|Mahayana style Buddha / Buduruwagala|
The Buddha, or the "enlightened one," was born Siddhartha Gautama to Princess Mahamaya and King Sudhodhana in the 6th century B.C. in Lumbini, modern-day Nepal. Although born a prince, he realized that conditioned experiences could not provide lasting happiness or protection from suffering. After almost thirty years of spiritual search he went into deep meditation, where he understood the nature of the mind. He achieved the state of unconditional happiness; the state of enlightenment, or Bodhi by the river Neranjana in Gaya. For the rest of his life, the Buddha taught anyone who asked how they could reach this state. Ever since his parinirwana or demise at the age of 80 the Dharma, his teachings has been preserved and preached to the people of Asia major by the Sangha; his disciples or the community practitioners who was entrusted with its broadcast.
However with time his teachings were divided into two branches the Threravada and Mahayana. Regardless of the branches all Buddhist believe in the Buddha as the teacher, the Dharma as his teachings and the Sanga the community of practitioners of the Dharma. This means that all Buddhist regardless of the branches believe in the Thripitaka, the Pali canon the Buddha’s teachings as originally recorded hundreds of years after his passing.
Both Theravada and Mahayana believe in Arharts; the enlightened persons who have escaped the cycle of birth and death and exist in Nirvana, the ultimate goal in Theravada. Mahayana believes in the “Bodhisatva Path”. This means that all monastics and laypersons can follow this same path and become Bodhisatva’s, which are enlightened beings that freely choose to stay in the cycle of birth and death also known as Samsara. They stay in Samsara out of great compassion to save all beings despite having to continuously exist in the world of Samsara. Theravada also believes in the compassion to save all beings, however they do not promote the Bodhisattva path to achieve it. Theravada, does not have any additional schools like in Mahayana. In Theravada there is only one set of views on all these topics while Mahayana provides additional “Dharma gates” that people can use towards liberation. However Theravada believes these additional Mahayana sutras and teachings are not canonical. Therefore not legitimate.
Buddhism reached Sri Lanka in the 3st century BC and was established as Theravada based in the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura. It is noted that some monks separated from the Mahavihara and established the Abhayagiriya with the royal patronage of King Valagamba in the 1st century BC. There has been evidence to the presence of Mahayana influence even in the 3rd century BC with the arrival of Vaithulyavada from India.
The significance of Mahayana in the Buddhist sculptures in this land is related to the 8th and 9th century during the reign of the Kassapa and Dappula brothers in Anuradhapura. But its presence is mostly related to the Rohana Desha. In today’s terms in the Ruhuna and the Uva Province. The Chola invasion in the 10th century and the formation of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom is said to have had a lineage to Mahayana which later was overridden with the Shiva devotion.
|Buduruwagala Buddha flanked by the Awalokatheswara and Goddesses|
The Mahayana influence in the country is but clearly depicted in the Buduruwagala site before the Polonnaruwa Era which don’t seem to have continued in the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.
Buduruwagala situated in Wellavaya in the Monaragala District, consists of seven statues sculptured on a rock cut relief during the 9th -10th century A.D. It is believed that these statues were created by Mahayana Buddhist in Rohana, during the Anuradhapura period. Iconographies of various Buddha, Bodhisattva, and the strength of Bodhisattva, regional gods, and gods of Hinduism has been introduced by the Mahayana traditions. The main Buddha sculpture in Buduruawagala is said to be the tallest of its kind in Sri Lanka and is flanked by six smaller sculptures three to a side that relate to Mahayana notations. It could be said that on behalf of worshiping the Buddha, people also used to worship and believed in Bodhisatva and gods introduced by the Mahayana tradition in Buduruwagala.
|Buduruwagala / Wellawaya|
The other significant sculpture though isolated and further away from the province of Uva is the Kushtaraja Gala in Weligama. This image of Avalokiteshvara also sculptured in a relief of the rock is thought to be of the 6-7 century A D and depicts very clearly the Mahayana concept that prevailed during this era. There are other folk stories on the image as that of a prince from a foreign country ailing from a skin disease had come on a pilgrimage to Agrabodhi Vihara and had constructed this image on a vow made to God Vishnu. The other is that a prince from Sri Lanka with a skin ailment had built the statue after getting cured by making a vow to Agrabodhi Vihara. As there is evidence to identify that this statue is of Natha Bodhisatva, the folk stories could be accepted to some extent for the reason that there was a belief that this Bodhisatva had healing powers.
|Pic Courtesy:www tlc lk Kushtarajagala Weligama|
|Awalokatheshwara Natha / Weligama|
Pic courtesy; www.lanka-excursions-holidays
|Maligawila Buddha colossal|
|Dambegoda Awalokitheswara statue|
|Mahayana Buddha / Dowa Bandarawela|
|Unfinished Dowa sculpture|
Finally the unfinished Buddha, sculpted on a rock relief in Dowa Bandarawela again in Uva province could be noted as the culmination of this practice of Mahayana worship that took root in the Rohana then. The Chola invasion which brought about suffering and anarchy in the country, but upheld the Mahayana tradition and the worship of Shiva may have had a negative impact on the practice of Mahayana. We do not see its development as seen in the 8th and 9th century in the country since the Chola invasion and the formation of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.