From days of yore to modern times: The spread of Buddhism

By Nandiyniy Ranasingha, Sunday Times, May 28, 2018

Sutta Central to be launched in Sri Lanka

Colombo, Sri Lanka
-- According to the great scholar monk Ven.Walpola Rahula Thera, Buddhism is neither a faith nor a belief ; it is a way of life. The way which is called the Noble Eightfold Path or the Middle Path.

<< Ajahn Sujato: Pioneer in the establishment of SuttaCentral

Buddhism not being an ethnocentric religion, transcends all ethnic or national limits. Till about the mid 20th century, it had profound influence mainly over countries throughout Asia. Each of these countries where it was established, naturally integrated the Buddhist principles into their cultures. Although the essence of Buddhism the Dhamma remains intact, there are a variety of Buddhist cultures, from India the country of its birth to Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Japan, Korea etc.

There is historical evidence of the existence of Buddhism in the West from the 4th century B.C. onwards. This happened through Alexander the Great’s Indian invasion and subsequent diplomatic and cultural exchanges. In the 3rd century B.C. the Emperor Asoka’s Rock Edicts ( II, V, XIII ) declare that he had sent successful “ Buddhist Missions of Piety “ to five Greek Kings, apart from various other territories in India and Asia. The Greek Kings are identified as Antiochus of Syria ( 261 – 246 B.C.), Ptolemy II of Egypt ( 285 – 247 B.C. ), Antigonas Gonatas of Macedonia ( 276 – 246 B.C. ), Magas of Cyrene ( 300 – 258 B.C.) and Alexander of Epirus (272 – 258 B.C. ). It’s interesting to note that an Asoka Edict found in Afghanistan in the 1970’s was written in Greek and Aramaic languages.

The Great Chronicle Mahavamsa mentions a delegation of Buddhist monks from the Greek city of Alexandria, led by senior Greek monk Dhammakitha, having participated at the inaugural ceremony of the “Ruvanvali Seya” in the 1st century B.C. In the Milinda Panha, the famous Buddhist Pali text of the 1st Century (A.C) that purports to record a dialogue between the Buddhist sage Nagasena and a King Milinda the king has been identified as Greek King Menandros who ruled North-Western India in the 1st century B.C

After a long period of time, Buddhism once again became a subject of interest in the West only in the 19th century. It started with the German philosopher Schopenhauer (1788 -1860). His great admiration of Buddha’s teachings awakened an intellectual curiosity of other western philosophers. This was followed by French Oriental scholar Eugene Burnouf, and subsequently Buddhism spread to other parts of Europe.

However, It was the United Kingdom that made the greatest contribution towards Buddhist revival in the modern age. Rhys Davids, who served in Sri Lanka for eight years as a civil servant established the Pali Text Society in London in 1881. For over 100 years this society facilitated the accessibility of the Buddha’s teachings in English to hundreds of thousands and still continues its service, to those interested.

There was a popular traditional belief in countries such as Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand, that the Buddha’s word would reach every country, 2500 years after the Parinirvana (passing away of the Buddha). There was also much talk that the 1956 Buddha Jayanthi wouldl usher in a new era of the practice of the Dhamma. Strangely, this is the year the Indian Burmese founder of the now World famous Goenka Meditation Centers, Shri S.N. Goenka began to impart the techniques of Buddhist Vipassana meditation. Within the past five decades, not only in the traditional Asian Buddhist countries but even in the west across multi religious boundaries, there is a sharp increase in the number of those who have taken up Buddhist meditation. o facilitate this need, internationally acclaimed Buddhist meditation teacher Ajahn Sumedho established the Amarawathi monastery in Uk in the early 1980’s. The practice of meditation subsequently spread to other parts of Europe and the USA.

The labour of many western scholars beginning from the 19th century, also started bearing fruit considerably after 1956–the year when the Buddha Jayanthi (the 2500th anniversary of Buddhism), was celebrated in grand style in many countries and for the first time – internationally. Many Buddhist societies, meditation centres, temples/ viharas started coming up in Australia, Europe, UK, USA and some Latin American countries. Apart from Buddhist activities being on the increase, many sons and daughters of the soil of these western countries entered the Sasana as monks, giving credence to the traditional belief of Buddhist revival after 25 centuries of Mahaparinirvana.
SuttaCentral to be launched in Colombo on Thursday

King Devanampiyatissa, after receiving Arahat Mahinda Thera, the son of Emperor Asoka once asked, whether the Buddha Sasanaya (Buddhism) was established in Sri Lanka. Arahat Mahinda responded “ O great King, the Sasana is established, but it’s roots have not gone deep”. Then the King asked “when will its roots go deep?” Arahath Mahinda replied, “When a son born in Sri Lanka, of Sri Lankan parents, becomes a monk in Sri Lanka, studies the Dhamma in Sri Lanka and recites it in Sri Lanka, then the roots of the Sasana are gone deep”. Today, in many western countries native sons and daughters entering the Sanghahood have thus firmly established the three Jewels – Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha; together with the triad – the Sasana in their countries of origin.

Amongst leading Buddist monks Ajahn Sujato stands tall, for pioneering and establishing the SuttaCentral, which will be launched in Sri Lanka. This unique project will freely distribute the wisdom of the Buddha, breaking barriers of languages and geographical boundaries, to all those interested in His teachings throughout the world.

Ajahn Sujato (Anthony Best) was born in Perth in 1966 to a liberal catholic family. He read philosophy and literature at the University of Western Australia. Still in his teens, he became interested in the profound vision found in the teachings of the Buddha.

In 1994, he left for Thailand and studied Buddhist meditation under the tutelage of Ajahn Maha Chatchai. Further, under the guidance of Ajahn Brahmavanso as his pupil, Ajahn Sujato expanded his knowledge and practice of every aspect of the teachings of the Buddha.
In the past 14 years, Ajahn Sujato has been leading an international team of Buddhist scholars to bring the teachings of the Buddha from different traditions under one domain.

As a result of his selfless efforts, the entire Sutta Pitaka, the original words of the Buddha has been now translated into 40 languages, using the best technologies and design the modern web can offer. The design of SuttaCentral has one razor sharp focus i. e. to remove anything which stands between you and the Buddha’s word. This unique project marks another milestone of the much spoken Buddhist revival of the current era. Keeping with Buddhist traditions, all contents produced by SuttaCentral is freely available to the public and dedicated to the public domain via Creative Commons Zero.

The launching ceremony of SuttaCentral in Sri Lanka will be held at the Nelum Pokuna Auditorium on May 31, under the leadership of SuttaCentral public liaison and financial officer Deepika Weerakoon of Sydney, Australia.

All are welcome and those who are interested in attending the launching ceremony can make their reservations on https://