Friday, May 27, 2011

Ven. Bhattacariya Buddhaghosa...... Pali grammarian par excellence Part 02

Continued From Part 01

By Rohan L. Jayetilleke

In this continuing battles, in the 4th century, rivals claimed the Sacred Tooth Relic and in these circumstances a royal Prince Danta and Princess Hemamali disguised themselves as wandering Ajivaka ascetics, and the Princess hiding the Tooth Relic in her hair knot, reached Sri Lanka and handed over the Sacred Tooth Relic to King Siri Meghavanna. In view of the fact, Mahavihara was more or less an educational establishment of Bhikkhus and unconnected with laity, whereas Abhayagiri was engaged in the teaching of more Mahayana in the Sanskrit medium and less Theravada in the Pali medium, was also a polytechnic where sculpture, metal craft, painting and other crafts too were taught. Therefore, the King handed over the Sacred Tooth Relic to the Abhayagiri, and had a Tooth Relic Vihara built to accommodate it. From this Vihara the Tooth Relic was conducted in a procession annually to Abhayagiri and exhibited For three months for the devotees both of the clergy and laity to pay their homage. On conclusion of three months in another grand procession the Tooth Relic was conducted back to the Vihara. The Vinaya Atthakatha records, Dipavamsa was composed at Mahavihara Granthakara Privena in the region of Jettha - Tissa 11 (332 -34 AD). During the reign of Bhuddhadatta (341 - 70 AD), the learned bhikkhus of Mahavihara authored Mulasikha and Khuddaka (vinaya summaries and Ven. Bhuddatatta too from the very same vihara authored several works.


The ‘Golden Age’ of Maha Vihara was the arrival from India the grammarian Bhandantacariya Buddhaghosa, during the reign of Mahanama (412 -434 AD) and taking up residence at Mahavihara. Arahant Mahinda brought the Commentaries on Tripitaka, introduced a script similar to Brahmin script to the then colloquial Sinhala language, and had the commentaries translated into Sinhala. However, in the translated form, through the centuries many distortions and interpolations, appeared in contrast to the original Pali Tripitaka. Even today such Sinhala interpolations and new terms have gained ground, such as, ‘Puja’ being called ‘sathkara’.

A new form of the Hindu priests abodes ‘Ashrams’ of India is adopted by Sinhala monks as ‘asapuwa’.

Entering the order means relinquishing all family ties, but now a monk addresses the listeners to his ‘desanas’ as ‘magee gnatins’ (My relations), and he calls upon his Sinhala, Christian, Muslim, Hindu gnatins. The bhikkhus of old were named after their places of birth as a prefix and the bhikkhus name after it. This naming after the village is also now done away with and gives the prefix either of ‘Pattu’ ‘Nuwara’ etc., concealing the name of their village of birth. Pattu or Nuwara is only an administrative division not a village. This concealment of the name of the village, is prompted by one reason, as villages in Sri Lanka are caste-based.

The question now arises, from where did Buddhaghosa come to Sri Lanka and why? The rainbow is created by the spectrum of colours of the sun passing through the vapours in the air. The rainbow of amazing grace heralds the sunbathe on the entire eco-system for life and energy. This amazing grace of a rainbow was the arrival of Bhadantacarya Buddhagosha at Mahavihara Anuradhapura to resurrect the Pali scriptures and redeem them from many interpolations and corruptions, through the Sinhala language. Buddhaghosa’s biography has to be culled from only epilogues and prologues in his own works.

A Brahmin student from Morandakhetaka, variously called as Mudantakhedaka, Murandahetaka, meaning ‘land of peacock’ eggs, a village 51 miles from Nagarjunakonda and 58 miles from Amaravati called Kotanemalipuri and Gudlapalli, in modern Andhra Pradesh of India, went over to Buddha Gaya, and having called at the Sinhala monastery the incumbent of which was Ven. Revata of Sri Lanka, recited Patanjali’s system in Sanskrit with each phrase complete and well rounded. Ven. Revata thinking this brahmin of great understanding who ought to be tamed said, “Who is that braying the ass’s bray?. The brahmin said, “What then, do you know of the ass’s bray?” Revata answered.

