Popular belief based on legend has it that Arhath Mahinda used his powers to come by air from India to the Mihintale Rock. Given the possibility that Arhath Mahinda, as an Arhath endowed with psychokinetic powers could have overcome the force of Earth’s gravity and moved through the air, how does one explain Sumana Samanera a novice monk and Banuka a layperson having the ability to travel through air using their own powers?
Dr. E. W. Adikaram in his PhD (London) thesis “Early history of Buddhism in Ceylon” states: ‘After the Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputra, Mahinda was requested by his preceptor and the Sangha to visit Ceylon and establish the sasana in the island. After consideration Mahinda concluded that is was not yet the proper time to go to Ceylon. Mutasiva (307-241 B.C.) then reigning monarch of Ceylon was advanced in years and it was not possible to establish the sasana under his patronage. So awaiting the accession of Mutasiva’s son Devanampiyatissa to the throne, Mahinda set out from Asokarama with Theras Ittiya, Uttiya, Sambala, Bhaddasala, the novice Sumana and the lay disciple Bhanduka to pay a visit to his relatives. Mahinda in due course lived for one month at Vedisagiri, the residential quarters of his mother. Mahinda visited his mother in 252 BC when and had spent twelve years as a monk.
"Arhath Mahinda’s arrival in Ceylon can be regarded as the beginning of the Sinhalese culture. He brought to Lanka not only a new religion but also a whole civilization. He can be regarded as the father of Sinhala literature."
The Third Buddhist Council was held in 253 B.C. under the patronage of Emperor Asoka and was presided over by Arhath Moggaliputta Tissa at Pataliputhra to purify the Sangha and arrange the Buddha’s preachings in their pure forms, because by that time there were 18 schools of Buddhist thought. At the council the question was asked: What is Buddhism? Is it the doctrine of analytical reasoning or ‘Vibhajja-Vada’–psychology–at best? In this connection it is interesting to remember that Arhath Mahinda came fresh from the Third Council. Hence Mahinda was interested in the logical analytical mind of the person to whom he was to preach the Dhamma. So, when Arhath Mahinda met Devanampiyatissa he wanted to assess the king’s intellectual capacity to reason and to analyse him. So Arhath Mahinda subjected Devanampiyatissa to an IQ Test. After satisfying himself about Devanampiyatissa’s ability to comprehend such a profound teaching as the Dhamma, Arhath Mahinda preached Chullapadopama Sutta to the king.
The Chula hatthipadopama discourse is called the ‘minor discourse’ and considered a simile to an elephant’s foot print first preached by the Buddha to the Brahmin Janussoni at the Jetevana monastery at savatti (in the Majjima Nikaya). It was Brahmin Janussani who first paid homage to the Buddha with the words “Namothassa baghawatho arahatho samma sambuddhassa.”
Ven. Walpola Rahula in his PhD. Thesis “History of Buddhism in Ceylon” says the selection of this sutta by Mahinda as his first sermon was most appropriate. The sutta gives a clear idea of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and it describes how one is converted to Buddhism and how one becomes a Bhikku. It also describes in detail the simple and holy life of a Bhikkhu, the sublime qualities he practises and possesses, the things from which he abstains, the various stages of development of his life and his attainment of Arhathship which is the final fruit of Buddhism.
The Sutta contains also almost all the principal teachings of the Buddha such as Four Noble Truths.
Apart from a general knowledge of Buddhism, it was necessary for Mahinda to convey to his host who knew nothing about Buddhist practices, about the sangha and their mode of life so that the king might learn how to treat his new guests. At the end of the sermon Devanampiyatissa and his retinue expressed their willingness to embrace the new faith.”
Ven. Rahula also says, “If we compare the language used in Asoka’s inscriptions and the inscriptions of Ceylon in the 3rd century B.C, we can see that the two languages were almost similar. There were slight differences between the two, but it was possible for the speaker of one language to follow without much difficulty the ideas expressed in another language.”
