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Buddhist Culture and Historical Survey

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Postgraduate Diploma in Buddhist Studies


Buddhist Culture and Historical Survey


Dr. T. Endo

Wednesday 4:00-5:00 PM.



Themes to be discussed (Total 30 hours):


1.      A general introduction to Buddhism (1 hour).

2.      The cultural milieu in which Buddhism arose in India in the 6th century B.C. (2hs).

3.      The First Buddhist Council: the circumstances that led to its holding soon after the MahŒparinibbŒna of the Buddha, etc. (2 hours).

4.      The Second Buddhist Council: the division of the Saºgha into two factions; MhŒdeva’s 5 points, etc. (2 hours).

5.      The Third Buddhist Council: its significance in the formation of the Pali Canon, the dispatch of Buddhist missionaries to different countries, etc. (2 hours).

6.      The Thera Mahinda’s role in the spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (2 hours).

7.      The Development of Buddhism during the period between the 3rd century and the 1st century B.C. in Sri Lanka: the role of King Du  hagŒmanī Abhaya in the spread and protection of Buddhism, etc. (2 hours).

8.      The Buddhist Saºgha during the time of King Va  agŒmaöī Abhaya: the committing of the Buddhist texts to writing, the establishment of the Abhayagiri monastery, etc. (2 hours).

9.      The importance of the PŒli commentarial literature as source-material for the study of TheravŒda Buddhism: a general survey on Buddhaghosa and the other commentators, etc. (2 hours).

10.  The spread of Buddhism in South-east Asia: Thailand, Burma, etc. (2 hours).

11.  The spread of Buddhism in Central Asia: the role of the Silk Routes for the spread of Buddhism, Buddhist art at Bamiyan, Khotan, etc. (2 hours).

12.  A survey of Buddhism in China (2 hours).

13.  A survey of Buddhism in Korea (1 hour).

14.  A survey of Buddhism in Japan (2 hours).

15.  Others (assignments, etc.).







1.   Dutt, Nalinaksha, Buddhist Sects in India, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 1998.

2.      Bapat, P.V. and others, eds. 2500 Years of Buddhism, New Delhi: The Publications Division; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1956.





Lecture 1 (Feb.22, 2006)


A General Introduction to Buddhism



       Buddhism, founded in the 6th century B.C., spread to different parts of Asia from the 3rd century B.C. by the King Asoka: South, Theravada Buddhism through the Sri Lanka to Thai, Burma, and Cambodia; North West, Non-Theravada Buddhism through the Silk Road to North India, Tibet, and eventually to China. In first century B.C. or A.D., Theravada and Early Mahayana scriptures were introduced into China. Buddhism arrived in Korea in the 4th century A.D. and finally reached to the far-east country, Japan, in the 6th century A.D.  It took, therefore, nearly 1,000 years to introduce Buddhism from India to Korea, and took 200 years from Korea to Japan.


       It’s better to use the term of Pali / Southern / Theravada Buddhism that indicates Buddhism prevailed in the countries like Sri Lanka, Thai, Burma, and Cambodia. The term Hinayana is not correct because it is created by Mahayana scholars indicated Sarvāstivāda sect which was part of Theravāda, but now no more exists. (Cf. Sarvāstivāda sect was separated from Theravāda through the logical arguments on the teachings about “time.” While the Theravādins emphasized the significance of the Present time, Sarvāstivādans insisted the validity of the three tenses; the past, present and future).


       How is it different to call “Buddhism in Sri Lanka” and “Sri Lankan Buddhism”? The term “Buddhism in Sri Lanka” implies teachings of the Buddha which is accepted and practiced by the people in any parts of the world. On the other hand, “Sri Lankan Buddhism” implies that Buddhist cultural practice, especially in rituals which we can find only in Sri Lanka. The term “Buddha” means only the founder of Buddhism while the “buddha” indicates any one who attains arahantship.



The Cultural Milieu in India in the 6th century B.C.



       The Siddhartha was born in India in the 6th century B.C. But we don’t know the exact date and year of his born because Indian culture did not concern of recording the correct date and time for the historical events. For them, the most important thing is whether or not the recorded ideas are “true to human experience. On the contrary, Chinese concerned of recording the exact time and place in which the historical events happened. The amount of historical certainty is clear only for the king Asoka who left abundant epitaphs. Besides him, there are not so many evidences for the historical events in India. Even the data in Pali Canon cannot guarantee the consistence of the events. For instance, in one of the Jātaka stories, when the Buddha got enlightenment, the Satan Māra said that he followed the prince Siddhartha for 7 years but he could not find any moments to attack him. The mention of 7 years in this text is different from what we know normally the prince’s 6 years of ascetic practice.


You must keep in your mind, therefore, from the early Buddhism the data in the texts is not always consistent and the interpretations are very different. This is the reason why Moggaliputta-Tissa compiled <Kathāvatthu> which is the Theravādin response to contradictory interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings. Another important Theravādin literature besides Tripitaka is <Milindapañha> which is the question and answer of Buddhist teachings between the king Milinda and the bhikkhu Nāgasena. 


Was the Buddha a social reformer? When we think of the caste system in 6 century B.C. in India, the Buddha’s teaching of human equality was admirable. Although there can be some arguments for the lack of his social consciousness of women’s rights, we can generally say that his approach was quite bold and praiseworthy. He was not totally conditioned by social environment of the time, but an independent thinker. He listened to others and respected their social conditions. He himself, however, was a great social reformer.



Lecture 2 (March 1, 2006)



       Examining the Buddhist terms we’ve already known helps us to trace the history of Buddhism. For incident, the terms bodhi or sambodhi indicated the Arahants including the Buddha who attained the final stage of realization. At time passed, however, the disciples made another term SammŒ-sambuddha in order to differentiate the Buddha’s attainment of final stage from other arahants’ attainments. Furthermore, they began to use epithets describing the Buddha such as devŒtideva (God of gods) in order to put him on the position of God or even beyond that. How come this kind of deification or glorification of the Buddha could happen?


       As we know, no sooner than his preaching started, the Buddha got 60 arahants and he sent them to spread Dhamma to different places. Buddhism was a missionary religion very from the beginning. Then, in some places, many people would learn and practice Dhamma properly and attained arahantship without seeing the Buddha in person. They would keep asking their teachers of who the Buddha is and in responding those questions naturally the disciples would develop the deification of the Buddha.


       In MahŒyŒna Buddhism the Stèpa worship was developed in the line of the deification of the Buddha. There were four worthy stages of the Stèpa worship: SammŒ-sambuddha, Pacceke Buddha who got enlightened but could not yet preach the Dhamma, Arahant, and Cakkavatti king (Universal king) who was endowed with good moral, intellect, and higher spirituality. We can note that only the last one is lay person and others are people who renounced the world. This practice of the Stèpa worship was only for lay people (UpŒsaka and UpŒsika). Bhikkhu and Bhikkhun´ were prohibited from building, maintaining and worshiping the Stèpa. This advice given by the Buddha himself in MahŒparinibbŒna Sutta had an effect on the practice of the Stèpa worship lead by the lay people. They built Stèpas, therefore, on the cross roads to which lay people could easily access from each directions. When they worshipped, some scriptures (Sètra, Suttas) should be recited. For this purpose, lay people also collected some sayings of the Buddha which were not compiled by Bhikkhus and Bhikkhun´s because they were not so significant for Bhikkhus and Bhikkhun´s. The Buddhist texts such as Buddhavamsa, Lalitavistara, Buddhacarita and MahŒvasta have sources of describing the life stories of the Buddha which were collected by lay people.


       The Buddha taught the Dhamma for 45 years and now we have 84,000 sètras. According to this number of the Buddha’s teaching, the king Asoka built 84,000 stèpas in different parts of India. Unfortunately we do not know where he stayed during those years of preaching. We know only for 25 years of his teaching places through the texts which begin with the famous sentence, “evaµ me sutaµ,” because after it usually mentioned of what place, what discourse was given, and sometimes mentioned of which year it was given. 


       When the Buddha was requested by Sahampati of what was the content of the enlightenment, he said about pa iccasamuppŒda (dependent co-arising, dependent origination, or Causality). This is the theory of cause and effect: “for anything to be, there must be cause. Without it, cannot be exist.” The Buddha might contemplate over and over on this truth for several days or even weeks (different between texts) after his enlightenment. On the way toward Benares which was about 250 km on foot, he might examine and re-examine his theory. Then he gave his first discourse called Dhammacakka pavattana Sutta to 5 bhikkhus.


       The last discourse of the Buddha was given called MahŒparinibbŒna Sutta. At his age of 80, the Buddha went back hometown. His last journey toward his hometown was described very emotionally: he was tired, sick, asking water and rest…This description indicates a significant fact that even the Buddha was subject to the physical suffering. He had a stomach ill and died by the last food he took which was not fit for his stomach condition. No matter the last food was a kind of pork or mushroom as the latter disciple insisted, the important implication of this story in the Buddhist early text is that the Buddha was a human being. His disciples more and more tried to deify and glorify him even in a small part of his life.


       There would be many incidents during his 45 years of teaching. When he formulated the Bhikkhu Sangha and Bhikkhun´ Sangha, there would be lots of contraventions between them. Even within the Bhikkhu Sangha some were not so happy with the Buddha himself. The famous one was his own cousin Devadatta who wanted to reverse against the Buddha. The Bhikkhu called SŒti proposed an intricate question of re-becoming (punabbhava), saying “what is that transmigrate from one to another when the person dies?” Then he insisted that the ViññŒöa carries all from the previous life to another. The Buddha answered him, “You are destroying my teaching.”


       According to the Buddha, there are three kinds of knowledge (tevijjŒ): First, Pubbe nivasanussati ñŒna means the remembrance of the former birth (past life). Second, Dibba-cakkhu means the divine eye which can see the particular kammas of former life that result the present being. Third, Asavakkhaya-ñŒna means extinction of all biases, that is knowledge of destruction of all defilements. While the first and second knowledge can be attained by anybody through meditation, the last one is remained only for arahants.   














Lecture 3 (March 8, 2006)


Tripi aka


       As we know, the Buddhist Canon consists of three baskets (Tipi aka): Sutta Pi aka, Vinaya Pi aka, and Abhidhamma Pi aka. There are five collections (NikŒya) in Sutta Pi aka:


1.      Dīgha-nikŒya: the collection of 34 texts which are relatively long in size.

2.      Majjhima-nikŒya: the collection of 152 texts which sizes are neither long nor short.

3.      Samyutta-nikŒya: texts which are put together without thinking of the length.

4.      Anguttara-nikŒya: texts which are arranged according to numerical order.

5.      Khuddaka-nikŒya: shortest texst in size. It includes the old texts such as Sutta nipŒta, Dhammapada, TheragŒthŒ and TherīgŒthŒ, as well as new texts like Buddhavamsa, CariyŒpitaka and ApadŒna. There are 15 texts in Sri Lanka, 18 in Burma, because they include texts like Milindapañha.    


How far can we trace back to the origin of those suttas? When and by who were they compiled? These questions remind us of the first Buddhist Council. After the Buddha got into the nibbŒna, his teachings were transmitted to the disciples orally until the first written texts took place in Sri Lanka in the first century B.C. The Buddhist Council, however, took place just after the Buddha’s death.



The first Buddhist Council



       Even during the Buddha was still alive, there were occasions that the sangha was threatened to be divided: The famous conflicts between two Bhikkhus in Kosambi and the Buddha’s own cousin Devadatta. After the Buddha passed away, therefore, the crisis of division of sangha or misunderstanding of the Dhamma increased. For instance, the Bhikkhu called Subhadda, who was one of the last disciple group of the Buddha, said in front of the Bhikkhus’ assembly who were mourning for the lose of the Buddha: “Now our master is not here, so we need not follow his instruction of what to do and what not to do any more. Bhikkhus should not be bothered by the Buddha any more.”


       When the most senior Bhikkhu MahŒkassapa heard of this Subhadda’s sentiments, he realized that the Buddha’s Dhamma will decline unless he did do something. He called, therefore, the meeting of the Bhikkhus in the intention of compiling two pi akas (Sutta and Vinaya). This first meeting came to be known as the first Buddhist Council. It is interesting to note that the motivation of the council was the anxiety of MahŒkassapa about the possible degeneration of the true Dhamma. The latter development of the future Buddha (Metteyya Buddha) theory also came out of that kind of sentiment. By the way, the MahŒkassapa became the leader of the first council due to his authority as the most senior Bhikkhu as well as the only disciple who received the Buddha’s own robe. (He was the dhutanga practice ascetic before became the disciple, and he continued his practice. One day he felt ashamed of wearing the newer robe than his master’s one, so he exchanged it with the Buddha. Latter, this accidental happening became a symbolic ceremony of the transmission of authority).


       Ananda was chosen to recite the teachings of the Buddha, at the first council, because he was the first attendant on the Buddha for 25 years. When the Buddha asked him, Ananda said that he would be very happy to be the first attendant on the Buddha, as long as some conditions are allowed. One of those conditions was that whatever discourse the Buddha teaches, it should be repeated to him. The Buddha agreed to do it. Thus Ananda was the appropriate person for reciting the teachings of the Buddha at the first council because he listened to the Buddha in the closest distance. Every sutta, therefore, was started with the phrase of “Evaµ me suttaµ” That means “thus have heard by me (Ananda).” 

