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The materials, from which this statement is framed, were collected by me (assisted in the translation from the Páli by my native instructors) some years ago, when it was my intention to have arranged them for publication. Subsequent want of leisure, and the announcement of the proposal of publishing, in England, the translation of the greater part of the works noticed by me, have deterred me from prosecuting that project. By the last accounts received from home, the translation was in an advanced stage of publication. Its appearance in this country may, therefore, now be early looked for.
In the mean time, the circulation of this abstract of the History of Ceylon may be the means of making the translation more sought for when it arrives; and, at the present moment, when improved means of communication are being established to Anuradhapura and to Trincomalie, traversing the parts of the island in which the ruins of the ancient towns, tanks, and other proofs of the former prosperity of Ceylon are chiefly scattered, this statement will perhaps be considered an appropriate addition to your Almanac for the ensuing year.
Kandy, September 14th, 1832
I am, Sir, your faithful obedient servant,
Ceylon Civil Service.
A few private copies, as well of the "Epitome" as of the "Historical Inscriptions" which appeared in the local almanac of the ensuing year, were printed for me at the time those periodicals were in the press;—the distribution of which, from various causes, was deferred for a considerable period of time.
In this interval, the long expected edition of the Mahawanso, translated in this island and published in England, under the auspices of Sir A. Johnston, arrived in India, forming the first of three volumes. of a publication, entitled "THE SACRED AND HISTORICAL BOOKS OF Ceylon."
This laudable endeavour on the part of the late chief justice of this colony, to lay before the European literary world a correct translation of an Indian historical work-the most authentic and valuable perhaps ever yet brought to its notice-having, most unfortunately, failed, I have decided on proceeding with the translation commenced some years ago; the prosecution of which I had abandoned under the circumstances explained in the foregoing letter.
In now recurring to this task, however, the object I have in view, is not solely to illustrate the local history (the importance of which it is by no means my intention to depreciate by this remark), but also to invite the attention of oriental scholars to the historical data contained in the ancient Páli Buddhistical records, as exhibited in the Maháwanso, contrasted with the results of their profound researches in the ancient Sanscrit Hindu records, as exhibited in their various publications and essays, commencing from the period when the great Sir William Jones first brought oriental literature under the scrutiny and analysis of European criticism.
Before I enter upon this interesting question, in justice equally to Sir A. Johnston, and to the native literature of Ceylon, I have, on the one hand, to endeavour to account for one of the most extraordinary delusions, perhaps, ever practised on the literary world; and, on the other, to prevent these "SACRED AND HISTORICAL BOOKS OF CEYLON," as well as the "HISTORY of BUDDHISM," (also published under that right honorable gentleman's auspices) being recognized to be works of authority, or adduced to impugn the data which may hereafter be obtained from the Buddhistical records in the Páli or any other oriental language.
The course pursued by Sir A. Johnston, both in collecting the originals, and procuring translations of "THE SACRED AND HISTORICAL WORKS OF CEYLON," is detailed in the following letter, which is embodied in the preface to these translations :
To the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Court of Directors.
19, Great Cumberland Place, 13th Nov. 1826.
I have the honour, at the request of Mr. Upham, to enclse to you a letter from him soliciting the patronage of your honourable court to an English translation which he is about to publish of the three works called Mahavansi, the Rajavali, and the Rajaratnacari. The first is written in the Pali, and the other two in the Singhalese language, and they are all three explanatory of the origin, doctrines, and introduction into the island of Ceylon, of the Buddhist religion.
The English translation was a short time ago given by me to Mr. Upham, upon his expressing a wish to publish some genuine account of a religion which, whatever may be the nature and tendency of its doctrines, deserves the cnsideration of the philosopher and the statesman, from the unlimited influence which it at present exercises over so many millions of the inhabitants of Asia.
The circumstances under which I received the three works to which I have just alluded, afford such strong evidence of their authencity, and of the respect in which they are held by the Buddhists of Ceylon, that I shall take the liberty of stating them to you, that your honourable court may form some judgment as to the degree of encouragement which you may be justified in giving to Mr. Upham.
