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Looking afresh

Places linked with the Buddha’s life:

Akhil Kumar Sahoo is the former Professor and Head of Department of Buddhist Studies (NISWASS college) India. He is also the Editor of Bodhi Life Magazine, Life Member of Maha Bodhi Society, India, and General Secretary of Orissa Buddhist Front. This essay is a fresh look at places linked with the Buddha’s life in accordance with the Vamsa literatures

The world came to know about the places linked with the Life of the Buddha, most probably, from ‘Ancient Geography’, by General Cunningham who, prior to 1950, pre scripted his views on different places which were visited by the 5th century Chinese Pilgrim, Fa-hien and 7th century Pilgrim, Hiouen Thsang.

The reports of these two famous pilgrims from China provided ample evidences to know about the most important places of Buddha’s time, that were hitherto unknown till middle of the 19th century. When Samuel Beal made a strong appearance with his translation of the Chinese Pilgrim’s reports, already Cunningham was there with identification of some of the most important places, and this influenced the translational work to such an extent that the whole work took a long and tedious journey, and moving into many countries which in reality never were visited by the Chinese Pilgrims.


Lumbini garden

Vamsa Gathas of Ceylon

Rhys Davids made another most historical impact on the minds of scholars of their time when observations on veracities of Vamsa literatures were questioned by them.

It was not a small thing, but Sri Lankan scholars and academicians accepted what the Rhys Davids said on their historical treasurers.

It was also accepted by one and all at every nook and corner of the academic world. So, whatever has been truthfully said and written in Vamsa literatures of the Island were forgotten, and Sri Lanka’s own historians also did not make any attempt to see by themselves what has been sacredly gone into words of their different historical literatures about the Buddha and his life.

The result was that Cunningham rarely consulted the historical materials of the Island when he tried to put his scale of identification on different places as pointed out by Chinese Pilgrims in their reports.

Samuel Beal went one step forward, and manipulated the name of the places in such a hazardous manner that truth was cut into pieces and thrown into winds like small piece of papers. Many Himalayas were built around and many Ganges were made to flow over the truth the Vamsa literatures of Ceylon mainly by these two writers of world repute.

Had the Ancient Geography by Cunningham, and the Buddhist Records of Western World by Beal, at any point of time truly consulted the Vamsa Literatures of Ceylon in detail , many mistakes would have avoided, and the real places visited by Chinese Pilgrims would have come to their notice without making any attempt at virtual assumptions.

The Vamcertain Vamsa literatures which were written much before the Chinese Pilgrims visited the Land of the Buddha. And this requires for every scholars to get the referral contents ready first fromsa literatures carry some accurate information on the places related with the Buddha’s life.

There are these sources, and then, reports of the Chinese Pilgrims come later for matching purposes. It is not that the source materials of Vamsa Gatha of Ceylon were not in the minds of these authors.

But they were avoided at most places when their references were most urgent, and this gave rise to manipulation wins over the contents.

And thus perilous mistakes were allowed to creep into the whole gamut of the translational exercises.

And this persisted to this day without being contested anywhere. Even Malalasekhar in his Pali Proper Names has incorporated the names of the places which Beal and Cunnimgham restored in their writings. And this is how the low movement of truth has encompassed in history and has been handed over to one generation after another. And new places were raised, named and showed as per findings of these two authors, and new places thus were created and put into history of Buddhism.

Some scholars only have commented here and there that the places visited by Fa-hien are not the same which Hiouen Thsang visited. This resulted because of wrong identifications of places by the authors.

And now this can be tested only with few examples:

Khotan or Kakustan

This is one of the most important places that surfaces in the Book of Great Decease or in Maha Parinirvana Sutta. The Buddha told Ananda to fetch water from the Kakustan river as he was feeling thirsty.

This happened when he was in his last leg to Kusianra. Ananda went to bring water from the Kakustan river, but found its water very muddy. So he returned without bringing any water. The Buddha then insisted to bring that water.

And when Ananda returned, he found the water clean, pure and drinkable. The name Kakustan river thus refers to the name of a place where this river was flowing through or where it started flowing from. The name of the place Kakustan was as important as the name of Kusianra.

The name Kakustn is again very important because this is the landing place for Fa-hien or his reporting on the Land of the Buddha starts from this place. But this again has been put as the last place in Hiouen Thsang’s report or this is the place from where Hiouen Thsang bid farewell to the Land of the Buddha.

What makes the report of these two Chinese Pilgrims most interesting is the positioning of this particular place in their journey map which they followed very seriously .

