‘Towards Compiling a History of Sri Lankan Philosophy’-Royal Asiatic Society Sri Lanka (RASSL) Lecture
Posted on August 25th, 2011

by Prof. Y. Karunadasa Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies The University of Hong Kong on Monday, 29th August at 5.00 p.m. at the Gamini Dissanayake Auditorium, No. 96, Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Colombo 07


The philosophical ideas in the Buddhist exegesis compiled in Sri Lanka are a linear development of the Buddhist teachings in the PƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚li Cannon. Nevertheless a clear boundary can be drawn between what Sri Lanka inherited from India and what Sri Lanka developed on its own. This latter aspect merits our attention for compiling a History of Sri Lankan Philosophy. If the VaibhƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚sika, SautrƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ntika, Madhyamaka, and YogƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚cƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ra are reckoned as separate schools of Buddhist philosophy, there is no reason why the same status cannot be assigned to the Buddhist philosophy that developed in Sri Lanka from the 3rd century BCE to 12th century CE. In point of fact, the mainlandƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Buddhist savants, such as Vasubandhu and YaƒÆ’-¦ƒ¢¢”š¬‚ºomitra, recognized the identity of Sri Lankan Buddhist thought by referring to it, not as HƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚«nayƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚na or TheravƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚da, but as TƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚mraparnƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚«ya-nikƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ya, the TƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚mraparnƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚«ya School of Buddhism. Early Sri Lanka had made critical observations not only on the philosophical views of non-Buddhist schools of Indian philosophy, such as the SƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚mkhya and the VaiƒÆ’-¦ƒ¢¢”š¬‚ºesika, but on the doctrinal tenets of Indian Buddhist schools as well. Among the latter are some 18 early Buddhist schools as well the two leading schools of the MahƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚yƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚na: the non-dualist Madhyamaka and the idealist YogƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚cƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ra. Buddhist philosophy in Sri Lanka did not develop as one uniform, monotonous system. There were divergent doctrinal interpretations among MahƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚vihƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ra, Abhayagiri, and Jetavana. But even among MahƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚vihƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ra there were differences on matters concerning doctrinal interpretation.

The following drew the special attention of the Sri Lankan Buddhist philosophers: some problems of definition in relation to the structure of language; nature of the phenomenal existence as a dynamic process; the reduction of mind and matter into mental and material phenomena; the problem of reification and the theory of the nominal and the conceptual; time and space as conceptual constructs; incessant change as instantaneous being; denial of the notion ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-self-existenceƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ through conditional relations; the distinction between two truths as consensual and ultimate, and their parity of status.

One Response to “‘Towards Compiling a History of Sri Lankan Philosophy’-Royal Asiatic Society Sri Lanka (RASSL) Lecture”

  1. AnuD Says:

    Is this the abstract of the talk ?

    I hope it will be published here in Lankaweb.

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