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The only holy thing here is a tooth. But it is, so they say, the tooth of Buddha himself, smuggled to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century AD, hidden in the folds of the long dark hair of a princess. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa: 3rd c. BC - 13th c. At the time of the conversion of the ruling family to Buddhism, in the 3rd century BC, the capital city is Anuradhapura in the north of the island. This becomes the first Buddhist centre of Sri Lanka, characterized by the massive dome-shaped stupas also known as dagobas which are built to contain sacred relics.
The monks here tend a sacred pipal tree, believed to be grown from a branch of the very tree under which Buddha found enlightenment.
Was there Buddhism before the advent of Mahinda Thera?
The branch of Buddha's tree , they say, was sent by Asoka himself as a precious gift to Sri Lanka. The main threat to the Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka is raids across the sea from the Tamil rulers of south India. The intruders differ from the inhabitants of Sri Lanka in two respects - in language Tamil is Dravidian, Sinhalese is Indo-European and in religion the Tamils are Hindu. In the first millennium of the Christian era the raiders are successfully resisted.
But the pressures causes Anuradhapura to be progressively abandoned, from the 8th century, in favour of Polonnaruwa further to the south. At Polonnaruwa itself deserted in the 13th century a glorious past is revealed in the gigantic stone Buddhas seated or reclining in the jungle, carved from solid outcrops of rock. Kandy and Kotte: 12th - 16th century. In the 12th century Tamil rulers finally establish a permanent Hindu presence in the north of the island. Buddhist Sri Lanka shrinks further south again.
By the 15th century there are two related Buddhist kingdoms: one is based in Kandy in the hilly centre of the island; the other occupies a new palace at Kotte, a place surrounded by swampy lagoons a little inland from Colombo, by now a thriving harbour used by Arab traders.
This is the situation when a new wave of intruders makes a first appearance in the early 16th century. In Portuguese ships anchor off Colombo.
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On their first visit, in , the Portuguese make a treaty with the king of Kandy enabling them to trade in the island's crop of cinammon. Soon they win permission to build a fort to protect their trade. From this first fort they steadily encroach upon Sinhalese territory until the entire southern part is under their control - restricting the kingdom of Kandy to the highlands.
Jesuits and friars follow the armed traders and convert many of the population. In the end, the Buddha was swallowed up by the realm of Hindu gods, his importance diminished, and in the very land where it was born, Buddhism dwindled to be practiced by very few. The majority of these missionaries belonged to the Mahayana school. The initial stage of Buddhism is China was not very promising. Chinese culture had a long-established intellectual and religious tradition and a strong sense of cultural superiority that did not help the reception of Buddhist ideas.
Many of the Buddhist ways were considered alien by the Chinese and even contrary to the Confucian ideals that dominated the ruling aristocracy. The monastic order received a serious set of critiques: It was considered unproductive and therefore was seen as placing an unnecessary economic burden on the population, and the independence from secular authority emphasized by the monks was seen as an attempt to undermine the traditional authority of the emperor. Despite its difficult beginning, Buddhism managed to build a solid presence in China towards the fall of the Han dynasty on CE, and its growth accelerated during the time of disunion and political chaos that dominated China during the Six Dynasties period CE.
The collapse of the imperial order made many Chinese skeptical about the Confucian ideologies and more open to foreign ideas. Also, the universal spirit of Buddhist teachings made it attractive to many non-Chinese ruler in the north who were looking to legitimate political power.
Eventually, Buddhism in China grew strong, deeply influencing virtually every aspect of its culture. There is archaeological evidence that suggests that Buddhism was known in Korea from an earlier time. Buddhism grew powerful in Tibet, absorbing the local pre-Buddhist Tibetan religions. The debate was decided in favour of the Indians: Buddhists translations from Chinese sources were abandoned and the Indian Buddhist influence became predominant.
The Buddha was not concerned with satisfying human curiosity related to metaphysical speculations. Topics like the existence of god, the afterlife, or creation stories were ignored by him. During the centuries, Buddhism has evolved into different branches, and many of them have incorporated a number of diverse metaphysical systems, deities, astrology and other elements that the Buddha did not consider. In spite of this diversity, Buddhism has a relative unity and stability in its moral code.
In general, the Four Noble Truths are explained as follows:. In some religions, sin is the origin of human suffering. In the entrance area of some Buddhist monasteries, sometimes the images of four scary-looking deities are displayed, the four protectors whose purpose is to scare away the ignorance of those who enter. Buddhism does not require faith or belief.
Buddhism in Sri Lanka
If faith can be understood as believing something which is unsupported by evidence, and ignorance is overcome by understanding, then faith is not enough to overcome ignorance and therefore suffering. And belief, as understood by other religions, is not necessary in Buddhism:. The moment you see, the question of belief disappears.
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But if I unclench my fist and show you the gem, then you see it for yourself, and the question of belief does not arise. In its most basic form, Buddhism does not include the concept of a god. The existence of god is neither confirmed, nor denied; it is a non-theistic system. The Buddha is seen as an extraordinary man, not a deity.
Some Buddhist schools have incorporated supernatural entities into their traditions, but even in these cases, the role of human choice and responsibility remains supreme, far above the deeds of the supernatural. In some Chinese and Japanese Buddhist monasteries, they go even further by performing a curious exercise: The monks are requested to think that the Buddha did not even existed.
There is a good reason for this: the core of Buddhism is not the Buddha, but his teachings or dharma. By imagining the Buddha never existed, they avoid focusing on the idol so that they can embrace the ideal. Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.
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HISTORY OF SRI LANKA
Violatti, C. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Violatti, Cristian. Last modified May 20, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 20 May This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.
Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms. Remove Ads Advertisement. Bibliography Buswell, R. Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Macmillan Library Reference, Buswell, R. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press, Durant, W. Our oriental heritage;. About the Author Cristian Violatti. Cristian is a public speaker and independent author with a strong passion for the human past. Related Content Filters: All. Articles