notes - Buddhism in Sri Lanka
A Short History
Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 236 b.e. (cir. 250 BCE) and became the national religion of the Sinhalese from that date. The story of Buddhism in Sri Lanka over the past two millennia has been a story of rise and fall and yet Sri Lanka has been a stronghold of the Buddhist faith from the beginning of its introduction to the island.
Note: Due to the nature of this book, namely a historical account based on scripture, this summary follows the structure of the chapters and also a lot of quotes are taken directly from the text for the summary.
“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.” This brief summary of the history of Asoka is the official version of what Buddhists believe, yet it is important to note that Asoka was indeed a historical figure and that he did promote Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
After the conversion of Emperor Asoka, Buddhism flourished under his patronage. The first version of the canon was unified and written. “ The Third Buddhist Council [was held] 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.” Emperor Asoka build 84,000 stupas as legend has it. He did provide for the needs of the monks and it was after he came into power that Buddhism became a widely accepted religion in India and other parts of Asia. “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.” It was his son and daughter that brought Buddhism to the island of Sri Lanka.
Asoka’s son, Mahinda, who had joined the sanga undertook the mission to bring Buddhism to Sri Lanka at 32 years of age.He waited until Mutasiva, the old ruler died, and his son Devaanampiya Tissa had become king. “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."
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, eight miles east of Anuraadhapura met the king. ‘The first meeting of the king of Lanka and the thera Mahinda is described in the chronicles of Sri Lanka. […] [When the king] 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. […] 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[…]. Mahinda then had a conversation with the king, and realizing that the king was intelligent enough to comprehend the Dhamma, preached the . At the end of the discourse the king and his retinue of forty thousand people embraced the new faith. “
Mahinda and the other theras arrived at the palace, were received with great honors and hospitality and started preaching to the king the Devaduuta Sutta (Majjhima Nikaaya, No. 130). To accommodate the large crowdm seats were prepared for the theras in the Nandana-garden in the royal park, where Mahinda preached the Baalapandita Sutta, (Majjhima Nikaaya, No. 129).[…] “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.”
Because many women of Sri Lanka, headed by Queen Anulaa, desired to enter the Order of disciples, 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.”
“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. […] 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.”
“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.”
“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.” The king was a great supporter of Buddhism and supported the introduction of Buddhism “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 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. “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.”
“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 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.
After the death of king Uttiiya, Tamil foreigners invaded and this slowed the progress of Buddhism. It was a young prince from Maagama of the southeastern principality of Ruhuna, named Abhaya, known as Dutthagaamani, who restored the religion of Buddhism and the rule of the Singalese. Dutthagaamani reigned for twenty-four years. The Ruvanveli-saaya, the most celebrated stupa in Sri Lanka, was his greatest work, also he erected the Lohapaasaada, "the Brazen Palace" for the use of the monks and Mirisaveti-daagaba was another of his works.
The Singhalese due to the adoption of Buddhism early on abandoned the caste system. “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.” During this period of peace thousands of men and women entered the Sangha and Buddhism flourished. “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 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. “
“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. […] 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.”
“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.” In 98 BCE starts the period of reign of Vattagaamani Abhaya, also known as Valagambahu, a period of Tamil invasions and unrest and disastrous to Buddhism, especially because of the famine in the country that caused many thousands of monks and laymen to die 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.”
“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.”
Theravada was established in Sri Lanka at the time of EmperorAsoka by Mahinda Thera, “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.” Due to famines though monks would perish and these traditions were lost. So the Sangha decided to commit the teachings in writing. “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.” This became the first book of the teachings of Buddha.
The school of the Vaitulyavaada, was controlled by the king Vohaarika Tissa (214-36 a.c.) and suppressed yet it reappeared a few years later, in the time of King Gothaabhaya (Meghavanna Abhaya, (253-266 a.c.). Again they were suppressed and their books destroyed. Yet the doctrine was firmly established 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.”
“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.”
From time to time new unorthodox doctrines would come from India, yet they did not have a great effect in the mainstream Buddhism. There is little mention of other heresies from that time until the time of the Chola.
The schools of Mahayana and tantra were considered heretical in Sri Lanka Theravaadin society.
