Progress of Buddhist Studies in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China and Japan

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1. Buddhism in Ceylon [1]

Owing to the domination of the Portuguese, Dutch and British since the invasion of Ceylon by the Portuguese in 1505, Buddhism fell to such a low ebb that Kittisiri Rajasingh (17461779 A.D.), the ruler of the Kandyan Province, had to send emissaries to Siam to find Buddhist Elders for the re-establishment of the higher ordination in Ceylon. Other groups went with a similar purpose to Burma, at the beginning of the 19th century and thus were established in Ceylon three fraternities-Siamee, Burmese (Upper Burma), and Ramanna (Lower Burma). The British captured the island in 1815 and the evils of foreign rule were in no way mitigated. The education of the young was left of Christian missionaries. None the less, two prominent schools of Buddhism were established by the Venerable Piyaratanatissa of Dodanduwa.

A controversy took place between the Christians and the Buddhists in which the latter were triumphant. Colonel Olcott read an account of this controversy in the newspapers and came to Ceylon in 1880. He himself became a Buddhist and encouraged local Buddhists to establish their own schools. He exercised considerable influence over the younger generation and founded the Theosophical Society of Colombo which now controls over 350 Buddhist educational institutions including some first-grade colleges. Two religious schools of the old system of education for monks were established the Vidyodaya Oriental College, Colombo (1872), and the Vidyalankara College at Kelaniya (1873) near Colombo. There are now more than 200 institutions connected with these colleges which are still engaged in educational work. The venerable elders saw the necessity of having Pali literature printed for the people and books were thus published both in Pali and Sanskrit. The Publication of the Mahavamsa and its translation into Simlialese were undertaken by the Venerable H. Sumangala, the Principal of the Vidyodaya College, and Pandit Batuwantudawe. The Abhidhanappadipika, a Pali lexicon, and the Namamala were edited by the Venerable Subhuti. At the request of Sir Robert Chalmers, then Governor of Ceylon, the commentary of the Majjhima-nikaya was edited by the Venerable Dhammarama, the second Principal of the Vidyalankara College. The Venerable Seelakkhandha of Sailabimbarama, Dodanduwa, wrote Saddharma-Makaranda, (Kolhapur, 1914), a life of the Buddha in Sanskrit and commentaries on the Bhakrisataka (Darjeeling, 1896), written by Pandita Ramachandra 13harati (middle of the 13th century A.D.) who had become a Buddhist, and on the Aniruddha-Sataka. He also edited the Trikandasesa-Kosa, the Daivajnakamadhenu and the Vrttaratnakara-Panjika which were published in India in Devanagari script.

Under the influence of Colonel H.S. Olcott, a young enthusiast, called David Hewavitarane, who later came to be known as Anagarika Dharmapala, felt the urge to strive for a revival of Buddhism. He lectured to rural audiences in Ceylon and later came to India. It was his religious fervour and missionary zeal that led to the founding of the Maha Bodhi Society in 1891.

Simon Hewavitarane, the youngest brother of Anagarika Dharmapala, left a large legacy which was to be used for the printing and publishing of Pali books. Over 49 volumes of commentaries on the canonical texts of the Pali Tripitaka have been published. Among the published texts are the Cariya-Pitaka (1950), the Parajika the first volume of the Pinaya-Pitaka (1950), the Dhammasangani (1952), and the Jataka Pali (gatha, 1954).

Stray volumes of the Tripitaka and commentaries were also published at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, but most of these books and commentaries, including those in the Simon Hewavitarane Series, are now out of print.

The Abhidhammattha-Vibhavani (1933) and the Atthasalinimula Tika (1938), published in the Vidyodaya Tika Publication Series, may also be mentioned. In the manatunga Series, too, there appeared three volumes of the Digha-Nikaya (1929). One very interesting tika on the Samanta-Pasadika, the Vimati-Vinodani by Coliya Kassapa, was published with indexes by Dr. H. GabrieI de Silva (1935). It had been preceded by the Sarattha-Dipani (1914), another tika on the Samanta-Pasadika, which, however, remained incomplete.

