Until the introduction of Buddhism, the inhabitants of this country believed in ghosts, sun, rocks, mountains, trees, fire and the dead which are lifeless objects. They had spectral or phantasmal powers and viands were offered to demons and ghosts which benefited them in no way but instead increased their awe inspiring terror and dismay. They thought they were punished if they failed to make the offerings. After the introduction of Buddhism, the offerings were accepted by the Buddha and His disciples, Sangha who were human beings like themselves. They could talk to the priests and get their problems clarified. They came to know that the Bhikkhus were not offended even if offerings were not made
Gauthama Buddha visited Sri Lanka on three occasions and preached Dhamma to the rulers in the Northern and Western regions and the central hills.
However, Buddhism had not been established firmly in this country with the visit of Buddha as in the case of North India and Nepal presumably because most of the then inhabitants, most of Yakkhas, Rakshas and Asuras and some of the Nagas were heathens who did not realize the value of Buddhism.
In spite of the untamed nature of certain heretics and heathens who were the inhabitants of this land during the time of the Buddha’s visit, there is historical evidence of invasions from the neighbouring country, India, which had presumably resulted in the flow of cultured population which prepared a suitable arena for Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera to propagate Buddhism.
King Panduwasdev married a princess from North India. Queen Bhadddhakaccayana was related to prince Siddharaatha and her six brothers who had accompanied her had built their own colonies in Lanka. They called them Gamas.
These Gamas or colonies, Ramagama, Anuradhagama, Uruwelagama, Vijithagama, Dighayagama and Rohanagama were established in different parts of the country. Seemingly the queen’s brothers had brought people including craftsmen from India for the construction of these colonies. In spite of all these developments there is no debate regarding the fact that the overall development of the country had started with Mahindagamanaya – the arrival of Arahanat Mahinda Maha Thera with Buddhism, followed by his own sister, Arahant Sanghmitta Maha Theri who brought the oldest sacred tree in the world, Sri Maha Bodhi to Sri Lanka.
Thus the recorded history in Sri Lanka began when Buddhism paved way to a cultural revolution more than 2000 years ago. In the wake of the Cultural Revolution there came an era of unsurpassed achievement. Fashioned lifestyles fostered the arts and inspired the creation of Dagabas, temples, monasteries, statues, numerous man-made reservoirs and irrigation systems which even today defy engineering interpretation.
The mission of Arahant Mahinda Maha thera was the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. In a bid to establish Buddhism firmly in this country as envisaged by the Enlightened One Himself Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera established the order of monks and caused to establish the order of Nuns-Meheni Sasna. For worshipping of the devotees, relics of Buddha which are sharirika Dhathu and most importantly the treasured Paribhogika Dhathu, the Jayasiri Maha Bodhi were brought from time to time.
Until the introduction of Buddhism, the inhabitants of this country believed in ghosts, sun, rocks, mountains, trees, fire and the dead which are lifeless objects. They had spectral or phantasmal powers and viands were offered to demons and ghosts which benefited them in no way but instead increased their awe inspiring terror and dismay. They thought they were punished if they failed to make the offerings.
After the introduction of Buddhism, the offerings were accepted by the Buddha and His disciples, Sangha who were human beings like themselves. They could talk to the priests and get their problems clarified. They came to know that the Bhikkhus were not offended even if offerings were not made. They taught the cause and effect of everything, merits and demerits, virtues and sins, but no compulsions were imposed. They were taught that they themselves were responsible for their own fate. There were no outside forces or spirits to stand on their way to spiritual development. Priests provided education to their children.
The Noble Eight Fold Path led them to final emancipation. Panchaseela is a guidance to lead peaceful day to day lives. Attangika seela, Dasa sil and priesthood led them for spiritual development. Thus the teachings of Thathagatha which were introduced to this country by Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera who is regarded as Anu Budhu or secondary Buddha in Sri Lanka brought about a civilized society in Sri Lanka. People even rose against the rulers when they found them unrighteous. An Upasaka named Tissa had reportedly refused to kill a fowl even on the orders of king Saddhatissa. They learnt the virtues of looking after their old and feeble parents. Hospitality or friendly and generous reception of guests or strangers, treating the sick, helping the poor and needy and kindness to animals are some of the other virtuous qualities they acquired from Buddhism.
