Nine Discourses preached by Arhath Mahinda
The chronicles make Asoka’s first wife the daughter of a merchant of
Vedisagiri, Devi by name, whome Asoka married when he was viceroy at
Ujjayani. The Mahabodhivamsa calls her Vedisa-mahadevi and a Sakyani or
a Sakya-kumari, as being the daughter of a clan of the Sakyas who had
migrated to ‘Vedisamnagaram’ out of fear of Vidudabha menacing their
mother country. Thus the first wife of Asoka was related to the Buddha’s
family, or clan. She is also described as having caused the construction
of the great Vihara of Vedisagiri, probably the first of the monuments
of Sanchi and Bhilsa. This explains why Asoka selected Sanchi and its
beautiful neighbourhood for his architectural activities.
Of Devi was born a son, Mahendra (Mahinda in Pali) in 284 B.C. and a
daughter, Sanghamitra in 282 B.C. who in 268 B.C. at the age of fourteen
was married to Asoka’s nephew, Agnibrahma and gave birth to a son named
Sumana in 267 B.C.
Ordination of Mahendra
According to Mahavamsa, Devi did not follow Asoka as sovereign to
Pataliputra, for there his chief queen then was Asandimitra. Mahavamsa
tells us that Asoka’s eldest son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra were
both ordained in the sixth year of his coronation when they were twenty
and eighteen years respectively. It is also stated that Asoka’s son-in-
law, Agnibrahma, was ordained in the fourth year of his coronation, i.e.
in 266 B.C. before which a son was born to him.
Ordination of Mahendra took place in 264 B.C. by the Thera Mahadeva,
with Majjhanthika as president of the chapter performing the Kammavacham
and the second ordination of Mahendra by Moggaliputta Tissa Thera as his
Upadhyaya. Ordination of Sangha Mitra was by her acharya Ayupala and
Dhammapala as the Upadhyaya. Dr. E.W. Adikaram in his classic work
‘Early history of Buddhism in Ceylon’ quotes the Samanthapasadika
account of Mahinda’s advent since it agrees in the main points with the
Mahavamsa account; after the third council at Pataliputra (modern day
Patna) Mahinda was requested by his preceptor and the Sangha to visit
Ceylon and establish the Sasana in that Island.
Not the proper time
After consideration Mahinda concluded that it was not yet the proper
time to go there. Mutasiva (307-247 B.C.) the then reigning monarch of
Ceylon, was advanced in years and it was not possible to establish the
Sasana under his patronage. Awaiting the accession of Mutasiva’s son
Devanampiyatissa to the throne, Mahinda set out from Asokarama with the
theras Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala, Bhaddasala, the novice Sumana and the
lay disciple Bhanduka to pay a visit to his relatives. Mahinda in due
course, arrived at and lived for one month at Vedisagiri, the
residential quarters of his mother. It was in 252 B.C. that Mahinda
visited his mother and he was by then twelve years as a monk.
Arhat Mahinda Thera preaching to King Devanampiyatissa
According to the Mahavamsa, in the seventeenth year of Asoka’s
coronation, under the presidency of Moggaliputta Tissa Thera the third
Buddhist council was held at Pataliputra. At the end of this council
Buddhist missionaries were sent out to different countries overseas.
None of Asoka’s edicts refer to Mahinda’s mission to Ceylon. However a
fresco on a wall in one of the caves in Ajanta is supposed to depict the
event. Ceylon is mentioned as Tamrapani in Rock Edict II and XIII, and
as a country already included by Asoka in the list of countries to which
he despatched his Dutas or Messengers to prosecute his scheme of Dharma-Vijaya
or Moral Conquest.
It is not generally known that Buddhism flourished in South India.
Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa are silent on the subject. The historian Vincent
Smith has advanced the view that as South Indian Tamils constantly
harassed the Sinhalese with invasions, the buddhist monks who wrote the
chronicles were prejudiced against them and did not wish to give them a
place in their works. However most scholars accept the view that
Buddhism was introduced to South India by Arhath Mahinda himself. Ven.
Hisselle Dhammaratana Thera, that great Tamil Scholar monk, in his book
“Buddhism in South India”, a wheel publication No. 124/125, gives a
fascinating account on the subject.
Although our chronicles say that the Venerable Mahinda arrived in
Ceylon through his supernormal powers, the scholars are of the opinion
that he travelled by sea, and called at Kaveripattinam in South India.
He sojourned there in a monastery called Indra Vihara, which was one of
the several monasteries constructed in this part of the country by the
Monastery built by King Asoka
The commentator Dhammapala Thera mentions in his works that he
resided in a monastery which was built by King Asoka in a place called
Bhadaratirtha. Rock caves for monks are to be seen in the Madura
district of the Pandya country.