It is now planned to publish afresh the Texts and their Simlialese translations under the direction of Prof. G.P. Malalsekera, who is well known for his Pali Literature of Ceylon (London, 1928) and for his Dictionary of Pali Proper Names in two volumes (1937-38). A complete edition of the Cullavagga and portions of the Digha and the Samyutta-Nikayas have already been published with Simlialese translations. At the Simlialese translations of the Pali Texts are in great demand, Dr. A.P. de Soyza, a zealous Buddhist, has published translations of the Digha, the Majjhima and the Samyutta. With the foundation of the University of Ceylon, particularly since Ceylon achieved independence, new scholars have begun to enter the field. N.A. Jaya Vikrama has contributed a fine critical commentary on the Suttanipata (University of Ceylon Review, 1948-50). Prof. O.H. de Wijesekera has correlated Pali studies with studies in earlier Vedic literature and his papers on Yaksa, Gandharva and Indra, as well as some from his former pupil, Charles Godage (University of Ceylon Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1943, and Vol. Ill, April 1945), deserve to be read. In 1946, Dr. Adikaran published his Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon, followed by W. Rahula's History of Buddhism in Ceylon (1956) based on original Pali sources.

Old style scholars among the monks have also given us some fine books. The Rev. Widurapola Piyatissa wrote Mahakassapahcarita (1934) and Mahanekkhamma Campu (1935), edited the Jataka-Atthakatha in ten volumes, and edited commentaries on the Netti-Pakarana and the Samyutla-Nikaya. The commentaries published in the Simon Hewavitarane Series are also edited by learned Elders.

In order to popularize the study of Pali among school-children, it was necessary to simplify the teaching of Pali grammar. In 1912 the Rev. Suriyagoda Sumangala compiled a graduated Pali course, on the model of 13handarkar's Sanskrit Readers in India. The Rev. A.P. Buddhadatta, who was given the title of Agga-Mahapandita by the Burmese Government in 1954, published New Pali Course, Parts 1(1937) and 11 (1939), Higherpali Course, Aid to Pali Conversation and Concise Pali-English Dictionary (1949). The Rev. A.P. Buddhadatta has become famous for his edition of the Visuddhimagga (1914) and of the Apadana (1930) in Simlialese characters and for his editions, for the Pali Text Society, of the Namarupa-Pariccheda (1914), the Abhidhammavatara (1915), the Sammoha-Vinodani commentary on the Vibhanga (1923), the Vinaya-Uttara-Vinicehaya (192.8), the Saddhamma-Pajjotika (3 vols.) and the commentary- on the Niddesa. He has written numerous scholarly books in the Simlialese language and brought out an English-Pali dictionary (1955). A similar work was prepared by the Rev. Widurupolapiyatissa in 1949. He also edited the Visuddhimagga-Ganthi, a small commentary in Simlialese characters explaining intricate points in that work. It was with his help that a copy of this manuscript in Burmese characters was obtained from a Burmese monastery near Ambalangoda. Dr. Vajira-nana Maha Thera wrote a book entitled Buddhism Outlined in 1951. The Rev. Narada is an enthusiastic religious missionary and has visited India, The South-East Asian countries, Europe, Australia, East Africa and Nepal. He has written several pamphlets, the most important of which are Buddhism in a Nutshell, Kamma and Rebirth, and Buddhist Conception of Consciousness. He has also written a life of the Buddha along with the text and translation of Chapter 1 of the Abhidhammattha-Sangaha. Several editions of the Dhammapada have appeared and one prepared by B. Siri Sivali (1954) is presented very attractively, the text being given in the Simlialese and Roman scripts on pages on the left and the translations in Simlialese and English on the right.

