By Darshanie Ratnawalli –
I heard Holmes chuckling to himself. In reply to my inquiring glance he said “Here is a lady Watson who should distribute her frenzy among hundreds of men instead of saving it for a single man”. I was astonished, for vulgar insinuation was the last thing I’d have expected from him especially in connection with a woman. With one notable exception Holmes was lukewarm in his appreciation of womankind, but he was invariably the gentleman. My disgust must have shown, for he said by way of explanation; “Her emotional excesses, her wrath should be directed against hundreds of men, chains of men linked to each other through pupillary succession instead of a single man”.
Perhaps I should save the reader from the intense irritation I felt at this elliptical way of talking (which actually made me throw the saltcellar against the wall inches above Holmes’ head), by stating outright that his remarks were directed at an article in the popular press (Colombo Telegraph) titled “Which Buddha? Whose Buddhism?” penned by Tisaranee Gunasekara. As far as I could see the lady was fixated on one man, a monk called Mahanama, the fount, the father of all evil. I said so to Holmes. Then occurred one of those rare instances that I am likely to cherish in memory to the end of my days. Holmes paid me a compliment. He said that I had true insight, which outshines the best deductive powers. “Why, what have I said?” I asked trying not at all successfully to hide a pleased smile. “You just uttered the key word Watson, “father”: the Origin, Sire, and Fount of that primeval female longing for a single male figure to center her most intense feelings of love or hate on”.
Suppose Watson that you are a woman. You direct an unseemly amount of passion not untinged with hysteria towards a monk who lived nearly 20 centuries ago and collated the essence of numerous Sīhala aṭṭhakathā into quite good Pāli verse and produced a work called Mahāvamsa. You say, this Bhikku Mahānama wrote this, that and the other and therefore he is this, that and the other. Supposing then that someone shows you the same episodes described the same way by another famous monk called Buddhaghosa, who wrote perhaps one generation earlier than Mahanama? Supposing that you also learn of a near identical narrative in an earlier work, Dīpavamsa, by another monk who wrote perhaps one generation earlier than Buddhaghosa, while decorously remaining anonymous? How would you feel about this concord? You’d feel cheated because it deprives you of your central male figure, the primeval father. The reason behind this concord; a collective tradition carried on by generations of anonymous men[i] won’t offer the same emotional scope as a single man with a name like “Mahanama”.
Consider the lady’s lines Watson “The Buddha of Mahawamsa is a totally different being from Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha we meet in the Tripitaka and other Buddhist texts. Mahawamsa-Buddha is a holy-warrior who uses natural cunning and supernatural force to defeat enemies of faith. Mahawamsa-Buddha does not regard every living being with equal compassion, as the Buddha did. Mahawamsa-Buddha has attachments; he wants to protect Lanka, as the sole future-refuge for his teachings; in this political project, gods are his allies, arch-criminal Vijaya his instrument and Yakkas, the original inhabitants of Lanka, his enemies. So Mahawamsa-Buddha does something the Buddha never did. He comes to Lanka, and instead of preaching to the yakkas, chases them away.” I suggest Watson that a lady free from the Primeval Longing would have told herself “Before hanging on to Mahanama’s Mahavamsa Buddha, let me compare the Dipavamsa Buddha and Buddhaghosa’s Buddha re the same episode; The Lankan visit and the Yaksha taming”. (For the dating of these texts read Norman; 1983, p114-122- full text)
The fourth century Dipavamsa and the sixth century Mahavamsa contain near identical narratives on the taming of the Yakshas, while the book in between, Buddhaghosa’s Bāhiranidāna of Samantapasadika (Trans. N.A. Jayawickrama;1962[ii]– full text) announces; “In His lifetime, the Perfectly Enlightened One came thrice to this Island. First, He came alone to tame the Yakkhas, and having done so went round the Island thrice securing protection for the Island of Tambapanni, knowing that after He had passed away in perfect Nibbana the Teaching would be established in the Island.”–(p79)
You know how they graft sequels to the middle of the original story Watson? For example, the hero comes in, finds the heroine standing against a curtain and asks if she loves him. The heroine snarls that she wouldn’t die in a ditch with him. The hero then runs out and gets run over by a bus. This is the original story. Now in the sequel, the same scene unfolds, only after the hero has rushed out the camera moves back to the curtain against which the heroine is standing and we see that the villain is behind the curtain holding the heroine at gun point and that’s why she spoke so harshly to the hero. Likewise the common story in the earlier Dīpavamsa and the later Mahāvamsa of the Lankan visit of the Buddha and the encounter with the Yakshas is a sequel that flows seamlessly from the original biography of the Buddha given in the Vinaya Pitaka, without interrupting the original timeline or the sequence.