“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. 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. […] 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 Ānanda, 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.msaused 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 refers to the Vaitulyavaadins as Mahaasuññavaadins. The philosophy of the Mahaayaana as expounded by the great Mahaayaana teacher Naagaarjuna was Suunyavaada. The book called Dharmadhaatu, which was brought to Lanka in the reign of Silaakaala, is described in the chronicles as a Vaitulyan book. 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 Sangrahadescribes 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.”
One of the most important Buddha relics in Sri Lanka is the Buddha Tooth relic, the left eye tooth, that arrived around 311 AC during the time of King Sirimeghavanna, son and successor of King Mahaasena. It has been a national treasure and protected through the many invasions and attempts to destroy it over the centuries. The temples that have been built to house the holy relic have been pillaged often. Today it is enshrined in golden caskets in the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Daladaa Maaligaawa) in Kandy.
“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.”
Buddhaghosa Thera came to Sri Lanka in the reign of King Mahaanaama (410-432). “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-knownVisuddhimagga. 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 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. The compilation of the Pali Atthakathaa (commentaries) by Buddhaghosa Thera is an important event in the annals of Sri Lanka. “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 AAgamas 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 aacariyaa (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, theSumangalavilaasinii on the Diigha Nikaaya, the Papañca-suudanii on the Majjhima Nikaaya, the Saaratthappakaasinii on the Samyutta Nikaaya, and theManorathapuura.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, theSammohavinodanii 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.”
There are also two other important works that were composed after the time of Buddhaghosa, the Diipava.msa and the Mahaava.msa, the Sri Lanka chronicles or the Pali chronicles.
“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 Mahaava.msa, […] 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.”
“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.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.”
In Sri Lanka there was a long period of warfare and political instability from about the middle of the fifth century a.c. until the third quarter of the eleventh century a.c. and this dampened the progress of Buddhism in the island.
“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.”
It was with the advent in the year 1070 of King Vijayabaahu I who succeeded in defeating the Cholas and becoming the king of Sri Lanka that Buddhism again found some favorable ground.
King Paraakramabaahu the Great (1153-1186) ascended the throne and his reign marked a period of revival and purification of Buddhism.
Buddhaghosa Thera compiled the Pali commentaries to many of the texts of the Tipitaka in the early part of the fifth century. Buddhaghosa did not finish that task in his lifetime, and others completed commentaries to the rest of the texts of the Pali Canon. “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 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 nameParamatthadiipanii: Upasena Thera compiled the Saddhammappajjotikaa on the Niddesa. Mahaanama Thera compiled the Saddhammappakaasinii on the Patisambhidaamagga, and Buddhadatta Thera compiled the Madhuratthavilaasinii on the Buddhava.msa.”
After the death of Paraakramabaahu the Great there was a new period of unrest. Nissankamalla, who reigned for nine years (1187-96) was a great benefactor of Buddhism. The decades afterwards were very destructive to Buddhism and traditions, relics, books, due to political unrest, warfare, foreign abusive rulers. Relics and libraries were destroyed, monks and believers persecuted.
Paraakramabaahu II ruled from Dambadeniya from 1236, 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 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.
‘A large number of Sinhalese works on religious subjects too belongs to this period. TheSaddharmaratnaavalii, 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 SinhalaBodhiva.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.’
During this period of Buddhist 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. 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 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.
‘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 political stability that was maintained by Paraakramabaahu II and his began to weaken by the end of the fifteenth century. By that time Lanka had lost most of its former glory, through constant attacks and economic problems. The Portuguese landed in Lanka in 1505, when Vira Paraakramabaahu VIII (1484-1508) was ruling at Kotte. They formed an alliance with the ruler and took a hold of the island. It is one of the darkest period for the island. The Portuguese were not kind and they attacked Buddhism in order to promote their own religion, Roman Catholicism.
Another enemy of Buddhism became King Raajasinha I (1581-1592), who was the son of Mayaadunne, a brother of Bhuvenekabaahu VI. He killed his father in his quest for power and when the Buddhist monks explained to him that his sin was too great to be absolved, he turned his rage against them and 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.”
This was the beginning of the recovery for Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Buddhism today flourishes in Sri Lanka.