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History of Buddhism in Burma

Individual Documents

Date of publication: December 1996
Description/subject: "In the late fifteenth century two similar and interesting events took place. Two Southeast Asian kings, both claiming to be Buddhist world rulers, built replicas of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India. The first king was Dhammacetti (1462-1492) of Pegu, who built the Shwegugyi Temple in Pegu in 1479. The other king was Tilokaraja (1441-1487), of Chiengmai, who began building the Wat Cet Yot in 1455 (although the building went on for over a decade). Both the Shwegugyi and the Wat Cet Yot are replicas of the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya, India, in their general architectural design, their use of the seven stations in their layout, and their association with the bodhi tree. The Mahabodhi temple is important to Buddhism, because it was built next to the bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat when he was enlightened. The seven stations at that temple refer to the seven different sites where the Buddha spent each of the seven weeks after enlightenment. This means that the Mahabodhi temple, the bodhi tree, and the seven stations there are directly tied to the foundation of the sasana and to the purity of the sasana. The construction of the two Mahabodhi replicas is even more interesting because only two other replicas of the Mahabodhi were built in Southeast Asia, one in Pagan built in 1215 by Nadaunmya (Htilominlo), and a minor one at Chiengrai, which cannot be dated or attributed. It is difficult to find out, however, why two kings in neighboring areas built Mahabodhi replicas at about the same time and why such replicas were not built in Southeast Asia for the 250 years before this time or at anytime afterwards.6 The chronicles and inscriptions explain that Tiloka and Dhammacetti were performing meritorious acts by building the Mahabodhi replicas. The chronicles and inscriptions also claim that these two kings were trying to unify and purify the sangha in their lands. However, the chronicles and inscriptions do not say why Mahabodhi replicas were built by Dhammacetti and Tilokaraja around the same time and not by every king before and after who tried to gain merit or be a dhammaraja by purifying and uniting the sangha. I think it is important to find the underlying reasons for the similar event occurring in Chiengmai and Pegu in the late fifteenth century. I will try, using the information that is available, and general information regarding the social, political, commercial, religious, agricultural, and demographic trends of that period, to provide the best possible answer to the questions (1) why the Mahabodhi replicas in Chiengmai and Pegu were built, (2) why they were built in these two places and not somewhere else, and (3) why they were built at this time. My argument, which I will develop and explain more fully below, is that the most significant factor in the adoption of Mahabodhi replicas and the repurification of the sangha in late fifteenth century Chiengmai and Pegu was international trade. During the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, mainland Southeast Asia was politically (small and numerous states) and religiously (small and numerous sects) divided and not many kings had the resources or power to prove their claims of being dhammarajas by unifying or purifying the sangha or support the construction of temples on the same scale as Pagan. During the same period, however, trade grew as did agricultural cultivation and the population). By the late fifteenth century, central kings gained money for religious patronage of the sangha and for political patronage of (and more prestige in the eyes of) local rulers and probably better control of their kingdoms outside of the capital. The links that Chiengmai and Pegu had with international trade also brought ideas for rulers and monks. The religious reform and the building of Mahabodhi replicas of the late fifteenth century in Pegu and in Chiengmai came from ideas, brought along trade routes (maritime and within Southeast Asia), strengthening the prestige of Sri Lanka as a center of pure Buddhism. Also, Buddhist monks travelling along Southeast Asian trade routes seem to have spread beliefs in the royal capitals (as trade centers) that religious reform should also include a replica of the Mahabodhi temple. The monks who took advantage of these ideas won the support of the central ruler over rival sects since they had a better claim to religious purity. The central kings had more resources and control than their predecessors over their kingdoms and could make the selection of a particular sect and the religious repurification more significant throughout the kingdom. Finally, to reinforce their image as dhammarajas who unified and purified the sangha, and as cakravartins or world Buddhist rulers, Dhammacetti and Tilokaraja tried to replace Pagan with their own capitals as the chief center of Buddhism (which meant that their capitals also had to have Mahabodhi replicas)."
Author/creator: ATSUKO NAONO
Language: English
Format/size: pdf (1.2MB-low res; 2.3MB-medium res; 4.3MB - high res)
Alternate URLs: http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs09/Naono1996-ocr-mr.pdf
Date of entry/update: 04 October 2010

Title: Buddhism in Myanmar: A Short History
Date of publication: 1995
Description/subject: Contents: * Preface * 1. Earliest Contacts with Buddhism * 2. Buddhism in the Mon and Pyu Kingdoms * 3. Theravada Buddhism Comes to Pagan * 4. Pagan: Flowering and Decline * 5. Shan Rule * 6. The Myanmar Build an Empire * 7. The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries * Notes * Bibliography
Author/creator: Roger Bischoff
Language: English
Source/publisher: Access to Insight
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003

Title: The KalyaÌ„niÌ„ inscriptions erected by King Dhammaceti at Pegu in 1476 A. D. - Text and translation
Date of publication: 1892
Description/subject: "...In 1478, King Dhammazedi from the Mon kingdom of Ramannadesa, erected ten stone inscriptions written with Mon and Pali language. ... The stone inscription is known among scholars as the "Kalyani Sima" or "Kalyani Inscription". The inscription deal mainly with the the reform undertaken by the king to purify Theravada Buddhism in his kingdom..."
Author/creator: TAW SEIN KO,(trans)
Language: Pali, Mon, English
Source/publisher: Government of Burma
Format/size: pdf (3.38MB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924011724808
Date of entry/update: 04 October 2010

Title: The Advent of Buddhism in Burma
Language: English
Source/publisher: Thanh Siang Temple
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003