Thursday, February 3, 2011

More on Srilanka and Buddhism

J.L. Devananda in his article The Sinhala (Mahavamsa) Buddhism Revisited contends:
What we witness today is a kind of political Buddhism trying to promote the interests of the Sinhala-Buddhist people, rather than religion (Buddhism) as a path for personal salvation, and it is the main impediment to peace in the Island of Sri Lanka because it is based on the doctrine of primacy and superiority of the Sinhala race and the Buddhist religion.

But he begins his essay differentiating Buddhism as practiced in Srilanka versus Buddhism in other countries:
The Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka, better known as Sinhala-Buddhism (or Mahavamsa-Buddhism) is different from the Theravada Buddhism practiced in other countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and so on. The Buddhists in these countries follow only the Buddhist scriptures Tripitaka (Viniya, Sutta, Abhidhamma), whereas in Sri Lanka the 'Mahavamsa,' which was written by one of the Mahavihara monks (Ven. Mahanama) more than 1000 years after the passing away of Lord Buddha is also considered as a part of the Buddhist scriptures, although it deals mostly with mythical or supernatural Buddhist history, some episodes of which are copied from the 'Mahabaratha' and 'Ramayana.' Since the Buddhist scriptures (Tripitaka) and the mythical Buddhist history (Mahavamsa) were both written in the Pali language, a Buddhist layperson who does not understand Pali cannot understand the difference between the two and, therefore, he/she believes everything that the Buddhist monks preach, to be the true words of Buddha.
He does not stop there, goes on to proclaim:
There was NO Buddhism in Sri Lanka until Emperor Asoka's missionary monks led by Mahinda converted the Hindu (Siva worshipping) Naga King Tissa into a Buddhist in the 2nd century BC. Similarly, there was NO Sinhala race/tribe in Sri Lanka until the Mahavihara monks created it in the 5th century AD.
He then goes on to say:
It was the British who re-discovered the Mahavamsa in the early 20th century and their so called European ‘Pali Scholars’ misinterpreted it, thereby creating another myth known as Arya-Sinhala. Since the Sinhala (Elu) language (mixture of Sanskrit, Pali and Tamil/Malayalam) was more of Indo-Aryan in nature, the British declared that the Sinhalese were Aryans from North India and the Tamils were Dravidians from South India. Influenced by the colonial historiography, the Sinhalese declared that they were indigenous to the island, and that the Tamils were invaders from South India.

Ah the familiar British fascination over race and divide-n-conquer tactics. Of course you have to read his entire essay about what he terms as Mahavamsa Mythology.

Once you read the essay, then check out Dr. Rajasingham Narendran's response.

Then let us on to Bandu De Silva's response Can the charge of 'racism' leveled against the chronicle (Mahavamsa) be sustained?.

Bandu shoves Devananda's essay into the polemics enclave immediately. While doing so, he gently reminds us about how there is nothing new in these arguments and they are just pro-Elam varieites onlee. The gist of fight...err arguments...between the two is the extent of immigration of population from India and which part of India these people came from. I like the term mainland, that is what some of us called while living in A&N Islands. Seriously, mainland is the right word according to my egoistic opinion. But I digress.

Bandu's response glorifies the North Indian Kingdoms. I do not find his conclusions any convincing. I hope you read it for yourself and be the judge.

But wait a minute for 2 minutes. I will also point you to Devananda's response to Bandu's criticisms. Here is rebuttal . He organizes his thoughts along the topics of 'Theravada Glorified', 'Bias towards North India', 'Against Mahayana', 'Tamil Buddhists Epics', 'Outdated History' etc. etc.

I hope you enjoy all the 4 essays. You will agree with me on my point of India being called the 'mainland' what does that make Srilanka? Yea, Indian leaders after Independence missed the bus big time.

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