Mahavamsa : die große Chronik Sri Lankas

15.E1. Exkurs 1 zu Kapitel 15: Buddhismus als Staatsreligion Sri Lankas

verfasst von Mahanama

übersetzt und erläutert von Alois Payer


Zitierweise / cite as:

Mahanama <6. Jhdt n. Chr.>: Mahavamsa : die große Chronik Sri Lankas / übersetzt und erläutert von Alois Payer. -- 15.E1. Exkurs 1 zu Kapitel 15: Buddhismus als Staatsreligion Sri Lankas -- Fassung vom 2006-03-03. -- URL: -- [Stichwort].

Erstmals publiziert:  2001-06-21

Überarbeitungen: 2006-03-03 [Ergänzungen]

Anlass: Lehrveranstaltung, Universität Tübingen, Sommersemester 2001

Unterrichtsmaterialien (gemäß § 46 (1) UrhG)

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Dieser Text ist Teil der Abteilung Buddhismus von Tüpfli's Global Village Library

Abb.: Walpola Rahula
[Bildquelle: -- Zugriff am 2006-03-03]

Mit Mahāvaṃsa 15, 182 - 183 ist in Sri Lankā Buddhismus als Staatsreligion begründet. Wegen der großen Bedeutung, die der Buddhismus als Staatsreligion bzw. Quasi-Staatsreligion bis heute hat, gebe ich hier die sehr gute Zusammenstellung wieder, die Walpola Rahula gibt im 5. Kapitel seines Werkes:

Walpola Rahula <1910 - 1997>: History of Buddhism in Ceylon : the Anurādhapura period. -- Colombo : Gunasena, ©1956. -- S. 62 - 77

"We have seen that the Emperor Asoka was the first king to adopt Buddhism as the state religion in India about two centuries after the Buddha's death. But in Ceylon it became the state religion from the day of its introduction into the Island.

Devānampiya-Tissa's request to Mahinda to establish the sīmā so as to include the city in order that the king could live »within the Buddha's command« is significant. From that day in the third century B.C. to the end of the Sinhalese rule in the 19th century A.C., only a Buddhist had the legitimate right to be king of Ceylon. By about the 10th century, this belief had become so strong that the king of Ceylon had not only to be a Buddhist but also a Bodhisattva. The Jetavanarama slab inscription of Mahinda IV (956-972 A.C.) proclaims that »none but the Bodhisattvas would become kings of Sri Lanka« and that they »received this assurance (viyāran) from the omniscient Buddha.«

Kirti Nissanka Malla (1187-1196 A.C.) says in his inscriptions that Lanka belongs to Buddhism and that, therefore, non-Buddhists like Colas and Keralas have no right to the throne of Ceylon.

The Pūjāvaliya, a Sinhalese prose work of the 13th century, expresses this idea more explicitly : 

»This Island of Lanka belongs to the Buddha himself ; it is like a treasury filled with the Three Gems. Therefore the residence of wrong-believers in this Island will never be permanent, just as the residence of the Yaksas of old was not permanent. Even if a non-Buddhist ruled Ceylon by force a while, it is a particular power of the Buddha that his line will not be established. Therefore, as Lanka is suitable only for Buddhist kings, it is certain that their lines, too, will be established.«

A historical document dealing with the ancient Sinhalese law, written by the Malvatta Chapter, Kandy, to the Dutch Governor Falk (1765-1785 A.C.) in Colombo, who governed the maritime provinces, says that the first rule is that the king of Ceylon should not give up Buddhism and embrace another religion.

That this belief was prevalent even as late as the 19th century can be seen from a letter dated June 13,1816, written by Brownrigg, Governor of Ceylon, to William Wilberforce in England. It says : 

"It is currently received that there existed a close connection between the independence of the Kandyan Kingdom and the religion of Buddhism. Budha (sic) it is believed engaged to protect their Monarchy against all foreign power or influence."

