[Buddha-l] Barbaric not Buddhist

L.S. Cousins selwyn at ntlworld.com
Mon Aug 1 04:39:47 MDT 2005

The problem of exaggeration !

>In the Mahavamsa, http://www.vipassana.com/resources/mahavamsa/mhv25.php
>(see the last 10 or so para):
>King Dutthagamani ordered the death of millions of Tamil after defeating
>King Elara.

Since the population of the island is unlikely to have been as high 
as a million at this time, he clearly didn't. So the question is 
rather: did Mahaanaama, the much later author of the Mahaava.msa, 
think this is what happened. I don't believe so. I understand the 
king's guilt to arise from the deaths of the 'Tamils' in battle, not 
from any action of his after the battle.

Part of the problem arises here from Geiger's translation. (Basically 
what is on the site referred to is a modernized version of Geiger.)

1. Geiger has: "When the king, after winning the victory, had slain 
all the" Tamils. But one should rather render: "After having brought 
about the death of all the Tamils, the king was victorious." [For 
reasons of readability, Geiger has reversed the main and subordinate 

But even that is too much in a way. This is poetry and should be 
interpreted with care. Here Tamils refers not to an ethnic or 
linguistic group, but to a competing ruling class - the 32 Tamil 
chiefs, most of whom must have been something like local barons, 
warlords or even brigands. (For Mahaanaama, probably something like 

2. Later Geiger has: [The king] knew no joy, remembering that thereby 
was wrought the destruction of millions (of beings)."

Again, I would render this:
[Despite obtaining royal luxuries, the king] "did not find happiness, 
remembering that an army has been slaughtered."

The problem here is that the word akkho(b)hi.ni is rather rare. If it 
is a number (Skt ak.sobhi.nii), then it should refer to ten to the 
power of twelve or thirteen i.e. trillions of beings, not millions ! 
Almost certainly, the correct meaning is 'army' (Skt ak.sauhi.nii).

>When plagued with guilt,

Guilt is rightly considered rather unwholesome in Buddhism. If one 
has done wrong, then rather than plaguing oneself with self-hate, one 
should get on and do something good.

>he is calmed by "arhants, fully
>enlightened beings" who tell him not to worry as he only killed one and a
>half beings: "The one had come unto the (three) refuges, the other had
>taken unto himself the five precepts. Unbelievers and men of evil
>life were the rest, not to be esteemed more than beasts."

This is again Geiger's translation. But I don't think the above 
correctly renders what is said. What they are saying to the King is 
rather: don't let your mind go over wholly to despair. If you do 
good, the path to heaven is still available. Note that they don't say 
that the path to enlightenment is available.

It is of course a standard idea in all forms of Buddhism that killing 
spiritually advanced beings has greater adverse consequences than 
killing the less advanced. Similarly, killing ordinary good people 
('the innocent') is worse than killing thugs. Killing animals is less 
serious than killing human beings but still wrong. So when it says 
that the others who died in the battle 'should be reckoned as 
comparable to animals', this does not mean what it would have meant 
to Europeans in the past; for whom the killing of animals (created 
for human use) is legitimate.

The whole passage is a humorous story about mitigating extreme guilt 
- not about justifying killing.

Geiger renders the concluding verse as follows:

"Should a man think on the hosts of human beings murdered for greed 
in countless myriads, and should he carefully keep in mind the evil 
(arising from that), and should he also very carefully keep in mind 
the mortality as being the murderer of all, then will  he, in this 
way, shortly win freedom from suffering and a happy condition."

>Christian missionaries, I was told, are now using this story widely to
>discredit the Buddhist sangha in Sri Lanka.

This seems improbable, but if true would be extraordinary hypocrisy, 
given what one finds in Christian writing of comparable date.

Lance Cousins

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