Lecture 4 (March 15, 2006)



       There are different opinions about the date of parinibbŒna of the Buddha: It was about 483 B.C. according to PŒli sources; The German scholar H. Bechert insists on 400 B.C; In Mahayana tradition most people agree on 380 B.C. due to Chinese counting of the period mark which was put on the sutta texts every end of rainy season. When we consider that Mahayana sources know only the first and the third Buddhist councils and do not know about the second council of Theravada tradition, this year of 380 B.C. is very much supported because the second council of Mahayana tradition held 100 years after the Buddha’s death might be on the third century B.C. (The king Asoka’s time). But there is an exception in the Mahayana parts, the T’ien-t’ai school, which insists the theory of the degeneration of the True Dhamma (末法思想). According to that theory, the degeneration of Dhamma begins in 1055 A.D. and 1500 years after the Buddha’s death. Therefore it supports the year of 483 B.C., the Theravada sources.


The importance (significance) of determining the date of the Buddha’s death or birth is related to the world history such as Greek, Middle East, and China. As long as Buddhism is no more only Indian or south Asian religion, but an international religion, the comparison of it to other historical facts is unavoidable. It is also significantly related to the issue of arising time of Mahayana Buddhism in India. Another advantage is that if you know the date of the Buddha’s life clearly, you can easily separate the historical facts from the lots of mythological stories in the Buddhist texts.


Now we come back to our lesson of the first Buddhist Council, which held 3 months after the parinibbŒna of the Buddha. The purpose of the council was to compile two collections (Dhamma and Vinaya) as a guide of the Buddhists. But there were conflicts and different sentiments among the Bhikkhus before and after the council. We know that the motivation of holding the first council was from the Bhikkhu Subhadda’s comment. Now after complete the council, MahŒkassapa asked a Bhikkhu called Puraöa whether he would be satisfied with the collection. Puraöa answered, “I can follow the Dhamma of what I heard form the mouth of the Buddha, but not the collection that the council compiled.”[1]


In the first Buddhist council which was led by MahŒkassapa, two collections were successfully compiled: Dhamma by Ananda and Vinaya by UpŒli. 500 Bhikkhu Arahants were selected to attend the council and they confirmed the compilement by reciting together. Then we can have two questions on the first council: why was not any Bhikkhuni invited? And why not the lay people who got arahantship already? In fact, the Buddha gave numbers of names of people who got arahantship among all the groups. By these raising questions, we can see the nature of the first Buddhist council. It was a conservative Bhikkhu oriented council as they conducted the uposatha ceremony separately between Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis. This ill treatment of the lay people caused the sentiments and motivations of new movement and it eventually developed as Mahayana Buddhism.



Lecture 5 (March 22, 2006)



       Ānanda was selected not because he was the chief attendant of the Buddha, but because all the bhikkhus agreed that he was the first senior monk who heard and knew more suttas than others (then maybe later they put the story of his request for Buddha’s repetition of discourses to him). Ānanda could not attained arahantship during the Buddha was alive because he was too busy to attend on the Buddha, and more than that, he was too emotional (attached) to the Buddha. There are many mythical stories that how fast Ānanda attained arahantship when MahŒkassapa urged him to do it.


       There were five specialists who continue to memorize suttas (Suttantika) or vinayas: DighabhŒöakŒ, MajjhimabhŒöakŒ, SamyuttabhŒöakŒ, AnguttarabhŒöakŒ, and Vinayadhara. The specialist for KhuddakanikŒya was omitted. According to DighabhŒöakŒ, Ānanda went to attend the council alone on foot; but according to MajjhimabhŒöakŒ, he plunged into the earth and suddenly appeared to the people in the council. This different depict of Ānanda shows that even in Theravada tradition already glorification of arahants arose: so many such cases can be found in Tripi aka which is a mixture of early collections and later additions. This fact indicates that Tripi aka we have now is not that of the first council even though we believe that the core part of it would have been continued to us.


       By the way, in the first council, Ānanda was entrusted with a task to collect Suttas, and UpŒli was entrusted to Vinayas. The suttas started with the famous sentence “evaµ me suttaµ” (me denotes Ānanda) is followed by the second sentence which remarks of when the Buddha was living in such place and to whom his discourse was given. One scholar counted the numbers of city names in these kinds of sutta, and found that the VesŒla city was mentioned more than 1000 times and the RŒja gaha was also frequently mentioned. That means the Buddha was mainly preaching in the big towns than in the villages[2].


       As we saw already, there were no bhikkhunis in the first council because it was held on the uposatha day: pŒtimokkha held separately between bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. There were also lay people who got arahantship mentioned in Gahapati Samyutta. Originally the term Sangha included all four groups of Buddhists: bhikkhu, bhikkhuni, upŒsaka, and upŒsika. There was no significant difference between them in order to be arahant. The lay devotees merely had more duties as householder than monks: only in that sense bhikkhus and bhikkhunis had more advantages to attain arahantship. The later interpretation, however, insists that you must renounce the world in order to be arahant.


       Here we should note the Buddha’s purpose of creating the sangha which now means the organization of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. The Buddha’s intention was to make an ideal community to which anyone from the different casts could join equally and had more convenient atmosphere to practice the Dhamma in order to attain arahantship. There is a contradiction to understand of the Buddha’s position on the issue of bhikkhunis related to bhikkhus: on one hand he was the first person in Indian history to admit the capacity of woman (bhikkhuni) toward arahantship; but on the other hand, he followed the social norm prevailed, saying that even senior arahant bhikkhuni should vow to the youngest bhikkhu.


       Any way, the Buddha formed an ideal community, sangha. But even during he was still alive, there were many conflicts within the sangha as we mentioned before. When it happened, the bhikkhus had the Buddha as a consultant. After his death, however, the disciple had to count on Dhamma and Vinaya as their guidelines. So in the first council, five guardians of Suttas and Vinayas: UpŒli became a guardian of Vinayas, Ānanda of Dīgha-nikŒya, the pupils of SŒriputta of MajjhimanikŒya, MahŒkassapa of Samyu  anikŒya, and Anuruddha of Anguttara-nikŒya. Their own disciples have continued to keep the tasks of preserving and memorizing each sutta and vinaya up to the tripi aka which we have now. Therefore, the main teachings of the Buddha can be found among all different nikŒyas: 34 texts of dīgha-nikŒya; 154 texts of Majjhima-nikŒya; combine texts of Samyutta-nikŒya; and the numerically arranged texts of Anguttara-nikŒya.


       The Buddha taught the people according to their capacity of understanding the Dhamma: therefore even the same teachings were presented in different ways; he used a method of gradual teaching (Ānupubbīkatha). For example, when he taught the ordinary people about pa iccasamuppŒda, he explained that by doing dŒna and sīla they could be born in heaven (sagga). Here dŒna and sīla indicate the cause while sagga denotes the effect of it. In this way of dŒnakatha, sīlakatha and saggakatha, he did present the essential teaching to the ordinary people simply but very effectively.



Lecture 6 (March 29, 2006)



       The outcome of the first Buddhist council was the compilement of sutta pi aka and vinaya pi aka; but you cannot say that they are the same pi kaka as we have today. Certain suttas could be added by the Buddhists themselves later. We can find lots of evidence to support this fact:


For example, the end of the famous text MhŒparinibbŒna sutta in Dīgha-nikŒya clearly says that the Buddha’s body after cremation (relics) divided into 8 portions (a  hadoöa). And according to the commentary[3] on the MhŒparinibbŒna sutta, this reference to the division of relics into 8 portion was added in Sri Lanka. It means that after the MhŒparinibbŒna sutta in Dīgha-nikŒya was brought from India to Sri Lanka in the third century B.C. by the Thera Mahinda, it was subject to some sort of division by the bhikkhus of Sri Lanka. As we know, at that time the bhikkhus were belonging to the order of the MahŒvihara[4]. So later this portion was added to the text by the bhikkhus of MahŒvihara and what we have today is the result of that; not the exact portion of the text brought by the Thera Mahinda from India to Sri Lanka, but what we have today is the original portion brought from India plus some additions made in Sri Lanka. Therefore, you cannot say sutta pi aka we have today is exactly same as the texts recited at the first council.  


Another example, Buddhavaµsa text contains 28 chapters; but the commentary to the Buddhavaµsa states upon only up to 26th chapter. This means that by the time the commentary was written to the Buddhavaµsa in India had no chapters called 27th and 28th. That’s why the people responsible to write commentaries to the Buddhavaµsa did not write any commentaries; but the present Buddhavaµsa has 28 chapters. This suggests that the last two 27th and 28the chapters[5] were added in Sri Lanka by the bhikkhus of the MahŒvihara. So we have sufficient evidence to prove that the present tripitaka cannot be the same as the tripitaka recited at the first council. This is the point that I want to make here.


After completion of the Sutta and Vinaya by the 500 bhikkhus at the first council, MahŒkassapa declared that we should preserve these texts as now what we call the “Buddhavacana” (the words of the Buddha). The Abhidhamma as the third collection was not compiled at the first council; it came into existence much later. We usually say that at the third Buddhist council which held during the king Asoka in the 3rd century B.C. the bhikkhu named Moggaliputta-Tissa who became the president of the third council wrote the book called KathŒvatthu (Points of Controversy) which is the most important of the 7 books in the Abhidhamma pi aka. Thereby the Abhidhamma pi aka was completed according to the Buddhist tradition.


       There are interesting stories in the Vinaya pi aka: the story of dissatisfaction of a senior monk Puraöa is the first incident of non-consensus among the monks after the first council. When such incident took place just after the council, how can we expect that later bhikkhus not to be divided among themselves into different schools? Then the fundamental question arises: what is Buddhism? What did the Buddha really say? From the very beginning, the Buddha’s dhamma had a missionary character. When 60 disciples were sent to different directions in order to spread the dhamma, each monk had to face different conditions in each place: the weather was different, foods were different, even the time zone was different due to the huge Indian continent. Those differences cause the later division. While some did not want to change any single rule of 227 vinayas, some other monks had to change minor rules according to different conditions they faced. Actually the Buddha allowed the bhikkhus to change the minor rules[6], but MahŒkassapa did not want to change any part of vinaya.[7]


       Bhikkhus who were in the remote area started storing the salts because it was almost impossible to find the salt in a certain area. Some monks in other area started even taking the meal after noon time under the changed circumstances. When we think of the fact that even the Buddha sometimes had to come back to the monastery with empty hand because nobody gave him alms, we can understand the difficulties the ordinary monks faced especially in the unknown places. Therefore, certain rules of vinaya had to be changed. But there were always people who stick to the very basic rules. They said, “Vinaya is Vinaya. You cannot change any part of it.”


       Yasa was the representative of this type of monks who belong to the SthaviravŒda [8] sect which did not want to change even a line of the word compiled at the first Buddhist Council. Then we can imagine how much he would be shocked when he saw the “unlawful” monks who were taking the meal after noon time and even receiving the gold and silvers from the lay people. For the monks who changed certain rules, the most important thing was the spread of the real teaching of the Dhamma; as long as the spirit of Dhamma spread, the certain rules are secondary and can be flexible. These types of monks became target of criticism held by SthaviravŒda sect in which Yasa was a representative. Therefore, the second Buddhist council held 100 years after the parinibbŒna of the Buddha.[9]

















Lecture 7 (April 5, 2006)



The Second Buddhist Council



1. The Ten Points of Unlawful Practice


       The Second Buddhist Council is important for the history of Buddhist Saºgha in India because after this council the Saºgha divided into two factions for the first time in history: the divided schools are MahŒsanghika and SthaviravŒda. The sources of the Second Buddhist Council as follows:


       PŒli sources –Cullavagga (Vinaya Pi aka)



                       –SamantapŒsadikŒ (Vinaya-a  hakathŒ)


       Sanskrit sources –MahŒsaºghika-Vinaya


                          –Dulva (Tibetan)


       Most of PŒli and Sanskrit sources agree the historical fact of the first Buddhist Council; but the Sanskrit sources do not recognize the Buddhist Council which the PŒli sources remark as the Second Council. Instead of it, the Sanskrit sources remark the Third Council as the Second Buddhist Council which was held during the time of the king Asoka in the third century B.C. According to the Sanskrit sources, therefore, there were only two Buddhist Councils before Buddhism spread out of India; for the PŒli sources, however, the canonical texts clearly remark the Second Buddhist Council which was held 100 years after the Buddha’s death.


       According to PŒli sources, while the Bhikkhu Yasa traveled in north and west parts of India, he found Vajjian monks who were practicing “unlawful vinaya rules.” So he initiated the Bhikkhus’ Council in order to discuss 10 Vatthu (points) of such unlawful practice. In this council 700 Arahant Bhikkhus attended. The 10 Vatthu (points) were as follows:


1.      The practice of carrying salt in a horn: the point is not to eat salt but to store it because vinaya rule says that bhikkhus cannot store anything for the future use.

2.      The practice of taking food after midday: we have to think of the different time zone in the huge Indian continent.

3.      The practice of going to a neighboring village and taking a second meal on the same day.

4.      The practice of observance of uposatha ceremonies in different places within the same sīmŒ (parish): This indicates that some bhikkhus have separated uposatha ceremony from other bhikkhus.

5.      The practice of doing an ecclesiastical act and obtaining its sanction afterward: During the uposatha ceremony, after one bhikkhu’s confession, the judgment or punishment should be done immediately not holding later.

