(48) The Great Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism Lies Deep in the Heart of Sri Lanka! Visiting the traces of Mahayana Buddhism that had taken root in Sri Lanka

Budhluwagala Buddhist Columns & Dharma Talks

Travels to Buddhist Sites in India and Sri Lanka (48) The Great Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism Lies Deep in the Heart of Sri Lanka Visiting the traces of Mahayana Buddhism that had taken root in Sri Lanka

After a few days in Kandy, I finally set off for the holy city of Kataragama in southern Sri Lanka.


Katharagama is the most popular sacred place in modern Sri Lanka. As a student of religion, one cannot miss this place.

From Kandy, it is about 5 hours nonstop. It is quite a long trip if breaks are taken in between.

On the way to Kataragama I decided to visit "a being".

That is the Mahayana Buddha mentioned in the title of the article.

Sri Lanka may be thought of as the sacred land of Theravada Buddhism, but in fact, Mahayana Buddhism also took root in this land. Especially in the 8th century, Sri Lanka was the center of esoteric Buddhism, which had a great influence on the world. Borobudur in Java, Indonesia, is a Buddhist site built along these lines.

Borobudur RuinsWikipedia.

Thus, the history of Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka was indeed present. I decided to go to the interior of Sri Lanka to visit the traces of this history.

The area around Kandy is a highland area, and beautiful mountains soon appeared before our eyes. Although we were not able to stop by this time, Nuwara Eliya near here is especially famous for its tea production. This highland area is said to be excellent for tea cultivation.

After passing through the high mountain area, the rice paddies reappear. The scenery in Sri Lanka changes so rapidly that we never get tired of it. We drove on toward the interior of Sri Lanka, gazing at the beautiful scenery.

Great Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Statue at Dambegoda

My first goal was the statue of the Great Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva in Dambegoda.

The road goes so far into the forest that one wonders if this is really the right path.

There is no such thing as a parking lot, so I left my car for now and walked from here.

It has already been almost five hours since we left Kandy.

The path was well maintained so it was not difficult to walk.

There were large black rocks lying all over the side of the road. The puddles created by yesterday's rain in the gaps between them were truly mysterious. The green moss was so beautiful that I felt as if I was walking in Koyasan.

Now, we are almost to the Big Buddha. They say that if you climb the stairs at the end of this square, you will find Dambegoda Kannon there.

Now it is time to meet the Kannon.

Standing in front of the stairs, I looked up and saw a statue of the Kannon standing there. The dignified figure of the Kannon standing in the gap between the trees made me involuntarily exclaim, "Oh! I couldn't help but exclaim, "Oh! This is wonderful. What a profound and graceful figure.

We came close to it. We could feel its size as we came this close.

Now, before we take a closer look at this statue, let's take a look at the commentary about this statue of Kannon. This time, we will refer to the book written by Sodo MoriMahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Buddhism, Inscriptions, and Art Revealed."It is.

Dumbegoda is located in the jungle, about 5 km further than the nearest village, near the northern boundary of the Ruhuna Nature Reserve, which extends into the southeast of the island of Sri Lanka. (omitted).

The land adjacent to Dumbegoda is called Marigarwela, which has been relatively well known for some time because of the presence of one of the country's largest statues of the Buddha, as described below, and the name of this place is also shown on ordinary maps. In contrast, Dumbegoda has been almost completely abandoned until recently, and its name has not even appeared on maps.

A large Buddhist monastery once existed in the area between Marigarwela and Dumbegoda. A full excavation of the site has not yet been conducted, so a fuller picture of the site remains to be determined.

Some line breaks have been made to make it easier to read on smartphones and other devices. Original words of proper nouns have also been omitted.

Daizo Shuppan, S. Mori, Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Elucidation through Buddhism, Inscriptions, and Art, P368

As this commentary shows, here in Dumbegoda was an entity that was buried in the jungle. I will also be heading to Marigawela mentioned here later.

This bodhisattva statue is thought to have been created around 750-800 CE, but like the Great Buddha statue described in the previous section, it was rediscovered in 1893, about 120 years ago, after being left on the surface of the jungle for a long time. At that time, the statue was in the prone position, opposite to the case of the Giant Buddha.

