10th December 2000
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Beginnings of the Bhikkuni Sasanaya

By Upali Salgado
A remarkable feature of the 12 month poya calendar is that they are all associated with the life of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha or to important Buddhist events that took place in ancient Sri Lanka such as the building of the Ruwanweli Seya or the coming of Arahat Mahinda to convert King Devanampiya Tissa to Buddhism at Mihintale.

Today is Uduwap Poya. This full moon day is considered by Sri Lankan Buddhists to be of special significance because emperor Dharmasoka's daughter, Theri Sanghamitta brought with her and her retinue a Bo-Sapling to Anuradhapura, from Buddha Gaya. It was on this day that the Bo-Sapling was ceremoniously planted at the Mahamegha Udyanaya and also the Sri Lanka Bhikkuni Sasana was established when Queen Anula became a Bhikkuni.

Another noteworthy event that took place on the day was that Prince Arittha, the King's nephew entered the Order of monks along with 500 other men. They all became Arahats. This was the beginning of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka.

Bringing of the Bo-Sapling

History records that the Bo-Sapling was placed in a special golden bowl made by a Vishwakarma, filled with good earth. After seven days of worship and offerings being made, Emperor Asoka brought Theri Sanghamitta and several other theris, also men of nobility to a decorated ship, and then addressed his chief minister Maharitta thus:-

The great chronicle Mahawamsa says - 'Three times I have worshipped the great Bodhi Tree (bestowing) kingship (upon it).

Even so shall the King (Devanampiya Tissa) my friend also worship it by (bestowing) Kingship (upon it).'The Mahavamsa continues that when the great King had spoken there on the shore, he gazed at the deep ocean, and shed tears. 'Filled with great sorrow at the parting, the Emperor returned weeping to his capital city'.

The Bo-Sapling was brought to Lanka by the ship that sailed on the Ganges river. It was accompanied by eleven other Bhikkunis and 18 persons of the Maurya Royal clan, including Ministers and also men of the Kshatriya (warrior caste), Brahmins and guild masters. Valuable gifts made of gold were also sent.

The ship commenced her journey from Tamralipti (Tamruk), and seven days later, was received in north Ceylon port named Jambukole. King Devanampiya Tissa, had waded into the sea, neck deep to receive with veneration the holy sapling, which was placed in a specially made, decorated Pavilion. On the tenth day after arrival the Bo Sapling was transported on a specially made chariot, on roads strewn with white sand. It was finally planted at the Maha Megha Udyanaya. This holy tree is known to be the oldest venerated tree in the world.

King Devanampiya Tissa ruled in Sri Lanka for 40 years. It was in his reign that the Thuparama and Chetiyapa- bbatta Vihare, along with several large monasteries were built. Isuru Muniya and Vessagiriya Vihare are two other places of worship associated with the king. Both Arahat Mahinda and Theri Sanghamitta survived King Devanampiya Tissa. Mahinda lived upto the age of 80 and Sanghamitta Theri upto 79 years. They spent 48 years in Ceylon spreading the Buddha Dhamma.

Re-establishing Bhikkuni Order

In the absence of the Bhikkuni Order in Sri Lanka for over 1000 years steps were taken to establish it recently.

In December 1996, a new page in the history of the Buddha Sasana was written at the Malagandhikuti Vihare Saranath, India when a Sri Lankan dasa-sil matha Kusuma Devendra, well versed in Pali, (now known as Bhikkuni Kusuma), entered the Bhikkuni Order in the presence of Ven.Walpola Piyana-nda Sanghanayake Thera, Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara Maha Thera ( General Secretary of the World Buddhist Sangha Council) and several other senior Bhikkus from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea, Nepal and Taiwan. Bhikkuni Kusuma's ordination was followed by ten other Dasa-sil mathas who received ordination. 

What did Asoka look like?

No one knows what Asoka of the third century BC looked like. Inscriptions ascribed to him have been found in various parts of the country nad his famous Sarnath Stupa is India's national emblem. But none of these, nor any of the Mauryan coins, bears his face.

This is strange. We know what Alexander, who predated him, looked like. Remarkably refined images of Asoka's contemporaries, who ruled the Bactrian frontiers of India, have been etched on their coins. 

There is even a statue, believed to be of Ajatasatru who lived in the sixth century BC, and we have seen a sculpted image of Kharavela, who rose to power in Kalinga soon after Asoka's reign of Magadha.

Inscriptions ascribed to Asoka call him Devanamapiya Piyadasi, with only certain Buddhist texts giving the name Asokavardhana. Incidentally, Piyadasi was a title believed to have been borne by his grandfather Chandragupta Maurya.

Most of what Indians knew of Asoka was culled from traditions. Ashoka's historicity was established only after James Princep deciphered the Kharoshti script in the 19th century and read the edicts. All the same, there is nothing connecting the inscriptions with the name 'Asoka'. 