6.      The practice of using precedents as authority: the Vinaya rules must be applied to the present offense of minor rules; other’s offense of it before cannot be used as an excuse of the present offense.

7.      The practice of drinking milk-whey after meal: it might be regarded as some sort of intoxicate drink.

8.      The practice of drinking fermenting palm-juice: it was also intoxicate drink.

9.      The practice of using a borderless sheet to sit on.

10.  The practice of accepting gold and silver: for the personal need.


The Vinaya rules never allowed any personal possessions; this is a basic idea; if a bhikkhu offense it became problematic.



Lecture 8 (April 26, 2006)



       According to the Buddhist tradition, whatever in Tripitaka is the world of the Buddha (BuddhavŒcŒ). Then the question arises that how could we insist that the texts compiled after 100 years of the Buddha’s death would be the Buddha’s own word. Again, we need more critical mind.



2. The Division of Saºgha



       The result of the Second Buddhist Council was a division of Saºgha into two schools for the first time in the Buddhist history: SthaviravŒda rejected the 10 points of unlawful practice, then the monks who kept the practices created a new school called MahŒsaöghika. Actually there were unstable conditions within the Saºgha even during the Buddha’s time. While the Buddha was still alive, he could control the conflicts. But after his parinibbŒna, the Saºgha became more unstable and eventually divided into two schools 100 years after his death. In fact, there was nothing to consider as pŒrŒjika offence[10] within those 10 points of unlawful practice. All of them were minor rules which the Buddha allowed to be changed; but there were people like MahŒkassapa who did not want to change any single rule of vinaya and their strict positions caused eventual division. The monks who were living in the remote area also sincerely practiced vinaya rules in order to spread Dhamma. For them, changing minor rules according to the changing situation was not so important as long as they could spread a true Dhamma. The result, however, was the critiques from the fellow monks, then they had to create a new Saºgha which was a more liberal school.


       When we talk about MahŒyŒna Buddhism, usually we think it began the first century A.D. But some scholars insist that its origin is MahŒsaºghika. While the TheravŒda tradition has kept the idea of the human Buddha, MahŒyŒna schools have developed the concept of deification of the Buddha. A typical example would be the TrikŒya theory which insists that the Buddha has three bodies (kŒyas): NirmŒna-kŒya (the Buddha we can see); Sambhoga-kŒya (the real body of the Buddha who is enjoying in other world); and Dharma-kŒya (the essence of the Buddha). The term Buddhology means in a wider sense that any kind of study related to Buddhism, but in a narrow sense that development of the concept of the Buddha.[11]


       In the later pŒli commentaries (a  hakŒttŒ) we can find three kinds of the Buddha: sŒvaka-bodhisatta, pacceka-bodhisatta, and mahŒ-bodhisatta (or sabbaññu-bodhisatta). It is mentioned in exaggeration that in order to be SammŒ-sambuddha, bodhisatta who has faith (saddhŒ) has to take 16 asaºkheyya plus 100,000 kappas; bodhisatta who has strength (viriya) takes 8 asaºkheyya plus 100,000 kappas; who has wisdom (pañña) takes 4 asaºkheyya plus 100,000 kappas. The purpose of this kind of theory developed in TheravŒda Buddhism is clearly aiming to emphasize the uniqueness of the Buddha. According to Milindapañha, there is only one Buddha needed for one universe.[12] Unfortunately this kind theory of bodhisatta in PŒli Buddhism can be used to discriminate the women’s right because one of the 18 impossible places (states) in which the bodhisatta cannot be born is the female form (itthibhŒva), more concretely the womb of a slave woman (dŒsiyŒ kucchimhi).[13]



       Now we come back to our discussion of the Second Buddhist Council: according to the Northern sources including Tibetan source, the council had to be convened on account of the different opinions among the monks regarding the five points announced by the Bhikkhu, MahŒdeva. His five critiques on the TheravŒdin Arahatship are as follows:


1.      The arahants are subject to temptation (atthi arahato rŒgo ti).

2.      The arahants may have residue of ignorance (aññŒöaµ nañŒöa).

3.      The arahants may have doubts (kaºkhŒ) regarding certain matters.

4.      The arahants gain the knowledge through other’s help (paravitŒraöa).

5.      The path toward perfection is attained by an exclamation of astonishment (aho).


Therefore, according to Northern tradition, these 5 points of different understanding of arahatship results the division of two schools while Theravada tradition keeps the reason of division on the 10 points of unlawful practice. PŒli tradition would not accept the challenge raised by MahŒdeva; but in Northern tradition it was regarded as a main cause of the division of Saºgha and they further developed the idea of bodhisatta instead of arahatship.





Lecture 9 (May 10, 2006)



       The argument of Mahādeva is found not only in Tibetan and northern sources but also in Pāli source like KathŒvatthu a  akathŒ. The important thing is that someone or a group of people within the Saºgha already challenged about the Arahatship which was their ideal, just after 100 years of the Buddha’s death. According to this people who can be represented by the name of Mahādeva, Arahant is not a perfect man; is not fully liberated from dukkha.


       These five points of Mahādeva challenges the validity of Arahatship. The Theravadins of course did not accept them and the motivation of composing Kathāvatthu was also to repute those kinds of challenge. But the Mahāyāna Buddhists elaborated the idea further and eventually developed the new ideal, bodhisattva.[14]



3. The further division of Saºgha



       As we saw above, after the Second Buddhist Council, the Saºgha divided into two schools: MahŒsanghika and SthaviravŒda. From that time on each school had divided into other different schools and there were 18 Buddhist schools came to exist in the third century B.C. Among all these 20 schools, including original two schools, only 2-3 schools preserved their Buddhist Canon texts called Tripitaka (Tipitaka).


       Mahāsanghika preserved two texts (Sutta and Vinaya) but did not produce Abhidhamma pi aka while Theravada and Sarvāstivāda schools preserved Sutta, Vinaya, and their own Abhidhamma. Therefore, basically we have a ‘common sources.’ But in the present scholarship we do not know that the original Sutta and Vinaya preserved in what language. We also do not know when the Abhidhamma texts started to be composed; we know only that they are completed with the composition of Kathāvatthu in the third century B.C. We can say that it took 200 years to complete forming Tripitaka orally based on the common sources of the Sutta and Vinaya in which language we do not know.


       When the Saºgha was divided into 18 schools, each kept the common sources (Sutta and Vinaya) in their own hands. Among them only few are preserved. Mahāsanghika and Sarvāstivāda preserved them in Sanskrit which was the sacred Vedic language. Even though these original Sanskrit versions are got lost, their translated versions of Tibetan and Chinese sources are still preserved. Theravada preserved it in one kind of dialect of India: there have been linguistic efforts to find out what the language was, but still not clear. It can be Magadhi, a dialect of Magadha region where the Buddha lived; then the present Pāli can be identified with it.[15] According to the linguistics, however, the present Pāli is closer to the dialects of the Western part of India such as Ujjeni and Sañchi. It can be a combined dialect called Prakrit by which Jainism texts also were composed.[16]


       From this historical understanding of the division of the Saºgha, a question arises: “on what basis do we claim that the Theravada tradition is the oldest and purest form of Buddhism?”



Lecture 10 (May 17, 2006)



       The answer to the last question: scholars agree that Theravada is the oldest and purest form of Buddhism because they preserve, in their tradition, the oldest canonical texts which is the systematic and unbroken Tripi aka.



The Third Buddhist Council



       From the historical point of view, there are some important school names out of 18 or 20 Buddhist schools: Sarvāstivāda and Sautrantika which divided from Sthaviravāda; êaila, Praj–āptivāda, and Vetulya (Vedula, Vedala) which divided from Mahāsaºghika. These are the schools which have their own canonical texts. Sthaviravāda was the only school which compounded the Pāli texts which have preserved by Theravada; other schools preserved texts in Sanskrit and translated into different languages. As a result, now there are 5-6 Vinaya texts in different languages such as Pāli, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese. This is the reason why there are only few scholars in Sri Lanka who are specialized in Vinaya studies.


       By the way, seeing those divisions of the Saºgha, in the third century B.C. the king Asoka called the third Buddhist Council in order to search for the school which follows the real teachings of the Buddha. According to Buddhavaµsa and Mahāvaµsa, the king Asoka consulted Moggaliputta Tissa, the most prominent bhikkhu at that time, about the council. Moggaliputta Tissa gave the king the school’s name known as Vibhajjavāda as an ideal form of the Saºgha, then the king interviewed each representative of different schools by asking the questions whether they accept the teachings of Vibhajjavāda or not; people who said ‘yes’ became Vibhajjavāda which is the origin of the Theravada tradition.


       On the other hand, Sarvāstivāda rejected the teachings of Vibhajjavāda; they insisted that everything exist in the past, present and future (sabbaµ asti; atthi) while Vibhajjavāda (now Theravada) emphasized the present moment as the only verifying stage. Later in Mahayana Buddhism, Nagarjuna strictly criticized the wrong view of Sarvāstivāda. In his sunyatā theory of mŒdhyamika rooted in paticca-samuppāda, Nagarjuna emphasized that nothing can exist on its own, and called the people of other view Hinayana. Therefore, the term Hinayana indicates Sarvāstivada School because it was the only school which insisted the existence of being in the past, present and future.


       After the third council, the king Asoka wanted to spread the Dhamma to all over the world; then the 9 countries were selected by Moggaliputta Tissa to which the missionary monks would be sent. The Western part included Yonaka (the present Greece) while the Eastern included Maha-jina (China) and Suvaööa-bhèmi (the present Cambodia, Thai, and Burma). The Southern part, Sri Lanka, known as different names such as Tambapaööa, Sīhaladīpa, and later called Lankādīpa.


       Thus Vibhajjavāda School, the origin of Theravada, was introduced to Sri Lanka by Ven. Mahinda who was the son of the king Asoka and the pupil of Moggaliputta Tissa. This is the reason why Sri Lankan Theravadins are so proud of their origin; Mahinda, a distinctive arahant, was sent to Sri Lanka while other normal arahants were sent to different countries. When Buddhism was officially introduced by Ven. Mahinda in the third century B.C., the king in Sri Lanka was Devānaµpiya Tissa. According to Mahāvaµsa, Mahinda asked the king some logical questions in order to test the Sri Lankan capacity of accepting Dhamma and gave the first preach on Cèlahatthipadopama Sutta. Then he preached Petavatthu and Vimānavatthu texts which show the law of kamma: if you do evil things, you will go to hell of ghost (peta) and if you do good things, you will go to heavenly mansion (vimāna). All these stories are related to the origin of the Pali tradition. According to Mahāvaµsa, in his home town Ujjeni, Ven. Mahinda contemplated the time to go to Sri Lanka, that is the time of the king Devānaµpiya’s coronation.


       Therefore, the significance of the third Buddhist Council is the purification of Saºgha into single school (Vibhajjavāda) and sending missionaries beyond the territory of India for the first time in the Buddhist history. This second aspect is more important.



Lecture 11 (May 24, 2006)



       The term Theravāda became popular after the third Buddhist Council. Theravadins insist that their origin could trace back to the Sthaviravāda which was the main stream at the second Buddhist Council so that they could reach to the Buddha’s time. But in this way of tracing back their origins to the Buddha’s time would be claimed by any Buddhist schools even in the Mahayana sects. Historically speaking, to be impartial, we have to see how different Buddhist schools came into exist through the course of the first, the second, and the third Buddhist councils. We have seen that there were two groups within the Saºgha after the third Buddhist council: one is the unorthodox group called Sarvāstivāda and the other is the orthodox Theravāda.


According to whatever historical materials available to us, there was no picture of Mahayana till this time. But from the northern sources, Sarvāstivāda became very strong after the third council so that they found themselves a very strong formidable group, and they selected the northern part of India to be the center of their activities leading finally to the rise of Mahayana movement. In other words, the Sarvāstivāda contributed to extend Buddhism thought which areas Mahayana eventually arose.


The Buddhist history suggests that from this time Vibhajjavāda (Theravada) became very isolated school from the rest of the Buddhist schools in India because their center shifted from India to Sri Lanka. But this is not to say that the Theravada Buddhism died down in India after the third century B.C. Their activities were still remained in India.


The problem here is that our historical materials are mainly Pāli sources of Theravada tradition such as Mahāvaµsa and Buddhavaµsa. So long as we examine only those sources, we have only one historical point of view. We have only one history, that is, the history of Theravāda. Then the most important events to them over emphasized while other things which are not so important to them ignored. As we see now the history emphasizes that Theravada Buddhism taken from the Indian soil and planted in Sri Lanka at the third century B.C. while the contribution of other Theravadins in India neglected. The Pāli tradition has no answer to the question of what really happened to Theravāda in India after the third century B.C.


There are some evidences of existence of Theravadin activities in India. For example, the famous three books which were written in India after Buddhism introduced into Sri Lanka in the third century B.C. The titles of those books are as follows: (1) Nettippakaröa; (2) Pe akopadesa; (3) Milindapa–ha. As we know, these texts are included in Pāli literature and regarded as ‘post canonical Pāli texts.’ The first two books are ascribed to the first century B.C. The first part of the Milindapa–ha (1-88 pp. in PTS edition) can also be ascribed to the first century B.C. while the second part of it (90-420 pp.) most probably added by the Theravadins in the first century A.D. The original (first part) of Milindapa–ha was translated into Chinese.[17]


The contribution of the king Asoka was to sponsor the missionary activities initiated by Moggaliputta Tissa. The missionaries were sent to nine countries including Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Burma. Among them, the most successful case was Sri Lanka. There are several reasons for that. The writers of Sri Lankan history such as Mahāvaµsa and Buddhavaµsa tried to establish the reason why Buddhism was destined to flourish in Sri Lanka: for example, according to Mahāvaµsa, the Buddha himself visited Sri Lanka three times; the Buddha requested Sakka (the king of deva) to protect vijaya (victory) of Sri Lanka because the foresight of the Buddha knew that the land of Sri Lanka would be a land of Buddhism; around the Buddha’s time, according to Mahāvaµsa, the branch of the Bodhi tree transmitted into Sri Lanka. These stories show that how much the writers of the chronicles tried to establish the link between Buddhism and Sri Lanka.













The Role of Thera Mahinda

in the Spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka



During the time of the king DevŒnaµpiya Tissa in Sri Lanka, the king tried to establish a personal contact to the king Asoka. This is the reason why the king Asoka specially selected his son Mahinda and later on his own daughter Saºghamittā to be instrumental in establishing Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He selected specially his own prince and princess for Sri Lanka not only because the formal relationship between two countries, but because the personal relationship between two kings. According to northern tradition, Mahinda is regarded as Asoka’s brother. Besides this small discordance, any one of southern or northern sources denies the fact that Mahinda brought Buddhism into Sri Lanka.


Now regarding the origin of Pāli literature, there are two main theories: one is that the origin of Pāli should be traced back to Magadhi because the third Buddhist council held in Magadha; the other one is that the source of Pāli should be traced back to the dialects of western India because Mahinda came from Ujjeni and he brought Buddhism from Ujjeni to Sri Lanka by ship through the see route. As we mentioned before, the modern British linguistics found some similarities between the present Pāli and the old dialects in the western part of India. Unfortunately, however, we don’t have a definite conclusion regarding the origin or source of Pāli language.


Now very important question: when Mahinda brought Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka, what were the texts that he brought? Generally we believe that it was Tripi aka (the canon) and A  hakathā (the commentaries). Therefore, we believe that the commentaries to Tripi aka composed in India and they were preserved by the specialists known as Bhāöakā (reciters); they kept the texts in their memory. According to Pāli tradition, there were many Bhāöakā who were responsible for preserving some portions of Tripi aka and A  hakathā. For instance, according to Dīghanikāya A  hakathā, in the first Buddhist Council Dīghanikāya was given to Ānanda for its preservation and protection; Majjhimanikāya to the pupils of Sāriputta; Samyu  aranikāya to Mhākassapa himself; and Anguttaranikāya to Anuruddha. According to this information of Pāli tradition, therefore, from the very beginning certain groups among the disciples of the Buddha selected for the purpose of preserving the texts.


You may wonder here what were the criteria for the Bhikkhus of the first council to decide on the names of nikāya called DN, MN, SN, and AN; on what basis did they decide those names? According to our knowledge, DN is the collection which is longer than others, MN is the medium length, and other two (SN, AN) are not related to the length. There was no mention in the first council about Khuddaka Nikāya which is the collection of smaller size among the five canonical texts. Any way, our question is who decided the name of four collections on what basis?


One more question: when we take this compiled collection which were decided upon at the first council, has been called Buddhavacana, even from the first council itself; then, what was the criteria assume that the compiled texts of the first council were the spoken or preached by the Buddha? We believe that during the time of the Buddha still alive, there were no collected texts; it was done by the 500 Bhikkhus at the first council by extracting their memories and comparing them with others’ memories which heard from the Buddha; and if they all agreed each other, they decided that those words came from the Buddha’s own speech. Bud how do we know that the compiled collection of the first council was the actual discourses of the Buddha himself? How do we know that was the pure discourses of the Buddha unless there was a collection of texts already compiled somewhere before the first council? Accordingly the 500 Bhikkhus at the first council could consult it as the speech of the Buddha. There must have had been something the collection of the texts, might not be in order, a yard stick or standard texts on which the first council could measure either agree or disagree with them as the words of the Buddha. This hypothesis is supported by the Vinaya Pi aka itself saying that Puraöa did not consent the final collection of the first council. There were non-consensus among them, and suppose to have other collections of the Buddha’s words which the bhikkhus like Puraöa refer to.


Now who decided that DN should contain 34 texts and MN should contain 252 texts? When you go through these texts, you will find some are repeated more than once: for example, Satipa  āna Sutta is included in three nikāyas; in DN with the prefix Mahā, and in MN and SN without that prefix.


Therefore, to be impartial point of view, this possibility should not be forgotten, that is, there might have had been more texts which were not selected at the first Buddhist council. And what happen to them? We have many questions to be examined regarding the formation of the Buddhist texts from the very beginning of the Buddhist history.

The following questions are connected to the fact that Mahinda brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. We have to answer the question of what texts he brought. This is very serious question whether the texts he brought were the Tripi aka and A  hakatā we have now or there were any texts lost or any texts added later. In other words, were they the same Tripi aka and A  akatā that were compiled at the third Buddhist Council? What was the contribution of the Sri Lankan bhikkhus of Mahāvihara to the completion of the Tripi aka or A  hakatā?


There are many evidences that prove the texts we have are not the same texts as Mahinda brought: For instance, according to Pāli tradition, Mahāparainibbāna Sutta in DN is one of the oldest canonical texts which was compiled in India and has been preserved in its pure form without changing at all. But there is evidence that this belief is wrong. In the commentary of Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, it is clearly mentioned that the end part of the Sutta, which is about a  hadoöa (8 portions of the Buddha’s relics) were composed by theTheras of Tambapaööi, that is, Sri Lankan bhikkhus. Then how can we say that the texts we have today is the same texts as Mahinda brought in the third century B.C. or even the same texts as the collection of the first council? There would be more cases that added later in Sri Lanka. Positively this means that the bhikkhus in Sri Lanka gave a great contribution even for the formation of canonical texts and commentaries; but at the same time, it contradicts their own claim of that Theravada tradition has preserved crystalline and pure Buddhist texts.



Lecture 12 (May 31, 2006)



       Our topic now is the transmission of Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka and what happen to Buddhism here in Sri Lanka. Buddhism was introduced officially by Thera Mahinda during the time of the king Devānaµpiya Tissa, the third century B.C. There is no literature or historical evidence to go against this idea; all PŒli sources and some northern sources approves that Mahinda brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the third century B.C.


       There are three major sources to talk of the transmission of Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka: MahŒvaµsa, Dīpavaµsa, and SamantapŒsŒdikŒ (vinaya a  hakathŒ). According to them, Mahinda was instrumental in establishing or converting the king DevŒnaµpiya Tissa to Buddhism; but none of these sources talk about what kinds of belief that we had in Sri Lanka up to that time of King DevŒnaµpiya Tissa. They mention only about some sort of shamanistic belief which means to worship supernatural power of natures. MahŒvaµsa, Dīpavaµsa, and even SamantapŒsŒdikŒ do not explain how the people of that time gain such logical thinking or education by which Mahinda recognized their capacity of absorbing Buddhism. Of course they were the royal family and noble people so that they would have a formal education on which basis they could understand what Mahinda introduced.


Although it is not mentioned in any one of these sources, you can surmise that Buddhism might be known to the King and royal family and the nobles in this country at that time so that accepting the official introduction of Buddhism was made much easier than having the mere encounter between unknown people, that is, the king and Mahinda. In other words, before the Thera Mahinda brought Buddhism officially, the royal family and nobles in Sri Lanka might know somehow about Buddhism already so that Mahinda found very easy to communicate with them. By that former knowledge of Buddhism, the king could understand what Mahinda was talking about. The reason why I say this is that those sources try to establish that the king Devānaµpiya Tissa had some personal relationship with the king Asoka, thereby try to pave the way for Buddhism very easy to pass so that there would be no conflict between the two parties when Buddhism was officially introduced into Sri Lanka. Therefore, when you analyze the historical incidents, you would better to use your imagination. Using imagination is very important because it will lead you to new insight into historical happenings.


Historically speaking, the first teaching of Mahinda was about the discourse on the simile of the elephant’s footprint (Cèlahatthipadopama Sutta in MN). Then he preached texts like Petavatthu, Vimānavatthu, and other texts from the Khuddaka NikŒya. There must be interpretation of why these texts were selected. Those texts talk about the relationship of kamma and its results (vipŒka): if you do good, you go to heaven; if you do bad, you go to hell. This is a very simple teaching which was usually used to preach the theory of kamma. From the text supposed to be preached by Mahinda after his arrival at Sri Lanka, day to day, may suggest some sort of policy that Mahinda had in his mind to preach the Buddhist teachings to the people in Sri Lanka so that he selected very popular texts.


Here the question arises. For the local people to understand this relationship of good and bad, there must have been fairly advanced culture in Sri Lanka already. Unless the moral concept or moral standard was there, those teachings could not be acceptable. Therefore, even before Buddhism introduced, there might be quite advanced culture on which the local people could absorb what Mahinda taught. In order to make it sure, archeological evidences have to be looked into how far or to what extent the local culture was advanced; comparable or inferior to Indian culture. These things are not mentioned by those sources.


According to MahŒvaµsa, Thera Mahinda waited in Ujjeni until the coronation of the king Devānaµpiya Tissa. Here the see route which Mahinda took by the merchant ship suggests that even the people in the western part of India had some connection with people in Sri Lanka. Although the Sri Lanka would not be the final destination of traders, they must bring their own cultural things which naturally compound with the local Sri Lankan culture. A historian, N. Karashima, collected the Tamil inscriptions of Chinese ceramics in Sri Lanka, which was formed in the first or second century B.C. Then it is not so far from the arrival of Mahinda. This archeological evidence shows that there was already very sophisticated culture in Sri Lanka when Mahinda brought Buddhism.


In what kind of language would they communicate each other? Mahinda could make himself understood by the people in Sri Lanka maybe through the interpreter or directly. We can imagine that the spoken language of Sri Lanka at that time would be very close to or understood by the most people in some part of India. The language through which Mahinda handed down the Buddhist texts might be similar to PŒli we have now. But, unfortunately, everything was done in oral tradition not in written texts. As we saw before, the origin of PŒli language is in the stage of ongoing discussion among the linguistics. The language problem was never addressed in the sources.


MahŒvaµsa describes the process of introduction of Buddhism into Sri Lanka as very smooth incidents one after the other without any interruption. After long talk of Mahinda, the king Devānaµpiya Tissa asked him whether Buddhism would be firmly established in this country. The answer of Mahinda was “no, not now.” He said that Buddhism would not be firmly established until the Sri Lankan sons become monks and bear the vinaya rules on their own. This answer is very significant by that Mahinda mentioned about localization or nativization, or inculturation of Buddhism. Mahinda was very careful to publicly state that Buddhism was firmly established in this country. Then the king asked any object of worship so that Saºghamittā brought the branch of the Bodhi tree which became firmly set as the object of Buddhist worship in Sri Lanka.


Those things are the historical part. Now the question arises. What are the texts that were brought by Thera Mahinda to Sri Lanka? In MahŒvaµsa, around 20 names of PŒli texts are mentioned from them we may say that those texts were existed before the time of Mahinda. According to the tradition, Mahinda brought Tipi aka together with A  hakathŒ. It is clearly stated in MahŒvaµsa that it was the Tipi aka and A  hakathŒ texts brought by Mahinda in the third century B.C. However, when you examine them very carefully in detail, they are not the same texts we have today. But still the fact remains that the words of Tipi aka and A  hakathŒ were existed and widely used among the Buddhists at that time even though the content of them is not exactly same as the texts we have now.


As we mentioned before, the problem of the language of those texts are not solved so far, and there are two theories on it. One theory is that PŒli would be a dialect of Magadha in which the Buddha lived actively; the other one is that PŒli would be originated from Prakrit language in which Jaina literature was also composed. The latter theory is strengthened by the historical fact that Mahinda came from that western part of India. According to modern linguistics, there are many similarities between PŒli and Prakrit of the western part of India. But still this remains as an unsolved problem.


According to those three sources, since Mahinda brought Buddhism into Sri Lanka, it became the state religion of this country from the very beginning. But we can suppose it does not mean that entire nation was converted to Buddhism. It took some time for people from different places in Sri Lanka came to know something about Buddhism. Subsequently when MahŒvihara was established by Mahinda, the contribution of Sri Lankan Bhikkhus was diverse in nature. One area of the contribution is the development of PŒli literature. They wrote many commentaries including vinayapi aka. So many developments took place since Mahinda brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Now we have some questions whether tradition can be accepted as it is or we have to re-examine it from the historical and critical point of view.



Lecture 13 (June 7, 2006)



The Development of Buddhism in Sri Lanka

During the Period between 3 B.C-1 B.C.



       The reason why Sri Lankan Buddhism is important is because when we talk about Theravada Buddhism, its distinct characteristics were gathered only after it was introduced into Sri Lanka. In other words, Theravada Buddhism has developed in this country more than any where else. Even though Buddhism was shared among the many schools in India such as SthaviravŒda Buddhism which is known as Theravada was part of it, it did not gather its characteristics as much as did it in Theravada Buddhism after introduced into Sri Lanka. This conclusion came from the examination of the Buddhist commentaries (A  hakathŒ).


