The Date of Buddhadasa of Ceylon from a Chinese Source

By Edward R. Ayrton
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland
1911, pp.1142-1144

p. 1142 The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hian after leaving Chang'an took five years to arrive at Mid-India. He resided there for six years, and it was three years more before he arrived at Tsing-chow (Beal, Buddhist Records, vol. i, p. Ixxxiii). Of these last three years he spent two years in Ceylon (loc.cit., p.lxxix), and about 337 days on his adventurous voyage home from that island to Tsing-chow (loc. cit., pp. lxxx seqq.). His arrival in Ceylon may therefore be placed shortly after 411 A.D., since he left Chang'an in 399 A.D. (loc.cit., p.xii). Unfortunately he does not tell us the name of the reigning king of Ceylon, but we may be able to identify him satisfactorily from Fa-Hian's description of a few notable events which took place during his stay p. 1143 there. He tells us that the "tooth-relic" was always brought out in the middle of the third month, and after being carried in procession to the Abhaya-vihara it was there exhibited to the people for ninety days, after which time it was replaced in its receptacle in the city (loc. cit., pp. lxxv-vi). This is the first point of importance. Fa-Hian was in the island after the tooth-relic had been brought over from India, in the ninth year of King Sri Maghavarna according to the Mahavamsa (Wijesingha, Mahavamsa, p.154).The pilgrim goes on to tell us that "Forty li to the east of the Abhaya-vihara is a mountain, on which is built a chapel called Po-ti (Bodhi); there are about two thousand priests in it. Amongst them is a very distinguished Shaman called Ta-mo-kiu-ti. The people of this country greatly respect and reverence him. He resides in a cell, where he has lived for about forty years.By the constant practice of benevolence he has been able to tame the serpents and mice, so that they stop together in one cell, and do not hurt one another" (Beal, loc. cit., p. lxxvi). This is the second fact, and is of greater importance than the former, since we read in the Mahavamsa --" In the reign of this raja [i.e. Buddhadasa] a certain priest by name Maha Dhammakathi, translated the Suttas (of the Pitakattaya) into the Sihala language" (Wijesingha, loc. cit., p.158, with his correction of note 7). It is very probable that Ta-mo-kiu-ti is to be identified with Dhammakathi. This identification has already been noticed by Mr. Wickremasinghe (Ep. Zeyl., vol.i, pt.iii, p. 83) but he has made no use of it in his note on the Sinhalese chronology (Ep. Zeyl.). Lastly, Fa-Hian, talking about the Mahavihara, says that whilst he was in Ceylon ("at this time") the king "desired to build a new vihara for this congregation of priests" and he describes the ploughing of the p. 1144 boundaries and the presentation of the land to the monks (Beal, loc. cit., p. Ixxvii). The Mahavamsa (p. 158) says that Buddhadasa "built at the Mahavihara the parivena called Mora" and provided for it in every way. We thus see that Fa-Hian's visit to Ceylon is probably to be placed in the reign of Buddhadasa; that is, of course, if we find that the dates of that monarch's reign inclued the years 411-13 A.D. Dr. Fleet has shown (JRAS., 1909, p. 351) that the accession of Buddhadasa is placed by the author of the Mahavamsa at 870 years 3 months 10 days after the Nirvana of Buddha. If we take the date 544 B.C. as the initial point for this part of the Mahavamsa, we get the date 328-57 A.D. for his reign of twenty-nine years. This does not agree with Fa-Hian's date at all. On the other hand, if we accept Dr. Fleet's theory (loc. cit. supra, pp.323 seqq.) that 483 B.C. is the initial date, we get 389-418 A.D., which suits the date of the pilgrim. I therefore think that we may assume on good grounds that the Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hian visited Ceylon during the last years of King Buddhadasa, for whom we may accept the date of 389-418 A.D. until we have definite proof to the contrary. More important still is the additional evidence which we thus obtain that, for the earlier part of the Mahavamsa, the date of 483 B.C. is to be regarded as the date of Buddha's Nirvana.