Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka

Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka

by Anne M. Blackburn

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Modernizing and colonizing forces brought nineteenth-century Sri Lankan Buddhists both challenges and opportunities. How did Buddhists deal with social and economic change; new forms of political, religious, and educational discourse; and Christianity?  And how did Sri Lankan Buddhists, collaborating with other Asian Buddhists, respond to colonial rule? To answer these questions, Anne M. Blackburn focuses on the life of leading monk and educator Hikkaduve Sumangala (1827–1911) to examine more broadly Buddhist life under foreign rule.

In Locations of Buddhism, Blackburn reveals that during Sri Lanka’s crucial decades of deepening colonial control and modernization, there was a surprising stability in the central religious activities of Hikkaduve and the Buddhists among whom he worked. At the same time, they developed new institutions and forms of association, drawing on pre-colonial intellectual heritage as well as colonial-period technologies and discourse. Advocating a new way of studying the impact of colonialism on colonized societies, Blackburn is particularly attuned here to human experience, paying attention to the habits of thought and modes of affiliation that characterized individuals and smaller scale groups. Locations of Buddhism is a wholly original contribution to the study of Sri Lanka and the history of Buddhism more generally.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226055091
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/15/2010
Series: Buddhism and Modernity
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 251
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Anne M. Blackburn is associate professor of South Asian and Buddhist studies at Cornell University and the author of Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture.

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Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka


Copyright © 2010 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-05507-7

Chapter One

Hikkaduve Sumangala at Adam's Peak

In March 1868, an edited manuscript copy of the Vinaya (a collection of Pali texts on monastic life and discipline) was brought in state from the Sabaragamuva town of Pelmadulla downriver to Kalutara on the southern coast and, thence, through a series of southern towns and villages to the major port city of Galle. The manuscript reached Galle on 5 June 1868 in the company of one of its chief editors, Hikkaduve Sumangala. After months based primarily at Pelmadulla (Tissa Kariyawasam 1973, 302; Prajñananda 1947, 1:182), surrounded by manuscripts and immersed in editorial debate at this somewhat remote location, Hikkaduve must have been glad to return to his own district, and a slightly less punishing schedule. Yet, then and later, he had ample reason to be grateful for the months spent involved in the editorial council and sangiti (recitation of authoritative texts) at Pelmadulla. It had confirmed his status as one of the leading scholarly monks of his generation, intensifying the pride and attachment felt for him by a widening circle of teachers, students, and dayakas (lay patrons). The Vinaya procession along the southern coast "was a lengthy process, during which all the Buddhists living by the side of the high road witnessed not only the labours of a scholar but the recognition and reverence offered to the scholar himself.... The processions were organized by the villagers on the instructions of the chief incumbent of their temple" (Tissa Kariyawasam 1973, 307).

This chapter explores the biographical events and social processes that brought Hikkaduve Sumangala to the Pelmadulla council, and that carried him from it to the high rank of the incumbency of Sri Pada nayaka thera (chief priest of Sri Pada, or Adam's Peak). In this chapter, we meet some of the key figures who inhabit subsequent phases of this narrative, beginning to understand the world of social relationships and obligations within which Hikkaduve made his life. At the same time, this chapter introduces some central features of the Lankan Buddhist world during the last half of the nineteenth century. Crucial to this world was the movement of persons and influence between the southern maritime districts (especially Galle and Colombo), the middle highlands of Sabaragamuva, and the former capital city of Kandy. Buddhist-Buddhist and Buddhist-Christian debates together helped shape Buddhist scholarship and demonstrations of monastic prowess. Lay supporters competed for connection to high-status monks, while such monks developed their careers in part by selectively mobilizing the possibilities inherent in monastic lineages. By following Hikkaduve to and from his participation in the Pelmadulla editorial council we gain a broader sense of the local setting in which he and other Buddhists-lay and monastic, male and female—made their lives and begin to sense the intellectual vitality of their era. The period we consider in this and subsequent chapters was a time of emphatic British colonial presence on the island. Lankans also witnessed the deepening and widening of ties among Lanka, Southeast Asia, mainland South Asia, and East Asia.

Editing at Pelmadulla

Hikkaduve Sumangala was one of nearly sixty (Tissa Kariyawasam 1973, 304) Buddhist monks invited to Pelmadulla to undertake what was initially conceived of as a massive project to edit the Pali texts contained within the tipitaka (Vinaya, Sutta, and Abhidhamma collections understood to be authoritative teachings of Gotama Buddha). The invitations were made by the highest-ranking and highest-caste persons in the Sabaragamuva region, the radala leaders among the Goyigama, including Iddamalgoda, Mahavalatänna, Älapata, Madavannavala, Ellavala, Eknäligoda, and Molamure (Paññasekhara 1965, 112). Within this group Iddamalgoda, Basnayaka Nilame (chief caretaker, since 1844) of the Maha Saman Devala (shrine to the deity Saman) in the town of Ratnapura, seems to have been the most active organizer of the Pelmadulla activities. Iddamalgoda had constructed a Dharmasalava (preaching hall) to be used for the preparation of Buddhist manuscripts and for major sermons. Indeed, he seems to have conceived of the Pelmadulla Dharmasalava as a site for the production of authoritative texts for use by Buddhists around the island (Prajñananda 1947, 1:172–75). Symbolically, arranging an editorial council and a sangiti was a bold move: it placed the editorial project of Pelmadulla within the central life story of the Buddha-sasana (the teachings of a Buddha and the practices and institutions that support them), in an eminent series reaching back across King Asoka's own council to the first textual compilations made after the death of Gotama Buddha. It claimed for Iddamalgoda and his radala neighbors the power to sponsor monastic investigation and purification of the tipitaka. This form of patronage was previously held only by kings in Lanka.

