Posted on April 18th, 2024


Buddhists in Sri Lanka should be made aware of the stature of Buddhism in the Asian region when discussing the Kurundi issue. Buddhism enjoys a unique place in Asian history as the single shared experience among half the world’s population. No other movement has equaled the degree to which Buddhism has affected nearly every corner of Asia, said Robert E Fisher. Buddhism influenced the cultures of all these countries.

Buddhism did not convert by force or through inducements, only thorough conviction. Buddhists are very proud of this fact. Buddhism   was a very accommodating religion, able to fit into any cultural and social framework, observed analysts. It did not ask its followers to renounce earlier beliefs. That was one reason for its success. Buddhism readily accommodated existing beliefs, such as the Nats in Burma, spirit worship in Thailand, Shinto practices in Japan.

Buddhism was a scholarly religion and has several contemporary   firsts” .The world’s oldest document available today is the Diamond Sutra manuscript (Mahayana) written in Chinese, dated   11 May 868. It is in the British Library.  The small Buddhist scroll of the Dharani sutra dated to 751 A.D, discovered at the Pulguk-sa Temple in South Korea, is the oldest surviving woodblock print. 

The buildings associated with Buddhism are far more diverse in form and style than those found in other religious architectures, said architect Vikram Lall. The stupa with all its variations is the most identifiable and most important architectural monument of the Buddhist world. Stupas of diverse forms were constructed in Asia. There is also the Buddha statue. The colossal images of Buddha in Afghanistan and China are very impressive.

Buddhism started in North India, in the Ganges region where Gautama Buddha lived. It then  spread    across India,  down to  Sri Lanka and  also east wards, to  all the countries of South-east and  East  Asia.

The  Buddhist region  eventually included (given here in alphabetical order)   Afghanistan,  Bangladesh, Bhutan ,Cambodia, China, India,  Indonesia, Japan , Korea,  Laos,  Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan,  Thailand , Tibet and  Vietnam.

Buddhism was also practiced in the Russian regions that were adjacent to Mongolia, such as BuryatiaZabaykalsky, KraiTuva and Kalmykia. In August 2023 researchers found a 1,200-year-old Buddhist stupa and two Buddha statues in good condition in Malaysia’s Bujang Valley, in northwest Kedah. Kedah adjoins Thailand. Bujang Valley was the site of an ancient civilization which had stretched across the northwestern coast of the Malay Peninsula into Thailand.

Buddhism would have spread very quickly in India. Researchers now   say that Buddhism en­tered Andhra Pradesh   during the life time of the Buddha. This was obvious and one wonders why it took so long for researchers to realize this.  Buddhist ruins can be seen in the littoral states of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Maharashtra.

Buddhism was supported by several Indian kings. The best known are Dharmasoka (304-232 BC) of the Mauryan Empire and Kanishka (127-150 AD) of the Kushan Empire. They were great supporters of Buddhism and helped to spread Buddhism in Asia.

Buddhism lost influence in India around the 7th century CE. The last state to support Buddhism was the Pala Empire in Bengal. By the end of the 12th century, Buddhism had disappeared from India. It was first overtaken by Hinduism. The Bhakthi religion of Tamilnadu wiped out Buddhism from Tamilnadu in 7th century .Any remaining Buddhism in India was eliminated by the Muslim rulers who   ruled India from 12th to 18 century.

Buddhism would have reached    East Asia both by road and sea via trading routes.  Buddhism was the merchant’s religion and it came in the wake of trade, said analysts. Buddhism in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, China and Japan are well known.  In China Buddhism first arrived during the Han dynasty   and grew in importance till the 8th century. There is a colossal Buddha statue in Leshan, 233 ft high and 92 feet across the shoulders, the largest in China. In Japan the wooden architecture was stimulated by Buddhism.  This led to   a subtropical building style which was never modified to reflect Japan’s much colder climate.

Buddhism in Indonesia and Vietnam are not so well known. Indonesia was   home to both Hinduism and Buddhism, till Islam got rid of both. Indonesia mainly followed Mahayana and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism.  Sri Vijaya kingdom, with its capital at Sumatra, was Buddhist. Sailendra dynasty (760-850) was considered the golden age of Buddhism in Indonesia. Sailendra built Borobudur and Candi Mendut. Candi Mendut has three very large, well preserved Buddhist stone statues of high standard. Buddhist monuments were also found in the Batujaya Buddhist complex in Java as well as Kedu plains and Prambanan valley (8-10 AD).

Vietnam followed Mahayana Buddhism, with a dash of Tantra. There was Buddhism in Luy Lalu, the ancient capital close to Hanoi. Also in Dong Dong monastery in 875 AD. Hundreds of Sutra pillars   were built in Hao Lu. Buddhism was the official religion in Vietnam in late 10 century. The Ngo (939-965) and   Dinh (968-979) dynasties were Buddhist,  and hundreds of temples were built in this time.