Even the Dravidians who ruled the Island occasionally had to become Buddhists at least for the purpose of office, whether they in their heart of hearts liked it or not. For example, Elāra, the Chola prince who ruled in Anurādhapura in the 2nd century B.C., is reported to have gone to Cetiya-pabbata (Mihintale) to pay homage to and invite the Sangha for alms. 

»Though he did not know the great virtues and value of the Three Gems«, says the Mahāvamsa (XXI, 21f.), he went to Cetiya-pabbata and invited the Sangha following the custom« (cārittam anupālayam).

The author of the chronicle seems to have held that Elāra had no genuine interest in Buddhism, but that he had, nevertheless, to follow the established custom of the land.

What was this custom or cārittam? In the ancient days the customs of virtuous men (sadācāra) handed down in regular succession (pāramparyākarmāgata) formed part of the established law of the country, ranking in the same category as religious injunctions and legal enactments. In Ceylon, too, the law of the land was nothing but the established customs of the country. Elāra had to follow these customs therefore for the sake of good government. There are several other instances in the Mahāvamsa which elucidate this point.

  • Thus Bhātiya (38-66 A.C.) is stated to have followed all injunctions laid down by the ancient kings regarding Buddhist religious practices. 

  • Mahādāthika Mahānāga (67-79 A.C.) observed all religious practices established by earlier kings and by his brother.

  • Siri-Meghavanna (c.362A.C.), who inaugurated the Mahinda festival, decreed that the festival should be held annually.  The author of the second part of the Mahāvamsa, who lived in the 13th century, says that this royal order had been carried out continuously down to his day by all succeeding kings. 

  • An inscription of the 10th century, which records certain rules regarding the administration of a village called Hopitigama, refers to earlier laws as pere-sirit »former customs«. 

  • Siritlênā of the 12th century was the legal secretary or minister of justice. The Sinhalese sirit and Pali cāritta, meaning »custom«, were the usual words used to convey the modern idea of »law« which included also tradition.

From these examples we can clearly see that there were religious customs and practices established by kings which were recognized as part of the law of the land. And these had to be honoured by the kings of Ceylon, whether they were Sinhalese or Dravidians.

  • Even the two Tamils, Sena and Guttika, who ruled at Anurādhapura about 30 years before Elāra, seem to have been Buddhists. The use of the word dhammena »righteously« in the Mahavamsa in referring to their rule suggests that they governed the country as Buddhists, or, at least, according to Buddhist customs. How else could one rule dhammena? Could a micchaditthi »wrong-believer« who was considered a mere animal (pasu-sama) rule »righteously«?

  • An inscription which records certain donations made to a vihāra by the queen of Khudda-Pārinda (5th century A.C.) refers to her husband, who was a Tamil, as Budadāsa La-Parideva, which means Buddhadāsa Khudda-Pārinda. The use of the word Buddhadāsa, »the servant of the Buddha« as an epithet proves definitely that Khudda-Pārinda was a Buddhist, or at least wished to create that impression. 

  • His predecessor Pārinda also, in his inscription at Aragama, records his donations to a Buddhist monastery. 

  • Another inscription at Kataragama registers a grant by Dāthiya, the son of Tiritara, to the Mangalamahācetiya (modern. Kiri Vehera ) at Kataragama.

  • Dāthiya belonged to the same Tamil dynasty as Pārinda and Khudda-Pārinda. Paranavitajia thinks that these Tamil princes, who ruled at Anurādhapura for 27 years towards the end of the 5th century, were Buddhists by faith. Several Tamil officials, such as Potthakuttha and Mahākanda, in the service of Agga-bodhi IV (658-674 A.C.) are also reported to have built vihāras and made grants to monasteries.

  • It is well known that the Dravidian kings of the Kandy period following the example of the earlier Sinhalese kings, professed the Buddhist faith, observed Buddhist customs and supported Buddhism.