Well-regarded scholar-monks from both of the island's monastic fraternities (the Siyam Nikaya and the Amarapura Nikaya), were invited to Pelmadulla. Sections of the Vinaya were divided among the participants, who first worked separately on their assigned sections, using for comparison Siamese and Burmese manuscripts, as well as an additional local copy. Each completed section was brought to the larger assembly for presentation and discussion, leading to consensus and preparation of the final edition. Doubtful passages were discussed with reference to Siamese and Burmese versions, Pali commentaries (atthakatha) and subcommentaries (tika), and Sinhala sannayas and gätapadas (two forms of Sinhala gloss-commentary). Tissa Kariyawasam writes: "After irksome work of five months these scholars finished the texts assigned to them and the final meeting was held at Sudarsana Hall [the Dharmasalava] at which nearly sixty bhikkhus [Buddhist monks with higher ordination] from both sects [monastic orders] were present. Ten bhikkhus from each sect [monastic order] were selected as the final arbiters of the text and they had to decide the final authoritative version of the texts after critical discussion" (1973, 304). The work was strenuous, and the conditions not ideal. As Hikkaduve complained to a confidant, "Because Lord Puvakdandave is ill, the venerable Guru and I are doing that work. Because we are short-handed it's going to be a great obstacle. There's nothing to be done about it.... Almost all of us have caught cold. That's given me a cough. Because one of the young monks who'd come from Ratmalana has also developed a fever with a cold, and is somewhat unwell, he hasn't set off yet for Ratmalana and is still here" (Hikkaduve to an unidentified teacher, 10 August 1867, in Prajñananda 1947, 1:176). Iddamalgoda traveled to Kandy and the southern maritime districts in order to organize a group of scribes who would transcribe the edited Vinaya recited by the assembled editors (Hikkaduve to an unidentified teacher, 29 November 1867, in Prajñananda 1947, 1:177).

Why did Iddamalgod?a and his fellow patrons undertake such an expensive and time-consuming project? Certainly, it was an act of extraordinary merit making as well as an expression of wealth and status. However, the Pelmadulla project related also to the politics of landholding in the Sabaragamuva region and to the recent history of Buddhist-Christian controversy on the island. As we shall see, the Pelmadulla project was one of several activities through which radala landholders reached beyond the monastic community of their locale, taking advantage of an increasingly decentralized and internally competitive monastic milieu. By the time the Pelmadulla editing project got underway, tensions between Buddhists and Christians on the island had been running high for two decades. From the late 1840s, and particularly after the 1848 publication of Daniel Gogerly's Kristiyani Prajñapti (Christian Institutes), the intensity of written and verbal controversies between Buddhists and Christians grew steadily. These controversies became an increasingly important part of broader Buddhist self-awareness on the island. An important feature of Gogerly's Kristiyani Prajñapti, and other work undertaken by him, was the use of ideas and passages taken from Buddhist authoritative Pali texts against Buddhist positions (Malalgoda 1976, 217–18; Young and Somaratna 1996, 45). In this context, it became important for Buddhists to defend the integrity of Pali texts, leaving their Christian interlocutors with the least possible room to identify ostensibly incoherent textual passages or evidence that the transmission of Buddhist manuscripts was unreliable. The development of an interreligious debate culture that placed emphasis on the quotation and critical evaluation of Pali texts heightened Buddhist concerns about the state of their authoritative texts contained within the tipitaka. This existed in manuscript form, was preserved partly through a variety of exegetical texts held in local temple libraries, and was transmitted through decentralized oral and scribal processes. Although the Pelmadulla plans were not fully realized—only the Vinaya was accomplished quickly—the enterprise responded to the needs and anxieties provoked by Buddhist-Christian engagement, while also gesturing eloquently to the status, wealth, and power of its patrons.