The Rev. Nyanatiloka, a German Buddhist monk of the Dodanduwa Island, gave us a very useful book in his Guide Through the Abhidhamma-Pitaka (1938). He has also prepared a German translation of the Visuddhimagga which has so far been printed only in part. The Government of Ceylon has awakened to the fact that it, too, must encourage Buddhist studies. Accordingly, the task of publishing the Pali texts and their Simlialese translations has been entrusted to the Vidyalankara authorities. It has also been decided to bring out a Buddhist encyclopaedia and arrangements are being made for its preparation under the general editorship of Prof. G.P. Malalsekera.

Incidentally, it may be observed that, under the guidance of Prof. G.P. Malalsekera of the University of Ceylon, Ceylon has taken the lead in trying to bring all Buddhist countries together and to set up the World Fellowship of the Buddhists, which successively met in Ceylon (1950), Japan (1952), Burma (1954), Nepal (1956) and Thailand (1958).


2. Buddhism in Burma [2]

As Burma was ruled by its own king right up to 1886, Buddhism continued to flourish in that country. The country has been known for a long time for its scholarly studies in the Tripitaka, especially the Abhidhamma. Its numerous monasteries contain rich collections of Pali manuscripts. Mandalay has always been its educational and religious centre and its monasteries possess many rare manuscripts. Burma can boast of two or three printing presses like the Hanthawady Press the P.G. Mundyne Pitaka Press and the Zabu Meet Swe Press where Pali books, the Atthakathas, and sub-commentaries on the Abhidhamma are printed. In Burma, there are, even among laymen, not a few studying the Abhidhamma. At the beginning of this century, the more notable among the learned monks of Burma was Ledi Sayadaw who had specialized in the Abhidhamma. He wrote on the Yamaka and selections from it, as well as his article, 'Philosophy of Relations', was published by the Pali Text Society in 1914 and in 1916. Recently, two other great scholars passed away. One of them, Abhidliaja Maha Rattha-Guru Nyaungyan Sayadaw (1874-1955), was elected Sanghanayak, or the presiding Mahathera. He has to his credit some 150 manuals on Buddhism among which are Mehasamaya-Sutta, Brahmanimantanasutta, Hemavata-Sutta, Silakkhandha-Tika and Namakkara-tika. Another notable scholar was the Venerable Mingun Sayadaw (1868-1955) of Thaton who wrote Milinda-Atthakatha (1949), Petakopadesaatthakatha, Kathinaviniccaya and Nibbanakatha. He was looked upon with great disfavour by the ecclesiastical authorities as well as the Government of Burma for having expressed in his commentary on the Milinda independent views regarding the possibility of giving women a higher ordination by the Order of the Buddhist Monks.

Charles Duroiselle made a name for himself through his writings or various archaeological finds in Burma and also wrote a small book entitled Practical Grammar. Z Aung's Compendium of Philosophy (1910), a masterly treatise, is an annotated translation of the small Abhidhamma manual, the Abhidhammattha-sangaha. Aung also wrote an account of Abhidhamma literature in Burma (1912). Later, he translated the Kathavatthu into English in Points of Controversy (1915). Mrs. C. Rhys Davids was his collaborator in the first and third of the works mentioned above. Prof. Maung Tin gave us the English translation of the Atthasalini in his Expositor (2 vols., 1920-21), and of the Visuddhimagga in his Path of Purity (3 vols., 1922-31). We may also mention the names of the late Ledi Pandit U. Maung, Gyi and the late U. Lin who wrote on subjects relating to the Abhidhamma. Nor must we forget the Rev. Pannaloka Mahathera who has written on Abhidhamma subjects in Bengali.

Progress of Buddhist Studies in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China and Japan


Since Burma became independent, the Burmese Government has taken swift measures to bring about the revival of Buddhism and Buddhist studies. A Buddha Sasana Council was established and under its auspices, or perhaps inspiration, several centres of Buddhist studies have been opened. The Council decided to edit afresh the whole of the Buddhist Tripitaka. Co-operation was sought from learned Buddhist monks in India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. With the material supplied by these countries, the basic text, as recorded in 729 stone slabs ' at the Kuthodaw temple in Mandalay, was compared and a final text established. The Sangayana (recital) of such a text was done and the text as recited was first published in 1956. It is understood that the whole Pali text in Burmese characters and the Burmese translation of the whole of the Tripitaka has been published.