Later, around 1948, the damage to the entire structure became even more severe when the back was pierced and then blasted by thieves who suspected that there might be some expensive precious metals in the interior.

*Some lines have been changed to make them easier to read on smartphones and other devices.

Daizo Shuppan, S. Mori, Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Elucidation through Buddhism, Inscriptions, and Art, P373

The statue was created in the 8th or 9th century, which again coincides with the period when Mahayana Buddhism was flourishing in Sri Lanka.

And like the other Buddhist sites we have seen so far, it had become abandoned and forgotten.

However, it is still a shame that the management of the statue was so sloppy after its rediscovery. It may have something to do with the fact that the Buddha image belonged to the Mahayana. It is also a sad story that the Buddha image itself and the tradition of burying sacred treasures and precious metals in the ground at its feet made it an easy target for thieves.

Let us now take a closer look at the statue of Kannon.

Yes, it is. It is really good. This is the kind of Buddha image that Japanese people like. It is clearly different from the Theravada Buddhist statues I have seen in Sri Lanka. The clothes, decorations, and the figure with the emphasis on the waist are somehow nostalgic.

After all, the Mahayana Buddha images are more approachable.

And as we saw in the previous commentary, this statue had been left for some time in a severely damaged form by bandits. It was only in 1990 that this Buddha image was restored in its present form. You can see many white lines on the surface of the statue. They are the marks where the damaged parts were repaired and joined together.

Also from oblique and back angles.

The marks of restoration may be felt especially when viewed from behind.

Although the statue is now standing on a stone pedestal, it was lying on its back when it was first discovered. It is said that the fact that the statue was lying on its back was a blessing in disguise. The fact that the statue was lying on its face is said to have been a blessing in disguise, as the front part of the statue was not exposed to the wind and rain, and thus suffered little damage. In particular, it is said that his face was almost unscathed.

Most of the Buddhist monuments in Sri Lanka have been abandoned and buried in the jungle, but these Buddha images did not remain standing during that time. This is something that we are not often aware of, but now that you mention it again, I can't help but think that it makes sense.

The statue of Kannon standing at the end of the square stone steps was truly mysterious. The moss-covered stone steps remind us of the passage of time. This space left a particularly strong impression on me. There are places like this in Sri Lanka. I was also reminded that I am a person who lives in the context of Mahayana Buddhism.

Maligawila Buddha Statue

And about a 10-minute walk from here is the aforementioned Mahligarh Wella Giant Buddha.

To get in front of the Buddha image, one must cross the water.

This water may be a puddle created by yesterday's rain, or it may have been intentionally designed to fill up quickly. I do not know which it is, but crossing the water is a reminder that we are about to enter a sanctuary.

This Buddha image is very similar to the Great Aukana Buddha that I saw when I first arrived in Sri Lanka.

Gautama Buddha(26) Sasserwa Buddha and Awkana Buddha: A visit to Sri Lanka's masterpieces in the mountains by those in the know.See article on

Let's also look at the angle from the side.

You can clearly see that the bricks are supporting the Big Buddha by reinforcing it from behind. When this statue was discovered, it was also badly damaged because it had collapsed. It is said that the fact that it was lying on its back, unlike the Dambegoda Kannon statue, also contributed to the damage.

Buduruwagala Rock Carvings

After seeing Dambegoda and the Great Buddha of Marigarwela, I headed to my next destination, Budulwagala.

This place is also located in the interior of Sri Lanka, and is a place that ordinary tourists rarely visit.

In this Budhurwagala, there is also a Mahayana Buddhist image carved. Moreover, it is a Buddhist site that is attracting particular attention in Sri Lankan Buddhist studies because of its strong esoteric Buddhist color.

We got out of the car and walked again here.

As we continued walking through the forest, the view began to open up. Then, a vertical rocky hill appeared ahead.

This is the famous Budurwagala Cliff Buddha group. These Buddha images were carved out of the rock and polished.

The most eye-catching image in this group of Buddha statues is this one painted in white. This is not exactly a Buddha image. It is a statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, the same as the one in Dhambhagoda. The white color of the statue is said to have been painted white with plaster. It has an overwhelming presence and mysterious atmosphere.

