In Sri Lanka Buddhism in the most widespread religion of the majority Sinhalese community. Although India was the original home of Buddhism, today it is practised largely on the margins of the sub-continent, and is widely followed in Ladakh, Nepal and Bhutan as well as Sri Lanka.
The recent history of Sri Lanka's Theravada Buddhism may conceal the importance of the cultural and historical links between Sri Lanka and Indian in the early stages of its development. The first great stupas in Anuradhapura were built when Buddhism was still a religious force to be reckon with in mainland India, and as some of the sculptures from Sigiriya suggest there were important contacts with Amaravati, another major centre of Buddhist art and thought, up to the 5th century AD.
The original of Buddhism in Sri Lanka are explained in a legend which tells how King Devanampiya Tiss (died 207 BC) was converted by Mahinda, widely believed to have been Asoka’s son, who was sent to Sri Lanka specifically to bring the faith to the island’s people. He established the Mahavihara monestry in Anuradhapura. Successors repeatedly struggled to preserve Sri Lankan Buddhism’s distinct identity from that of neighbouring Hinduism and Tantrism. It was also constantly struggling with mahayana Buddhism which gained the periodic support of successive royal patrons. King Mahasena (AD 276-303) and his son Sri Meghavarna, who received the famous ‘Tooth of the Buddha’ when it was brought to the island from Kalinga in the fourth century AD, both advocated Mohayana forms of the faith. Even then Sri Lanka’s Buddhism is not strictly orthodox, for the personal character of the Buddha is emphasized, as was the virtue of being a disciple of the Buddha. Maitreya, the ‘future’ Buddha, is recognised as the only Bodhisattva, and it has been a feature of Buddhism in the island for kings to identify themselves with this incarnation of the Buddha.
The Sinhalese of Sri Lanka consider themselves as guardians of the original Buddhist faith. They believe that the scripture in Pali was first written down by King Vattagamini Abhaya in the first century BC. The pali Theravada canon of scripture is referred to as Tipitakam Tripitaka (‘three baskets’), because the palm leaf texts on which they were written were stored in baskets (pitakas). They are conduct (Vinaya), consisting of 227 rules binding on monks and nuns; discourses (sutta), the largest and most important, divided into five groups (niyakas) of basic doctrine which are believed to be the actual discourses of the Buddha recording his exact words as handed down by word of mouth; and metaphysics (abhidhamma) which develop the ideas further both philosphically and psychologically.
Sri Lankan Buddhist place particular emphasis on the sanctity of the relics of the Buddha which are clieved to have veen brought ot the island. The two most important are the sacred Bo tree and the tooth of the Buddha.
Copyright (c) 2012 Target Travels Sri Lanka.