Buddhism is not against any other religion and hence Buddhists can live in harmony with the other religious groups. Buddhism thus played a pivotal role in building a strong united nation.
The progress in the field of education was solely due to the introduction of Buddhism. Most of the rock inscriptions recovered from Sri Lanka and Asoka rock inscriptions in India are written in Brahmi scripts. The modern Sinhala alphabet is a gradual evolution of the Brahmi script. This alphabet was brought to Sri Lanka by Buddhist missionaries. On the guidance of Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera Buddhist commentaries were translated into Sinhala. The substances of most of ancient Sinhala literary works is the Buddhist doctrine. In the effort made to explain the Buddhist philosophy into the Sinhalese language gradually developed. Buddhist monasteries were converted to educational institutions. The Sinhala literature was improved in quality. Educational opportunities were available for the common man. Lyrics scribbled on Sigiriya rock bare witness.
Building construction was in a very poor state at the time when Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera arrived in Lanka and introduced Buddhism to the inhabitants led by King Devanampiyatissa. The king had only his elephant kraal to be offered to the Maha Thera and his followers. After the arrival of Buddhism, a number of Buddhist temples were established throughout the country. Sri Lankan craftsmen came in contact with their counterparts in India from whom they learnt various forms of architecture. They gained experience in the construction of shrine rooms, alms halls, image houses, preaching halls and relic depositaries were constructed. Indian craftsmen had played a pioneering role in these construction works. There is evidence in chronicles to the effect that emperor Dharmashoka had sent skilled craftsmen to Sri Lanka to attend to the construction work relating to Sri Maha Bodhi. Local craftsmen had gained experience by working with these Indians.
Another important aspect that was developed consequent to Mahindagamanaya and Dumindagamanaya is sculpture. Sculptors who could depict the super human extraordinary serenity in the countenance of the Buddha image in a clear, calm and lucid manner were emerged and substantiated from the Samadhi Pilimaya (Buddha statue in the meditation posture) at Mahameuna Uyana and Avukana Buddha image among others. Paintings on the walls of image houses are evidence for the development of paintings.
Methods of surveying and levelling, weighs and measures and the monetaryu system was introduced to them. There is historical evidence to the effect that consequent to Mahindagamanaya, Sri Lanka had engaged in foreign trade. Traders had come from India, China, Japan and many other Asian and Arabic countries.
Teachings of Gauthama Buddha enabled the people to get their lives adjusted in a righteous manner. They observed Pansil and abstained from killing, stealing, adultery etc. There is no compulsion but they observed the Buddha’s teachings voluntarily and willingly as they knew the virtues of it. They reared their domestic and farm animals not for killing but for milk and to be used in farms and in transport.
Singalowada Sutta Vyaggapajja Sutta etc. provided guidelines in spending virtuous lives. They learnt the causes for ruining from Parabhava Sutta and refrained from sinful ways including unethical and inequitable trade.
Thonigala and Badigala rock inscriptions disclose information of banking system under which the villagers deposited their savings of cash and grain. They later accepted foreign economic systems presumably because they were in keeping with the sublime teachings of the Enlightened One.
Rulers adjusted their systems of administration according to the Buddhist teachings. Protection of Buddhism and looking after the people were their main responsibilities.
They observed these principles by word and deed. King Devanampiyatissa was probably the first king to observe the principles of Buddhism. He was enthroned for the second occasion on the advice of emperor Dharamasoka of Dambadiva.
It is to be noted that king Devanampiyatissa was engaged in a game of hunting and was chasing after a deer when Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera and his followers were standing on Missaka pawwa having come in a religious mission of Emperor Dharmasoka. The king was completely reformed after embracing Buddhism. According to the available chronological evidence he and the kings enthroned after him sought the advice of the clergy in all important matters. Thus the clergy took serious interest in the administration of the country.
Thus Buddhism was accompanied by social, cultural and economic values which resulted in an overall development in the country.
By Gamini Jayasinghe