Article

Monasticism in Sri Lanka

Jeffrey Samuels

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0021
Monasticism in Sri Lanka

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Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka during the 3rd century bce with the arrival of King Aśoka’s son, the Arahant Mahinda, from India. According to the Sri Lankan chronicles, the king of Sri Lanka at the time, Devanāṃpiya Tissa, converted to Buddhism shortly after Mahinda’s arrival. The king’s patronage of Buddhism resulted in the construction of numerous Buddhist sites and centers of learning around the ancient capital of Anurādhapura, as well as in the formation of a very important relationship between Buddhism and the state. Although that relationship contributed to the growth and development of the Buddhist religion on the island, it also led to ethnic tensions, a more recent one being the conflict between Sinhalese Buddhists and Sri Lankan Tamils that resulted in a civil war lasting more than twenty years. Sri Lanka is considered to have the oldest continuing Buddhist civilization, but the religion on the island went through several periods of decline, during which the number of fully ordained monks drastically reduced, and new ordination lineages had to be “imported” from abroad. More recent examples of this occurred in 1753, when a group of Thai monks were brought to Kandy to perform a higher ordination ceremony for Sri Lankans. That lineage, or fraternity—the Siyam Nikāya—soon became restricted to people belonging to Sri Lanka’s highest caste group. As a result, other groups of monastics and laypeople, seeking to open the monastic order to their own kind, imported additional ordination lineages from Burma. These became known as the Amarapura Nikāya and the Rāmañña Nikāya. The importing of these three lineages occurred during the colonial period. Increased Christian missionary activities and the waning prestige and power of Buddhist monks and traditional centers of learning during this time were followed by a Buddhist resurgence during the 18th and 19th centuries, which was led by such figures as Ven. Mohottivatte Gunananda, Ven. Hikkaḍuve Sumangala, Anagārika Dharmapāla, and Henry Steel Olcott. Along with seeking to restore Buddhism’s place on the island, leaders of the resurgence sought to oust the British. Independence, which came in 1948, was followed by an important event that commemorated the 2,500-year anniversary of the Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama’s death. The religious fervor that preceded and followed the event—the Buddha Jayanti—led to the creation of new Buddhist institutions and centers of learning as well as the further entanglement of Buddhism and the state.

Article.  12065 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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