The Urban Dharma Newsletter... February 3, 2004


In This Issue: Buddhism in Sri Lanka

1. Buddhism in Sri Lanka
2. The Arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
...by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe
3. Sri Lanka and Buddhism
4. Temple/Center/Website:
Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara
...By Ananda W. P. Guruge


1. Buddhism in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka is the oldest continually Buddhist country, Theravada Buddhism being the major religion in the island since its official introduction in the 2nd century BC by Venerable Mahinda, the son of the Emperor Ashoka of India during the reign of King Devanampiya- Tissa. Later, the nun Sanghamitta, the daughter of Asoka, was said to have brought the southern branch of the original Bodhi tree, where it was planted at Anuradhapura. From that day up to the present, the Buddhists in Sri Lanka have paid and are paying the utmost reverence to this branch of the Bodhi Tree under the shade of which the Master achieved Enlightenment.

Monks from Sri Lanka have had an important role in spreading both Theravada and Mahayana throughout South-east Asia. It was in Sri Lanka, in the 1st century AD during the reign of King Vatta Gamini that the Buddhist monks assembled in Aloka-Vihara and wrote down the Tripitaka, the three basket of the Teachings, known as the Pali scriptures for the first time. It was Sri Lankan nuns who introduced the Sangha of nuns into China in 433AD. In the 16th century the Portuguese conquered Sri Lanka and savagely persecuted Buddhism as did the Dutch who followed them.

When the British won control at the beginning of the 19th century Buddhism was well into decline, a situation that encouraged the English missionaries that then began to flood the island. But against all expectations the monastic and lay community brought about a major revival from about 1860 onwards, a movement that went hand in hand with growing nationalism.

Since then Buddhism has flourished and Sri Lankan monks and expatriate lay people have been prominent in spreading Theravada Buddhism in Asia, the West and even in Africa.

Some of the most marvellous monuments in the Buddhist world belong to Sri Lanka, and her sculpture is closely associated with the early art of the Krishna valley and the later Pallava and Chola kings, owing to the close relationship that existed between south India and Sri Lanka. (above: Seven-metre-tall standing image of the Buddha in a rare cross-armed pose at Gal Vihara).

According to the Sri Lankan chronicles, the Mahavamsa, one of Ashoka's sons, the monk Mahinda, supervised construction of monastic buildings near Anuradhapura. Simultaneously, he sent to India for relics. These, say the histories, included the Buddha's alms bowl andhis right collarbone. Later a hair relic, and in the 4th century AD, the Buddha's tooth would be taken to Sri Lanka. The tooth is still preserved in Kandy where daily rituals venerate the Buddha's tooth relic in Temple of the Tooth Relic, Kandy 16th Century.

To house the relics, stupas were built. Standing at 300 feet, Ruwanweliseya, or the "Great Stupa" is regarded as one of the most important stupas at Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka: Much restored, the great dome, circled with old columns, is still to be seen in Anuradhapura, now a great park. During major festivals it is crowded with hundreds of thousands of devotees in family groups, who picnic happily among the ruins and offer puja at the Bodhi tree. There are other important monuments nearby at Mihintale, the site of Mahinda's first sermon to King Devanampiya-Tissa. The ruins of the later capital at Polonnaruwa (9th century AD onwards), showing Hindu and Mahayana cultic influence, are yet more elaborate.

The stupa in Sri Lanka is a circular drum on a square base with a long succession of compressed umbrellas forming a conical top over a box-shaped harmika, of which the Ruwanweliseya stupa, (above right) at Anuradhapura (3rd century BC) is a fine example.

2. The Arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka ...by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe


It was on the memorable Poson fullmoon day in the month Jattha (June), in BC 306, (i.e., 237 years after the demise of the Buddha), that the Arhat Mahinda, the illustrious apostle of Buddhism met King Devanampiyatissa (307-267 BC) of Sri Lanka, atop the Mihintale rock (then known as Missaka-pabbata), situated about 12 km. east of Anuradhapura. This confrontation paved way for the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Arhat Mahinda, the profoundly sapient thera, came to Sri Lanka as bidden by his father, the emperor Asoka (264-267 BC) of India, who was earlier known as Chandasoka (Asoka the wicked), but later, when he renounced armed conquests, he came to be known as Dharmasoka (Asoka the pious). He proclaimed Buddhism, having become a convert to the faith, throughout India, as the state religion, and did everything for the propagation of Buddhism in the country.