After a very long residence on Ceylon as chief justice and the first member of his majesty's council on that island, and after a constant intercourse, both literally and official, for many years, with the natives of every cast and of every religious persuasion in the country, I felt it to be my duty to submit it, as my official opinion, to his majesty's government, that it was absolutely necessary, in order to secure for the natives of Ceylon a popular and a really efficient administration of justice, to compile, for their separate use, a special code of laws, which at the same time that it was founded upon the universally admitted, and therefore universally applicable, abstract principles of justice, should be scrupulously adapted to the local circumstances of the country, and to the peculiar religion, manners, usages, and feelings of the people. His majesty's government fully approved of my opinion and officially authorised me to take the necessary steps for framing such a code.
Having publicly informed all the natives of the island of the wise and beneficial object which his majesty's government had in view, I called upon the most learned and the most celebrated of the priests of Buddha, both those who had been educated on Ceylon, and those who had been educated in the Burmese empire, to co-operate with me in carrying his majesty's gracious intention into effect; and to procure for me, as well from books as other sources, the most authentic information that could be obtained relative to the religion, usages, manners, and feelings of the people who professed the Buddhist religion on the island of Ceylon.
The priests, after much consideration amongst themselves, and after frequent consultations with their followers in every part of the island, presented to me the copies which I now possess of the Mahawansi, Rájawali, Rájaratnácari, as containing, according to the judgment of the best informed of the Buddhist priests on Ceylon, the most genuine account which is extent of the origin of the Budhu religion, of its doctrines, of its introduction into Ceylon, and of the effects, moral and political, which those doctrines had from time to time produced upon the conduct of the native government, and upon the manners and usages of the native inhabitants of the country. And the priests themselves, as well as all the people of the country, from being aware of the object which I had in view, felt themselves directly interested in the authenticity of the information which I received; and as they all concurred in opinion with respect to the authenticity and value of the information which these works contain, I have no doubt whatever that the account which they give of the origin and doctrines of the Buddhist religion is that which is universally believed to be the true account by all the Buddhist inhabitants of Ceylon.
The copies of these works which were presented to me by the priests, after having been, by my direction, compared with all the best copies of the same works in the different temples of Buddha on Ceylon, were carefully revised and corrected by two of the ablest priests of Buddha on that island.
An English translation of them was then made by my official translators, under the superintendence of the late native chief of the cinnamon department, who was himself the best native Páli and Singhalese scholar in the country; and that translation is now revising for Mr. Upham by the Rev. Mr. Fox, who resided on Ceylon for many years as a Wesleyan Missionary, and who is the best European Páli and Singhalese scholar at present in Europe.
Nothing, surely, could be more commendable than the object and the proceeding here detailed; nor could any plan have been adopted, apparently, better calculated to supply the deficiency arising from his own want of knowledge of the languages in which these works are composed, than the precautions thus taken for the purpose of insuring the authenticity of the translations. Who those individuals may be whom Sir A. Johnston was induced to consider “two of the ablest priests of Buddha on that island,” by whom "the copies of these works which were presented to me (Sir A. Johnston) after having been compared by my direction with all the best copies of the same works in the different temples of Buddha on Ceylon, were carefully revised and corrected," I have not ascertained. But it is evident that they were either incompetent to perform the task they undertook, of rendering the Páli Mahawanso into Singhalese, or they totally misunderstood the late chief justice's object. Instead of procuring an authentic copy of the Páli original, and translating it into the vernacular language (from which "the official translators" were to transpose it into English), they appear, (as regards the period of the history embraced in some of the early chapters) to have formed, to a certain extent, a compilation of their own; amplifying it considerably beyond the text with materials procured from the commentary on the Mahawanso, and other less authentic sources; and in the rest of the work, the original has, for the most part, been reduced to a mutilated abridgment.
This compilation, or abridgment, extends only to the 88th chapter of the Mahawanso, which brings the history of Ceylon down to A. D. 1319; within that period, moreover, the reigns of several kings are omitted: whereas in the perfect copies, the historical narration is continued for four centuries and a half further, extending it to the middle of the last century.
