THE BASIC TEACHINGS OF BUDDHISM

Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 or 466-386 BC), also called Shâkyamuni (the Sage of the Shakya Clan), the Gautama Buddha (, the "Enlightened One," from budh, "to wake up"), and the Tathâgata (the "Thus Come"), was born to a royal Ks.atriya family. At his birth there was a prophecy that either he would become a world conqueror, a Cakravartin, , or he would "conquer" the world by renouncing it and becoming a Buddha. His father preferred the more tangible kind of conquest and tried to shield Siddhartha from all the evils of life that might tempt him into spiritual reflection. This strategy backfired; for when, about age thirty, Siddhartha finally did experience evils, by encountering a sick man, an old man, a dead man, and a wandering ascetic, he determined immediately to renounce the world and seek enlightenment like the ascetic. This violated Siddhartha's duty as a householder, since his wife had just given birth to their first child, but Vedic duties and the traditional four stages of life were no longer of interest to him.

After years of fasting and other ascetic practices, during which he supposedly subsisted on as little as one grain of rice a day, Siddhartha felt that he had achieved nothing. He ceased his fasting, which disillusioned his fellow ascetics -- "Siddhartha has become luxuriant!" They left him. Siddhartha then sat down under a tree with the determination not to arise until he had achieved enlightenment -- which sounds like an ascetic practice in its own right. The tree became the Bodhi ("Enlightenment") Tree; for under it Siddhartha, resisting the attacks and temptations of Mâra, the king of the demons, became the Buddha, the one who "Woke Up." In the traditional chronology, that was in about 527. The Buddha proceeded to Sarnath, near Benares. Along the way he met some traveling merchants, who recognized him as a Buddha. Since merchants later spread Buddhism to Central Asia and China, this began a tradition of respect for merchants and trade, very different from the disapproving attitude in Western philosophy. At Sarnath, the Buddha encountered his old companions and delivered his first sermon in a place called the Deer Park. That set the "Wheel of the Law," the Dharmacakra, , in motion. The form of the Dharmacakra at right is identical to the one on the flag of India and is copied from a pillar set up at Sarnath by the great King Ashoka. In Chinese, the "Wheel of the Law" is translated (Hôrin in Japanese), and to "revolve" the Wheel, or preach the Dharma, is (Tenhôrin in Japanese).

The Buddha's sermon consisted of the Four Noble (Ârya) Truths:

  1. The Truth of Suffering, or Misery (Duhkhasatya), that life is suffering, including birth, disease, old age, and death;

    I have seen people saying that the First Noble Truth is not really "suffering" or "misery," which are "mistranslations," but something more like unhappiness, dislocation, dissatisfaction, or "unsatisfactoriness," on the analogy that , duhkha, is about a chariot axle not working quite right. I see some texts (which I had even used for my classes) claiming that this is the "deeper meaning" of duhkha. I have also heard that religious practices, like meditation in Buddhism, are simply a way of releaving "stress," which will make us healthier and happier in life. The Buddha is even said to have discovered that Salvation, or Nirvân.a, ("Extinction"), is nevertheless simply living "normal human life... doing normal human things."

    However, these interpretations do not fit the canonical examples of disease, old age, and death, which are things that are not merely unpleasant or stressful, and which are not removed by any change in our attitude or state of mind. Duhkha looks to be from the verb , DU, which means "burn, be pained," so that duhkha can be merely "unpleasant" but also "pain, hardship, misery, suffering" [cf. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, Arthur Anthony Macdonell, Oxford University Press, 1929, 1971, p. 121]. Siddhartha did not seek Enlightenment because he saw someone having a bad day; he was moved by the examples of disease, old age, death, and asceticism -- as when he says in the Majjhima-Nikâya, Sutta 63, "there still remain birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair". Anyone regarding a malfunctioning axle as "deeper" than the experience of disease, old age, or death sounds like they have not had much experience of disease, old age, and death, or grief, despair, and lamentation. Indeed, grief, despair, and lamentation are not manifestations of anything so tepid as "dissatisfaction."

    When asked why he had abandoned Vedic sacrifices and become a follower of the Buddha, the Brahmin Kassapa answered:

    It is visible things and sounds, and also tastes, pleasures and woman that the sacrifices speak of; because I understood that whatever belongs to existence is filth, therefore I took no more delight in sacrifices and offerings. [Vinaya 1,36, quoted by Patrick Olivelle, The Âs΄rama System, Oxford, 1993, boldface added]

    My suspicion is that those who trivialize the meaning of "suffering" may be transposing, consciously or unconsciously, a Mahâyâna notion that maybe the world isn't all that bad. This is a point of view that is, to be sure, part of the Buddhist tradition, but it is very different from the early message and attitude of Buddhism. Acting like it was the meaning of it all from the beginning may reflect a sectarian commitment, but it is ahistorical and, for people who are supposed to be scholars of Buddhism, dishonest or incompetent. However, the idea that the world is essentially unpleasant, in all its details, and gives us a nagging feeling that something is not quite right, is a good Buddhist clue that something is wrong more deeply. This is even rather like what we find in the movie, The Matrix, where, from initial uneasiness, and in properly Buddhist fashion, it turns out that the world is a horrible illusion and deception.

    To the idea that the Buddha's Enlightenment meant that he could just live a "normal life," the critical question would be to ask, "Well, why didn't the Buddha then just go home and return to his wife and family?" But the Buddha obviously did not live an "normal" life "doing normal human things." He was a mendicant monk, and still an ascetic; and one may notice that Westerners, who may rather smugly tell us that Nirvân.a is just "normal life," are almost never engaging in monastic practice themselves. Its very existence renders their assertions incoherent.

    Much worse than presenting as original and authentic an interpretation of Buddhism that may actually only be characteristic of some schools of the Mahâyâna is a secularizing and psychologizing approach. If Buddhist practice relieves stress and produces greater health and happiness, and enables us to live a normal life, it does not matter that disease, old age, and death are still there if death itself will actually deliver us from these conditions. We can get his approach from people who are in fact modern materialists and naturalists, reject the reality of karma and reincarnation, dismiss the miraculous powers of the Buddha as metaphors or fairy tales, and regard death as nothingness. Each of these contradicts basic Buddhist metaphysics and are all historically judged to be major Buddhist heresies. Viewing the dead as nothing is "annihilationism" and conflicts with the application of the Four-Fold Negation to the ontology of Nirvân.a. In Buddhist philosophy, materialism is despised. It is alien to the letter and the spirit of Buddhism, not to mention rather missing the point. A lot of "Buddhist modernism" is an attempt to reduce Buddhism to nothing more than a scientifically reasonable form of rationalistic philosophy, while at the same time scrambling to make it ecologically and politically correct. These are concerns that are foreign to any traditional form of Buddhism and irrelevant to the sober truth of the Buddha's insights. Why people who may regard themselves as Buddhists would give doctrinal credence and priority to the metaphysics of Western atheists puzzles me.

  2. The Truth of the Cause (Samudayasatya), that suffering is caused by desire (tr.s.n.â) and by ignorance (avidyâ), which ultimately depend on each other. This is the doctrine of Dependent Origination, discussed below. Despite rigorous attacks on the metaphysics of substance and essence, there is no critique of causality in Buddhism as there is in Western Philosophy with al-Ghazzâlî or David Hume;

  3. The Truth of Cessation (Nirodhasatya), that suffering can be ended if its causes, desire and ignorance, are removed. Again, in the Mahâyâna, we get the notion that desire can be transformed rather than abolished, which strictly speaking leaves us as part of the cycle of Dependent Origination; and

  4. The Truth of the Way (Mârgasatya), which is the Middle Way, between the extremes of asceticism and indulgence, or the Eightfold Way, which is

    1. Right Knowledge (or Views), samyagdr.s.t.i,
    2. Right Resolve, samyaksan.kalpa,
    3. Right Speech, samyagvâk,
    4. Right Conduct (or Action), samyakarma,
    5. Right Livelihood, samyagjîva,
    6. Right Effort, samyagvyâyâma,
    7. Right Mindfulness, samyaksmr.ti, and
    8. Right Meditation (or Concentration), samyaksamâdhi.

The Buddha established a monastic Order (the San.gha), with five basic Precepts: not to kill, not to steal, not to be unchaste, not to drink intoxicants, and not to lie. The monastic discipline soon involved many more rules, and the Five Precepts became simple moral injunctions that applied to the laity as well as to the monks and nuns -- until debate began about whether the Precepts needed to be observed at all. Practice and Enlightenment then lead one to Nirvân.a, , which the Buddha refused to positively characterize. Since Nirvân.a means "Extinction," do we even exist when we achieve Nirvân.a? The Buddha denied that we exist, denied that we do not exist, denied that we both exist and do not exist, and denied that we neither exist nor do not exist. This kind of answer is called the Four-Fold Negation and becomes a fundamental Buddhist philosophical principle to deal with attempts to characterize Nirvân.a or ultimate reality:  we cannot either affirm or deny anything about them.