Beal’s restoration for Kiu-sa-ta-na took him to adopt two names for it : Kustana or Khotan. But to the misfortune of the Buddhist world, name of Khotan became important for him.

And search for this Khotan took the journey map of the Pilgrims far away from the original place of Kakustan or with a little twist Kustana.

Never any reference to importance of Kakustan was made anywhere in the book. And proper identification of Kakustan would have made a difference at the beginning.

Madyadesha or mid India

Madhyadesha is more important than any other place in history of Buddhism. It is the place where all the Buddhas, their chief disciples and the universal monarchs were born. But it was belittled by every subsequent writers in history of Buddhism. The geographical boundary of Madhyadesha could not be established correctly even though all places around it was fairly known, and Vamsa literatures unfailingly carry a lot of information on this Majjhimadesha or Madhyadesha.

What went wrong when this Madhyadesha was made to get identified as Mid India by authors on whose account the world came to know where is Kapilavastu, Lumbini or Kusinara etc. can’t be judged now unless the magnitude of the impacting errors are scaled on each of the places they have identified in their books.

And their works have been considerably treated as sacred texts by many when it identified the sacred places linked with the life of the Buddha. They discovered new places, and gave them the names the Chinese Pilgrims said to have visited them.

The world faithfully accepted all those painted lines seriously believing and taking them as true. Even though the Buddhist Records of Western World is heavy with its much confusing foot notes, it is lamentably silent on the identifiable boundaries of the Madhyadesha. It thus shows either its author is unaware of the names of the places that has gone into to form the boundary or, the proper matching of places they could not do because it might have further complicated their new findings. They have not taken the name of Thuna, Upthana and Usian etc. in the footnotes, but the Vamsa literatures are abundantly clear on this point.

At one point, the restoration ridiculously led the authors to term Madhyadesha as name of a place. This has rather compounded the problems of searching other places like Sankasa, Setavya, Kajangala, Uttarakuru and Mahasala etc. correctly which the pilgrims religiously visited them with great enthusiasm.

That the Madhyadesha includes fourteen out of the sixteen Mahajanapaas the authors did not know it. This information is there in the Vamsa literatures and one should not therefore confuse on this.

It is another most important place which the Chinese Pilgrims visited in Madhyadesha, and they reported correctly on it. Perhaps, the translators had less idea on the importance of this particular place.

This great mistake would have largely been avoided had they referred to Vamsa Literatures a little.

Wrong identification of this place led the restoration to combine both Setavya and Sravasti as one place, and a grave mistake of Himalayan magnitude was committed here. Sravasti and Setavya became one. This made serious blunders in writing the history on Buddha’s life.

Setavya was the most sacred of places as the entire body relics of Kassapa Buddha is preserved here. And places linked with Kassap Buddha’s birthplace, place of his Enlightenment and place where he met his father after Enlightenment have been well written, and this also has been greatly reflected in Pilgrim’s reports. They have taken the name of Tadua which the Vamsa Gatha says to be Todeyya. And no difference one can find in these two names.

But this was mixed with Sravasti which has nothing to do with Kassapa Buddha’s body relics. This Gangetic blunder here made other restorations commit suicide, and one finds all places linked with Buddha’s life gone out of the boundary of the Majjhimadesha hereafter.

Southern sea and the Bodhi Tree

Mahagatimbiya—Tissadatta, an arahant from Ceylon, when visited the site of the Bodhi tree found a great ocean very close to it ; and the sound of the waves of the ocean there seems to have wondered him very much.

This then explains that the Bodhi tree was there where an ocean was there, and music of whose myriad waves was hitting the sacredness of the Bodhi Tree’s environment. The Chinese Pilgrim’s account is not far away from this view. But restoration of their accounts gathers no proof of it even though the Pilgrims have mentioned that they went about sea shores when traveling through many countries in Madhyadesha. What is that sea, and on which part of the country of their visit does it exist has not been properly told by the writers, and this is where the truth on ‘Place of Enlightenment’ and ‘Place of the First Sermon” has been perilously slaughtered.

The very account of Fa-hien that ‘Place of First Sermon’ exists at a distance of only 3 &1/2 miles from the ‘Place of Enlightenment’ seems to have been knowingly avoided because of the mistakes of Cunningham who did this exercise before the translation of Beal.

Saketa and Oudh and Ayojjha

This is another weak area of the translation of Beal as well as investigation of Cunningham where these three places have been collectively shown as one. When wrong places were put into the scheme of things, it is but natural that it will certainly lose the steam somewhere. And this happened here, and at many other places too.