The 11-13 centuries were the golden age of Buddhism in Vietnam. Practically every king In the Ly dynasty constructed Buddhist temples. After the 15 century, Confucianism took over, but Buddhism remained popular in the villages. Buddhism was back in favor in Vietnam In 17-18th century. Buddhist monks were active in the 20 century. Some set fire to themselves in protest in the Vietnam War of 1955-1975.

Researchers in Sri Lanka have repeatedly pointed out that Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka during the time of Buddha.  There was regular contact between north India and Sri Lanka at the time and it was impossible for Buddhism not to have come in through these visits. The idea that Buddhism took three hundred years to arrive in Sri Lanka is absurd. Mahinda’s visit in the 3rd century was to formalize Buddhism. It was part of the diplomatic exchange between Dharmasoka and Devanampiyatissa, which started with coronation robes.

Sri Lanka has played a significant role in the advancement of Buddhism in Asia. Sri Lanka preserved the Theravada doctrine. The Sinhala   Theravada commentaries and manuscripts were known.  Buddhaghosa came to translate the commentaries and Fa Hsien came to   pick up manuscripts. Abhayagiri monastery was a recognized centre for, not one, but three schools of Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana and Tantra. Archaeological evidence from Tiriyaya-Kuchchivele-Anuradhapura triangle confirms the influence of Tantric Buddhism  said Bandu de Silva. Sri Lanka sent a bhikkuni to Tibet to advice on Tantra. Sinhala Buddhism influenced Buddhism in Andhra Pradesh and the influence could be seen at Amaravati and Nagarjunikonda.

 Sri Lanka helped entrench Buddhism in South East Asia. Sinhala Buddhism went first to Cambodia and from there to Thailand and Burma. Cambodia was the most advanced of the South East Asian states in the medieval period. Its kingdom included parts of modern day Laos and Thailand. Sri Lanka   had high level diplomatic relations with Cambodia. During the time of Parakrama bahu I, Mahavamsa speaks of a ship taking a Sinhala princess to Cambodia, clearly for marriage. Cambodia, in its turn, had the best preserved Mahavamsa, and when Sri Lanka wanted to provide a new edition of the Mahavamsa, they turned to the Cambodian Mahavamsa to fill the gaps.

Sri Lanka   influenced Buddhism in Thailand and Burma. This is well known. Sri Lanka established ‘Sihala Sangha’ in these countries, influenced Buddhist architecture and exported its legends and the Mahavamsa. Burma has the myth that Buddha had visited Burma, and Tappassu and Balluka met the Buddha in person and he gifted them a strand of his hair which are now in Shwedagon in Yangon.

Buddhism was introduced to Europe in the 19th century. Asia was under European rule at the time, and European officials administering Asia took Buddhism back home with them. France would have picked up Buddhism from Vietnam and Cambodia.  Britain and Germany learnt about Buddhism from Sri Lanka.

T.W. Rhys Davids (1843-1922) joined the Civil Service and was posted to Ceylon. In 1871 he was sent as Assistant Government Agent of Nuwarakalaviya, where Anuradhapura was the administrative centre. Rhys Davids became involved with the excavation of the city of Anuradhapura. He began to collect inscriptions and manuscripts, and wrote a series of articles for the Ceylon branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Journal about them. He   had studied Sanskrit when in UK, he now learned Pali and Sinhala. He returned to Britain  prematurely and was Professor of Pāli at the University of London from  1882 to 1904.

Rhys Davids founded the Pali Text Society in 1881 This Society undertook the task of translating the Pāli canon of Theravada Buddhism  into English. In 1924  Christmas Humphreys founded The Buddhist Society, London .

Paul Dahlke (1865- 1928) from Germany , encountered Buddhism when visited Sri Lanka( Ceylon)  in the course of a world tour  in 1898. Two years later he returned to Sri Lanka to learn more about Buddhism. He learned Pali and met Ven. Hikkaduwe SumangalaSuriyagoda SumangalaNyananissara and Wagiswara. He returned a Buddhist. In 1924 he established Das Buddhistische Haus” in Berlin, using elements of Sinhala Buddhist architecture.

Das Buddhistische Haus was  purchased by Asoka Weeraratna in 1957 ,on behalf of the Trustees of the German Dharmaduta Society and converted into a Buddhist Vihara by stationing Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka on a permanent footing. Das Buddhistische Haus (also called Berlin Vihara), thus became the first Theravada Buddhist Vihara in Europe.( continued)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2024 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress