulness. Sati is the objective seeing of things stripped bare of likes and dislikes, bias and prejudice. It is viewing things and events as they really are — the naked facts. The ability to do this is a sign of true Buddhist maturity. The principle of bare attention should be applied vigorously to everyday thinking. The results will be: clearer thinking and saner living, a marked reduction in the pernicious influence of mass media propaganda and advertisements, and an improvement in our inter-personal relationships.
A well-balanced Buddhist, therefore, must make up his own mind, form his own opinions, and arrive at his own conclusions in facing life’s difficulties according to Buddhist principles. He must not be a moral and intellectual coward. He must be prepared to stand alone, to go his own way irrespective of what others think or say. Of course he will take advice — it is no interference with one’s freedom to seek advice from a more experienced and knowledgeable person — but the decision should be his own.
Seeing the relationship between craving and suffering, we must maintain a certain degree of detachment from worldly things and, in addition, regulate our lives by strictly observing the Five Precepts. Thereby we preserve the well-being of our whole personality, both here and in the hereafter, by living in harmony with the universal laws governing our mental and moral life. The development of moral and ethical character (sila) is a prerequisite for mind-control and for obtaining the wisdom needed to attain Nibbana.
Change being inherent in life, disappointments and disasters are likely to happen, and when they do come, we should meet them with equanimity and a balanced response. This is evidence of right understanding, of seeing clearly that everything happens because of causes, that effects correspond to their causes, and that we ourselves are responsible for generating the causes — if not in the present life, then in some past life. Likewise, we should be able to overcome unfounded, irrational, and exaggerated fears and worries as we obtain some degree of emotional control. Thus the apparent injustices of life, grievances both personal and social, emotional maladjustments, and so on, are all explained fully and rationally by the twin principles of kamma and rebirth. There is another reason the Buddhist preserves his philosophical demeanour. He has strength derived from other unseen resources — his store of wholesome actions, the qualities of his character, the happiness derived from meditative practices, all of which are independent of material things. Thus he is the owner of an increasingly self-reliant and self-sufficient mind. He has learned simplicity of life and wants; material things have now become his servants and not his master. He is free from the tyranny of external things. He has realized that while seen things are temporary and passing, the unseen is real. In sum, he now possesses a calm, controlled, and contented mind. And contentment, says the Buddha, is the greatest wealth, one of the four sources of happiness:
Health is the highest gain.
Contentment is the greatest wealth.
The trusty are the best kinsmen.
Nibbana is the highest bliss.
— Dhammapada, v. 204
By understanding, he thus learns to adjust himself to new circumstances without rancor or bitterness.
If we have saddha, confidence in the Buddha-Dhamma based on knowledge, we must act on it. Every true Buddhist should constantly practice the four great efforts (the sixth step of the path), namely: to overcome and avoid unhealthy states of mind, and to stimulate and maintain healthy states of mind such as thoughts of metta and karuna. These states not only protect the practitioner, but help others as well.
We must acquire the habit of questioning whether a thought or action done is honest or not, for honesty with ourselves is the one sure way to mental health. In addition, we should set apart a few minutes every day for the purpose of quiet reflection or meditation, for reviewing the day’s happenings, and to see how far we may have deviated from the essential principles of the Master’s Teachings in order to avoid future lapses.
We might also read a passage of the Buddha’s discourses daily. This useful habit would enable us to forget our little worries and troubles, develop our minds, and put our whole life into perspective.
In these ways, as lay disciples of the Buddha, we grow in all aspects of Dhamma, molding our whole personality, instructing the intellect, training the emotions, and disciplining the will in the interests both of ourselves and of others.
Knowing Oneself
In the ultimate sense, to know oneself is to understand one’s changing personality truly and fully so that one distinguishes clearly the real from the unreal. Then one lives every moment of one’s life keenly aware of each thought, word, and deed. Some self-knowledge however, is necessary even for a Buddhist layman with a more limited objective in life: personal progress in worldly matters, based on the foundation of the Noble Eightfold Path.
The human being in the Buddhist sense is a flux of mind and matter, of five component groups each of which is impermanent and changing. Nothing whatever of a lasting nature can be found within them or behind them. Each conflux is energized by craving, and is capable of doing both good and evil. Viewed in another way, a human being is the sum total of his or her thoughts and actions in this and in previous lives. At birth, we bring with us an inheritance of instincts, as well as other qualities such as intelligence, temperament, an embryonic character, and a body. Later on, many factors combine to shape our present character. More important than upbringing and education at home and school, and the qualities of our kammic inheritance, is what we do with these factors. Character decides this.
Character is not static. It changes from day to day. Every willed action affects it for good or bad; mind is responsible for actions. Character uses the intelligence, temperament, and instincts with which we are born. The strongest force which molds a person’s character is his ideal which, in the case of a Buddhist, is the arahant ideal. Such an ideal co-ordinates our warring impulses, unifies our personality, and eliminates wastage and conflict. Any activity that brings us nearer to this ideal is skillful while anything that takes us away from it is unskillful. A worthy aim should be achieved by worthy means.
The wisest course to adopt is to develop further the good points in one’s kammic inheritance and to deal with any weaknesses. Apart from this, if we are to be happy, secure, and successful in life, we must rely on ourselves and hold ourselves responsible for our actions — or inaction. The Buddhist law of kamma teaches us not only self-responsibility for our deeds, but also that the results (vipaka) of past deeds can be nullified partly or wholly by present skillful, energetic action. We must forget the past, assume responsibility for present action, and determine to shape our life in the way we want according to the principles of the Buddha-Dhamma. In this way we can face the future with confidence.
To do this realistically, we have to accept the fact that there are some unalterable things in life. Thus the three basic marks of conditioned existence — impermanence, suffering, and non-self — cannot be changed. Illness and decay are unavoidable, and death is our final destiny. The only remedy is to accept these facts and learn to live with them, without grumbling and worrying, and devote our limited time and energy to things we can change and improve.
There are, for instance, character traits and instinctive impulses — tendencies to acquisition, aggression, self-assertion, sex, and fear — that can be controlled and even uprooted by a process of understanding, adjustment, and sublimation. The key elements in this process are observance of the Five Precepts and the systematic practice of mindfulness. To use mindfulness as a key to self-improvement one must see oneself as an impartial observer would and mentally note: “This character trait is present in me. It is part of me, but it can be changed. What must I do to remedy it now?” The sensible attitude is to recognize what can be altered and to remedy unwholesome traits and habits by discipline and training. In both accepting and adjusting, one may have to abandon previous ideas, habits, and ways of living, but the sooner this is done the more effectively it will lead to our welfare and happiness.
Further, to make the best use of our powers and potentialities, we should draw up an objective evaluation of all our qualities and capacities by patient self-analysis and self-observation. Special attention should be given to the emotional qualities, for the emotions are generally a stronger force than the intellect. Man is far from being the rational creature he is supposed to be. He often acts quite contrary to his own true interests. His rational decisions are often subverted by gusts of passion and emotion, passing whims and fancies, apathy and laziness.
To know oneself, then, is to understand that there is room for change. We can change for the good by deliberate action, using the raw material of our kammic endowment based on an ideal. This means that one should develop a philosophy of life, and such a philosophy presupposes a purpose which, for a Buddhist, is growth in the Dhamma.

Buddhism and Other Religions

The Buddha-Dhamma, or Buddhism, can be related to other religions in many ways. Here, only a few main points of comparison will be sketched.
Buddhism is a graduated system of moral and mental training with Nibbana, the highest happiness, as its goal. It is founded upon the principle of causality, the law of cause and effect in the moral domain, that is, in the field of human behavior. Above all, it is a path to liberation from suffering, a goal to be won by cultivating the Noble Eightfold Path in its three stages of morality, concentration, and wisdom (sila, samadhi, pañña).
Religion lays down the general lines of conduct by which a person will live his daily life; it lays down rules in such matters as respect for the lives of others, intoxicating liquors, marriage, divorce, and means of livelihood. For the believer it thus colors his or her whole attitude towards matters like birth, sex, family limitation, death, and the afterlife. Transgression of the religious code entails feelings of guilt, so the religion that one follows has a profound influence, shaping one’s entire outlook on life as well as one’s attitudes, whether in wholesome ways or in unwholesome ways.
Against this background, we can now see how the Buddha-Dhamma is related to other religions.
As stated earlier, the Buddhist way to Nibbana is the Noble Eightfold Path. The question then arises as to whether arahantship — perfect holiness — or Nibbana is possible outside this path. The Buddha’s answer to Subhadda’s question, just before he passed away, clarifies our problem: “In whatever teaching, O Subhadda, there exists the Noble Eightfold Path, there is the first saint (sotapanna), there is the second saint (sakadagami), there is the third saint (anagami), there is the fourth saint (arahant). An arahant is a perfect saint. Elsewhere there are mere semblances of saints.” As the Noble Eightfold Path is found only in Buddhism, in the Buddha’s own words “the other teachings are empty of true saints.”
They therefore err who say that all spiritual paths lead to the same summit and that the view from the top is identical for all. The reason is simple: the Buddha saw the true nature of things clearly and completely with his own independent supramundane insight — his perfect enlightenment — and so his teaching is an exact reflection of reality, while other religious teachers had only an imperfect view of reality, with eyes dimmed by various forms and degrees of ignorance (avijja).
This, however, does not imply that Buddhism is intolerant of other religions. Neither the Buddha nor his followers ever imposed his system of thought or his way of life on anyone who would not accept it of his or her own volition. Acceptance was a purely voluntary matter. Even if accepted, how much of it one should practice is one’s own responsibility. But regardless of one’s personal inclinations, the universal moral laws operate objectively — action being followed by due reaction, deeds by their fruits. The Buddha merely reveals the laws of life, and the more faithfully we follow them, the better it is for us, for then we act according to the Dhamma.
This peaceful policy of non-compulsion and tolerance, characteristic of the Master’s teaching, is born partly of compassion and partly of understanding human nature and the nature of truth. If the vision of some is dimmed as to the merits of the teaching it is one’s duty to help them to see. But one must stop there: one should not coerce others or persecute those who refuse to accept one’s own beliefs. Wisdom, the ability to see things as they truly are, cannot be imposed on others from the outside. It must grow from within the individual, out of the developing sensitivity and refinement of human nature. This takes time. At any given period only few will be capable of genuinely appreciating, understanding, and realizing the Buddha’s teaching, as human beings vary widely in their intellectual, moral, and spiritual capabilities. Unethical conversions are therefore unheard of in Buddhism.
Buddhist tolerance, however, should not mean apathy and indifference. That would be a misinterpretation of the term. When erroneous statements about Buddhism were made by people in the Buddha’s time, the Master kindly corrected them. He even expelled his cousin Devadatta from the Sangha when occasion demanded it to preserve the purity of the Doctrine and the unity of the Sangha. Yet the Buddha was the perfect example of tolerance and compassion. Likewise monk and laity should be always watchful and should emulate the Buddha. Otherwise their case would go by default, for which they alone are to be blamed. Today various proposals are being made to create an all-embracing system of religion, the idea being simply to absorb all other religions into one’s own. However, a universal religious consciousness can never be created because: (1) the various religions have fundamentally different conceptions of reality; (2) the concept and content of the good life vary between different religions — the good means one thing to a Buddhist, and another to a Christian, and yet another to a Muslim; and (3) no adherent of a religion wants his religion to be absorbed by another body. Is it not deeply rooted in human nature to believe that no other religion in the world compares with one’s own?
Taking Buddhism specifically — and in detail — it is unique, a thing apart from all other religions in the world. It teaches the formula of conditioned arising (paticca-samuppada) and its reversal by human effort; craving as the creator of life instead of a creator God; a becoming (bhava) without a self (atta); personal evolution according to the quality of one’s own deeds (kamma); an impersonal moral order (kamma-niyama) with moral values and moral responsibility; free will, within limits, and therewith the possibility of a good life; survival after death by the continuity of the individual life-flux without transmigration of an individual, immutable, immortal soul; and a transcendental reality (Nibbana), realizable here and now solely by one’s own effort. As such, there are major and unbridgeable differences between Buddhism and the other world religions and spiritual philosophies. The attempt to find a common denominator in the uncommon, or to adapt the Dhamma so that it does not differ from the other religions, must necessarily fail. It will only end in the debasement of the Buddha-Dhamma or in its total extinction by painless absorption.
The idea of a universal religion is both unrealistic and impracticable, a mere mirage and an idle delusion. In contrast, over 2500 years ago, the Buddha offered another way of relating religions to each other based on mutual respect yet maintaining the separate identity of each religion. To practice this method one need not become a Buddhist. It is also very practical, effective, and does no violence or offense to anyone. It is simply to cultivate regularly four basic social and ethical attitudes: 
  • metta — a friendly feeling of loving-kindness to all beings in every situation regardless of race, creed, or caste; 
  • karuna— compassion for all who suffer, and to take practical steps whenever possible to eliminate or alleviate those sufferings; 
  • mudita — altruistic joy, to be happy in others’ happiness, in their prosperity and success, thereby counteracting feelings of jealousy and unhealthy rivalry between individuals and groups; and 
  • upekkha — equanimity, the maintenance of an even mind when faced with the ups and downs inherent in life. 
By practicing these virtues daily, a Christian becomes a better Christian, a Hindu a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim. All of these qualities convey a universal message that make the practitioners universal human beings. Surely, this is universalism in religion par excellence.
This is the most satisfactory way of living harmoniously with one’s fellow men and women of all faiths, fostering inter-religious goodwill and avoiding religious conflicts. By pursuing this policy for over 2500 years, there have been no religious wars in Buddhism. It is also the best method of relating the Buddha’s Teaching to other religions.
Buddhism, to repeat, is unique — a thing apart from all other religions in the world. While at all times maintaining its separate identity, it should peacefully coexist with other religions, following a policy of live-and-let-live. Such a policy has paid rich dividends in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Monks and laypersons in Sri Lanka should remember this, for the good of the Sasana and the well-being of the country.
In addition, every Buddhist should:
  1. live his daily life in accordance with the Master’s Teaching by observing the Five Precepts, thereby showing to all that the Buddha-Dhamma yet lives and daily rules his life; 
  2. support only genuine bhikkhus who observe the rules of discipline (Vinaya) to ensure the purity of the Sangha; 
  3. give with discrimination to Buddhist causes and to humanitarian projects, as cautioned by the Buddha — to the most deserving the things most needed, as funds are limited; 
  4. help make known abroad his message of wisdom and compassion.