Asoka's famous rock edicts read: "May the Dhamma last as long as my sons and grandsons, and the sun and the moon will be, and may the people follow the path of the Dhamma, for if one follows the path, happiness in this and in the other worlds will be attained." Even today, the Asoka Chakra (the Wheel of Asoka) dominates the national flag of India. Asoka, earlier as the viceroy of Udenipura (now Ujjain) in Avanti, fell in love with a beautiful damsel named Devi, the daughter of a wealthy merchant of Vidisa, who bore him two children. One was Mahendra (Mahinda) and the other was Sanghamitra (Sangamitta), both of whom entered the holy order of a bhikku and bhikkuni in fulfilment of the wish of their father Asoka. Mahinda entered the order at the age of 26 years, and elevated his spiritual position as an Arhant, having destroyed all passions pertaining to mundane existence.

When he came to Sri Lanka, he was 32 years old. It may rightly be considered that he was the first real teacher of Sri Lanka, who did much for the establishment of Buddhism in the island and the uplift of the Buddha Sasana. He stands credited for bringing about a socio-religious revolution in the country and in promoting religious zeal among the people.

However, Arhat Mahinda postponed his mission to Sri Lanka until the time was appropriate for him to undertake the mission, as the then king Mutasiva (367-307 BC), was too old and feeble to understand the doctrine of the Buddha. In order to mark time, first he left for the Dakkhinagiri vihara to see his mother and other kith and kin. He went there with the four theras, Itthiya, Utthiya, Sambala and Bhaddasala and the novice Sumana samanera.

After six month, they all left for Vidisagiri in Sanchi and lived there until the death of King Mutasiva. The enthronement of King Devanampiyatissa (the second son of Mutasiva), was found suitable to fit the occasion, and Arhat Mahinda, with his companions, left Vidisagiri vihara, bound for Sri Lanka. They were accompanied by Bhanduka upasaka, the lay-disciple.According to Mahavamsa, (Ch. 13:20), Arhat Mahinda and his companions, altogether six, "rose aloft into the air that very vihara, and instantaneously alighted atop the superb Missaka mountain (Mihintale), and stood on the rocky peak of the delightful and celebrated Ambatthala." This spot is now known as the aradhana-gala atop which the historic Mahinda-Tissa confrontation took place.

At this spot stands the Ambatthala chetiya of later times, built by King Mahadatika Mahanaga alias Maha Deliyamana (06-18 AD). On completion of the chetiya, the king held a splendid feast known as the Giribhanda-pooja (lighting the whole city with oil lamps), and an alms-giving known as Thulabhara-dana (offering of gold equal to king's weight).

If we are disposed to consider the mode of travel from Vidisagiri in India to Mihintale in Sri Lanka, we might consider them having followed the common routes of travel known at that time. It is said that the normal course would have been to arrive overland to a sea-port on the western coast of India, most probably, Bharukacca, and thence to take vessel to the island. If they had walked from the sea-port to Mihintale, many questions crop up. How did they reach Mihintale, through thick jungle infested with wild beasts? Who supplied meals to them en route, and who provided shelter for the night? How did they escape the attention of the king's spies who were on alert for intruders?

History reveals

Authentic history tells us that Arhat Mahinda met king Devanampiyatissa, when he was on a hunting spree towards the wilderness of Mihintale. Chasing wild animals was his famous form of amusement, which he did when he had the opportunity and leisure to do so. Seeing a stag browsing in the thicket, the king's fine sportive spirit could not brook on the idea of taking the grazing animal unawares. Pursuing the animal, which fled in the direction of Silakuta (the northern peak of Mihintale mountain), the king suddenly came upon Arhat Mahinda and his companions.

