Further Translations from the Extended Mahāvaṁsa

Asoka-and-the-Missions-Cover

In March of this year I published a text and translation of three chapters from the Extended version of the Mahāvaṁsa, [1] which dealt mainly with the Missions which were sent to various countries during the time of King Asoka.

I made those translations because I was interested to see if there was any more information about the Missions which was not covered in the standard Mahāvaṁsa, which is the primary source for our knowledge of the Missions.

After that work was published I became interested in the Arahat Saṅghamittā’s story, and the establishment of the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha in Sri Lanka, and started to translate the information contained in the text about her and the nuns.

When that was finished it was clear that, because most of that information is incidental, it doesn’t quite make a story, as it is not composed as a continuous narrative, and could not easily be published as it was.

So then it became nnecessary to extend the work again by including Asoka’s story, and the story of the Third Recital, which provides the missing context. In the meantime the original translation was extended from under 200 verses to just under 700. And so it goes.

* * *

The good news is that there is quite a lot of material translated now that has never been translated into English before, and it really does expand on the original story with some new information.

The story now begins with Asoka’s birth, and it follows his life through to his appointment as vice-sovereign in Avanti, his murdering of his rival siblings – all 99 of them – and his ascendency to the throne.

Curiously enough his war on the Kaliṅga country, which according to the edicts led to his change of heart, is not mentioned at all and seems to be unknown in the Southern tradition.

His conversion is figured here in quite another way, with his initial dissatisfaction with the brāhmaṇas his Father had supported, and the deep impression a young Buddhist monk makes on him.

Having gained faith in the Buddha’s Dispensation, he quickly becomes one of its greatest supporters, building 84,000 monasteries in honour of the 84,000 sections of the Teaching; giving his children for ordination; and purifying the Saṅgha before holding the Third Recital.

The emphasis in the story then shifts away from Asoka and on to the various Missions, and especially to the one which was led by his son Mahinda to Sri Lanka, where he was joined by his sister Saṅghamittā, who was instrumental in establishing the Bhikkhunī order there.

I have included most of the material pertaining to the latter, as it is especially interesting today to see the high respect the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha was held in in those far-off days.

The story in this translation is brought to a close with the deaths, first of Asoka, then King Devānampiyatissa, followed by the Arahats Mahinda and Saṅghamittā and the other missionaries who followed them on their journey.

* * *

There were a few particularly difficult passages in the text, which I struggled with for a long time. I was very fortunate in the end to get in touch with Prof. Dr. Matsumura in Japan, who specializes in Sri Lankan historical texts, and she helped greatly in the translation of these verses, and I am very grateful to her for her insights and problem-solving ability.

* * *

In preparing the text and translation I have made two versions. The first gives the text and the translation line by line. The English only version is a rewritten and a more fluent translation of the text.

Both versions are available as html, pdf, epub and mobi. The English version also has a reading of the text, and is available as mp3.

 




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Notes:

  1. This was the first translations from the so-called Extended version of the Mahāvaṁsa, which is about twice as long as the standard version, which has been translated many times.

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