Sri Lankan Forest Monks' Tradition claims a long history. As the oldest Theravada Buddhist country in the world, several forest traditions and lineages have existed, disappeared and re-emerged circularly in Sri Lanka. The current forest traditions and lineages in Sri Lanka have been influenced by the Thai and Burmese traditions which descend from the ancient Jambudeepa (Indian) and Seehaladeepa (Sri Lankan) traditions.
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After the era of the Indian Emperor Asoka, India lost her place as the Theravada Buddhist center of the world. It is said that emperor Asoka and his advisor monks predicted this would happen and organized a Theravada Buddhist Mission to nine countries in Asia. As a result of this mission, the great arahant Mahinda who was the son of emperor Asoka was sent to Sri Lanka in order to establish Buddha Sasana (message of the Lord Buddha) with a group consisting of six arahants called Ittiya, Uttiya, Sambala, Bhaddasala, Novice Sumana (Sumana Samanera) and anagami layman Bhanduka (Bhanduka Upasaka).
The King Devanampiya Tissa who was the king of Sri Lanka at that period met this group and accepted Buddhism and declared Buddhism as the state religion of Sri Lanka. The vice king Arittha who was the cousin of King Devanampiya Tissa was the first Buddhist monk of Sri Lanka who was called as arahant Upatissa.
One year Later the emperor Asoka decided to send another group to Sri Lanka in order to establish a Buddhist Nuns' order (Bhikkhuni order) in Sri Lanka. The leader of this group was the daughter of the emperor Asoka who was the great arahant nun Sanghmitta. In addition, eighteen groups of technical people which were dedicated for Buddhist cultural works were sent with arahant Sanghamitta in order to strengthen the established Buddhist Lineage in Sri Lanka.
Since the first days of the establishment of a Theravada Buddhist Lineage in Sri Lanka, it has remained the main tradition there. After the era of the great Indian emperor Asoka, Sri Lanka was the global epicenter of the Theravada tradition. The Pali Canon (Theravada Tripitaka), which was preserved and conveyed by memorization and recitation, was first written in Sri Lanka at the Aluvihara in Matale. Almost all the early commentaries of Dhamma (Attha Katha) were written in Sri Lanka. The popular commentary writer Bhiikku Buddhaghosa was able to translate Sri Lankan commentaries which had been written in Sinhala Language into the Pali Language during the Anuradhapura era.
When other Theravada countries such as Siam (Thailand) and Ramanna (Part of Burma/Myanmar) lost their monastic lineage, Sri Lankan monks were sent to re-establish the Upasampada monks' lineage during the period of the Polonnaru Kingdom in Sri Lanka. Later, in the 17th century CE, the Upasampada Lineage had disappeared in Sri Lanka due to attacks and the subsequent domination of Western intruders. A novice monk, Weliwita Saranamkara, brought Upasampada from Siam (Thailand) and was able to reestablish the lineage in Sri Lanka. During the 18th century several monks were able to again bring new Upasampada lineages from Amarapura (a part of Burma/Myanmar) and Ramanna (a part of Burma/Myanmar).
Today three main Theravada Nikayas (Lineages) such as Siam Niakaya, Amarapura Nikaya, Ramanna Nikaya are dominant in Sri Lanka: Siyam Nikaya is the lineage from Siam, Amarapura Nikaya is the lineage from Amarapura and the Ramanna Nikaya is the lineage from Ramanna.
In the early days, the forest traditions were affiliated with the ancient monasteries such as Mihintale monastery, Ritigala monastery and Dimbulagala Monastery, among others. Many ruins of ancient forest monasteries can be seen in the large forest areas of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Matale, Tissamaharama, Situlpawwa and Ruhuna. Sri Lanka was then the center of both Theravada village and forest traditions in the world. Currently the largest forest sect in Sri Lanka is the Sri Kalyani Yogashrama Samstha (Galduva Sect) of the Amarapura–Rāmañña Nikāya. In addition, the Vaturuvila Vanavasa sect of Siam Nikaya and several monasteries of all the three Nikayas continue to have forest monasteries.
Founder of Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya in 1864 by bringing pure Upasampada from Ratnapunna Vihara in Burma and joining with group of monks who brought pure Upasampada from Kalyani Sima of forest monks at Hansavati Burma and Dhammayut NikayaThailand. His intention was to re-establish a pure vinaya lineage in Sri Lanka.
Brought pure Upasampada from Hansavati Kalyani Sima of Burma and joined with the Ambagahawatte Indrasabhawara Gnanasami Maha Thera in order to establish Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya. He was considered the pioneer of forest dwellers in Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya. Some of his lineage's successor monks joined Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha and some of them remain in Delduva sect of Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya.
Founder monk of Vaturuvila Vanavasa sect of Siyam Nikaya.
Founder of Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha in 1951 with the Buddhist world's preparation for the Buddha Jayanti Festival to celebrate B.E. 2500. His intention was to protect the pure Vinaya lineage in Sri Lanka.
Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera who is considered to be the father of the Sri Lankan modern forest meditation tradition had researched through old Sri Lankan vipassana meditation and influenced by Burmese Mahasi Vipassana Method. Nauyane Ariyadhamma Maha Thera, Hikkaduve Dhammasila Mahathera and Greek Nyanadassana Maha Thera are some of his students.
A student of late venerable Kadavedduve Jinavamsa Maha Thera (the founder of the Sri Kalyani Yogashrama Samstha). It is believed that he had an exceptional Mindfulness (Sati) and control over physical actions (Kaya Samvara) in day-to-day activities.
There are many forest monasteries scattered throughout Sri Lanka. Some of the main monasteries are listed below.
One of the ancient forest monasteries where the arahant Dhammadinna was considered to be resided. It was re-established as the first forest monastery of Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha in 1951 by Kadawedduwe Jinavamsa Maha Thera.
Na Uyana Aranya is situated in the North Western Province and affiliated to Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha and Pa-Auk Forest Monastery in Myanmar.
Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya is Located in the Western Province close to Colombo. First Abbot was late venerable Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera. Affiliated to Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha and Mahasi meditation method.
An ancient monastery in Kumana forest sanctuary which is famous for its isolated environment and beautiful landscapes. Re-established by late Thambugala Anandasiri Mahathera.
A group of isolated caves and huts situated at Balangoda forest areas in which both local and foreign monks reside in and practice meditation. Central meeting place is Bhaddekavihari Forest Monastery affiliated to Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha.
There are plenty of isolated caves and cottages scattered all over the country such as Laggala forest kutis, Bundala Kuti, Moragaha Ulpatha Kuti, Sangharaja Gallena ..etc. where local and foreign meditating monks dwell in.