3. Buddhism in Thailand

Buddhism is the State religion of Thailand and here it never fell on evil days as it did in Ceylon. The State has a separate administration for religious affairs and the Government spends large sums of money for the religious well-being of Buddhists, monks and laity alike.

There are two great institutes of higher learning for the Buddhist monks-the Maha Maktit Raja Vidyalaya Academy and the Maha Culalankarn Raja Vidyalaya Academy. Sanskrit is now taught in Bangkok both at Culalankarn University and at the Academy for Buddhist Monks. Thailand has always been in the forefront of Buddhist studies and it is a matter of gratification that as many as forty-five volumes of the Pali Tripitaka, at least thirty volumes of the Atthakathas, and ten volumes of the Pakaranas have been published in Siamese script. A special feature of Siamese books is that they contain indexes, however meagre they may be.

It may be noted that the Vajiranana Manuscript Library at Bangkok has a rich collection of manuscripts, some of which are extremely rare. There is a new commentary on the Visuddhimagga, the Sankhepattha-jotani which begins with the works Svasti Buddhaya (Hail to the Buddha!). In Thailand also is preserved a rare book, the Sangitivamsa, which mentions as many as nine councils.

Pancika-Nama-Atthayojana, a work on the Abhidhammatthavibhavani (which itself is a tika on the Abhidhammattha-Sangaha), is another rare printed book in two volumes which have an index. Another book, Mangalattha-Dipani (1951-53), gives a detailed exposition of the gathas of the famous Mangala-Sutta and is highly spoken of in Thailand. Other important new books are Jinakalamalini, and Samantapasadika-Attha-Yojana. The very existence of these books is indicative of the importance of the study of Pali texts, commentaries and sub-commentaries in Thailand.

The Sixth Council which was held in Rangoon induced some Burmese scholars to go to, Thailand to preach the Abhidhamma.

4. Buddhism in Cambodia [3]

Although a very small country, Cambodia has always been a stronghold of Theravada Buddhism. Under the patronage of His Majesty Norodam Silianouk Varman (Narottama Simlia-hanu Varman) who recently abdicated in favour of his father in order to be free to bring about all-round reform in his kingdom, and under the vigorous guidance of His Eminence Samadach Brah Maha Sumedhadhipati Chtion-nath, Chief of the Mahanikaya, Cambodia country has as many as 2,800 monasteries with 82,000 monks and novices.

In 1914 the Government opened in Phnom-penh, the capital of Cambodia, a Pali High School where young monks were instructed and given diplomas after four years' training. The instruction was not confined to religious subjects but also included subjects useful in the temporal world. This school has now developed into a college. In 1933, the authorities began to establish elementary Pali schools where the monks took a three years' course. Out of these schools have now developed the schools of Dhamma-Vinaya, where all monks are trained. This year a Buddhist University named after Preah Sihanu-Raja has also been started.

Progress of Buddhist Studies in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China and Japan


Buddha, Angkor Thom


Photo: Justin Guariglia (

To supplement this programme of religious instruction in Phnompenh a Royal Library was opened in 1925 and a Buddhist Institute in 1930. A little later, the Government appointed a Tripitaka Board consisting of eminent scholars, who were. asked to prepare for publication Pali texts and their Cambodian translations. The literary output of these institutions is highly creditable. Out of the 110 volumes contemplated in the bilingual series, 55 have already been published. A copy of all the- texts of the Pali Canon written by hand was sent to the Sixth Council (Chattha Sangayana) which was held at Rangoon. Among the other ten volumes published in Pali (1938-54), are the Abhidhammamatika (1953), the Chappakarana Abhidhamma (1950), the Abhidhammattha-sangaha (1938), the Bhikkhupatimokkha (1950), the Visuddhimagga (1946) and the Mangalattha-Dipani (1952). No fewer than 187 volumes, mostly on religious subjects, have been published in the Cambodian language by the various libraries and institutions already mentioned.