Buddhist scriptures are called the Tripit.aka, or the "Three Baskets," consisting of the Sutrapit.aka, the Buddha's sermons, the Vinayapit.aka, the monastic rules, and the Abhidharmapit.aka, early philosophical treatises. The Buddha himself spoke the Prakrit Mâgadhî, but the oldest version of the Tripit.aka that is extant was committed to writing in Sri Lanka using the Prakrit Pâli, which had become a literary language. These texts are called the "Pâli Canon." The version of the Tripit.aka that exists in Chinese used to be regarded as derived from the Pâli Canon, but they are now both seen as based on older versions. One frequently finds Pâli terminology used in reference to Buddhism. Sanskrit sutra becomes sutta; dharma becomes dhamma; r.s.i (Hindi rishi) becomes isi; âshrama becomes assama; (King) Ashoka becomes Asoka; etc.

As I have noted, it is tempting to many to see the Buddha as essentially a philosopher and Buddhism as profoundly unlike other world religions -- perhaps not a religion at all. Since there is no God or soul in Buddhism, there is certainly a sharp contrast with religions like Judaism, Christianity, or Islâm. However, the contast is less sharp with other historical and world religions. Thus, while there is no God, there are gods in Buddhism, gods like Indra and Brahmâ who turn up as guardians of Buddhist temples. Most importantly, the sanctity of the Buddha, the "Blessed One," himself is immediately obvious. After his death, the ashes of the Buddha became relics in much the same way that we find relics of the Saints in Christianity. The form of the stupa originally served to enshrine such relics. That the Buddha may originally have been just a person is not something extraordinary in Indian religion, where in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism it is possible for ordinary human beings to become morally and spiritually superior to the gods. Especially noteworthy is the belief that in achieving Enlightenment, the Buddha acquired supernatural powers. These powers were:

  1. Psychokinesis, the power to move objects with the mind;
  2. Clairaudience, the power to hear sounds at extraordinary distances;
  3. Telepathy, the power to read the minds of others;
  4. Retrocognition, the power to know one's own previous existences;
  5. Clairvoyance, the power to see and know things at a distance; and,
  6. Knowledge of the destruction of the defiling impulses, such as would lead to Enlightenment and Nirvân.a.

These supernatural and extrasensory powers, it should be noted, do not actually add up to either omniscience or omnipotence, or even immortality -- there was debate about whether they meant that the Buddha did not need to ask directions when he entered a strange town. They are enough, however, to enable the Buddha to discover and verify the essentials of Buddhist doctrine, as well as to function in this world at a level far beyond ordinary human abilities. These may seem like modest claims in comparison to the divinities of other religions, but they are certainly rather more than what is claimed by those we would regard as merely philosophers -- or than is expected by those looking for a primarily humanistic and rationalistic religion.

The swastika is often associated with Buddhism in East Asia. It is character number 7032 in Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary [Harvard University Press, 1972, p. 1042], pronounced wàn. In a place like Japan it is often found on maps marking the location of Buddhist temples. The symbol and the name, however, both come from India. The bar at the top of the Nazi swastika points to the right. And while the Indian and Chinese swastika tends to point to the left, observers will notice that this is not always the case, even after World War II. Although the Nazi swastika seems to turn to the right, and the Buddhist to the left, in Buddhist terms it would make more sense to see the Nazi form as "left-handed," i.e. dark, violent, and transgressive (Tantric), and the common Buddhist form as "right-handed," i.e. proper, non-violent, and observant of the Precepts.

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Copyright (c) 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved


BASIC BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHICAL DOCTRINES

There are some philosophical doctrines that are so early and so fundamental to Buddhism that denials of them tend to be regarded as profoundly non-Buddhist heterodoxies. All forms of Buddhism endeavor to maintain these principles.

  1. Momentariness: Nothing exists for any length of time. There is no substance or duration to things. Each moment is an entirely new existence, which is succeeded by an entirely new existence. The only connection between one thing and the next is that one causes the next. This doctrine sounds much like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. The "things" tend to be called the dharmas in Buddhist thought.

  2. Relative Existence or No Self Nature: Nothing has a essence, nature, or character by itself. Things in isolation are shûnya, "empty." The nature of things only exists in relation to everything else that exists. Existence as we know it is thus completely relative and conditioned by everything else. Only Nirvân.a would be unconditioned, although we cannot know what it is like. The distinction between the conditioned reality that we know and the unconditioned reality that we do not know is similar to the distinction between phenomena and things-in-themselves made by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The notion that the dharmas derive their nature from everything else has led to comparison with the "monads" of another German philosopher, Leibniz. The monads also represent the whole universe. However, since the dharmas are momentary, this is actually more like the actual entities postulated by Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) in his "Process" philosophy.

    Shûnyata, "Emptiness," is easily misunderstood. It is not nothingness. Emptiness is neither existence, nor non-existence, nor both existence and non-existence, nor neither existence nor non-existence. At the very least, this means that we don't know what is left when we take away all conditioned relations. Beyond that, it can mean that we cannot know what that is. No Self Nature means that there are no essences, just as Momentariness means that there are no substances.

  3. No-Âtman: There is no Self (âtman) in Buddhism, either as an essence or as a substance. What we call our self is a collection of things, the "aggregates" (skandhas): 1) the body, or "form," 2) feelings, 3) ideas, 4) impressions, & 5) momentary consciousness. There is no enduring thing present in the aggregates. This critique of the self as just a collection is very similar to the view of the Scottish philosopher David Hume -- though without Hume's critique of causality. An implication of No-Âtman is that reincarnation cannot be transmigration, since there is nothing to migrate.

  4. No-God: There is no Brahman or any other such ultimate enduring substance or nature to reality. Nirvân.a thus cannot be characterized as realizing either Self, Brahman, or God.

  5. Dependent Origination: Everything has a cause. A momentary existence occurs as it does because of a previous momentary existence, but the cause itself is also momentary. Dependent Origination combines the doctrines of momentariness and relative existence and is why in the Second Noble Truth desire and ignorance cause each other. That relationship can be expanded:

    1. ignorance (avidyâ), causes
    2. impressions (samakâras), which cause
    3. consciousness (vijñâna), which causes
    4. mind-body (nâmarûpa), which causes
    5. the sense organs (s.ad.âyatana), which cause
    6. contact with objects (sparsha), which cause
    7. experience (vedanâ), which causes
    8. desire (tr.s.n.â), which causes
    9. clinging (upâdâna), which causes
    10. the will to be born (bhâva), which causes
    11. rebirth (jâti), which causes
    12. suffering (jarâmaran.a), which in turn causes
    13. ignorance (avidyâ).

    Nirvân.a is thus not the removal of an ultimate cause but the simultaneous removal of all causes, all of conditioned existence. The interpretation of Buddhist doctrine discussed above, that "suffering" is really more like unhappiness or dislocation, puts forward the notion that our understanding of Dependent Origination (now often called "Interdependent Arising") enables us to adjust to the world and thus live a happy and normal life. This may be a reasonable Mahâyâna or Japanese interpretation, but the point of the original teaching (the Third Noble Truth) is that Nirvân.a is to be attained by the removal of the causes of suffering, which means the entire system of causation in Dependent Origination -- to be free of the world, not adjusted to it. The normal in this world is what the Buddha wanted to avoid.

  6. Karma: Because there is no substance or duration in Buddhism, the Buddhist view of karma is different from that in Hinduism or Jainism. Karma is only causation, without the mediation of any substance (apûrva, causal body, etc.). Reincarnation thus consists in our being caused by something in the past, and our karma is simply the effect now of past actions.

In the history of Buddhist philosophy, these doctrines created some difficulties. If there is no self, then what is it that attains enlightenment or Nirvân.a? It is not me, for I am already gone in an instant; and if it is not me, then why bother? Also, if there is no enduring self, then the rewards and punishments of karma are visited on different beings than those who merited them. Why do I, instead of someone else, deserve the karma of some past existence? The Buddha himself probably would have been irritated with the doctrines that created these difficulties, since he rejected theorizing (it did not "tend to edification"), and he would have expected no less than that such theories would lead to tangled and merely theoretical disputes.

