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History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka

If one is to think about the various Buddhist Cultural Sites still remaining in Sri Lanka, dating back from 3rd Century BC and spanning up to the present day, it is not difficult to find that all those places have one thing in common. That is those places were built for the veneration of the Lord Gautama Buddha. All those places were constructed by the patronage of the Kings who ruled the country from the time of King Devanampiya Tissa with the help of the people. The Kings always safeguarded Buddhism and the culture interwoven with the Buddhist ways. Even those Kings who had a dynasty of an Indian origin who later ruled the country contributed towards Buddhism in a great way. That is why although the Birth Place of Buddhism which was the Madhya Pradesh of India, which lost Buddhism gradually from around 6th Century AD and by the 13th Century AD it being disappeared altogether from India, the island nation of Sri Lanka, being a separate entity , could manage to make Buddhism very much vibrant even in to the 21st century.


India's contribution to Buddhism

It would only be appropriate to identify this greatest human just in simple , not elaborate details, who attained the Enlightenment by negating suffering and rebirth in this samsara whom was called as the Gautama Buddha. Being born in to a Royal family in India, and later attaining the Enlightenment or the Buddhahood, he was able to transform much of India at that time to grasp his teachings which was based on the Four Noble Truths with compassion and kindness to the humankind.

The map below shows the Political divisions in India at that time, with the Kingdoms ruled by various Kings and the places frequented by the Buddha and his arahanths during the 45 years until the Parinirvana, or the passing away of the Buddha.

The Early Indian States and places at the Time of the Buddha

Early Indian States and places at the time of  the Buddha

The sixteen early Indian States are indicated by red dots in the map.

Gautama Buddha was born in India around 2635 years back.

Siddhartha Gautama , the Shakyan Prince who was later to become Gautama Buddha was born in 623 BC at the Himalayan foothills of present Nepal, which was a part of India at that time. Having renounced the domestic life as a Prince , he lead an ascetic life for some years and not finding the Knowledge of Truth there, made his own efforts to become the enlightened one.

At the age of 35 years, at Uruwela [ present Bodh Gaya ] Siddhartha Gautama attended the Enlightenment thus becoming free from Rebirth and samsara.

After establishing the Gautama Buddha Sasanaya in India , for 45 years the Gautama Buddha spread the Chatur Arya Sathya Dharmaya or the Four Nobel Truths thus making Humans and Gods attend the path leading to Nirvana or the ending of Rebirth or the Samsara.

Soon after the Parinirvana of the Buddha, 500 Arhats under the guidance of Arhat Maha Kassapa ,established the cannon of Buddha Dharma consisting of Suttha and Vinaya, distributing among group of Arhats to memorize.

About Two hundred years after Buddha parinirvana, Emperor Asoka who became victorious after fighting a long war was disillusioned and sought Buddha's refuge and becoming an ardent Buddhist, he let his son and the daughter be ordained as a Bhikku and a Bhikkuni (Buddhist priest and a nun named Mahinda and Sangamitta) whom later became Arhats.

Arhath Mahinda and his companions came to Sri Lanka as a delegation sent by Arhat Moggali Putta Tissa with the patronage of Emperor Asoka on the 236 th year of the Buddha parinirvana.

Having met with the Ruling King of Sri Lanka, King Devanam Piyatissa at Mihintale, near the Capital Anuradhapura, and after listening to Dhamma, preached by Arhat Mahinda, the King became a Buddhist and gave the state patronage to establish the Buddha Sasanaya in Sri Lanka.

Soon after there established the Gautama Buddha Sasanaya consisting of Bhikku, Bhikkuni, Upasaka , Upasika and the Sinhalese people also became Buddhists.

While India lost the Buddha Sasanaya there, it was established well in Sri Lanka and many Kings throughout their rule, protected and established it further in this island nation which Gautama Buddha has thrice visited and predicted that Buddha Sasanaya will be protected here for five thousand years.

The greatest service to protect the Buddha Deshana was done by the Maha Sangha of Sri Lanka, during the rein of King Vatta Gamini Abhaya ( 1st Century BC ) aka King Valagamba. The Tripitaka which was brought this far by memorizing by great Theros was made in to writing at Aluviharaya temple at Matale.

The whole Buddhist world is no doubt would be grateful to those Sri Lanka's most venerable Bhikku who protected the Buddha Deshana ( disclosures by Lord Buddha ) by committing them into writing , and to the Sinhalese people, out of whom the Bhikku consisted, in the past and at present. The Buddhists in Sri Lanka could be proud to be the safe keepers of the Buddha Dhamma, thus enabling anyone seeking the Truth as told by the Buddha to be realized. The People who became Buddhists, by taking the Refuge of Buddha and his teachings, who are the majority in sri Lanka, still safeguards and improve the Buddhist environment and religious places so that the prime teachings of the Buddha ( Theravada Buddhism) in an unadulterated status, can be still found in this island nation.


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