       As we know, the present PŒli A  hakathŒ is the work of translation based on Sīhala (the old Singhalese) sources, which was done by the famous Buddhist commentators such as Buddhaghosa, DhammapŒla, and Buddhadatta in the fifth century A.D. What happened at the beginning is that Thera Mahinda brought the Buddhist texts, Tipi aka together with A  hakathŒ, which would be orally transmitted in the language ‘now we so call’ PŒli in the third century B.C. Historically speaking, immediately after Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, A  hakathŒ was translated into Sīhala (the old Singhalese) while the Tipi aka was remained in that original language.


       Here the question arises. Why did the people of Sri Lanka translate only A  hakathŒ? If the purpose of translation is to spread Dhamma, they should have translate Tipi aka first. Some people would say that because they respect Dhamma as Buddhavacana, they preserved it in the original language. But when we think of their freedom even to add something into the canonical text itself (example of the end chapters of MahŒparinibbŒna Sutta), this criteria ob Buddhavacana is weakened. There must be some other reasons. Unfortunately we don’t know so far why they did not translate Tipi aka into Singhalese. The historical fact is that only A  hakathŒ texts were translated into the old Singhalese.


       The reason why the original text and the present text is not exactly same is because during the course of the development of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the MahŒvihara Bhikkhus extended the original text by adding the new pieces of information.


When we examine the PŒli A  hakathŒ, we can find that there were four stages of extension: the first extension of A  hakathŒ took place during the time of the king Du  hagŒmani Abhaya (2 B.C.); the second stage, the reign of the king Va  agŒmani Abhaya (1 B.C.). The first century B.C. is very important because from the oral tradition to committing of the texts to writing took place during this time; the third extension was the time of the king Vasabha (the end of 2- the beginning of 3 A.D.); the last stage of the extension of A  hakathŒ texts was the time of the king Mahasena (the beginning of 4 A.D.)


Therefore, the PŒli A  hakathŒ has two elements: the original Indian elements which were brought by Mahinda in the third century B.C. and anything that happened after the time of Mahinda which was incorporated into the original texts, and remained in the A  hakathŒ ; the second Sri Lankan elements which are the new pieces of information in Sīhala gathered from the translation of Indian literature and from the composition of MahŒvihara Bhikkhus themselves. These new pieces of information added into Sīhala A  hakathŒ, which was the translation of the original A  hakathŒ. As a result, the present PŒli A  hakathŒ contain both PŒli and Sīhala PŒli. The former is Indian element and the latter is Sri Lankan element. Any information related to Sri Lankan events during those periods of history would have been added to the A  hakathŒ by the Bhikkhus of MahŒvihara. They are retained in this country. Therefore, our tradition of the A  hakathŒ which were translated in Sīhala is partly true and partly not true.


The formation of the Buddhist texts is very difficult subject because we have very wrong impression of Tipi aka which should be put to the test. I will give you an example. How many books are there in the collection called Khuddaka NikŒya? Where do you think the term pa–ca-nikŒya not catu-nikŒya used for the first time in the history of the PŒli literature? It is found in the Cullavagga (Vinaya Pi aka). It mentions that the pa–ca-nikŒya were compiled at the first Buddhist Council, suggesting that there was the collection that we know as Khuddaka NikŒya. Although the Cullavagga says that, we know, at the first Buddhist council there was no collection called Khuddaka NikŒya.


The Sri Lankan tradition says that Khuddaka NikŒya have 15 books; where do you get it? In the DīganikŒya A  hakathŒ known as Sumaºgalavilasini, which was translated by the Buddhaghosa in the fifth century A.D., it is mentioned that Dīgha BhŒnaka insists that the Khuddaka NikŒya contains 13 books while Majjhima BhŒnaka insists 14 books. Even at that time there was contradiction between them. Dīgha BhŒnaka says that Khuddaka NikŒya should belong to the Abhidhamma while Majjhima BhŒnaka insists that it should belong to Sutta Pi aka. When the Buddhaghosa observed those contradictions among the text, he finally said that the Khuddaka NikŒya should include 15 books and should be one of the Sutta nikŒya.


Therefore, Buddhaghosa was the first person who mentions of that Khuddaka NikŒya should have 15 books as we have today. Then how could we insist that our present Tipi aka is the same collection of the first Buddhist council? In fact, we have wrong notions of PŒli literature. Sometimes we must not accept what tradition mentions in our texts. We have to carefully examine and find the evidences in the literature sources which support tradition or go against tradition. The older texts in the Khuddaka NikŒya such as Dhammapada, TheragŒthŒ, TherigŒthŒ, SuttanipŒta, Itivuttaka, and UdŒna should originally be the independent texts. In other words, they were not included any of the four major nikŒyas. There is evidence for this: when we think of BhŒnaka tradition which was originated from India probably as early as the first Buddhist Council, apart from the four major BhŒnakas, there were JŒtaka BhŒnaka and Dhammapada BhŒnaka independently. There was no Khuddaka BhŒnaka as such. Among the texts which now belong to the Khuddaka NikŒya, only those two texts have BhŒnakas which support that our theory that those texts were originally independent texts before collected into Khuddaka NikŒya.


When Mahinda brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, this BhŒnaka tradition was also transmitted so that some of the Sri Lankan Bhikkhus of MahŒvihara became BhŒnaka to orally preserve all the texts and handed down them from generation to generation up to the first century B.C. when the texts were written down. In the first century B.C. the king asked some BhŒnakas of MahŒvihara to go to India for the sake of preserving Dhamma, but 60 of them rejected the King’s advice by saying that when our people are still suffering, how could we go to India. They instead retired to the cave for 12 years to preserve Dhamma by heart. When the Bhikkhus who came back from India, they met those who were remained in Sri Lanka and they compared the texts by reciting together. They found that there was no single word lost or missed. Both groups of BhŒnakas, therefore, orally preserved the texts without forgetting any single word.  


In the meantime, the new monastery called Abhayagiri was established by the king Va  agŒmani Abhaya and given to the Bhikkhu MahŒtissa as a personal gift.[18] MahŒtissa did not immediately go there but continued residing in MahŒvihara temple. When the Bhikkhus of MahŒvihara knew that the king is favorable to MahŒtissa, they had got jealousy of him, and plotted against him saying that MahŒtissa pleaded the lay people, which is against the vinŒya rules. Then they chased him away. So MahŒtissa had to go to reside in the new temple, Abhayagiri Monastery. Very soon it became the center of many Buddhist activities. This is very important historical incident happened in the first century B.C.


During the time of the king Va  agŒmani Abhaya, a big drought came and last long so that the Bhikkhus of MahŒvihara thought if the same thing would happen again in the future the Dhamma will disappear.[19] Therefore, in order to prevent from disappearing of Dhamma, the Bhikkhus of MahŒvihara decided to hold the Buddhist Council and committed themselves to writing all the texts of Tipi aka and A  hakathŒ on the palm leaves. This council held in Sri Lanka is known as the fourth Buddhist Council. It was the greatest event in the whole Buddhist history that the Buddhist texts were written down at this council.


The fourth Buddhist Council was held in Alokavihara, now known as Aluvihara, which is the cave located in Matale, close to the present Candy. Here a simple question arises: why was it done at the place far from the capital city at that time, Anuradhapura? Usually the former councils were held in the big cities in which they could get better facilities. But why did this fourth council in Sri Lanka, not in the capital city? We can think of political reason that the king Va  agŒmani Abhaya was more in favorable to MahŒtissa in Abhayagiri monastery than in MahŒvihara monastery while the queen was a good supporter of MahŒvihara. So the Bhikkhus of MahŒvihara could not expect that they would have positive supports from the king. Addition to that, at that time, there were already established the branches of MahŒvihara monastery everywhere in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the Bhikkhus would prefer the support of the local nobles, the rich people in the district to the king’s support. This may be the major reason that they chose Alokavihara for the council, not the capital city. 



Lecture 14 (June 14, 2006)



       We are talking of the development of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. There were some important events in the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka: the official transmission of Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka by Mahinda in the third century B.C.; after the king DevŒnaµpiya Tissa died, there were not so much support for the Buddhist saºgha from the kings; when the king Du  hagŒmani Abhaya defeat the Tamil king EŒra in the second century B.C., he became a great king and gave a lot of support for the saºgha. He built MahŒthèpa, sometimes known as MahŒcetiya, which is very important object of Buddhist worship; Va  agŒmani Abhaya (1 B.C.) became the king of this country twice: first for only six months, then after exile, another 12 years. After came back to his kingship, Va  agŒmani Abhaya built Abhayagiri Monastery and donated it as a gift to the Bhikkhu MahŒtissa who helped him a lot during his exile period.



The Importance of the PŒli Commentarial Literature

As Source-Material for the Study of TheravŒda Buddhism



       When we examine the PŒli A  hakathŒ, there are two major elements: Indian element which is the basic body of information brought by Mahinda from India to Sri Lanka and translated into Sīhala and subsequently this Sīhala A  hakathŒ retranslated into PŒli by the Bhikkhu Buddhaghosa in the 5th century A.D.; apart from that, what is more important for us is the Sri Lankan elements which are originated in Sri Lanka and added to Sīhala A  hakathŒ which is the body of our PŒli A  hakathŒ. We can get a lot of incidents recorded in our PŒli A  hakathŒ. They were not recorded by Buddhaghosa but by others who lived much before the time of Buddhaghosa. We can say that the major part of Sīhala A  hakathŒ had developed from 3 B.C. to 2 A.D. and the minor part completed till the end of the 3rd century A.D. during the king MahŒsena. So there is a gap of more than one hundred years between the completion of Sīhala A  hakathŒ (3 A.D.) and its translation into PŒli A  hakathŒ by the Buddhaghosa (5 A.D.)


Therefore, the Sīhala A  hakathŒ was the basic source materials of the present PŒli A  hakathŒ which was translated by Buddhaghosa in 5 A.D. Whatever information we get from the PŒli A  hakathŒ, it is not composed by Buddhaghosa; he was a merely translator not composer. There are many incidents in PŒli A  hakathŒ which reflect the time of the king Va  agŒmani Abhaya (1 B.C.).


One example story which reflects Sri Lankan element in the PŒli A  hakathŒ is the story related to the concept of disappearance of the true Dhamma (Saddhamma AntaradhŒna). If we trace back the history of that concept, we can go up to the time of Buddha himself. As we saw before, there were always the crises of division within the Saºgha even during the Buddha still alive: Devadatta’s reverse against the Buddha; the disputation of the bhikkhus in Kosambi, so on. After the Buddha’s dead, the monks were so afraid that if the similar conflicts happened in the Saºgha, the true Dhamma would disappear. Another prediction which was discussed in PŒli Canon is the admission of women into the Saºgha. According to AngutaranikŒya and Vinaya Pi aka, it seems that the Buddha said that the life of saddhamma would have last only for 500 years, if he did not admit the Bhikkhuni Saºgha, it should have last for 1000 years. It is not sure that this Buddha’s mention is a later addition or it was there from the early sources. According to the northern tradition, it was there from the very early period even before the sectarian Buddhism appeared in the 2dn century B.C.


Then, all of sudden, the theory of 5,000 years appeared in PŒli A  hakathŒ: according to it, at the first Buddhist Council, MahŒkassapa said that saddhamma will last till 5,000 years and after that Metteyya  Buddha will come. This is what the Theravadins believe. According to Chinese source (T’ien-t’ai school), it is divided into three periods of the Buddha’s saddhamma: (1) from the Buddha to 500 years (正法) period in which people who are very keen to attain arahantship so that if they try hard, it was easy to get enlightenment; (2) after the first period, it last 1000 years (像法) period in which the Buddhist scriptures remain but people who are keen to attain nirvana decrease; (3) after that, last 10,000 years (末法) period in which no one can attain nirvana. It is the time of chaos and degeneration of the true Dhamma. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is emphasized that you will see another form of Buddhism during this last period, that is, the pure land Buddhism. According to it, everyone should wish to reborn in the pure land which is governed by the AmitŒbha Buddha; from there one can attain nirvana.   


We can say that PŒli tradition is more optimistic for preserving the Buddha’s saddhamma because it mentions that after 5000 years, when saddhamma disappear, the Metteyya Buddha will come to this world from the Tusita heaven. It gives always some kind of hope for preserving the true Dhamma. There is an interesting story given in the PŒli A  hakathŒ about the procedure of disappearance of saddhamma and coming down of the Metteyya Buddha. According to the story, the Buddha attains three kinds of nibbŒna [20]; his physical body is no more exist but his relics are remained; then after 5000 years, all the relics will also disappear. It will happen in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. All the relics that are enshrined in Sri Lanka will come to gather together in MahŒthèpa and form the shape of the Buddha just above the MahŒthèpa. Then it will fly to Nagadipa and to Bodh-Gaya; there together with all other relics from different places, even from the heavens, form the perfect shape of the Buddha and will completely disappear.


There are pieces of such information which is originated in Sri Lanka. They include important concept like saddhamma antaradhŒna. They become the part of Theravadin tradition so that similar stories are found in other countries like Burma. The stories are still believed by people in the South-east Asian countries. 


It is important to note that PŒli A  hakathŒ can be known in two ways: for example, VinŒya A  hakathŒ sometimes known as SamantapŒsŒdikŒ and DīganikŒya A  hakathŒ can sometimes be known as SumaºgalavilŒsinī, so on:


SamantapŒsŒdikŒ (VA); SumaºgalavilŒsinī (DA); Papa–casèdanī (MA); SŒratthappakŒsinī (SA); Manorathapèraöī (AA); ParamatthajotikŒ (Sn.A, Khp.A); Paramatthadīpanī (Ud. It. Thag. Thig. Vv. Pv. Cp); SaddhammapakŒsinī (P s); Pa–cappakarana A  hakathŒ (5 Abhidhamma); Sammohavinodanī (Vibh); A  hasŒlini (Dhs).

There are two important books which have no the second set of name as above. They are JŒtaka A  hakathŒ and Dhammapada A  hakathŒ. The reason why they do not have such title is because they are fairly old and have separated traditions. Some scholars insist that these two commentaries are not one hundred percent Theravadin texts but belong to a Buddhist school which belonged to Theravada tradition.


By the way, before Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, it was not pure Theravada tradition. TheravŒda Buddhism developed in a huge extent after it was introduced into Sri Lanka and new pieces of information added into PŒli A  hakathŒ. So PŒli literature became richer and richer particularly after the PŒli A  hakathŒ was translated from Sīhala A  hakathŒ by Buddhaghosa in the 5th century A.D. There have been the  ikŒ literature period which started about 9th century A.D. which were the commentaries written to the PŒli A  hakathŒ. Even today some people are writing  ikŒ in PŒli.[21]



Lecture 15 (June 21, 2006)



Further Development of Saºgha and PŒli Literature

in Sri Lanka



       PŒli literature includes Tipi aka, A  hakathŒ, and TikŒ; further commentaries on TikŒ are anu- ikŒ, nava- ikŒ, and abhinava- ikŒ. The basic source materials of these late development is Tipi aka and A  hakathŒ. The authors of those  ikŒ literatures gave their own interpretation to both Tipi aka and A  hakathŒ; so many commentarial books were written. We can roughly classify that Tipi aka completed in 3B.C. and Sīhala A  hakathŒ from 3 B.C to 3 A.D. Then PŒli translation of A  hakathŒ was done in 5-6 A.D.[22] Anything followed by A  hakathŒ can be seen as TikŒ which is completed by 12 A.D.[23] If the previous work named  ikŒ, the commentary on it called anu- ikŒ, and another commentary on them called nava- ikŒ, and the other commentary again on them called abhinava- ikŒ.


       In MahŒyŒna countries, scholars hesitate to translate the PŒli literature. In Japan the whole Tipi aka and some A  hakathŒ were translated in Japanese 70 years ago, before all Tipi aka are translated in English by PTS. For A  hakathŒ, only some texts such as Visuddhimagga and Vibhaºga-A  hakathŒ are translated in English. Unfortunately, major works of A  hakathŒ never translated into any modern language. SamantapŒsŒdikŒ (VA) are translated only some parts of it, but the old Chinese version of full translation is still available; SumaºgalavilŒsinī (DA), Papa–casèdamī (MA) and SŒratthappakŒsinī (SA) are not translated in any modern language; Manorathapèraöī (AA) is translated in Singhalese only some parts of it. Only few parts of Khuddaka A  hakathŒ are translated in English such as Dhammapada A  hakathŒ[24] and SuttanipŒta A  hakathŒ. SuttanipŒta A  hakathŒ is also translated in Japanese. All together only one third of A  hakathŒ texts are translated.[25]


       When Buddhism introduced into Sri Lanka in 3 B.C. by Ven. Mahinda, it was not only Tipi aka he brought but also A  hakathŒ both of which became the basic source materials of PŒli literature developed in Sri Lanka. Among the five translators of Sīhala A  hakathŒ into PŒli in 5 A.D., Buddhaghosa, DhammapŒla, and Buddhadatta were surely from India. The most famous one was Buddhaghosa. His teacher Revata, a well known Bhikkhu in South India at that time, advised him that he should go to Sri Lanka to learn Sīhala and translate A  hakathŒ into PŒli, an international language, because there was no such A  hakathŒ in India. When Buddhaghosa arrived in Sri Lanka, Buddhadatta was already there and he translated Buddhavaµsa A  hakathŒ. Buddhadatta also requested Buddhaghosa to translate all Sīhala A  hakathŒ into PŒli. So after learned Sīhala language for one year, and wrote Visuddhimagga for another year showing his capacity to Bhikkhus in MahŒvihara, Buddhaghosa began to translate A  hakathŒ for several years. Then, all of sudden, he disappeared in the historical scene followed by many legends in the countries like India, Burma, and even in China.


       Now a question arises: why is that Buddhaghosa went to MahŒvihara monastery straight away, not to Abhayagiri monastery? At that time branches of both monasteries were flourished in South India; according to Fa-hien (4 A.D.), there were 5,000 monks resided in Abhayagiri monastery while in MahŒvihara were only 3,000 monks. Thus Abhayagiri had stronger impact than MahŒvihara in the foreign land. Therefore, we can think of the reason why Buddhaghosa chose MahŒvihara was not because of its size but because his teacher Revata would be the Bhikkhu of MahŒvihara. This Buddhaghosa’s choice of MahŒvihara was the important point for the history of Saºgha in Sri Lanka.


       Another question: would be there any other previous translations in Sri Lanka before Buddhaghosa came to Sri Lanka? Why did they wait for such foreign scholars from India? The answer is very simple. For the bhikkhus in Sri Lanka, they would not feel any necessity to translate Sīhala A  hakathŒ into PŒli; it would be an interest of foreigners like Buddhaghosa, Buddhadatta, and DhammapŒla.


       Then the other question arises: why has the original Sīhala A  hakathŒ completely disappeared in Sri Lanka? It is because such translators emphasized the importance of their work as Magadha-bhŒsa (PŒli) in which the Buddha used to preach. Once such idea of holy language set up in people’s mind, emphasis on its importance increased while the importance of original Sīhala version decreased and eventually disappeared. There is historical evidence which shows that Sīhala A  hakathŒ were remained until 12 century A.D. the time of the king ParŒkramabŒhu I.


       One more question: after several years of translation work, why did Buddhaghosa leave the country without completing his mission? We would say that he had to leave due to the political reason; he would feel sort of danger of his life because internally the kings were not united and in conflicts each other.


       After Buddhaghosa left his work, the remained portions of A  hakathŒ were translated by other commentators. DhammapŒla was the most junior among the five commentators. He translated seven books, from Sīhala to PŒli, which are jointly called paramatthadīpanī (Ud. It. Thag. Thig. Vv. Pv. Cp.). Apart from translation of these seven books of Khuddaka NikŒya, he also wrote his own commentary of VA TikŒ, DA TikŒ, MA TikŒ, and SA Tika. While the A  hakathŒ commentators had Sīhala A  hakathŒ as their source materials, those TikŒ  books of DhammapŒla were his own contribution without having such source materials.



Lecture 16 (June 28, 2006)



       I would like to recommend two books for the study of history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka: E.W. Adikaram, Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon, Colombo: Buddhist Cultural Centre, 1997 (1936); Ven. W. Rahula, History of Buddhism in Ceylon, Colombo: Buddhist Cultural Centre, 2003 (1956). The former book became very influential abroad regarding the study of A  hakathŒ to which about 50 pages were allotted. This book was the first book which examined the sources of PŒli A  hakathŒ. In fact, it was not much influential within Sri Lanka but in outside the author was regarded as a great pioneer of PŒli literature study; many western and eastern scholars have taken sources from his book. Those two books are very useful to study about early Anuradhapura period.


According to the chapter 37 of Cèlavaµsa, Buddhaghosa was born in Bodhi Gaya. He learned Veda when he was young but later came down to South in order to search for the truth. There he met Revata who converted him to Buddhism. By recommendation of Revata, Buddhaghosa came to Sri Lanka because A  hakathŒ was reserved only in Sīhala at that time. After completing his task of translation Sīhala A  hakathŒ into PŒli, he went back to Bodhi Gaya to worship Bodh tree.[26]


According to Cèlavaµsa, Buddhaghosa wrote some books in India before he came into Sri Lanka. The names of those books are thus: „Œöodaya, AtthasŒlinī, and Paritta-a  hakathŒ. Unfortunately, we do not have these books except AtthasŒlinī which is the name given to the commentary of Dhammasaºgaöī, one of the Abhidhamma text.


Then the question arises: what is the relationship between this AtthasŒlinī which is wrote in India and AtthasŒlinī which is the commentary on the Dhammasaºgaöī. As far as we know, the task of translation from Sīha A  hakathŒ to PŒli was entirely done in Sri Lanka. How can we reconcile this fact with those book names written in India? We may assume that AtthasŒlinī which is written in India has nothing to do with the AtthasŒlinī which is a translation of Dhammasºgaöī A  hakathŒ; or it was a small book which has nothing to do with Dhammasaºgaöī but the same name; or it was a short note which Buddhaghosa used for his own reference when he was studying under Revata, then he extended it when he translated Dhammasºgaöī in Sri Lanka. It means that AtthasŒlinī as Dhammasaºgaöī A  hakathŒ is the extended version of AtthasŒlinī written in India. Unfortunately, we do not know which one was the case.


According to the scholars, Buddhaghosa wrote Visuddhimagga and translated following texts in PŒli: KhaºkhŒvitŒrani (PŒtimokkha A  hakathŒ); SamantapŒsŒdikŒ (VA); SumaºgalavilŒsinī (DA); Papa–casèdanī (MA); SŒratthappakŒsinī (SA); Manorathapèraöī (AA). Traditionally other books such as Dhammapada A  hakathŒ, JŒtaka A  hakathŒ, SuttanipŒta A  hakathŒ, KuddakapŒp ha A  hakathŒ, AtthasŒlinī, Vibhaºgha A  hakathŒ and other commentaries are ascribed to the authorship of Buddhaghosa. But they have to be examined very carefully and the authorship has not been established as fact as the first seven books which are surely the works of Buddhaghosa.


Now a question: on what basis do you determine such order of the seven books which are written or translated by Buddhaghosa? The answer is the basis of cross-reference. For example, if the Visuddhimagga does not refer to any other six books while others refer to it, Visuddhimagga must be written at first; tradition also says that it is the first book. It is proved both internally and traditionally. If the KhaºkhŒvitŒrani refers to Visuddhimagga, but not to any other five books while other five books refer to Visuddhimagga and KhaºkhŒvitŒrani, it means that KhaºkhŒvitŒrani is the second book which Buddhaghosa worked. In this way we can determine such order. It is important to know this because other texts often say that “for detail, please refer to Visuddhimagga.”


Now we are going to discuss fairly controversial points on Visuddhimagga. As we know, Buddhaghosa came to Sri Lanka during the time of the king MahŒnŒma (409-431). According to information from PŒli tradition, we can say that the greatest contribution he made to PŒli literature in this country was the composition of Visuddhimagga because while other works were merely translations from Sīhala A  hakathŒ into PŒli, Visuddhimagga was his own creation. If it is the case, did he write it on his own or did he have any other basic sources which he consulted?


Dr. Ananda Guruge insists that there was a Sīhala Visuddhimagga which the PŒli Visuddhimagga was based on, the same as other translations of Buddhaghosa. On the other hand, the traditionally accepted theory especially in MahŒyŒna tradition is that before Visuddhimagga we have another referent text called Vimuttimagga which was written by Upatissa.[27] In the 4th century it was translated into Chinese which has been remained up to today but the original text was lost. The Chinese version of Vimuttimagga has translated into English. An Indian scholar P.V. Bapat who knows Chinese language examined this issue through the comparative study of Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga. His conclusion is that Visuddhimagga was written based on Vimuttimagga because both are very similar to each other. This is quite controversial to our traditional belief that Visuddhimagga was the Buddhaghosa’s own work based on his own understanding of Buddhism.


Another controversy is raised by K.R. Norman, a brilliant British scholar who is not only a scholar on Buddhism but also on linguistics especially on Indo-Aryan and PŒli. The question is what are the books belong to Abhayagiri school? Where do you find the evidence of it? Traditionally two major works, Vimuttimagga (4 A.D.) and SaddhammopŒyana (14-15 A.D.), are believed to belong to Abhayagiri school; even MahŒvihara school accepts it. But according to Norman’s careful examination of the whole PŒli sources, even though two names are there, no where gives a hint that the two texts belong to Abhayagiri school.


There is a research methodology that tries to reconstruct original text from the present Chinese sources; it would be possible when we trace from the Chinese words to the original sound.[28] When we use this method of reconstruction, it is very hard to know that whether the original text of Vimuttimagga is in Sanskrit or in PŒli; there are both possibilities. K.R. Norman personally believes that the original Vimuttimagga is in Sanskrit which was done in India, not in Sri Lanka. But there is no definite conclusion on this issue. The further research and examination is needed.


By the way, the Visuddhimagga is regarded as one of the most important Buddhist texts among the Theravadins. While the Sri Lankan people have concentrated on the study of Suttas, the Burmese have more emphasized on Abhidhamma traditions. Therefore, the summary of Abhidhamma texts called Saddhammasaºgaha is the most widely studied texts in Burma together with Visuddhimagga.



