(49) Why did Mahayana Buddhism die in Sri Lanka - What happened to the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka, which was also a center of esoteric Buddhism?

Abhayagiri Avalokitesvara (bodhisattva) Buddhist Columns & Dharma Talks

Travels to Buddhist sites in India and Sri Lanka (49)
Why did Mahayana Buddhism die in Sri Lanka - What happened to the Sri Lankan Buddhist community, which was also a center of esoteric Buddhism?

Previous Article(48) The Great Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism Lies Deep in Sri Lanka! Visit the traces of Mahayana Buddhism that had taken root in Sri Lanka."In the previous article, I mentioned that there was a Mahayana Buddhist tradition in Sri Lanka, and in this article, I would like to give a brief overview of the Mahayana Buddhist stream in Sri Lanka.

First of all, a text that I also read in the second half of the previous article, but by way of review, again by Somichi 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 late twelfth century, when Palakkamabahu 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

First,(27) Visiting Mihintale, Sri Lanka's sacred place of Buddhist transmission: a mythical world worthy of the name "holy land!As I told you in the article "Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C.". It began when Mahinda the Elder came from India and King Tissa became deeply devoted to Buddhism.

The monastery created by King Tissa at this time was the Mahavihara, which became known as the Mahavihara School after the name of its temple.

The Ruwanweli Saya Great Pagoda, a representative of Anuradhapura, is also a true symbol of the Mahavihara school of architecture. This chedi was built around the 2nd century BC.

Ruwanweli Sayah Great Pagoda in 1891Wikipedia.

Incidentally, this is the Ruwanweli Saya Pagoda as it was in 1891. As I have told you, Anuradhapura was abandoned in 1017 and has since been buried in the jungle and forgotten. This pagoda must have been buried in vegetation as well. It was restored to its present state.

Around the first century B.C., this monastery split and the Abhayagiri school was born. In the 3rd century B.C., the Abhayagiri monastery split off and the Jeetawana school was born. In other words, there were three Buddhist schools in Anuradhapura in the late 3rd century B.C.: the Mahavihara school, the Avayagiri school, and the Jetawana school.

As noted in the above commentary, the Abhayagiri and Jetawana schools were progressive and willing to embrace the advanced culture of India. Thus, by the first half of the 4th century at the latest, they had adopted the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures.

This is the Great Pagoda of Abhayagiri in Anuradhapura. It is the symbol of the progressive Abhayagiri school.

This is from the Colombo National Museum, and the center is the Great Pagoda of Abhayagiri before it was restored. I feel that the green-covered pagoda is more tasteful, but I guess that is my Japanese sensibility. Around the tower are artifacts related to the Abhayagiri School, and the following statue is very important.

This is a 9th century statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva excavated at the Abhayagiri Monastery. Avalokitesvara is a truly Mahayana Buddhist bodhisattva. The fact that it was painted in gold and made at such a high level of artistry means that it could not have been produced without the extraordinary support of royalty and aristocracy. I was so taken by this statue that I could not leave for a while.

Here is a shot from another angle. Please enjoy the graceful beauty of this statue. Most of the existing Buddha images and large Buddha statues in Sri Lanka are from the Theravada Buddhism of the Mahavihara sect. However, the Abhayagiri school was progressive and actively adopted Indian culture. Indeed, the graceful twist or bold form of the Buddha is very Indian. The pose and facial expression of the figure would not be possible in the strict Theravada Buddhism.

And this Abayagiri school actually has deep ties to Japan.

Esoteric Buddhism, which was introduced by Kukai, had its origins here. Esoteric Buddhism is a representative of late Mahayana Buddhism, which flourished in Sri Lanka.

Abhayagiri monasteries were known as centers of esoteric Buddhism in the 8th century and were internationally renowned. The Borobudur site on Java Island was also constructed in this very vein.

In Sri Lanka, there was a great master of esoteric Buddhism named Fugen Acharya, who studied under the Chinese monk Fu Ku (705-774). He returned to China in 746 after receiving the teachings of esoteric Buddhism, including the Vajrasekhara Sutra and the Dainichikyo Sutra, from Fugen. His teachings were passed on to his disciple Keika, who in turn passed on esoteric Buddhism to Kukai. Kukai brought esoteric Buddhism to Japan in 806, 60 years after it had been introduced from Sri Lanka to China and then to Japan.

I was also surprised that esoteric Buddhism had been introduced from Sri Lanka, the sacred land of Theravada Buddhism.

This is the Jetawana Pagoda, also in Anuradhapura, and it looks a little deserted. The restoration of the pagoda seems to be overdue, but it can't be helped. The Theravada Buddhism and the Mahavihara school are important in modern Sri Lanka. Compared to the beautiful white paint and popularity of the Ruwanweli Sanya Pagoda, which is the symbol of the Theravada sect, I can understand why this pagoda is like this. This place is a heresy from the viewpoint of traditional Theravada Buddhism.

And since this Jetawana school was born of a split from the Abhayagiri school, it too is known to have been progressive and embraced Mahayana Buddhism. Among the most famous discoveries about it will be the following.

This one is called the Golden Manuscript, which was excavated from the ruins of Jetawana Monastery. As the name suggests, the sutra is engraved in gold, and is said to be part of the "Twenty-Five Thousand Ode Prajnaparamita Sutra. Of course, this is a Mahayana Buddhist sutra. It is believed to have been made around the 9th century.

