Faxian and other diversion from myths behind war crimes


By Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe

Myths have an important role in most religions and the very basis of some religions is a myth, as has been rightly pointed out by Bhante Dhammika of Australia in The Island of May 12. One is reminded of the destructive impact of such mythological belief systems by events such as the killing of rock throwing Palestinian youth, more than 60 so far, near Jerusalem over the last fortnight.

The dispute involving the illegal Israeli capture of Jerusalem, a piece of real estate considered ‘holy’ by two disputing parties, is one of the greatest calamities of human history. As usual, Israel, backed by American weaponry, financial aid and myth-based ideological support brutishly employs a policy of taking no prisoners. The criminal events around Jerusalem demonstrate the human suffering caused by efforts to enforce venomous religious myths with the help of evil military might.

It is unfortunate that massive atrocities of this nature are escaping the attention of people like Bhante Dhammika of Australia, who seems to be captivated by other ‘myths’ — benign at their worst — invented as diversions from ‘real’ myths: Bhante Dhammika says Sri Lankans are ‘deliberately manufacturing’ a so-called Pahiyangala cave myth by believing it to be the abode of the Chinese pilgrim monk Faxian during his travels in Sri Lanka in the fifth century AD. Launching a vituperative attack on the Sri Lankan belief, Dhammika claims that a ‘bit of research’ has enabled him to dismiss the ‘story’ of the Pahiyangala cave as baseless.

Now, Bhante Dhammika has previously edified the readers of The Island through results of his ‘research’ into such topics as the Buddha and toilets, his toothbrush and the use of neem containing toothpaste and optic nerve surgery by some king. He also attempted to spread the myth that scribblings of references to Buddhism in rock and pillar edicts in India as proof that King Asoka had recorded the Dhamma, long before the recording of the Pali Canon in Sri Lanka in 29-17 BCE. No wonder Bhante Dhammika has been unable to find any time to spare a thought about the indescribable suffering of millions of Palestinians enslaved under the might of Judaistic myths, let alone to spread the civilising word of the Buddha among the myth-believing peoples of the Middle East.

An analysis of Bhate Dhammika’s published articles reveals that they are characterised by a ‘research’ method that does not conform to any accepted academic procedure. He bases his arguments on speculation.

He seems to be trying his best to promulgate a distorted view of South Asian history akin to the fraudulent history fabricated by the paid servants of the East India Company (EIC) from the late 18th to the mid-19th centuries. His attempts are typified by a tendency to denigrate and belittle the widely acknowledged historical achievements of Sri Lanka vis-à-vis those of India, as part of a continuing conspiracy to divide and rule.

Bhante Dhammika’s gripe about the so-called Pahiyangala ‘myth’ appears to arise from his belief that Fa-hein (as he chooses to call Faxian) has never mentioned Sri Pada in his travelogue, he never went there, and he just reported what others told him about it, and thus he would not have stayed in the nearby cave. This particular line of argument gives voice not to knowledge but to speculation, clearly inadequate as the basis for demolishing an alleged, ‘myth’.

He further asserts that Faxian never went anywhere other than Anaradhapura and Mahintale, and ‘even if he did’ go to the cave at Pahiyangala he, being one of many thousands of visitors, it is implausible that he ‘would have been’ remembered. Then he extends his specious argument further; even if he had been remembered, he would have been known by the Sanskrit version of his name, Dharmadasa, not by his Chinese name. Based on such nonsense, Dhammika dismisses the Pahiyangala cave story as ‘nonsense’.

The above non-reasoning put forward by Bhante Dhammika as possible ‘proof’ that the Pahiyangala cave story is myth does not deserve dignifying through counter argument. He needs to be advised to discern the difference between ‘speculation’ and ‘dialectic’ as instruments of debate. None of the many even ‘ifs’, ‘would haves, would not haves’ or ‘must haves’ do not make an argument in favour of his complaint that Pahiyangala cave story is a myth.

Bhante Dhammika goes on to make the totally outrageous claim that Faxian was, ‘of course’, completely unknown in Sri Lanka until the publication of translation of his travelogue in 1884 by a British naval chaplain and missionary named Samuel Beal. He surmises that in the decades after that English speaking Sri Lankan Buddhists ‘must have’ read Beal’s book, and at some point the then abbot of the Pahiyangala vihara ‘must have’ heard about it and the myth was born.

The claim reveals that Dhammika is keen to push the distorted EIC versions of our history produced by clerks of the EIC and paid missionaries. Samuel Beal was one such missionary who worked as ‘naval chaplain’ of H.M.S. Sybille. He never translated Faxian’s travelogue ‘Record of Buddhist Kingdoms’ per se, He is on record for translating some Chinese writings on ‘Travels of Fah-Hian and Sung-Yun, Buddhist pilgrims, from China to India (400 AD and 518 AD)’. A translation of A Faxian’s Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms. Being an account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Hien of his travels in India and Ceylon (AD 399-414) was done by another missionary, James Legge in 1886. (Legge was a representative of the London Missionary Society in Malacca and Hong Kong (1840–1873) and was involved — with the notorious Max Müller — in the fraudulent Sacred Books of the East project. To say that Sri Lankans knew nothing of Faxian prior to these half-baked translations is an insult to Sri Lanka.