The important philosophical lesson of these difficulties, however, is whether the concept of causality (which is accepted with none of the skepticism visited upon substance and essence) can be used as a substitute for the concept of substance. In all honesty, no. Something rather like the Buddhist position, however, can be formulated by Kant, for whom the concept of substance applies to phenomena but has only uncertain meaning when applied to things-in-themselves. Phenomena are only "provisional existence" to Buddhism, and the Buddhist doctrine of no enduring Self could easily be adapted to the Kantian transcendent.

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STAGES IN THE HISTORY OF BUDDHISM

The history of Buddhism in India, which lasted about 1500 years, can be divided into 500 year periods, during which distinctive forms of Buddhism emerged. This is an idealized and schematic picture, but it is convenient, and it can be matched up with where Buddhism spread during these periods and what forms of Buddhism became dominant there.

Buddhist doctrine and practice in the earliest period were agreed upon in a series of Councils, sometimes reckoned to be three, or four.

  1. The First Council was held shortly after the Buddha's death, at Rajagriha (capital of the Kingdom of Magadha). Issues about the conduct of the Sangha, the monastic community, in the absence of the Buddha appear to have been settled.

  2. The Second Council was held about a century after the Buddha's death, at Vaisali (under Magadhan control). Sometimes this is considered the First Council, or is confused with the previous one. It began to agree on the content of the Buddhist Canon and on the monastic discipline, the vinaya.

  3. The Third Council was called by the Emperor Ashoka and held at Pataliputra. The content of the Pâli Tripit.aka, "Three Baskets," is supposed to have been settled at this Council, or thereabouts in this period, consisting of the Sutra-pit.aka [Sutta in Pâli], the sermons of the Buddha, the Vinaya-pitaka, the monastic discipline, and the Abhidharma-pitaka [dharma is dhamma in Pâli], the philosophical development of Buddhist doctrine. Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka (Ceylon) as the result of Ashoka's own efforts, and the Canon in Pâli was preserved there.

  4. The Fourth Council was called under the Emperor Kanishka I and held at Jalandhara (or Purushpura, Peshawar, Kanishka's capital). This is not attested in Pâli sources, and so one often hears that there were only three Councils. The Council is supposed to have supervised the translation of the Tripit.aka into Sanskrit. The Canon apparently had not only existed in Pâli, but in other Prakrits, which were all consulted for a standard Sanskrit version. It appears to be the Sanskrit texts that were subsequently spread to China. The sutras of the Mahâyâna may have existed only in Sanskrit from the beginning.

Theravâda ("Teaching of the Elders") Buddhism (called "Hînayâna," the "Lesser Vehicle," by the Mahâyâna): In India, 5th century BC to 1st century AD.

Mahâyâna ("Great Vehicle") Buddhism: In India, 1st century AD to 6th century.


Vajrayâna ("Thunderbolt Vehicle") Buddhism: In India, 6th to 11th century.

The end of Buddhism in India. Buddhism may have died out in India in the 11th century because: 1) It had become almost indistinguishable from the Tantric forms of Hinduism. Sophisticated Buddhist doctrine did not appeal to most people, and the actual practices and iconography of Vajrayâna could easily be assimilated into Hinduism. And, 2) Islâm arrived in earnest in India with the Afghan prince Mah.mûd of Ghazna, who defeated a coalition of Hindu princes in 1008 and soon annexed the Punjâb. As Buddhism was persecuted, conversions to Islâm increased, and Buddhism declined. By the time the British arrived, about 25% of India was Moslem. That ultimately led to the partition of the country into India and Pakistan. The Gautama Buddha himself has ended up being regarded as the 9th Incarnation (Avatar) of the great Hindu God Vis.n.u, although the unflattering take on it is that he deliberately taught a false doctrine (i.e. Buddhism) in order to deceive and destroy demons.

The Final Dharma Age

Another way of dividing the history of Buddhism emerged in the Buddhist tradition as a way of dealing with the prediction of the Buddha himself that the Dharma would only last 500 years. This became a matter of concern in China, where Buddhism did not even become established until nearly 1000 years after the time of the Buddha. Indeed, there was uncertainty about when the time of the Buddha had been, but soon enough it was obvious that far more than 500 years had passed. The doctrine that was formulated in response to this we find in K'uei-chi (Tz'u-en, 632-682), founder of the Fa-hsien school early in the T'ang Dynasty, in his I-lin-chang, "The Grove of Meanings." There we find a division into three periods based on the existence of Buddhist teaching, Buddhist practice, and Buddhist "proof," i.e. results -- supernatural powers and Nirvân.a:

While many Buddhists now no longer worry about the problem of the fading Dharma, there is no denying the statement of the Buddha, or the role that dealing with this has played in the history of Buddhism.

Ceylon, Kings of Lanka & Kandy

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The Himalayan Realms,
Nepal, Bhutan, & Sikkim

NEPAL
Licchavi Dynasty
Jayavarma (Jayadeva)c.185 AD
Varsavarma 
Kuberavarma
Harivarma
Siddhivarma
Haridattavarma
Vasudattavarma (Vasuraja)
Sripativarma
Sivavrdhivarma
Vasantavarma
Supuspavarma
Visvadeva (Vrshadeva)c.400 AD
Sankaradevac.425 AD
Dharmadevac.450
Manadeva Ic.464-505
Mahideva505-506
Vasantadeva506-532
Manudeva 
Vamanadevac.538
Ramadevac.545
Amaradeva 
Gunakamadeva
Ganadeva560-565
?
Gangadeva567-573
Bhaumaguptaregent?
567-590?
Manadeva IIc.575
Sivadeva I590-604
Amsuvarma605-621
Uayadevac.621
Dhruvadeva624-625
?
Bhimarjunadeva (Jisnugupta)631-633
Visnuguptac.633
Bhimarjunadeva640-641
?
Narendradeva643-679
?
Sivadeva II694-705
?
Jayadeva II713-733
?
Sankaradeva II748-749
Manadeva IIIc.756
?
Baliraja (Balarjunadeva)c.826
Baladevac.847
Manadeva IVc.877
Raghavadeva Dynasty
Raghavadevac.879
Jayadeva 
Vikramadeva
Narendradeva I
Gunakamadeva I
Udayadeva
Nirbhayadevac.1008
Rudradeva Ic.1008-c.1015
Bhojac.1015
Lakshmikamadeva Ic.1015-c.1039
Jayakamadevac.1039-1046
Thakuri Dynasty
Bhaskaradeva1046-1059
Baladeva1059-1064
Pradyumnakamadeva1064-?
Nagfarjunadeva?-1068
Shankaradeva1068-1080
Vamadeva1080-1090
Harshadeva1090-1118
Shivadeva1118-1128
Indradeva1128-?
Manadevac.1130's?
Narendradeva II?-1146
Anandadeva1146-?
Rudradeva II?-1176
Amritadeva1176-?
Ratnadevac.1180's?
Somesvaradeva?-1187
Gunakamadeva II1187-1193
Lakshmikamadeva II1193-1196
Vijayakamadeva1196-1201
Malla Dynasty
Arimalladeva1201-c.1216
Ranasurac.1216
Abhayamallac.1216-c.1235
Jayadevamallac.1235-c.1258
Jayabhimadevac.1258-c.1271
Jayasimhamallac.1271-c.1274
Anantamallac.1274-c.1310
Jayanandadevac.1310-c.1347
Jayarudramallac.1320-c.1326
Jayarimallac.1320-c.1344
Jayarajadevac.1347-c.1361
Jayarjunamallac.1361-c.1382
Jayasthitimallac.1382-c.1395
Jayadharmamallac.1395-c.1408
Jayakitimallac.1395-c.1403
Jayajyotimallac.1395-c.1428
Jaya Yaksha Mallac.1428-c.1482
Nepal divided into Bhatgaon, Katmandu, & Patan, and later Gurkha
State of Katmandu, Malla Dynasty
Ramamallac.1482-c.1520
Suryamallac.1520-c.1530
Amaramallac.1530-c.1538
Narendramallac.1538-c.1560
Mahendramallac.1560-c.1574
Sadashivamallac.1574-c.1583
Shivasimhamallac.1578-c.1620
Lakshminarasimhamallac.1620-c.1641
Pratapamallac.1641-c.1674
Jayanripendramallac.1674-c.1680
Parthivendramallac.1680-c.1687
Bhupendramallac.1687-c.1700
Bhaskaramallac.1700-c.1714
Mahendrasimhamallac.1714-1722
Jagajjayamalla1722-1736
Jayaprakasamalla1736-1768
Annexed by Gurkha
State of Gurkha, Kingdom of Nepal
Prithvi Narayan Shah/Pati1669-1716
Narabhpati1716-1742
Prithvi Barayana1742-1768
King of Nepal,
1768-1774
Prithvi Narayana1768-1774
Pratapa Simha1774-1777
Rana Bahadur1777-1799
War with China and Tibet, 1788–1792
Girvan Yuddha Bikram1799-1816
War with the Sikh Punjab, 1809; with British India, 1814-16; dominance of the Thapa family, 1806–37
Rajendra Bikram1816-1847
dominance by the Rana family, 1846-1951
Surendra Bikram1847-1881
War with China, 1854-1856; British Protectorate, 1860
Prithvi Bir Bikram1881-1911
Tribhuvana Bir Bikram1911-1950,
1951-1955
Gyanendra Bir Bikram1950-1951
Rana family deposed, Royal sovereignty restored, 1950-1951
Mahendra Bir Bikram1955-1972
Birendra Bir Bikram1972-2001
killed in coup by Crown Prince
Dipendra Bir Bikram2001
massacred Royal family, suicide
Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shahrestored,
2001-2008
dismissed the government, Feb. 1, 2005, assumed autocratic rule, alliance with China; Communist-Maoism insurgency, 1996-2005; monarchy abolished, 2008