The "official translators," by whom this Singhalese version is stated to have been rendered into English, were, and to a certain extent still are, selected from the most respectable, as well in character as in rank, of the maritime chiefs' families. They profess, almost without exception, the Christian faith; and for the most part, are candidates for employment in the higher native offices under government. Their education, as regards the acquisition of their native language, was formerly seldom persevered in beyond the attainment of a grammatical knowledge of Singhalese :-the ancient history of their country, and the mysteries of the religion of their ancestors, rarely engaged their serious attention. Their principal study was the English language, pursued in order that they might qualify themselves for those official appointments, which were the objects of their ambition. The means they possessed of obtaining an education in English, within the colony, at that period, prior to the establishment of the valuable missionary institutions since formed, were extremely limited; while the routine of their official duties, after they entered the public service, were not calculated to improve those limited attainments. These remarks, however, apply rather to the past, than to the present condition of the colony; and I should be doing the higher orders of the natives-of the maritime provinces at least-great injustice if I did not add, that they have both readily availed themselves of the improved means since placed within their reach, and amply proved, by several highly creditable examples, their capacity as well as their anxiety to derive the fullest benefit from the opportunities so afforded to them. Nevertheless to the causes above suggested must, I believe, be attributed both the defects in composition, and the numerous obvious perversions of the sense of the Singhalese abridgment of the text, exhibited in the translations of " The SACRED AND HISTORICAL BOOKS OF CEYLON."
As illustrations of the latter description of defects, I shall confine myself to noticing two instances. Page 74. "The son of the late king Muttesiwe, called Second Petissa, became king of the island of
Ceylon. He was a fortunate king:" p. 83. "This was in the year of our Buddho 236, in the eighteenth year of the reign of the king Darmasoka, and of the first year of the reign of Petissa the second, on the fifteenth day of the month of poson:" and similarly in every instance in which that sovereign is named, he is called "Petissa the second." Now, the monarch here spoken of, is the most celebrated rája in the history of Ceylon; the ally of Asóko, the emperor of India, and the founder of buddhism in this island. His individual name was "Tisso." From his merits (according to the buddhistical creed) in a former existence, as well as in this world, he acquired the appellation of "Dewánanpiyatisso;" literally, "of-the-déwos-the-delight-tisso." This title in the Singhalese histories is contracted into "Dewenipaitissa ;" and in the vernacular language, "deweni" also signifies "second." These "official translators," ignorant of the derivation of this appellation, and of these historical facts, and unmindful of the circumstance of no mention having previously been made of "Petissa the first" in the work they were translating, at once designate this sovereign "Pelissa the second"!!
In explaining the second unintentional perversion of the text above referred to, I shall have to notice the mischievous effects which result from appending notes of explanation, when the text is not thoroughly understood.
Page 1. "In former times, our gracious Buddhu, who has overcome the five deadly sins, having seen Buddhu Deepankare,* did express his wish to attain the state of Budhu, to save living beings, as twenty four subsequent Budhus + had done; from whom also, he having obtained their assent, and having done charities of various descriptions, became sanctified and omniscient: he is the Budhu, the most high lord Guádma, who redeemed the living beings from all their miseries."
The rendering of this passage, as a specimen of the translators' style, compared with the rest of the translation, is rather above than below par. The only intrinsic errors imputable to it, if no notes had been appended, would have consisted,-first, in the statement that there were "twenty four" instead of "twenty three Buddhus" subsequent to Deepankara; and, secondly, in adopting the peculiar spelling, “Guádma,” for the name of the present Buddho, in the translation of a Ceylonese work, in which he is invariably designated "Goutama." But two fatal notes are given on this passage, which cruelly expose the true character, or origin, of these blunders: viz.,
"In the Budhist doctrine (according to the first note) there are to be five Budhus in the present kalpe: Maha'dewaʼnan, Goutama, Deepankara-these have already existed and are in niewana ;—Gua’dma, the fourth, is the Budhu of the present system, which has lasted 2372 years in 1830; the Budhu verousa or era, according to the greatest number of coincident dates, having commenced about the year 540 B. c.”
+ "The Loutoros Budhus (according to the second note) are inferior persons, being usually the companions of the Budhu, for their zeal and fidelity exalted to the divine privileges."
The former of these notes makes "Deepankara" the immediate predecessor of “Guádma” all “subsequent Buddhos," therefore, must become equally subsequent to him,-and yet the term is applied in the translation to those predecessors of "Guádma," by whom his advent was predicted!