The Vamsa literatures are very clear on these points. There was very little distance between Sravasti and Saketa; and to identify Saketa, one does not have to take much pain as so many identifiable things are there in Saketa including Lonagiri.

Showing Ayojjha and Oudh as one place indicates less of one’s knowledge on history of Buddha’s life, and more of one’s unawareness on what happened after the Buddha left the scene. One failed to identify Oudh means one miserably failed to identify Ramagamma and Lumbini, and also Kapilavastu and Kusinara.

There is no end to such descriptions. Ramagamma being one of the most important towns of Koliyans, could not be identified even though it was only 50 li towards east of Lumbini, as laid down by the Chinese Pilgrims.

The conversion of Li into miles has been altered several times at several places in the translation to fit new places into the translational agenda, but it failed like falling of sand dunes.

And now questions can be put straight : Whether Rajgaha, Nalanda, Vesali, Kasi and Benares etc. suffers from same maladies of wrong identifications? The answer is yes.

They can’t be far away from the committed mistakes remaining in the same prison of unwholesome thoughts. Neither Himalayas nor river Ganges were anywhere there in the scenes of Majjhimadesha.

But Snowy mountain in Madhyadesha which is a name, was wrongly translated as Himalayas. Cunningham has also called Visakha as Saketa. There is no end to this confusion spreading over whole of their works.

Nuns, Monks and Prateka Buddhas

There are certain references by the Chinese Pilgrims in their reports on monks and Prateka Buddhas. Name of Radha Swami has been taken by Fa-hien. Going by the accounts of the Pilgrims, one finds that at Nagarahara there were as many as a thousand towers in honour of the Arhats and Pratyeka Buddhas. At Sankassa, the Pilgrim also found home to a Prateka Buddha.

The tooth relics of another Prateka Buddha along with the tooth relics of the Buddha were there at Bamiyan . Similarly, at Pushkalavati, there once was living Ekasringa Rishi, and at Salatura, Panini composed Vyakaranam. Name of Arhat Madhyantika of Udiyana was most brilliantly said by the Pilgrims.

This Arhat went to Tusita to make a figure of the Maitreya Buddha.

Arhat Ghosha and Elapatra are linked with Tao-cha-shi-lo or Takkasila. At Himatala, the entire body relics of an Arhata has been preserved.

The number of great Arhats who were staying at Mo-tu-lo was 1250. Similarly, at Su-lo-kin-na, several tens of Arahats were living, the report says. At Kapitha, the Pilgrim’s report talks of a stupa in the name of Utpalavarna Bhikkshuni.

Hiouen Thsang has taken the name of Rishi Vaya along with king Brhamaditya and his daughters through a beautiful story . Arhat Gopa, and Devasarma’s name are included in the country of Visakha.

In the Buddhavana of Magadha, the report says that there secretly dwell five hundred Arahats. Similarly, the Yasthivana was also home to Rishi Vyasa.

Arhatas who come to Chu-kiu-kia from Madhydesa for Nirvana, display their spiritual power. So, Stupas erected here corresponds to the number of Arhats arrived there in that country.

Vamsa literatures of Ceylon reverberates with much information on monks, nuns and Prateka Buddhas, and any reference to identify places that were visited by the Chinese Pilgrims should have led one to consult these valuable sources. But this was not followed. Here also one finds a difference between Beal’s restoration of Chinese Pilgrim version and Vamsa Gatha. For example, Varana, Beal refers as name of a river where as Apadana and Thera Gatha Commentary tells it as name of a Thera.

Planning of the translational work

Samuel Beal’s Buddhist Records made irreparable mistakes which still continue to run its magic show for the entire world without setting of its sun as it has arisen in the west. The book has been designed in twelve parts to cater the needs of telling the travel accounts of the Chinese Pilgrims. The Pilgrims who undertook strenuous journey in those days, to feel the warmth of Buddha’s feet on the sacred soil of the Majjhimadesha , must have told their story in a very simple and easy language of their heart. To describe and deliver things which they saw, meditate over and felt, never have required words of confusing characters.

Why the author put those things in twelve parts when the first part is nearer to the 12th part, is very difficult to digest and understand. Every part is partly a continuation of the other part, and they are very much linked together to describe a single purpose. Perhaps, there arose some dislocations in settling the places on the part of the writer due to misrepresentations of original facts put by the Pilgrims and this must have demanded and generated some hiding corners for the writers to show things in twelve chapters.

And the heterogeneity of putting things in different corners of a simple book, however succeeded magnificently for more than a hundred years, and trafficking of facts showed brutal acceptance on the part of ‘other scholars’ during a time when wisdom ‘s original bell sang its swan song well .