Although the king was included in the laity, his position was quite different from the rest of the lay people. The Buddha and the Cakkavatti-Emperor are regarded almost equally in the suttas. The Lakkhana-sutta of the Dīgha-nikāya maintains that the Buddha and the Cakkavatti are both endowed with the thirty-two marks of the Great Man (Mahāpurisa-lakkhana). If a person who has these thirty-two marks lived the worldly life, he became a Cakkavatti ; if he left home, he became a Buddha. The Anguttara-nikāya declares that they are both acchariya-manussā (»wonderful men«) who are born »for the good of the many«, and that they both are thūpārahā (»worthy of monuments.«). While the Buddha holds sway over the entire spiritual world, the Cakkavatti is the ideal supreme ruler of the secular world. On this assumption, even an ordinary king is given a position far above other laymen. Hence we find that the Buddha has advised bhikkhus to follow the instructions of the king.

It is quite natural, therefore, that the king of Ceylon was regarded as the secular head of Buddhism who protected the Sāsana. In the 10th century, Mahinda IV declares clearly that a ksatriya becomes a king »for the purpose of defending the alms-bowl and the robe of the Buddha«. 

The king, as the defender of Buddhism, was so highly respected that even words originally used in reference only to the Buddha and arahants came to be applied to the rulers of Ceylon. 

  • For instance, the term pirinivi (parinibbuta), which is used only in connection with the decease of a Buddha or an arahant, was used in the 10th century in reference to the death of a king.

  • In the same manner, the ecclesiastical term vat-himi (upajjhāya-sāmi) which should, strictly speaking, be used only in reference to a Buddhist monk, was applied also to kings and rulers from about the 8th century A.C. as a mark of great respect.

As the secular head and defender of Buddhism it was one of the primary duties of the king to look after the well-being of the Sāsana. Hence we quite often find kings engaged in the »purification of the Sāsana«, whenever they found it to be disorganized or corrupt. It was the duty of the state to suppress, by law or expulsion, undesirable heretical elements that stained the purity of the Sāsana. The king also felt it his duty to intervene whenever there arose within the Sangha disputes that could not be easily settled by the monks thenselves. 

  • Thus king Kanirajānu-Tissa (89-92 A.C.) is reported to have acted as judge over a dispute at the Uposatha House at Cetiyagiri. It is strange that a layman should have entered an Uposatha House to adjudicate in the affairs of the Sangha. But it is quite certain that the king decided the case within the Uposatha House itself. Whether he entered the Uposatha House on the invitation of the Sangha, or on his own initiative, we are not certain. However that may be, it is clear that the king as the secular head of the religion either actually had or assumed for himself the authority to decide the cases of the Sangha

  • During Mahāsena's reign, Tissa Thera who accepted the Jetavana-Vihāra was disrobed by the Minister of Justice. Although a charge of pārājika offence against him was finally proved by the Sangha, they had not the power to disrobe him without the aid of the state.

Even though the king was »the defender of the faith« his authority over matters ecclesiastical was subservient to that of the Sangha. He had no power to force the hands or the Sangha against their wish. 

  • When, for example, Sīlāmeghavanna (617-626 A.C.) requested the monks of the Mahāvihāra to perform the uposatha ceremony with those of the Abhayagiri, the Mahāvihāra refused to comply with the king's request, and the king was powerless to enforce his will. 

  • On another occasion the monks of the Mahāvihāra applied the Act of Pattanikkujjana (»turning down of the alms-bowl«), the greatest insult that could be meted out to a layman, on Dāthopatissa II who had acted against the wishes of the Mahāvihāra.

Although there were occasional disagreements between th Sangha and the state regarding religious and spiritual matters there was evidently no friction between the two over matter; political and mundane. Bhikkhus never seem to have attempted to wield political power directly by themselves. But they always used their influence to help and support kings whom they could persuade to carry out their wishes. 

Mention is made, however, of bhikkhus who took an active part in bringing about settlements between political leaders and even selecting kings. 

  • Godhagatta-Tissa thera settled the civil war between Duttha-Gāmanī and his brother. Duttha-Gāmanī  blamed the thera for not asking them to make peace earlier, and further said that even a sāmanera of seven years could have stopped the war.

  • There is a story of how Mahātissa Thera brought about a settlement of far-reaching consequence between Vattagāmanī and his generals. 

