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The two major Buddhist Fraternities in ancient Sri Lanka which, as two great seats of learning, made great contributions to the development of Buddhist thought and culture were the Mahāvihāra and the Abhayagiri. These were established during the 3rd century and 1st century B.C., respectively.

The Impact of the Abhayagiri Practices on the Development of Theravāda Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Rangama Chandawimala Thero
B.A. (Hon), M.A., Dip. in Ed.
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy

source picture: solosmasthana.wordpress.com

Significance of the Study

The two major Buddhist Fraternities in ancient Sri Lanka which, as two great seats of learning, made great contributions to the development of Buddhist thought and culture were the Mahāvihāra and the Abhayagiri. These were established during the 3rd century and 1st century B.C., respectively. A number of well-documented scholarly works assessing the contribution made by the Mahāvihāra, have already been published. However, perhaps due to the previous non-availability of primary literary sources, the over-all contribution made by the Abhayagiri Fraternity has not yet been properly explored and correctly assessed. As far as Sri Lankan Buddhism is concerned, the Abhayagiri Fraternity is very important since it was instrumental in changing the history of the country as well as Buddhism. Hettiarachchi is of the view that the ‘Golden Doors’ of Sinhalese Buddhism were open with the emergence of the Abhayagiri Fraternity.1It seems that the emergence of the Abhayagiri is the result of long felt necessity as well as being a predetermined project, but not a chance happening. Had the Abhayagiri fraternity not introduced new rites, rituals and practices, perhaps we would be dealing with a different history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka today. According to archaeological surveys carried out in Sri Lanka, the Abhayagiri complex spread over an area of 500 - 600 acres.2 Historical records tell us that the biggest, the most beautiful and the richest monastery of the Island during the ancient period, was the Abhayagiri.3

The Abhayagiri fraternity was always ready to welcome new ideas, and adjusts its monastic system in accordance with time and socio-religious needs, whereas the Mahāvihāra considered this as an unwelcome and unacceptable transformation. In other words we can say that the Abhayagiri was radical and innovative whereas the Mahāvihāra was traditional and conservative. This research seeks to examine the liberal views of the Abhayagiri and popular ideas it introduced to Sri Lankan Buddhism, and assess its overall contribution for the development of Sri Lankan Buddhism. As radicals the AbhayagirivÃ¥sÂ¥ns adopted popular practices and introduced them to Sri Lankan Buddhism in order to reinforce the close relationship between monastic and lay society. The accounts in the Sri Lankan chronicles show that the AbhayagirivÃ¥sÂ¥ns had showed a liberal attitude towards the views of other Buddhist schools and also welcomed the members of those schools in a friendly manner. There is enough evidence to prove that several sectarian Buddhist schools dwelt together at the Abhayagiri in total harmony. As a result of this friendly atmosphere, new concepts and practices penetrated into Sri Lankan Buddhism, and some Mahāyāna and Tantric practices spread throughout the Island. Archaeological findings prove the authenticity of those records and show us how MahÃ¥yÃ¥na and Tantric Buddhism played a dynamic and vital role in ancient Sri Lanka. ....

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