The Brahmi script used by king Asoka in his inscriptions has been
utilised in some writings. Hisselle Dhammaratana Thera states that from
the aforementioned facts it may be concluded that Buddhism was
introduced to South India by King Asoka and his son Venerable Mahinda,
about the same time as the introduction of Buddhism to Ceylon.
Thus having arrived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Arhath Mahinda met the
King Devanampiyatissa at Missakapabbata or on the Rock at Mihintale.
Arhath Mahinda following a conversation with the King Tissa, which
helped the Thera to gauge the intellectual capacity of the king
(earliest recorded I.Q. tests carried out) found that the King was
quick-witted and was able to understand the Dhamma, he expounded the
Culahatthipadopama Sutta, which contained the whole pathway in Buddhism
to perfection. At the end of the discourse the King and his retinue of
forty thousand people embraced the new faith. This is called the Minor
Discourse of the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint was first preached
by the Buddha to the brahmin Janussoni at Jetavana monastery at Savatthi.
(in the Majjima Nikaya).
On the following morning Arhath Mahinda preached Petavatthu and
Vimanavattu, about the worlds of the gods and heavenly abodes and
Devils, Goblins and conditions at hell. (in the Kuddhaka Nikaya) and
also the Saccasamyutta, about the four Noble Truths (in the Sanyuttha
Nikaya) to the King, Anula Devi and five hundred ladies.
On the same day Mahinda preached Devaduta Suttanta (in Sanyutta
Nikaya), at the Hall of the State Elephant followed by Asivisopama Sutta
(in Majjima Nikaya) at Nandanavana. The Devaduta Sutta deals with the
three warning messengers of Death the sight of old age, the sight of
illness and the sight of death. The man who fails to pay heed to these
messengers and is guilty of unrighteousness is condemned by Yama to the
tortures of the Nahanirayas.
On the third day Mahinda preached the Anamataggiya Discourse, and on
the fourth day the Aggikhandhopama Sutta. This discourse was preached by
the Buddha while touring in Kosala with a large concourse of monks, the
sight of a blazing fire being made the occasion for the discourse.
It was better for a man to seek shelter in, embrace and lie down upon
the raging flames than to live in the guise of a monk and accept the
alms of the faithful while being guilty of evil conduct. It is said that
while the sutta was being preached sixty monks vomited hot blood, sixty
left the Order in diffidence and sixty others became arahants.
The commentary adds that the Buddha foresaw this result, and that
later many of the monks, hearing of the discourse and fearing dire
consequences for themselves, returned to the lay-life in such large
numbers that the Order became rapidly depleted. It was to counteract
this result that the Culaccharasanghata Sutta was preached.
This sutta is mentioned as an example of a sermon based on some
immediate experience, in this case a fire. Further this sutta was
preached by Arhath Mahinda, in the Nandana pleasance, on the day the
Mahameghavana was gifted to the Sangha. On the seventh day the Thera
preached the Maha-appamada Sutta, this discourse was first preached by
the Buddha to Pasenadi of Kosala.
Diligence is the one quality that acquires and keeps welfare both in
this life and in the next; just as the elephant’s foot is chief among
all feet, so is diligence the best of qualities. After preaching this
Sutta to the King the Thera returned to Cetiyagiri.
Having thus introduce the Buddha Dhamma to the royalty and the
people, the Thera ordained the Minister Maha Arittha and fifty five of
his elder and younger brothers, thus formally establishing the Bhikkhu
Establishment of Mahavihara, which became the leading monastery in
Ceylon, getting down the sacred Bo sapling with Sanghamitta which led to
the establishment of the Bhikkuni Order, and presiding over the
Thuparama Council held at Anuradhapura where Maha Arittha Thera recited
the Vinaya, which helped to complete the process of establishing
Buddhism in Ceylon are some of the highlights of Arhath Mahinda’s
missionary activities in Ceylon.
Dr. Adikaram goes on to say: from the facility with which Mahinda and
the people of Ceylon understood one another, we may incidently observe
how closely allied the languages in Ceylon and in North India at that
time must have been. A comparison of the earliest inscriptions of Ceylon
and those of North India in the corresponding age leads one to the same
Dr. S. Paranavithana in his book Sinhalayo says: “When saint Mahinda
preached Buddhism for the first time in Ceylon, he gave the
explanations, as he had received them from his teachers, of certain
words and expressions in the Pali Sermons. These were handed down orally
with great care in the monasteries; and later teachers continued to add
to this exegetical literature”.