A Taste of the Holy Life

An Account of an International Ordination in Myanmar

“Ehi bhikkhu!” “Come, monk!” With these simple but portentous words, the Buddha founded the Sangha, the Order of bhikkhus, which has preserved and practiced his doctrine from that day to this.
With that “Ehi bhikkhu!” the Buddha conferred ordination upon the first monk, the Venerable Kondañña, at Isipatana near Benares. At the conclusion of the Buddha’s first discourse Kondañña had asked to be ordained, and the Buddha, simply by calling him a bhikkhu, transformed him into one. The Buddha went on to say: “The Dhamma has been well expounded. Practice the holy life rightly to make an end of suffering.” That was the ultimate, the highest aim of becoming a monk then as it is now: liberation from all dukkha, the suffering of repeated becoming in the cycle of rebirth, samsara.
During the Buddha’s life, and since, the procedure to become a Buddhist monk evolved into a series of steps often involving large numbers of bhikkhus and lay people. Modern ordination ceremonies clearly express the interdependent relationship of monks and lay people supporting each other in their efforts to put an end to suffering. The bhikkhus, by their conduct, must inspire faith in the lay people. The householders in turn show deep respect for the Order by honoring the individual bhikkhus who in turn determine to make themselves worthy of the respect and support they receive from the laity.
The Buddha could only ordain a few bhikkhus with the phrase “Ehi bhikkhu.” Such instantaneous ordination required that the man had cultivated certain paramis (perfections, good qualities) in the past. Chief amongst the good kammas needed for the Buddha to accept someone as a monk in this way, tradition says, was having been a bhikkhu in previous lives and/or having helped others to ordain. This is one of the reasons why laymen in Myanmar ordain temporarily, and why they obtain such lavish help from lay people, notably their families, when they undertake temporary ordination.
Because they are closely based on the Vinaya Pitaka, the ordination ceremonies in the different Theravada countries are almost identical. Whether the bhikkhus expect to remain in robes for the remainder of their lives or are “temporary” monks (a common practice in Myanmar and Thailand) makes no difference to the procedure. But national variations, especially in the lay aspects of the events, do lend color and specific points of interest to the solemn ceremony.
In January 1994 a mass ordination of foreign men was held in Yangon, Myanmar (the former Rangoon, Burma) under the combined auspices of the Myanmar Department of Religious Affairs and the International Meditation Centre, Yangon. This event, unusual in its location, scale, and international scope, will be described below along with a summary of the week these men were in robes.
All the detailed arrangements of place, transport, requisites, and the like had been made by the hosts beforehand for seven boys aged 9-14 to become samaneras or novices and forty-nine foreign men and one Myanmar to take the full upasampada ordination. They would remain in robes for about a week, in accordance with the Myanmar custom of temporary ordination. In that land it is considered essential for every Buddhist male to become a samanera as a boy and a bhikkhu as a man at least for some short period of his life, for the reason explained above and to earn a very high kind of merit, puñña. All those in this group who were to be ordained were meditation students of Mother Sayamagyi and Sayagyi U Chit Tin, direct disciples of the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin, renowned lay teacher of Vipassana meditation in Myanmar. They were associated with the International Meditation Centers in that tradition around the world, and the small original IMC, atop a low hill in suburban Yangon’s diplomatic area, was the focus for most of the activities.
The shaving of heads, preliminary to every ordination, was set up just outside the wall surrounding the Light of the Dhamma Pagoda at the Centre. About six life-long bhikkhus from the preceptor’s monastery came to help shave the heads of the ordinands. Shaded from the hot afternoon sun by a permanent awning, the men doused their heads with water from plastic buckets, then the brown-haired Europeans, blond Americans, black-and grey-haired Asians and Australians sat on low stools. Two people, including the man’s wife if she was available, held a piece of white cloth beneath the candidate’s chin to catch the locks of hair as they fell from the blade. The bhikkhus swiftly used the straight razors the foreigners had imported, while guiding the movements of their assistants through gesture when they did not share a common language.
The men were meditating, on the parts of the body or the breath or the significance of ordaining. Well aware that this was the start of an important ceremony, everyone quietly reflected on its value. It took perhaps an hour before all were shorn. As a man’s head was finished, he took a shower and changed into fresh clothes in preparation for the pabbajja (“going forth,” the preliminary ordination) ceremony which was to take place that evening in the Center’s Dhamma Hall. The organizers knew that the men would be hungry so they were given an early evening meal since they would not be able to eat again that day after they had taken the novice’s Ten Precepts, the sixth of which requires abstaining from food after midday.
It had already been a long day of celebration and religious activity. Early in the morning the children in the group, four girls and seven boys, had been dressed as princesses and princes in gilt and silk costumes that included fanciful high crowns, sequined lungis with long trains for the girls, makeup and decorations imitating precious jewelry. The princes were going to become samaneras, novices, in the evening and the dressing up was part of the build up, so they would enjoy themselves and keep happy memories of the day. The royal attire also symbolized the renunciation of the princely life by the Bodhisatta Siddhattha — the future Buddha — when he went forth from the palace to find the way to liberation.
Before 8 am, the children were lifted up into the backs of small open pickup trucks and seated on upholstered chairs by the individuals from the Centre who had been assigned to be their foster parents for the day. The real parents, perhaps a bit nervous about how their children would behave, carried the bundle of their sons’ robes along with some small white orchids. It was a landmark event in the lives of these Western Buddhist families. The boys’ trucks were adorned with tall golden umbrellas proclaiming the ordination procession to passers by. The rest of the group followed in cars and coaches. They moved at a stately pace through Yangon to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, where several hairs of the Buddha are enshrined. At the head of the motorcade a uniformed Myanmar band standing in a truck played the typical raucous music of the land and sang about the Great Renunciation. A dancer performed in the jerky bent knee and elbow style of Southeast Asia. This too was part of the traditional way to celebrate the boys’ going forth.
The 130-strong group found the route up to Shwe Dagon, Myanmar’s most revered Buddhist site, clear of other devotees. Single file, barefoot, contented and chatting a little, each carrying a purple orchid spray offering, they proceeded up the series of long escalators to the level of the walkway. This is situated perhaps halfway between ground level and the peak of the spire with the golden umbrella. The wide band is paved in marble and much of it is covered with pagodas, cetiyas, and sculptures, notably of the stylized lions who seem to be guardians of the sacred shrine. There were many bhikkhus and lay families at the pagoda although it was not crowded. They showed mild curiosity about the large group of outsiders. The international contingent was dressed for the occasion in proper Myanmar attire, the men in plaid lungis and short white jackets, the women in heavy woven cotton lungis all of one pattern in various dark colors. The group was led by their teachers and the princes and princesses as it respectfully and mindfully circumambulated the golden dome. The atmosphere was informal and comfortable, the meditators appreciating the beauty and peace of the scene.
After a short meditation session in a side chamber, they left Shwe Dagon and drove to an audience with the fifteen leading sayadaws, renowned senior bhikkhus, who were in office by turns from among the country’s State Sangha Maha Nayakas, the Central Executive Body of the Sangha. The group had been allotted a narrow window in the busy schedules of the sayadaws, the Central Executive Body of the Sangha, to pay respects. The theras sat on chairs in the front of the room with an ornate shrine behind them, and were formally introduced in English to the meditators. The foreigners, the teachers and Myanmar hosts accompanying them all paid respects to the sayadaws by bowing with their foreheads to the floor. They then repeated “Namo Tassa Bhagavato” and other devotional verses after the chief sayadaw.
The focus of events shifted to the meditation centre for the rest of the day. In the early afternoon there was an ear-boring ceremony for the four girls aged 5-13. Since the Order of bhikkhunis (nuns) has died out and, according to Theravada orthodoxy, cannot be revived for lack of bhikkhunis to ordain others, girls in Myanmar undergo this simple ritual, generally when a brother is becoming a samanera. At IMC’s Dhamma Hall, there was some chanting as the girls sat proudly before the assembly in their slightly rumpled princess outfits. A Myanmar woman doctor put earrings in each girl’s ears and they were free to change out of the fancy but inconvenient clothes. For the girls this was the conclusion of their ceremony.
The head shaving of boys and men followed as already described. After their supper, the men came into the Dhamma Hall, their skulls shining, where they were seated on the rugs in rows in age order, facing a line of senior sayadaws. They received a bundle of brown robes neatly rolled together and tied with the red cloth belt worn by Myanmar bhikkhus. Everyone else sat at the back of the hall meditating and observing the proceedings. The ceremony, which had been explained in advance, went on in a combination of Pali, Myanmar and English. Small groups of the samaneras-to-be offered their robes to their preceptor, who accepted them; then they requested the robes back from him so they could go forth, and he returned the robes. Now they all changed out of their lay clothes into the robes. (The shirts and lungis were put in labeled bags to be washed and ironed by wives or female volunteers and returned at the time of disrobing.) Most of these men (and one of the boys) had ordained previously, and many had done so several times. But they were all anxious to have another opportunity to practice the strict purity of a member of the Sangha in Myanmar, the land they cherished as the home of the pure Buddha Dhamma which they had been practicing, some for over twenty years. They each formally requested to be ordained as novices and then took the Ten Precepts from U Pandicca, their preceptor, and underwent a few other short formalities. They were given their bhikkhu names from a list considered appropriate for the day of the week of their birth. There was a short discourse of advice for the samaneras and the sayadaws chanted several paritta suttas (discourses of protection), for the well being of all. With that, the novitiation was complete.
Later in the evening there was the usual group meditation in the Dhamma Hall, with the new samaneras seated at the front, in order of seniority, which in almost all cases was age. The boys formed the last row and behind them were laymen, two or three from abroad, the rest from Myanmar. Next came the foreign women who had also come for the two weeks at the Centre, about forty-five of them. Filling the back to capacity were Myanmar ladies. This formal meditation hour was repeated three times a day for the two weeks the foreigners were in Yangon.
The men’s full ordination (upasampada), their entry into the life of bhikkhus, took place on Sunday the 9th of January. The upasampada had to be in a monastery, so with the sponsorship and help of the Myanmar Department of Religious Affairs, the ordinations took place at Kaba Aye. This complex had originally been constructed to accommodate thousands of members of the Buddhist Sangha who gathered in Myanmar from all over the world in the mid-1950s to recite and purify the Pali canon at the Sixth Great Buddhist Council.
Because of the large number of people to undergo full ordination at the Kaba Aye ordination hall (sima), they were divided into morning and afternoon batches. The motorcade left IMC right after breakfast. The men and boys had been offered their first meal as samaneras in their dining room at the Centre. After the food had been placed on the low round tables and the samaneras had all sat on mats on the floor, upasakas, while bowing, gently lifted each laden table up several inches, symbolically offering the food to the novices in Myanmar fashion.
When they reached the Kaba Aye sima, shoes were left in the buses and the samaneras, followed by the laypeople, formed a procession from the gateway. The sima is a large circular structure surmounted by a small golden pagoda. The line was led by five Burmese men dressed in fantastic gilt deva costumes holding ten foot tall white cloth sunshades dangling with small metallic Bodhi leaves. The sayadaws, samaneras and lay meditators walked slowly up a red carpet runner on the broad flight of stairs, into the sima.
The interior is 150 feet in diameter with a truly colossal golden Buddha statue on a nearly fifteen foot high throne at the front. It is flanked slightly below by statues of the two Chief Disciples, the Elders Sariputta and Maha-moggallana, paying respects among various devotional objects: a tasteful grand scale shrine. The ceiling must be thirty feet high, supported on six massive columns decorated with bands of mirror inlay. A frieze goes around the perimeter, level with the Buddha’s throne, composed of some hundred bhikkhu statues, perhaps half life-size, seated in meditation. Screened doors open outside at equal intervals; thick carpets cover the floor for the comfort of all; low, movable, decorative section dividers separate the Sangha from householders and men from women. The foreign women sat behind Mother Sayamagyi at the left and watched the proceedings while the samaneras were seated in the central section of the sima several meters away from and facing their preceptor and other sayadaws participating in the ordination ceremony. Laymen occupied another back section.
When everyone had settled in the proper place, the ceremony began. In groups of three, starting with the eldest samaneras, the foreigners approached the elder monks to seek full ordination. From the remote viewpoint of the lay people, it was difficult to understand everything that was going on, but following details was not essential as they were there to witness the event and share in the making of good kamma. The samaneras could understand as they had been trained beforehand. They were being asked the questions put to prospective bhikkhus ever since the Sangha became fully organized in the Buddha’s lifetime: about their health, their sex, whether they were free and not in debt, if they were really human beings, etc. They replied appropriately. When they had all completed the answers, the groups again went up to the theras to request full ordination. When they had been accepted into the Order, each trio moved to join the Myanmar lifetime bhikkhus seated just to the side of the sayadaws conducting the proceedings. At times permanent bhikkhus had to bodily manipulate the foreigners into their proper places because they could not communicate through the language barrier.
The afternoon proceedings were similar except that a large number of outsiders also came to the sima to participate in the meritorious actions of supporting an ordination and of giving alms to the new monks afterwards. The atmosphere was quite special, generated by the commitment the men were making to the pure Buddha Dhamma and by the intention of everyone in the crowd to create kusala, good deeds, by participating in the proceedings.
The Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs spent several hours observing the ordinations and the Minister himself came to lead off the offering of dana to the newly ordained monks outside the sima in the late afternoon. The general public too was welcome to participate in these activities. Many who had just read about it in the newspaper came, having bought some small item to donate, or put some cash into an envelope to give (the standard way around the fact that monks are not supposed to touch gold or silver, i.e. money). All the International Meditation Centers (Yangon, U.K., U.S.A., Austria, and Western and Eastern Australia) had their own tables loaded with a particular item to be given to the monks. These had been purchased in Myanmar out of funds donated by members of the centers. Also various associations of the city participated in this dana, Yangon University lecturers, for example, came together. In all, many hundred laypeople lined the path from the ordination hall to the street, standing and waiting in the hot sunshine, or patches of shade.
Inside the building, the bhikkhus were grouped by nationality behind labeled placards carried by young men. Each monk had a Myanmar layman bearing a tall white sunshade behind him and two of them on each side. These pairs of upasakas carried large white sacks. As dana items piled up on the monks’ bowls, they carefully placed them in the bags, making sure they did not touch the ground. All these male workers wore badges for identification.
The senior sayadaws emerged first and slowly filed through the crowd, looking neither right nor left but just before them, not acknowledging the laypeople making their donations into the big black lacquer almsbowls. The feeling in the area switched from anticipation to reverence for the Sangha, respect for this institution which protects and follows the Buddha’s teachings to the full. As the newly ordained bhikkhus passed through the line of donors, they responded to this awe for the robes they were now honored to wear, keenly aware of their obligation to conduct themselves as proper monks. Only in this way would they be worthy of the respect they were being shown, not let down their teachers and hosts, and not disillusion the laity, who were so sincere in their honor.
The laypeople slipped off their shoes, picked up a packet from the table behind them, and with both hands, carefully placed it in the bowl of the monk as he passed in front of them. (The women took extra care not to touch or brush against any bhikkhu or his robes in the crowd.) The giving was done systematically, rotating through each small cluster so that every lay person had equal chance to earn merit. The almsround right after monks have been ordained is considered sure to bring donors extra merit. The new bhikkhus looked radiantly pure, with their shaven heads, lowered eyes, and restrained demeanor.
The final event of this day was held from five to six in the evening in Moguk Hall nearby in the same Kaba Aye complex. Here about a thousand lay devotees, mostly local, sat on the floor while the sayadaws and the junior monks sat on chairs at the front of the room facing them. The golden shrine was behind the bhikkhus. They recited Namo Tassa Bhagavato, the Refuges and the Precepts after the head sayadaw of the Kaba Aye monastery, and then a libation ceremony of pouring out water was held to symbolize sharing the merits made that day. This was invisible to most of the lay people but was held in the front of the hall using several sets of silver vessels.
A tired, happy serenity was felt at IMC afterwards, born of the knowledge that so much kusala had been generated by so many people that day.
For the remainder of the week of the ordination course, the new bhikkhus stayed at the meditation centre. They lived in their own dormitories at one end of the grounds, under the watchful eye of their assistant preceptor, the Venerable U Chanda Siri, who had also helped in all the earlier ordinations organized by the IMCs. They made good use of their time in robes free of worldly affairs by meditating many hours a day— observing the breath to develop sharp samadhi and then applying the concentrated mind to the sensations rising and vanishing in their bodies to penetrate the anicca (impermanent)— and so dukkha (unsatisfactory) and anatta (impersonal) — nature of mind and body as deeply as they could. All was done as taught in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, in strict accordance with the teachings of the Buddha.
Every evening there was a confession also in the hall. As there were so many bhikkhus, U Chanda Siri heard the confessions of half of the men and one of the older of the foreigners heard the confessions of the remainder. The bhikkhus got up from their seats on the floor, straightened their robes and worked their way to the front of the hall in pairs to recite the short Pali catechism admitting to miscellaneous errors and accepting admonition to try to do better in the future. In this orderly way it took about twenty minutes to finish all of the monks each evening. Sometimes the confession was followed by a short discourse by U Chanda Siri or one of the meditation teachers. One talk was about the “dullabhas,” or states difficult to obtain, the most rare of which is being a bhikkhu. Another was an explanation of the origins of the questions the samaneras had to answer before being ordained as full bhikkhus. Those had been instituted by the Buddha in response to specific situations which arose, just as all the rules for the Sangha had been.
Following the bhikkhus’ confession, the young samaneras came forward to recite the Refuges, Ten Precepts, etc., after U Chanda Siri. He was very particular that they pronounce each syllable in exactly the correct way, and they would repeat difficult words over and over until the result was as perfect as the preceptor wanted. The samaneras had their own bedroom and activities which included daily visits to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda.
The bhikkhus were fed in a separate upstairs dining hall on choice Myanmar and Chinese vegetarian food. Often some special dish — such as ice cream — had been donated by someone. People were always looking for more ways to earn merit by helping the bhikkhus, and other meditators, at the Centre. The Myanmar Buddhists exhibit great generosity, cultivating the dana parami.
The offerings the bhikkhus had received at the sima were sorted out by lay people one evening. The cash was totaled up and donated to certain pagodas and monasteries in Yangon, and the monks could take whatever they wanted of the remainder. Most of the things actually went out to vicars (monasteries) where lifetime bhikkhus would have more use for them than foreigners returning to lay life in their own countries in a few days.
The week as bhikkhus was interspersed with several events. One morning a pindapata (almsround) was held at IMC itself. Monks from U Pandicca’s monastery had come to wrap the temporary monks’ robes in the complex way, modestly covering the neck and both shoulders, appropriate for “going among the houses.” The line of donors wound around the pagoda and Dhamma Hall. This time most of the items were food, since it was before noon. The atmosphere was more like a community event since the Centre was “home” to all the participants. The lay people again were dressed in fine Myanmar clothes to honor the bhikkhus. One afternoon, Myanmar TV conducted interviews with six of the bhikkhus, and two of the foreign laywomen, in the Dhamma Hall. (Actually, TV crews, local and Japanese, had been covering most of the events of the ordination week and everyone was familiar with bright lights — from external sources — while they were meditating in the Dhamma Hall.) The questionnaire which had been given to the interviewees was quite serious and the bhikkhus especially had a good opportunity to express their views on the situation of Buddha Dhamma in the West and in Myanmar and about what they had personally gained from practicing this meditation. If the interviews were shown in full, some profound Buddha Dhamma would have come over that most unlikely of media.
The boys took off their robes on Saturday the 15th; the bhikkhus did so precisely a week after the ordination. On that Sunday afternoon the confession was held early, at four, and immediately afterwards they agreed aloud that they were prepared to return to lay life. They then requested to be regarded as samaneras. They removed the robes and changed back into their lay clothes and then asked to be recognized as laymen again — in both Pali and English. Finally U Chanda Siri gave them a discourse as laymen, urging them to cooperate in spreading the Buddha Dhamma in their own countries and always to follow the advice of Mother Sayamagyi and their other teachers.
The temporary bhikkhus returned to lay life with satisfaction at having done what is so hard to do: to be a good Buddhist monk. They were glad to have had even that short chance to know life without the entanglements, the “dust” as the Buddha called it, of household affairs. Some of them were a bit sorry at its ending. Most will probably try to take ordination again in this lifetime to earn still more merit. Their families were joyous to see how they had matured from the experience. Everyone had the assurance that comes from the performance of meritorious deeds dedicated towards purification of mind and the attainment of Nibbana, the cessation of all suffering.

Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka is generally regarded as the home of the pure Theravada form of Buddhism, which is based on the Pali canon. This school of Buddhism emphasizes the Four Noble Truths as the framework of Buddhist doctrine and the Noble Eightfold Path as the direct route to Nibbana, the final goal of the Teaching. However, side by side with this austere, intellectually sophisticated Buddhism of the texts, we find in Sri Lanka a warm current of devotional Buddhism practiced by the general Buddhist populace, who may have only a hazy idea of the Buddhist doctrine. Thus in practical life the gap between the “great tradition” of canonical Buddhism and the average person’s world of everyday experience is bridged by a complex round of ceremonies, rituals, and devotional practices that are hardly visible within the canonical texts themselves.
While the specific forms of ritual and ceremony in Sri Lankan popular Buddhism doubtlessly evolved over the centuries, it seems likely that this devotional approach to the Dhamma has its roots in lay Buddhist practice even during the time of the Buddha himself. Devotion being the intimate inner side of religious worship, it must have had a place in early Buddhism. For Buddhism, devotion does not mean submitting oneself to the will of a God or taking refuge in an external Saviour, but an ardent feeling of love and affection (pema) directed towards the Teacher who shows the way to freedom from suffering. Such an attitude inspires the devotee to follow the Master’s teaching faithfully and earnestly through all the hurdles that lie along the way to Nibbana.
The Buddha often stressed the importance of saddha, faith or confidence in him as the Perfect Teacher and in his Teaching as the vehicle to liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Unshakeable confidence (aveccappasada) in the Triple Gem — the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha — is a mark of the noble disciple, while the Buddha once stated that those who have sufficient confidence in him, sufficient affection for him (saddhamatta, pemamatta) are bound for heaven. Many verses of the Theragatha and Therigatha, poems of the ancient monks and nuns, convey feelings of deep devotion and a high level of emotional elation.
Although the canonical texts do not indicate that this devotional sensibility had yet come to expression in fully formed rituals, it seems plausible that simple ritualistic observances giving vent to feelings of devotion had already begun to take shape even during the Buddha’s lifetime. Certainly they would have done so shortly after the Parinibbana, as is amply demonstrated by the funeral rites themselves, according to the testimony of the Maha-parinibbana Sutta. The Buddha also encouraged a devotional attitude when he recommended pilgrimages to the four places that can inspire a faithful devotee: the places where he was born, attained Enlightenment, preached the first sermon, and attained Parinibbana (D.ii,140).
The Buddha did discourage the wrong kind of emotional attachment to himself, as evidenced by the case of Vakkali Thera, who was reprimanded for his obsession with the beauty of the Buddha’s physical presence: his was a case of misplaced devotion (S.iii,119). Ritualistic observances also pose a danger that they might be misapprehended as ends in themselves instead of being employed as means for channelling the devotional emotions into the correct path. It is when they are wrongly practiced that they become impediments rather than aids to the spiritual life. It is to warn against this that the Buddha has categorized them, under the term silabbata-paramasa, as one of the ten fetters (samyojana) and one of the four types of clinging (upadana). Correctly observed, as means and not as ends, ritualistic practices can serve to generate wholesome states of mind, while certain other rituals collectively performed can serve as a means of strengthening the social solidarity among those who share the same spiritual ideals.
Thus ceremonies and rituals, as external acts which complement inward contemplative exercises, cannot be called alien to or incompatible with canonical Buddhism. To the contrary, they are an integral part of the living tradition of all schools of Buddhism, including the Theravada.
A ritual may be defined here as an outward act performed regularly and consistently in a context that confers upon it a religious significance not immediately evident in the act itself. A composite unity consisting of a number of subordinate ritualistic acts may be called a ceremony. Such observances have become inseparable from all organized religions. And owing to the fear, awe, and respect that characterize man’s religious psychology, such acts assume a solemnity and a sanctity of their own.
Ritual acts undertaken and performed by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka may be broadly classified under three heads:
  • Acts performed for the acquisition of merit (e.g., offerings made in the name of the Buddha) calculated to provide a basis for achieving Nibbana, release from the cycle of becoming (samsara); such acts of merit are, at the same time, expected to offer semi-temporal rewards of comfort and happiness here and in the heavenly worlds in future lives. These supplementary forms of religious activity have arisen out of a natural need to augment the more austere way followed by the world-renouncing disciples.
  • Acts directed towards securing worldly prosperity and averting calamities through disease and unseen forces of evil, e.g., pirit chanting, bodhi-puja, etc.
  • Those rituals that have been adopted from folk religion. Hence these are mainly semi-religious in character like the tovil ceremonies. They derive their power and authority primarily through the superhuman power of the Buddha and also through the hosts of spirits, who are, as it were, commanded by invoking the power of the Buddha or of the Three Refuges — the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha — as a whole.

Almost all the religious activities that have a ceremonial and a ritualistic significance are regarded as acts for the acquisition of merit (Sinh.: pinkama, from Pali: punnakamma, Sanskrit: punyakarma). In this sense, all the religious activities of lay Buddhism can be explained as being oriented towards that end. Accordingly, the first two types of rituals basically have a merit-generating character and thereby receive religious sanction. For instance, the idea of acquisition of merit through a religious act and its transference to the deities and soliciting their help has the scriptural sanction of the Maha-parinibbana Sutta itself (D.ii,88-89). Here the Buddha says that wise men, when residing in a particular area, first offer alms to religious recluses and then transfer the merits to the deities of the area, who help them in return. This seems to indicate the early beginning of adoring vatthu-devata or local deities in Buddhism.
Merit (Pali: punna: Sinh.: pin) earned by the performance of a wholesome act is regarded as a sure way of obtaining a better life in the future. The performance of these is also a means of expiation in the sense that the meritorious deeds have the effect of countering and hindering the operation of unwholesome kamma previously acquired and inherited. Thus the range of merit is very wide.
For the ordinary householder, Nibbana is a goal to be achieved through a gradual process of evolution extending over many lives, and therefore until he achieves that sublime state at some future date he continues to perform these acts in order to lead a happy life. All merit-generating rituals are performed mainly with this end in view.

Initiation and Worship 


Buddhism lacks any ceremony or ritual of initiation or admission like the upanayana in Hinduism or baptism in Christianity. The traditional method of becoming a Buddhist is to repeat the formula of the Three Refuges (tisarana) and the Five Precepts (pañcasila), when they are formally administered by a Buddhist monk. The formula of refuge is as follows:
Buddham saranam gacchami
I go to the Buddha as my refuge. 
Dhammam saranam gacchami
I go to the Dhamma as my refuge.
Sangham saranam gacchami
I go to the Sangha as my refuge.
This avowal of confidence in the Triple Gem (tiratana) is repeated for a second time (e.g., dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami, etc.), and a third time (tatiyampi). Next, the convert repeats in the following manner the Five Precepts which are meant to regulate his moral life:
  • Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami. I undertake the precept to abstain from destroying life 
  • Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami. I undertake the precept to abstain from taking things not given.
  • Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami. I undertake the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct.
  • Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami. I undertake the precept to abstain from false speech.
  • Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami. I undertake the precept to abstain from taking distilled and fermented liquors that cause intoxication and heedlessness.

By this method a hitherto non-Buddhist lay person becomes a lay disciple (upasaka) of the Buddha. It has to be noted here that what is meant by taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha is the placing of confidence in the attainments of the Buddha as a Teacher and in the efficacy of the Dhamma as a reliable means to liberation. The term “Sangha” here refers to the Ariya Sangha, comprising the four pairs of noble ones, i.e., the four practicing for the fruits and the four established in the fruits (cattari purisayugani attha purisa-puggala). In this ceremony of initiation there is no recognition of salvation through the grace of a god or saviour as in theistic religions. One goes for refuge as a way of expressing one’s determination to follow the Buddha’s path to liberation, but one must also realize that the task of walking the path is one’s own responsibility.
While this is the method of formal admission of a new entrant into Buddhism, there are also certain ritualistic practices observed when a child is born to Buddhist parents. The baby’s first outing would be to a temple. When the baby is fit to be taken out of doors the parents would select an auspicious day or a full-moon day and take the child to the nearest temple. They would first place the child on the floor of the shrine room or in front of a statue of the Buddha for the purpose of obtaining the blessings of the Triple Gem. This is a common sight at the Dalada Maligawa — the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic — in Kandy. At the time of the daily religious ceremony (puja) of the temple, one can observe how mothers hand over their babies to an officiating layman (kapuva) inside the shrine room, who in turn keeps it for a few seconds on the floor near the Relic Chamber and hands it back to the mother. The mother accepts the child and gives a small fee to the kapuva for the service rendered. This practice too could be described as a ritual of initiation.

Personal Worship

For the adherent of Buddhism, the ritual of worship is essentially a respectful recognition of the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher. The ritual also implies an expression of gratitude to the Buddha for having discovered and revealed to humankind the path leading out of the mass of worldly suffering. Both these factors in combination make this ritual an expression of devotion as well.
The most common daily ritual of the Buddhist is that of personal worship, which many devout Buddhists perform daily in their homes. On the communal level the ritual is observed on the poya days at a temple or a monastery.
A distinction may be made between simple respectful salutation (panama or panamana) and the ritualistic worship (vandana) accompanied by offerings of increasing complexity including food, drink, and clothing. The former type is only an expression of respect and reverence as when a person clasps his hands in the gesture of worship in front of a religious symbol (e.g., a Buddha-statue, a Bodhi-tree, a dagaba, etc.) and recites a simple phrase like the well-known Namo tassa formula (see below); nowadays the term sadhu has become quite popular with the Sinhala Buddhists for this purpose.
In the ritualistic form of worship the articles of offering (mainly flowers) are first respectfully placed on the altar in front of a statue of the Buddha or a dagaba or any other place of religious significance where such worship is performed. Next, the devotee clasps his hands in the gesture of worship (anjali-kamma) and solemnly recites various stanzas and formulas, thereby making the offerings formally valid. Every act of Buddhist worship begins with the well-known formula of homage to the Buddha, Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa (“Let my obeisance be to the Blessed One, the Honorable One, the Fully Enlightened One”), which is repeated thrice. This is followed by the Refuge formula and the Five Precepts given earlier.
The next step is paying homage to the Three Gems in three separate formulas, which recount nine virtues of the Buddha, six virtues of the Dhamma, and nine virtues of the Sangha. These formulas are extracted from the Pali Nikayas and have become the standard formulas with which the Three Gems are worshipped.
The physical posture adopted by the devotees when performing these acts of worship may vary according to the solemnity of the occasion or the degree of the devotion of the worshipper. In the most respectful form of worship, e.g., when worshipping a dagaba in which the relics — a bone, hair, bowl, etc., of the Buddha — are enshrined, one touches the ground with five parts of the body (Sinh.: pasanga pihituva, i.e., knees, elbows, and forehead). The two postures of squatting (ukkutika) and kneeling (with one or both knees) are also popular. The cross-legged posture (pallanka) and the standing position are also sometimes adopted. Whatever be the posture taken, it should be accompanied with hands clasped together in adoration (Sinh.: andilibanda, Pali: anjalim panametva).
Of the many articles of offering used at present in this kind of worship in Sri Lanka, flowers have become the most important and popular. They constitute the minimum requirement at any form of Buddhist worship. One can observe how the devotees arrange the flowers in various patterns on the altar. The color (vanna), smell (gandha), and quality (guna) of the flowers are taken into account when selecting them for offering. Before being offered, the flowers are “bathed” with filtered water (pan). Sometimes they are arranged in a tray (vattiya) and offered. A flower’s blooming upon contact with light is regarded as symbolic of the attainment of Enlightenment, hence flowers become quite a fitting article for offering to the Buddha, the Enlightened One.
As was mentioned earlier, an essential part of the ritual of offering flowers is the recital of the following Pali stanza, whereby the offering is made valid:
etam kusumasantatim
pujayami munindassa
Pujemi Buddham kusumena ‘nena
punnena ‘metena ca hotu mokkham
Puppham milayati yatha idam me
kayo tatha yati vinasabahavam.
“This mass of flowers endowed with color, fragrance, and quality I offer at the lotus-like feet of the King of Sages. I worship the Buddha with these flowers: by the merit of this may I attain freedom. Even as these flowers do fade, so does my body come to destruction.”
It is of interest to note that this stanza incorporates the Buddhist idea of the impermanence (anicca) of all phenomena. Merit-acquisition is also regarded as contributing towards the attainment of Nibbanic freedom.
Another popular offering of much importance is that of lighted lamps, usually of coconut oil (dipa-puja or pahan-puja). As the Buddha is regarded as the dispeller of the darkness of ignorance, when lighted lamps are offered in his name this metaphorical contrast between the light of knowledge and the darkness of ignorance is taken as the theoretical basis for the ritual. This kind of symbolism being too deep for the vast majority of ordinary people, their motive for this ritual is usually the desire to acquire merit or to avert the evil influence of a bad planetary conjunction. However, it is the former idea that is implied in the traditional stanza used by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka for this offering:
dipena tamadamsina
tilokadipam sambuddham
pujayami tamonudam. 
“With this lamp lit with camphor that dispels all darkness, I worship the Perfectly Enlightened One who is a lamp unto the three worlds and is the dispeller of darkness.”
The epithets tilokadipa (“lamp unto the three worlds”) and tamonuda (“dispeller of darkness”) as applied to the Buddha are significant in this context. The stanza itself seems to testify to the popularity of the offering of camphor (ghanasara) in early times. But nowadays, even when coconut oil has replaced camphor, the stanza has survived without change.
The offering of lighted lamps had been a popular ritual even in ancient times. The Bodhi-tree and the dagaba (also referred to as stupa, cetiya, or caitya) are the two main objects or places where the ritual is usually performed. The offering of lamps is one of the main aspects of the worship of the Bodhi-tree (bodhi-puja). As it was under a Bodhi-tree that the Buddha attained Enlightenment, it is quite natural that lamps be lit under that tree, not only in memory of the great event, but also as a ritual whereby the devotee could expect to obtain a ray of that light of wisdom attained by the Great Sage. Thus the entire ritual becomes a spiritual exercise, the merits of which are transferred to all other beings, gods, humans, and spirits (bhuta). Dagabas constitute another place where this popular offering is made. Consequently, along with the flower-altar, the lamp-stand too has become a necessary adjunct of the dagabas. One can also see that the Bodhi-tree in most temples is surrounded by a platform built of brick or stone in which niches are made to hold lighted oil lamps. The niches are meant to shelter the lamps from wind and rain. In any Buddhist temple there are many other places where lamps can be lit in that way. Sometimes special lamp-stands are constructed for the purpose. Of special significance is the lamp called the dolosmahe-pahana (twelve-month lamp), sometimes found in Buddhist temples and devalayas. It is called thus because it is expected to keep burning all-year round.
Special light offerings are also made on auspicious occasions. On full-moon days when devotees flock to the temples, lamps are lit in large numbers, for it is the custom among the Sri Lankan Buddhists invariably to take flowers and coconut oil on their visits to the temple as two indispensable articles of worship. There are also occasions when devotees light and offer a particular large number of lamps for special purposes, such as redeeming a vow (baraya) or on special occasions like Vesak Day. Many Buddhists perform the ritual of light offering (pahan-puja) to counter evil planetary influences. In order to obtain maximum results from the ritual, the devotees make it a point to purify themselves completely before attending the ceremony by bathing and wearing fresh, clean clothes. Coconut oil used as an illuminant is specially prepared for the purpose and taken separately from the coconut oil used for household purposes. Wicks are prepared from a clean, white, fresh cloth. Sometimes the inhabitants of an entire village co-operate in holding a mass-scale lamp offering. For instance, they may offer 84,000 lighted lamps in memory of the 84,000 elements of the Dhamma (dhammakkhandha) comprising the Buddha’s Teaching.
This important Buddhist ritual was practiced even in ancient Sri Lanka. King Dutugemunu (2nd century B.C.) is recorded to have lit one thousand lamps with ghee as the illuminant and with white wicks burning perpetually in twelve sacred places in Anuradhapura (Mhv. xxxii,37). King Vasabha (1st century A.C.) is also said to have lit one thousand oil lamps at Cetiyapabbata, Thuparama, Mahathupa (Ruvanweli-dagaba), and the Bodhi-tree (Mhv. xxxvi,80).
Today, this ritual has become so popular and elaborate that the annual Vesak festival commemorating the birth, Enlightenment, and Parinibbana of the Buddha has become more or less a festival of lights. Vesak lanterns of various kinds and shapes are lit in Buddhist homes on this day. Pandals well illuminated with multi-colored electric bulbs, depicting various scenes from the Master’s life and from the Jataka stories, also constitute a type of light offering to the Buddha.
Yet another aspect of the ritual of light offering is the burning of camphor near the object of worship like dagabas, Buddha statues, etc. Camphor gives out a fragrant smell as it burns, and is also regarded as having a very pure flame, although its smoke has a strong blackening effect. Camphor-burners have been found in ancient temples, showing that this was an ancient practice.
The offering of food and drink is still another aspect of the ritual of worship. When food is offered to the Buddha in a religious place it is usually done in front of a Buddha-image. If it is the morning meal that is offered, it would be something suitable for breakfast, usually milk-rice (kiribat). If it is lunch, it would be the usual rice-and-curry meal and is invariably offered before noon. At the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy and the Sri Mahabodhi in Anuradhapura, these rituals are performed regularly and with meticulous care and also somewhat elaborately, accompanied by other subsidiary rituals like the beating of drums. It is an important part of this ritual that whatever food is offered in this manner should be separately prepared with special care and should not be tasted before the offering. The stanza that is popularly used for the offering of food runs as follows:
Adhivasetu no bhante
bhojanam parikappitam
Anukampam upadaya
“O Lord, accept with favor this food which has been ritualistically prepared. Receive it, O Noble One, out of compassion.”
As regards the offering of drinks and beverages, it is customary to offer these prepared from fruit-juices. Unlike the solid foods, these may be offered in the afternoon, in keeping with the meal habits of the Buddhist monks. Offering of incense generally consists of joss sticks, these being the most easily available. Otherwise this offering is made by putting certain kinds of sweet-smelling powders or incense into glowing charcoal so that it smokes well. A kind of resin, known locally as sambrani, is the variety generally used.
The chew of betel (dahat-vita) is yet another item of offering. This is mostly for consumption after meals, and consists of betel leaves, arecanut, and certain other items like cloves, nutmeg, cardamons, etc. which give a pleasant smell and a pungent taste when chewed. For every kind of offering there are separate stanzas like the one quoted earlier for food. These stanzas are composed in Pali, which is supposed to be the language in which the Buddha preached his doctrine.
When visiting the temple the object of worship that ranks first is the dagaba enshrining the bone-relics of the Buddha. There are three categories of worshipful objects: (i) bodily relics, consisting of the bones collected after cremation (saririka); (ii) those articles the Buddha used, e.g., the alms-bowl, Bodhi-tree, etc. (paribhogika); and (iii) those memorials that have been erected on his account as a mark of remembrance (uddesika), e.g., images, paintings, etc. The devotee is expected to worship these in due order, reciting the appropriate stanzas and making at least an offering of a few flowers.
An important aspect of the worship of the dagaba and the Bodhi-tree is the custom of circumambulation (padakkhina) as a mark of respect. Usually three rounds are done, always keeping the object of worship to the right side and with the hands clasped together in adoration. As regards dagaba worship in Sri Lanka, the local Buddhists have a separate stanza for worshipping each of the sixteen sacred places hallowed by the Lord Buddha on his three visits to the island. There is also a popular stanza that covers in a general manner all the three categories of worshipful objects mentioned above:
Vandami cetiyam sabbam
sabbathanesu patitthitam,
saririkadhatu mahabodhim
buddharupam sakalam sada. 
“Forever do I worship all the dagabas situated all over, all the bodily relics, the Mahabodhi (tree), and Buddha-images.”
The worship of the dagaba or stupa is an important merit-acquiring act of devotional Buddhism in Sri Lanka as also in other Buddhist lands. The first such dagaba to be constructed after the official introduction of Buddhism into the country by the arahant Mahinda was the Thuparama at Anuradhapura, which enshrines the collar-bone of the Buddha. It was constructed by the first Buddhist ruler of Sri Lanka, King Devanampiya Tissa, in the 3rd century B.C. Since then dagabas have become so popular among the local Buddhists that almost every village temple has a dagaba as an indispensable feature. A special ritual connected with the dagaba is the enshrining of relics, which is done with much ceremony at a specially selected astrologically auspicious moment called nakata (Skt. naksatra). A similar ritual is that of pinnacle-setting (kot-palandavima), which is the concluding stage in the construction of a dagaba.
It should be mentioned here that scriptural sanction for dagaba worship is found in the words of the Buddha himself in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta (D.ii,142), where he has enumerated four categories of individuals worthy of dagabas. These are the Tathagata, a Paccekabuddha, a disciple of the Tathagata, and a universal monarch (raja cakkavattin). The worship and offerings made to the Buddha’s body after his passing away may also be cited as an instance in this connection.
The most important item that comes within the uddesika kind of sacred object is the Buddha-image, which is found in every temple in its image-house (viharage). In addition to the central image or images, the inside walls of the temple — and sometimes the ceiling as well — are covered with paintings depicting events from the Buddha’s life, as well as from his past lives as a Bodhisatta, recorded in the Jataka stories. An important ceremony associated with the Buddha-image is the ritual of painting its eyes (netra-pinkama), which is performed with much care on an auspicious occasion as the last item of its construction. Until this is done the image is not considered an adequate representation of the Buddha.