On the southern slopes of the Himalayas are a chain of three states with similar and related histories. In order of size, they are Nepal, the largest, then Bhutan, and Sikkim. The size also gives the history of their degrees of sovereignty. Nepal, warring with Tibet, India, and Britain, was the least compromised in sovereignty and is now completely independent. Bhutan in turn became the vassal and protectorate of China, Britain, and modern India. Sikkim was more or less ruled by Britain as one of the Princely States of India. Although it did not join India in 1947 like other Princely States, eventually, in 1975, it was annexed to India. This was approved by popular vote, but India had great strategic interest in the place, since it fronts on Tibet, which was conquered by China in 1950. Since the Chinese subsequently attacked India and sought to resolve border disputes by force, this has remained a matter of concern for India.

Besides its size and independence, Nepal also has the longest history of the states. The Buddha supposed to have been born in its territory; and although about 76% Hindu, the country still contains a 20% Buddhist minority. Nepalese history begins with the Licchavi Dynasty, which may have been an offshoot of the Kushan rule of northern India. Unlike Bhutan and Sikkim, Nepal has been strong enough to retain territory down into the Gangetic plain. The official language of Nepal is Nepali, which is in the Pahari group of the Indic language family. This was brought to Nepal late in its history by the Gurkhas. There are surviving Tibeto-Burman languages in the country, and these now have influenced Nepali.

Under the Malla dynasty the country became fragmented. At the death of Jaya Yaksha Malla in 1482, a division was made between this sons. This resulted in separate states of Bhatgaon, Katmandu, & Patan. The rulers of Katmandu are in the main list at left. Those of Bhatgaon are listed separately below. This division weakened the country enough that control was lost over outer areas and further fragmentation occurred. By 1669, one of these new states, of the Gurkhas, brought the whole country together under its rule. This ushered in the modern era of Nepalese history.

Limitations of Nepalese sovereignty were due to clashes with Britain. A proper war with Britain in 1814-1816 ultimately led to a treaty in 1860. The British were impressed enough with Gurkha fighting that part of the treaty allowed them to recruit Gurkhas into the British Army, where they often distinguished themselves, as in Burma in World War II. This arragement continued long after the end of the British dominion in India. Gurkhas were still fighting for the British in the Falklands War of 1982.

Another ethnic group in Nepal are the Sherpas. Living in the mountains, where these are the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas, the Sherpas are used to the terrain and the altitude. Thus, attempts on Mt. Everest, at 29,035 ft., relied on Sherpa guides. When Edmund Hillary (b.1919) first reached the peak of Everest on 29 May 1953, he was accomplanied by the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (1914–1986). At the time, the Nepalese were only allowing one expedition up Everest a year. These days it has grown into a rather large business. In 1993, 129 people reached the summit of Everest; 8 died. In 1996, 98 reached the summit; and 15 died. More than 150 have died on the mountain, and 120 bodies of climbers remain there, freeze-dried by the wayside -- perhaps pour encourager les autres. Although Nepal was never a proper part of British India, Everest nevertheless was named, in 1865, after Sir George Everest, the British surveyor-general of India, 1830–1843. The mountain is Sagarmatha ("goddess of the sky") in Nepali and Chomolungma ("mother goddess of the universe") in Tibetan. George Everest himself argued that the mountain should be recognized by a local name. Of course, the locals did not know the height of the mountain, or its preeminence, until Everest's survey.

The power of the Nepalse monarchy came to be compromised by noble families, the Thapas and then the Ranas. This continued until 1950, when the Ranas were deposed and the power the monarchy reestablished. The monarchy, indeed, has often been an absolute one. Nepal, indeeed, has had great difficulties adjusting to modernity, both politically and economically. As of 2004, 81% of the work force was in agriculture, and literacy was only 45.2%. As with other politically backward and economically underdeveloped places, Nepal has been diverted by confused ideologies. Thus, governments have often included Communists, and since 1996 there has been a guerilla war carried on by Maoist rebels. In 2001, the King and other Royal family members were killed by the Crown Prince, who himself then (reportedly) died of suicide. The current King, his brother, dismissed the government in 2005, suspended civil rights, and assumed personal rule. This earned the displeasure of India and Western countries that gave aid to Nepal, and the King then turned to China. Since the Chinese seem to have gotten the Maoists to stand down, one wonders if the whole business may have been their doing in the first place. None of this does Nepalese life much good, where a growing population but traditional life has tended to deforest the mountains for firewood. Without enough of an economy to develop more modern sources of energy, conflict and poverty would seem to necessarily follow.

State of Bhatgaon/Bhaktpur, Malla Dynasty
Rayamallac.1482-c.1519
Pranamallac.1519-c.1547
Vishvamallac.1547-c.1560
Trailokyamallac.1560-c.1613
Jagatjyotimallac.1613-c.1637
Naresamallac.1637-c.1644
Jagatprakasamallac.1644-c.1673
Jitamitramallac.1673-c.1696
Bhupatiindramallac.1696-1722
Ranjitamalla1722-1769
Annexed to Gurkha

The monarchy of Bhutan was founded by a Tibetan monk of the Drukpa subsect of the Kargyupa sect. This priest king of the country (an Indian Dharma Raja), like the ruling lamas of Tibet, was chosen as a child, supposedly the reincarnation of the previous king. Such a system made for very long minorities. The system of regents for minor kings soon grew into the equivalent of a secular monarchy (the Deb Raja). The table of sacred kings is thus followed by that of the regents.

Kingdom of Bhutan
Kings, Shabdrun Thuktrul
or Dharma Raja
Ngawang Namgyal1616-1651
Pekar Jungney1651-1680
?1680-1698
Kunga Gyaltshen1698-1712,
d.1713
Phyogla Namgyal1712-1730,
d.1736
Jigme Norbu1730-1735
Mipham Wangpo1735-1738
Jigme Dragpa I1738-1761
Choeki Gyaltshen1762-1788
vacant
Jigme Dragpa II1791-1830
Jigme Norbu1831-1861
Jigme Chogyal1862-1904
Jigme Dorji1905-1931
no reincarnation found, end of line

Regents, Druk Desi or Deb Raja
Tenzin Drugyel1651-1655
??
Gedun Chomphel1695-1701
Ngawang Tshering1701-1704
Umdze Peljor1704-1707
Druk Rabgye1707-1719,
d.c.1729
Ngawang Gyamtsho1719-1729
Chinese suzerainty, 1720; British intervention, 1772–1773
Mipham Wangpo1729-1736
Khuwo Peljor1736-1739
Ngawang Gyaltshen1739-1744
Sherab Wangchuk1744-1763
Druk Phuntsho1763-1765
Druk Tendzin I1765-1768
Donam Lhundub1768-1773
Kunga Rinchen1773-1776
Jigme Singye1776-1788
Druk Tendzin II1788-1792
Tashi Namgyal1792-1799,
1803-1805
Druk Namgyal1799-1803
Sangye Tendzin1805-1806
Umdze Parpop1806-1808
Bop Choda1807-1808
Tsulthrim Drayga1809-1810,
d.1820
Jigme Dragpa II1810-1811
Yeshey Gyaltshen1811-1815,
d.1830
Tshaphu Dorji1815
Sonam Drugyal1815-1819
Tendzin Drugdra1819-1823
Choki Gyaltshen1823-1831,
1835-1838
Dorji Namgyal1831-1832
Adap Thrinley1832-1835
Dorji Norbu1838-1847
Tashi Dorji1847-1850
Wangchuk Gyalpo1850
Jigme Norbu (at Thimphu)1850-1852
Chagpa Sangye (at Punakha)1851-1852
Damcho Lhundrup1852-1856
Kunga Palden (at Punakha)1856-1861
Sherab Tharchin (at Thimphu)1856-1861
Phuntsho Namgyal1861-1864
Tshewang Sithub1864,
1864-1866
Tsulthrim Yonten1864
Kagyu Wangchuk1864
British intervention, 1864-1865
Tsondru Pekar1866-1870
Jigme Namgyal1870-1873,
1877-1878,
1880-1881
Kitsep Dorji Namgyal1873-1877,
1878-1879
Chogyal Zangpo1879-1880
Lam Tshewang1881-1883
Gawa Zangpo1883-1885
Sangye Dorji1885-1901
vacant
Choley Yeshe Ngodub1903-1905,
d.1917

 
By the 19th century, the regents were losing control of the countryside. Local governors (penlop) and military commanders (jungpen) were becoming autonomous. In 1907, the Penlop of Tongsa ended the old system and created secular monarchy. The last Dharma Raja then died in 1931.