Clearly, Cambodia has made tremendous progress in the popularization of Pali studies and in the education of the monks.

5. Buddhism in Laos

Laos is mostly mountainous and comparatively backward. Although the country belongs to the Theravada school and the Pali Tripitaka forms its sacred literature, it has few Pali scholars. It appears, however, that there exist in Laos many texts which are word-to-word commentaries or Nissayas of the Pali texts. In Luangbrabang, the capital, in a small temple on the hill, there is a library of manuscripts in which we find a Laotian Nissaya of the Visuddhimagga. It begins with the words Namo tassa (Bhagavato) atthu instead of the usual formula of Namo tassa Bhagavato Arhato Samma-sambuddhassa (Bow to the Blessed, the Deserving and Fully Enlightened Buddha).

In this country, the Jatakas enjoy great popularity and separate collections of ten and of fifty Jatakas are available. The order of the ten Jatakas, however, differs from that in Fausboll's edition. There is also a collection of fifty Jatakas which is current in other countries in South-East Asia, such as Siam, Cambodia and Burma. What is peculiar to the independent Laotian version, however, is that it contains 27 stories which are not found in any other collection (see, Henri Deydier, Introduction a la Connaissance du Laos, Saigon: 1952, p. 29). Lists of the Jatakas in the collection of the ten and fifty are given below:

The Ten Jatakas

1. Temiyakumara 6. Bhuridatta

2. Janakakurnara 7. Candakumara

3. Suvanna syama 8. Naradabrahma

4. Nimiraja 9. Vidhurapandita

5. Mahosadha 10. Vessantara

The Fifty Jatakas

1. Samuddaghosakurnara 15. Sunandakumara

2. Suddhammakumara or 16. Baranasi

Sutarajakurnara        17. Dhammadhajapandita

3. Sudhanakumara   18. Dukkammakumara

4. Sirasakumara      19. Sabbasiddhikumara

5. Subhamittaraja     20. Pannabalakumara

6. Suvannasankha   21. Dadhivahana

7. Candaghataka     22. Mahisakumara

8. Suvannamiga       23. Chaddanta

9. Suvannakurunga 24. Campeyyangaraja

10. Setamusika        25. Bahalagavi

11. Tulakapandita    26. Kapila

12. Maghamanava 27. Narajivakurnara

13. Aritthakumara 28. Siddhisarakumara

14. Ratanapajota 29. Kusaraja

30. Jetthakumara         41. Arindumaraja

31. Duttharajakurnara  42. Viriyapandita

32. Vattakaraja             43. Adittaraja

33. Narada                   44. Suruparaja

34. Mahasutasoma      45. Suvannabrahmadattaraja

35. Mahabalaraja         46. Mahapadumakumara

36. Brahmaghosaraja  47. Surasenaraja

37. Sadiraja                 48. Siricundamaniraja

3 8. Siridharasetthi      49. Kapiraja

39. Matuposaka or Ajitaraja 50. Kukkura

40. Vimalaraja

In the collection of ten Jatakas, the Temiya and the Vessantara are popular. There is also a sutta called the Jambupattisutta, which is peculiar to this country and is portrayed in the wall paintings of the Library building on Val Pha Ouak, the hill in Luangprabang. King Jambupatti, wishing to dazzle the Buddha, visited him in great state, but saw the latter sitting on his throne, beautiful as a god and dressed in the shining apparel of a King of Kings (Rajadhiraja). This represents the conception of the Buddha as the equal of a Cakravarti monarch. In a scene depicted in a wall painting in this temple, the Buddha is represented as pointing to Jambupatti the torments he must suffer if does not follow the principles of the Vinaya.

6. Buddhism in Vietnam[4]