Group Worship

Collective worship of the Buddha is generally performed in a public place of worship so that anyone who wishes may participate: in a temple before the shrine room, at a dagaba, a Bodhi-tree, or any other such place. The devotees stand in a row in front of the place of worship and pass the items of offering from hand to hand towards the shrine room, dagaba, or the Bodhi-tree. These offerings usually consist of bowls or vases of flowers, incense, joss sticks, beverages, fruit drinks, medicinal items, oil-lamps, etc. Here no distinction of age, position, or sex is observed. All participate in a common act of merit (pinkama). A bhikkhu or a number of bhikkhus may sometimes head the line.
The commonest of the Buddha-pujas is the one performed in the evening, around 6 p.m., known as the gilampasa Buddha-puja or the Buddha-offering consisting of medicaments and beverages. If the Buddha-puja is done in the morning it would be one consisting of milk-rice (kiri-ahara) or any other item of food suitable for breakfast. The mid-day food (dana) also may be offered in this manner. The mid-day meal is offered to the Buddha when lay people bring food to the monastery to offer as alms to the bhikkhus. First, under the guidance of a bhikkhu, they perform the offering to the Buddha, who is represented symbolically by relics and an image; thereafter the food is offered to the resident bhikkhus. It is the established tradition that in whatever circumstances alms are offered to the bhikkhus, the first portions are offered to the Buddha beforehand. The variations in the kinds of food offered are in keeping with the meal habits of the Buddha and his monk-disciples, who refrain from taking solid food and milk-foods after mid-day.
Once the offerings are placed in the appropriate place, lamps lit, and incense burnt, stanzas are recited for each kind of offering made so that the offerings become valid. This is done by a bhikkhu who first administers the Refuges and Precepts (explained earlier) and then recites the relevant stanzas (in Pali) aloud, while the other participants, with their hands clasped in adoration, repeat them in chorus after the bhikkhu. Sometimes this kind of public Buddha-puja is accompanied by drumming and horns, called hevisi-puja or offering of music, which usually accompanies many Buddhist functions. As the final item of the programme, one of the participating bhikkhus delivers a short sermon explaining the significance of the occasion.
It may also be mentioned here that this kind of public puja is performed as a general act of merit-acquisition on religiously important days such as the full-moon days or in remembrance of important dead personages. In the latter case the ritual is held on the death anniversary of the person concerned. It is believed that the dead person can partake of the merits transferred to him (pattidana) from his new existence and thereby obtain relief from any unfortunate realm in which he might have been born. If the ritual is performed for such a purpose, the participating monk would specially mention this fact and transfer the merits earned.
Whatever be the purpose for which the ceremony is held, the concluding part is marked by certain features which are of further interest. One is the usual practice of the transference of merit to all beings, including gods and spirits, by reciting the appropriate stanzas. Another is the general aspiration (patthana) that the participants make to the effect that by the merits earned from the ritual they may not be born into the company of foolish and unworthy friends but into the company of wise and virtuous men until they attain Nibbana. They also do not fail to add the final attainment of Nibbana to this list (idam me punnam asavakkhayavaham hotu: “May this merit bring about the extinction of defilements in me”).
Yet another popular aspiration which has a greater social significance is the following:
Devo vassatu kalena — sassasampatti hotu ca
phito bhavatu loko ca — raja bhavatu dhammiko. 
“May the rains come in time
So that the harvests may be abundant:
May the world be prosperous,
May the rulers be righteous.”
The ritual is concluded by asking for pardon for whatever lapses may have occurred inadvertently:
Kayena vaca cittena pamadena maya katam
accayam khama me bhante bhuripanna tathagata. 
“O Lord, Tathagata of extensive wisdom, may you excuse me for whatever transgressions might have been done by me through body, speech, or mind due to negligence.”
Sometimes a similar request is made to the Dhamma and the Sangha as well. However, as the idea of pardoning one’s sins is foreign to Buddhism, this kind of request would be meaningful only if the devotee does so with full understanding as an expiatory act, as a means of self-reformation, for the Buddha, unlike the God of theistic religions, cannot forgive sins.
Another kind of Buddha-puja is the one regularly done in temples and Buddhist devalayas. It is the daily offering of food and drink (murutan puja) made to the Buddha by the temple authorities. At the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy and the Sri Mahabodhi at Anuradhapura offerings of this kind are made on a solemn and grand scale. These two places assume this significance because they are the two most deeply venerated sacred places for the Buddhists of Sri Lanka. The breakfast, noon meal, and the evening drinks are all offered regularly at fixed hours accompanied by drumming and horn playing (tevava). Often, the public also make their own offerings.
Another important Buddhist ritual is the honoring of the Buddha with what appears to be a relic of the musical performance held in order to revere and pay homage to the sacred memory of the Master. The historical beginning of this form of worship can be traced as far back as the time of the Buddha. A passage in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta (D.ii,159) records that after his passing away, while the body of the Buddha was lying in state for seven days at Kusinara in the capital of the Mallas, complete musical performances inclusive of dance, song, and orchestration (nacca, gita, vadita) were held in his honor. 
This undoubtedly was an unreserved expression by the lay patrons of their deep veneration for the Master. Of this kind of offering, all that seems to have survived is drumming and some light dancing engaged in by the drummers themselves to the drum-beat and horns. In Sri Lanka the ritual is performed by the professionals belonging to the drummer (berava) caste and as an offering it is popularly known as sabda-puja or the “offering of sound.”
This orchestration is collectively called hevisi and usually consists of two drums (called davul), a twin-drum with one face for each and turned upwards (surappattuwa or tammattama), and a horn-like instrument called horanava referred to earlier. Drumming of this type, with a bigger number of drummers, is an essential part of Buddhist processions as well. This kind of drumming also takes place at other Buddhist ceremonies, such as pirit chanting and alms-giving, to be described below.
At important temples where offerings of food are made to the Buddha and the deities at meal times, drumming is performed to coincide with the offering and continues until the ritual of offering is over. This kind of regular service is known as tevava. The ritual may also be held on Poya days, especially the full-moon day, in temples as a special offering to the Buddha. An important point to be noted in this pujava is that while the other kinds of offering are made by the worshipper himself, in this case he hires professionals to make the offering on his behalf. But in big temples like the Dalada Maligawa at Kandy, payments in money are not usually made as the drummers have the hereditary right to the tenure of the temple lands in return for which these services are performed.

The Bodhi-Puja 

The veneration of the Bodhi-tree (pipal tree: ficus religiosa) has been a popular and a widespread ritual in Sri Lanka from the time a sapling of the original Bodhi-tree at Buddhagaya (under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment) was brought from India by the Theri Sanghamitta and planted at Anuradhapura during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa in the third century B.C. Since then a Bodhi-tree has become a necessary feature of every Buddhist temple in the island.
The ritualistic worship of trees as abodes of tree deities (rukkha-devata) was widely prevalent in ancient India even before the advent of Buddhism. This is exemplified by the well-known case of Sujata’s offering of milk-rice to the Bodhisatta, who was seated under a banyan tree on the eve of his Enlightenment, in the belief that he was the deity living in that tree. By making offerings to these deities inhabiting trees the devotees expect various forms of help from them. The practice was prevalent in pre-Buddhist Sri Lanka as well. According to the Mahavamsa, King Pandukabhaya (4th century B.C.) fixed a banyan tree near the western gate of Anuradhapura as the abode of Vessavana, the god of wealth and the regent of the North as well as the king of the yakkhas. The same king set apart a palmyra palm as the abode of vyadha-deva, the god of the hunt (Mhv. x,89, 90).
After the introduction of the Bodhi-tree, this cult took a new turn. While the old practice was not totally abandoned, pride of place was accorded to the worship of the pipal tree, which had become sacred to the Buddhists as the tree under which Gotama Buddha attained Enlightenment. Thus there is a difference between the worship of the Bodhi-tree and that of other trees. To the Buddhists, the Bodhi-tree became a sacred object belonging to the paribhogika group of the threefold division of sacred monuments, while the ordinary veneration of trees, which also exists side-by-side with the former in Sri Lanka, is based on the belief already mentioned, i.e., that there are spirits inhabiting these trees and that they can help people in exchange for offerings. The Buddhists also have come to believe that powerful Buddhist deities inhabit even the Bodhi-trees that receive worship in the purely Buddhist sense. Hence it becomes clear that the reverence shown to a tree is not addressed to the tree itself. However, it also has to be noted that the Bodhi-tree received veneration in India even before it assumed this Buddhist significance; this practice must have been based on the general principle of tree worship mentioned above.
Once the tree assumed Buddhist significance its sanctity became particularized, while the deities inhabiting it also became associated with Buddhism in some form. At the same time, the tree became a symbol representing the Buddha as well. This symbolism was confirmed by the Buddha himself when he recommended the planting of the Ananda Bodhi-tree at Jetavana for worship and offerings during his absence (see J.iv,228f.). Further, the place where the Buddha attained Enlightenment is mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four places of pilgrimage that should cause serene joy in the minds of the faithful (D.ii,140). As Ananda Coomaraswamy points out, every Buddhist temple and monastery in India once had its Bodhi-tree and flower altar as is now the case in Sri Lanka.
King Devanampiya Tissa, the first Buddhist king of Sri Lanka, is said to have bestowed the whole country upon the Bodhi-tree and held a magnificent festival after planting it with great ceremony. The entire country was decorated for the occasion. The Mahavamsa refers to similar ceremonies held by his successors as well. It is said that the rulers of Sri Lanka performed ceremonies in the tree’s honor in every twelfth year of their reign (Mhv. xxxviii,57).
King Dutugemunu (2nd century B.C.) performed such a ceremony at a cost of 100,000 pieces of money (Mhv. xxviii,1). King Bhatika Abhaya (1st century A.C.) held a ceremony of watering the sacred tree, which seems to have been one of many such special pujas. Other kings too, according to the Mahavamsa, expressed their devotion to the Bodhi-tree in various ways (see e.g., Mhv. xxxv,30; xxxvi, 25, 52, 126).
It is recorded that forty Bodhi-saplings that grew from the seeds of the original Bodhi-tree at Anuradhapura were planted at various places in the island during the time of Devanampiya Tissa himself. The local Buddhists saw to it that every monastery in the island had its own Bodhi-tree, and today the tree has become a familiar sight, all derived, most probably, from the original tree at Anuradhapura through seeds. However, it may be added here that the notion that all the Bodhi-trees in the island are derived from the original tree is only an assumption. The existence of the tree prior to its introduction by the Theri Sanghamitta cannot be proved or disproved.
The ceremony of worshipping this sacred tree, first begun by King Devanampiya Tissa and followed by his successors with unflagging interest, has continued up to the present day. The ceremony is still as popular and meaningful as at the beginning. It is natural that this should be so, for the veneration of the tree fulfills the emotional and devotional needs of the pious heart in the same way as does the veneration of the Buddha-image and, to a lesser extent, of the dagaba. Moreover, its association with deities dedicated to the cause of Buddhism, who can also aid pious worshippers in their mundane affairs, contributes to the popularity and vitality of Bodhi-worship.
The main center of devotion in Sri Lanka today is, of course, the ancient tree at Anuradhapura, which, in addition to its religious significance, has a historical importance as well. As the oldest historical tree in the world, it has survived for over 2,200 years, even when the city of Anuradhapura was devastated by foreign enemies. Today it is one of the most sacred and popular places of pilgrimage in the island. The tree itself is very well guarded, the most recent protection being a gold-plated railing around the base (ranvata). Ordinarily, pilgrims are not allowed to go near the foot of the tree in the upper terrace. They have to worship and make their offerings on altars provided on the lower terrace so that no damage is done to the tree by the multitude that throng there. The place is closely guarded by those entrusted with its upkeep and protection, while the daily rituals of cleaning the place, watering the tree, making offerings, etc., are performed by bhikkhus and laymen entrusted with the work. The performance of these rituals is regarded as of great merit and they are performed on a lesser scale at other important Bodhi-trees in the island as well. Thus this tree today receives worship and respect as a symbol of the Buddha himself, a tradition which, as stated earlier, could be traced back to the Ananda Bodhi-tree at Jetavana of the Buddha’s own time. The Vibhanga Commentary (p.349) says that the bhikkhu who enters the courtyard of the Bodhi-tree should venerate the tree, behaving with all humility as if he were in the presence of the Buddha. Thus one of the main items of the daily ritual at the Anuradhapura Bodhi-tree (and at many other places) is the offering of alms as if unto the Buddha himself. A special ritual held annually at the shrine of the Anuradhapura tree is the hanging of gold ornaments on the tree. Pious devotees offer valuables, money, and various other articles during the performance of this ritual.
Another popular ritual connected with the Bodhi-tree is the lighting of coconut-oil lamps as an offering (pahan-puja), especially to avert the evil influence of inauspicious planetary conjunctions. When a person passes through a troublesome period in life he may get his horoscope read by an astrologer in order to discover whether he is under bad planetary influences. If so, one of the recommendations would invariably be a bodhi-puja, one important item of which would be the lighting of a specific number of coconut-oil lamps around a Bodhi-tree in a temple. The other aspects of this ritual consist of the offering of flowers, milk-rice, fruits, betel, medicinal oils, camphor, and coins. These coins (designated panduru) are washed in saffron water and separated for offering in this manner. The offering of coins as an act of merit-acquisition has assumed ritualistic significance with the Buddhists of the island. Every temple has a charity box (pin-pettiya) into which the devotees drop a few coins as a contribution for the maintenance of the monks and the monastery. Offerings at devalayas should inevitably be accompanied by such a gift. At many wayside shrines there is provision for the offering of panduru and travelers en route, in the hope of a safe and successful journey, rarely fail to make their contribution. While the coins are put into the charity box, all the other offerings would be arranged methodically on an altar near the tree and the appropriate stanzas that make the offering valid are recited. Another part of the ritual is the hanging of flags on the branches of the tree in the expectation of getting one’s wishes fulfilled.
Bathing the tree with scented water is also a necessary part of the ritual. So is the burning of incense, camphor, etc. Once all these offerings have been completed, the performers would circumambulate the tree once or thrice reciting an appropriate stanza. The commonest of such stanzas is as follows:
Yassa mule nisinno va
sabbari vijayam aka
patto sabbannutam Sattha
Vande tam bodhipadapam. 
Ime ete mahabodhi
lokanathena pujita
ahampi te namassami
bodhi raja namatthu te.
“I worship this Bodhi-tree seated under which the Teacher attained omniscience by overcoming all enemical forces (both subjective and objective). I too worship this great Bodhi-tree which was honored by the Leader of the World. My homage to thee, O King Bodhi.”
The ritual is concluded by the usual transference of merit to the deities that protect the Buddha’s Dispensation.