- (Courtesy The Week)

A revolution based on equality of beings

Extracts of a speech by the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in Saanchi Vihara, India, on the 48th anniversary of the Mahabodhi Society.

We are gathered here today at the sacred site of Saanchi, as those who follow the doctrine of Gauthama, the Buddha. Gauthama, the Enlightened One is the greatest son of India. Gauthama Buddha, the Enlightened One is the greatest revolutionary from Asia.

Before the time of the Sakyamuni Prince, everyone's position in society was determined by birth. In all parts of the world, your family determined your position in life, your caste determined your position in life, and your social status determined your position in life. Whether in Egypt, in Babylon or Greece or Asia, you prayed to the wind, you prayed to the waters, you prayed to the sun. You prayed to supernatural beings and you depended on them for deliverance. Your fate or your future was not in your own hand. Gauthama, the Enlightened One changed all these with one revolutionary concept. He preached a doctrine that was based on equality.

Sidhartha, the Sakyamuni Prince was one who travelled around this part of India in search of the truth. The Enlightened One found that everything was transient in nature and that only death was certain; that the world was full of suffering. He revealed that the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path was the only way to surmount the suffering found in life. To travel this path you required a disciplined mind. If your mind is like a well thatched roof where no bad emotions or evil thoughts could penetrate; then, you are safe and your mind is disciplined. You decided your future by your own actions. No one else controlled it. Birth cannot control it. One was not a Wasalaya or Brahmana by birth. But rather, everyone was a Wasalaya or Brahmana by deeds. This was the simple message of equality. You could travel the noble Eightfold Path through your own efforts. This is the message that the Buddha preached.

The Sakyamuni Prince, dressed in a saffron cloth of a beggar, walked around the Ganges plain. The Buddha did not preach in Sanskrit, the language of the kings, the princes, and the priests. The Buddha preached in Pali - the language of the masses - to the common people. They were his main interest. He looked after the poor, he stayed with the Untouchables and he preached to everyone. This was the first mass movement, the first revolutionary movement in the world. The Buddha did not preach by himself. He organized the Sangha - his disciples. And these disciples took his message to every part of India.

This message promoted the idea of a trained mind, a detached mind, the rejection of violence and the embracing of ahimsa. The message of the Buddha was given universal recognition by the great emperor Dharmasoka. Sickened by the mass killing and destruction during the Khalingha war, the great emperor decided to renounce Dikvijaya and embrace Dharmavijaya. He decided to forward the message of Buddha to other countries as well. So, it was carried to the Middle East and to Europe. It was carried to China. It was carried to South East Asia to the far off countries of Funan and Chenlai - known today as Vietnam and Cambodia. It was also carried to the small island of Sri Lanka.

Everything changed. Since then, all other religions have been based on these principles of equality, universality and compassion. Christianity and Islam are based on these principles. This concept of equality also spread to other areas as well. The idea of equality of people was at the core of the French Revolution and the American Revolution. 

These principles are now enshrined in the United Nation's Charter. Human Rights, which included equality, tolerance, and free thought find its origins in the teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha advised the princes of Lichchavi Republic to meet in unity, discuss in unity, and depart in unity. Today, these concepts find acceptance by the Council of Europe under their resolution dealing with the stability of democracy.

A few days before she died, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, remarked at a meeting of World Buddhists in Delhi that the Buddha always preached the need to test the truth of our teaching on the anvil of experience. This is the principle that underlies the freedom of thought and expression. Many of the noble concepts accepted by us today were preached 2500 years ago by Gauthama, the Enlightened One. That is why he is the greatest revolutionary the world has ever known. He changed the world when he espoused the principle of equality and said. 'Hate is conquered by love. The unrighteousness, by righteousness. The miser, by gifts, the lie, by truth.'

This was the message that was sent from Saanchi to Sri Lanka by the children of emperor Dharmasoka. They did not come to Sri Lanka as royalty. They did not come as the envoys of the Emperor. Mahinda and Sanghamitta came to Sri Lanka as 'Dharmarajassa Savaka' - the servants of the Dhamma. 

It is in this part of India that a revival of Buddhism has taken place. The roles played by Anagarika Dharmapala, the Mahabodhi Society, Ven. Hadigalle Pannatissa Mahanayaka Thera and now that of Ven. Banagala Upatissa Nayaka Thera has to be specially mentioned here. 

The role played by the government of India, the Nawab of Bhopal, and the government of Madhya Pradesh must also be mentioned. But we must remember specifically the man who wrote down the constitutional document which made the Indian nation a reality, Dr. Ambedkar who gave leadership to Buddhism in India. It is for you to carry on his task, it is for us to help you. The Buddha's doctrine is still valid.

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