  • Dhātusena was brought up and educated for the kingship by a thera

  • When the sub-king Mahinda was anxious to make a treaty with Sena II (851-885 A.C.) he took monks with him to support his plea. There are many instances of individual theras acting as advisers to kings.

Sometimes bhikkhus went to the extent of selecting princes for the throne and supporting their favourites, even to the extent of violating the laws of succession. 

  • When Saddhā-Tissa died (59 B. C.), the Ministers of State consecrated Thullatthana in preference to Lajji-Tissa (the lawful heir to the throne) with the approval of the Sangha who assembled at the Thūpārāma for the purpose.

  • Bhikkhus allowed Moggallāna I (496-513 A.C.) to collect his troops at a vihāra and, after his victory over Kassapa I, he was received ceremoniously at the Mahāvihāra by the Sangha.

By the 10th century we find it even stated that it was the Sangha who conferred the kingship. This evidently shows that it considered itself as representing the public opinion of the country. 

  • In the Jetavana Slab inscription, Mahinda IV declares that the kings of Sri Lanka who are Bodhisattvas are wont »to serve and attend on the great community of monks on the very day they celebrate the coronation after attaining to the dignity of kingship, bestowed by the Mahāsangha (the great community of monks) for the purpose of defending the bowl and the robe«. This definitely shows that the approval of Sangha was essential for the coronation of a king. 

  • In later times, too, the bhikkhus continued to take a prominent part in the appointment of kings.

The influence of the Sangha over the masses was so great that rulers were careful to win the hearts of the bhikkhus for the sake of peaceful and successful government. 

  • To obtain the approval of the Sangha was to ensure public support. That was probably why Duttha-Gāmanī put the relics of the Buddha into his spear and invited the Sangha to accompany him in the war »because their sight is both blessing and protection to us«.

  • When Mahinda II (772-792 A.C.) was ready to launch a campaign against Rohana, he »assembled all the bhikkhus and other wise people« at the Thūpārāma and obtained their consent for his military project. In other words, he was thus assured of public support and sympathy for his campaign.

The first thing that a king did after ascending the throne was to display his interest in religion by giving alms and granting endowments, building or repairing monasteries of holding grand religious festivals.

The coronation or abhiseka of kings, which was originally a secular business of the state, later assumed the garb of a religious ceremony. The Mahāvamsa-Tikā records some interesting details about this state function. The vessels which contained the regalia used for the coronation ceremony were made of clay taken from seven specific spots, all of which are holy places. Clay for this purpose had to be taken from under the northern flight of steps 

  1. either of the Mahābodhi, 

  2. or of Lohapāsāda, 

  3. or of Pagompamālaka, 

  4. or of Mahācetiya (Ruvanväliisäya), 

  5. or from under the northern door of the Catussālā, 

  6. or from under the steps of the entrance to the hall named Samujjava where the bhikkhus used to drape their robes. 

The specific statement that clay should be taken from under the steps of these places shows clearly that the coronation of a king was regarded as having religious significance. 

Ultimately, in the 9th century, this ceremony of coronation seems to have been held in the vihāra itself.

  • For instance, Sena II (851-885 A.C.) had his coronation at the Mahācetiya (Ruvanväliisäya) and decreed in writing that the ceremony should be performed every year.

The constitutional position of Buddhism was so strong that to act against the Sāsana was regarded as high treason. Thus, one of the charges framed against the war criminals who were against Dhātusena (460-478 A.C.) during the preceding Tamil rule was that »these men protected neither the king nor the Sāsana

Further, we learn from the document (already referred to) supplied by the Malvatta Chapter, Kandy, headed by Saranankara Sangharāja, to the Dutch Governor Falk (1765-1785) in Colombo, that according to ancient Sinhalese law »those who destroyed dāgāb and Bo-trees and those who plundered religious property were punishable with death.«

There is reason to believe that this law was in force even as early as 2nd century B.C. For, it is stated that on one occasion when Elāra was returning from Mihintale, his chariot-wheel did some damage to a cetiya. His ministers drew his attention to what had happened. The king, who was famous for his equal and impartial administration of justice to all, at once got down from his chariot and laid himself down on the road and said : »Cut my head too with this chariot-wheel«. But the ministers refused to do it saying that the Buddha never wished harm to others, and further they requested the king to obtain pardon by repairing the damage. This shows that death was probably the penalty for the crime of causing damage to places of Buddhist worship in ancient Ceylon.