Poya Days 

In their religious observances the Sri Lankan Buddhists have adopted from Indian tradition the use of the lunar calendar. The four phases of the moon are the pre-new-moon day, when the moon is totally invisible, the half-moon of the waxing fortnight, the full moon, and the half-moon of the waning fortnight. Owing to the moon’s fullness of size as well as its effulgence, the full-moon day is treated as the most auspicious of the four phases. Hence the most important religious observances are held on full-moon days and the lesser ones in conjunction with the other phases. In the Buddhist calendar, the full moon, as the acme of the waxing process, is regarded as the culmination of the month and accordingly the period between two full moons is one lunar month.
The religious observance days are called poya days. The Sinhala term poya is derived from the Pali and Sanskrit form uposatha (from upa + vas: to fast) primarily signifying “fast day.” Fasting on this day was a pre-Buddhist practice among the religious sects of ancient India. While the monks use the monthly moonless day (called amavaka in Sinhala) and the full-moon day for their confessional ritual and communal recitation of the code of discipline (Patimokkha), the lay devotees observe the day by visiting temples for worship and also by taking upon themselves the observance of the Eight Precepts.
A practicing Buddhist observes the poya day by visiting a temple for the rituals of worship and, often, by undertaking the Eight Precepts. The Eight Precepts include the Five Precepts (see above, pp.5-6), with the third changed to abstinence from unchastity, and the following three additional rules:
(6) to abstain from solid food after mid-day; 
(7) to abstain from dancing, singing, music, and improper shows, and from ornamenting the body with garlands, scents, unguents, etc.;
(8) to abstain from the use of high and luxurious beds and seats.
If one decides to observe the Eight Precepts, one would wake up early, bathe and clad oneself in clean white garments, and go to the nearest temple. The incumbent monk administers the precepts to the entire group assembled for the purpose. Thereafter they would spend the day according to a set timetable which would include sermons, pujas, periods of meditation, and Dhamma discussions. At meditation centers there will be more periods of meditation and fewer sermons and pujas.
The observance of the Eight Precepts is a ritualistic practice of moral discipline quite popular among the Sinhala Buddhists. While the Five Precepts serve as the moral base for ordinary people, the Eight Precepts point to a higher level of training aimed at advancement along the path of liberation. The popular practice is to observe them on full-moon days, and, among a few devout lay Buddhists, on the other phases of the moon as well.
The poya observance, which is as old as Buddhism itself, has been followed by the Sinhala Buddhists up to the present day, even after the Christian calendar came to be used for secular matters. Owing to its significance in the religious life of the local Buddhists, all the full-moon days have been declared public holidays by the government. Another noteworthy fact about this day is that every full-moon poya has assumed some ritualistic significance in one way or other.
The first and the foremost of the poya holy days is the full-moon day of Vesak (May), commemorating the birth, Enlightenment, and passing away of the Buddha. The significance of Vesak is further heightened for the Sinhala Buddhists, as Sri Lankan tradition holds that it was on the Vesak Poya Day, in the eighth year after his Enlightenment, that the Buddha paid his third visit to Sri Lanka, journeying to Kelaniya on the invitation of the Naga King Maniakkhika (Mhv. i,72ff.). Consequently, Kelaniya has become a very popular place of worship and pilgrimage, the center of worship there being the celebrated dagaba, enshrining the gem-set throne offered to the Buddha by the Nagas (dragons). An annual procession is held there to commemorate the event.
Both in importance and in temporal sequence, the next significant poya is the full-moon of Poson (June), which is specially noteworthy to the Sri Lankan Buddhists as the day on which Emperor Asoka’s son, the arahant Mahinda, officially introduced Buddhism to the island in the 3rd century B.C. Accordingly, in addition to the normal ritualistic observances undertaken on a poya day, on Poson day devotees flock to Anuradhapura, the ancient capital city of the country, for it was there that arahant Mahinda converted the then ruler, King Devanampiya Tissa, and his court to Buddhism, thereby setting in motion a series of events that finally made Sri Lanka the home of Theravada Buddhism. Even today, on Poson Poya, Anuradhapura becomes the center of Buddhist activity. Mihintale, the spot where the momentous encounter between the Elder and the King took place, accordingly receives the reverential attention of the devotees. The two rituals of pilgrimage and the observance of the Eight Precepts are combined here. Processions commemorative of the event, referred to as Mihundu Peraheras, are held in various parts of the country.
The next poya is Esala (July), which commemorates several significant events in the history of Buddhism. The most prominent of these is the Buddha’s preaching of his First Sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, to the five ascetics at the Deer Park, near Benares, thereby inaugurating his public ministry. The other noteworthy events connected with this day include the conception of the Bodhisatta in the womb of Queen Maya, his Great Renunciation, the performance of the Twin Miracle (yamaka-patihariya), and his preaching the Abhidhamma for the first time in the Tavatimsa heaven. An additional factor that enhances the value of this poya to Sri Lanka is the first local ordination of a Sri Lankan, when Prince Arittha, the nephew of the king, entered the Order at Anuradhapura, under arahant Mahinda, following the introduction of Buddhism. On this day there also took place the laying of the foundation for the celebrated dagaba, the Mahathupa or the Ruwanvelisaya and also its enshrinement of relics by King Dutugemunu. It is owing to the combination of all these events that the Sinhala Buddhists fittingly observe the day ceremonially by holding Esala festivals throughout the island, giving pride of place to the internationally famous Kandy Esala Perahera.
The term perahera, primarily meaning “procession,” signifies a popular Buddhist ceremony replete with many rituals, commencing and culminating respectively with the kap-planting and the water-cutting ceremonies. These two ceremonies are respectively the introductory and the concluding rites of the annual Esala festivals, held in July and August in various parts of the island. They are essentially connected with the Buddhist deities, either to invite their blessings or to give thanks to them for favors received. During this period every year, such religious festivals are held in almost all the religious centers of Sri Lanka where there are abodes dedicated to various Buddhist deities. However, the festival par excellence of this category is the Kandy Esala Perahera, which is connected with the Temple of the Tooth and the abodes (devalayas) of the four Buddhist deities, Vishnu, Kataragama, Natha, and the Goddess Pattini. The main feature of all these festivals held during this period is the elaborate procession held on the lines of the Kandy Esala Perahera.
Both the kap-planting and water-cutting ceremonies are performed by the lay officiating priests (kapuralas) of the devalaya concerned, who are traditionally the experts regarding the details of their performance. These details are generally regarded as secret and are not divulged to the profane public.
The preliminary rite of kap-planting consists of planting a shaft, usually fashioned from a felled young jak tree, which must have borne no fruit. When cut, this tree exudes a white sap which is regarded as a symbol of prosperity. Even felling the tree is done with several attendant rituals at an auspicious time: the trunk is divided into four, one for each of the devalayas, where it is carried with drums and attendance. On the day of the new moon, at an auspicious hour (nakata), the “kaps” thus prepared are set up in the ground in a special place decorated with leaves, flowers, and fruits. For five nights small processions are conducted within the devalaya precincts around the consecrated kaps. Sometimes benedictory stanzas are chanted by monks.
This rite of kap is a kind of vow that the Esala festival, consisting mainly of the perahera, will be held; it is also an invitation to the deities to be present during the festival, providing the necessary protection for its successful performance. In this sense it is this ritual that inaugurates the festival.
The water-cutting ceremony (diya-kapum-mangalyaya), which is the concluding ritual of the Esala festival, is performed in the early hours of the day following the final perahera. The officiating lay-priest (kapurala) proceeds on a caparisoned elephant to a selected place along a river bank. He would either go to a selected spot in the river by boat or wade through the water to a particular spot and after drawing a magic circle on the water with the sword he carries, he “cuts” the water and fills the vessel he carried there with water from that spot. Before doing so he empties the water that he took in this same manner the previous year. He then returns to the devalaya, and the vessel of water is kept there until the following year. The ritual is repeated annually in an identical manner. This is believed to be a rain-making ceremony of sympathetic magic, which type of ritual is quite common in agrarian societies the world over. The Buddhists seem to have adopted this to suit their purposes.
The annual Esala Perahera in Kandy, held in honor of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, is the most colorful traditional procession in the country. It is the prototype of the other peraheras held elsewhere in the island in such places as Kataragama, Aluthnuwara, Lankatilaka, Bellanwila, Devinuwara, etc. The Kandy Perahera is itself the latest expression of the annual festival in honor of the Tooth Relic that has been held with state patronage from the time the relic was brought to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century A.C. Although periodically there have been intermittent breaks due to unsettled political conditions, the festival was never neglected intentionally. This had been so even during colonial times. Respected as the palladium of Sinhala royalty, the Relic had been accommodated in different parts of the country, depending on the change of the capital city. Ultimately it came to stay in Kandy, which was the last royal seat of the Sinhala people.
Esala Poya assumes prominence for yet another ritual of the Sri Lankan Buddhists. This is the annual rains retreat of the monks, Vassa, which commences on the day following the Esala full moon (discussed in Chap. 8). On the next poya day, Nikini (August), those monks who failed to commence the normal Vassa on the day following Esala Poya, are allowed to enter the “late Vassa.”
The poya that follows Nikini is Binara (September), which assumes solemnity as marking the inauguration of the Order of Bhikkhunis (nuns) with the ordination of Queen Mahapajapati and her retinue. Next follows the Vap Poya (October), which concludes the final month of the three-month rains retreat. During the following month kathina robes are offered to the monks who have duly completed the Vassa. The high esteem in which this ritual is held by the Sinhala Buddhists may be gauged from the fact that the month is popularly referred to as the “month of robes” (see Chap. 8). The November full moon, called Il, signifies the terminal point for the kathina ritual. It is also the day for commemorating such events as the despatch of the first sixty disciples by the Buddha on missionary work, the prospective Buddha Metteyya being declared a sure Buddha-to-be by Gotama Buddha, and the passing away of the arahant Sariputta, the Buddha’s foremost disciple.
The Unduwap Poya that follows in December is of great moment to Sri Lanka as commemorating two memorable events connected with the visit of Theri Sanghamitta, sister of arahant Mahinda, from India in the third century B.C. (Mhv.iv,18-19). The first of these events was the arrival at Anuradhapura of a sapling of the sacred Bodhi-tree at Buddhagaya, brought to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta. The planting of this tree is the origin of the Bodhi-puja in the country.
The other memorable event commemorated by this poya is the establishment of the Order of Nuns (bhikkhuni-sasana) in Sri Lanka by the Theri Sanghamitta when she ordained Queen Anula and her entourage of 500 women at Anuradhapura. Records indicate that the Bhikkhuni Sangha thus established flourished during the Anuradhapura period (third century B.C. to eleventh century A.C.), but disappeared after the decline of that kingdom. Historical records are silent as to the reasons for its extinction, but they do report how the Sinhala Bhikkhuni Sangha helped in the establishment of the Order of Nuns in China. In the 5th century a group of Sinhala nuns headed by the Bhikkhuni Devasara went to China to confer higher ordination there and the Bhikkhuni Sangha thus established survives there to this day. The Sinhala Buddhists commemorate this poya day with peraheras, observance of the Eight Precepts, and meetings. The day is designated Sanghamitta Day. Nowadays the dasasil matas (ten-precept nuns) take an active part in initiating these commemorative functions.
Next follows the Durutu Poya (January) when the Sinhala Buddhists commemorate the first visit of the Buddha to the island. According to the Mahavamsa, nine months after his Enlightenment, the Buddha visited present Mahiyangana in the Badulla District, where stands the dagaba by that name enshrining the Buddha’s hair relics and the collar bone (Mhv.i,197). The Buddhists remember the event by holding an annual perahera. This much-venerated dagaba is also of consequence as the first edifice of this type to be constructed here, originating the ritual of dagaba worship in Sri Lanka.
The poya that follows, Navam Poya (February), celebrates the Buddha’s appointment of the two arahants, Sariputta and Moggallana, as his two chief disciples. It also marks the Buddha’s decision to attain Parinibbana in three months’ time. The Medin Poya in March is hallowed by the Buddha’s first visit to his parental home after his Enlightenment, during which he ordained the princes Rahula, Nanda, and many others as monks. The month that follows is called Bak (pronounced like “buck”), which corresponds to April. In this month it is not the full-moon day but the new-moon day that invites attention as signalizing the Buddha’s second visit to Sri Lanka, when he visited Nagadipa on the day preceding the new-moon day (amavaka: Mhv.i,47) in the fifth year after his Enlightenment.
The above brief account of the twelve poya days demonstrates how the poya day has become intimately connected with the life of the Buddha and consequently with the principal events of early Buddhist history. The Sri Lankan Buddhists, quite accustomed as they are to commemorate such events with rituals and ceremonies in full measure, have maintained these traditions up to the present.

