Every religion that exists in the world has a set of sacred scriptures which are highly revered and widely read by the followers of the religion. Tripitaka is the treasure house of Buddha’s teachings and is revered as the supreme religious scripture of Buddhism.
Tripitaka which is also known as the Pali Canon, was imparted in ancient Ceylon with the advent of Buddhism by Arhant Mahinda Thera in 3 BC. As recorded in the ancient chronicle of Ceylon, the Deepawamsa, Tripitaka was handed down through the oral tradition prior to the it being inscribed in Ola leaves in 1 BC at the Matale Aloka Viharaya (Alu Viharaya) during the reign of King Walagamba.
The Pali Canon is one of the oldest texts of religious importance that is found in Sri Lanka and was printed as a complete text in 1956 under a special project to commemorate the 2550 th Sambuddhathva Jayanthiya. Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithraya Thera headed the editorial board of the printed version of the Tripitaka.
However, with the passage of time, many unqualified persons with scant knowledge of Pali language and the Buddha’s Dhamma began to distort the Dhamma in Tripitaka by providing fallacious definitions and interpretations. Many organizations with a sheer intention of deriving profits, engaged unqualified persons in translating Tripitaka into Sinhala language. Some individuals, without proper inspection of qualified Dhamma preachers, also engaged in imparting the Dhamma in Tripitaka on social media.
The fallible interpretations of the Dhamma in Tripitaka cannot be readily identified by the lay devotees unless they possess sound knowledge of Pali language and the Dhamma of Buddha. Hence, devotees, out of sheer ignorance follow those preachers who distort Buddha’s Dhamma. When the misinterpreted Dhamma is propagated, it can affect Buddhism in a detrimental manner and if such misleading activities continue, that would lead to many Buddhists ending up becoming renegades.
These slapdash acts by various individuals posed a threat to the originality of the sacred scripture.
In bid to preserve the pristine Dhamma preached by the Buddha, the Government of Sri Lanka declared Tripitaka which has an enormous significance for Buddhists all over the world, as a National Heritage recently to preserve wisdom of the Buddha for the future generations.
By declaring the Tripitaka as a National Heritage, distortion of the Dhamma in Tripitaka is expected to be deterred. It is only a specially appointed editorial team of elite Buddhist scholars, who would be allowed to translate or provide definitions to the Tripitaka hereafter as this foremost Buddhist scripture is granted the legal status.
Although there are many Buddhist countries in the world and there are many Buddhists living in various countries, Buddhists living in Sri Lanka has a special responsibility and duty to preserve the Tripitaka. Buddhist monks in ancient Ceylon committed Tripitaka to memory and passed on to several generations. Moreover, this holy scripture of Buddhism was first inscribed in Sri Lanka which enabled the Buddhists and non-Buddhists across the globe to refer and to study the Tripitaka.
Although in the past, the guardians of Buddhism faced challenges with regard to the physical preservation of the Tripitaka, at present the plight is different and they are required to protect the Dhamma in the Pali Canon from being misinterpreted and distorted by various persons and business organizations.
The proposal of proclaiming Tripitaka as a National Heritage was presented to the Cabinet by President Maithripala Sirisena. At the national ceremony of proclaiming the Tripitaka as a National Heritage, President Maithripala Sirisena assured that no person or organization is permitted to edit, interpret or to translate without official approval of the Government of Sri Lanka.
However, following the declaration of this scared scripture as a National Heritage, the President has also taken steps to obtain the World Heritage status for Tripitaka of which the process is presently underway. Since there is a vast crowd of Buddhists across the globe, who belong to different ethnicities and are from various countries, President Sirisena’s endeavour to make the Tripitaka a World Heritage deserves applauds.