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is a highly respected figure in Mahayana Buddhism. In the "Lotus Sutra," he is depicted as a being who can provide relief from any suffering if his name is chanted. In the Mahayana Buddhist world, the popularity of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is extremely high.

Incidentally, according to the guide, the color of this Bodhisattva statue remains because of Sri Lanka's unique climate and topography. Sri Lanka has two rainy seasons a year, the northeast monsoon and the southwest monsoon, and as the name implies, the direction of the rain and wind is determined. The direction of this rocky mountain is exactly the direction where the wind and rain do not blow. This is why the white coloring is still there.

However, this raises the question as to why the other Buddha images are not painted. But I have no way of knowing why.

The structure of this group of Buddha statues is as follows: the Buddha in the center is flanked on either side by a total of six bodhisattva statues.

The three bodies on the left are Kannon Bosatsu (center), Zenzai Doji (left), and Tara Bosatsu (right).

The three bodies on the right are Maitreya Bosatsu (center), Kannon Bosatsu (left), and Vajradhara Bosatsu (right).

Then I shall move to the front of the triad on the right side.

Of particular note in the triad is the Bodhisattva Vajradhara on the right side. As the name suggests, this bodhisattva holds a vajra in his right hand.

This is a Buddhist tool used in esoteric Buddhism.

Vajra (Nepal)Wikipedia.

The presence of such a large scale of Buddha cliffs clearly indicates that there was a solid Mahayana Buddhist tradition in Sri Lanka.

However, there are few traces of such in the Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism we know. What does this mean? Again by Sodo MoriMahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Buddhism, Inscriptions, and Art Revealed."Let's look at the explanation of

There are very few references to the Sri Lankan Mahayana in the existing literature, and even if there are, they are mostly critical and defamatory of the Mahayana. (omitted).

The reason for this is that almost all of the extant Buddhist and historical literature in Sri Lanka is from the Southern Theravada Mahavihara school. As is well known, this Mahavihara school, as the "conservative orthodox school" of Sri Lankan Theravada, was at odds with the liberal open-minded Avayagiri and Jetavana schools.

This conflict, which seemed to wax and wane with the times, continued until the latter half of the twelfth century, when Palakka Mabhav I (reigned 1153-1186) reunited the country's Buddhism with the Mahavihara school.

On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism, which emerged in India around A.D. AD, was eventually accepted mainly by the Avayagiri and Jetavana schools and took root in Sri Lanka, where the Mahavihara school was generally opposed to it.

As a result, as mentioned above, there are almost no references to Mahayana in the existing literature of this school, and the few references that are found are generally negative in content. The Mahayana was indirectly denied by Palakkamabhav I, and is thought to have eventually died out.

For these reasons, it is not possible to fully understand the history of Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka only through literature-based research. Therefore, it is necessary to turn our attention to archaeological research, such as inscription research and excavation of archaeological remains, as well as art historical research on Buddhist statues and paintings.

Some line breaks have been made to make it easier to read on smartphones and other devices. Original words of proper nouns have also been omitted.

Daizo Shuppan, S. Mori, Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Elucidation through Buddhism, Inscriptions, and Art, P366-367

What do you think? Sri Lankan Buddhism had a Mahayana lineage, but it disappeared because it was considered heretical by the Mahavihara school, which considered itself orthodox.

As explained in the latter half of the above commentary, since Mahavihara Buddhism is not mentioned in the traditions of the Mahavihara school, we have no choice but to rely on these Buddhist images and paintings as the only remaining sources. However, now that the usefulness of such materials is beginning to be recognized, the history of Sri Lankan Buddhism is being reevaluated anew.

Deep in the forest, Budhurwagala is a forgotten ruin itself. The trees have been thinned out and the area in front of the Buddha images is now a plaza, but this space must have been a jungle itself when it was first discovered. The first discoverer must have been astonished by the sudden appearance of these Buddha images in the middle of the jungle.

Mysterious giant Buddha image deep in the jungle...

It was a mysterious space with birds chirping.

I must leave this place, though I am sad to leave it behind. I will never forget the Buddha statues on the quay, standing quietly in the forest.

In the following article, I will talk briefly about such a Mahayana Buddhist stream in Sri Lanka.

Let us look at its history from a different perspective from your image of Sri Lankan Buddhism.

Next Article.

Click here to read the previous article.

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