The Pirit Ceremony 

Pirit (or paritta) is a collective term designating a set of protective chants or runes sanctioned by the Buddha for the use of both laymen and bhikkhus. Pirit-chanting is a very popular ceremony among the Buddhists of Sri Lanka. As the term itself implies it means a safety rune (paritta = protection), the ceremonial recital of which is regarded as capable of warding off all forms of evil and danger (vipatti), including disease, the evil influence of the planets, evil spirits, etc. These may be real dangers to the safety of persons and property as well as superstitiously believed-in calamities. In addition to this curative and positive aspect, pirit is also chanted for the attainment of general success (sampatti, siddhi). In the domestic and social life of the Sri Lankan Buddhist no important function can be considered complete without this ceremony. However, the ceremony may vary from the simple to the highly elaborate, depending on the occasion and the status of the sponsor.
The essence of the pirit ceremony consists in the ritualistic chanting of certain Pali texts selected from the canonical scriptures. These extracts are found collected and arranged in a particular order in the Book of Parittas, or Pirit-Pota, known in Pali as Catubhanavara. It contains 27 extracts, including such suttas as the Ratana, Mangala, Metta, Atanatiya, etc.
The use of protective spells — variously known as paritta, rakkha, mantra, dharani, kavaca, etc. — against various dangers has been a common practice among the Indians from very early times. The Buddha himself is said to have adopted the practice on several occasions. The public recitation of the Ratana Sutta at Vesali is the best known instance. The Khandha Paritta, Atanatiya Sutta, and the Metta Sutta are some parittas that have received the sanction of the Buddha himself. As the parittas generally embody statements of truth as taught in Buddhism their recitation is regarded as an “asseveration of truth” (saccakiriya) whereby evil can be averted. The Ratana Sutta is a good example of this kind of paritta. It draws its power by wishing the listeners safety after affirming the excellent qualities of the Three Gems of Buddhism — the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Sangha. The power of virtue (sila) contained in the Mangala Sutta and the power of loving kindness (metta) contained in the Metta Sutta are two other aspects that make pirit effective. The power of the sound waves resulting from the sonorous and rhythmic recitation and also from particular combinations of certain letters and syllables also play a part in exercising this beneficial influence. The vibrating sound waves produced by the sonorous and mellifluous chanting adds to the effect of the truths enunciated. The ceremonial recitation with various ritualistic observances (discussed below) and with the presence of the Triple Gem in the form of the relic casket representing the Buddha, the Pirit-Pota representing the Dhamma, and the reciting bhikkhus representing the Sangha, are additional factors that are regarded as increasing the efficacy of pirit chanting.
Among the laity of Burma and of Sri Lanka the book of parittas is more widely known than any other Pali book. Any Buddhist, educated or not, knows what it is and holds it in honor and respect. Even in ancient times the blessings of the pirit ceremony were sought in times of national calamities just as in Vesali at the time of the Buddha. King Upatissa (4th century: Mhv. xxxvii,189), Sena II and Kassapa V (ibid, li,80; 1ii,80) are three such Sinhala monarchs who had the ceremony performed under such circumstances. The incorporation of the item called dorakada-asna, as shall be seen, shows that it is a ritual that has gradually been elaborated in course of time.
The simplest form of the pirit ceremony is held when what is called the mahapirita (great or major pirit) — the Mangala, Ratana, and Metta Suttas and a few benedictory stanzas — is chanted by a few monks, usually three or four, three times with a break in between. The three times may consist of the morning and evening of one day and the morning of the following day, or the evening of one day and the following morning and evening. The monks are conducted to the particular household and the chanting takes place in any room of the house according to choice.
The monks sit around a table on which a clean white cloth is spread and flowers and puffed rice are strewn. A pot of filtered water is also placed in the center of the table and one end of a ball of three-stranded thread is twisted around it. The thread then passes through the hands of the reciting monks and is next held by the person or the persons on whose behalf the chanting is being done. These would be seated on a mat on the ground in front of the reciting monks. The water in the pot, designated pirit-water (pirit-pan), and the sacred thread (pirit-nula), become sanctified through the chanting and are used thereafter as a protection against evil. The thread is used by tying a piece around the arm or the wrist, and the water by drinking it or sprinkling it, according to requirements. In the simplest form, the ceremony is called varu-pirita or vel-pirita (varu or vel in Sinhala meaning half-day session) as the ceremony is confined only to a portion of the day and only the mahapirita is chanted.
But the full-fledged pirit ceremony is a much more elaborate ritual. This also has two main forms — one lasting for one whole night and the other for one week or even longer. The former is the more usual form as a domestic ceremony while the latter is held on special occasions, especially for public purposes. Whatever the form may be, when this kind of chanting is undertaken, a special pavilion called the pirit mandapaya is constructed for the purpose. If the ceremony is to be performed in a private home, this pavilion is put up in a central room of the house. Generally it would measure about twelve by twelve feet and is gaily decorated with tissue paper, tinsel, etc. Its roof is covered with a white canopy from which are hung small cuttings of arecanut flowers, betel twigs, tender twigs of the iron-wood (na) tree, etc. Two water pots on which opened coconut racemes are kept are placed on either side of the entrance. Two lighted coconut-oil lamps are also placed upon the coconut racemes.
In the center of the pavilion is a table (usually a round one) on which a clean white cloth is spread. Upon it are strewn puffed rice (vilanda), broken rice (sun-sal), white mustard (sudu-aba), jasmine buds (saman kakulu), and panic grass (itana). These five varieties, known as lada-pas-mal, are regarded as having a sanctifying and purifying power in combination and are hence used for ritualistic purposes at Buddhist ceremonies. In the center of the table is the filtered water pot around which the three-stranded sacred thread is twisted. This thread is drawn round the interior of the pavilion and when the chanting commences it is held by the chanting monks and given over to be held by the person or persons for whose benefit the ceremony is held. A palm-leaf copy of the Pirit-Pota, regarded as more sanctified than the printed one, occupies a significant place on the table, representing the Dhamma, the second member of the Buddhist Trinity. Consequently, while the printed copy is used for the legibility of its script, the palm-leaf copy is regarded as indispensable on the table. The other important item that is brought inside the pavilion is the casket containing the bone-relics of the Buddha (dhatu-karanduwa), representing the Buddha. This is placed on a separate decorated table on a side within the pavilion.
In the seating arrangement for the monks, two chairs, centrally placed near the table, are referred to as yuga-asana or “seats for the duel.” During a greater part of the all-night recital, two monks occupying these two seats continue the chanting, taking it in relays, instead of the full assembly. A post called indra-khila or raja-gaha is planted securely and fastened between these twin chairs. This post, resembling a mace in more ways than one, is attractively decorated and serves as a symbol of authority and protection for the officiating monks. This is generally erected only when the ceremony lasts for a week (sati pirita) or longer.
Even when the ceremony is held in a private home, the temple is inevitably connected with every stage of the ritual. The temple authorities are responsible for assigning the required number of monks. On the evening of the day on which the chanting takes place, a few members from the particular household go to the temple in order to conduct the monks. The monks would come in a procession in single file in order of seniority, attended by drumming. At the head of the procession is carried the relic casket, borne on the head of a layman, under an umbrella or a canopy. The beating of drums continues throughout. As the monks enter the home, a layman washes their feet while another wipes them. They walk to the pavilion on a carpet of white cloth (pavada) and take their seats around the table. The relic casket, Pirit-Pota, and the bhikkhus thus come together, representing the Triple Gem, the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, respectively.
Before the commencement of the ceremony proper, the usual time of which is around 9 p.m., the monks are welcomed and requested to perform the ceremony by being offered a tray in which betel leaves, arecanut, cardamons, nutmeg, etc., are nicely arranged, the ingredients being those taken for the chew of betel. This invitation is usually extended by the chief householder if it is in a private home. Otherwise some leading lay devotee would do it. One of the senior monks present would accept the invitation on behalf of the entire Sangha and, in order to make the invitation formally valid, he would get the lay devotee to repeat after him the following Pali stanza requesting the monks to begin the ceremony:
Vipattipatibahaya — sabbasampattisiddhiya
sabbadukkhavinasaya — parittam brutha uttamam 
“Please recite the noble pirit for the avoidance of all misfortune, for the attainment of all success, and for the destruction of all suffering.”
Next he would explain the significance of the occasion in a short address. This is followed by ceremonial drumming (magulbera vadana), as a ritualistic preamble to the ceremony, serving both as an invitation to the gods and an offering of sound (sadda-puja). The monks too commence the chanting by reciting a stanza that invites all the divine beings of the universe to the ceremony:
Samanta cakkavalesu Atragacchantu devata Saddhammam Munirajassa Sunantu saggamokkhadam 
“May the divine beings of the entire universe come here to hear the good doctrine of the King of Sages that confers both heavenly happiness and the freedom of Nibbana.”
From the commencement of the chanting until its conclusion the following morning, the pavilion is not vacated. The mahapirita (explained earlier), with which the chanting begins, is chanted in a rhythmic manner by all the monks, numbering about ten or twelve, seated in order of seniority. The rest of the discourses are chanted by two or four monks. The ceremony is concluded the following morning with the recital, once again, of the mahapirita at which ceremonial drumming takes place once more. This drumming is also performed at the recital of important discourses like the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta and the Atanatiya Sutta. Once the chanting is concluded, convenient lengths of the thread, sanctified by the chanting, are snapped off and tied around the wrists or the arms of those assembled. A little of the sanctified water is given to everyone for drinking. When the ceremony continues for several days (e.g., one week: sati-pirita), the chanting must continue night and day without a break. When the set of suttas constituting pirit is completed, chanting is recommenced from the beginning and in this manner they are recited over and over again until the session is concluded. Both to begin and to end the session, the mahapirita is recited in chorus by all the monks on each day at sunrise and sunset.
An important ceremony connected with the seven-day (and longer) pirit ceremony is known as dorakada-asna, which seems to have entered the pirit ceremony during the Kandyan period (18th century). The theme of this ritual is to invite all the deities residing in the vicinity and request them to partake of the merits derived from the pirit ceremony and to help dispel all evil and bring about prosperity to everybody.
This ritual involves several stages commencing from the morning of the last day of the pirit ceremony, i.e., the seventh day if it is a seven-day ceremony. The first stage is the preparation of the message to be taken to the neighbouring temple where the abodes of the gods (devalayas) are also found. For this purpose several palm leaves (talipot), on which the message is to be written, are brought to the chanting pavilion in a ceremonial procession and handed over to a monk who has been previously selected to write the message. Next, this particular monk writes down the auspicious time for the messenger of the gods (deva-dutaya) to set out to the devalaya and reads it aloud, to be sanctioned by the assembled monks. Once this is done another monk, also previously selected, reads aloud a text written in a highly ornate stilted style, enumerating the temples and devalayas at which the deities are requested to be present at the pirit chanting that evening. This text is called the vihara-asna. Until these preliminaries are gone through, the other monks keep holding the sacred thread. After this, the monk who was appointed to write the message begins to write it while the other monks retire.
The message contains the invitation — which is a command from the Sangha (sanghanatti) and hence not to be turned down — addressed to all the deities residing at the religious places enumerated in the vihara-asna to come and partake of the merits of the week’s pirit chanting. The message is prepared in quadruplicate. These are then hung on a pole and handed over to a young boy, specially selected for the task and richly attired as befits a messenger of the gods. Mounted on a caparisoned elephant and escorted by men with swords, he carries the message in a procession to the devalaya. This procession is called the devaduta-perahera, “the procession of the gods’ messenger,” and has many features like dancers, drummers, mask-dancers, stilt-walkers, etc.
At the devalaya, the bhikkhus and the deva-dutaya first go near a Buddha-statue and pay homage, after which they proceed to the building where the statues of the gods are and chant the Metta Sutta. The gods concerned are usually Vishnu and Kataragama (Skanda). This is followed by ceremonial drumming (magul bera) as an invitation to the gods, and next a monk reads out the message aloud. The four messages are given to the lay officiating priest of the devalaya (known as kapurala) to be hung in the four cardinal directions inside the devalaya. These are meant for the Regents of the Four Quarters — Datarattha (east), Viruda (south), Virupakkha (west), and Vessavana (north) — who are requested to come to the ceremony with their assemblies. The procession now returns.
Until the monks arrive for the pirit chanting, the devadutaya is kept confined and guarded. Once the monks arrive and take their seats inside the pavilion, a dialogue takes place between the devadutaya and a monk, the purpose of which is to reveal to the assembled gathering that the task of the messenger, which was to invite the gods to partake of the merits, has been done and that all the gods have arrived. The devadutaya makes this statement standing and guarded by the swordsmen, at the entrance (dorakada) to the chanting pavilion within which the monks have taken their seats. It is this statement of the devadutaya which thus comes to be called the dorakada-asna, meaning “the message read at the threshold.” The gist of this statement, written in the same kind of stilted language as the vihara-asna referred to earlier, is that all the gods invited have arrived for the pirit ceremony so that they may dispel all misfortune and bring about prosperity to all.
After the dorakada-asna, another monk, standing within the pavilion, reads out a similar text called the anusasana-asna, wherein all the gods assembled are requested to rejoice in the merits of the entire ceremony. This monk holds in his hand a round-handled fan made of the talipot leaf, elaborately decorated, a symbol of authority and high ecclesiastical position. These three ritualistic texts mentioned in the foregoing account (i.e., vihara-asna, dorakada-asna, and the anusasana-asna) were all composed during the Kandyan period (18th century) when ceremonies and rituals, especially those connected with the gods, became more popular than during the earlier periods.
It is also worth noting, that this ceremony of dorakada-asna has, in addition to its religious and ritualistic significance, considerable dramatic and theatrical value as well, for the whole event, from the preliminaries of the morning to the grand finale of the anusasana in the evening, contains much impersonation, mime, and dialogue. In this connection we may note that as early as the time of Buddhaghosa (5th century A.C.) there were Buddhist rituals with such theatrical features as is shown by the exorcist ritual of reading the Atanatiya Sutta described in the Digha Nikaya Commentary (iii, 969-70).
The recital of the Jayamangala Gatha, a set of eight benedictory stanzas extolling the virtues of the Buddha, may also be cited as a popular custom partly related to the chanting of pirit. This is usually done on important occasions like a marriage ceremony, when setting out on an important journey, or when inaugurating any venture of significance. This custom is inevitably observed at what is called the Poruva ceremony when, after a couple to be married ascends a small decorated platform (poruva), they are blessed for future prosperity. The recital is usually done by an elderly person who, for the occasion, assumes the position of an officiating priest. At public functions a bevy of young girls clad in white uniforms also do the recital. The contents of the stanzas recited clearly show that the ritual is intended to bring happiness and prosperity to the persons concerned or the successful completion of the project. Accordingly these verses have come to be called “the stanzas of success and prosperity,” Jayamangala Gatha, and have become quite popular among all sections of the Buddhists. While the origin of these stanzas is shrouded in mystery, it can be stated with certainty that they were composed in Sri Lanka by a devoted Buddhist poet. The earliest available reference to them is during the Kandyan period when they are given in a list of subjects that a monk should study. This shows that they had become well established during the 16th and 17th centuries; hence they must have been composed at least a century earlier. These stanzas are regarded as efficacious because they relate eight occasions, each based on a beautiful story, when the Buddha triumphed over his powerful opponents.
The chanting of what is called set-pirit by a few bhikkhus at the inauguration of new ventures or at receptions and farewells to important public personages has also become quite common. The chanting usually consists of a sutta like the Mangala, Ratana, or Metta Sutta, and a few benedictory stanzas. Set-pirit is broadcast by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation every morning as the first item of its programme.

Almsgiving and Funerals 

The Almsgiving

The ceremony of pirit-chanting is very often accompanied by another important ceremony, that of almsgiving. It is generally known as sanghika-dana, meaning “the alms given to the community of monks.” Such a ceremonial almsgiving is often preceded by an all-night pirit ceremony. Even otherwise this ceremony too is usually performed on important occasions in the same way as the pirit ceremony, associated with such events as house-warming, setting out on a long journey, a marriage, birth, or death anniversaries, and so forth.
At least four monks who have obtained higher ordination (upasampada) must participate for the dana to become valid as a full-fledged sanghika-dana. Such danas were held even during the Buddha’s time, the Buddha himself participating in very many of them. Of the many items of offering that dana or the act of generosity could include, food is usually regarded as the most important and the formal meal offering accordingly is done with much ceremony and ritual. The monks are conducted from the temple in procession with drumming as in the case of pirit. A layman leads the procession, with the relic casket (dhatu-karanduva), representing the Buddha, borne on his head under an umbrella or canopy. As they approach the particular household they are received by the host. As the monks step into the house, one person washes their feet, while another wipes them. This part of the ceremony is the same as in the case of the pirit ceremony. 
The monks are then conducted to the cushioned seats arranged on the floor against the wall. Alms are first offered to the Buddha in a separate bowl, and are placed on a separate table on which the relic casket, containing a bone-relic of the Buddha, has been set. All the items of food are served in plates and placed on mats or low tables before the seated monks. A senior monk administers the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts (see pp. 5-6) to the assembled gathering, as this has become the established custom with which any Buddhist function commences. After he has given a short address on the significance of the occasion, the food is formally presented by getting the chief householder to repeat a Pali statement: imam bhikkham saparikkharam bhikkhusanghassa dema (“These alms, along with other requisites, we offer to the whole community of monks”). Next, the food is served and once the monks have finished eating (which should be before noon) the other requisites (parikkhara), referred to in the statement quoted, are also offered.
The most important item among these offerings is what is traditionally known as “the eight monastic requisites” (ata-pirikara): the alms-bowl, three robes, belt, razor, water-strainer, and sewing needle. This offering is regarded as especially meritorious. As it is an expensive item and therefore difficult to offer to all the monks, generally one ata-pirikara is offered to the chief monk and other items such as books, towels, pillow-cases, umbrellas, etc., are presented to the other monks.
Once this is over, another monk administers what is called punnanumodana or “thanks-giving” wherein all those who were connected with the ceremony are requested to partake of the merits (punna) for their future good. The participants are also called upon to transfer the merits they have thus acquired for the well-being of their dead kinsmen and friends as well as for the sustenance of beings in the deva worlds, i.e., the deities, who are expected to protect the donors out of gratitude. The relic casket and the monks are conducted back to the temple in the same manner as they were brought and the proceedings are concluded.
A related ritual that cannot be ignored as regards the ceremony of almsgiving is the custom of getting the neighbours and friends also to serve into the alms-bowl that is offered to the Buddha. On the morning of the day on which the almsgiving takes place a separate bowl is kept on a table for this purpose. This is called the Buddha-pattare, or the Buddha’s alms-bowl. Alms served into it are regarded as offered to the Buddha himself. The neighbours would come with plates of rice prepared in their homes and serve into it. This rice is also taken when the bowl of food is prepared for offering to the Buddha, near the relic casket at the time of the dana proper, the purpose here being to get the neighbours and outsiders also to participate in this merit-making ceremony.


Among Buddhists death is regarded as an occasion of major religious significance, both for the deceased and for the survivors. For the deceased it marks the moment when the transition begins to a new mode of existence within the round of rebirths. When death occurs all the kammic forces that the dead person accumulated during the course of his or her lifetime become activated and set about determining the next rebirth. For the living, death is a powerful reminder of the Buddha’s teaching on impermanence; it also provides an opportunity to assist the deceased person as he or she fares on to the new existence.
Both aspects of death — the message of impermanence, and the opportunity to help the departed loved one — find expression in the Buddhist funeral rites of Sri Lanka. Naturally, the monastic Sangha plays a prominent role in the funeral proceedings. One of the most important parts of the funeral rites is the ritual called “offering of cloth on behalf of the dead” (mataka-vastra-puja). This is done prior to the cremation or the burial of the body. Monks are assembled in the home of the dead person or in the cemetery. The proceedings begin with the administration of the Five Precepts to the assembled crowd by one of the monks. This is followed by the recitation in chorus of the well-known stanza:
Anicca vata sankhara, uppadavayadhammino.
Uppajjitva nirujjhanti tesam vupasamo sukho. 
Impermanent alas are formations, subject to rise and fall.
Having arisen, they cease; their subsiding is bliss.
Next follows this ritual, which consists of the offering of a length of new white cloth to the monks. The cloth, called a pamsukula — literally, a dust-heap cloth — is intended to be cut into pieces and then stitched into a robe.
After offering it, the close relatives of the deceased sit together on a mat, assume a reverential posture, and together they pour water from a vessel into a cup placed within a plate until the cup overflows. While the water is being poured, the monks intone in unison the following stanzas extracted from the Tirokuddha Sutta of the Khuddakapatha:
Unname udakam vattam yatha ninnam pavattati
evameva ito dinnam petanam upakappati.
Yatha varivaha pura paripurenti sagaram
evameva ito dinnam petanam upakappati. 
Just as the water fallen on high ground flows to a lower level,
Even so what is given from here accrues to the departed.
Just as the full flowing rivers fill the ocean,
Even so what is given from here accrues to the departed.
The context shows that the pouring of water in this manner is a ritualistic act belonging to the field of sympathetic magic, symbolizing the beneficial inheritance of the merit transferred by the living to the dead, as a kind of dakkhina or offering. The entire ritual is hence an act of grace whereby merit is transferred to the departed so that they may find relief from any unhappy realm wherein they might have been born.
Another funeral rite is mataka-bana or “preaching for the benefit of the dead.” The usual practice is to conduct a monk to the house of the dead person, generally on the third day (or occasionally on any day within a week) after the funeral and to request him to preach a sermon suited to the occasion. Accordingly he preaches a suitable sermon for about an hour’s duration to the assembled audience, which inevitably consists of the deceased’s relatives and the neighbours of the household. At the end of the sermon, the monk gets the relatives to recite the necessary stanzas to transfer to the deceased the merits acquired by organizing the event. Following this, a gift is offered to the monk, and the invitees are also served with refreshments.
Three months from the date of death, it is customary to hold an almsgiving (sanghika dana) in memory of the deceased and thence to repeat it annually. As in the case of the rituals mentioned earlier, here too the purpose is to impart merit to the deceased. Hence it is called the offering in the name of the dead (mataka-dana). The basis of the practice is the belief that if the dead relative has been reborn in an unhappy existence (i.e., as a peta or unhappy spirit), he or she would expect his or her living relatives to transfer merit in this manner as these departed spirits or petas are incapable of performing any meritorious deed on their own. Even their hunger and thirst, which is perpetual, subside only in this manner. Hence they are referred to as “living on what is given by others” (paradatta-upajivi). This custom can be traced to the Buddha’s own time when King Bimbisara was harassed by a group of his departed kinsmen, reborn as petas, because the king had failed to give alms to the Buddha in their name. Once this was fulfilled as requested by the Buddha, the petas became happy and ceased to give any more trouble (KhpA. 202f; PvA.19ff). This was the occasion on which the Buddha preached the Tirokuddha Sutta referred to earlier, which further says that once these rites are performed, these contented spirits bless the donors in return. These rites, it may be mentioned here, resemble the sraddha ceremonies of the Hindus in some ways. And it is also significant that, according to the Buddha himself, only the dead relatives who have been reborn as petas are capable of receiving this benefit (A.v, 269ff.).
Monastic Ceremonies 

Vassa and Kathina

The Vassa, a three-month rains retreat, was instituted by the Buddha himself and was made obligatory for all fully ordained bhikkhus; the details are laid down in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka (3rd and 4th chapters). The retreat extends over a period corresponding to the North Indian rainy season, from the day following the full moon of July until the full-moon day of October; those who cannot enter the regular Vassa are permitted to observe the retreat for three months beginning with the day following the August full moon. From the time Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by the arahant Mahinda, the observance of Vassa — Vas in Sinhala — has been one of the mainstays of monastic life in the island. During the Vas the monks are expected to dwell permanently in their temples and suspend all traveling. If unavoidable circumstances necessitate traveling, they are allowed to leave their residences on the promise that they will return within a week (sattahakaraniya). On the first day of the retreat the monks have to formally declare that they will dwell in that manner in the selected monastery or dwelling.
The Vassa is also a time for the lay Buddhists to express their devotion to the cause of Buddhism by supporting the Sangha with special diligence, which task they regard as a potent source of merit. It is customary for prominent persons to invite monks to spend the Vas with them in dwellings specially prepared for the purpose. In this latter case the host would go and invite the monk or monks formally. If the monks accept the invitation, the hosts would prepare a special temporary dwelling in a suitable place with a refectory and a shrine room. On the first day of the Vas they would go with drummers and dancers to the monastery where the invitees reside and conduct them thence in procession. The hosts would assume responsibility for providing all the needs of the monk or monks during this period, and they attend to this work quite willingly as they regard it as highly meritorious. If no special construction is put up, the lay supporters would invite the monks to observe the retreat in the temple itself.
At the close of the Vas season, the monks have to perform the pavarana ceremony. At this ceremony, held in place of the Patimokkha recitation, each monk invites his fellows to point out to him any faults he has committed during the Vas period. On any day following the day of pavarana in the period terminating with the next full-moon day, the kathina ceremony is held. Different monasteries will hold the kathina on different days within this month, though any given monastery may hold only one kathina ceremony. The main event in this ceremony is the offering of the special robe known as the kathina-civara to the Sangha, who in turn present it to one monk who has observed the retreat. The laity traditionally offer unsewn cloth to the monks. Before the offering takes place, the robe is generally taken, with drumming, etc., around the village in the early hours of the morning. Once the robe is given to the Sangha, certain monks are selected to do the cutting, sewing, and dying of the robe — all in a single day. Public contributions are very often solicited to buy the robe if it is not a personal offering.
This ceremony, which is performed with keen interest and devotion, has today become an important occasion of great social and religious significance for the Buddhist laity. This seems to have been so even in historical times when many Sinhala kings made this offering with much interest and devotion (e.g., Mhv. xliv,48, xci, etc).

Monastic Ordination

There is deep ritualistic significance in the two stages of monastic ordination called pabbajja and upsampada. The former is the initial admission into the homeless life as a novice or samanera, which can be granted to any male over the age of seven or eight, provided certain conditions are satisfied. The ritual proper consists in shaving the hair and beard, donning the dyed robes, whose color ranges from yellow to brown, and then taking from the selected preceptor (upajjhaya) the Three Refuges in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and the Ten Precepts (dasa sikkhapada): abstinence from (i) destroying life, (ii) theft, (iii) unchastity, (iv) lying, (v) fermented liquor, spirits, and strong drinks which cause intoxication and heedlessness, (vi) eating solid food after midday, (vii) dancing, singing, music, and improper shows, etc., (viii) adorning and beautifying the person by the use of garlands, scents, and unguents, (ix) using high and luxurious beds and seats, and (x) receiving gold and silver, i.e., money. The ceremony is performed on an auspicious day at the monastery where the ordination is sought. Thus the postulant becomes a novice.
The full or higher ordination (upasampada) is more formal and difficult. The higher ordination ceremony should be conducted in a prescribed and duly consecrated “chapter house” (sima, or Sinh.: poya-ge), without which the ritual is not valid. If the candidate possesses the necessary qualifications like knowledge and intelligence and he is above twenty years of age, he may formally apply for admission and appear before a chapter of bhikkhus. Before admission he is made to put away the yellow robes and wear the clothes of a householder and face an interview at which he would be thoroughly examined as to his fitness for admission. If he successfully passes the test, he is led aside, reclothed in mendicant robes, and called back. Bearing his alms-bowl, he once again appears before the Sangha and goes through certain formalities after which, if all the monks agree, he is declared admitted.

Uposatha Observance

This refers to the ritual of confession performed by the monks on the new-moon and the full-moon days, when the Disciplinary Code, the Patimokkha, is recited. This is a set of 227 rules, to be observed by the members of the Buddhist Order. When each of the seven sections of the rules is recited amidst the assembled Order, if any among those present has infringed any of those rules, he should confess and undergo any punishment prescribed. Silence implies absence of guilt.

Bali and Tovil Ceremonies 


Bali is the ceremony wherein the presiding deities of the planets (graha) are invoked and placated in order to ward off their evil influences. The belief in the good and evil influence of the planets according to the time and place of one’s birth is quite widespread in Sri Lanka. The first thing done at the birth of a child is to cast the horoscope, which has to be consulted subsequently at all the important events of his or her life. When a calamity like a serious illness comes upon such a person, the horoscope would inevitably be consulted, and if the person is under a bad planetary influence, the astrologer would recommend some kind of propitiatory ritual. This could be a minor one like the lime-cutting ritual (dehi-kapima) or a major one like a bali ceremony, depending on the seriousness of the case. If it is a bali ceremony, he might also recommend the specific kind of bali suitable for the occasion.
The term bali signifies both the ritual in general and also the clay representations of the planetary deities which are made in relief on frameworks of bamboo and painted in appropriate colors. The ritual consists of dancing and drumming in front of the bali figures by the bali artist (bali-adura), who continuously recites propitiatory stanzas calling for protection and redress. The patient (aturaya) sits by the side of the bali figures.
The bali artist is helped by a number of assistants working under him. The knowledge and art of performing the ritual are handed down in traditional families. The retentive power of these artists is remarkable, for they can continue to recite the appropriate formulas and verses from memory for days.
The bali ceremony is a mixture of Buddhism and folk religion. This cult of the planets and the allied deities has become an important element in the popular living Buddhism of the island. The origins of this type of bali ritual have to be traced to the Kotte Period of the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was introduced into the island from South India by some Hindu brahmans from that region. However, mainly owing to the efforts of the celebrated Buddhist monk of the period, Ven. Vidagama Maitreya Thera, this ritual was recast with a Buddhist significance, both in form and content, in that all the verses and formulas used in the ritual are those extolling the virtues of the Triple Gem — the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha — and of the Buddhist deities. It is these spiritual qualities that are invoked to bring redress. The entire ritual is thus made subservient to Buddhism.
The ceremony begins after paying homage to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Even during the course of the ceremony this homage is paid at important junctures. The majority of the stanzas recited as benedictory verses by the artist extol the virtues of the Triple Gem or refer to the Buddha’s previous existences as a Bodhisatta. The verbal part of the entire ritual consists mainly of the recitation of these verses and the pronouncement of the blessing: “By the power of those virtues let the evil influence of the planets disappear.” It is believed that this kind of pronouncement of blessings becomes effective only if they are made at such an elaborate ceremony like bali. As in the case of the pirit ceremony described earlier, the spiritual qualities of the Buddha are regarded as superior to any worldly powers like those of the planets and stars as in the present instance, and consequently the ceremonial and ritualistic pronouncement of those qualities is believed to counteract those evil forces. Those propitiatory recitations also include the panegyrics (stotras) praising those planetary deities.
The preparation for the bali ceremony takes a day or two. Plantain stems, tender coconut leaves, coconut and arecanut racemes, powdered resin, limes, betel, torches made by wrapping clean rags around dry reeds (vilakku and pandam), coconut oil, flowers of different colors, and burnt offerings are among the main items needed. Plastic clay and reeds will be needed in large quantities to cast the bali figures. Life-size images of the planetary deities are moulded from these and painted beautifully in bright colors. Each planetary deity has its own dress, colors, diagram (mandala), support (vahana), weapon, etc. It is the nine planets (navagraha) that are generally propitiated: the sun (ravi), moon (candra), Mars (kuja), Mercury (budha), Jupiter (guru), Venus (sukra), Saturn (sani), and Rahu and Ketu, the ascending and the descending nodes of the moon respectively. When everything is ready, with the bali figures propped up leaning against a wall and the patient seated by a side facing the figures, the chief bali artist starts the proceedings by taking the Five Precepts and reciting a few benedictory stanzas while the drummers start drumming. This takes place in the evening. After these preliminaries it is more or less customary for the chief artist to retire to the side, while one or two of his assistants would appear on the scene to perform the more vigorous part of the ritual, consisting mainly of dancing and reciting.
The dancing artist wears an attractive and colorful dress consisting of white tights, a red jacket adorned with white beads, anklets, pads of jingling bells around his calves, and an elaborate headdress. In one hand he takes a pandama or lighted torch adequately fed with coconut oil. While reciting formulas and dancing to the beat of the drum, he throws handfuls of powdered resin into the burning pandama, setting up flares of flames which are regarded as very powerful in driving away the invisible evil spirits (bhuta). In addition to the virtues of the Triple Gem, his recitation would also include legends and anecdotes taken from the Buddha’s and Bodhisatta’s lives. Sometimes references to previous Buddhas are also made. Planetary deities are eulogized and requested to stop troubling the patient.
Coconut-oil lamps, an incense burner, water pots with full-blown coconut racemes (pun-kalas) are among the items inevitably found on the scene. Offerings done on altars made of plantain trunks and tender coconut leaves will also be found. A number of such altars called pideni-tatu may be set up; these are for the departed kinsmen of the family (nati-peta) who are expected to stop harassing the living after receiving these offerings, which generally consist of rice, seven selected curries cooked together (hat-maluwa), burnt offerings (pulutu), colored flowers, betel leaves, five kinds of seeds, etc. A live cock, with its legs tied together so that it cannot run about, is placed in a corner as an offering to the evil spirits. This is a kind of scapegoat, for all the evil influences of the patient are supposed to be transferred to this bird, which is released on the following morning. The ceremonies actually end early in the morning when the artists carry the clay images (bali figures) and the altars of offerings or pideni-tatu and leave them at the cross-roads that the evil spirits who give trouble are believed to frequent.


Tovil or “devil-dancing” is another ritualistic healing ceremony that primarily belongs to folk religion. As in the case of the bali ceremony, here too many Buddhist elements have crept in and it has become a ceremony purporting to fulfill, at the popular level, the socio-religious needs of the simple rural Buddhists.
Tovil is essentially a demonic ritual mainly exorcistic in character, and hence a healing ceremony. In its exorcist form it is meant to curb and drive away any one or several of the innumerable hosts of malevolent spirits, known as yakkhas, who are capable of bringing about pathological states of body and mind. Petas or departed spirits of the malevolent type, referred to as mala-yakku (mala = dead) or mala-peta, are also brought under the exorcist power of tovil. While some of these could be subdued by the chanting of pirit (described earlier), there are some for whom methods of a more drastic type have to be adopted. The most popular of such methods is the tovil ceremony.
As was pointed out earlier in relation to rituals in general, tovil is also an important aspect of folk religion that has been adopted by the Sinhala Buddhists. In the case of tovil too, religious sanction is conferred on folk-religious elements that have crept into normative Buddhism, supplementing, as it were, whatever is lacking in it to satisfy the religious needs of the masses. The Buddha is the chief of living beings, who include the yakkhas and other related non-human beings that figure in tovil. Although they have the power to make their victims ill in various ways — such as by possession, gaze, etc.— they have to leave them once propitiatory offerings of food, drink, etc., are made to them. Even the mere mention of the Buddha’s virtues is enough to frighten them. Moreover, the chief of the yakkhas, Vessavana (Vesamuni), is one of the four regents of the universe (maharaja) and as such a devoted follower of the Buddha. The ordinary yakkhas that trouble human beings have to obey his commands. Thus, in all rituals connected with tovil, it is in the name of the Buddha and Vessavana that the yakkhas are commanded to obey the orders of the exorcist. And in the rich folklore that deals with tovil, there are many anecdotes that connect every ritual or character with some Buddha of the past or with some Buddhist deity.

The Atanatiya Ritual

It is of interest to find a purely Buddhist form of an exorcist ritual that has been practiced by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka from very early times. This is the recital of the Atanatiya Sutta (of the Digha Nikaya) in order to exorcise an evil spirit that has taken possession of a person. The commentary to the sutta (DA.iii, 969), dating at least as far back as the time of Buddhaghosa (c. 6th century A.C.) or even earlier, gives a detailed description of how and when to recite it. According to this description, first the Metta, Dhajagga, and Ratana Suttas should be recited. If the spirit does not leave by such recital, the Atanatiya Sutta is to be recited. The bhikkhu who performs the recital should not eat meat or preparations of flour. He should not live in a cemetery, lest the evil spirits get an opportunity to harass him. From the monastery to the patient’s house, he should be conducted under an armed guard. The recitation of the paritta should not be done in the open. Thoughts of love for the patient should be foremost in the reciter’s mind. During the recital too he should be under armed guard. If the spirit still refuses to leave, the patient should be taken to the monastery and the recital performed in the courtyard of the dagaba.
Many preliminary rites are recommended before such a recital. These include getting the patient to offer a seat to the bhikkhu who is to recite the paritta, the offering of flowers and lamps to the dagaba, and the recitation by the bhikkhu of a set of benedictory stanzas, called (Maha)-mangala-gatha. A full assembly of the deities should also be summoned. The person possessed should be questioned as to his name, by which is implied the identity of the spirit who has taken possession of him. Once the name is given, the spirit, but visibly the patient, should be addressed by that name. It should be told that the merits of offering incense, flowers, alms, etc. are all transferred to him and that the mangala-gatha just referred to have been recited in order to appease him (pannaharatthaya: as a gift) and that he should therefore leave the patient in deference to the Sangha (bhikkhusangha-garavena). If the spirit still refuses to leave, the deities should be informed of his obstinacy and the Atanatiya Paritta should be recited after declaring that as the spirit does not obey them, they are carrying out the order of the Buddha.
It is significant that this is a purely Buddhist ritual of considerable antiquity performed on lines similar to those in tovil. But the difference between the two should also be noted. When tovil is performed to cure a person possessed by a spirit, the spirit is ordered to leave the patient after accepting the offering of food and drink (dola-pideni). But in the case of the Atanatiya ritual, it is the merits earned by making offerings to the Buddha that are transferred to the spirit. Another significant difference is that the Atanatiya recital, in keeping with its purely Buddhist spirit, is much milder and more restrained than its tovil counterpart. The latter, however, is much more colorful and theatrical owing to its complex and essentially secular character. From the purely curative aspect, too, there is another attractive feature in tovil: when the spirit leaves the patient it does so leaving a sign of its departure, like breaking a branch of a tree, making a sound like a hoot, etc. It is perhaps because of these attractive features that tovil has become more popular in the island, replacing the truly Buddhist ceremony of the Atanatiya recital.
Nowadays in Sri Lanka, tovil has become the most popular form of cure adopted for spirit possession as well as other pathological conditions consequent on this. When a person is ill and medical treatment does not respond, the suspicion arises that it is due to some influence of an evil spirit. The person to be consulted in such a case is the exorcist known as kattadiya or yakadura or yaddessa who would discover and identify the particular evil spirit causing the disease and perform the appropriate tovil. There are also certain forms of tovil performed as pregnancy rituals (e.g., rata-yakuma) and others as means of eradicating various forms of evil influences like the evil eye, evil mouth, etc. (e.g., gara-yakuma).
The devil-dancers start their ceremony by first worshipping the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, as in the case of the bali ceremony. The yakkhas — who constitute one of the main classes of malevolent spirits placated in devil-dancing — are believed to become satisfied with the offerings made by people through tovil and cease harassing them. The yakkhas like Riri, Sanni, Kalukumaraya, Suniyan, Mahasohon, Maru, etc. are some of the main spirits placated. There are eighteen main yakkhas in this category, each representing a particular kind of illness, and in tovil these demons are represented by the devil-dancers themselves, who wear their specific masks and other apparel in keeping with the traditional forms ascribed to these spirits. It is believed that by dancing, chanting, and acting the part of the demons after assuming their likenesses through masks and other paraphernalia, the demons possessing the patient would leave him. The sound waves created by the drum-beat and the chanting of stanzas accompanied by rhythmic dancing in keeping with these sounds are all performed to a set pattern traditionally laid down.
The collective effect of the ceremony is believed to cure the patient’s illness. Thus this dancing in tovil is a therapeutic ritual. The impersonation of the demon by the dancer is regarded as tantamount to the actual presence of the demon who becomes placated through offerings, recitations, chanting, miming, etc. When the spirits are threatened and asked to leave the patient, they are asked to do so under the command and in the name of the Buddha.
The ceremony known as rata-yakuma is performed to make barren women conceive, or for the pre-natal care of pregnant women, and to ensure the safe delivery of children. One of the episodes mimetically performed by the exorcist in this ceremony shows how barren women, according to a Buddhist legend preserved among the Sinhala people, offer cloths to the past Buddha Dipankara, the fourth in the line of twenty-eight Buddhas accepted by Theravada Buddhists; they obtain children through the merits of the act. Among the rituals specially connected with women may be mentioned those devil-dancing ceremonies that invoke the yakkha called Kalukumaraya in Sinhala. He is very often associated with another group of yakkhas called rata-yakku, whose leader is a female named Riddi-bisava. Another pregnancy ritual that deserves mention here is the one known as kalas-tabima (lit. setting apart a pot). When the first signs of pregnancy appear in a woman, a new clay pot is filled with certain ingredients and kept apart with the solemn promise that once the child is safely delivered a tovil will be performed. The ritual known as hat-adiya (seven steps) in the tovil ceremony called suniyam-kapima, signifies the seven steps the Bodhisatta Siddhattha is said to have taken just after he was born.
Two important facts that emerge from this brief description of tovil is the theatrical value present in these rituals and the way in which religious sanction has been obtained for their adoption by the Buddhists.

Goddess Pattini

The large number of rituals and ceremonies connected with the goddess Pattini also come under Buddhist practices. This goddess, believed to be of South Indian origin, has become the most popular female deity of the Sinhala Buddhists (see below, pp. 65-66). While Hindu goddesses like Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Kali are also worshipped by the Buddhists, only Pattini has separate abodes among the Buddhists. The most important of the rituals connected with Pattini is the gam-maduwa, which is an all-purpose ceremony. As this ceremony is usually held after the harvest by offering the first portion of paddy harvested, this is also a ceremony of first-fruit offerings. A gam-maduwa has many interludes dramatized mainly from rich legendary lore about the goddess Pattini. Kohomba-kankariya, or the ritual of the god Kohomba, is a ceremony similar to the gam-maduwa but performed more as an expiatory ritual.
Two other ceremonies of this type are pan-madu and puna-madu. All these are different forms of the same type of ritual with slight differences. They are generally referred to as devol-madu or occasions for the propitiation of the gods. The general purpose of such devol-madu is the attainment of immunity from disease and evil influences and the achievement of success, especially agricultural, for the entire village. A point that is sociologically important is that as they are big communal gatherings they also fulfill the social needs of the village folk. As they are performed in public places to bless the community as a whole and turn out to be social get-togethers, they bear a corporate character. When it is decided that such a ceremony should be held, all the village folk would forget their differences and work together to make it a success. Further, while it mainly serves as a ritual to propitiate the deities, it is a form of entertainment as well. Serving as it does the socio-religious needs of the masses, it becomes a big social event for the entire village.


Gara-demons (gara-yakku (plural);-yaka (singular)) are a group of demons twelve in number whose female aspects are called the Giri goddesses. Their chief is called Dala-raja who is represented as having three hooded cobras over his head, ear-ornaments, two protruding tusks, and a torch in each hand. When referred to in the singular as gara-yaka it is he that is intended and when performing the ritual it is the mask pertaining to him that is generally used as representing the group. These demons are not inimical to humans but are regarded as removing various kinds of uncleanliness and evil influences. Accordingly it is customary among the Sinhala Buddhists to perform the ritual called gara-yak-natuma (dance of the gara-yakku) at the end of religious ceremonies like annual peraheras, tovil ceremonies, etc. This is to ward off what is called vas-dos in the terminology of the folk religion, the effects of evil-eye, evil mouth, evil thoughts, etc. The malicious influences of these evil forces have to be eliminated before the participants return to their normal activities. And for this it is these demons that have to be propitiated. Accordingly, they are invited to come and take away their prey, promising not to harm the participants thereafter. A dancer impersonates the gara-yaka by wearing the appropriate mask just referred to and in the dialogue that takes place between him and another dancer, he promises to comply with the request if certain things are given to him. These include drinks, food, sweets, and money. These items are given and he departs in peace. The ceremony is held annually at the Vishnu Devalaya in Kandy after the annual Esala Perahera. It goes on for one week from the last day of the Perahera and is referred to as vali-yak-natuma.

Worship of Devas 

Deva Worship

Besides the ceremonies and rituals like pirit, sanghika-dana, kathina, etc., that can be traced in their origin to the time of the Buddha himself, there is another popular practice resorted to by the average Sri Lankan Buddhist which cannot be traced to early Buddhism so easily. This is deva-worship, the worship of deities, in what are popularly called devalayas or abodes dedicated to these deities. This practice cannot be described as totally un-Buddhistic, yet at the same time it does not fall into the category of folk religious practices like bali and tovil adopted by popular Buddhism.
The word deva, meaning “god” or “deity” in this context, signifies various classes of superhuman beings who in some respects are superior to ordinary human beings through their birth in a higher plane. As such, they are capable of helping human beings in times of difficulty. There is also another class of such superior beings who were originally extraordinary human beings. After their death, they have been raised to the level of gods and are worshipped and supplicated as capable of helping in times of need. These are the gods by convention (sammuti-deva) or glorified human heroes like the Minneriya Deviyo, who was glorified in this manner in recognition of his construction of the great Minneriya Tank at Polonnaruwa, or God Vibhishana, one of the four guardian deities of Sri Lanka. Both these categories of deities are, however, subject to the samsaric laws pertaining to birth and death. Thus it is seen that deva-worship is based on the theory that a superior being can help an inferior being when the latter needs such help. In addition to their role as helpers in need, an additional duty ascribed to the devas is the safeguarding of the Buddha-sasana, i.e., the Buddhist religion. This also has its origin in the story of the Buddha himself when the four divine regents of the universe mounted guard over him and helped on various occasions of the Bodhisatta’s life from his conception onwards. The benevolence of the deities is also extended to the protection of the faithful followers of the Buddha’s teachings as exemplified by Sakka, the good Samaritan in many Buddhist stories.
In Sri Lanka there are four deities regarded as the guardians of the Buddha-sasana in the island: Vishnu, Saman, Kataragama, and Vibhishana. Although Vishnu is originally a Hindu god, the Buddhists have taken him over as a Buddhist deity, referring to him also by the localized designation Uppalavanna. And so are Siva, specially under the name Isvara, and Ganesha under the name Ganapati or the more popular appellation Gana-deviyo. In the devala-worship the devotees make offerings to these deities and solicit their help for special purposes, especially in their day-to-day problems. A noteworthy feature in this practice is the presence of a mediator between the deity and the devotee, a priest called kapurala, or kapu-mahattaya or simply kapuva, the equivalent of the Hindu pusari. This figure has been copied from South Indian Hindu practices, for even in North India the devotees appeal directly to these higher powers without the help of such an intermediary.
By devala offering is meant the offering of food and drink as well as gifts of cloth, coins, gold, and silver often accompanied by eulogies addressed to the particular resident deity and recited by the kapurala. In many Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka there are devalayas dedicated to various deities. Devala-worship of this type is a ritual that has gained popularity among the local Buddhists since the Polonnaruwa period (12th century). In the present day it has acquired a vital place in the religious life of the Buddhist masses. This is one of the aspects by which the “great tradition” of Nikaya Buddhism has been supplemented by popular elements. This shows that if Buddhism is to prevail as a living force among all classes of its adherents, it has to make provision for the popular demands related to the day-to-day life of the common populace. It is customary for many Sri Lankan Buddhists to visit a devalaya of one of the deities and make a vow that if the problem at hand (i.e., illness, enemies, etc.) is solved, they will make an offering to the deity concerned. Offerings are made even without such a special request. Whatever the case may be, this practice has become a ritual of propitiation through the kapuralas.
The main duties of the kapuralas are to look after the devalayas in their charge, to perform the prescribed rituals, and to offer in the inner shrine the offerings brought by devotees. The kapurala is given a fee for his services. Once the ritual is over, a part of the offerings is given back to the devotee for him to take home and partake of as having a sacramental value. The offerings normally consist of milk-rice, coconuts, betel, camphor, joss-sticks, fruits, along with flowers, garlands, flags, etc. All these are arranged in an orderly manner in a basket or tray and handed over respectfully to the kapurala, who takes it inside and offers it at the statue of the main deity inside the inner room. The devotees wait outside with clasped hands while the kapurala makes his pleadings on their behalf.
The statement he recites, called yatikava in Sinhala, is a panegyric of the deity concerned and it constitutes a humble and respectful request to bring succour to the devotee in his particular predicament. After this the kapurala emerges from the inner shrine room and blesses the devotees by using his thumb to place on their forehead a mark of a paste made from saffron, sandalwood, and other ingredients. This mark, the symbol of sanctification, is known as the tilaka.
This form of ritualistic propitiation of deities is a clear adaptation of the Hindu system where the very same method is followed, though more elaborately.

The Gods

Kataragama. Devalayas dedicated to the different deities are scattered all over the island. God Kataragama (Skanda) in southern Sri Lanka is by far the most popular, as he is considered to be the most powerful deity capable of granting the requests of the worshipper. It is for this reason that he has acquired territorial rights throughout the island. Devalayas dedicated to him are found in many places in the island, some of which are maintained by the Hindus. Ganesha. The elephant-shaped god Ganesha, regarded as the god of wisdom and the remover of obstacles, is also very popular among the Buddhists under the names Ganapati or Gana-deviyo. He is worshipped as the chief of obstacles (Vighnesvara) because it is believed that he is responsible for creating and removing obstracles. He does this through troops of inferior deities or demi-gods considered as attendants of Siva, present almost everywhere, who are under his command. It is in this sense that he is called Gana-pati (chief of hosts), which is the epithet popular among the Buddhists. The devalayas dedicated to him are mostly run by the Hindus. The Buddhists worship him either through his statues, found in many Buddhists temples, or by visiting the Hindu kovils dedicated to him. As the god of wisdom and of learning, he is propitiated at the time a child first reads the alphabet. As the chief of obstacles, as their creator as well as remover, the Hindus begin their devala-ritual by making the first offering to him.
Another popular aspect of his worship in some parts of Sri Lanka can be observed along the main roads, especially in the North-Central Province, where his statue is placed near trees and propitiated by travelers so that they may have a safe journey. The propitiation usually consists of breaking a coconut in his name, offering a coin (pandura), etc.
Natha. Natha is purely a Buddhist god, apparently the local counterpart of the all-compassionate Mahayana Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. He is referred to in Sri Lanka by the abbreviated form Natha. His cult, as that of Natha, had become quite popular during the Kotte period (14th and 15th centuries), while references to him are found as early as the 9th and 10th centuries as shown by archaelogical evidence. The center of the cult was Totagamuwa near Hikkaduwa in the Galle District. Two of the more ancient devalayas dedicated to this deity are found at Kandy and at Vagiriya. The premises of the Kandy devalaya, opposite the Temple of the Tooth, are considered especially lucky and sacred, for the important royal rites like choosing a name for the king, putting on the royal sword, etc., were held there. It was Natha’s all-pervading compassion that seems to have been appealed to by the local devotees. Vishnu. The important Hindu god Vishnu has also assumed a special Buddhist significance in the island. He is identified with the god Uppalavanna of the Mahavamsa, to whom Sakka, the king of the gods, is said to have entrusted the guardianship of Sri Lanka at the request of the Buddha before his passing away. This god is said to have arrived in the island to fulfill this mission. The name Uppalavanna means “the color of the blue water-lily.” As Vishnu is of the same color, Uppalavanna became identified with Vishnu, and in the wake of the Mahavamsa tradition, he became, as Vishnu, the protector of the Buddha-sasana in Sri Lanka. The calculated omission of the name Vishnu in the Mahavamsa in this connection may be viewed as an attempt at total localization of the divinity with a view to harmonize him with the cultural fabric of the island. His main shrine is at Devinuwara (Dondra), at the southern tip of the island, where an annual Esala (July-August) festival is held in his honor. If the identification is correct his cult can be traced to the earliest phase of the history of the island and has been popular up to the present day.
Pattini. Goddess Pattini, referred to above (see p.59), is prominent as the most popular female Buddhist divinity; she has her devalayas scattered throughout the country. Her cult goes back at least to the second century A.C. The then ruler, King Gajabahu, is said to have introduced the worship of this divinity into the island from South India. The legend about her life is told in the Tamil poem Silappadikaram. According to the myths current in the island about her, she had seven incarnations, being born seven times from water, the tusk of an elephant, a flower, a rock, a fire (or peak), cloth, and a mango. Hence she is designated as sat-pattini, sat meaning seven. There are colorful stories woven around these births. The story about her unswerving fidelity to her fickle husband Kovalan (or Palanga) in her birth as Kannagi, is quite popular among the local Buddhists as attested by the existence of many Sinhala literary works dealing with the story (e.g., Vayantimalaya, Pattinihalla, Palanga-halla, etc.).
Her favors are sought especially at times of pestilences like chicken pox, measles, etc. and also by women who desire children. It is customary for the Sri Lankan Buddhists to visit her devalaya and worship her with offerings after recovery from infectious diseases. The banishment of evil influences and the attainment of prosperity in general and good harvests are other purposes behind the ceremonies performed in her honor. She also plays an important part in the ceremonies connected with the offering of first fruits.
Devalayas dedicated to her are found in many parts of the island, the one at Navagamuwa, about fifteen miles from Colombo on the old Avissavella Road, being the most important. The sanctity of this place seems to go back to the time of King Gajabahu.
Sakka. Sakka, the king of the gods, has been an important figure in the Buddhist affairs of Sri Lanka. Tradition connects him with the Buddha himself in connection with the landing of Vijaya and his followers in the island in the 6th century B.C. On this occasion, at the Buddha’s request, Sakka is said to have entrusted Vishnu with the guardianship of Buddhism in the island. It was Sakka too who sought arahant Mahinda and requested him to come over to the island when the time became opportune for its conversion (Mhv. xiii,15,16,17).
Saman. Another important deity in the island is Mahasumana, Sumana or Saman, the guardian or the presiding deity of Sri Pada mountain or Sumanakuta (Adam’s Peak), which the Buddhists treat as sacred on account of its bearing the impression of the Buddha’s left foot, which he left on his third visit to the island. (Mhv.i,77ff.).
God Saman is recorded as having met the Buddha on the latter’s first visit to the island when he visited Mahiyangana to drive away the yakkhas. Saman became a stream-entrant (sotapanna) after listening to the Buddha, who gave him a handful of hairs with which he erected the dagaba at Mahiyangana (Mhv.i,33). He is regarded as the chief deity of the area surrounding the sacred mountain as well as of the hill-country in general. Accordingly his main shrine is at Ratnapura, where an annual festival is held in his honor.
Vibhishana. Another deity, somewhat similar to Saman, is Vibhishana, who is regarded as the brother of the pre-historic King Ravana of Sri Lanka. His main shrine is at Kelaniya, as a part of the famous Buddhist temple there. Dadimunda. Another deity who likewise came into prominence during the Kandyan period (17th and 18th centuries) is Dadimunda (Devata Bandara) who, according to the prevalent tradition, landed at Dondra (Devinuvara) in South Sri Lanka from South India. He proceeded to Alutnuvara in the Kegalla District, taking up permanent residence there in a temple, which he himself got constructed. This is the chief shrine of this deity and here too an annual festival is held. He is regarded as a general of Vishnu and accordingly, at the main Vishnu shrines in the island, he also has his shrine on a side (e.g., Dondra, Kandy, etc.). Another interesting tradition says that he was the only deity who did not run away in fear at the time of Bodhisatta Siddhattha’s struggle with Mara. While all the other deities took flight in fright, he alone remained fearless as the Bodhisatta’s only guardian. He is portrayed in the attire of a Kandyan chief with his special attribute, a walking stick (soluva). His Kandyan dress symbolizes his suzerainty over the Kandyan area.
Huniyan Deviyo. The patron deity of the sorcerers in Sri Lanka is Huniyan or Suniyan, who has been promoted from the status of a demon to that of a deity. He is also regarded as the deity presiding over a village area bounded by its boundaries (gam-kotuwa), in which role he is designated as gambhara-deviyo (deity in charge of the village). In many of the composite devalayas he too has his shrine, the one at Lunava, about seven miles from Colombo close to the Galle Road, near the Lunava railway station, being his chief devalaya.
Besides these deities so far enumerated there are many other minor figures who are too numerous to be mentioned here. What is important is that in the case of all these deities, the method of propitiation and worship is the same as explained earlier and every such deity is in charge of a particular aspect of life. And all of them are faithful Buddhists, extending their respective powers not only to the Buddha-sasana but also to those who follow it faithfully. As Buddhists, none of these is regarded as superior or even remotely equal to the Buddha. They all are followers of the Buddha, who has transcended the round of rebirth (samsara), while they are still within samsara, hoping to achieve release from it by following the Buddha’s Teaching.

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