We have identified Sinhala Buddhism as a culture and the main question that has drawn our attention is the survival of this culture in Sri Lanka while many forms of Theravada cultures had disappeared from the face of the earth. We have also said that prior to the arrival of Arhant Mahinda there had been a Hela Buddhist culture according to Varigapurnikava which even claims that Rathnavali or Agnipali, the mother of Kuveni (Mahapali according to Varigapurnikava. It should be mentioned that Kuveni is a degrading name coined by non Yakshas. Even Yaksha is a name given by the non Yakshas as the inhabitants of the country had called themselves Yagu Kaurana) had been an Arhant Therin and that Arhant Yashodhara Therin had visited Lanka during the time of Arhant Rathnavali Therin. It is also said that Agnipali or Rathnavali Therin was ordained by Arhant Yashodara Terin and Arhant Rathnavali Therin had lived where Ruvanveliseya is found today, and the Seya had been named after the Arhant Rathnavali Therin.
In the history of Hela Buddhist culture and Sinhala Buddhist culture in this country there are a few incidents that stand above the rest. They in chronological order are as follows. Introduction of Bududahama to the country probably by a merchant by the name Punna during the time of Budunvahanse. It is said in Varigapurnikava that Rathnavali, the mother of Mahapali (Pali is apparently a name associated with queens or leading – elite- women in the country) had listened to Punna and attained the status of Sovan. When Budunvahanse arrived in Lanka Rathnavali had become an Arhant after listening to Budunvahanse. It can be said that the Hela Buddhism with Bhikku and Bhikkuni Sasana was established after the Yagu Kaurana people had become Buddhists.
We have to depend on stories to understand what has happened in history more than in any other subject and our conjecture is that though the Yagu Kauranas became Buddhists they would not have given up their rituals to become rationalists or empiricists or any other category that is identified in western terms. They would have been happy to continue with worshipping (for want of a better word) their deceased relatives and no Arhant, not being a rationalist or empiricist or any other western ist would have objected to these rituals of the Yagu Kauranas. It can be safely assumed from the very beginning “gods” not only those found in Suttas such as Mahamangala Sutta, but gods such as Saman, Upulvan had been associated with the Hela Buddhism.
The next important event in the history of Hela (Sinhala) Buddhism in the country was the arrival of Arhant Mahinda after the third Sangayana (Council) with Theravada Buddhism of Vibhajjavadins. It is clear that the king Ashoka had wanted a different culture to be established with even Rajabhisheka (coronation) according to Maurya tradition. Arhant Mahinda Thero would not have been associated with Rajabhisheka, and the rituals would have been carried out by some Brahmins who came from Pataliputhra. The Brahmins would have had some say in governing the country after this, and the story of Pandula Brahmana who was apparently the teacher of the Prince Panduhabhaya has to be doubted. Probably there was some group of teachers among the Yagu Kauranas and they were also referred to as Brahmins by those who came from Pataliputhra.
The culture introduced by King Ashoka (Ashokan Buddhism) had flourished with Mahavihara as the centre competing with the Hela Buddhist culture of Yagu Kauranas, and Abhayagiriya supposed to be established by the King Valagamba with Yagu Kaurana connections had been the centre of Hela Buddhism. The Ashokan Buddhism had not remained a static phenomenon and gradually the Bhikkus appear to have replaced the Brahmins not only as teachers but kingmakers as well. It may have happened as a result of the competition between Hela Buddhism and Ashokan Buddhism, and an aggressive Sinhala Buddhism with the Bhikkus, the King and the People forming the corner stones of the culture had been evolved by the fifth century defeating Hela Buddhism. The defeat of the King Mahasen who also had Yagu Kaurana connections and who sowed Undu in the Mahavihara premises symbolizes the ascent of Sinhala Buddhism over Hela Buddhism. The Ashokan Rajya mentioned by Trevor Ling, after all may be a product of this island and not of Pataliputhra, resulting from the competition between Hela Buddhism and Ashokan Buddhism.
The third important event is the interaction between the Mahavihara Theravada Bhikkus and the Andra Pradesh Theravada Bhikkus such as Ven. Dhammapla Thero and Ven. Buddhagosha Thero. (I am not learned enough to refer to Ven Buddhaghosha Thero as Buddhaghosha). It is not clear as to what happened during this period to warrant Bhikkus from Andra Pradesh to come to Mahavihara and confer most post probably to evolve a scheme to protect Theravada Buddhism. As anybody else I can only speculate. Theravada Buddhism or Buddhism of the third Sangayana (Council) or Vibhajjavadi Buddhism appears to be a scholastic type Buddhism without much ritual involved. This Buddhism cannot be said to be the purest or even pure Buddhism as the word Vibhajjavadi implies a analytical Buddhism not in accordance with the Bududahama of Budunvahanse. A very thorough analytical Buddhism is not in keeping with Bududahama as analysis mainly depends on two valued two fold logic. Budunvahanse had very often, though not always, rejected dualities associated with two valued two fold logic and an analytical Buddhism would not have survived and the third Sangayana Bududahama was doomed to vanish.
Andra Pradesh and Anuradhapura had been the main centres of Theravada Bududahama in the ancient world and from about the second century Ven Nagarjuna Thero of Andra Pradesh had attacked the Dhammavada, Kshanavada Svabhavavada that could be easily associated with atmavada. The Andra Pradesh Theravada Bududahama had to give into Madhyamikavada which itself had to be replaced by schools of Mahayana that were finally replaced by Hinduism after Shankaracharya in the sixth century. The Andra Pradesh Theravada Bhikkus who could not defend Theravada Bududahama against Madhyamikavada would have seen by the fifth century that Theravada could not survive for long in their country. Naturally they would have turned their eyes to Anuradhapura fortunately far away from the country of Madhyamikavada and would have attempted to evolve a scheme to make sure that Theravada survived at least in Lanka.
However in Lanka though Hela Buddhism had been defeated by Ashokan Buddhism that had evolved to become Sinhala Buddhism, the former was not dead. The rituals associated with Hela Buddhism as a culture were still practiced by the people who were not fond of two valued two fold logic unlike the present day pundits produced by an English Christian education irrespective of the schools they attended or the medium of instruction. The Sinhala language has no word to express the abstract noun. For example, with respect to tooth, in English there are three terms to express a tooth, the tooth and tooth, whereas in Sinhala there are “datha’ (the tooth), dathak (a tooth) but no word for tooth as such. I have found that an Emeritus Professor from the Faculty of Dental Sciences not knowing what to say when confronted with abstracted tooth. He does not know whether to fill it or extract it. Probably he becomes nervous thinking of nerve filling the abstract tooth. (To be continued)
Nalin De Silva