As with the Avalokitesvara statue mentioned earlier, it would have been impossible to create such a statue without support from the royal and aristocratic levels. In other words, in the 9th century, the Mahavira, Abhayagiri, and Jetavana schools coexisted under royal authority in Anuradhapura, although they had doctrinal conflicts.

But this would be followed by the disappearance of Mahayana Buddhism from Sri Lanka in the 12th century as we know it.

I would like to discuss a few important points in former Indian Buddhism here.

Conventional Buddhist scholarship has considered Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism to be in opposition to each other. However, recent research has overturned this view. Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism used to coexist in India. To be more precise, there were priests who believed in and studied Mahayana Buddhism within the Theravada Buddhist order.

In other words, the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist orders were not separate and opposing entities, but coexisted precisely.

Of course, there were differences in their claims on each other's faith, but it is believed that there was no idea of which was orthodox and which was heretical.

The Chinese monk Fa Xian and the famous Xuanzang Sanzo, who traveled through India and Sri Lanka, also wrote that Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana were being taught concurrently in various places. (SeeThe Biography of the High Priest Hokenand the GenjoThe Tang Dynasty Chronicles of the Western Regions.(See also.)

When we imagine the flow of Indian Buddhism, we tend to think of it as "new" and "old" because Mahayana Buddhism was born out of Theravada Buddhism, but this is not the case. In fact, they existed "in parallel.

Moreover, since Theravada Buddhism spread to Southeast Asia in the south and Mahayana Buddhism spread to East Asia, we monks have sometimes learned that they are referred to as Southern Buddhism and Northern Buddhism, but this is actually not accurate. However, this is not really accurate, because both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism were spread in all directions.

As we saw in the previous article, Mahayana Buddhism was also introduced to Sri Lanka and took root in the country to such an extent that large Buddhist statues were built throughout the country. Conversely, Theravada Buddhist scriptures have been firmly transmitted in China and Japan as the "Agon Buddhist scriptures. But why did Mahayana Buddhism die out in Sri Lanka, while Mahayana Buddhism was valued in China and Japan?

This is a complex and difficult problem if explored rigorously, but one of the main factors that can be identified is as follows.

It is a question of "which Buddhism will be adopted as the orthodoxy by the various kingdoms.

Sri Lanka was exactly in this vein, with Theravada Buddhism taking its rightful place and Mahayana Buddhism being abolished as a heresy.

As the first commentary I read states, in Sri Lanka, the Mahavihara school was established as the orthodox school by the royal authority in the late 12th century. This made the Abhayagiri and Jetawana schools, which also taught Mahayana, heretical, and they were extinguished by the royal authority. Although there are many factors involved in this situation that cannot be easily resolved, it is important to emphasize that the decision of the royal authority as to which sect to adopt as orthodox is a decisive issue for the survival of the Order.

More on this by Satoko YabuuchiKingship and Buddhism in Ancient Medieval Sri Lanka."and Ishii Yoneo's "The Political Sociology of Theravada Buddhism," so I would like to leave the details to you.

And about this relationship between Buddhism and kingship, and between Theravada and Mahayana in India and Sri Lanka, see Baba Noritoshi's bookBuddhist Orthodoxy and Heresy: The Establishment of the Pali Cosmopolis."I would highly recommend the book "The Great Mahayana". It is a masterpiece of a book that explains why the idea of "orthodox Theravada and heretical Mahayana" was born in Sri Lanka. It is a shocking revelation that in Indian Buddhism there was no breakdown between Theravada and Mahayana, nor was there a distinction between orthodoxy and heresy.

Among them, the following passage left a strong impression on me.

In light of the pluralistic scriptural traditions in India, one must wonder to what extent the question, "Why did Mahayana Buddhism arise? If there is a pluralistic transmission of Buddhist scriptures by a pluralistic ordained order in a pluralistic Indian society, it is not surprising that a variety of scriptures would appear from among them.

Rather, the question that should be asked in the study of Buddhist history is, "How did a sect repelling Mahayana Buddhism come to be established, despite a pluralistic tradition of Buddhist scripture transmission by a pluralistic ordained order?" The answer to this question is "How was a sect that repelled the Mahayana established? The existence of such a sect, which can be confirmed by documents, is not found in mainland India, but in Sri Lanka. It is the Theravada Mahayana school. This sect, which has had a decisive influence on the culture of mainland Southeast Asia today, will be discussed in detail in Parts II and III.

University of Tokyo Press, Baba Noritoshi, Buddhist Orthodoxy and Heresy: The Establishment of the Pali Cosmopolis, p. 64.

The question we should ask is not "Why was Mahayana Buddhism born?" but "How was the sect that repelled Mahayana established?

This was truly a Copernican turn for me! It is a great turnaround in thinking!

This is certainly what I felt when I actually visited India. The chaos in India, where anything and everything is possible! Anything can be born there. Moreover, it is not only in Buddhism that diverse ideas are born one after another and overlap in various dimensions, but also in Hinduism and Jainism. It is not unusual in India for various forms of belief to emerge.

And an explanation of this area.Buddhist Orthodoxy and Heresy: The Establishment of the Pali Cosmopolis."I hope you will get a copy of the book, as it is written in detail in the following pages. It is extremely interesting. This book is not only for students of Buddhism, but also for history buffs. Although there are some parts that are difficult to read as an introduction to Buddhism, it is definitely the best history book for intellectual excitement.

It is tough to summarize the relationship between Theravada and Mahayana in Sri Lanka in this article alone. There is much more that we could not tell you, but we hope that those who are interested will read the books and other materials mentioned here.

Click here to read the previous article.

Related Articles

HOME