After a brief conversation to test the intelligence of the king, preparatory to preaching the Dhamma, the thera delivered the discourse on Culahastipadopama Sutta (simile on the foot of an elephant), and converted those assembled to Buddhism (Mhv. 14:22). This Sutta gives a clear idea of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and describes how one is converted to Buddhism and becomes a bhikkhu, the sublime qualities he practises and possesses, the things from which he abstains, the various stages of spiritual development in his life and his attainment of arhantship (the final fruit of Buddhism, ceasing rebirth). Later, he preached to those assembled, the Petavattu, Vimanavattu, Saccasamyutta, Devaduta Sutta, Balapandita Sutta, Agghikkhandopama Sutta, Asivisupama Sutta, Anamataggiya Sutta, Khajjaniya Sutta Gomayapindi Sutta, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (the first discourse of the Buddha), Mahappamada Sutta and the Cariyapitaka.

The advent of Arhat Mahinda in Sri Lanka, brought forth a socio-religious revolution, changing the life and habitat of the people. The establishment of the Buddha Sasana in the island was the greatest step taken by him to mould the character of the masses, leading to spiritual awareness and morality. We observe that Arhat Mahinda belonged to the school of vinayadharas, who advocated discipline as the best weapon to fight against all evil.

Socio-religious revolution

When King Devanampiyatissa inquired from Arhat Mahinda, whether the Buddha Sasana had been well established in the island, the reply was that it would happen only when a person of the Sinhalese race studies the vinaya (code of discipline) and expounds it clearly and explicitly. Accordingly, conversion of the king and his people to the new faith can be regarded as the most important event in the socio-religious history of the island. The introduction of Buddhism, with a civilisation attached to it, brought about a distinctive cultural pattern in the social and religious life of the community.

Dr. Senerath Paranavitana, the late Archaeological Commissioner of Sri Lanka, surveying the religious condition that prevailed in the island, prior to the advent of Arhat Mahinda, says: "When the missionaries of Asoka preached the doctrine of the Buddha, it becomes clear that the great majority of the people worshipped nature spirits, called the yakkas (demons), who were supposed to dwell in rivers, lakes, mountains, trees etc.

The worship of the sacred trees and groves was also connected with this primitive forms of worship. The heavenly bodies received the adoration of the people, and to a great extent influenced their everyday life. The more intellectual among the people, perhaps, followed the brahminical religion, i.e., Hinduism."

When Arhat Mahinda came to Sri Lanka, he brought with him the Theravada canon or orthodox Buddhism, preserved in memory by oral tradition, and finally redacted at the Third Buddhist Council held at Pataliputra (now Patna), under the leadership of the Maha Thera Moggaliputta Tissa. According to Mahavamsa, Aritta and fifty-five of his brothers were the first in the island to receive the pabajja (ordination), at the hands of the Arhat Mahinda.

Arhat Mahinda and his companions spent 26 days at the Mahamegha park in Anuradhapura, and later they retired to Mihintale to observe the first 'vas' (retreat). When the king went to see him, he delivered the discourse of Vassupanayikakkhandaka Sutta, The King built for them 68 caves to shelter themselves.

The succeeding years were marked by increasing religious activity throughout the island. Buddhism spread to every town, village and hamlet, where it was enthusiastically embraced. At the same time, a large number of viharas, chetiyas and other religious edifices soon dotted the island with everlasting grace. Arhat Mahinda was now old, having lived for 80 years of which 60 years he was a bhikkhu. After establishing Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and labouring in its cause, his strenuous life came to an end. He breathed his last in BC 259.

The king at the time was Uttiya (267-257 BC), and when he heard of the sad news, his sorrow was poignant. The corpse was brought to the city of Anuradhapura for cremation, adorned in a golden bier. After solemn obsequies, the body was cremated at a place to the left of the Maha Thupa (Ruvanweliseya) of later construction. The place was named Isibhumangana (Courtyard of the sages). Thus ended the life of the illustrious thera, who was second to Buddha in the island.

3. Sri Lanka and Buddhism



Sri Lanka is an multi ethnic society and hence all major religions are equally given prominence and probably the only country in the world along with Singapore, where important days of various religions are official holidays to allow for religious activities. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christian and Islam are freely practised in Sri Lanka and very often hand in hand with other religions. Catholic and Anglican sectors of the Christianity is equally followed in Sri Lanka.