It is no surprise that the monastic editors began with the Vinaya, a fundamental guarantor of the tradition. The Vinaya (ideally) ensures the presence of monastics possessed of proper conduct (patipatti). Such monastics are understood as best placed to engage and protect the textual resources of the tradition (pariyatti) and to shape lay Buddhist culture. However, at the time of the Pelmadulla activities, Vinaya texts were even more than usually on the minds of Lankan Buddhists, for two reasons. On the one hand, a certain stream of Christian criticism had focused specifically on the integrity of Vinaya texts. On the other, Lankan monks were actively divided among themselves on a series of topics directly related to the Vinaya. They questioned the proper location for higher ordination rituals (upasampada), as well as the authority to grant higher ordination. Monks quarreled over the proper calendar according to which one would undertake lunar (uposatha) observances, which included a form of monastic self-regulation involving collective recitation of monastic rules (patimokkha). There was dissent within the monastic community over how to invite monks to donated meals in the most meritoriously efficacious manner, and about the proper calendar according to which one would begin and complete the rains retreat (vassa), several months of central importance to monastic discipline, Buddhist merit making, and education (lay and monastic).

From Hikkaduva to Pelmadulla

In the Pelmadulla Vinaya project, Hikkaduve Sumangala had considerable authority, acting on behalf of his teacher Valane Siddhartha. He was only forty-one years old, but already quite well known. His rise to such status and influence tells us much about the monastic world of his day. Sumangala was born in January 1827, to a wealthy high-caste Goyigama family residing slightly north of Galle. The family traced its line to the Kurunegala region to the west of the Kandyan highlands, in which their relations reportedly held office and influence in the seventeenth century, during the time of King Rajasimha II, with hereditary lands and a valavva (an elite family home; a public sign of wealth and status). One branch of the family line is said to have reached the southern maritime districts in the late seventeenth century. Generations later, in the nineteenth century, Hikkaduve's father, Don Johanis da Silva, was appointed as Mahaliyanaracci (head secretary) for Wellabada Pattuva, and received the appointment name Abhayavira Gunavardhana from the government. The family obviously commanded resources and status. One of Hikkaduve's brothers received an English-language education and became the first Sinhala teacher at the Colombo Academy (later Royal College). He later received the government title of Muhandiram. Another received education in English and Sinhala before gaining the appointment of pal ?ate (district) registrar and, eventually, the title Muhandiram. The youngest son trained as a doctor in both local and European medicine before traveling for a time to work for the king of Burma. Hikkaduve's godfather, Don Nikulas Obesekara, was a wealthy and influential man of rank within the British system of local administration.

We are told that Hikkaduve's father intended originally to send the boy for an English education, with its natural advancements. However, family concerns about his horoscope carried Hikkaduve into temple life (see the preface). The Obesekara connection facilitated Hikkaduve's novitiate ordination with a monk from Tilakaramaya, a temple to which Hikkaduve's family was also attached through a relative's donations. After eight years of study as a lay acolyte, Hikkaduve received novitiate ordination in November 1840 at the Totagamuve Viharaya near Hikkaduva, in a gathering of high-ranking monks, and was granted the monastic name Sumangala. There is some disagreement about the identity of his preceptor, but not about the longer lineage connecting him through the eminent southern monk Vehälle Dhammadinna to Välivita Saranamkara Sangharaja, the mid-eighteenth-century founder of the Siyam Nikaya. Not long thereafter, Hikkaduve had the first of many contacts with eminent Buddhists from Southeast Asia when five senior monks came to Lanka from Siam (Paññasekhera 1965, 108; Dharmabandhu 1973, 107). During their time in Galle, Hikkaduve is said to have drawn favorable notice as a speaker and translator of Pali (the language of authoritative Buddhist texts), frequently used as a bridge language in Buddhist South and Southeast Asia. As a result, his teachers were able to place the young man with Valane Siddhartha, arguably the leading monastic educator of his day (at least in the southern region). In Valane's company, Hikkaduve was drawn into the vortex of mid-nineteenth-century Buddhist politics and into the privileges and pleasures of sophisticated education in Pali, Sanskrit, and Sinhala. After several years at Valane's school, Parama Dhamma Cetiya, in Ratmalana, and some further studies for his higher ordination (upasampada) at his home temple, Tilakaramaya, Hikkaduve received higher ordination in Kandy within the monastic ritual enclosure (sima) of the Malvatu Viharaya at the Kandyan center of the Siyam Nikaya, Hikkaduve's fraternity. Word about the young monk's highly successful ordination performance, which demonstrated his intellect, quickly spread. Hikkaduve was well placed for further advancement.

If we are to understand the development of Hikkaduve's career from the time of his higher ordination until his arrival at Pelmadulla, and, indeed, the manner in which he continued from strength to strength after the Pelmadulla project, we must look at his participation in intramonastic debate as well as Buddhist-Christian controversy. We must also attend to some of the friends he made along the way. The period during which young Hikkaduve was educated and ordained was an extremely volatile time in the monastic world. Fierce debate divided monks and their lay supporters: Who held the authority for higher ordination? What was the correct calendar for monastic ritual observance?


Excerpted from LOCATIONS OF BUDDHISM by ANNE M. BLACKBURN Copyright © 2010 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents



A Note on Translations, Sources, Dating, and Language

1. Hikkaduve Sumangala at Adam’s Peak

2. Hikkaduve Sumangala at Vidyodaya Pirivena

3. Learning and Difference

4. Engaging the Adventurers

5. Sasana and Empire

6. Horizons Not Washed Away



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