The introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka

The history of this country is intrinsically interwoven with Theravada Buddhism.   Buddhism has been a major decisive factor in the history of Sri Lanka, since its introduction to the country.

Buddha’s visits to Sri Lanka

The very first introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka was when Gautama Buddha visited the island on Duruthu (January) full moon day in 528 BC.  This visit was to Mahiyangana (Mahiyangana is in the Badulla District, Uva Province in Sri Lanka).  On this visit the two main clans then in the island – the Yaksha and Naga clans – settled their disputes and embraced Buddhism.

On the second visit the Buddha visited Naga Deepa (Jaffna) where a disagreement between the two Naga kings Culōdara and Mahōdara was settled.   The third and last visit was firstly to Kelaniya, and then to the mountain peak Samanala Kanda in the Districts Ratnapura and Nuwara Eliya in central Lanka where the Sacred Footprint, Sripada, was placed at the summit. Brothers Tapassu and Bhalluka, who were traders and Buddha’s the first disciples, on a visit to Thiriyaya, in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, enshrined Buddha’s hair relics in the very first stupa in Sri Lanka, i.e. the Girihandu Seya.

Visit of Arahat Mahinda

It was at the Third Buddhist Council directed by Emperor Asoka and under the leadership of Ven. Moggaliputtha that a decision was taken to introduce Buddhism throughout the region including Sri Lanka.

Thus, it was on the Full Moon day in the month of Poson (June), that Arahat Mahinda, son of the Indian Emperor Asoka arrived in Mihintale, (mountain peak near Anuradhapura, in the North Central province in Sri Lanka) during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa.   This was a momentous moment in the history of Lanka.

Arahat Mahinda after ascertaining King Devanampiya Tissa’s knowledge and ability to understand the Dhamma recited the Culahatthipadopama Suthraya (discourse).   This was the very first Suthraya that was discoursed in Lanka. The reason for reciting this particular discourse was because, at this time in Lanka there was no specific religion.  The people in Lanka were in the habit of worshipping stones, their ancestors who had passed away and other spirits.  Therefore, the very first necessity was to inculcate “Shraddha” into the hearts and minds of the people and introduce the people of this land to “sil” or the observance of the Percepts. This discourse was therefore the foundation in the introduction of Buddhism throughout the country.  Subsequently, another milestone in the country was the setting up of the Maha Vihara, in the gardens Maha Megha.

With the establishment of the Bhikkhus in Lanka, women too, with Queen Anula’s leadership expressed their wish to become Buddhist Bhikkunis.  Therefore, Sanghamitta theri, daughter of Emperor Asoka and the sister of Ven. Mahinda, arrived in Lanka, bringing with her a branch of the sacred Bodhi tree planted in a golden bowl.   With Sanghamitta’s arrival in Lanka, the Bhikkhuni Sasana was established.  Subsequently, with the discourse given by Arittha Thera (who was born in Lanka, to Lankan parents), in Arahat Mahinda’s presence, the Dhamma was deemed firmly established in Lanka. The branch of the sacred Bodhi – the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura – flourishes to this day and is venerated with gratitude by all Buddhists far and wide.