Now it is not the answers, rather than the questions that will help the Island friends to open their own legendary history books, and have a relook at them again. For there lies the truth regarding exact locations of all the places where the Buddha set his feet on more than two thousand years before , and the world will change only when the facts on the history of the Buddha as it exists today, in all your books, are reread again, first by all of you, then by others.


Bliss of discipline

The Buddha, the Thathagatha the perfect one, the world teacher, gave the world a rational analysis of the truth of life. The truth he discovered, the eternal absolute and the supreme truth by his own endevours was for the humanity at large.


The Buddha gave a rational analysis of the truth of life

What he gifted the world was essentially a spiritual discipline. His doctrine the message of Dhamma spread far and wide lasting beyond 2500 years. The Buddhists the world over celebrated the most significant event the Buddha Jayanthi which marked the 2500th anniversary of the Enlightenment of the Buddha (May 1956).

This was exhibited in numerous ways. Truly speaking it ushered in a variety of religious activities. Preparations for next Buddha Jayanthi has already commenced in keeping with its true meaning of Dhamma - the essence of Buddhism. Buddha Jayanthi the next, to be held has a message for each one of us. This was well expressed by a student at the prize-giving of a leading Dhamma school with high quality standards in the sphere of religious education.

It is none other than Sri Upananda Dhamma School of Pinwatta Purana Viharaya of Dehiwela. The historic temple and the Bhikkus headed by Venerable Nandasumana Thera focus their dedicated attention to the religious welfare of the people.

Branching off from Colombo-Galle highway, little away from the Dehiwela Municipality, located in a central position, is the Pinwatta Purana Viharaya.

The honour of preserving the Buddhist teachings for the benefit of the Buddhists goes to Maha Sangha. The service rendered in nurturing the children in Dhamma education, inspiring them to a lifelong love of learning, is something to be admired. The prize giving is one of the many grand events of the temple held annually. All parents and well-wishers look forward to witness the noble event every year.

Their thoughts and eyes will be on the temple as it gets ready for the annual event of the Dhamma school. Singing, drama and speeches from the winners selected from the competitions held, are some of the highlights of the events of student performance. From a cultural perspective it holds a fascinating cultural show of historic and religious value. All in all the Dhamma school offers a unique blend of religious knowledge and proper discipline while giving opportunity to express their talents on the stage.

For example the speech delivered by one of the students who had emerged winner in oratory kept the audience spellbound. His persuasive eloquence, the topic which had been selected suit the country, and the time in every aspect.

The topic was ‘Let us be disciplined for coming Buddha Jayanthi’ (Buddha Jayanthiyata piliwethin pelagasemu). At a time that student indiscipline has become a feature in our higher seats of learning, higher education it was a welcome topic to the entire society.

As the Buddha Jayanthi day approaches all our celebrations in the name of Thathagatha the great Master’s greatness, love and compassion should aim at better norms of discipline to promote human welfare, peace and harmony in a religious background.

Buddha’s birth on earth was the greatest blessing to humanity. The message of the Buddha made them both peace loving and kind-hearted and gave them hope. Also to live up to ideals of goodwill and brotherhood. Buddha attached much importance to Dhamma. His teachings the Dhamma guide us in our journey in our daily life as well as Sansara. The essence of truth, Pancha Seela advocates, abstaining from killing, stealing, adultery, lying and consuming liquor. These are the rules of conduct adhered to by the Buddhists. These laws keep them disciplined. Though the five precepts are repeated daily, majority do not strictly observe these.

Then the expected discipline is far from them. According to the speaker, distancing themselves from Dhamma is the root cause of the present day ills. Therefore, he said let us try more and more to practise the principles of Buddhism to create a disciplined, civilized society.

Still another point he emphasized was that the laity gather in crowds at the temples offer flowers, light lamps, burn incense and perform pujas. These pujas are given much prominence. But this is not of much effect if the honoured ideals (Pancha Seela) are violated. It is true that life without religious devotion locks the requisite foundation for life. The daily offerings inspire the true Buddhists to lead a religious and a righteous life.

Yet it is the faithful and fervent acceptance of the principles of Dhamma and living accordingly that will lead one to a disciplined a virtuous and a meaningful life. Furthermore Buddhist life will be mentally enhanced and it will be associated with noble deeds. Hence Buddha Jayanthi celebrations will be centred on a disciplined way of life.

It is time for us to resolve to give ourselves to Dhamma with greater emphasis on discipline. He said Buddha Jayanthi is a strong invitation for a disciplined way of life putting away hatred, enmity, greed and craving, spreading Metta.

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