Since the third century BCE, when the king of Sri Lanka converted to Buddhism, the island nation off the southern coast of India has represented a central interest of Buddhist scholarship. The association between its politics and religious life has not always remained harmonious, however, and has contributed to the contemporary turmoil that threatens to tear it apart. In this valuable book, renowned religious scholar Bardwell Smith elucidates the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka from the time of one of its earliest rulers through to its present-day strife.

The essays collected here for the first time explore various themes of Sri Lanka’s long history in novel and constructive ways. Topics include Sinhala Buddhists’ sense of manifest destiny arising from Sri Lanka’s oldest historical chronicles, the Mahavamsa and the Dipavamsa; the nationalist implications of the chronicles’ depiction of the third-century Mahavihara monastery as the site of "original Buddhism"; and concepts of order and legitimation of power in ancient Ceylon. With a new introduction and final chapter, Smith sheds fresh light on today’s Sri Lanka, connecting historical studies with contemporary issues.

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