Arahath Mahinda created history in the 3rd Century BC when he not only brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, but also catalysed the development of a rich civilisation on the island. This great achievement is unparalleled in the annals of Buddhism since the demise of the Buddha. Ven. Buddhagosa is held in high esteem among Sri Lankan Buddhists for translating the Sinhala Commentaries on the Tripitaka into Pali in the 5th Century AD.
The huge enterprise undertaken by King Dharmasoka and his son Arahath Mahinda was to spread the Theravada Dhamma cleansed of all impurities that had crept into it over time. The effort of Ven Buddhaghosa, in contrast, was to reintroduce some of these impurities back into Theravada. These impurities had been removed at the Third Dhamma Sangayanava sponsored by King Dharmasoka, where Ven. Moggalliputtatissa preached the Katavattu, which refutes and eliminates all these impurities. Katavattu has been good enough to be included in the Tripitaka. By this means metaphysical and transcendental features were removed from the Dhamma before it was brought to Sri Lanka. Ven. Buddhagosa in his translation of the Sinhala Commentaries into Pali has reintroduced these features into the Dhamma. His action had resulted in the introduction of ritual worship, and a larger than life image of the historical human being that was Buddha.
Arahath Mahinda after introducing Buddhism to Sri Lanka, worked tirelessly on two vital aspects, the practice of the Dhamma and the study of the Pali canonical texts. Historical remains of the facilities made available for the pursuit of these two aspects bear witness to the fact that people were interested in both. Ruins of libraries, lecture theatres and meditation cubicles abound in the country. Practice of the Dhamma was based on the three main features of the Gnana Marga (Path of Wisdom), ‘Dhana, Seela, Bhavana’. There were no rituals. Age old oral tradition was employed for the study of the suttas with designated disciples, in the ancient tradition of the Bhanakas who memorised the suttas and recited them at meetings for their revision. Arahath Mahinda facilitated the teaching process by arranging to make available the commentaries on the suttas in Sinhala.
It is this version of Buddhism that was written down at Aluvihare. Mahinda was careful to see that this Dhamma was established in Sri Lanka. In order to make sure that the correct tenets and dogma were studied he provided Sinahala commentaries. It was these Sinhala Commentaries that were translated into Pali by Ven. Buddhaghosa. But what was the need for this translation? One cannot think of any valid reason. Sinhala commentaries were needed for the teaching of the Dhamma to Sinhala people, and the original Pali version was available in the Tripitaka for reference when necessary. If Buddhagosa wanted to write his own commentaries in Pali he could have done that instead of translating the Sinhala version. He had a command of the Pali language but there is no evidence of how or where he learnt Sinhala with sufficient proficiency to translate complex works to Sinhala. Moreover, what has happened to the Sinhala commentaries is a mystery. Chronicles say they were burnt. Was it done to destroy the evidence? Were they destroyed by invaders? If so why only the Sinhala commentaries, why not all the written works? Did Mahaviharins collude with Buddhagosa in these activities?
Buddhagosa in his translations had made changes, added stories and anecdotes, which is not the accepted function of a translator or even a commentator. These additions are meant to raise the Buddha to a transcendental being, above the realm of this world, who is god like and could grant to humans what they pray for. Some stories describe people offering flowers and incense to Buddha (see Buddhagosa’s commentary on Kalinga Bodhi Jataka). What benefit did Buddhagosa and Mahaviharins, if they were involved, expect from these activities? In this connection Prof Marasinghe says; ‘ The hard work of Buddhagosa and the Mahavihara fraternity culminated in the formulation of a new ritual structure with attractive advantages to keep both the lay followers and the members of the Sanga happy and content
As a result, when we pass from the canonical Pali texts and the Pali commentaries we come into a totally new teaching different from the original’.
The Buddha was a normal human being. Prince Siddartha gave up lay life and went in search of an answer to the eternal suffering of humans and led a very simple life, often resting or sleeping under a tree. What he achieved did not make him a larger than life being or make him or his Dhamma a transcendental or metaphysical phenomenon. The Pali canonical texts still depict this Theravada Buddha (in Prof. Marasinghe’s words), who is totally different to the glorified Buddha in the Buddhagosa’s commentaries. Buddhagosa’s Buddha had accumulated merit in innumerable eons of samsara to achieve what he achieved. Here Buddhagosa asserts that achieving Nirvana is not possible without such accumulation of merit. Buddha has never said merit is necessary for achieving Nirvana, merit could be accumulated or that merit could be transferred from one person to another. Sri Lankan Buddhists make a futile attempt to do all this and the blame lies with Buddhagosa.