Kingdom of Bhutan,
Tongsa Dynasty
Ugyen Wangchuck1907-1926
British Protectorate, 1910
Jigme Wangchuck1926-1952
Protectorate of India, 1949
Jigme Dorji Wangchuck1952-1972
Jigme Singhi Wangchuck1972-
Bhutan remains 75% Tibetan Buddhist (officially -- this may be inflated for political reasons). Its official language, Dzongkha, is cognate to Tibetan. With the occupation (in 1950) and colonization of Tibet itself by China, Bhutan thus remains the purest example of an independent culturally, religiously, and linguistically Tibetan state. As it had been with the British, however, Bhutan is in many ways a Protectorate of India, especially for defense. Bhutan did join the United Nations in 1971. It has also experienced ethnic strife, with the Hindu Nepalese minority, over attempts to enforce Buddhism as a state religion. Many Nepalese have fled to Nepal, creating a point of friction between Bhutan and that country.

Sikkim
Phuntsog NamgyalChogyal,
1642-1670
Tensung Namgyal1670-1686
Chador Namgyal1686-1717
deposed by Bhutanese, 1700, restored by Tibetans, 1710
Gyurmed Namgyal1717-1733
Namgyal Namgyal1733-1780
Tenzing Namgyal1780-1793
Tsugphud Namgyal1793-1863
Sidkeong Namgyal I1863-1874
Thutob Namgyal1874-1914
Sidkeong Namgyal II1914
Tashi Namgyal1914-1963
Palden Thondup Namgyal1963-1975
Annexed by India, 1975
Sikkim, like Bhutan, was established by rulers from Tibet. The Namgyal Dynasty, however, does not seem to have originated from monks, and Sikkim was not a theocratic state like Tibet or Bhutan. Losing territory to Nepal, the position of Sikkim was restored by the British when they defeated Nepal in 1816. But this also brought Sikkim under British protection. The Lowland parts of the country were annexed to British India in 1849. A treaty with Britain in 1861 effectively made Sikkim one of the Princely States of India, and Britain began handling its external relations. In 1890, Tibet agreed to a border and ceded to Britain any rights over Sikkim. A British resident was appointed, who, as in other Princely States, often seemed little less than the de facto Governor of the country. Although several languages are spoken in Sikkim, including Nepali, Hindi, and English, the one known as "Sikkimese" (or Bhutia or Dranjongke) is a cognate of Tibetan, like Dzongkha in Bhutan. However, two thirds of the population are Nepalese, and Hindu, which led to a fate for the realm that Bhutan evidently wants to avoid.

Unlike other Princely States of India, Sikkim retained its autonomy, by popular vote, when India became independent in 1947. However, the subordinate relationship to India continued, with India retaining also some supervision over Sikkimese government. This culminated in 1975, when a referendum assented to annexation by India and the end of the monarchy. India had already occupied the country, which thus became a State of India.

The tables here are derived almost completely from the invaluable Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies, with some details from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Wikipedia, and some other internet and print sources.

Culmen Mundi

Philosophy of History

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Copyright (c) 2007, 2008 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Culmen Mundi,
the Roof of the World


Most people think of the Himalayas, on the border between Tibet and India and Nepal, as the "Roof of the World" (which would be Culmen Mundi in Latin), since Mt. Everest, at 29,035 ft., is the highest mountain in the world. There was no easy route across the Himalayas, however, so the term actually originates in Persian (Bâm-e Donyâ) to refer to those ranges that were more familiar to travellers. This especially meant the Pamirs, which are very nearly the center from which the other ranges radiate, and the focus of overland travel to and from India:

The Silk Road route from the Middle East to China mainly went through the Tarim Basin, either on the north side, below the Tian Shan, or the south side, above the Kunlun. The center of the Basin, the Taklimakan Desert, is waterless, uninhabited, and, really, uninhabitable. There was also a route north of the Tian Shan. That was a bit further, but the Dzungaria Basin, which I've heard described as a "sage brush and jack rabbit desert," is not as lifeless as the Taklimakan. Today, the through rail line and the larger cities (like Ürümqi) are on the north side on the Tian Shan. All this is now in the Chinese territory of Sinkiang [Xinjiang]. The passes trough the Pamirs are so high, that familiar pack animals like horses and mules simply die. Only yaks are adapted to the altitude. But then yaks can't live at lower altitudes. Every caravan (from Perisan kârvân), consequently, must begin down below with one kind of animal and then change over to yaks, and then back again once over the mountains. Perhaps the most famous Silk Road site, the caves full of Buddhist art and manuscripts at Dunhuang, is just north of the Nanshan ranges, still in the Chinese province of Kansu [Gansu].

Following Central Asia, the Andes have the highest peaks, culminating in Aconcagua at 22,834 ft. North America comes next, with Mt. McKinley at 20,320 ft. Then Africa, with Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19,340 ft. The Culmen Europae, the highest range in Europe, are the Caucasus mountains, whose highest peak is Mt. Elbrus (18,510 ft.). This is far from the population, historical, and cultural center of Europe. The Culmen Franciae is in the Alps, whose highest peak is Mt. Blanc at 15,771 ft. This lay in the historic Kingdom of Burgundy but is now on the border between France and Italy.

Just to round things off, the highest peak in Antarctica is the Vinson Massif, at 16,864 ft. The highest peak in the remaining continent, Australia, is Mt. Kosciusko at only 7,310 ft. This is beat on two nearby islands, Mt. Jaya on New Guinea, at 16,500 ft., and Mt. Cook in New Zealand, at 12,349 ft. However, the highest peak in Polynesia is Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawai'i, at 13,796 ft. Measured from base to summit, Mauna Kea is itself actually the tallest mountain in the world. Mt. Everest is at the edge of the 10,000 foot Tibetan Plateau, meaning that it only rises about 19,000 feet. Mauna Kea, however, rises directly from the sea floor, which is at least 15,000 feet (three miles) down. Base to summit, Mauna Kea is at least 5.6 miles, or 29,568 ft. high (or perhaps as much as 33,000 feet, depending on the reference depth -- sea level certainly makes this kind of thing easier).

The Himalayan Realms, Nepal, Bhutan & Sikkim

Culmen Europae

Culmen Franciae

Return to Buddhism, Mahayana text

History of Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy

History of Philosophy

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Copyright (c) 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Ceylon, Kings of Lanka & Kandy,
Portuguese, Dutch, & British Governors