Buddha did not represent another powerful invisible figure to preach his knowledge and was his own master. To the layman he taught how to live a good, sincere, happy and a purposeful life and proposed some guidelines to follow to achieve these objectives. Those who do good deeds are rewarded with positive results and vice versa he said. He also said those who want to improve the mind should practise to eliminate selfishness, hatred, anger and ignorance. He said right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration will lead to cessation of sorrow.

Buddhism and Sri Lanka

Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka around 2 century BC and has tremendously influenced the lives of the people, their culture and the heritage. Buddhist monuments include many of the remaining ancient ruins ironically though the worship of physical items are not a aspect of Buddhism. The Buddhist doctrine that is taught in Sri Lanka is one of the least diluted form of Buddha's teaching.

Buddhist Information Centres in Sri Lanka (by Andrew Quernmore, Reproduced from:


All Ceylon Buddhist Congress
380 Bauddhaloka Mw
Colombo 7
Tel: 94-01-691695,688517

Bhikku Training Centre
Lake Road
Tel: 94-01-850207

Buddhist Theosophical Society
203 Olcott Mawatha
Colombo 11
Tel; 94-01-323085

Institute for Buddhist Studies
(Dhammaratna Memorial Meditation & Foreign Languages)
Tel: 94-034-6131

Buddhist & Pali University
71b Huludagoda Road
Mount Lavinia
Tel: 94-01-716530

Buddhist Library
20 Magazine Road
Colombo 8
Tel: 94-01-696030

Buddhist University
29 Rosmead Place
Colombo 7
Tel: 94-01-693888


Buddha, unlike in some religions did not represent another powerful invisible figure to preach his knowledge. He was his master and preached the knowledge he gained through enlightenment. To the layman he taught how to live a good, sincere, happy and a purposeful life and proposed some guidelines to follow to achieve these objectives. For the intellectuals he said the life is sorrow and taught the way to eliminate the sorrow, by enlightenment. Enlightenment could only be attained through improvement of knowledge thus the improvement of conscious or mind hence some consider it as a philosophy. Worshipping is not a requirement in Buddhism though many do it as a habit and a custom.

Long before Newton, Buddha said every action has a reaction including in all conscious deeds. Those who do good deeds shall be rewarded with positive results and those who do harmful actions (with a evil intension) may experience in adverse results. The results of our righteous or sinful deeds Buddha said shall follow our soul in subsequent lives. Apart from heaven and hell he also said there are other forms of lives after this life.

Just like in thousands of present day books which provide self improvement techniques. Buddha provided an enormous amount of advice to the layman to improve one's self. He said selfishness, hatred, anger and ignorance prevent one from self improvement. One who want to improve the mind should learn to eliminate these four status of mind. He said right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration will lead to cessation of Sorrow.

Improved Mind

Buddha is said to have supernatural powers such as reading others thoughts. We already know some people possess super natural powers and extra ordinary abilities. Such status could be achieved by improving one's mind thought it is not the ultimatum of the Buddhism. Self improvement or the learning process since the childhood is a way of improving our mind or thinking. It is by improvement of one's mind that the truth could be understood.

It is not necessary for anyone (including Buddhists) to believe in Buddha or his teaching if they do not wish to. It is up to the individual to understand what he teaches.

Thus, the more we learn about Buddhism, the more we realize that it has not only made man into a being worthy of his humanity but also abundantly enriched the cultures of those lands to which it penetrated.

4. Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara


Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara carries on the Theravada tradition of Buddhism found primarily in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. The Theravada tradition is the oldest and most authentic version of the Buddha’s teachings now surviving. It preserves the original doctrines and practices taught by the Buddha 2,500 years ago.

Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara
1847 Crenshaw Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA 90019-6039 USA


1stbooks Library, Bloomington, Indiana, USA
ISBN 1-4107-5701-3 (paperback) 2003, 566 pages.
Available from - http://www.1stbooks.com
$17.00 + postage

Ananda Guruge’s Free at Last in Paradise was an unusual novel. It traced the history of the one hundred years of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), leading up to independence. The focus was on the national and Buddhist revival and the related movement for regaining independence. This was skillfully interwoven with a personal story, too, of a boy: his growing up, his entering the order of monks, his successful life as a layman for a time, and eventual return to monkhood, achieving fame as a great scholar. In this human story, love and other human emotions featured. It was a remarkable book by any standards: original, multi-layered, informative and touching.

