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Ceylon Buddhism



The Abhayagirivasins accepted the doctrinal views introduced by a teacher named Dhammaruci and were known as Dhammarucikas - ‘Those who take pleasure in Dhamma.’  Dhammaruci was a follower of the Vajjiputtaka sect which separated from orthodox Buddhism after the second council.  This sect believes in the existence of a puggala - a personal entity - which passes through samsara prior to the attainment of  nibbàna and maintains the view that even an Arahant may fall away from the supramundane state.
     Gradually the Abhayagiri became a centre of Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka.


King Vattagamani Abhaya (29-17 BCE) built the Abhayagiri monastery and donated it to his friend Mahatissa of Kupikkala as a personal gift.  Monks of the Mahàvihàra, being dissatisfied with this gift, imposed on Tissa the punismment of expulsion (pabbajanaya kamma) on the grounds of his frequenting the families of laymen.  when Tissa’s pupil, known as Bahala-Massu-Tissa (Bushy-bearded Tissa), resented this punishment as unjustifiable the Mahavihara monks imposed on him the act of censure (Ukkepanãya Kamma).  Subsequently Bahala-Massu-Tissa left the Mahavihara with five hundred monks and joined his teacher at the Abhayagiri monastery.  When Abhayagirivasins welcomed Dhammaruci, a teacher of the Vajjiputtaka sect, they came to be known as Dhammarucikas.  Both Mahavihara and Abhayagiri monasteries existed peacefully - in spite of their divergent views - for nearly three centuries after the reign of  King Vaññagamani Abhaya.  Most of the rulers in Sri Lanka supported both fraternities impartially; but some favoured the Mahavihara and others the newly established Abhayagiri.   
     The rivalry between these two fraternities became quite acute and violent when the Vaitulya doctrine was favourably received by the Abhayagirivasins during the reign of King Voharika Tissa (269-291 CE).  This doctrine, having been examined by the minister Kapila, was found to be heretical and was suppressed by the king.  The uprising of the Vaitulya doctrine was suppressed again by king Gothabhaya (309-322 CE) and its followers were banished from the country.  During the reign of King Mahasena (334-362 CE) a propagator of Mahayana Buddhism named Sanghamitta came to convert Mahàvihàrivàsins to Mahayanism.  Then he enticed the king to issue an order forbidding the provision of alms to the monks of Mahavihara on pain of a fine.  The monks without receiving alms left the Mahavihara and went to the highlands and Rohana - a province in the southern part of the island.  The Mahavihara was deserted for nine years.  Sanghamitta persuaded the king to demolish all buildings of the Mahavihara and utilize materials for erecting buildings at the Abhayagiri.  Eventually public opinion turned against the Abhayagiri and Sanghamitta was killed by a carpenter.  Mahasena, considering the public resentment and the advice of his minister, Meghavanna Abhaya, repented of his wicked deeds and restored the buildings of the Mahavihara monastery 
     Fa Hsien, the famous Chinese traveller, stated that the Abhayagiri monastery was flourishing during his arrival in the 5th century CE and that 5000 monks were residing there.

     During the reign of King Sena I (833-853 CE) a member of the Vajiriya (Vajrayana) sect visited Sri Lanka and introduced Vajiriya doctrine while residing at Virankura-Arama at Abhayagiri.  Thus the Abhayagiri monastery became open to the North-Indian Buddhist influence.  As historical evidence indicates, the Abhayagiri fraternity existed up until the 12th century amidst the harassment at the hands of Mahavihara.  King Parakramabahu I unified Abhayagiri and two other fraternities: Mahavihara and Jetavana.

The Abhayagiri stupa.


No contemporary adherents.

Main Centre

Buildings of the Abhayagiri monastery are located in Anuradhapura outside the southern gate of the city.