In fact the Sāsana constituted a fully-fledged state department. Safeguarding the purity and well-being of the Sāsana and maintaining the Sangha and the monasteries were duties incumbent mainly on the state, although private individuals and the public collectively established and maintained ārāmas on a smaller scale. There were full and permanent staffs paid by the state to look after the business of the larger monasteries such as Mihintale and Abhayagiri. These were governed by rules and regulations laid down by the king with the approval of the Sangha.

Even taxes on goods were levied for the maintenance of ārāmas. An inscription (probably of the 10th century) on a canoe found at the site where the ancient Mahāpāli was situated, declares : »To this Mahāpāli shall be taken at the rate of one pata (Skt. prastha) of paddy from each sack brought into the city.«

Trading on poya days was prohibited by law. Whoever traded on such days had to pay a fine which was utilized for religious purposes. An inscription of the 10th century, originally set up in the neighbourhood of Mahiyarigana during the reign of Udaya III (945-953 A.C.), declares that from whosoever trades on poya days (pohodā) a padda (certain measure) of oil should be levied for the offering of lamps ; and that this offering should be made at the great monastery of Mahiyangana ; and that from those who failed to pay the penalty in oil, fines according to former customs (pere sirit) should be levied and used for the-offering of lamps.

The Order of Māghāta (prohibiting the killing of animals) which was proclaimed by several kings, was purely religious, based on the principle of ahimsā taught in Buddhism. There were men who made their living by hunting. These had probably to change their old profession and find new ones.

Bhikkhus were remunerated by the state according to their ability and services. Buddhadāsa fixed »salaries for preachers (dhammabhānaka-vattam) here and there, and he is also reported to have given them revenues and servants (bhoge kappiyakārake).

Voharika-Tissa freed monks from debts by paying three hundred thousand.

All the important relics of the Buddha received from India were considered the property of the state. 

  • The Pātradhātu, the alms-bowl of the Buddha, which was brought to Ceylon during the reign of Devanampiya-Tissa, was kept within the palace itself. This was later considered such an important national possession that one of the seven Tamil invaders during the reign of Vattagāmanī took it with him to India and was »well-contented« thereby. Upatissa I (4th century) used it in a ceremony to dispel a famine and a plague, and ordered that the ceremony should be repeated in similar circumstances.

  • It is well known that the Tooth Relic was regarded as a property of the state and the national palladium. In later times the possession of these two relics, namely, the Tooth and the Alms-bowl, was considered essential for a prince who wished to be the recognized king of Ceylon.

  • The Kesadhātu, the Hair Relic which was brought to Ceylon by Silākāla, was enshrined in an image-house and paid special honour by Moggallāna I (496-513 A.C.). 

There is reason to think that the title of Asiggāha, which was specially inaugurated on the occasion when the Hair Relic was brought, was a religious honour conferred by the king on high government officials. Silākāla who brought the Kesadhātu was made the first Asiggāha, the Sword-bearer, and also was given the distinction of being the guardian of the Relic. The asi or sword connected with this Order of Kesadhatu was perhaps symbolic of the sword with which Prince Siddhartha cut his hair before he became an ascetic.

The title of Asiggāha which became a great royal honour was conferred only on very important personages; all its recipients later ascended the throne. Silākāla himself became king. Sanghatissa II and Silāmeghavanna, who had the distinction of being Asiggāhakas, both ultimately ascended the throne.

The offering of the kingdom by kings to the Sāsana, which was not uncommon in ancient Ceylon, was also symbolic of the principle that the state was run for the good of Buddhism. 

  • Devānampiya-Tissa offered his kingship to the Mahābodhi.