The author has now produced a sequel to this book: Serendipity of Andrew George. This is an equally remarkable book; it is equally readable – indeed ‘unputdownable,’ equally satisfying, and equally intriguing. It also, like its predecessor, contains a wealth of information woven into the novel. This time the information is about the religious, cultural, historical and geographical aspects of the Island of Sri Lanka, provided in a highly readable way as part of the story. One almost gets the impression that this is an encyclopedia on Sri Lanka, parading as a novel! I mean this not as a criticism, but as a compliment.

The setting is in the 1960s, a vibrant and exiting decade for the Island. The title is based on a pun. Serendip was the name by which the country was known to some foreign writers of times past. The word Serendipity was derived from it, meaning an incidental discovery or an apparent aptitude for making fortunate discoveries accidentally. And the novel’s theme is Andrew George’s Serendipity, literally and metaphorically. Who is Andrew George? He is an American Academic, an anthropologist by profession, who visits Sri Lanka (still known as Ceylon in the ‘sixties) on a research award. He is unaware that his own ancestral roots lay in the Island. This personal story unravels in stages, until the final, almost dramatic, confirmation. His great-grandfather was, in fact, the great scholar monk whose life was covered in Free at Last in Paradise.

The author uses a clever and unusual ploy in this story. The scholar monk had written his own story (which we read in Free at Last in Paradise), but had decreed that it should not be published until the young schoolboy to whom he had entrusted the task was seventy. This was to avoid any hurt that might be caused to family and others mentioned in the book: so a safe gap of time was needed. This young schoolboy who dutifully undertook the task, was – wait for it – none other than Ananda Guruge! Guruge, a highly regarded and top ranking civil servant at the time of Andrew George’s visit, eventually confirms the story of the latter’s ancestral roots. So the author is also a character in the story, in fact a key one. There are other real persons, too, such as Venerable Welivitiye Sorata, Martin Wickremasinghe, A. T. Ariyaratne, Amaradasa and Lorna Dewaraja, Cecil Lyons, Stuart Smith, Richard T. Arndt and David Vickery, along with numerous fictional characters. The clever, almost unique, mixing of the true and fictional characters is another major reason why this book is so interesting. In the hands of a less skilled author, the ploy of using himself as a character might have failed or appeared as an unwarranted intrusion. Here it is done unobtrusively and enhances the novel rather than diminishing it.

In addition to this story of Andrew George’s ancestry, which emerges in stages, the book is a panoramic account of the Island. Andrew George travels around the Island with various people who show him places of historical and cultural interest, including the early Sinhala cities and religious structures. He, ever the observant anthropologist, asks questions, and the answers he receives, sometimes in the form of disagreements and debates among the ‘guides,’ are a wonderful education for the reader, not just for him. The reader learns a great deal about Sri Lanka, not just its ancient history and culture but also its contemporary aspects – drama, cinema, poetry, rituals etc. The multiplicity of cultures and subcultures, how they have blended harmoniously in some ways and retained their distinctive features in others, is an underlying theme throughout.

I said in an earlier paragraph that this book is an encyclopedia parading as a novel. It can also be seen as a travel guide. If one uses it in that role, one will not be disappointed. The wealth of information is truly amazing. Here we have Guruge the scholar extraordinary: historian, linguist, purveyor of literature, expert on art and architecture. He gives, through his fictional characters, the most authoritative information. When there are different theories and different versions of an event, he exposes the reader to these opposing positions. There is no dogma, but facts and a balanced interpretation of them. This is, in short, an exceptional book. It entertains the reader and educates him in equal measure, and the education is painless.

Only an author with exceptional talents, skill and wisdom can write such a book. One never ceases to marvel at the talents, skill and wisdom of Ananda Guruge.

To say that one waits eagerly for his next novel is a gross understatement.

Padmal de Silva
Institute of Psychiatry.
University of London.


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