Lecture 17 (August 2, 2006)



       We have been talk of PŒli commentary. The most famous commentator was Buddhaghosa. MahŒvaµsa finished with chapter 37 and the continuation from chapter 37 is called Cèlavaµsa. There is a portion of description of the Buddhaghosa’s life in that chapter 37 of Cèlavaµsa: Buddhaghosa came to Sri Lanka in the 5th Century A.D. during the time of the king MahŒnŒma. Before came to Sri Lanka, he wrote three books, mentioned above. After he spent one year of studying Sinhalese, he wrote Visuddhimagga for another year showing his capacity to Bhikkhus of MahŒvihara. Then he got permission to use all the materials in MahŒvihara library. He translated six commentaries into PŒli for six years. So he did his works for about 8 years. Traditional attribution of some other books to his authorship is very doubtful. The first person who raised the question of his authorship of AtthasŒlinī as Dhammasaºgaöī A  hakathŒ was an Indian scholar P.V. Bapat. If we allow the possibility of the Buddhaghosa’s authorship of AtthasŒlinī, we have to add some more years; then we can conclude that he did such works within lesser than 10 years.


       The important thing is the reason why the Bhikkhus in MahŒvihara invited great commentators like Buddhaghosa from South India. One of the most urgent motivations would be the rivalry with Abhayagiri monastery which was more popular than MahŒvihara monastery at that time in outside of Sri Lanka. Even though they also had capacity to translate Sīhala A  hakathŒ into PŒli, they preferred to have foreign scholars who can give better credit for their lineage. Buddhaghosa who came from Magadha region could be the channel of the authentic tradition of Buddhavacana to them.


Although Buddhaghosa is the only name has remained in history for his books, it seems that Buddhaghosa was the leader who supervised the team work rather than he did all the works alone. Similar things happened in China too; they did collective works under one supervisor whose name remained as the author.  


       Among the commentators, DhammapŒla is regarded as the most junior one. But we do not know his date exactly. Covering period of active commentators (5-7th century) is called “commentarial period.” During this time, MahŒvihara became internationally famous by those great commentators. Regarding the number of books, Buddhaghosa produced more texts than DhammapŒla who translated seven books of Khuddaka NikŒya and composed sub commentaries (TikŒ). Buddhaghosa is regarded as the greatest commentator because he was the first commentator arrived in Sri Lanka and wrote Visuddhimagga, one of the greatest works of PŒli literature.


       PŒli literature has been enriched and even today it is still being written. There are miss concepts among the MahŒyŒna scholars that the studies of PŒli and Theravada tradition have been completed by translation of all Tripi aka. Within the PŒli literature, however, there are many areas to study; even translation itself has not finished yet. As we saw before, the most important A  hakathŒ and the whole TikŒ literature are not translated into any modern language. In fact, the study of PŒli literature is just a beginning stage.




MahŒyŒna Buddhism in Sri Lanka



       The pioneering work of this topic was undertaken by Prof. Senarat Paranavitana in 1950’s. He was the first person who pointed out the existence of MahŒyŒna Buddhism in Sri Lanka, though the number of sources were very limited. He was followed by Prof. Mudiyanse who wrote “MahŒyŒna Monuments in Ceylon” for his PhD thesis in about 1970. Based on literary sources like MahŒvaµsa and Cèlavaµsa, he did survey on monuments which are connected to MahŒyŒna Buddhism. He found Avalokite§vara Bodhisattva statues in the southern part of Sri Lanka. The future Buddha (Metteyya Buddha) statues were also there. The place known as Dambegodha is one of such places where we can find the statues.


       Then the question arises: why MahŒvaµsa or Cèlavaµsa does not mention of those statues? It is because MahŒvihara was the representative school supported by subsequent kings and they were very much against MahŒyŒna Buddhism. Therefore, it is very interesting to note that although such antagonism against MahŒyŒna, there have been statues of MahŒyana. Prof. Mudiyanse collected all the data and survey on them.


       Literally MahŒvaµsa talks of one school called Dhammaruci in the first century B.C. This group, taking the enlightened Dhamma, came from India to Sri Lanka and resided at the Abhayagiri monastery. But it cannot be regarded as MahŒyŒna Buddhism proper because there was no emergence of MahŒyana Buddhism yet in India in the first century A.D.


       The first reference to MahŒyana Buddhism could be during the time of the king VohŒrika Tissa (214-236 A.D.) after the third century A.D. This is mentioned both in Dīpavaµsa and MahŒvaµsa in very short description about the schools to which the king had connection with Indian monks who were supposed to be MahŒyŒnists. As you expect, Dīpavaµsa denounces this MahŒyŒnism and even the king VohŒrika Tissa himself says that believing such false doctrines and the people who proclaim those doctrines ruin the religion of Dina (Theravada), of Buddhavacana.


       Historically speaking, as this short reference shows, the first time that MahŒyŒna Buddhism came to be known to the people in Sri Lanka should be the third century A.D. It is reasonable to say that those MahŒyŒna monks came to Sri Lanka after one century or a half century later since MahŒyŒna Buddhism arose in India.



Lecture 18 (August 16, 2006)



       As I mentioned, according to MahŒvaµsa, when the Abhayagiri monastery was established in the 1st century B.C., some ascetics came from India to spread Dhammaruci. But it cannot be regarded as MahŒyana Buddhism proper. They would be a group of people who followed a teaching which is quite different from the Theravada teachings.


       So the MahŒyŒna Buddhism proper which can be referred to first time in Sri Lanka, as found in MahŒvaµsa, is during the time of the king VohŒrika Tissa (214-236 A.D.). According to MahŒvaµsa, he had supported MahŒyana Buddhism in Sri Lanka. MahŒyŒna Buddhism were very often associated with Abhayagiri school because all those foreign monks and ascetics were welcomed at the Abhayagiri monastery. It does not mean that bhikkhus of Abhayagiri school were necessarily MahŒyŒnists, though they entertained people from abroad including MahŒyŒnists at the Abhayagiri temples.


       According to MahŒvaµsa and also followed by NikŒya Saºgraha,[29] during the time of the king VohŒrika Tissa, people of Dhammaruci sect, who were being entertained by the Abhayagiri school, adapted Vaitulya Pi aka. Some scholars believe that this Sanskrit term Vaitulya (Vetulla or Vedalla in PŒli) refers to MahŒyŒna Buddhism. It is important to note that people who adapted such MahŒyŒna text was not the bhikkhus of Abhayagiri school but the people of Dhammaruci sect who were staying at the Abhayagiri monastery. The meaning of this Vetulla text is discussed even in the some PŒil commentaries. According to those PŒli commentaries, Vetulla (or Vedalla) contains texts like AºgulimŒla and other texts which are not heard of in the Theravada teachings.


       The second reference to MahŒyŒna Buddhism in MahŒvaµsa is during the time of the king Go hŒbhaya (253-266 A.D.). According to MahŒvaµsa chapter 36, the king Go hŒbhaya seized 60 monks dwelling at the Abhayagiri vihara, who upheld Vaitulya doctrine, and expelled them from Sri Lanka to south India.


       The third reference to MahŒyŒna is during the time of the king MahŒsena (276-303). According to MahŒvaµsa chapter 37, there was a evil monk by the name of SaºghamittŒ from India who persuaded the king MahŒsena to destroy the MahŒvihara. In order to escape their harassments, the monks who were resident in the MahŒvihara went to Malaya and
Lohana district. The Mah
Œvihara monasteries were vacant for 9 long years. On the one hand, therefore, the king MahŒsena is described as an evil king from the MahŒvihara point of view, but on the other hand, he is regarded as a great king who contributed tremendously to develop the country. Later on, however, even in MahŒvaµsa, after realizing his stories, it is said that the king MahŒsena restored all monasteries, erected many stupas here and there, gave many kinds of offerings to the order every year, built 16 tanks and the long cannel for abundant harvest. So at the end of it, he became very favorable king from the point of view of the development of country and also from the point of view of the MahŒvihara tradition.  


       The fourth reference to MahŒyŒna is during the time of the king SilŒkŒla, AmbasŒmaöera (522-535). His reign is described in the Cèlavaµsa which is the continuation of the MahŒvaµsa as well as in the NikŒya Saºgraha. It is said that in the 12th year of his reign, a young merchant, who went from Sri Lanka to Benares, brought back a DhammadhŒtu[30] According to Nikaya Saºgraha, it refers to Vetulla doctrine. The king, who did not know how to distinguish what doctrine is right and wrong, would also follow that DhammadhŒtu which is referring to the teachings  of the Buddha, not Theravada but some sorts of MahŒyŒna Buddhism. Some scholars believe that this DhammadhŒtu refers to the text called Saddharmapuöarīka Sètra, which is one of the most important MahŒyana texts.


       The fifth reference is during the time of the king Aggabodhi I (575-608). It is reference to debate between people headed by the name of JotipŒla of the MahŒvihara and adherents of the Vetulla School in Sri Lanka. As a result, JotipŒla and his disciples defeated Vetulla doctrine in their debate.


       The sixth reference is during the king Sena I (833-853). His time is very important because for the first time of the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka the reference was made to the VajrayŒna School. After it arose in India in the 6th or 7th century A.D., the one or two hundred years later the VajrayŒna School was accepted and became quite popular among the people in Sri Lanka. The introduction of its teaching is a text called Ratöakè a Sutta, a collection of many suttas.


      The seventh reference is during the king Sena II (853-887). Again here is the reference to the VajrayŒna school. The king endeavored to settle disputes between Theravada Buddhism represented by MahŒvihara and some VajrayŒna schools came from India. In the NikŒya Saºgraha he was mentioned as a virtuous king who protected Theravada Buddhism.


       The eighth reference is during the king KumŒra-DhŒtusena (512-520). Now we are going back in time to the 6th century A.D. According to NikŒya Saºgraha, during this time some monks belonging to different schools were present in Sri Lanka, particularly those who wore the blue robes. According to the Northern sources, the blue robe is usually associated with MahīsŒsaka School which is a branch of Theravada Buddhism but distinctly different from Theravada. They had their own Sutta and Vinaya texts.


I can substantiate the presence of MahīsŒsaka in Sri Lanka even before this time of KumŒra-DhŒtusena as mentioned in the NikŒya Saºgraha. That is, according to the Chinese sources, when a Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien came to Sri Lanka in the 4th century A.D., he went to stay in Abhayagiri monastery for some time. And when he left Sri Lanka, he took Vinaya texts belonging to the MahīsŒsaka School. This proves that even during the fourth century about one hundred years before the king KumŒra-DhŒtusena’s time, there was the presence of the MahīsŒsaka people being entertained at the Abhayagiri monastery.


No surprise to see that it is often mentioned, in the Chinese sources, that those bhikkhus belonging to MahīsŒsaka wore the blue robes in order to differentiate themselves from the rest of members of the saºgha. According to the information gathered from Chinese sources, Sarvastivada bhikkhus in India wore the dark-red robes. Dharmagupta School bhikkhus wore the black robes. KŒ§yapīya School bhikkhus wore the mixture of yellow and pink and red. Then MahŒsaºghika bhikkhus wore the yellow robes.


Since we are solely depending on MahŒvaµsa, Cèlavaµsa, PŒli sources, or even Sanskrit sources, which all belong to the Theravada tradition, the kinds of information we get are sometimes one-side view. If we are to make sure that everything happened here in Sri Lanka is elaborated or substantiated with evidence found in some other sources, particularly in the Tibetan and Chinese sources, the weight of evidence becomes more and more.   


Now I will give you one more example of the importance of the Chinese sources. The PŒli commentaries do not talk about teachings related to MahŒyŒna Buddhism. They are always connected to the Theravada Buddhism and no room for MahŒyŒna. But even in the PŒli texts, there are very few references to MahŒyŒna Buddhism. I want to elaborate on one of them in the help of the Chinese sources.


It is in the MajjhimŒ A  hakathŒ that there is a reference to a theory put forward by the YogŒcŒra School which is one of the major MahŒyŒnic schools. That is talk about some sorts of imaginary situation of who is in hell (Niraya); there is a PŒli term niraya pŒla, which means ‘protector of niraya.’ According to Theravada interpretation, it is something like carpet. According to YogŒcŒra School, it is a kind of figure made of wood. The important thing is that YogŒcŒra School is referred to in the Theravada texts namely PŒli commentaries. And it suggests that the YogŒcŒra doctrine was known to some people here in Sri Lanka.


Now I am going to substantiate that presence of the YogŒcŒra in Sri Lanka. There is a famous Chinese traveler Xuan Tsang who came to India during the 7th century A.D. He also had an idea of coming into Sri Lanka in order to search for books. But it was so happen that some bhikkhus belonging to both MahŒvihara and Abhayagiri schools were residing in India when he was there. As natural, Xuan Tsang wanted to get some information about Buddhism in Sri Lanka from those monks before going into the country. Then in the course of conversation, the Sri Lankan monks said that they study teachings of Theravada and YogŒcŒra in Sri Lanka. After hearing that, Xuan Tsang decided not to visit Sri Lanka and went back to China. According to this Chinese source, therefore, it is very clear that the YogŒcŒra doctrines were studied by some people in Sri Lanka. It does not necessarily mean that the bhikkhus of MahŒvihara studied YogŒcŒra, but there must have been people who belong to this YogŒcŒra School side be side with Theravada Buddhism here in Sri Lanka. There is a Chinese term, posed later by him on Buddhism in Sri Lanka, that is, ‘MahŒyŒna TheravŒda.’ Thus some travelers from China became to have impression that the bhikkhus in Sri Lanka not only studied Theravada Buddhism but also some forms of MahŒyŒna was present.