“I know it” and he then not only expounded himself, but explained each statement in the proper way and also pointed out contradictions. The brahmin urged Revata, “Now expound your own doctrine Revata expounded a text from the Abhidhamma, but the brahmin could not solve its meaning.

He asked, “Whose system is this?” and Revata replied, “It is the Enlightened One’s system” “Give it to me” he said. But, Revata “You will have to take the Going Forth into Homelessness” Then Revata gave him the going forth and as the brahmin’s voice was a very deep, he was given the name Buddhaghosa. Thereafter, he studied the three Pitakas and composed a treatise called Nanodaya and then the Atthasalini, a comment on the Dhammasangani. Next he began work on a commentary to the Paritta. Revata having seen it, said. Here only the text has been preserved. There are no commentaries here, and likewise doctrine of the Buddha. However, a sinhala commentary still exists, which is pure, at Mahavihara Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, rendered into Sinhala by Arahant Mahinda. Go there learn it and translate it into the language of the Maghadans Pali”. Thus Buddhaghosa visited the Mahavihara at Anuradhapura. On Buddhaghosa’s arrival at Mahavihara, he was given the facility to stay in a long room and learn the entire Sinhala commentaries under Ven. Sanghapala. Buddhaghosa explained that his objective was to translate the Sinhala commentaries to Pali. Ven. Sanghapala summoned an assembly of scholar monks, and Buddhaghosa was given two stanzas. to work on them and if successful all the commentaries would be made available to him.

Buddhaghosa did a successful translation of it and all the Sinhala texts were given to him. Thereafter Buddhaghosa composed in Pali, the Sinhala Commentaries on Vinaya, Patimokkha, Digna-nikaya, Majhima Nikaya, Samyutta-Nikaya, Anguttara - Nikaya, Khuddakapatha, Suttanipata, Dhammapada, Jataka, Dhammasangani, Vibhanga and five books of Pancapakaranatthakatha. Thus the Sinhala commentaries were again rendered into the Magadhan language of Pali, the language of the Buddha, in which language the Buddha discoursed them.

Vishddhimagga (Path of Purification)

The masterpiece of Ven Buddhaghosa was his Visudhimagga, a work unique in the literature of the world, especially Pali. It systematically summarizes and interprets the teaching of the Buddha contained in the Pali Tipitaka, which is now recognised in Europe as the Oldest and most authentic record of the Buddha’s word Visuddhimagga, as the principal non-canonical authority of Theravada Buddhism, it forms the fulcrum of a complete and coherent method of exegesis of the Tripitaka, using the ‘Abhidhamma Method’ as it is called.

It sets out detailed practical instructions for developing purification. Visudhimagga for the first time was translated to English in 1956 by Ven. Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Englishman Osbert Moore a graduate from Exeter College, Oxford, who was born in England. In 1948, he came to Sri Lanka, after having served as an army staff-officer in Italy during the second World War. While in Italy he had read an Italian book on Buddhism by J. Evola, titled. The Doctrine of Awakening’, later translated by a friend and fellow-officer, Harold Musson into English in 1948. This kindled his interest in Buddhism.

He came along with J.Evola and both of them entered the Order at Island Hermitage Didanduwa, founded by Most Venerable Nyanatiloka, a German, the first European Bhikkhu. Nanamoli had his higher ordination in 1950, at Vajirarama, Bambalapitiya, Colombo, having entered the order in 1949. His friend too followed same, under the name Nanavira. Nanamoli on March 1960, passed away at Veheragama in Maho in a lonely village, while on one of his walking tours. Nanamoli spent his monkhood of eleven years, right through at Island Hermitage Didanduwa.

His translation of Visuddhimagga, (Path of Purification) was first published by A. Semage, Publishers in 1956 for the first time and later in mid 1990s by the Buddhist Publication Society and presently this 838 paged work is published for free distribution by The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation founded by Most Venerable Bodagama Chandana Nayaka Thera. Those who wish to obtain a copy may forward their request either by air mail or E-mail to the following address: The Director, The Corporate Body of The Buddha Educational Foundation, 11 F, 55 Hang Chow South Road Sec. 1. Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China. E-mail : overseas@budaedu, org. tw. You may also visit the website:http// In your requests please make mention, this information was obtained from Budusarana, Buddhist Sinhala/English weekly of Sri Lanka.

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