In this instance also, as in the case of "Petissa the second," the error lies in the rendering of the word, which has been transla'ed into "subsequent."
There are two classes of Buddhos, styled, respectively, in Páli, "Lókuttaro" and "Pachchéko." The former term, derived from "Lokassa-uttaro contracted into "Lókuttaro," signifies "the supreme of the universe." The latter from "Pati-ékan," by permutation of letters contracted into "Pachchéko" and "Pachché," signifies "severed from unity (with supreme buddhohood) ;" and is a term applied to an
inferior being or saint who is never coexistent with a supreme Buddho, as he is only manifested during an “abuddhótpádo," or the period intervening between the nibbana of one, and the advent of the succeeding supreme Buddho; and attains nibbána without rising to supreme buddhohood. These terms in Singhalese are respectively written "Louturá" and "Pasé." But "passé" (with a double s.) in the vernacular language, also signifies "subsequent." No native Buddhist, however uneducated, would have committed the error of asserting, that there were twenty four Buddhos exclusive of Dipankaro; as the prediction of Goutama's advent is a part of a religious formula in constant use, which specifies either "the twenty four Buddhos and the Pasé Buddhos," or "the twenty four Buddhos, commencing with Dipankaro, and the Pasé Buddhos,” as having been the sanctified characters who vouchsafed to him the "wiwerana" or sacred assurance. By some jumble, however, the word "pasé" has been translated into "subsequent," and made to agree with the "twenty four supreme Buddhos," instead of being rendered as the appellation of an inferior Buddho. Hence the rendering of the passage "did express his wish to attain the state of Budhu, to save living beings, as twenty four subsequent Budhus had done.” The revisers of this translation appear to have been aware that there was some confusion or obscurity in this passage, and therefore appended the second note of explanation. In that note, however, an explanation is given, conveying, unfortunately, a meaning precisely the reverse of the correct one. The “Louturá Budhus" are stated to be “inferior persons, usually the companions of the Budhu ;" whereas the word literally signifies "supreme of the universe;" and on the other hand, the appellation "Pasé Buddho" signifies, as specifically, the reverse of co-existence or companionship.
The first note, quoted above, is, if possible, still more calculated than the translation itself, to prejudice the authenticity of the buddhistical scriptures in Ceylon, when compared with the sacred records of other buddhistical countries.
In the translation, the present Buddho is called "Guádma." As the English writers on subjects connected with buddhism in the various parts of Asia rarely spell the name similarly, it would have been reasonable to infer that "Guádma" was here intended for the Ceylonese appellations (Páli) "Gótamo," (Singhalese) "Goutama." "Goutama." The revisers, however, of the translation, in this instance also, think it necessary to offer a note of explanation. The object of their note appears to be to give the names of the four Buddhos of this (Páli) “kappo," (Singhalese) "kalpa," who have already attained buddhohood. They specify them to be Mahadewánan, Goutama, Deepankara, and Guádma: in which enumeration, with their usual ill luck, they are wrong in every single instance. “Mahadewánan" is not the individual name of any one of the twenty four Buddhos. It is an epithet applying equally to all of them, and literally means "the chief of the déwos." The first Buddho of this kappo was “Kakusandho.” The second was not "Goutama," (for when speaking of the twenty four Buddhos there is no other Goutama than the Buddho of the present period) but "Konágamano." The third is not "Deepankara," for he is the first of the twenty four Buddhos, but "Kassapo." The fourth, or present Buddho, is not “Guádma,” but, in Páli, Gótamo; and, in Singhalese, Goutama. As this name, however, had been already appropriated in this work for the second Buddho of this kappo, the publishers have, I presume, adopted the spelling "Guádma" to distinguish the one from the other.
It will scarcely be believed that all this confusion arises from the endeavour to illustrate a work, which, in the clearest manner possible, in its fifteenth chapter, gives a connected history of these four Buddhos; nor can the publishers altogether throw the blame of these mistakes on their coadjutors, the "two ablest priests of Buddha," and the "official translators;" for even in their translated abridgment of the fifteenth chapter (p. 92) the names of these four Buddhos are specified.