The ninth reference is during the time of the king ParŒkramabŒhu I (1153-86) who unified all different sects and groups of the Saºgha. Since his unification of the Saºgha in Sri Lanka, subsequently only the MahŒvihara tradition has become the official Buddhism in Sri Lanka. I believe that in ancient time there were a lot of movements in Buddhism in Sri Lanka; there were Buddhist people from India and China. But all those movements stopped at least officially after this ParŒkramabŒhu’s time. MahŒvihara became only official tradition and now we call it the Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka that is the main stream of Buddhism. Even the historical texts such as MahŒvaµsa and Dīpavaµsa have been preserved by the bhikkhus of MahŒvihara. This is the reason why even Sri Lankan historians very often say that it is pity to have only the one side of view on the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. If the Abhayagiri tradition continued side by side with MahŒvihara, we would have more complete history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.


The last reference is during the time of the king MŒgha (1215-1236). According to Cèllavaµsa and NikŒya Saºgraha, the purity of the religion, which is established during the time of the king ParŒkramabŒhu I, continued to maintain for 36 years. Then the king MŒgha came from south India occupied Sri Lanka with large strong army and destroyed the temples and stupas. Later the subsequent kings overcame all these and again Buddhism has flourished in Sri Lanka. 



Lecture 19 (August 23, 2006)



How MahŒyŒna Buddhism Arouse in India



       There is no consensus of opinion among the scholars on this topic of the origin of MahŒyŒna Buddhism in India. Some say that it was natural growth from the sectarian Buddhism. When we say a ‘sectarian Buddhism,’ it has to be distinguished from what we call the ‘Early Buddhism.’ We should have very clear idea about the developmental stages that Buddhism has undergone at different places from the ancient time up to now. Usually the Early Buddhism comes first. But we don’t exactly know what it is. There is no consensus of opinion about the definition of Early Buddhism. Some people say that we would like to put it as early as possible. They expect to go back to the time of the Buddha himself. But, as we know, there is no evidence in our sources that prove the collective text can go back to the Buddha himself. Usually the Early Buddhism is regarded as the Buddhism up to the time of the point that the Saºgha divided into the two schools.


       All the Buddhist sources such as PŒli, Sanskrit, and Chinese sources, recognize the historical fact of the existence of 18 different schools before the time of the king Asoka in the third century B.C. According to the PŒli sources, the division of these 18 schools had happened during a hundred years since the second Buddhist Council held in the fourth century B.C. Even by that fourth century B.C. we did not have a ‘canon’ as such because there was no necessity for the bhikkhus to differentiate a sutta A from a sutta B. There was no distinction on the materials. It happened when the Saºgha divided into two groups. The one group did not agree that the materials held by the other group as the Buddha’s teachings. From that time on, the 18 different schools arose and they kept their own suttas and vinaya rules. We call them as a ‘Sectarian Buddhism.’ Problem is that it is very hard to distinguish which portions of our sources belong to the Early Buddhism and which portions to the Sectarian Buddhism. 


       Furthermore, within the Tipi kaka the Abhidhamma pi aka came into existence later than the other two. The composition of it has taken about two hundred years since the Sutta and Vinaya pi aka were compiled in the fifth century B.C. It is completed as the seven books when the KathŒvatthu was written by the Moggaliputta-Tissa during the time of the king Asoka in the third century B.C. There were many occasions for the Buddhist themselves to develop their own theories within the Saºgha and eventually divided into 18 different schools; each of them claimed that their theories are very much based on the teachings of the Buddha himself.


       As long as the Sutta and Vinaya Pi kaka are concerned, however, they had been existed before those sectarian schools arose and remained as a core or common source which came to be possessed and handed down by each of these 18 schools. Each claimed that their teaching is based on so called a common source of the Vinaya Pi aka and the Sutta Pi aka. This common source can be regarded as the sources of the Early Buddhism.


       Regarding the Early Buddhism, people have a wrong concept that the PŒli sources are the only sources which can show the Early Buddhism. It is not so. This is the point that I want to make here. Even Chinese sources contain this common or core source, though they were translated much later. So you can approach to the topic of the Early Buddhism using the Chinese or Sanskrit sources. It can be a kind of comparative studies; study of the Early Buddhism from different sources such as the PŒli, the Sanskrit, the Tibetan, and the Chinese. But, what is the importance of the PŒli literature is that the Theravada tradition is the only school which has been preserving these sources or the texts from the very ancient time up to the present time as a Tipi aka; the Tipi aka as a whole, not as a part of them.


       Now, according to the PŒli sources, at the second Buddhist Council in the fourth century B.C. the MahŒsaºgika came into exist separated from the SthaviravŒda for the first time in the Buddhist history. What does this term ‘MahŒ’ suggest? Even in this time of the first division of the Saºgha, this new group used the comparative term, means ‘lager’ than the SthaviravŒda. By the name of Sthavira, which means ‘Thera’ (elder), they would intend to emphasize that they were the people who inherited the main body of the Buddha’s teachings. So, by having this name, StaviravŒda would have been considered as more direct lineage of the Buddha than the MahŒsaºgika.


       What made the Saºgha divide in two? As we studied earlier, there are two theories on this issue. One is the ten points of unlawful practice of some monks, which Yasa criticized and Sthaviravada confirmed. When the issue of the possibility of changing the minor Vinaya rules arose at the second Buddhist council, there were disputes among the bhikkhus; then MahŒkassapa finally decided not to change any single rule for the sake of the unity of the Saºga and for prohibiting anyone of the future generation from changing the rules for their own benefits. According to this point of view, what MahŒsaºgika bhikkhus did was wrong. But the MahŒsaºgika had their own reasons. When they faced the difficult situation of the different regions of India in which they could not keep certain minor rules, they had to change them because for them the most important thing was to spread the Dhamma not to stick to the minor rules which can be obstacles to spread Dhamma.  


       The other is according to the Sanskrit and Chinese sources. We discussed the five points of MahŒdeva. This was omitted in the PŒli sources because it criticizes Arahant as imperfect. But, it is important, for it gives some idea of the origin of MahŒyŒna Buddhism. When MahŒdeva looked down on Arahant, he had a hidden intention that he would like to replace Arahant by a new ideal of Bodhisattva as much superior to Arahant. MahŒsaºgika’s contention was to show that it is not Arahant who is perfect but is Bodhisattva who is perfect and much superior to Arahant.


       In the PŒli tradition, Bodhisattva is the person who is destined to be a Buddha. It sometimes translated as ‘Buddha to be,’ ‘Buddha aspirant.’ Etymologically it has different meaning: bodhi + satta (being looking forward to bodhi or attachment to bodhi). The Pali commentaries generally give a fourfold explanation of the term bodhi: (1) the tree of enlightenment (bodhi-rukkha); (2) the holy path (catumagga-–Œöa); (3) NibbŒna; (4) omniscience of the Buddha (sabba––utŒ-–Œöa).


       According to Theravada Buddhism, there are three kinds of yŒna (a liberated person): (1) Buddha-yŒna; (2) Pacceka-yŒna; (3) Arahant. Among these three, the third is the easiest way to becoming the liberated one.[31]


       But, for the MahŒsaºgika, by emphasizing the importance of Bodhisattva, they emphasized on the Buddha, the first category among those three liberated one in Theravada. That is, the Buddha who achieves the Buddhahood is the only way for us to attain emancipation. We are not concerned either about becoming pacceka or arahant; we are always concerned with the aim of becoming a Buddha. So we are different from the SthaviravŒda. That is how MahŒsaºgika would have argue. Since they accepted the Bodhisattva path, or the Buddha path, this is what we call ‘EkayŒna Buddhism’: only one vehicle is available to them. No other ways are acceptable to them and to their subsequent schools.


       In the latter Theravadin tradition, it is said that to become a Buddha one takes four asankheyya and one hundred thousands kappas; for becoming a pacceka buddha, one takes two asankheyya and one hundred thousands kappas; but for arahants, some people take only one thousand kappas and some take only one hundred kappas. The purpose of practicing Buddhism is to put in end of dukkha. Whether you become a Buddha or Arahant, there is no difference for that purpose. So people prefer to choose the easiest way, an arahantship.


In Theravada Buddhism it is said that only one Buddha is possible in one world system. But theoretically the number of bodhisatta is different; they can be existed in the same world system simultaneously. It is said that the Gotama took his vow to becoming bodhisatta long kappas ago under the Dīpaºkara Buddha who was the fourth previous Buddha. Then this Gotama bodhisatta could meet twenty four other bodhisattvas before he became the Buddha in this world system because it is believed that there had been 27 previous Buddhas before him.


MahŒsaºgika group, which chose the most difficult way to become a Buddha as the only way, extended that kind of theory of the Bodhisattva. According to them, a person who once takes a vow to become a Bodhisattva is a Bodhisattva. Therefore, anyone can become a Bodhisattva. There is a common use of simile that there are Bodhisattvas as many as sands in the Ganges. Once this theory of Bodhisattva was established, the theory of the Buddha Nature came out. As long as we all have potentiality of becoming a Bodhisattva, we also have potentiality of becoming a Buddha. This is what we call the ‘Buddha Nature.’ We all have the Buddha Nature. What keeps us away from attaining this Buddhahood is because we do not be aware of this Buddha Nature which is already within us. Once you realize that you have the Buddha Nature in you and in any other beings, you start finding out or polishing this Buddha Nature; then by discovering the Buddha Nature in you, you finally become a Buddha. Thus once anyone takes vow to become a Bodhisattva, anyone can become a Bodhisattva whether the one really becomes a Buddha or not.


On the contrary, in Theravada Buddhism, the number of bodhisatta is very much restricted. But, subsequently, in the Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka, most probably influenced by the MahŒyŒna Buddhism later on, it is talked about the three kinds of bodhisatta: (1) MahŒ-bodhisatta: persons who become Buddhas; (2) Pacceka-bodhisatta: persons who become pacceka Buddhas; (2) SŒvaka-bodhisatta: persons who become Arahants. In other words, anyone can be called bodhisatta whether he becomes an Arahant or a Buddha. It is clearly stated in one inscription that to become a king of this country, you have to be a bodhisatta. As we saw before, many bodhisattva statues were also found later on. But unfortunately they are not properly recognized.



Lecture 20 (August 30, 2006)



1. Glorification of the Buddha


       We will continue to examine this issue which we saw last week in terms of the ideal of Bodhisattva raised in front. We have to remember that the Saºgha divided into two main stream (StaviravŒda and MahŒsaºgika) at the second Buddhist Council in the fourth century B.C. Some scholars believe that the MahŒsaºgika is the forerunner of the MahŒyŒna Buddhism or MahŒyŒna movement. If you accept this theory, you would agree that MahŒyŒna Buddhism arose in as early as the fourth century B.C. That is, even before Buddhism introduced into Sri Lanka, MahŒyŒna Buddhism was staying in India. But in reality it is not a case even though MahŒsaºgika has very similar name to MahŒyŒna Buddhism and it appeals the glorification of the Buddha from the very initial stage by raising the question of Arahant.


       They kept two different positions, in terms of interpretation of Arahant. Theravadins regarded Arahant to be compounded with the Buddha himself as far as his liberation from dukkha is concerned; whether one is Arahant or the Buddha, he comes to the same; as long as one who has put an end to the dukkha, he is seen as the Buddha himself, in that aspect. What distinguishes the Buddha from other Arahants in the early sources are thus: (1) the Buddha is the Teacher of gods and men (SatthŒ devamanussŒnaµ) whereas Arahants are pupils; (2) the Buddha is the Preacher who can spread the Dhamma in a correct manner by his compassion. It is highlighted in these two respects that the difference between sammŒ-sambuddha and the pacceka-buddha who cannot preach the Dhamma properly[32] so who cannot be a teacher of gods and men; (3) the Buddha is also the Finder of the ancient path. This aspect is also very much emphasized in the early canonical texts related to the sammŒ-sambuddha.


       In MahŒsaºgika, as we examine last week, arahant’s position was not denied but belittled in a certain extent in order to put the concept of the Bodhisattva to the front. Once establishing the Bodhisattva concept, it becomes one of the savor teachings of the MahŒsaºgika which became a cause to give rising of MahŒyŒna Buddhism in India. For glorification of the Buddha, by emphasizing the importance of Bodhisattva, this particular school had to emphasize many different aspects of the Buddhahood which are quite different from Arahants. Therefore, the gab between the Buddha and Arahants became wider and wider. The term ‘glorification’ does not indicate a kind of deification in terms of other theistic religions use; it just means that the Buddha is ‘unique’ even among the Arahants.



2. Stèpa Worship


       According to the MahŒparinibbŒna Sutta, the Buddha says to accept that there are four categories of people in this world, who are worthy of stèpa worship: the sammŒ-sambuddha, pacceka-buddha, arahant, and the cakkavatti (universal) king. The Buddha prohibits his monk disciples from engaging in the maintenance of stèpa. The stèpas were usually to be built by the lay disciples at the cross road, so that people were easy to gather from each direction. The maintenance of them was also given to the lay people. Since the stèpa worship was given to the lay, they would have developed their own set of beliefs connected with the stèpa worship; they would invent rites and rituals, stanzas (gŒthŒ), so on.


This clear separation between the bhikkhus and the lay disciples in relation to the stèpa worship is so important that the lay could positively participate in the worship of some objects in early as the Buddha’s time. So some scholars argue that this stèpa worship was developed in a great extent among the lay disciples and that pushed the MahŒyŒna movements apart from the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni oriented Saºgha. In the Mah