The foregoing demonstrate that Bhante Dhammika is bent on reintroducing a long-discredited history of this part of the world, produced by a deliberate and systematic project of the EIC to suit their racist, exploitative, vindictive imperial project in India. He has used a national newspaper in Sri Lanka to rewrite our history and his attempt should be countered. Hence this missive.

EIC’s version of Indian history

To put Bhante Dhammika’s attacks including the Pahiyangala myth falsehood in their proper context, it comes within the broader context of attacks on Eastern wisdom that preaches inhabitation of the earth non-violently, respecting all forms of life, from those who believe in a God-chosen mission to ‘lead’ humanity to a temple-based salvation. These groups have always found vision based on nonviolence anathema to their campaigns on savage conquest by the force of arms, slavery and theft of world resources by other means.

The British colonialism in India was the starting point of a sinister campaign, on a grand scale, of falsifying and misinterpreting, Indian history recorded in handwritten epics, Puranas, and semi-biographical works. They used semi-literate officers of the private army of the EIC and its administrators — who left Britain as 18-20 year old ‘writers’ (clerks) of the EIC, later posing as linguists and professional historians — as a tool for systematically demoralising the natives by denigrating their history. The international Jewish diaspora based in Germany, France, and Russia took the cue from the work of their brethren in the EIC to foster a new field of ‘Indological studies’ in Europe.

The EIC project to rewrite Indian history is replete with laughable attempts: an EIC-employed typographer — who became an ‘Orientalist’ overnight — named Charles Wilkins translated the Hindu religious text the Bhagavad Gita into English (published in 1785 as Bhagvat-geeta, soon translated into French in 1787 and German in 1802). In 1789, William Jones, who was brought to Calcutta as a puisne judge of the Calcutta supreme court — but promoted as a ‘philologist’ who discovered the new ‘Indo-Aryan’ language group, following a smattering of Sanskrit received from a Brahmin pundit — took on the impossible task of translating Kalidasa’s nuance-filled play the ‘Abhijnanashakuntalam’ into English; In 1817, James Mill (father of political economist John Stuart Mill) — who had never set foot in India, and argued that one did not need to visit India to become an expert on its culture — published ‘History of British India’, a rambling diatribe of three substantial volumes on intricacies of Indian civilisation. He was granted a job by the EIC, based on this work. During the first half of the 19th century, chairs in Sanskrit were established at Oxford and several other European universities, with former EIC employees appointed as Chair. The greatest pusher of bogus Indological studies however, was the London-based German national F. Max Mueller. Together with Thomas Babington Macaulay, Mueller did the utmost to falsify Indian history. Early History of India, a book by Vincent Arthur Smith, published in 1904, that summarily presented the distorted British version of India’s history, was introduced as the standard text on ancient India in the English medium education system imposed on native Indians.

Without exception, colonialist pretend-historians deliberately denigrated India’s unmatched record as the cradle of majority of known human languages, almost all advanced philosophies and religions, and portrayed India as a country devoid of any achievements, attributing important elements of Indian culture to external influences.

EIC Indologists promoted an Aryan invasion theory according to which the Vedas and Sanskrit language were not native to India and were introduced, in 1500 BCE, by the ‘brave and noble’ Indo-European invaders originating from the Caucuses region. The next infusion of civilisation to India took place through the alleged defeat of King Porus by the Macedonian invader Alexander in 326 BCE, strangely followed by retreat of Alexander after the ‘victory’, attributed to a rebellion of his soldiers. The British glorified the valour and administration of the Mughal rule that lasted for just 170 years (from Babur to Aurangzeb), restricted to portions of North India.

They never highlighted other Indian administrations of the ilk of the Vijayanagar Empire that existed for over 300 years, the 18th century Maratha Empire of Shivaji that destroyed and ended the rule of Muslim invaders, the glory of the Sikh Empire that spanned Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Jammu & Kashmir and its ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh, nearly 600 years of the Assamese Ahom empire which defeated the Mughals and the English, and Chola Dynasty of Thanjavur.

The narrative they promoted was that India had never been a single united kingdom other than during the times of the Mughals and the British. Colonisers like Winston Churchill showed gratitude to the Moghul rule that ‘prepared’ India for British and other European invasions starting in the 16th century. As recently as 1965, in his book A History of India, British historian Percival Spear was attempting to prolong the myth that Mughal rule initiated the entry of modern civilisation to India and the British Raj completed this transformation, bringing Western Civilization to India.

(To be continued)

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