Before the advent of Buddhagosa, there were no rituals, during a period of 700 years from the 3rd Century BC to the 5th Century AD. Though there were stupas like Thuparamaya and statues of Buddha and the Bodhi Tree, people treated these as objects of veneration for recollection of the Buddha and his attainment and not for ritual worship of the theistic kind. Buddha advised people to offer alms or give away their possessions to help them get rid of attachment to these objects that are impermanent, for it was the cause of suffering. But Buddhists of today offer alms expecting an accumulation of merit as an insurance for a better life in the next birth. The concept of accumulation of merit and its transfer were discussed and rejected at the Third Dhamma Sangayanava referred to above, and therefore these concepts were not brought to Sri Lanka by Mahinda.
Practice of ritual worship is associated with theistic religions and was never advocated by Buddha, who said that one could attain freedom from suffering by one’s own effort and not by the intervention of an external agent. Buddhagosa paved the way for the entry of ritual worship into the practice of Buddhism, and the belief that worship before stupas, statues, and Bodhi trees would result in the accumulation of merit and rewards. The uniqueness of Buddhism was ruined. Let me quote Prof. Marasinghe; ‘ Thus, all aspects of the new ritual Buddhism which changed the Theravada Buddhism into a system of worship, offering and prayer, like any other theistic religion, has been very carefully planned and smuggled into practice with several bonus packages for the operators’.
Speculations about origin of placename, ‘Negombo’ (Meegamuwa)
By Chandre Dharmawardana,
A writer using the pseudonym GADS, replying to a previous article regarding Negombo, states (The Island 17 Sept. 2023), “It is also historically recorded that the name Negombo is the Portuguese corruption of its Tamil name Neerakolombu and the Sinhala name Meegamuwa which means and comes from old Tamil Naval terminology Meegamam Pattnam. Meegamam denotes a naval captain”.
Unfortunately, the author does not give the reference to this “historical record” or elaborate on the details available from any early sources, Portuguese and Dutch maps etc. Furthermore, he asserts that “Meegamam” denotes a naval captain. Here again, this is certainly not so in any of the Dravidian languages, or Indic languages. No such usage exists even in Arabic and other languages of the Hebrew family, as far as we can ascertain.
A “naval captain” in Arabic would be Kabtin Bahriun, while the Tamil usage would be Katarpatai Kaptain in modern usage. In old Tamil words like Nakutawere used . However, “gama, gamuwa, gammam, kamam, etc., are all refer “village”.
I have collected what is known about the place name Negombo in the website listed at the end of this note . I quote from it below:
The name Meegamuva is believed to refer to a village (gamuwa) which was reputed for its honey (mee). Thus, the Mahavamsa-based tradition has it that honey was procured from this region for Queen Vihara Maha Devi, (2 century BCE), initially from a honeycomb found in a boat turned upside down. It could also refer to a forest of Mee trees, Madhuca Longifolia (Koenig). It is well known that placenames have been based on vegetation and prominent land marks; in our view, this is the most likely source of the name.
Another interesting legend is that the name is related to “Nihumbala, the nephew of the Yakka king Raavana. The Tamil form, Neerkozimpu may mean water, and ‘kozimpu’ is sometimes claimed to mean ‘village’, but such a meaning is not recognised in standard Tamil Lexicons. Also, the Tamil name originally applied only to the lagoon-like area and not to the whole of Meegamuwa. Given the ancient histoofthe village, kozimpu may have comefrom the sinhala kalapuva adorned with the Tamil “nir”.
Maya Oya flows north of Negombo and falls into the ocean near Kochchikade. This was an early center of the cinnamon trade, set up by the Moors in medieval times. The Portuguese ousted them in the 16th century and built a fort, and established a strong Catholic religious centre here. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 1644 CE. The ruins of the fort, with its fine archway marked ‘1672’ can still be seen. In 1796 the British took over Negombo, by which time the cinnamon trade had declined. The town has remained strongly Roman catholic to this day.
Frivolous folk-lore etymology attriutes the name ‘Negambo’ to nikam biruva. That is, a dog ‘just barked’ is said to be the response given by a non-comprehending bystander to a colonial who asked ‘what is the name of this town? While GADS recognizes such frivolities for what they are, the claim that Meegamuwa or Neer-kozimpu comes from the Tamil words for “sea captain” can be very intriguing if anyone takes it seriously; one cannot find a source for substantiating such a claim in any reputed Tamil lexicon or Tamil literary source.
Madras Tamil Lexicon.
 Mahawamsa, XXII, verse 48.
How to conserve electricity at home and workplace
Going through my old paper clippings, I came across the following news item which is more applicable today when the country is facing a severe energy crisis on how to conserve or restrict the use of electricity at Offices and other working places.
There are several ways of conserving electricity at home, offices and other workplaces. It is absolutely necessary to do so because electricity is harmful for our environment and the planet we live in.
