Ven. Buddhaghosha Thera:
A great scholar and commentator
The Buddha was born to the world to relieve the suffering of man.
India, the birthplace of Buddhism reached the zenith of her glory during
the Buddha's time. It encouraged learning and provided a great scope to
all intellectual activities, including the fine art of writing.
Buddhaghosa wrote a guide to Theravāda doctrine called the
Ven. Buddhagosha Thera was a great commentator. History records that
Emperor Asoka built the Mahabodhi Temple to mark the site of the supreme
enlightenment. Ven. Buddhagosha Thera, the great writer, is said to have
resided in the monastery before he came over to Sri Lanka.
According to the Mahavamsa he is believed to have seen the light of
the world as a Brahma in close proximity to his temple in the kingdom of
Magadha, in the early fifth century. As a member of Brahman family he
had mastered the Vedas. With a philosophical mind he toured India
participating in intellectual debates.
Ven. Revata opposed him vehemently at a debate over Vedic doctrine
where he cited examples from Abhidhamma, which opened a new chapter in
the life of Ven. Buddhagosha Thera.
He became a Bhikkhu developing a keen interest in the study of
Tripitaka and its commentaries. He visited Sri Lanka to study Buddhism
in depth. He had heard that the Dharmadweepa was in the proud possession
of a large volume of literature on Buddhism consisting mainly of the
Pali Canon and Jataka stories. These were the first literary works to be
introduced to the island. Arahat Mahinda Thera brought the Theravada
doctrine to Sri Lanka. He was closely associated with Mahavihara where
Theravada reigned supreme.
Mahavihara which had resisted all heresies proclaimed that it was the
headquarters of Buddhist learning, Sumangala Vilasini records that it
was the practice of all Bhikkhus to come to Mahavihara and recite the
texts and commentaries. Besides, foreign Bhikkhus and scholars too had
visited it to fulfil their ambitions. Among them Ven, Buddhagosha, the
great scholar, was the most reputed personality. He was one of the most
intellectually gifted personalities of the era, to visit Mahavihara.
Another prominent feature was that most of the authors of literary
works were Bhikkhus and Pali was the language the Bhikkhus used
originally in their studies. Hence Buddhist scriptures were mainly in
Pali, though the influence of Sanskrit was noticed in the style and
language of certain works. The Mahavamsa and Mahabodhivamsa are cited as
good examples of Pali works.
Ven. Buddhagosha Thera on his arrival at Mahavihara, was astonished
by the large volume of literary works preserved by the Bhikkhus here.
After perusing them carefully, for a few months he wished to translate
the Sinhala commentaries into Pali for which he had to seek permission.
The outcome was Visuddhi Magga, the path for Purification, the great
work of his, based on loving kindness and subsequently Sila, Samadhi
Pragna the truth of Buddhism. That it reached a very high standard could
be judged from the remarkable acceptance of the sacred text by the past
and present Buddhists. He elaborates Pragna by comparing it to different
parts of a tree. He was highly convinced by this most important concept
Bravery and impartiality were prominent characteristics in his
writing. His literary works were Pali-centred. More correctly, it was
the Pali commentaries found in Mahavihara that were highlighted in his
literary works. In other words, it was the literary and cultural
scenario prevalent at Mahavihara at the time that helped him no his
Major works of Pali canon such as commentaries on Vinaya Pitakas and
Jataka Attakatha were committed to writing by him. Another chronicle
Samantha pasadika of great historic value is said to have been compiled
by him. Then there is Padya-Chudamani attributed to Ven. Buddhagosha
Thera describing the life of the Buddha from his birth to the passing
away in 10 chapters.
Attasalini is another work written during his stay at Mahabodhi
before coming to Sri Lanka.
Thus Ven. Buddhagosha Thera made an impact on Mahavihara tradition
upholding Pali the language shared by all Theravada learning centres.
Hence his arrival and the significant role he played, is said to be of
great historic, religious and cultural importance in the annals of