Kings of Lanka
VIJAYA, Tambapanni
Vijayac.544-c.505 BC
Vijitapura
Upatissaregent, c.505-c.504
Panduvasdevac.504-c.474
Abhayac.474-c.454
Tissaregent, 454
Anuradhapura
Pandukabhayac.437-c.367
Mutasivac.367-c.307
Devanampiya Tissa307-267,
250-210
converts to Buddhism
Uttiya267-257?
Mahasiva257-247?
Suratissa247-237?
Tamils
Sena237-215
Gutthika237-215
Anuradhapura
Asela215-205
Tamils
Elara205-161
Ruhana
Dutthagamani161-137
slaughters Damilas (Tamils)
Saddha Tissa137-119
Thulatthana119
Lanja Tissa119-109
Khallata Naga109-104/3
Vattagamani Abhaya104/3, d.77
Five Dravidians
Pulahatta104-100?
Bahiya100-98?
Panya Mara98-91
Pilaya Mara91
Dathika91-88
Anuradhapura
Vattagamani Abhaya, Valagambahu Irestored, 89/88-77/76
Mahaculi Mahatissa76-62
Coronaga62-50
Tissa50-47
Siva I47
Vatuka47
Darubhatika Tissa47
Niliya47
Anula 47-42
Kutakanna Tissa41-19
Bhatika Abhaya19 BC-9 AD
Mahadathika Mahanaga9-21
Amanda-Gamani Abhiya22-31
Kanirajanu Tissa31-34
Culabhaya34-35
Sivali 35
Ilanaga35-44
Candamukha Siva44-52
Yasalalaka Tissa52-59
Sabha59-65
Lambakanna
Vasabha65-109
Vankanasika Tissa109-112
Gajabâhu112-134
Mahallaka Naga134-140
Bhatika Tissa140-164
Kanittha Tissa164-192, or 164-183
Khujjanaga192-194, or 194-195
Kunganaga, Kunchanaga194-195, or 185-186
Sirinaga I195-214, or 186-205
Voharika Tissa214-236, or 205-227
Abhayanaga236-244, or 227-235
Sirinaga II244-246, or 235-237
Vijaya-Kumara246-247, or 237
Samghatissa I247-251, or 238-242
Srisamghabodhi251-253, or 242-244
Gothabhaya253-266, or 244-257
interregnum?, 257-267
Jettha Tissa I266-276
Mahasena276-303
Srimeghavanna303-331
Jettha Tissa II331-340
Buddhadasa340-368
Upatissa I368-410
Mahanama410-432
Chattagahaka Jantu432
Mittasena432
Six Dravidians, of Pandya, 432-459
Pandu428-432?
Parindu433
Khudda Parinda433-449
Tiritara449
Dathiya449-452
Pithiya452
Moriya
Dhatusena459-477
Kassapa I, Kasyapa the Usurper477-495
Moggallana I495-512
Kumara-Dhatusena512-520
Kittisena520-521
Siva II521
Upatissa II522
Silakala Ambosamanera522-535
Dathappabhuti535
Moggallana II535-555
Kittisrimegha555-573
Mahanaga573-575
Aggabodhi I575-608
Aggabodhi II608-618
Samgha Tissa II618
Moggallana III618-623
Silameghavanna623-632
Aggabodhi III Sirisanghabodhi632, 633-643, 643
Jettha Tissa III632-633
Dathopa Tissa I Hatthadpatha I643, 643-650
Kassapa II650-659
Dappula I659
Dathopa Tissa II659-667
Aggabodhi IV667-683
Datta683-684
Hatthadpatha II684
Lambakanna
Manavamma684-718
Aggabodhi V718-724
Kassapa III724-730
Mahinda I730-733
Aggabodhi VI733-772
Aggabodhi VII772-777
Mahinda II Silamegha777-797
Udaya I (Dappula II)797-801
Mahinda III801-804
Aggabodhi VIII804-815
Dappula II (III)815-831
Aggabodhi IX831-833
Sena I833-853
Sena II853-887
Udaya II887-898
Kassapa IV898-914
Kassapa V914-923
Dappula III (IV)923-924
Dappula IV (V)924-935
Udaya III (II)935-938
Sena III938-946
Udaya IV (III)946-954
Sena IV954-956
Mahinda IV956-972
Sena V972-982
Mahinda V982-993,
Ruhana, 993-c.1007, d.1029
Tamils, Chola
Rajaraja I Chola993-1012
Rajendra I Choladeva1012-1044
Rajadiraja I Chola1044-1054
Rajarata
Kassapa VI, Vikramabahuc.1019-c.1031
Mahalana Kittic.1031-c.1034
Vikkama Panduc.1034-c.1035
Jagatipalac.1035-c.1039
Pârakkama Pandu?c.1039
Lokac.1039-c.1045
Kassapa VIIc.1045
Polonnaruwa
Vijayabâhu I1055/1070-
1100
Jayabâhu I1100-1111
Vikramabâhu I1111-1132
Gajabâhu1132-1153
Parâkramabâhu I the Great1153-1186
Vijayabâhu II1186-1187
Mahinda1187
Kalinga
Nissanka Malla1187-1196
Vikramabâhu II1196
Codaganga1196-1197
Lilavati 1197-1200, 1209-1210, 1211-1212
Sahassamalla1200-1202
Kalyanavati 1202-1208
Dharmashoka1208
Anikanga Mahadipada1209
Lokesvara1210-1211
Pandya
Parakrama Pandu1212-1215
Kalinga
Magha1215-1232
Dambadeniya
Vijayabahu III1220-1234, 1232-1236
Parâkramabâhu II1234-1267, 1236-1270
Vijayabâhu IV1267-1270, 1270-1272
Yapahuwa
Bhuvanaikabâhu I1272-1284
vacant, 1285-1286
Polonnaruwa
Parakramabâhu III1287-1293
Kurunagala
Bhuvanaikabâhu II1293-1302
Parakramabâhu IV1302-1326
Bhuvanaikabâhu III1326-1335
Vijayabâhu V1335-1341
Bhuvanaikabâhu IV1341-1351
Gambola, Dedigama
Parakramabâhu V1344-1357
Gambola
Vikramabâhu III1357-1374
Bhuvanaikabâhu V1372-1408
Raigama
Vira Bâhu1392-1397
Vira Alakeshvara1397-1411
captured by Chinese Admiral
Zheng He, 1411
Kahavelageshvara1418-1423
Kotte
Parakramabâhu VI1408/1412-
1467
Jayabâhu II1467-1469
Bhuvanaikabâhu VIJaffna, 1450-1467
1470-1478
Parakramabâhu VII1478-1484
Parakramabâhu VIII1484-1508
Vijayabâhu VI1508-1521
Bhuvanaikabâhu VII1508-1551, 1521-1543
Dom Joaõ Dharmapala1543/1551-
1557,
Portuguese client, 1557-1597
The island nation of Ceylon is now, since 1972, generally known as Sri Lanka. While both names are of Indian origin, the name change was a political decision that reflects the ethnic conflict that has convulsed the place since 1956. In Sanskrit, the island is Simhala, , or Simhala-dvîpa, , i.e. the "island" of Simhala. This appears to be from the Sanksrit word for "lion," simha, (or singha, , from which Singhala, , is an alternative name for the island). The word is still used, as Sinhala, for the language, Sinhalese, and the identity of the historic and largest ethnic group on the island. Simhala-dvîpa is apparently the origin of the words for the Ceylonese used by the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, Serandives, and for Ceylon by the Greek sailor
Cosmas Indicopleustes, , Sielediba. Since Greek doesn't have an intervocalic "h," it is not surprising that sound has disappeared in many of the derivatives. These words then look related to the Arabic word for Ceylon, Sarandib, which gets rendered into English as "Serendip" (e.g. "serendipity"). "Ceylon" itself, like Latin Selan and related words in European languages, looks to derive from either "Seran" or "Sielen."

Sri Lanka is also from Sanskrit, Shrî Lankâ, , where shrî, , is simply an honorific prefix, while Lankâ, , is the name of the island in the great epic, the Ramayana. This is not entirely a positive association, since Lanka is ruled by the Râkshasa Demons and their King Râvana. Râvana kidnaps Sîtâ, the wife of King Râma, an incarnation of the God Vishnu. Râma leads an army, including monkeys led by Hanuman, to Lanka, defeats the demons, kills Râvana, and recovers Sîtâ.

The demons, however, are not supposed to be the ancestors of modern Ceylonese. According to the Mahâvamsa chronicle, the island was conquered by the Aryan Vijaya, who called the place Tâmra-dvîpa ("Copper Island") or Tâmraparnî -- Tambapanni in Pâli:  This name turns up in Greek as Taprobanê. Indeed, the Sinhalese language is an Indo-European language of Indic group, unrelated to the older languages of South India (the Dravidian) and Southeast Asia. This attests to its introduction from the North of India, and the assimilation, at least, of the original inhabitants of Ceylon. Vijaya, however, is not otherwise a historical figure, and its is likely that his story, and that of the continuation of the dynasty by his nephew Upatissgama, is largely legendary.

The first historical King of Ceylon would be Devanampiya Tissa, who converted to Buddhism. This conversion was effected by Mahinda and his sister Sanghamitta, children of the Maurya Emperor Ashoka, who are supposed to have flown to Ceylon on their mission. Although this should enable us to date Devanampiya Tissa with some precision, I nevertheless find conflicting dates for him, either 307-267 BC or 250-210. The latter looks more like it, since Ashoka is now dated to 269-232 BC. An earlier date for Ashoka runs into the problem that his grandfather Chandragupta apparently met Alexander the Great, who can be dated with certainty, and that we know of the Hellenistic contemporaries whose conversion to Buddhism was solicited by Ashoka.