Here is how
(a) Unplug all electrical appliances in the kitchen when not in use, except the refrigerator. This includes coffee pots, sandwich toasters, blenders and ovens. These appliances use small amounts of electricity when they are left in standby mode.
(b) When it comes to washing, soap them first and then open the tap halfway to wash them.
(c) Use the washing machine once a week. Try washing some of your lighter clothes by hand and save jeans and other heavy clothing for the washing machine
(d) When drying your clothes, do not use the dryer unless very necessary. Hang wet clothes on a line in the backyard which is an easy way of drying them and clothes dry so easily during the day in this intensely hot weather.
(e) Change the traditional light bulbs for energy saving bulbs. The garden lights can be replaced with solar powered lights. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is out of direct sunlight and not next to the oven. Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator as it will have to work harder to cool the dish, therefore wait for a while for the dish to cool and then put it in the refrigerator.
(f) Unplug any phone or laptop chargers when they are not in use.
(g) Unplug the computer when it is not in use. This is very important because it can get very badly damaged if it is plugged in during a thunderstorm. You may not even be at home during the storm, so it is advisable to unplug the computer when it is not being used. Do not leave the computer switched on for long hours.
(h) Unplug the television set and gaming consoles too, as they can get damaged if they are on standby mode during a thunderstorm.
(i) Keep DVD players, TVs and other audio and stereo equipment plugged into a multi-port which can be turned off with one switch. This saves electricity.
(j) Turn off the lights, fans and air-conditioner when you leave the room. Remember that you do not need the lights switched on during the day.
(k) Do not use electric appliances such as vacuum cleaners and use the broom instead.
Some lesser known historical facts
The Greek women in ancient Greece realised to their utter dismay that their husbands were always fighting wars overseas. One brave Greek woman, Lysistrata, organised a women’s front with the sole purpose of denying their husbands the marital pleasures unless they remained at home to fulfill their marital duties
Socrates, known for his wisdom, was invited by the King of Sparta, which had waged war against Greece, to be an honorary citizen of Sparta. He gracefully turned down the offer as he valued the democratic way of life in Athens. As he was always arguing with fellow Athenians neglecting household work his wife used abusive language on him in the presence of his companions. Socrates continued with his arguments when his wife in utter exasperation treated him with a plate full of dish water. Socrates merely said to his companions that after thunder comes the rain.
In the Olympic games held during the peaceful times the athletes ran the races naked. Women were not permitted to attend them. The penalty was death if a woman was discovered breaking the law. On one occasion a middle-aged woman was caught breaking the law. As she happened to be the mother of a celebrated athlete she was forgiven.
Julius Caesar was caught dressed as a woman in a women only club in Rome. He was not punished since he had gone there only to meet his lover who saved him. On another occasion he had to offer a bribe to the ship’s captain, a pirate, who threatened to throw him overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.
Isaac Newton was accused by Robert Hooke for plagiarizing when the former introduced the gravitational constant in his book Principia Mathematica. Hooke was the Secretary of the Royal Society of which Newton was the President. Hooke was the person who encouraged Robert Knox to write the book “Historical Relations…” Newton was accused by the German philosopher Leibniz of plagiarism as the latter had published the calculations of infinitesimal calculus before Newton. There was a rule in the Universities that dons should take holy orders. The king exempted Newton from this obligation. Newton’s denial of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity did not earn any punishment from the ecclesiastical authorities. The complementary part of calculus, integral calculus, had been discovered by Archimedes in the second century BC. After the conquest of Greece by Rome the intellectual supremacy and the culture of Greece saw a gradual decline. It was known that the burial place of Archimedes was a much-venerated place visited by Greeks. The Romans did not show such veneration and the burial place got neglected. However, when Cicero, a Roman intellectual, lawyer and writer became the governor of Athens in the second half of the first century BC, he visited the burial site and had the monument restored to its former state. He noticed the epitaph wherein the symbol of a sphere within a cylinder had been inscribed.
A century later Rome conquered England, killing the English queen Boudica. There stands the figure of this queen on a horse (close to the underground tube station Westminster) with words emblazoned on the flanks in poetic language indicating that while England was colonised by Rome, England had conquered half of the world.
Guy Fawkes was the man who made an attempt to set fire to the Parliament building. This incident is known as the “Gunpowder plot”. He failed in his attempt and was executed. This incident may be compared to the attempt by a JVP member who threw a hand grenade when a Cabinet meeting was taking place in the Parliament building with the President JRJ presiding. The culprit got away.
When a German prince from Hanover became George the First of England, he found life in England very dull as he could not speak English. So, he invited his old German friend Handel, the musician, to be his companion. It was during this time that Handel composed his famous “Water music” and many operas.
Dr. Leo Fernando
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