The next discourse was Petavattu and the Vimanavattu, two Pali texts which dealt with the spirits of the dead in the Peta world and in the Deva-loka (heavenly world) according to their past karma. This must have appealed to the audience already possessing faith in the spirits of the dead and would have made Buddhism agreeable and acceptable to them. This was followed by Devaduta, which deals with the results of good and bad action. Then the Balapanditha Sutta which teaches how men who commit evil suffer both here and hereafter. With this sutta Mahinda introduced the moral side of religion as a requisite for a happy life. Then he went on to preach the Aggikkhandhopama Sutta which teaches a Bhikkhu how to live a virtuous and holy life, so that those who provide him the necessities of life may be benefited and that he himself may attain Nibbana. On the seventh day the Thera preached the Maha Appamada Sutta. This discourse was first preached by the Buddha to Pasenadi of Kosala dealing with diligence as the one quality that acquires and builds welfare both in this life and in the next. Just as the elephant’s foot is chief among all feet so is diligence the best of quality. After preaching this sutta to the king the Thera returned to Cetiyagiri.
It is generally not known that Buddhism flourished in South India. The Dipawansa and the Mahawansa are silent on the subject. However most scholars accept the view that Buddhism was introduced to South India by Arhath Mahinda himself. Ven. Hisselle Dhammaratana Thera, that great Tamil scholar monk, in his book “Buddhism in South India” gives a fascinating account on this subject.
Ven Rahula says, “There is very good reason to believe that what later came to be called the holy city of Anuradhapura was originally planned and laid out by Mahinda. There was no-one at the time in Ceylon better educated, cultured and refined, more widely travelled and better informed than Mahinda himself. He had lived in large cities, like Pataliputra. Megasthenes the Greek ambassador to the imperial court of Chandragupta (the great grandfather of Arhath Mahinda) narrates about the splendour and beauty of Pataliputhra, the capital of the Magadam Empire. He had also seen great monasteries like Asokarama built by his father and Cetiyagiri in Vidisa built by his mother. There was no one else other than Arhath Mahinda who could have planned a monastery better.”
Mahinda was responsible for bringing down his sister Sanghamitta who carried with her a southern branch of the Bodhi tree. Ven. Rahula states further: “Sumana Samanera who acted as deputy to Mahinda and Devanampiyatissa was able to obtain for Ceylon from his grandfather Asoka the right collar bone and a large quantity of other bone relics together with the alms-bowl of the Buddha.
These relics were kept at the Missaka Pabbata temporarily and the mountain named Cetiya-Pabbata. The collar bone of the Buddha was enshrined in the Thuparama dagoba which thus became the first cetiya to be built in Ceylon. The Patra-Dhatu (the alms bowl of the Buddha) was kept in the king’s palace and it became a national “palladium” of the Sinhalese, just as it happened later in the case of the Tooth Relic.”
None of Asoka’s edicts refer to Mahinda’s mission to Ceylon. However, a fresco on a wall in one of the caves in Ajanta is supposed to depict the event. Ceylon is mentioned as Tambapanni in rock edict II and VIII, as a country already included by Asoka in the list of countries to which he dispatched his dutas or messengers to propagate his message of the Dhamma-Vijaya or moral conquest.
Ven. Rahula states, “Mahinda’s arrival in Ceylon can be regarded as the beginning of the Sinhalese culture. He brought to Lanka not only a new religion but also a whole civilization at the height of its glory. He introduced art and architecture to the island along with sangharamas and cetiyas. He can be regarded as the father of Sinhala literature.
Buddhaghosa says that Mahinda brought to the island of the Sinhalese the commentaries of the Tripitaka and translated them to Sinhalese for the benefit of the people of the land. He thus made Sinhalese a literary language and inaugurated its literature.”
Dr. S. Paranavithana in his book “Sinhalayo” says: “When saint Mahinda preached Buddhism for the first time in Ceylon, he gave the explanations as he had received them from his teachers, of certain words and expressions in Pali sermons. These were handed out orally with great care in the monasteries. Later teachers continued to add to this exegetical literature.”