The Chronicles of Lanka thus preserve some of the earliest information about Buddhism. Indeed, the life of the Buddha is usually dated using the Chronicle statement that 218 years had elapsed between the death of the Buddha and the reign of Ashoka. This is the source of the conventionally given dates for the life of the Buddha as 563-483 BC, though I get 487 for his death adding 218 to 269 BC -- we evidently have some small disagreements remaining about when Ashoka ascended the throne (I also see 274 as the date, which is even worse). The Chronicle figure of 218 years, however, has been questioned. To cover 218 years the tradition only lists five kings and five masters of the Buddhist vinaya, the monastic discipline. This would imply reigns averaging 44 years each, which is not impossible but otherwise seems unlikely for the era (see the similar problem for Egypt's Dynasty II). As discussed by Hirakawa Akira (A History of Indian Buddhism, From Shâkyamuni to Early Mahâyâna, translated by Paul Groner, U. of Hawaii Press, 1990, pp.22-23), northern traditions allow only 116 years from the Buddha to Ashoka. This requires only 23 years for the reigns and the masters, putting the life of the Buddha at 466-386 BC. This would seem generally more consistent with the evidence, such as it is, but the topic is one of endless dispute. That the earlier date is usually given is a tribute to the prestige of the Lanka tradition in Buddhist scholarship and history. This is understandable given the preservation of the Pâli Canon in Ceylon and the attention that this attracted from 19th century Buddhologists.

Following Devanampiya Tissa there is an obscure period, including a time of rule from the mainland of South India. This area was the Tamil homeland, grew into the later Chola empire, and was in different eras the source of conquest and migration to Ceylon. Considering the recent history of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, we certainly get off to a bad start when the Sinhalese King Dutthagamani emerges from the shadows of history. With a relic of the Buddha on his spear, Dutthagamani defeats and slaughters the Tamils. The King feels that he has sinned with such killing and says to the monks sent to reassure him, "How shall there be any comfort for me, O venerable sirs, since by me was caused the slaughter of a great host numbering millions?" The answer seems to be an extraordinary statement, coming from Buddhists (indeed, according to the text, actual Arhats, those who have achieved Enlightenment):

From this deed arises no hindrance in thy way to heaven. Only one and a half human beings have been slain here by thee, O lord of men. The one had come unto the (three) refuges, the other had taken on himself the five precepts. Unbelievers and men of evil life were the rest, not more to be esteemed than beasts. But as for thee, thou wilt bring glory to the doctrine of the Buddha in manifold ways; therefore cast away care from thy heart, O ruler of men! (from the Mahavamsa, Chapter XXV)

We thus discover that even Buddhists sometimes regarded Unbelievers as inhuman.

Over the next centuries, we get episodes of rule from the mainland. The Lambakanna dynasty, which begins in 65 AD, is overthrown by the Dravidian Pandyans in 432; but Sinhalese rule is restored by the Moriya dynasty in 459. The Tamils return in 993, briefly created the Chola empire that stretches to Indonesia. Vijayabâhu of the Polonnaruwa dynasty expells them in 1070. The Cholas had not gone undisputed, however, since most of their rule was contemporaneous with a line of kings at Rajarata. The Kalinga dynasty follows in 1187, but after Nissanka Malla (1187–1196), the state weakens and before long the country begins to fragment. One noteworthy fragment is Jaffna, a Tamil state, of the "Arya Chakravarthi" kings, in the north. I have not listed the kings, in part because I find two different lists which vary substantially in names and dates. One dates the beginning of Jaffna to 1210, the other to 1240. Either way, by 1461, the state is under the control of Portugal; and the line of kings ends, either in 1615 or 1620, replaced by direct Portuguese rule.

Curiously, the Portuguese were not the first voyagers to arrive from great distances in ocean going craft. The Chinese had beat them. The great expeditions of the Ming Dynasty, led by Zheng He, called at Ceylon. The third expedition (1409-1411) had the greatest impact there. The ruler of Raigama, Vira Alakeshvara, was defeated, made a captive, and taken back to China. This was the strongest political and military intervention during any of the Chinese voyages. The Yung-lo Emperor (1402-1424), however, was not bent on conquest and returned Vira Alakesvara to Ceylon. It is not clear, however, if he was able to return to power.

The Chinese, as it happens, did not stay long. The last of the expeditions returned to China in 1433. The experience testifies to the position of Ceylon at a crossroads of the oceans. This was already evident in the embassy that king Bhuvanaika Bâhu I (1272-1284) had sent in 1283 to the Mamlûk Sultân of Egypt. Such relations are not surprising in that the Mamlûks controlled all the trade that passed from the Mediterranean world to India. Their monopoly is what motivated the Spanish and the Portuguese to look for alternate routes. Thus, in 1498 the Portuguese entered the Indian Ocean by rounding Africa, something that Herodotus said the Phoenicians had done in the reign of the Egyptian King Neko II. A Portuguese fleet, under Lourenço de Almeida, was blown into Colombo harbor in 1505. This led to friendly relations with the King of Kotte, Vira Parakrama Bâhu VIII. In 1518 the Portuguese were allowed to build a fort, marking the beginning of the Portuguese presence in Ceylon, which rapidly passed through phases of trade, conversion, and conquest. The last King of Kotte was converted to Christianity and in 1580 willed his kingdom to the Portuguese. They inherited at his death in 1597. With direct Portuguese rule, we start to get Governors, or Captains General, as in the following table.

Portuguese Captains General of Ceylon
Pedro Lopos de Sousa1594
D. Jeronimo de Azevedo1594-1613
D. Francisco de Meneses1613-1614
Manuel Mascarenhas Homem1614-1616
Nuno Alvares Pereira1616-1618
Constantino de Sa e Noronha1618-1622
Jorge de Albuquerque1622-1623
Constantino de Sa e Noronha1623-1630
D. Philippe Mascarenhas1630-1631
D. Jorge de Almeida1631-1633
Diego de Mello de Castro1633-1635
D. Jorge de Almeida1635-1636
Diogo de Mello de Castro1636-1638
D. Antonio Mascarenhas1638-1640
D. Philippe Mascarenhas1640-1645
Manuel Mascarenhas Homem1645-1653
Francisco de Mello de Castro1653-1655
Antonio de Sousa Coutinho1655-1656
Antonio de Amaral de Menezes1656-1658, Jaffna

In the midst of the Portuguese conquest of Ceylon, we actually get the foundation of a new and durable Ceylonese kingdom, that of Kandy. The Portuguese unintentionally helped with this, installing their convert, Don Phillipe, as King. With Don Phillipe's death, however, a Sinhalese nobleman, Konnapuu Bandara, seized the throne, expelled the Portuguese, and created an independent Buddhist kingdom. The Portuguese were never able to recover, and Kandy remained independent until British conquest in 1815.

The flag of Kandy, representing the last independent kingdom in Ceylon, was revived for an independent Ceylon in 1948. Since the flag could be taken to represent the Sinhalese, stripes were added later to represent the Hindu Tamils (orange) and Muslims (green).

Kings of Kandy
Don Phillipe1590-1591
Konnapuu Bandara, Vimala Dharma Surya I1591-1604
Senarat1604-1635
Rajasinha1635-1687
Vimala Dharma Surya II1687-1707
Narendra Sinha1707-1739
Sri Vijaya Rajasinha1739-1747
Kirti Sri Rajasinha1747-1763, 1763-1782
Dutch occupation, 1763
Rajadhi Rajasinha1782-1798
Sri Vikrama Rajasinha1798-1815

While the Portuguese were occupying Ceylon, in 1580 the Kingdom of Portugal itself became a possession of Spain. This immediately put Portuguese colonies in peril from the Dutch, who were fighting their long war of independence (1568-1648) against Spain. Thus, the new King of Kandy welcomed Joris van Spilbergen, a Dutch representative, in 1602. Although joint action against the common enemy was soon in the works, things ended badly with the Dutch being killed instead. This was straightened out by 1612, when the new King, Senarat, concluded a treaty with the Dutch. Eventually the Portuguese were driven out, and the Dutch assumed their dominant place on the island. By then (1658), Portugal was independent again (1640), but it was too late for many of the prizes of their former empire.