According to the original story in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka (p118-125, SBE, Vol. 13[iii]– full text), the Buddha performs various wonders to convert the Jatila Uruvela Kassapa. The first wonder is the conquering of the savage Naga king of Uruvela Kassapa’s fire hut. Here the recently enlightened Buddha battles the fire of the Naga king with his fire. It’s not from the first wonder that the sequel of the Lankan visit branches off but from the fifth wonder. Nevertheless the first wonder is significant because it involves the taming of a non-human, magical being with fire and contains the seed and a foreshadowing of the sequel: taming the Yakshas of Lanka with fire.
So to the First Wonder; “And the Blessed One effected the appropriate exercise of miraculous power and sent forth a cloud of smoke. Then the Naga, who could not master his rage, sent forth flames. And the Blessed One, converting his body into fire, sent forth flames. When they both shone forth with their flames, the fire room looked as if it were burning and blazing, as if it were all in flames…That night having elapsed, the Blessed One, leaving intact the skin and hide and flesh and ligaments and bones and marrow of that Naga, and conquering the Naga’s fire by his fire, threw him into his alms-bowl, and showed him to the Jatila Uruvela Kassapa (saying), ‘Here you see the Naga, Kassapa ; his fire has been conquered by my fire’.”– (Maha Vagga 1,15,1-7)
Now to the fifth wonder and thence to Lanka. In the original Vinaya Pitaka story, the Buddha realizes through his power of reading minds that on the day of a certain great sacrifice, Uruvela Kassapa would feel outshined by His presence. So the Blessed One-(Maha-Vagga 1,19,2): “went to Uttara Kuru; having begged alms there, he took the food (he had received) to the Anotatta lake; there he took his meal and rested during the heat of the day at the same place.”
This is how the 4th century AD Dipavamsa sequel branches out from the original; “43-Having understood the thought of the Jatila, the Sage, who looks through the minds of other men, went by his high (magical) power to (Uttara-) Kurudipa collecting alms. 44 Near the Anotatta lake Buddha took his meal; there he gave himself up to meditation (Jhanas) and compassionate thoughts. 45. With his Buddha-eye, the highest in the world looked over the universe; the stainless Teacher (then) saw the most excellent Lankadipa. 46. At that time the ground of Lanka was covered with great forests and full of horrors; frightful, cruel, blood-thirsty Yakkhas of various kinds. 47 and savage, furious, pernicious Piscacas of various shapes and full of various (wicked) thoughts, all had assembled together. 48. I shall go there, in their midst; I shall dispel the Rakkhasas and put away the Pisacas, men shall be masters (of the island.)”– (See OLDENBERG, Dip[iv], p. 120-121, Full text)
Now observe Watson the exact same way the 6th century AD Mahavamsa sequel branches off from the original; “Now since a great sacrifice by Kassapa of Uruvela was near at hand, and since he saw that this latter would fain have him away, he, the victorious over enemies, went to seek alms among the Northern Kurus ; and when he had eaten his meal at evening time near the lake Anotatta, the Conqueror, in the ninth month of his buddhahood, at the full moon of Phussa, himself set forth for the isle of Lanka, to win Lanka for the faith. For Lanka was known to the Conqueror as a place where his doctrine should (thereafter) shine in glory ;and (he knew that) from Lanka, filled with the yakkhas, the yakkhas must (first) be driven forth.” – (Mahavamsa[v] 1.17,18, 19,20, p3, full text)
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[i] “It would seem that the Dīpavamsa, Buddhaghosa’s Bāhiranidāna, and the Mahāvamsa are all based on the Sīhala aṭṭhakathā material which was kept at the Mahāvihara, and the differences between these three works are due to the various authors making use of different strands of the material, and laying different emphasis upon the material which they have in common. It has been suggested that some of the differences between the Bāhiranidāna and the Mahāvamsa arise from the fact that the former was translated directly from Sinhalese Prakrit prose into Pāli prose, while the author of the latter was under the restriction of metrical considerations. The differences between verses in the Dīpavamsa and the Bāhiranidāna have been put down to recension variation, but such differences could equally well be explained as arising from
alternative interpretations of verses in non-Pali dialects”- (p118, K. R. Norman, 1983, ‘Pāli Literature Including the Canonical Literature in Prakrit and Sanskrit of all the Hīnayāna Schools of Buddhism’ in Vol. VII of ‘A History of Indian Literature’– Full text)
[ii] N. A. Jayawickrama, 1962, ‘The Inception of Discipline and the Vinaya Nidana’, Being a Translation and Edition of the Bāhiranidāna of Buddhaghosa’s Samantapāsādika, the Vinaya Commentary in Sacred Books of the Buddhists Vol XXI (Full text)
[iv] The Dīpavamsa edited and translated by H. Oldenberg, 1879- (Full text)
[v] The Mahavamsa translated into English by Wilhelm Geiger, 1912- (Full text)