  • Duttha-Gāmanī is reported to have bestowed the kingdom of Ceylon on the Sāsana five times -- each time for seven days. It would be very interesting if we could get some information about the way the government was administered during these short periods. It may be that the king renounced the idea of kingship for the time being and allowed the government to go on as usual. It is, however, unlikely that if circumstances, e.g., a rebellion, necessitated the king's interference, he would have hesitated to interfere.

  • King Tissa offered the kingdom of Ceylon to Kāla-Buddharakkhita as a gift for his sermon.

  • Sirimeghavanna offered the whole kingdom to the Tooth Relic.

  • Moggallāna I, after his victory over his brother Kassapa, went to the Mahā-vihāra and offered the State Parasol, the symbol of kingship, to the Sangha, but it was duly returned.

  • Aggabodhi II, after the restoration of Thūpārāma, offered the whole country to the thūpa.

It would be interesting and instructive to inquire why the national wealth and energy and administrative ability of the country were thus lavishly bestowed on Buddhism. Was the motive purely spiritual and other-worldly? There is no doubt that it was partly so. But the major results were reaped immediately -- in this world. The monasteries formed the centres of national culture, and bhikkhus were the teachers of the whole nation -- from prince to peasant. They helped the king to rule the country in peace. It was the duty of the bhikkhus according to the Vinaya to side with the kings. They used their influence over the masses to support the king who, in return, looked after their interests. It was a matter of mutual understanding, though it was never explicitly stated. The king found a powerful means of propaganda in the Sangha who had close contact with the people, and great influence over them. 

Hence we find kings who had committed heinous crimes honouring the Sangha and sending them round the country in order to influence the people in their favour. 

  • For instance, Kassapa II (641-650 A.C.) who had plundered the monasteries (including the Thūpārāma) during his unregenerate days as a rebel, made large endowments to vihāras and sent preachers round the country after ascending the throne.

It was easy for the king to rule if the people were religious. King Mahānāma of Ceylon in a letter to the Chinese Emperor says that kings »were happy if men practised righteousness«. They were happy because they knew that if men practised  »righteousness« there would be no disturbances. Religions are always expected to uphold the established order and discourage innovations and revolutions. Such an attitude of mind,which the rulers ordinarily attempt to inculcate into the minds of their subjects, could best have been produced by a religious organization. Whatever the kings did for the Sangha was therefore amply rewarded.

We have to admit that from the day that Buddhism was adopted as a state religion, it began to lose its original spirit of renunciation and simplicity, and gradually developed into an ecclesiastical organization with its numerous duties, religious, political and social. It is impossible for any religion, when it becomes an organized body, to continue iu its original form. It has to change with the times if it is to maintain its power and prestige. »Adapt or perish«« is nature's inexorable imperative."

Walpola Rahula war einer der bekanntesten "politischen Mönche" Sri Lanka's und sicher der Gebildetste unter ihnen. Bis zu seinem Tode war er bezüglich Sri Lankas als buddhistisch-singhalesischer Staat ein Hardliner:

"Being the season of Vesak, I asked the Ven Rahula whether one should not think of maithri and peace and could not a dialogue be held with the LTTE. His voice was strong and loud. The Ven Rahula was agitated as he said, »you are talking of peace and maithri. What maithri and peace is there when the terrorists in the North and East are trying to divide our country asking for Eelam.« The Ven Rahula thundered, »our country is so small that four times our country could be accommodated in just one Indian State.

I recall how he said, »get this straight and quote me, Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country. Let no one make a mistake. Seventy percent of the country consists of Buddhist and Sinhala people. And make it clear that Sri Lanka is the only Sinhala Buddhist country in the world«.

»I got angry with Mr Premadasa because he chose to call Sri Lanka a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. No, it is a Buddhist Sinhala State, but we show no discrimination to other races and religions.«" 

[Peiris, Roshan: Ven Rahula: learned and forthright. -- In. The Sunday Times. -- Colombo. -- 1997-09-21. -- -- Zugriff am 2001-06-18]

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