Dutch Governors of Ceylon/Zeylan
William J. Coster1640
Jan Thyszoon Payart1640-1646
Joan Maatzuyker1646-1650
Jacob van Kittensteyn1650-1653
Adriaan van der Meyden1653-1660, 1661-1663
Ryklof van Goens1660-1661, 1663
Jacob Hustaart1663-1664
Ryklof van Goons1664-1675
Ryklof van Goens Jr1675-1679
Laurens Pyl1679-1692
Thomas van Rhee1692-1697
Gerrit de Heere1697-1702
Cornelis Jan Simons1702-1706
Hendrik Becker1706-1716
Isaac Augustin Rumpf1716-1723
Johannes Hertenberg1723-1726
Petrus Vuyst1726-1729
Stephanus Versluys1729-1732
Jacob Christian Pielat1732-1734
Diederik van Domburg1734-1736
Gustaaf Willem baron van Imhoff1736-1739
Willem Maurits Bruyninck1739-1742
Daniel Overbeek1742-1743
Julius V.S. van Gollenesse1743-1751
Gerard Joan Vreeland1751-1752
Johan Gideon Loten1752-1757
Jan Schreuder1757-1762
L.J. Baron van Eck1762-1765
Iman Willem Falck1765-1785
Willem J. van de Graaff1785-1794
J.G. van Angelbeek1794-1796

After more than a century, Dutch rule finally ended because of a problem similar to the one that had undermined the Portuguese. In 1795 Revolutionary France deposed the Dutch monarchy and installed a friendly republican government. In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte revived the monarchy, but with his own brother Louis as King of the Netherlands, and then simply annexed the country to France in 1810. None of this was agreeable to Britain, which became the principal enemy of France and of Napoleon. The British moved quickly to occupy Dutch colonies and prevent them from becoming French bases. Some of these would be returned to the Netherlands at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, but Ceylon (like the Cape Colony) would not. Ceylon thus became a kind of outlier of the growing British Indian Empire.

British Governors of Ceylon
Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford1798-1805
Sir Thomas Maitland1805-1811
Sir Robert Brownrigg, 1st Baronet1812-1820
Sir Edward Paget1822
Sir Edward Barnes1824-1831
Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton1831-1837
James Alexander Stewart-Mackenzie1837-1841
Major-General Sir Colin Campbell1841-1847
George Byng, 7th Viscount Torrington1847-1850
Sir G.W. Anderson1850-1855
Sir Henry G. Ward1855-1860
Sir Charles Justin MacCarthy1860-1865
Sir Hercules G.R. Robinson, 1st Baron Rosmead1865-1872
Sir William H. Gregory1872-1877
Sir James R. Longdon1877-1883
Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Baron Stanmore1883-1890
Sir Arthur B. Havelock1890-1896
Sir J. West Ridgeway1896-1903
Sir Henry Arthur Blake1903-1907
Sir Henry B. McCallum1907-1913
Sir Robert Chalmers1913-1916
Sir John Anderson1916-1918
Sir William H. Manning1918-1925
Sir Hugh Clifford19251-1927
Sir H.J. Stanley1927-1931
Sir Grame Thompson1931-1933
Sir Reginald Edward Stubbs1933-1937
Sir Andrew Caldecott1937-1944
Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore1944-1948

The British would rule Ceylon for a century and a half. After they absorbed Kandy in 1815, the island was completely unified for the first time in many years. To most in Britain, what "Ceylonese" came to mean was probably little more than tea.

An extraordinary development during the years of British rule was the interest of Westerners in Ceylonese Buddhism. Perhaps the most notable name in this was Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907). In New York in 1875, with Madame Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) and some others, Olcott founded the Theosophical Society, which embodied their interests in spiritualism and Eastern religion. In 1878-1879, Olcott and Blavatsky travelled to India to create a new headquarters for the Society, presumably on soil more congenial to its values. However, in 1880 Olcott went on to Colombo and there converted to Buddhism. His enthusiasm for his new faith would have a lasting impact on Western perceptions of Buddhism, on Buddhist perceptions of Buddhism, and on the strength, it is often called a "revival," of Buddhism in Ceylon. Although Britain had renounced any official policy of proselytism for Christianity, private Christian missionaries, of course, had a free hand. Christian schools in Ceylon had some success at winning converts, as they would long be successful into conveying modern Western learning. Olcott, in turn, wanted to help Buddhism meet Christian missionaries on their own terms. He formulated a catechism for Buddhism in 1881, wrote extensively promoting Buddhism, and even created a "Young Men's Buddhist Association" (YMBA). The result was influential in what has been called "Buddhist Modernism." Olcott did not believe that ritual and superstition were proper to Buddhism and promoted the idea, now quite common, that Buddhism is really a system of philosophy, or a kind of empirical spiritualism, in its own way rational and even scientific. What went along with this was a view that all Eastern religion was really, at root, like this, and that any differences between Buddhism and, say, Hinduism were only superficial. This is a view that is now also quite common, to the extent that popular culture lumps together Indian, Chinese, and Japanese religion as all subscribing to the same esoteric truths. That this really has little to do with the traditional practice of such religions is obvious to scholars, and to anyone really familiar with the countries, is irrelevant, since an approach like Olcott's is normative and owes much more to the originally Western ideology of something like Theosophy than it does to anything intrinsic to Indian or Chinese religion. Where the one parts company with the other is the most conspicious when we come to the devotionistic sides of the religions. Thus, the most popular form of Buddhism in East Asia is the Pure Land sect of the Buddha Amitâbha, who promises rebirth in his paradise even for the sinful. This sort of thing was altogether too much like Christianity for someone like Olcott, and we get the beginning of an attitude that most of Mahâyâna Buddhism is not really Buddhism (the only Mahâyâna sect eventually to pass muster would be Zen). Thus, Olcott and those of similar predilections would find the Theravâda Buddhism of Ceylon more congenial, though even this would take some cleaning up, to return it to the Purity of the early Sangha. Such preferences were not without a tangible basis. Sinhalese Buddhism preserved the Pâli Canon, the oldest collection of the Buddhist Tripitaka. In 1881 the Pali Text Society was founded by Thomas William Rhys Davids (1843-1922), a member of the British Civil Service in Ceylon. Rhys Davids had no sympathy for Theosophy, but his project would provide a scholarly foundation for whatever appropriation anyone wanted to make of Theravâda Buddhism. A Pâli dictionary had already been published in 1874 by another Civil Servant in Ceylon, Robert Caesar Childers (1838-1876), and Edwin Arnold's (1832–1904) popular and influential The Light of Asia, a handsome and sympathetic presentation of the life of the Buddha, had already been published in 1879. Considering the contemptuous and patronizing attitude of the Mahâyâna (and so of the Chinese, Japanese, etc.) for Theravâda Buddhism, calling it the Hinayâna, i.e. the "Lesser Vehicle," the esteem of Europeans for their own tradition would have been flattering to the Ceylonese. With a Protestant rigor, Olcott and others would have dismissed the Sutras of Mahâyâna Buddhism as apocryphal or fraudulent. I gather that the impression for many years was that Pâli was the language of the Buddha himself, and that the Pâli Canon thus preserves his actual words. For all their Buddhist revivalism, however, Western Neo-Buddhists in general were (and are) not much interested in the monasticism of Buddhism, a characteristic that was undeniable, not only in every Buddhist tradition, but something that could hardly be missed in the Pâli Canon itself, where a large part of the corpus concerns monastic discipline, the vinaya. It is hard not to see that disinterest as reflecting an originally Protestantizing attitude towards religion.

Governors General of
the Dominion of Ceylon
Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore1948-1949
Herwald Ramsbotham, 1st Viscount Soulbury1949-1954
Sir Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke1954-1962
William Gopallawa1962-1972
President, 1972-1978
Ceylon becomes
the Republic of Sri Lanka
Ceylon became independent in 1948. Like India and Pakistan, this was in the form of a
Dominion, with the King of England still the formal Head of State of the country and a Governor General as his representative. Ceylon, however, continued as a Dominion far longer than the others, for 24 years, until 1972. This casual pace of development would seem to bespeak the sort of leisurely nationalism and complacent good will that we find in some other former British possessions. We might be led to see the country as peaceful and happy, as indeed I would gather from my 1962 World Book Encyclopedia, which says that the Sinhalese are a people of "gentle habits" [Volume 3, p.277]. However, this would be a false impression. The spirit of Dutthagamani had already started to revive, and riots had begun in 1956 where Tamils were attacked and often killed by Sinhalese mobs. With "Buddhist Modernism" often celebrating the pacifism of Buddhism in general, and that of the Theravâda in particular, the ugly history that begins to unfold would be an anomaly and an embarrassment, if not a refutation, to its conceits. These developments are discussed with the recent history of Sri Lanka.

The list of rulers and governors here is combined from lists given by Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies and a number of articles at Wikipedia. Other information is from the Encyclopædia Britannica and print sources like the above referenced book by Hirakawa Akira. The different lists sometimes give different dates or have other anomalies. I cannot always tell which versions represent the best scholarship, so I have tried to indicate the variations.

Prime Ministers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka

The Sun Never Set on the British Empire

Philosophy of History

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