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.[1][2][3]

Historical background

Establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Asoka Cakra
Asoka Cakra

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).[4][5]

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.[6]

Mihintale Missaka-pawwa, the place where arahant Mahinda met the King Devanampiya Tissa
Mihintale Missaka-pawwa, the place where arahant Mahinda met the King Devanampiya Tissa

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.[1]

Theravada Buddhism


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.[7]

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).[8]

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.[9]

Ascetic forest traditions

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.[10][11]

Notable contemporary monks

Ambagahawatte Indrasabhawara Gnanasami Maha Thera

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.

Puwakdandawe Paññānanda Maha Thera

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.

Vaturuvila Gnanananda MahaThera

Founder monk of Vaturuvila Vanavasa sect of Siyam Nikaya.

Kadawedduwe Jinavamsa Maha Thera

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 Nanarama Maha Thera

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.

Nauyane Ariyadhamma Maha Thera

Nauyane Ariyadhamma Maha Thera

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.

Notable contemporary Western monks

Island Hermitage (Polgasduwa)
Island Hermitage (Polgasduwa)

Contemporary forest monasteries

There are many forest monasteries scattered throughout Sri Lanka. Some of the main monasteries are listed below.[15]

Nimalawa Forest Monastery

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.[16]

Na Uyana Aranya

Na Uyana Aranya is situated in the North Western Province and affiliated to Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha and Pa-Auk Forest Monastery in Myanmar.[17]

Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya

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.[18]

Kudumbigala Forest Monastery

An ancient monastery in Kumana forest sanctuary which is famous for its isolated environment and beautiful landscapes. Re-established by late Thambugala Anandasiri Mahathera.

Near Kudumbigala monastery complex
Near Kudumbigala monastery complex
Kudumbigala monastery complex main rock which has dagoba on the top
Kudumbigala monastery complex main rock which has dagoba on the top


Solitary dwelling

a reconstructed cave
a reconstructed cave

Tanjan tenna forest

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.[20]

Caves and kutis in the forests

There are plenty of isolated caves and cottages scattered all over the country such as Laggala forest kutis,[21] Bundala Kuti,[22] Moragaha Ulpatha Kuti, Sangharaja Gallena ..etc. where local and foreign meditating monks dwell in.

See also


  1. ^ a b Mahānāma (1993). The Mahāvaṃsa, Or, The Great Chronicle of Ceylon. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120602182.
  2. ^ Parker, Henry (1981). Ancient Ceylon. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120602083.
  3. ^ Prasopchingchana, Sarunya. "Buddhist Relationship between Sri Lanka and Thailand" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ "LankaWeb – Establishment of Buddha Sasana in Lanka by Arahat Mahinda". Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  5. ^ " The arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka". Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  6. ^ "King Devanampiya Tissa". 18 March 2010. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  7. ^ "The Tripitaka committed to writing at Aluvihara". Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  8. ^ "On the trail of a Thera and his Upasampada mission here | The Sunday Times Sri Lanka". Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  9. ^ Williams, Paul (2005). Buddhism: The early Buddhist schools and doctrinal history ; Theravāda doctrine. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415332286.
  10. ^ Knighton, W. (William) (1854). Forest life in Ceylon. University of California Libraries. London : Hurst and Blackett.
  11. ^ Freiberger, Oliver (2006-10-19). Asceticism and Its Critics: Historical Accounts and Comparative Perspectives. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199719013.
  12. ^ "Ven Nyanavimala - Pure Inspiration". / Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  13. ^ User, Super. "About - Ñāṇavīra Thera Dhamma Page". Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  14. ^ "A Majestic Tree of Merit Biography of The American Bhikkhu Kovida » Dhammikaweb". 30 May 2015. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  15. ^ "Buddhist Forest Monasteries and Meditation Centres in Sri Lanka" (PDF).
  16. ^ "Nimalawa Aranya Senasanaya - Attractions near Leopard Corridor".
  17. ^ Aranya, Na Uyana. "Na Uyana Aranya". Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  18. ^ "Meetirigala Nissarana Vanaya". Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  19. ^ "Panama Kudumbigala Monastery". December 19, 2013.
  20. ^ "Bhaddeka Vihari". Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  21. ^ Wickremeratne, Swarna (February 2012). Buddha in Sri Lanka: Remembered Yesterdays. SUNY Press. ISBN 9780791481141.
  22. ^ "Bundala Kuti - The Legend of Bundala".
  1. Buddhist Forest Monasteries and Meditation Centres in Sri Lanka